Meet The Players: Jay Rattman


Jay Rattman is an incredible musician in NYC. I found his answers to these questions very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks a lot Jay for sharing!
When did you start playing music/woodwinds? What got you to start playing?
My folks had and still have a piano in their house, and I made up songs on that from when I was very little. So I started taking lessons when I was in first grade, but that only lasted about 6 months. I think learning to read words at the same time as music might have been more than I could handle at the time, so I was pretty discouraged, but I continued playing piano by ear. I started playing clarinet in 5th grade band, but only because that was required before learning saxophone which I got to a few months after that. I wanted to play saxophone because in the area I grew up, Stroudsburg/Delaware Water Gap, PA I had many opportunities to hear Phil Woods. Specifically, his big band came out with a CD, and played at this local jazz festival he cofounded, and I would listen to that album, “Celebration,” every night as I went to sleep that year, and think, “I’ve got to learn how to play the saxophone.”
Who are some of your biggest influences as a jazz player? As a musician in general? 
In Delaware Water Gap is a fairly well-known club called The Deer Head Inn, and for many decades John Coates Jr. was the house pianist there. People who have heard him know that he’s a genius, really one of the finest pianists anywhere. But for many reasons — he’s always been shy, was content staying put and playing at the Deer Head and writing choral arrangements for Shawnee Press across the street from there, etc. — he never gained that much notoriety outside of the area. Now he lives in California, having rekindled a relationship with his first wife from the early 60s. Keith Jarrett was known to go check him out regularly as a young man, and even sit in with him on drums and soprano saxophone. I’ve played recordings of John from the 60s or 70s for people, and they say, “Oh, so that’s where Keith got it from!” Anyway, many of the best listening experiences of my life so far have been at the Deer Head hearing John from the time I was in Kindergarden or so, up until he moved when I was a couple years into college. I also really love Paul Motian and just about everything he ever did. I can’t count the number of times I must have gone to the Vanguard to see him before he died two years ago. I especially looked forward to the couple weeks at the end of summer each year he did with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. I think Motian encompassed all of jazz history in his playing, but with this beautiful irreverence. Nothing was sacred. He edited out every note that wasn’t completely necessary, leaving only the most important ones. And his time was so precise, and his underlying feel so deep, that the notes he did play implied everything that he was leaving out.
Paul Desmond is an influence too in the way he expressed harmony in his lines. A lot of the time, he’s improvising compound lines that imply 2- or 3- or even 4-voiced chorales. And with such clarity of logic. I love improvisors like that! I put Charlie Haden and Coleman Hawkins in a similar circle.
Thelonious Monk, more and more, represents everything I love about jazz: his time feel; the sparseness, but again with the most meaningful notes at the most swinging moments; the experimentalism and modernity, both growing very organically out of an older tradition. Of course, I also love all of the saxophonists who played with him, especially Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse. But also, I’ve always loved the way Steve Lacy interpreted Monk’s compositions, among other things.
And I can’t mention Steve Lacy without proclaiming my worship of his and all of our forebear Sidney Bechet. The way Bechet could float over the time and instantaneously snap into the most precisely grooving syncopations and eighth note lines is a thing of wonder. The only other player who comes to my mind who can do that so beautifully is Sonny Rollins.
As obsessed as I am with counterpoint — whenever there’s not music or noise going on, I can’t stop myself from harmonizing little snippets of melodies or parts of scales in my head in 2 or 3 or 4 voices over and over again as a sort of constant and involuntary exercise — I of course worship Bach. As a saxophonist/clarinetist, I am especially drawn to things he wrote for mostly-monophonic instruments, like the cello suites or violin sonatas and partitas, that express many-voiced chorales within a single line — I am sure Paul Desmond had to have spent some time with those. I also love the Trio Sonatas for organ — my girlfriend Janet, who is an organist, and I like to sing through those together at the piano. And of course the Well-Tempered Clavier, The Goldberg Variations, Art of the Fugue, etc. And the Brandenburg Concertos. And the St. Matthew Passion. I think that if I were told I had to choose only one composer to ever hear or play again, it would be Bach. And obviously, he didn’t even write anything for saxophone or clarinet. So that puts me out of a job, but I’m fine with that.
I’ve spent a lot of time listening Bartok. I love his Concerto for Orchestra, with that fugue in the brass in the first movement! And of course the string quartets. From there I got into a lot of Ligeti. I love Messiaen too — I had listened to a bunch of his piano music, and of course the Quartet for the End of Time, but since I started dating Janet, I’ve gotten to hear a lot of his organ music. There’s nothing like hearing that live! One piece we heard at a concert downtown had this “chord of death” in it, symbolizing the crucifixion. It was the most scared I’ve ever been while listening to music. It lasted a good 30 seconds, and you think the world is ending. Every time I closed my eyes while that chord was going on, I had to open them again, it was so frightening. Any composer who can accomplish that must know what he’s doing! Completely apart from that, I love Stravinsky for his cleanness and elegance. “Agon” and “Apollo” are two of my favorite pieces of his, probably because I’ve seen the ballet do them so many times, I can really see what is going on in the music.
I also love the Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. And I guess the Beach Boys too: any time I hear one of these new indie rock bands, as a general rule of thumb, if they sound like the Beach Boys, I’ll probably like them. Like The Fleet Foxes. They’re good in my book for that reason.
When did you get into jazz? Were there any first recordings that really inspired you? 
 I’ve loved jazz for as long as I can remember. I attribute that to my parents taking me to the Deer Head and other concerts from the time I was born. They took me to hear Bob Dorough when I was 10 days old, and they say I was so quiet that they kept taking me to other concerts.
Could you talk a little about your experience growing up near the musically rich Delaware Water Gap? 
Sure. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have grown up there, with the chance to hear so much incredible live music, and in a community small enough that the musicians were all very accessible. Phil Woods and Dave Liebman both mentored me from around middle school age. Another wonderful saxophonist out there named Nelson Hill was my main teacher from when I was in 5th grade until I graduated high school. I took ear training and composition with Caris Visentin, who is married to Dave Liebman, and is a great composer and oboist in her own right. Rick Chamberlain is a trombonist out there, who plays great trad-jazz, plays lead in Phil’s big band, and also is the principal in the New York City Ballet orchestra. He is one of the reasons I got into early jazz, but he also always impressed on me the importance of aspiring to be a solid, versatile, complete musician, who can execute anything on one’s instrument, play stylistically appropriately in different settings, and generally know what’s going on. Pat Dorian taught music at the local university out there, ESU, when I was growing up and he presented a lot of amazing concerts and guest lectures that he made open to the public. And he always made sure the I, and the other young kids out there who were serious about studying jazz got to meet or even get little lessons with visiting artists. Unfortunately with budget cuts coming from the Republicans in Harrisburg, and a new university president who doesn’t seem to get it, there are a lot of changes for the worse going on around there, especially the defunding of the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection in their library, where all of Al’s materials are, along with a lot of other Pocono jazz-related items. Thank goodness the Deer Head is still is a world-class place to check out a band for three sets in a row in a very cool, small-town, mom-and-pop sort of setting. And Bob Dorough is turning 90 on December 12! But you’d never guess it: he’s still singing and playing piano and leading his band and recording and writing witty, hip tunes, and I expect he will continue in this fashion for another couple of decades at this rate. I love him!
Do you have a favorite performance you’ve done in the last few years?
No one thing springs immediately to mind. I enjoy any gig where the musicians are listening carefully to each other, and anything could happen at any moment. I’ve enjoyed the Aerial Photograph gigs for that reason. I try to steer clear of gigs where I know that won’t be the case.
Do you have any specific practicing routine that you work through?  How do you practice?  Also, I know you compose a lot – do you have any particular compositional approach/process?
I’m constantly adjusting and experimenting with things to try to make my practicing as efficient and productive as possible. I’ve heard it said, and couldn’t agree more strongly with the idea that as long you have good control and mastery of your tone and your time, everything else falls right into place. So a big part of my routine on all of my instruments is long-tone exercises: different ones aimed at evenness of timbre from note to note throughout the entire range; smoothness connecting notes of all different intervals; gradual and extreme dynamic contrasts; intonation of every note against every possible interval with a drone; etc. A similar slew of articulation exercises.
And then for time, I incorporate the metronome different ways into various technical things (scales, arpeggios, tonal and chromatic intervalic sequences that I figure out as a sort of ear training), as well as into improvising, which I’ll go into as briefly as I can manage. I typically don’t use the metronome to click on downbeats. Instead I’ll hear the clicks as occurring on a given sixteenth or triplet subdivision, or as occurring every two, three, four, five, six or seven subdivisions, for instance. Now, there are two camps about metronomes. Some folks love them and say you can’t develop steady time without one. Others say that the metronome becomes a crutch and that you never develop an internal, self-sufficient sense of time if you use one. I think both camps are right. So I like these fancy-pants metronomes you can find now, like Metronomics for iPhone where you can program gaps in the clicks, so that it clicks however many times you want before staying silent for however many clicks you want. I figure that way, you get the best of both worlds as you increase the length of the gaps: you’ve got to provide your own groove in your head while the metronome is silent, and then when it eventually comes back in, it will tell you with brutal honesty just how you did.
Very briefly, as far as incorporating the metronome into practicing things that prepare you for improvising, my philosophy is that I want to improvise with my ears, and not my fingers, so I want to train my ears and avoid forming habits in my fingers to the extent that is possible. To me, that means playing notes only at a slow rate. So I’ll practice playing through tunes, or chord progressions of different types with only quarter notes, or dotted quarter notes, or only upbeats, or something along those lines, but with the metronome playing on all sorts of wacky subdivisions, and in various meters, so that I am forced to select only the strongest — or most harmonically meaningful — few notes in any given measure, all while hearing and playing precisely within fast-moving rhythmic subdivisions. This way I am hearing and selecting the most harmonically evocative notes at any given time, over a very precisely subdivided rhythmic framework, all while playing as few notes as possible, so as to avoid developing predictable habits. In a performance, the subconscious is able to fill in the rest of the connecting notes in the rhythmic framework. And when I practice, I’ll put various obstructions on what I’m doing, like limiting myself to certain intervals, or certain chord tones, or keeping one note the same through different chords and harmonizing above or below it, etc.  I hope that all makes sense.
And sometimes, I do none of this. I got mono and strep throat at the same time last winter, and didn’t practice at all for a month or so, but when I came back to it, everything felt better. So I was forced to realize that sometimes, it can be good to step away and come back fresh. I’ve realized that sometimes, maybe even frequently, the best thing you can do is not practice, and just listen extremely closely to some good recordings instead.
As far as my compositional process, I write down little ideas or parts of things, and then come back to them when I’ve got to finish something for a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. I find that my most successful attempts at composing result from singing melodies, or improvising two-voiced melodies at the piano, and then harmonizing them after the fact. I usually record myself doing these things, and then go back and transcribe and edit and tweak after the fact, so that whatever I write is coming from a spontaneous, improvisatory process to start with. I find that makes a big difference for me in the naturalness of the phrasing, pacing, and rhythm — it’s very hard for me to just write something down that doesn’t sound contrived. But sometimes for melodic material, I’ll start out by musically spelling words or names or numbers that hold some significance or curiosity for me, and then I’ll develop it from there. Usually those things end up so buried or mutated, you’d never know they were there, since ultimately I want the melody to be strong and singable above all other considerations.
What have you been listening to these days? 
The last few days, I’ve been going through Sibelius’s symphonies, because they are beautiful and I feel like I should know them. I don’t believe in any historical inevitability in the progression of music or anything else. For instance, Schoenberg followed a natural progression through Beethoven and Brahms and Wagner and Debussy and all the rest, but what he arrived at, as wonderful as it was, was certainly not the only possible result, despite what he or others might have believed. At any given time, history could have progressed in a different direction, changing everything after it. Sibelius represents to me just another possible direction things could have gone at the end of the 19th century, and the fact that he took that path after the beginning of the 20th had already intervened makes it all the more interesting to me for that reason.
I’ve also been trying to stay more on top of all the cool new jazz out there, especially that of my peers. I love listening to Lucas Pino, especially his nonet, and Jonathan Ragonese, and Alex LoRe, and Anna Webber. And it’s been great to hear Paul Jones throughout the year in your band! There are so many others. Bobby Avey, who I grew up with out in PA is writing some incredible stuff.
Do you have any book recommendations?
My all-time favorite book is John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. And it just flies by! I also recommend Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus” and “Magic Mountain.” A day didn’t go by that I didn’t think about something in those books for a good three months after I finished reading each of them. I’m gearing up to read “Buddenbrooks” soon — those books are long and fairly dense, but rewarding.
What are some of your musical goals?
To surprise myself more of the time.

Meet the Players: Eric Lemmon, violist

Eric Lemmon is great violist who has been playing a lot with Aerial Photograph this year.  I really enjoyed his answers to the questions I posed to him. Learn more about his music and musical life at  – Thanks Eric!!!

eric lemmon

When did you start playing music/viola? What got you to start playing? 

I started playing piano when I was seven and picked up the viola when I was 12.  It’s a little fuzzy as to what really precipitated my starting piano, but I think my parents made my brother and I both take piano.  I studied with this amazing old pianist named Mrs. Barnhart.  I think that she was the one who really cultivated my love for music, as she let me write my own pieces, and didn’t kick my ass about boring technical stuff while I was young.  Maybe she was and I just didn’t realize it because she was an exceptional teacher. In 7th grade, I had started doing too many extra curricular activities, so my parents forced me to choose between viola and piano.  I cried my eyes out and then I chose viola because I could play with other people.

Who are some of your biggest influences as a violist? As a musician in general?

As a violist, it’ll have to be my teachers and instructors.  Each one has imparted really different important aspects of technique and musicianship.

As far as who I want to sound like?  It’s funny, I’ve looked up to beautiful aspects of my peers’ playing more than William Primrose, Kim Kashkashian, Roberto Diaz, or any other famous soloist.  In composition, Beethoven is the one who cemented my decision pursue a life in music, wherever that journey may take me.   He represents clarity, brilliance, and most importantly, hard work.


Do you have a favorite performance you’ve done in the last few years?

This is tough.  Maybe Mahler 5 with the Sheep Island Ensemble, or playing as a ringer for the Yamaha Junior Original Concert?  The latter was great, because I got to work and rehearse with some of my students in addition to kids from all over the east coast who wrote pieces for Viola and Piano.

I know you work with a lot of different ensembles that do a wide variety of genres. How do you maintain balance in your music/practicing/scheduling/sanity?  Any specific things you do to keep focused in your musical life?

Balance? What’s that?  Truthfully, I try to always make sure I’m doing something productive with my time.  I fail at this a lot, but whatever I’m doing, it gets me by.

Do you have any specific practicing routine that you work through?  How do you practice?

Currently I’ve been starting by doing scales and arpeggios, moving onto technical exercises and then etudes, and finally rep.  This general structure means that I always build technical elements from the ground up, even within a practice session.  It also helps keep the earlier technical work focused, as technical work inside of a piece can become distracted by having to combine all the elements of the music.

What have you been listening to these days?

I listen to a lot of Minimalist composers in addition to a range of pop/rock, soul and jazz.  Choosing one from each category, I’d say I’m listening to Philip Glass, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane.

Do you have any book recommendations?

The Phantom Tollbooth.  It’s for kids, but it’s a wonderfully profound book in a whimsical way.  There are many allegorical moments in the book.

What are some of your goals for the future?

World domination.

Any additional thoughts? 

Playing with Aerial Photograph has been a ton of fun this year.  The music is great, and the concept can be funny, poignant, sad, and enlightening.  Because of the range of populations that can be surveyed over a year, one really gets the broad range of the human experience here in NYC.  I’m all about opening up ontologies.

Meet the Players: Paul Jones, Saxophone titan.

Paul Jones is an incredible saxophone player I met while at MSM. I urge you to visit to listen and learn more about his musical pursuits.


When did you start playing music, and Jazz? How did that come about?

I think my first initial interest in music was Michael Jackson.  Apparently, as my parents tell it as a toddler I was very into Michael’s album Off The Wall.  I started playing music when I was 8.  I wanted to play saxophone, but the music teachers told me I had to wait until I was ten and my hands got bigger.  So I started on piano.  I wasn’t in love with the piano and as soon as I could I switched to saxophone.   I didn’t discover Jazz though until I was about 14.  I moved to New Hampshire and they had a Jazz band instead of a concert band or marching band like in Maryland.  Immediately after my first day of Jazz Band I was hooked.  I started listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane records with friends from school.

Who are some of your biggest influences as a performer and as a composer? As a musician in general?

As a performer I’m extremely inspired by John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Mark Turner, Chris Cheek, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lettuce, Soulive, and all my musician friends and mentors.  There’s so many musicians who influence me on a daily basis.  As far as non-musical influences, my grandfather for his inspiring work ethic and personality.  As for composing one of my favorite pieces is Ravel’s String Quartet in F major.  Kurt Rosenwinkel’s compositions are some of my favorites.  Lately I’ve been checking out the Rite of Spring.  Bach and Beethoven are the best.  If I had all the time in the world I’d work on playing Chopin on the piano.

I know you keep a pretty busy schedule, and that you also have health concerns.  How do you manage to balance these two things as a musician?

The answers to each of these questions could take a whole page each easily.  This one especially for me.  Just before moving to NYC in 2009 I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  It’s a chronic illness and demands my attention all hours of the day everyday.  As time has passed I have become much better at managing it and learned how to not let it determine my life.  But my health comes first before music.  There have been many doctors visits and beyond numerous phone calls to insurance and supply companies.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep progessing in music though through this condition.  Many days I just work on music.  But there are many days where it’s just taking care of my health.  Another added toll of Type 1 Diabetes that is not as commonly known (I believe) is that it is one of the most expensive diagnosis’ a person can receive.  The management of Diabetes requires life long care, supplies, and supervision.  There’s not a lot of downtime for me currently.  I feel fortunate to be gigging a lot this year but since most gigs don’t pay a lot I keep a day job to cover my regular expenses and medical bills.

Do you have a favorite performance you’ve done in the last few years?

I have felt fortunate to be performing a lot this last year.  Some of my favorite performances have been with my own group, once at the Cornelia Street Cafe and then IBeam.  Performances with the Uptown PartyDown at Rockwood Music Hall have also been really inspirational.  A standout performance with AP was at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn.  I’ve been learning how important auxiliary perc. can be on performances.  A performance with the SNAP Saxophone Quartet at Somethin’ Jazz Club was really musically challenging and nerve racking because I felt like it was the most musically obscure gig I played so far this year.  But I loved it and am looking forward to performing with all these groups soon.

Do you have any specific practicing routine that you work through?  How do you practice?

My practice routine changes often I feel.  I usually focus around what gigs I have upcoming.  When not working on the music for the gigs I generally work on instrument technique.  Keeping my sound, hands, and mind together.  I’m currently taking a group class with Jacob Sacks on mixed meters.  This class has been taking up a lot of practice time lately.  Once the class is over I’ll not exactly sure where my practicing will head, but I think it will involve transcribing, playing songs in 12 keys, and composing.

What are your musical goals?

I’m not trying to think to long term these days on my musical goals.  I want to record my first album this year and need to find funding for that.  I also also want to make a 4 part video of a suite I am currently working on.

What are you listening to these days?

Lately I’ve been listening to Ben Wendel’s record Frame.  Kneebody: The Line.  Aaron Parks: Alive in Japan.  Thundercat. Gregory Porter.  Rite of Spring.  random videos on youtube like Brad Mehldau in 94.  Gerald Clayton.  Marc Copeland: Night Whispers.  Miles Okazaki: Mirror.  Tony Scherr.

Do you have any book recommendations?

Next on the list is Lolita. I’m not an avid reader, but books and writing have helped me discover how I compose music.  I started using the titles to develop pitch material and have learned a great about building music through editing essays and papers.

City of New York, 2013 & Kickstarter

Hey all,

This is a note about the Kickstarter campaign I’m doing to raise some much needed funds for the “City of New York, 2013” project.  The goal is to raise $12,000 by April 19th. We have about $3000 pledged with a little over two weeks to go.  If the goal isn’t reached, no money changes hands, and the project doesn’t receive any money.  It’s a manic existence for my wife and I! We receive a pledge and think “Yes, we can do this!” or a day goes by and the project receives nothing and we glumly think “Well, we tried.” But when I look at the Kickstarter website and see things like this getting pledges (ahem), I can’t help but feel certain that we will make it!

$12,000 is the lowest possible amount to fund this project every month. Between 10+ professional musicians, 2 talented recording engineers, other recording costs, materials for monthly CD booklets, and a bunch of other smaller expenses – and all of this happening every month for the rest of the year, I think $12,000 is pretty reasonable. A deal, actually.

So the remaining $9,000 seems really daunting right at this point. Would you consider helping? For just $15 you can preorder all of the music from the entire year. There are a bunch of other rewards for pledging that a lot of people have been interested in. And for those of you who have already put some dollars toward the project, thank you. I (and my wife!) really appreciate your generosity.

Here is the link:

Thanks for reading.

fingers crossed,


Reposted: Sight Reading by the Pound


This is from a blog I contributed to in 2008. Still true for  me and my practice habits…

      I’ve come to believe that the best way to learn how to read music is to learn by the pound….

      I recently went on ebay and found someone selling 30 pounds of sheet music. I got it and 2 days ago a huge box full of random old sheet music came. Now I’m busy reading  “Music for the Concertina”, various etude books, random 1920’s popular songs, and a bunch of other treasures. Guitarists always have trouble reading, so I wanted to pass along some things I’ve realized about sight-reading in the past few years that have helped me a lot. I hope you find them helpful too.


      It’s always assumed that guitarist can’t read music. For the most part, it’s true – we suck at it. At least I always did, and a lot of players I know have always been weak readers. When I think about it, guitar might be the hardest instrument to read on. It’s the only instrument (that I can think of) that you can play the same note in 5 or 6 different places. Unlike piano or single note instruments, where a “c” is always the same “c”, guitarists have a bunch of options – which makes everything confusing when you are reading a difficult line or a chord. And it’s also difficult to coordinate your right hand picking technique with your left hand position while finding the right note/rhythm, etc.


     Anyway, after being a terrible reader for years, I finally got serious about it a few years ago and started practicing it a lot.  One obvious thing I realized about my problem was that I would get down about my reading abilities and spend three or four hours practicing it to get better.  And then weeks would go by and I wouldn’t practice it at all. When I would return to reading, It was as if those four hours never happened.  Practicing your reading on a regular and consistent basis is imperative to improving. Even if it‘s only 10 minutes a day, it’s better than several hours at a time once a month. It’s a very gradual process. Also, I realized that most of the time I would try to read music up to the tempo at which it was intended to be played.  So, if something was too fast, I wouldn’t be able to get through it, I’d get frustrated and eventually go on to work on something else.  Now I take things really slow if I have to, even if I have to put the metronome on 40 bpm and think of that as the 16TH note. Whatever I have to do to understand the rhythms and get through it.  There’s nothing wrong with practicing things really, really, really slowly if you have to.


       One last thing I realized was that whenever I would work on my sight-reading, I would always take a piece of music and play through it again and again until it sounded right.  I didn’t realize it, but I would be practicing a piece of music instead of practicing my actual sight-reading skills. As soon as you read something once, you remember some of it when you read it again, and the amount of material that you’re actually reading decreases.  Now I take books of music and read through them, front to back, and never stop to fix my mistakes. It’s always new material, and I’m forced to really read what’s in front of me without any idea of what it should sound like.  When I started doing this, my reading abilities improved quickly.  I’m not trying to play the material at a high performance level; I’m just trying to improve my reading.


      I’ve always been into old junk. I often go to flea markets, yard sales, etc.  I started buying old sheet music and etude books from these places – whatever was around: clarinet books, violin studies, accordion music, etude books, and old Broadway music, whatever. I take it home, open it up, read it once, and then put it in my bookshelf.  I have tons of reading material now, or at least 100 pounds or so, ha-ha.  It has become part of my routine: I get up in the morning, get a cup of coffee, sit down and read these old random books for an hour or so.  But I only read it one time and then I move on.  This has been the best way for me to get better at reading, and it way to warm up too.  Anyway, I hope these ideas on reading help.  Now I’ve got to get cracking on my 30 pounds.


take care,