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Singer/Songwriters (video)

Beginning December 9th, I will assume an EVERY WEDNESDAY gig at Dick's Den in Columbus. With this fast approaching it seems fitting to pull out some footage shot during a great night at Dick's last summer with special guest Oli Rockberger. Oli Rockberger is one of my favorite young "singer-songwriters" today.

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Beginning December 9th, I will assume an EVERY WEDNESDAY gig at Dick’s Den in Columbus. With this fast approaching it seems fitting to pull out some footage shot during a great night at Dick’s last summer with special guest Oli Rockberger.


Oli Rockberger




Oli Rockberger is one of my favorite young “singer-songwriters” today. The term is often taken to refer to folky musicians, as opposed to pop, r and b, rock, or whatever…  It also tends to denote those  who create more poetry than music, i.e., more words than harmony, melody, or rhythm…  Many songwriters don’t fit this mold. I like them all either way.

For example, my sister, Heidi Howes, sings like an angel and has published a book of her poetry. She’s about to release her second cd (January 21st at the Thirsty Ear in Columbus).  She does an awful lot with a few chords and grooves, and it’s great.

Stephanie Nilles, a former quasi-student of mine, alumni of my Creative Strings Workshop, and prodigious classical pianist (she was recently featured on “From the Top” ),  spread her wings from the confines of her classical upbringing to begin writing songs and touring nonstop.. Her songs are full of political satire and bold, shocking ideas you’ve subconsciously formed but never figured out how to articulate. She uses about  5% of her classical chops and maybe 7 or 8 chords to tell her stories. They make you dance, laugh, blush, etc.. they’re neat.

Or Mike Block (also an alumni of the workshop), who is like Stephanie, a prodigious classical musician who has worked with Yo Yo Ma, Mark O’Connor, and many others, and fearlessly started forming his own melodies into songs, interwoven with the most basic harmonic structures, and yet not at all lacking richness or personality for it.

Margaret Glaspy (see my post “Soulful Margaret Glaspy”) uses simple harmonic progressions and sings with a deep bluesy and soulful approach that sometimes seems to find the unlikely point where r and b and appalachian music meet.

I love them all. And I love the simple arrangements on Joni Mitchell‘s “Blue” as much as her more harmonically adventurous work with jazz greats like Jaco Pastorius on her album covering works by Charles Mingus.

Then there’s someone like Doug Wamble (for whom I recently contributed strings to an upcoming album)– an honest-to-goodness incredible jazz guitar player from Memphis who sings his ass off. Even though he COULD take it out harmonically, I appreciate the fact that he stays sort of just on the edge.

I really  look forward to the evolution of song writing  incorporating the influence of today’s harmonic and melodic pioneers in jazz- What kind of music would jazz instrumentalists Brad Mehldau, Robert Glaspy, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Adam Rogers, David Binney, et al, make if they were songwriters?

As someone who is both a Jazz musician and a lover of great popular modern music, it gives me so much satisfaction to hear Oli Rockberger’s music.  He has stories, he sings beautifully, he paints pictures with words….The structure to his songs aren’t necessarily that complicated- some of them only have a few chords… But his ability to navigate the harmonies in both sophisticated and soulful ways gives me everything I want as a listener who is “bilingual” in pop and modern jazz.
1)Great, simple songs.
2)Soulful execution as a singer and pianist.
3) The spontaneity and knowledge of a modern jazz musician, able to take his songs into incredible new places, for example,  through melodic improvisation and re-harmonization, whenever he performs them.

Plus, it’s nice as an instrumentalist to get to play with a singer/songwriter who encourages players in his band to stretch out for long solos. The following videos chronicle moments within the performance of one of Oli’s songs, “I Miss My Home”, during Oli’s visit to Columbus last summer when we played at both the Columbus Jazz Festival, and later, one of my favorite venues, Dick’s Den.  (Next week, December 9th, I begin a regular Wednesday night gig at Dick’s Den in Columbus. I also hold performances at Dick’s every night during my annual Creative Strings Festival, the first week of July every year.)

1) the straightforward exposition of verse and chorus

2) the violin solo

3) Oli mutating his song and creating an extended improvisation with the rhythm section (Reggie Jackson, drums, and George Delancey, bass) .

Oli is working on a new album. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with. Hopefully I’ll get to contribute some strings. For a “high-production-value” versions of some of Oli’s songs, check out his myspace page: www.myspace.com/olirockberger

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