Many thanks to Chamber Music Magazine for featuring my CMA grant project "Don't Blink" in their Fall 2020 issue, and to the musicians who have kept this project going over the years: Henry Hey, Pete McCann, Kermit Driscoll, Satoshi Takeishi, Mike Holober, Jared Schonig, and Matt Clohesy. Looking forward to a time when we can continue presenting this music live again!
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
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.