The Aural Tradition

Somewhere before the 10-minute mark of my first meeting with Norman Sylvester I came to realize I wasn’t there to jam: I was there to learn.
Norman Sylvester and me

There I sat, knee-to-knee with a great bluesman who was giving me a hands-on history lesson. He started with Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, and we worked our way up through Ray Charles, Clapton, Hendrix and then on to R&B and Funk. At every turn, he made me not just play it…but feel it. “Again…” he’d say, listening for the groove, the pocket, the subtle turn that stamped that lick as being the classic sound. When I left his studio, two hours later, he had laid out the thread that connects 150 years of music together as the soundtrack to the African-American – to the American – experience. I left his studio realizing I had a lifetime of practicing ahead to truly understand the music I’ve loved for so long.

A few weeks later, we stood on stage, making music for a room full of people who had come to dance. And that’s the whole point. Too often, it’s easy to fall back on honing technique and the solitude of practice. But music is there to move us – spiritually and physically. I’m thankful every time I get to be reminded of that fact.

Thanks, Mr. Sylvester, for everything. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some studying to do…

Spring brings new projects

Had the good fortune this month to join the roster of Pérola Brasileira ( on both mandolin and guitar. Featuring frontwoman Megan Haupt, backed by guitars, bass and horns, we’re covering classic Samba, Bossa, Tango and even some Choro in a modern style. You can catch us at our standing gig at Press Club every first Thursday of the month.

Meanwhile, the Hot Club of Hawthorne has moved to its new residence on the second Thursday of every month at Press Club. Last month we had an enthusiastic and attentive audience. As the summer picks up, so will the tempos and energy. The improving weather will also bring more gigs for the band, including the Portland Saturday Market on April 13th at 1:30pm.

Happy Spring!

Upcoming gigs: December

Happy to announce a couple new gigs scheduled in December with the Hot Club of Hawthorne.

We’ll be playing at Jam on Hawthorne next Thursday, Dec 6th at 6pm. We have a great set that night, featuring both classic Reinhardt/Grapelli tunes like Nuages and Swing 42 as well as some standards like How Insensitive and Bossa Dorado. We’ll be joined by Jeffrey Reynolds on violin and Dan Golden on bass.

We’ll also be playing a new location for the Hot Club at the Gotham Tavern on N. Interstate Ave. on Dec. 15th. Word has it that the ambience is classic Portland eclectic – an intimate space with wooden screens that feel like you’re sitting inside a Jenga game. Music starts at 8:30pm.

All the relevant details are available on the Calendar page.

Au revoir!

Hot Club of Hawthorne Thursday 11/01

I have the honor of joining Jeffree White and the Hot Club of Hawthorne at Jam on Hawthorne this week for an evening of live Gypsy and acoustic swing jazz. It’s always a thrill to play out with these guys – Jeffree is a master at getting top-flight players together, and it keeps me on my toes to gig with them.

I’d love to see you this week. Show starts at 6pm at Jam on Hawthorne. No cover, all ages.

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