As jazz musicians, we find ourselves in all kinds of musical situations throughout our career. When we’re young and learning to develop an improvisational voice, say the early to mid-20s, we go to jam sessions, hang out with musicians at clubs and parties, put together playing sessions at musicians’ homes, have the periodic gig full of musical epiphanies, and have even more gigs of mediocre misery. We pay our dues, and through the battle in the “trenches” (Von Freeman used to say “Michael, the trenches will make you strong!”) we start to develop our sound, play better gigs, maybe play less gigs, maybe more, but we continue on the path of searching for new musical worlds to assist in bringing forth our inner musical voice.
In 1996, at the age of 26, I was practicing 6 hours a day, playing with Charles Earland and Lin Halliday, and picking up what gigs I could to make the bills. The previous year I had become friends with bassist Matt Ferguson, pianists Brian O’Hern and Dan Trudell, drummer Gerald Dowd, saxophonist Pat Mallinger, and several others, so come 1996, I was part of a community of young jazz musicians, one that was daily trying to find their voice and find gigs to grow musically and pay bills. At this time, Brian O’Hern had been itching to start a big band. He asked me, along with Matt Ferguson and Pat Mallinger among many others, to play a gig in March 1996 at Martyr’s, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave. That fateful gig initiated a search for original musical sound by O’Hern with myself and many others growing and searching with him, a search that has continued once a month for 20 years.
On March 20, 2016, Brian O’Hern and the Model Citizens will be celebrating these 20 years of musical growth and friendship. I am so proud to be part of this project not only because of O’Hern’s continuous musical experimentation, but also because Brian and the other cats have created and sustained a musical community. This is rare in our times. O’Hern’s musical personality, the high caliber musicianship among the collaborating musicians, and the sacrifice that the Gallery Cabaret’s owner, Kenny, made to allow this band to perform in his small club once a month have helped bring people together around music. I am deeply grateful to Brian for allowing me to be part of something so musical, challenging, and beautiful. Please come celebrate musical community with the Model Citizens where it all started: