Tuesday, March 29, 2011

(Put Your) Hands Together...Why I Did It

Because of a fluke, the liner notes to the Clean Feed Release (Put Your) Hands Together didn't get printed in the jacket of the record. I revisited them recently and thought maybe they would mean something to someone and would possible explain why I made this record and what it is about for me. I'm a firm believer in letting people in when you can and so here are the notes. I hope they find a place in the way that you listen to the record.

The easiest thing to do, and maybe the most self-satisfying, would be to somehow think that your creative self came out of a vacuum. That, given the sheer weight of your genius, there was no other human possibility besides the creation of a musical language or artistic aesthetic. However, I think it's very clear what the reality of that is. Whether we choose to embrace or confront our formative past is completely up to the individual. As a musician, and especially as a composer, I've done both to greater or lesser degrees of success, but this record is about embracing and giving thanks, and it's in that spirit that I present it to you now.

Hands Together is a project I started in 2008 to write music for jazz quintet, something I hadn't been a part of for several years. My grandmother had just passed away, which left a hole in my life that I was trying to figure out how to deal with. The first piece I put together for the group was the piece that comes near the end of the record called Hazel. It was after finishing that arrangement that I started thinking about how much I owed to not only her, but to a number of women in my life. Although I'm disappointed by how misused this phrase has become, I was truly a child that was raised by a village of women....canasta playing, ice cream making, hardcore Dakota depression-era girls, proud Swedes, and Montana wildwomen. The amount of love, support and knowledge I've gotten over the years from the people behind the names on the back of this disc is only poorly paid back through tribute on a recording, but it is a start.

Erna, Ethyl, Cecilia, Pearl, and Hazel are all sisters. The infamous “Albertson Girls”. I spent a great part of my youth with them in one way or another, mostly staying with my grandmother and Cecilia who lived together in Northeast Portland for many years, trips to Ethyl's farm in Hillsboro, family get togethers for birthdays and Christmas at Pearl's in Vancouver, Washington, and to visit Erna and Bill (a great uncle) who lived only blocks away. From the wild Albertson girls I learned the values of being polite, never failing to practice empathy, to always be a sneaky card player, and the love of work for work's sake. All the Albertson Girls are gone now, but their memory has imbued certain parts of the Pacific Northwest with a special kind of mysticism for me.....a sense of place that provides me with a desire to develop my strength of character and a stronger connection to the people around me. Through them, I knew wthat magic sense of American transcendentalism long before discovering Emerson or Thoreau.

Elsa is my mother. She claims to not be musical but no one is fooled. She has given me the strength to keep working on what I believe in, regardless of any current success or failure. She is one of the hardest working people I've ever met, but she taught me physical and spiritual self-preservation as well. She taught me to be proud of my heritage, of my family, of the place where I am from...Clatskanie, Oregon....and of myself.

Shanda Lea is my wife. She taught me to have the confidence to do things that had a 90% chance of failing because I really believed in the other 10%. She has shown me what it is to make a happy life for yourself before and above all else. She has straightened my priorities and keeps me healthy. I have never been so goofy nor have I laughed so much about stupid things with another human being in my life and I can't imagine a second of true joy without her being a part of it.

All of these things just scratch the surface of what these women mean to me. They are the sort of things that you can say on the inside of a record cover and maintain that all important sense of machismo jazz musician. There is so much more, of course, but they know what I'm driving at, probably better than I do.

Two final words and then you are free to (finally) enjoy this disc:

First, this record is dedicated as much to my father, Dee Wooley, as it is to the women whose names grace the back cover. I would not be a musician if were not for him, which means I would be an absolutely miserable human being, and I don't think we need any more of those roaming about.

Secondly, the four gentlemen on this recording that have consistently put up with my madness and played these tunes over and over until it made them crazy have to be recognized. I work with all of them in different situations and not only do I think they number among the best improvisers in the world, I consider all of them very close friends. Not everyone knows what it is like to work with people you deeply love. I feel very lucky.

Nate Wooley-December 2010

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