Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pheaturing Rich Halley

Hello, welcome to another Sunday entry of the Phile, everybody. How are you? Man, have you been following the Occupy Wall Street protests? Or as it's also known as the largest homeless slumber party in the world. Some protesters brought their kids to the demonstrations. Some of the kids got bored and decided to occupy Sesame Street instead. The Occupy Wall Street protesters traveled around New York to stand outside the mansions of the most wealthy people in New York. Is that protesting or tourism? Police were using pepper spray on the Wall Street protesters. That’s scary. What if they’re spraying them with condiments so the rich people can enjoy eating them? The protesters stood outside the homes of five rich dudes. Michael Moore was actually able to stand outside all five homes at the same time. The protests are getting pretty rowdy. This morning, they overturned Donald Trump’s hair and set it on fire. If I was in New York, I’d probably participate in this. Well, first I’d see “Jersey Boys.” Paul McCartney married a truck heiress. You know the economy is bad when Paul McCartney is marrying for money. The Washington Post says that President Obama is not a people person, and is a neurotic loner without any friends. It’s like I have a twin. Happy belated-birthday to Bo, the White House dog. It looks like he may be a one-term dog. Michelle Obama attempted to set a world record for jumping jacks. I think that will make unemployment a little easier to tolerate. Herman Cain was in 2nd place in most of the national polls, behind Mitt Romney. Apparently his message of “less government, more toppings” has been well received. The SAT is the standardized achievement test, and the PSAT is the same thing, but with pizza. BlackBerry service disruptions have spread to the United States from the Middle East and Africa. Millions of people were forced to check their email from a computer like wild cave savages. It’s embarrassing for BlackBerry, but it could have been worse. The new iPhone could be coming out at the end of the week — oh, wait a minute. Teenagers are amazing, aren't they? Apparently, teenagers are soaking Gummy bears in vodka and then eating them to get drunk. It does make me somewhat proud to be living in America, because we finally found a way to get fat and drunk at the same time. I think “vodka-soaked Gummy bear” might be my new nickname for Snooki. Hey, did you see new missing photo's of Marilyn Monroe have been found? If you haven't, I have one of those photo's here on the Phile. Check it out.

Lucky bastard that Chewie is. A Hollywood company is producing a movie based on the Facebook game “Farmville.” Finally, Hollywood is making a movie about something we care about. Speaking of "Farmville", wanna see what my farm looks like? Take a look.

Well, it's Sunday, and every Sunday on the Phile during football season I invite my friend Jeff to come on and talk football and we make football picks. As of last week I am winning by the way. So, here is Jeff again for a pheature I like to call...

Me: Welcome back, Jeff. So did you hear Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer wants a football team in Orlando? What do you think about that?

Jeff: I think there are all ready three teams in Florida and Jacksonville has the worst attendance in the NFL right now, so I am not sure it would work. Plus the Citrus Bowl is hardly prepared to host NFL games for a whole season! Other then that I fully support the decision! 

Me: I agree one hundred percent, plus we don't have the space for all those people. Anyway, what's the big football news this week?

Jeff: The big news of the football week is the Denver Broncos switching quarterbacks from Kyle Orton to former Florida Gator Tim Tebow. They claim he will give them a better chance to win. I say if that's the case why didn't you start him first? Oh wait, I am thinking outside the box.

Me: Alright, let's get down to business? How did our teams do and how did we do with last week's picks?

Jeff: The Steelers won last week while the Giants lost. Meanwhile I went 0-2 last week while you went 2-0. So as it stands you are leading by 4 points.

Me: Okay, I am still winning! Now, next weekend I will be on vacation so they'll be no Phile entries so we'll have a by week. But if our teams win, we'll still get the point. Okay, what are your picks this week? 

Jeff: I will go with Raiders by 3 and Ravens by a point.

Me: My picks I say your Steelers by 8 and Green Bay by a touchdown. Come back in two week's, Jeff. Great job as always.

Jeff: See you in two weeks!

Today's guest is a composer and saxophonist whose new album "Requiem for a Pit Viper" is now available at iTunes and Amazon. He will be next appearing The Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, Washington on October 18th. Please welcome to the Phile... Rich Halley. 

Me: Hello, Rich, welcome to the Phile, sir. How are you?

Rich: I'm doing great, especially since it has stopped raining for a few days here in Portland.

Me: You, like a lot of other jazz musicians, perform in more then one band, am I right? You have a quartet and a trio?

Rich: I have done everything from solo performances to large groups but mostly I perform with my trio or quartet. Small groups provide a lot of freedom for improvised music, and when you're playing with the right people the music can go all kinds of places.

Me: Only jazz musicians do that I think, or so it seems. Rock musicians don't do that. They normally get a band together with so many people and stick to it, replacing band members if they have to. Am I making sense? Why do you think a lot of jazz musicians have a few different bands?

Rich: Well, in some ways I approach this like the rock guys in that I tend to have long term playing relationships. But you're right that jazz musicians tend to have multiple "projects" that they present. This provides an opportunity to perform different music with different players and different instrumentation. Since jazz tends to put more emphasis on individual skills it's easier for jazz musicians to get together with folks they haven't played with before and make music. But group improvisation plays a big role in my music and to do that well it really helps to play with people you have some history with and who have a similar concept.

Me: You also have a band called Outside Music Ensemble for outdoor gigs, am I right? You do acoustic shows? Isn't most jazz acoustic?

Rich: The Outside Music Ensemble is acoustic in the sense that there is no amplification of any kind. In jazz, usually you have a bass player and they use an amplifier. This band is four horns and two drummers. For the last 13 years we've been doing annual hike-in concerts of original music on top of Powell Butte east of Portland. We set up in a grassy meadow area and the audience kind of clusters around. There are no electrical outlets up there. You can see all the snow capped volcanoes and you're out in nature. It's pretty cool.

Me: You probably think I am an idiot, but really I am not. LOL. I played your latest album "Requiem for a Pit Viper" and enjoyed it. You do know a pit viper is a snake, right?

Rich: Yes, I was thinking about rattlesnakes which are pit vipers. They have heat sensing pits on their head that help them hunt rodents. I think they are very interesting animals and their populations have been wiped out or greatly reduced in many places.

Me: Where did that song title and album title come from? Don't tell me you like snakes.

Rich: Yeah, I like snakes and have been interested in them since childhood. I was educated as a biologist and I did research with rattlesnakes as a graduate student. As far as the title goes, I was thinking about pit vipers and how there are a lot fewer of them these days. And I saw an analogy between pit vipers and free improvisational jazz musicians: they both are somewhat uncommon, have some bite to what they do and are not universally loved by the masses.

Me: On the album you have a song called "Circumambulation" and I have to admit, I am an idiot. What does that mean?

Rich: Circumambulation is the act of walking in a circle around a sacred place. I was familiar with this from Buddhist literature and from being in India and Nepal. This particular tune has a certain flow to it that reminded me of walking in that way.

Me: Who plays on the album with you, Rich?

Rich: Michael Vlatkovich is based in Los Angeles and is one of the finest improvising trombonists playing today. Vancouver B.C. bassist Clyde Reed plays with great warmth and plays a key connective role in the group. The drummer is Carson Halley, my son, who plays with strength and musicality. I've been playing with these guys in various groups for about fifteen years. Actually, I have a photo of Carson playing drums at age two so that goes back even further. They're all wonderful players and we all share similar musical concepts.

Me: So, it's the quartet album?

Rich: It's a quartet album which in this case means there are two horns for contrasting voices as well as for counterpoint and harmony. And bass and drums provide a fairly open rhythmic and harmonic underpinning and direction. It's still a small group which allows us to be nimble and go all kinds of places when we improvise. But the people in the band are the real key because everyone really listens and improvises with the group in mind. And everyone puts the music first, ahead of displaying individual chops etc. When we perform we don't know in advance where the music will go. We trust in the group intelligence to take the music to new and exciting places. I also released another quartet recording last fall. That was "Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival" which was the same band but with Bobby Bradford on cornet instead of Michael Vlatkovich.

Me: I often wonder how composers that write instrumentals come up with song titles. How do you do it? It must be the easiest part of the process, right?

Rich: The title is probably the easiest part. Generally I write most or all of the music before I come up with a title. By then I usually have an image or idea in my mind that seems right for a title.

Me: Let's talk about the saxophone, which you play, Rich. How old were you when you took up playing the sax?

Rich: I started playing saxophone when I was fourteen. I had this idea I could work my way through college by playing in a band and not have to work a regular job. Boy, was I dreaming! Then I discovered jazz and eventually got to the point where I only wanted to play music I really believed in.

Me: What made you decide to play that instrument? I took sax in school and hated it. Those stupid reeds kept on breaking.

Rich: I started on clarinet at school when I was eleven. I wanted to play trombone but they said my arm was too short and there were already too many trumpet players. So I ended up with the clarinet. That led to the saxophone.

Me: You play tenor, sax, right? Do you like playing that better, opposed to playing say alto?

Rich: Many people start on alto but I started on tenor and have always played that horn. I really like the flexibility and sound of the tenor. It seems very vocal to me and it's amazing how different players get totally different sounds. For example Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Ben Webster: their sounds are so different they could be playing different instruments. Sometimes I also play soprano but I haven't been doing that recently.

Me: Who did you listen to sax playing growing up and now? The only sax players I could think of I like is Alto Reed and Sonny Rollins.

Rich: I have enjoyed listening to many different saxophonists. The list of people I admire and consider influences is long and would include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, John Gilmore, Clifford Jordan, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Jr Walker, King Curtis, Wayne Shorter and Fred Anderson. I've probably forgotten somebody. There are a lot of great saxophonists!

Me: Do you play any other instruments, Rich?

Rich: I play wood flutes, mostly a hand made bamboo flute I got locally. I also play a bit of percussion in the group. I used to play flute and clarinet but have not done so for some time. I use the piano for writing but would never claim to be able to play piano.

Me: Where are you from? Do you still live there?

Rich: I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I've lived in a number of other places including Chicago, Egypt, New Mexico and San Francisco but I returned to Portland and it's my home.

Me: I imagine you get to play in a lot of cool jazz fest's. Which festival is your favorite to play at? Or are they all pretty much the same?

Rich: I've played at a number of jazz festivals and they vary quite a bit but it's always fun. For me, the most rewarding experience is being musical director of the Penofin Jazz Festival which is a small private festival in Northern California. I am able to bring in groups that I like musically and that is really satisfying. 

Me: Here in Orlando they put on a pretty good one I hear. I've never been personally, but I heard it was good. Ever play here?

Rich: I've never played in Orlando. Maybe someday though.

Me: You founded Oregon's Creative Music Guild, which sounds cool. How did you come about doing that, and explain what it is.

Rich: The Creative Music Guild is a non-profit organization we started in Portland to support and present creative improvised music. A lot of times there aren't many commercial venues available for this so we tried to be a force to help the music happen. Over the years the CMG has done a couple hundred concerts featuring musicians from all over the US and abroad.

Me: Do other city's have music guild's as well?

Rich: I don't think there are any others with that exact name but there are similar organizations in many different cities.

Me: Rich, I have to ask you about this, you studied field biology. Do you still do anything with that, apart from naming your album after a snake?

Rich: I did a Masters in Biology at the University of New Mexico. Primarily in herpetology and terrestrial ecology. But I don't work as a biologist. At this point I'm mostly playing music, and I head out to the mountains, rivers, deserts or the coast when I can.

Me: You must really love nature, right? And the outdoors? Not me, sir. I like it indoors. No rain, hot sun, bugs and animals. Not much anyway.

Rich: Aside from my family, music and nature have been my big interests. I've been able to travel a good deal and have visited wilderness regions around the world. That's been a wonderful experience. Living here in the Northwest there are lots of great things to do outdoors and I try to go out and do them as much as possible. Last week I was hiking in the Columbia Gorge. Right now the salmon fly hatch is on at the Deschutes River and I'm hoping to get out there with my fly rod.

Me: Rich, thanks so much for being on the Phile, sir. I hope it was fun. Go ahead and mention your website and anything else you wanna. Take care, and keep blowing.

Rich: Thank you! I really enjoyed it. My website is My music is available through CDbaby and iTunes as well as via my website.  

Keep blowing?! That's the first time I ever said that to a guy. Anyway, thanks to Rich Halley for a great interview and to Jeff Trelewicz of course. The Phile will be back tomorrow with Shelly Fairchild who I had a crush on back in 2005 when I first saw her album and saw her on TV. Then like I said, next week there's not gonna be any entries, but Sunday after that on the 30th the Phile will be back with Taye Cannon, lead singer for the soul band Roxy Roca. So, spread he word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. 

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