Projects and Activities Summer 2016

  The main musical news for me these days is the anticipated release of my first recording in almost 10 years, “Tone Twister”, on Brian Lynch’s Hollistic Musicworks label. Tone Twister, which is currently in post-production, will feature the magic chemistry of Brian’s trumpet and Ralph Moore’s tenor, with the deep groovin energy of Gerald Cannon and Pete Van Nostrand on bass and drums. Gerald and I will be playing a sneak preview of some music from Tone Twister on June 29th at New York’s premier chamber jazz venue Mezzrow (https://www.mezzrow.com/). Look for more details on Tone Twister coming soon…

This year has me traveling mostly for mathematics conferences and research, including trips to the Banff International Research Station for Mathematics and Rice University’s memorial conference for Tim Cochran “Topology in Dimension 3.5”, as well as two visits to the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany (MPIM). My previous research visits to MPIM have frequently also involved music, including performances with renowned bassist John Goldsby and the wonderful drummer Hans Dekker as part of a public presentation aimed at communicating to non-mathematicians something of the dynamics of mathematical research.  The collaborative side of mathematical research does have analogies with small group musical improvisation: Mathematicians working together to prove new theorems exchange ideas in real-time, alternating lead and accompaniment roles, guided by a thematic problem, developing material statement by statement, pursuing tangential ideas, adapting to mistakes, being ready for unexpected results, and never knowing for sure if the original goals will be achieved. A large part of what makes MPIM so effective is its international ever-revolving roster of visiting mathematicians interacting freely, spontaneously and informally: Mathematics benefits from “jam sessions”, just as jazz musicians do! I have elaborated more on this and related themes in the essay “Can One Hear the Sound of a Theorem?”, published in “The Best Writing on Mathematics 2012” (Princeton University Press). The article was originally written for mathematicians (it first appeared in the journal “Notices of the American Mathematical Society”), but hopefully much of it is accessible to a wider audience of interested readers, especially musicians…  

Mathematical research both stimulates and complements my music, and new compositions have been flowing these days, along with energized practicing and performances, including hitting at New York’s musical gem, Smalls Jazz Club (http://(www.smallsjazzclub.com/indexnew.cfm) with the Tad Shull 4tet…

A major ongoing musical highlight for me is my participation in  Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes project (short for Tribute to the Unsung Trumpet Heroes). Besides being a master trumpeter, composer and arranger, Brian has a unique blend of intellect and funk which lifts his music to another level – his recording Simpatico, featuring the great Eddie Palmieri, won a Latin-Jazz Grammy. Along with Brian Lynch original tributes, the music includes many never-before-performed tunes written by classic trumpeters like Tommy Turrentine, Louis Smith, Idrees Sulieman, Howard McGhee, and Charles Tolliver. The first Unsung Heroes recording received 5 stars from Down Beat, and Volume 2 is now available (http://brianlynchjazz.com/projects/unsung-heroes/). We have performed at the Amazonas Jazz Festival in Manaus Brasil, at Sculler’s in Boston, the Detroit Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and the Camden Summer Jazz Series among other venues…

An extra special recent trip for me was my first visit to Bilbao in Basque country, where my long time friend, New York born pianist Joshua Edelman, has opened a new music school/performance space called the Jazz Cultural Theater of Bilbao (http://www.jazzculturalbilbao.com/), inspired by Barry Harris’s musical community center on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan back in the 1980s. Besides teaching and performing there, I played a second piano part on a couple of tracks from Josh’s new recording Manhattan Bilbao Jazz-Zubia. “Zubia” is a Basque word for “bridge”, which symbolizes the theme of this recording (and Josh’s life) linking together Basque and Jazz (and other) elements…

I’m still enjoying playing music from my last Reservoir Music recording  Glass Enclosure, featuring my friend and musical mentor Charles McPherson, with the deep-swingin’ rhythm section of Todd Coolman on bass and Leroy Williams on drums. The material includes some well-known tunes, a few of my own compositions, and polar pair from the pen of Bud Powell, including the title piece. Although the haunting Glass Enclosure is usually taken as a reflection of the torment surrounding Bud Powell’s tragic life, I believe that it illustrates clearly how jazz defies categories and transcends boundaries. In fact Bud Powell’s music stands at the center of several main crossroads in Jazz: Tatumesque impressionism is combined with a Bird-like lyricism, the rawness of the Blues is on equal footing with a refined European classical sensibility, and more than anything a joyous simplicity coexists with sophisticated complexity. Also blissfully borderless as a player and composer is my special guest on the date, Charles McPherson. Charles has been a source of inspiration to me for over 30 years now, not only influencing my music though his improvisational freedom and radiant sound, but also helping to ignite my interest in mathematics through his metaphysical musings… 

I’m starting the tenth year of my gig as a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Lehman College, the Bronx campus of the City University of New York. It’s something of a return to my roots, since I was an undergraduate at the City College campus of CUNY (as was my grandfather). Besides working on my research (see Reflections I), I’ve been exploring connections (and “disconnections”) between Music and Mathematics. The starting point which interests me is that the content (the “meaning”) of both Music and Mathematics can be expressed (exists) without any direct reference to objects or concepts from the natural world. Of course mathematics can refer directly to the natural world, and most non-mathematicians only see these applications of mathematics. But to mathematicians mathematics has a life of its own, independent of any applications. The same goes for music: Music refers directly to the natural world whenever it is associated with images, words, dance, or ceremony, etc.; but instrumental music can also express meaning that transcends any language, somehow telling a story without words and pictures — or sometimes magically creating words and pictures in the mind of the listener… For more on these thoughts, see my essay “Can One Hear the Sound of a Theorem?” referred to above…