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February 06, 2011, 2:30 PM

Living in the Musical Moment: Jazz Guitar

Music Performance & Discussion
Participants: Lewis Porter & Ken Wessel

Jazz is not the only art form to contain improvisation—far from it. The principles of free association can be found across the arts, as well as in athletics and, significantly, the psychoanalytic process. But in jazz, the discipline of improvisation is developed to a very high level. Far from a casual, occasional exercise, improvisation in jazz is something that beginning players struggle to master, and that professionals spend their lives honing, refining, and changing. To this day, musicians study the recorded improvisations of such masters as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Herbie Hancock in order to gain insights and inspiration.

Dr. Lewis Porter will explore improvisation with noted jazz guitarist Ken Wessel. The presentation will consist of performances of short improvised pieces, followed by discussion and questions from the audience. The musicians will explain the basis of their improvisations—there is always some starting point, often written out on music paper or memorized—and discuss their creative process.

Lewis Porter, PhD, is a jazz pianist and Professor of Music at Rutgers University in Newark, where he is the founding director of the world's only Master's program in jazz history. He is known worldwide for his teaching and for his many books and articles, especially John Coltrane: His Life and Music. He edited the John Coltrane Reference, which appeared in January 2008. As a pianist and keyboardist, he has performed recently with such artists as Dave Liebman, Wycliffe Gordon, Ravi Coltrane, and Badal Roy; he has toured Europe many times, including recent performances in Israel, Italy, Germany and Spain. His CD Italian Encounter, recorded live at Siena Jazz, has received rave reviews. Jazz Times says that Porter is "a helluva piano player." His new CD, Transformation, presents duets with fellow pianist and Berklee professor Marc Rossi. (You may purchase CDs after this event.)

Ken Wessel, a guitarist and composer, plays jazz ranging from straight-ahead to free music, as well as investigating points of intersection between jazz and North Indian music. He has performed in 27 countries at major jazz festivals, concert halls, and in radio and television appearances. Wessel toured for over 12 years as a member of revolutionary jazz artist Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking ensemble Prime Time. Wessel has also worked with Donald Fagen, Debashish Bhattacharya, John Abercrombie, Badal Roy, Hamid Drake, Karl Berger, Adam Rudolph, and many other artists from the jazz and pop spectrum. His CDs include Daybreak (with Badal Roy and Stomu Takeishi) and Jawboning (with Lou Grassi and Ken Filiano). Wessel is an active educator and, in addition to giving clinics around the world, is currently on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester.

This program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State's 62 counties.


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