Like the way the captain of a ship transports passengers from one place to the next, flutist Jamie Baum does the same creating a sonic journey that transports listeners through the multiple frames of her travels. Her melodic doodles and improvisations are made with a purpose in mind, documenting the different ways in which instruments can change in midstream, make contact with each other, blending and entwining. Her latest release Solace from Sunnyside Records delivers her most recent travels to audiences.
"Recordings, to me," she reflects, "are often a documentation of a period of time where I might be exploring some specific concepts or ideas and Solace represents just that. It often is a culmination of working through those ideas, and then I move on to something else. I had received a CMA/Doris Duke grant to write music for my Septet using influences from the music of Charles Ives. My intention was never to have my music sound like his, not that I could do that anyway. It was more about listening to his music, really checking out in-depth a few of his compositions and then seeing what I could come up with, how it would inspire me how it might influence my writing and how I could integrate it into some pieces that would be fun or challenging to improvise over."
Accompanying Baum on the recording are trumpeter Ralph Alessi, saxophonist Douglas Yates, pianist George Colligan, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, drummer Jeff Hirshfield, and on French horn is Vincent Chancey completing the line up for the Jamie Baum Septet. Although Baum is the leader, many of the tracks bustle with puffy saxophone curls or flashy sprigs of piano keys placed up front. She cites about the arrangements, "The process is different for each tune, but on that CD, I often had a concept in mind with each one. Mostly though I was trying to come up with some different forms for improvisation and wanted to utilize the instruments in as many different ways as I could."
Being a musician in these changing times require flexibility and ingenuity and when asked how she deals with it Baum responds, "Well, I've never been a studio musician, but," she injects, that she has been "learning how to wear several ‘hats’ besides working at being a good musician, i.e. being my own business person, P.R. person, tour organizer, booking agent, etc."
While having studied at the Manhattan School of Music where she earned her Masters degree in Jazz Composition, when asked at what point she thought she had made the transition from being a student to being a composer, writing her own pieces that were representative, she assesses, "I'll always be a student in a way, so much more to learn! As I mentioned, I always saw writing as an integral part of being a musician and when I went to New England Conservatory, that idea was encouraged even more so it never felt like there was any ‘step’ to take." It was more like a natural progression for Baum who relates, "I think of it as an ongoing process or evolution. I suppose though, in my first year out of school I was one of three finalists after applying for a grant from the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Program; one of the judges was Gil Evans. That definitely gave me a boost."
After recording four CD‘s as a leader and having toured and performed in over twenty countries, Baum offers this advice to aspiring students who are searching for their own voice, "Just follow what turns you on," she recommends, "not what you think should turn you on or what other people tell you to like. I was lucky enough to study with Jaki Byard at NEC and he encouraged me in that way."
When having to choose between performing, recording in the studio, or being an audience member, she cheers, "All of it is good," and attaches, "but, of course, playing is always best."
While Solace is her fourth CD as a leader, it is the follow up to Baum’s Moving Forward, Standing Still, the first recording with her Septet. She explains what prompted putting the group together and subsequently the recording. "I was preparing for my Master's recital at Manhattan School of Music and they wanted me to present some music for a large ensemble. It was a successful endeavor which I really enjoyed and decided to keep it going."
Hence Solace was made afterwards. She had received a New York Works Creative and Presentation Award, a component of the Doris Duke/Chamber Music America Jazz Ensembles Project which was a commission to write music based on some pieces by the composer Charles Ives. The CD includes this commission and she suggests that listening to his music had helped her to shape her own stylistic approach to writing music for this project.
In talking about her earliest influences, she lays out, "I loved Ellington, Armstrong, Miles, Coltrane, Dolphy, Roland Kirk and Hubert Laws to name a few, but also a lot of the Blues and rock/pop musicians including BB King, Johnny Winter, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, of course because of the flute," she footnotes, "as well as classical musicians and composers. This is the very, very short list."
Others who have influenced Baum’s style include musicians whom she has encountered while living in New York City. "I've been so influenced by many of the musicians I've worked with and some of my students are doing interesting things as well. They definitely keep me on my toes."
In fact, Jamie Baum tells that she moved to New York City because there are "so many great musicians here to learn from, hear, play with, etc." She describes her experience in New York City as "exciting and challenging."
Baum is originally from Connecticut and acquired her Bachelors of Music degree from the New England Conservatory. She shares about those formative years, "I started on piano when I was very young and then switched to flute toward the end of high school because I wanted to play something more mobile."
She reveals, "My mother had gone to Julliard briefly before she got married. She played trombone, piano and sang. She recently took up the trombone again after several years. My parents have been very supportive of my playing."
She recalls about her early efforts at writing original material, "I remember always coming up with melodies, even when I was young, playing the piano so I don't really remember the first one. It just always seemed part of making music to me."
A true creature of habit, Jamie Baum still feels the same way about writing, practicing, performing, and making music. She sees it as a very integrated process. While her philosophy hasn’t changed much in that area, her musical tastes sometime do. The works of cutting edge artists have been a major source of inspiration for her sonic travels. For instance, the track "Time Traveler" from Solace was inspired by a performance she saw featuring her friend/vocalist Frank Tafuri singing the Charles Ives piece "Fourth Symphony" with the Dessoff Choir. In a press release, she spoke about Ives, "He was, and still is, ahead of his time."
She speculates on her list of present cutting edge artists, "There are so many and I’m sure I will leave out some that I will have wanted to include but here are a few: Jon Hollenbeck, Dave Binney, Vijay Iyer, Steve Coleman, Kneebody, Ralph Alessi, Magic Malik, and many more that aren’t coming to mind at this moment."
Jamie Baum has been taking the music of Solace to the live stage, performing the numbers with her Septet for audiences. She offers that more is in store. "I would love to be able to tour as much as possible with the band to play the music to promote the CD as well as some new music I've written. We will in fact be performing in New York City at the Jazz Standard on September 23rd, in Baltimore at An Die Music on November 15th and will be doing a tour of the mid west in March '09 and at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City on April 4th. I'm sure more dates will be added."
Besides her solo career, Baum is very active as a teacher conducting workshops and jazz clinics. She provides, "I have an endorsement agreement with Altus Flutes who support my clinics. I will be giving a clinic in Ottawa and Toronto in November for them as well as playing at The Rex. We’re working on organizing some other ones that are not yet finalized. I really enjoy doing clinics and touring. I love to travel so it works out well."
Baum is the consummate traveler, both physically and musically. She captains her ship by using understanding to bring out the best in her band mates and a steady hand to direct them towards a sole purpose. Her approach to writing music is consistent, even though her travels are sonically different. She balances the impetus to be cutting edge in her music with elements of traditional jazz, and it all comes together perfectly. It is not her sound that is similar to Charles Ives, but the principles that she uses to write original material, and her material is always very original sounding.