Friday, August 5, 2016

Nathan Breedlove: Recluse on the Loose

Earshot Jazz, August 2016
By Steve Griggs
Trumpeter Nathan Breedlove, like all musicians, has collected stories his entire life. His story. Jazz stories. Stories about famous musicians Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, and Wynton Marsalis. Stories about masterful but modest artists like Mulgrew Miller, James Williams, and Hadley Caliman. Stories about the feast and famine of a life in music.
Breedlove’s passion played on his slender face. His glow of enthusiasm emanated from a bounty of arched creases on his forehead and the depth of parentheses surrounding his lips. He smiled and relayed his past.
Breedlove was born in Tacoma, Washington, on June 17, 1956, while his father was stationed at Fort Lewis. He eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his father’s home, in 1968, close in time and place to where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Breedlove’s early studies on trumpet and piano earned him an audition with neighbor David Porter, a musician and Vice President of Stax Records. “Lester Snell slipped a 5/4 bar into my sight reading test,” said Breedlove. “Afterwards he said, ‘Come back in a year.’”

Stories of Music Volume 2

My story of John Coltrane's 1965 performance in Seattle will be included in Stories of Music Volume 2. The story was originally published in the Seattle Weekly. The anthology will be released in Fall 2016 and can be ordered at

Friday, October 2, 2015

50th Anniversary of Live in Seattle

My first publication in the Seattle Weekly!

In 1965, America was at a turning point. The Beatles played their first stadium concert, Bob Dylan went electric, Malcolm X was assassinated, Martin Luther King marched to Selma, NASA launched probes to the moon and Mars, and men first walked in space. Here in Seattle, the Space Needle had been pointing to the heavens for four years.
The venue was named the Penthouse, though it was on the ground floor of a ramshackle hotel. Owner Charlie Puzzo, a bartender with a penchant for the promiscuous, liked to name his clubs after nudie magazines. His other bar was called the Playboy.And on September 30, saxophonist John Coltrane and his ensemble would weave together all these threads at a 225-seat jazz club on the corner of First Avenue and Cherry Street and make history.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thomas Marriott: Trumpeting the Scene

May 2015, Vol. 31, No. 5

Thomas Marriott is a busy musician. But he wants to be busier. He’s a jazz trumpeter with two kids and a mortgage to cover. He pays bills by gigging locally and on the road, composing, recording, and producing shows that bring artists from other places. After attending Garfield, he boomeranged from the University of Washington Jazz Studies program, to touring with Maynard Ferguson, to working in New York, to a Seattle homecoming. He has nine records under his belt as a leader and appears on more than 100 as a sideman.

In April, I spotted a social media post that he was leading a quartet in Seattle at the Owl ‘N Thistle. The gig wasn’t listed on his website, but I knew his strong following would draw a crowd. I headed down to the club to take a listen and be on the scene. 

I wasn’t alone. Not by a long shot. There were only a few open seats when I arrived. I recognized many musicians in the audience. Some had come for the jam session that would commence after Marriott’s first set, and some were just out to hear good music and stay connected to each other.

I found Marriott near the bar, his tinted glasses, bald scalp, and black shirt masking emotion. But his body movements gave off the focus and intensity of an FBI Special Weapons and Tactics agent preparing for assault – earnest, efficient, effortless.

Neil Welsh: Multiphonic Monk

Earshot Jazz
April 2014, Vol. 30, No. 04

By trying every day for a year, how many sounds can be made from a saxophone? What if you stayed away from conventional fingerings and melodies? What combinations of open and closed saxophone keys produce more than one note at a time? Neil Welch was determined to find out by searching through these multi-phonic textures alone, like a private meditation. 

For all of 2013, Welch spent about two hours each day, recording his improvisations, writing about them, finding a related image and posting the results on a website, One recording was made in the second floor bathroom of Benaroya Hall. Others came from a closet at Chief Sealth High School, the back seat of his car, the practice room hallway at South Whidbey High School, a room in his childhood home in Edmonds, his brother’s apartment in the Haight District of San Francisco, beside a creek in Oregon. One of my favorites came from a highway pullout near Cannon Beach, recorded on day 249 (September 6). He dubbed the year-long project 12 Moons and is now extending the exploration in a project labeled Continuous Resonance.

People followed Welch’s 12 Moons posts. Some were fellow saxophonists, interested in obscure technical details. Others found resonance in the personal intensity and integrity of Welch’s pursuit. “It’s not a numbers thing,” Welch says. “I can’t pay attention to the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook.”

The daily discipline instilled a persistent question for Welch each and every morning – What am I going to create today? It combined the spontaneity of improvisation with the permanence of a documented recording. Instead of long practice followed by a concert or recording, the process became the performance – the means became the ends. 

Read the rest at

Joe Doria, Part 2: Rooted in Recording

Earshot Jazz
March 2015, Vol. 31, No. 3

Last month I dropped in to Joe Doria’s Tuesday night gig with McTuff at the Seamonster. This month, Doria answered my questions via e-mail about mentors and recordings that shaped his musicianship. Where did he learn his craft? What did he hear that influenced his sound? 

“I learned piano from Randy Halberstadt, Dave Peck at Cornish and some select lessons from Jerome Grey,” Doria said. 

Doria built on these firm roots by jamming with classmates several times each week. After graduation, he switched from piano to organ and began to adjust his technique for the electronic instrument.

“I learned Hammond organ from listening to Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, really. I bought my first Hammond and sat at the organ to dissect what I was hearing. But I would also ask questions from some of the best theater organists around such as Bob White, as well as Merv at Prosser Piano who showed me some tips on proper technique. But mainly, it was up to me and listening to albums. Without those years at Cornish, I wouldn’t likely have been as successful with all things music on the Hammond.”

Read the rest at

Joe Doria, Part 1: Tuesday Means McTuff

Earshot Jazz
February 2015, Vol. 31, No. 2

At Seattle’s Seamonster Lounge, Tuesday means McTuff. Named after “Brother” Jack McDuff, the 1960s organist who gave guitarist George Benson his first break, McTuff is an organ trio led by Joe Doria that sets sail from the Seamonster at 11pm. 

On a recent foggy night in January, I decided to turn off my television, get out of the house, and book passage. Outside the Seamonster, I exchanged a nod with the middleweight bouncer perched on a barstool. His presence portended a bustling business inside but his smile said, “Welcome aboard.”

Inside the humming pub, I found an empty spot at the bar. Promptly, a doe-eyed bartender walked my way. “Guinness, please.” While the caramel stream of draft slowly filled the glass, I drank in the happy buzz of the crowd seated in the front room. The rows of spirits reflected in the wall behind the bar glowed shades of crimson, scarlet, ruby, garnet, cherry, claret.

Salvos of drums rattled from the back room. McTuff was warming up for their weekly voyage. Pint in hand, I ascended the gangplank to the back room, the source of the music. 

Read the rest at

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Sound of Her Voice

I was a saxophonist caught in a mid-life crisis. I felt flickers of yearnings from my youth—for singing, dancing, kissing—but I was alone in crowded New York. I headed west toward Times Square, longing for female companionship.

A small sign above a doorway on West 48th street tempted my eye. Sultry jazz wafted from a speaker above the entry. I ventured in and up three flights. Posters of celebrities stuck to the wall akimbo. I tugged the door open on the third floor landing. Hunched behind the counter, the proprietor smirked. “Let me know if you see anything you like. You can use the room in the back.”

They were lined up against the wall, too many to count. My eye landed on three babes at the far end – alto saxophones awaiting a customer. They looked experienced but their beauty made my heart race. One wore silver. One wore brass. One wore gold.

I glanced at the gold one. She was American, a Midwesterner from Indiana. Pretty but dull. I held the brass one, she was French. Good bones but a little to plain for my passions. What am I doing here? I’m too old for this. I shouldn’t be wasting my time. I should have just kept walking.

Ooo, wait a minute. The silver one was the sister of the plain Parisian. She reminded me of a famous musician’s mistress I had admired in photographs. This might be fun. I took her to the back room and closed the door. I caressed her lightly and whispered in her ear, “Do I know you?”

Her voice was unique—passionate, mercurial, free—and it spoke to my heart. This silver-plated Modele 26 was born in Paris during the Roaring 20’s. I had to have her. Now. My wife would find out. How would I explain this affair?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jazz Solo Transcriptions

Earshot Jazz
August 1997

One of the ways I have learned to hear, play, write, and love jazz is through transcription. A teacher gave me an assignment to write down a solo from a record and share it with an improvisation class. I figured the blues was a good starting place so I picked Lou Donaldson playing "Wee Dot" with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The hours of repeated listening, scribbling notation - a bar or some-times a note at a time - was a humbling "private lesson" with Lou's tone, melodic creativity, swing, and expressive energy. The more I worked on the solo, the more fun I had.

After more hours of re-copying the music for legibility, then hours of playing along with the record to proof-read and pretend to be on the stand with the Messengers, I brought the transcription to my teacher. In return, he gave me Coleman Hawkins' solo on "Body and Soul." I was hooked.

I haven't been fortunate enough to study face-to-face with Miles, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Steve Lacy, David Murray, and many other great improvisers. But I have been able to learn from them, across time and space, by putting my curious ear right where the microphone was, then echoing their creative thoughts through the bell of my horn.

While transcribing is not spontaneous composition, it provides another way to glimpse the magic of jazz expression by a master. Jay Thomas is a consummate musician and it's a great pleasure to hear him in person and on a recording. As with most transcriptions, my depth of appreciation grew immensely throughout this project, from picking the solo to the final proof-reading (see accompanying Jay Thomas solo from "Seiji and Hiroshi" on Visiting Dignitaries, by Milo Petersen and The Jazz Disciples, Passage Records).

For those who can read music and play an instrument, here's one more way to dig the artistry of Jay Thomas. I can hear bits of Woody Shaw in measures 14-15 and 29-32, Art Farmer in measures 20-24, and a whole lot of original Jay Thomas through-out the solo. Notice how smoothly Jay moves from one chord to the next, plays such beautiful rising and falling phrases, and varies the rhythmic content to keep things interesting.

The practice of transcribing is not new and not everyone agrees that it is the best way to learn the jazz vocabulary, so I've included some interesting excerpts from other improvisers on the subject.

Jerry Coker in Improvising Jazz (Prentice-Hall, 1964)

[Transcribing] will benefit you in two important areas: (1) it will develop your ear and pitch memory to the extent that you will eventually be able to transcribe your own ideas while you are improvising; and (2) by studying the solos and styles of already proficient improvisers, you will gain a deeper understanding of the improvised solo and will discover various methods and ideas for the handling of improvised material.

Miles Davis in The Autobiography (with Quincy Troupe, Simon and Schuster, 1989)

I couldn't believe that all them guys like Bird, Prez, Bean, all them cats wouldn't go to museums or libraries and borrow those musical scores so they could check out what was happening. I would go to the library and borrow scores by all those great composers, like Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Prokofiev. I wanted to see what was going on in all of music. Knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery, and I just couldn't believe someone could be that close to freedom and not take advantage of it.

Bird would play the melody he wanted. The other musicians had to remember what he had played. He was real spontaneous, went on his instinct. He didn't conform to Western ways of musical group interplay by organizing everything. Bird was a great improviser and that's where he thought great music came from and what great musicians were about.

Freddie Hubbard in Notes and Tones (interviewed by Art Taylor, Perigee Books, 1977)

What did you do to develop yourself as a trumpeter? Listened to other musicians. By hearing what they play, I can judge what I would like to play or not to play. It's kind of weird. Like when I listen to Clifford Brown, I say wow, he does some beautiful things, and I get so many ideas which I can take and formulate into my own. I listen to all kinds of cats, like Eddie Gales, Don Cherry, Miles, Dizzy, Kenny Dorham, Bill Hardman. My whole thing is listening to music. I don't practice as much as I listen. I found out that practicing is not what jazz is all about.

Eddie Harris in Jazz Cliche Capers (Wardo Enterprises, Inc. 1973)

After about twelve years of copying the top twenty guys on your particular instrument, you should be able to construct your own ideas of a constructive solo. A musician who solos who has not copied from recordings of other artists may find himself soloing just like a certain recording artist without knowing it. The funny thing about it is the copier thinks he's the original player of this style. I think you should copy the solos from each record - note for note; by this I mean the "so-called mistakes" also. The "so-called mistakes" the artist made on the record are things I think you should do also - reason being that many times a soloist meant to do something that you thought might have been a mistake.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eric Verlinde: Honoring Music's Core Values

Earshot Jazz
June 2013

At 10pm, the Tuesday jam session at the Owl and Thistle launches into “Solar.” Eric Verlinde sits Buddha-like on stage behind a battered electric piano tagged with the letters “des,” all that remains of the Fender Rhodes logo. His mouth hangs open, and he nods along with the brisk tempo. Under the dim stained glass ceiling lights, a small audience listens intently. Several have instrument cases next to their chairs, awaiting an invitation. Across the room at the bar, conversations are buried by the saxophone solo bouncing off the brick walls.
Verlinde’s piano solos explore melodic and rhythmic motives through repetition and variation. His playing doesn’t dazzle with technical fireworks, instead it smolders with joyful energy and balanced clarity. “I don’t always have preconceptions when sitting down to play,” Verlinde says. “But something always happens.”
The tables and chairs in front of the band have filled up by the break. While the band rests, musicians catch up with each other face-to-face. If jam sessions are musical networking events, Verlinde is very connected. In addition to the Owl and Thistle on Tuesdays, he performs at the Scarlet Tree “EntreMundos” session on Monday nights and at Tula’s for the Reggie Goings “Jazz Offering” on the first Sunday afternoon of each month. For several years, he performed with saxophonist Ronnie Pierce at the Whisky Bar. He used to host the Sunday evening jazz sessions at Tula’s and accompany DJ Kat on the Monday vocal showcases.
Verlinde is comfortable in a supporting role. “I like working with vocalists,” he says. “They are the picture. I am the frame.” He played in choirs growing up. “A lyric reaches people, instrumentals don’t.”
That doesn’t deter Verlinde from trying to connect through wordless music. He has written over 150 original songs, published 5 of his own recordings (Peace, What Child Is This?, I Remember You, Daily Grind and Firewalker) and performed on more than 20 other recordings.