Bryant Park June 15th and other delights... 

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

I am way past due sending out an update on all things musical. Lots going on this spring and summer (!) but I thought I would focus on an upcoming event: The Ben Kono Group will be a featured ensemble at the Bryant Park New Music Festival on June 15th from 4:30-10pm. This concert features works commissioned by Chamber Music America and will be the closing concert of it's 2015 season. We will be performing our 2013 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission “Don't Blink” and I'm excited to be playing along five other grantees, including two of my musical heroes Donny McCaslin and Don Byron, both of whom will be leading their own respective ensembles. The concert is free and open to all ages in one of the most beautiful settings in New York City, and I hope to see you there.

In other news, the BKG recorded our commission “Don't Blink” in February and will be doing some final mixing soon. I'm pretty stoked about how it sounds! Thanks to Pete, Henry, Kermit and Satoshi for the incredible playing, Paul Wickliff for getting great sounds and keeping the session moving, and to my brother Simon for capturing the moment on film. Here's a sneak preview of what's in store:

If you can't catch us in Bryant Park, perhaps you'll come hear us in a lovely garden concert at The Hopper House in Nyack, NY. We'll be playing there Thursday evening August 13th at 7:30pm at one of my favorite places to hear music, the home of iconic American artist Ed Hopper in my hometown of Nyack on the Hudson. It's a perfect place to bring family and friends and enjoy an evening outdoors.

Other upcoming events you may want to see:

June 6 at 7pm. , The Falcon Marlboro, NY

Ed Palermo Big Band presents The Wizard of Zodd featuring Napoleon Murphy Brock. The ultimate mashup of Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren wrapped up in a twisted pageant based on the Wizard of Oz. I've been a member of Ed's band for fifteen years—you won't want to miss this one!

June 10 at 8pm. Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble will be celebrating the release on Sunnyside Records of “Songs We Like a Lot”, the sequel to the Grammy-nominated album “Songs I Like a Lot”. We will also be performing at the Newport Jazz Festival July 31st if you happen to be attending.

June 25 at 7:30pm. Christ and St.Stephens Episcopal Church, 120 W.69th St., New York, NY

27th Annual BMI Jazz Composers Workshop Concert

That's right: 27 years of cutting edge big band music premiers, the last fifteen of which I've been a proud participant. And unfortunately this will be the last one, so make sure to see this if you can. If you want to know more about the history of this incredibly influential workshop and it's future, you can visit this site and join in the conversation: https://www.facebook.com/groups/593463090756480/

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you at one of these events! If you have any comments drop me a line or visit benkono.com, would love to hear from you.

 

Musically yours,

Ben

 

"Don't Blink" is in the can! 

Whoo hoo! The Ben Kono Group had a great two days at Paul Wickliffe's studio in Hampton, NJ recording the complete suite "Don't Blink", commissioned by Chamber Music America: New Jazz Works Grant and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The peaceful rural environment (including a family of deer!) stoked our creative energies and we have something we think you'll find very different and rewarding to listen to. Thanks to the band--Pete, Henry, Satoshi, and Kermit--for making the long hall, and to Paul for getting us great sounds. Special thanks to Henry for the three-flight walkup in the East Village with a newly restored vintage Fender Rhodes--the sound was worth it!

World Premier Performance June 5th in New York City! 

Hello folks! Blog numero uno here. Thought I would kick it off by announcing an upcoming performance of the Ben Kono Group at one of my favorite music venues in the city, Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village of Manhattan this June 5th. This will be a world premiere of "Don't Blink", an extended suite I wrote for multiple woodwinds and jazz quintet funded by a generous grant from Chamber Music America: New Jazz Works. I started work on this project soon after recording the BKG album "Crossing". It started with a photograph I had taken during a cross country trip back in the late 1970's with my family. We were in Glacier National Park (one of the most beautiful places on earth, and if you've never been there you should go!) which straddles the borders of Montana and Canada and I was just enthralled with the magnificence of the mountains, lakes and glaciers--some of which still crossed the 'Going to the Sun Road' even that June. Fast forward about thirty years later, my four year old daughter saw this same photo and asked about it. So we got into a discussion of what glaciers are and how these rivers of ice creep along so slowly it can take a year for them to travel a few feet; and then through the modern miracle of an internet search we saw the truth about glaciers. There are now only about 25 of the 150 or so glaciers that once populated that park, and those will likely be gone within the next two decades. You can see how dramatic these changes are here. So much for leaving the world a better place! I was concerned about what my daughter would experience, and how those experiences would be forever different than my own. Music seemed like a good place to turn to for us at this point, and my daughter and I spent much time together at the piano composing short melodies for our 'favorite' endangered species. Mostly this involved her dancing and singing while I improvised at the piano. At some point, though, I thought it might make for some nice material for a project and I began to record our 'sessions'. Nothing really had any legs, however, until I pitched the idea of weaving some of these themes throughout an extended multi-movement composition to Chamber Music America and was thrilled to hear they liked it enough to offer my group a grant to write and perform this piece. And so now here we are. You just never know!

The band is Henry Hey on piano, Pete McCann on guitar, Kermit Driscoll on bass, and Satoshi Takeishi on drums and percussion. I'll be playing English horn, bass clarinet, flutes, and tenor saxophone. These are four of my favorite musicians--and friends--in the world, and I am so grateful for their contributions to this project! The music you bring to a rehearsal with musicians of this caliber almost always serves as a mere starting point, and by the time you leave it is often transformed into something you couldn't have conjured up on your own. If you are in the area June 5th, I hope you will stop by so we can share this with you! Here is the information:

Ben Kono GroupWorld premiere performance of "Don't Blink"
Cornelia Street Cafe
29 Cornelia Street
New York, NY
(212)989-9319

sets are 8:30pm and 10:00pm
$10 cover; $10 minimum

There is a full dinner menu and reservations are strongly suggested as seating is limited.
 

“Don’t Blink”: a Chamber Music America New: Jazz Works Commissioning and Ensemble Development Grant for The Ben Kono Group, with generous funding by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation 

This suite of ten movements brings together a number of ecological and environment ‘lessons’ I’ve learned along my journey through this changing world that I would like to pass along to my young daughter. The news today concerning our environment and global warming is grim and overwhelming. I chose not to dwell on the hugeness of our current dilemma, but rather on subjects more personal and meaningful that I could more effectively convey through musical exploration. Musically, I wanted to break from traditional jazz structure using simple motifs to spin into larger forms; motifs that would present themselves throughout the entire suite as a binding thread. I also wanted to present some unorthodox use of woodwinds in a jazz setting, and to create some unique environments for the musicians to improvise within the group. The following is a ‘synopsis’ of the movements:

Last Flight of the Dodo

 
The Dodo resides in our collective consciousness as the symbol of mass extinction caused by humans. We learned early on in childhood of the innocent flightless bird that once populated the island of Mauritius in the seventeenth century, free of natural predators until the arrival of the Dutch and their domesticated pets decimated the species in less than a century. As there are no preserved specimens or photographs, we can only rely on eyewitness accounts of their appearances along with some rather conflicting sketches and paintings. This almost mythical bird seems like an ideal place to begin our journey. “Flight of the Dodo” takes us on a fantasy wherein the utopian society of the Dodo is destroyed by the arrival of man and his feral cats and dogs, and all is lost. Out of the midst of the doomed population arises a hero; an intellectual genius who discovers the secret of flight hundreds of years before the Wright brothers do, and whose bravery rallies the flightless birds together to vanquish their human oppressors. In the end, however, we’ve been dreaming and we are forced to confront the truth: that we are the stewards of the Earth and have the power to preserve or destroy our environment. Much of the melodic and rhythmic material used throughout the suite is presented in this extended movement.
 

Glacier

 
A glacier, we learned in grade school, is a great river of ice that moves so slow as to be undetectable by the human eye and may travel but a few inches a year in its journey to the sea. In the 1970’s my family traveled by car to Seattle from Vermont in one of our epic vacations and I photographed some of these awesome parapets of ice creeping down the majestic mountains of Glacier National Park. Forty years later, my daughter and I were perusing the same photographs and discovered, through the magic of an internet search, that the glaciers are all but gone. Of the 150 glaciers that gave the park its namesake, only 25 remain and these will likely disappear within the next two decades. This was the first part of the suite I wrote, almost four years ago, and since then we have seen an alarming increase in polar ice melting, drought, and severe weather caused by global warming. The world has not been left in better shape for our children; we should at least do what we can to save a few glaciers for them to enjoy.
 

Smoky Madtom Hoedown

 
Throughout my young adult life I’ve had the privilege to hike many portions of the Appalachian Trail, although I’ve never attempted the whole stretch. I was reading Bill Bryson’s highly educational and humorous account of his own attempt in “A Walk in the Woods” and came upon his anecdote describing the National Park Service’s bungled program to introduce non-native rainbow trout into Abrams Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains. After dumping drums of poison to ‘cleanse’ the stream, “the Park Service biologists managed the wonderfully unusual accomplishment of discovering and eradicating in the same instant a new species of fish”. The Smoky Madtom was an odd looking catfish-like creature, and I thought the English horn in the role of a bluegrass fiddler could strike up the right amount weirdness and irony in a somewhat disjunct Appalachian hoedown.

Simon and the Monk

 
During a family reunion in the beautiful island of Maui, my brother Simon had a close encounter with a monk seal while taking a morning swim. This seal is endangered having suffered from commercial fishing, human encroachment and climate change and at this time number about a thousand. They are a curious species, and this fellow took to playing a game of ‘Simon says’ with my brother as they communed quietly in the sea. I used a simple round, hoping to convey a sense of playfulness and respect.
 

River of Fire

 
There are many “Rivers of Fire” throughout the world. For my first six years in New York City I resided next to one of the worst. Newtown Creek, a body of water separating the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and emptying into the East River is the site of one of the largest oil spills in history, spilling up to 30 million gallons of oil into the local harbors and aquifers. A huge subterranean explosion in Greenpoint in the 1950s was the first indication of the disaster, but it took until 1978 before a Coast Guard patrol would discover the massive plume of oil and the issue has remained in litigation ever since. There were times when, if the wind was just right, the smell and whatever was in the air would force tears out of your eyes. For more information you can visit newtowncreekalliance.org or riverkeeper.org. For this movement, nothing says urban industrial wasteland like heavy metal bass clarinet.
 

Who Cries for Iron Eyes?

 
Iron Eyes Cody strode into our living rooms on horseback and canoe during the 1970s’ “Keep America Beautiful” public service television ad campaign. The commercial seems dated now, but the ‘crying Indian’ had a profound impact on my generation with his message: “People start pollution, people can stop it!”. This movement is based on a melody inspired by my daughter for the endangered tree frogs of South America. 
 

Passenger

 
2014 marks the centenary of the passing of Martha, the last known living passenger pigeon on Earth who died in the Cincinnati Zoo September 1st, 1914. This extinction was astonishing. The birds numbered between three and five billion and flocks were so thick they darkened the skies and filled the woods with their cries. In just a few decades they all disappeared forever, partly due to deforestation but mostly to rampant hunting by humans. I remember reading of this in grade school, and it defied my imagination. How could this be possible in modern civilization? Let’s not forget the lessons of the passenger pigeon. Here I wanted to compose a threnody that would recall the thousands of cries that once echoed through the woods and across the skies of rural America. 
 

General Sherman Meets the President

 
The largest tree in the world by volume is still the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park. My family makes a pilgrimage to the redwood forests of California every year to bathe in its profound silence and majesty. There is nothing comparable to a grove of giant redwoods, and through extensive logging the massive old growth trees have been pushed to the brink of extinction. It takes political will to make actions that save, and President Bill Clinton did so by creating the Giant Sequoia National Monument that preserves over 300,000 acres of this fragile habitat.
 

Tipping Point

 
We are definitely reaching the tipping point in worldwide ecological disaster, but it’s never too late to educate. Many of us, myself included, had never heard of the Keeling Curve until the release of “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2008, even though Charles Keeling had been collecting data since 1958. In the film, Vice President Al Gore illustrates the stark reality of our global warming due to our use of fossil fuels. I’m hoping the constant use of metric modulation in ‘Tipping Point’ will serve to mirror what the Keeling Curve so graphically represents.
 

Renewal

 
As troubling as “An Inconvenient Truth” is, my favorite quote from Al Gore has an uplifting message: “political will is a renewable resource”. During the inception of this project I surreptitiously recorded my daughter humming back a melody I was trying to shape at the piano and this piece, with her help, eventually took form. The children are, indeed, our future, but now is the time to ensure through political will that a future will exist for them.
 
Glacier National Park c.1980

Glacier National Park c.1980