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Details of my musical past

Today I play jazz flute, but I have also studied and played in quite a few other musical contexts. This page describes some of the twists and turns along my musical path.

Today: Jazz Flute Project

In Seattle and Eugene I led groups playing jazz standards, ballads, and bossa nova. The arrangements featured the flute and a revolving cast of rhythm section players, usually a quartet or a trio. I arrived in Portland shortly before the Covid outbreak, but when it is past, I would like to restart my Jazz Flute Project here in Portland.

For more information and demos, see Jazz Flute Project.

Jazz Flute Project at the Jazz Station, Eugene, Oregon – 2017. Jerry Gleason (guitar), Terry Takahashi (bass), Frank Poloney (flute), Don Elkington (drums)

 

Early Years

I was born in 1952, and I grew up in Pennsauken, NJ, a suburban community a few miles from Philadelphia. My first exposure to music was clarinet lessons in grade four. The lessons didn’t last very long, but I did learn to read music, which helped me with further self-study. Two of my sisters took piano lessons, so we had a piano in the house and some music. I learned a little about piano playing from them.

At the age of 13, I received a guitar and tried to teach myself to play. I learned to play some folk songs and played with a high school group. I spent my high school years listening popular music of the sixties: soul, motown, rock, and blues. Before I finished high school I had started playing sax and flute. I became interested in jazz.

As a high school student, I was good at drawing, and I took private art classes throughout my high school years. When it was time for college, I was accepted at the Philadelphia College of Art. Although I was an art student, I spent a lot of time studying music, and I was able to hear some excellent music in Philadelphia. I would get student tickets to the Philadelphia Orchestra (conducted by Eugene Ormandy), and I attended open rehearsals and recitals at the Philadelphia Music Academy, which was across the street from the art school. At clubs and theaters in Philadelphia I saw a lot of great jazz musicians perform, including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Charles Mingus, Jack McDuff, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharaoh Sanders, and Sun Ra. When the Newport Jazz Festival moved to New York City in 1972, I saw Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins there.

By the end of my second year in art school, I had decided that music was the path for me. I didn’t return to art school the following year. I took a year off before applying to Rutgers University as a music major.

 

Musical Education

At Rutgers I studied flute with Ronna Ayscue, composition with Claire Polin, and piano with Leon Dubois. I studied harmony with Diane Thome, who went on to become the chair of the Music Composition Department at the University of Washington. I received my B.A. in music in 1975, and in 1976 I began a graduate fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.

At the University of Pittsburgh I taught music appreciation, musicianship, and keyboard harmony. I also taught flute to high school students. Part of my fellowship duties was to take portable recording equipment from the studio to record recitals by faculty and students. The music department had an electronic music studio with Buchla and Arp synthesizers.

Buchla 100-series analog synthesizer (circa 1968)

In that studio I created several electronic works using the synthesizers and environmental sounds:

Music Boxes  – 1979 (7:45) A whimsical mash-up of altered sounds from a wonderful collection of music boxes.

Music Boxes

Bells and Hands Clapping – 1978 (7:29) Three little bells and two hands: combined, altered, and reimagined electronically.

Bells and Hands Clapping

Love Landscape – 1978 (8:56) An ambient, minimalist study.

Love Landscape

Poem of Consciousness – 1979 (30:48) An extended piece in two sections, using synthesized sounds, environmental sounds, saxophone, and flute. The beginning is very quiet, but it gets suddenly loud about 50 seconds in, so adjust the volume accordingly.

Poem of Consciousness

Excerpt from Poem of Consciousness: Flute Duet (4:58) A theme in a minor mode leads to an improvisation that gradually changes from modal to atonal. The excerpt fades as the flutes are immersed in washes of electronic sound.

Flute duet

Excerpt from Poem of Consciousness: Celestial Cycle (3:46) Flute improvisation with electronic harmonium.

Celestial Cycle

By 1979, I had earned my master’s degree in music and I had completed some of the coursework for my doctorate. However, I had become weary of academia and I was ready for a change. I got married and moved to Binghamton, NY, where my wife had a job teaching dance at SUNY Binghamton, the state university there.

 

50’s/60’s Rock and Roll

In Binghamton I played tenor sax in a rock band called The Grease Release. We played blues-based fifties rock like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, along with some classic doo-wop tunes, in the style of sixties groups like Sha Na Na.

The Grease Release, with bandleader Don Miller (center) and guitarist Wilton Vought (left) – 1980

With this band I adopted the stage name Frank West, which I kept throughout the rest of my time playing rock and blues.

In 1980 we made a demo recording consisting of short excerpts from classic rock ‘n roll songs. Personnel: Don Miller (lead vocals), Wilton Vought (guitar, vocals), Phil Monroe (keys, lead vocal on Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On/Great Balls of Fire), Armen Abrahamian (bass, vocals), Dave Ballard (drums, vocals)

Grease Release Demo – (5:29) Excerpts from: In the Still of the Night, All Shook Up, That’ll Be the Day, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Earth Angel, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On/Great Balls of Fire, Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay – (Audio file courtesy of Wilton Vought)

Grease Release Demo

We played a lot of local gigs. I had a part-time job at the local community college doing audio engineering for an educational media project. I also taught flute and sax in a program for low-income elementary school children. With these activities I was able to eke out a living in Binghamton, but I wanted to live on the west coast.

In 1980 my wife and I moved to Eugene, Oregon where my wife would teach dance at Lane Community College.

Eugene, Phase 1

Eagle Park Slim, blues mentor

In Eugene I met Eagle Park Slim, a blues singer and guitarist from Eagle Park, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. He played blues in the styles of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, along with some funk tunes.

The Eagle Park Slim band with Greg Black (guitar) Howie Nichols (bass) Eagle Park Slim (guitar, vocals) – 1981

We played at several popular venues in Eugene, including Max’s, Taylor’s, the Eugene Hotel Bar, and the University of Oregon.

I learned a lot from Slim about the blues and about life in the short time that I played with him. He passed away in 2016 at age 74.

Los Xplorers

When the Eagle Park Slim group disbanded in 1981, I joined Los Xplorers, a group that played blues-based rock music with an ultra-high energy level influenced by punk music. The music was loud and fast, capturing and magnifying the original energy of early rock and roll.

Los Xplorers – 1982. (Left to right: John Barley, Fred Kellog, Henry Cooper, moi, Marlin Rieber)

Los Xplorers were very popular in Eugene. We played a lot of gigs in Eugene and Portland. Our farewell show at the WOW Hall in Eugene broke all previous attendance records.

On stage with Los Xplorers at Taylor’s – 1982
At the Oregon Anti-Jam – 1982

Here are three Los Xplorers live recordings from 1982:

Little Richard Medley (5:27) Marlin Rieber sings Lawdy Miss Claudie, John Barley sings Rip It Up, then Marlin returns with Dizzy Miss Lizzy.

Little Richard Medley

Mustang Sally (Mack Rice) (4:14) For this tune and the next, I wrote arrangements for a three-piece horn section featuring Skip Jones on alto sax. Marlin does a great job on the vocals.

Mustang Sally

What’d I Say? (4:03) A rock version of the great Ray Charles tune.

What’d I Say?

The Milkmen

When Los Xplorers disbanded in 1982, Henry Cooper teamed up with Randy Haines to form a band called The Milkmen. Again, the music was high-energy, blues-based rock and roll, with the addition of some great originals from Randy and drummer Boyd Small. I played sax with them for about a year.

The Milkmen – 1982. (Left to right: Boyd Small, Henry Cooper, Randy Haines, Frank, Mike Miller.)

Here are some live recordings of two instrumentals from the Milkmen. Carl Lohse played bass on these tracks:

Lucille (Albert Collins, Little Richard) – 1982 (3:18) 

Lucille

You Can’t Sit Down (Dee Clark, Kal Mann, Cornell Muldrow) – 1982 (2:26) 

You Can’t Sit Down

Audio Engineering

While in Eugene, I spent a short time as a classical music DJ at radio station KWAX. I had a job recording live music for KRVM. I also worked as a sound engineer with Shubert Sound and Lighting Company. The audio engineering skills that I had learned in the studio at the University of Pittsburgh were helpful in adapting to the task of mixing live bands. My claim to fame as a sound engineer came when I was called upon to mix sound for Aretha Franklin with a full orchestra at the Lane County Fair.

Also in Eugene, I enrolled in the Electronics Engineering Technician program at Lane Community College. I needed more money and I was interested in electronics. In 1983 I received my A.S. degree in electronics engineering technology. We moved to Portland where I was hired by Tektronix and began a successful career as a technical writer.

 

Jazz and More in Portland

In June 1983 I moved to Portland to work as a technical writer for Tektronix. At home I set up a studio for MIDI recording and worked on some electronic music compositions.

Celestial Cycle – 1989 (7:18) Tenor sax with electronic accompaniment.

Celestial Cycle

Initiation – 1987 (4:45) 

Initiation

Kalima – 1987 (4:46)

Kalima

I took a substitute teaching position at Linfield College in McMinnville, and for two semesters I taught harmony, counterpoint, and musical form and analysis.

In Portland, I wanted to pursue jazz studies more intensively. I briefly studied sax with Gary Harris. I enrolled in a big band ensemble at Portland Community College directed by Thara Memory.

PCC Big Band directed by Thara Memory (left). Cathederal Park Jazz Festival – 1990

Piano

I became more interested in keyboard music, and I decided to pursue piano playing. I studied blues and boogie piano with Peter Boe and D. K. Stewart. Colin Davey came up with the idea of collaborating on an instruction book for boogie woogie piano. In 1998 we published Learn Boogie Woogie Piano, which continues to find readers today.

In summer of 2001, I left my last corporate technical writing job and embarked on a successful career as a tech writing consultant. The work was in Seattle, so off to Seattle I went.

 

Seattle

In Seattle, several interesting opportunities developed, each one quite different but all offering new things to learn.

Cheaper Than Therapy

In 2003, I met this group of folks dedicated to playing Grateful Dead music. I was not very familiar with this repertoire at the outset, but I gradually assimilated the style and I came to appreciate its beauty. It was mostly a private endeavor, with the band venturing out only for occasional performances, like the Seattle Peace Concerts. I played piano and organ with them for over ten years in Seattle.

Blue Moon Daughter

In 2010, I was invited to join this band, which featured vocalist Elizabeth Dawson and guitarist Michael Cosgrove. I played electric piano and organ. It was a smooth jazz format that showcased Elizabeth’s lovely voice. The band also included Rod Backman (bass) and Bob Chester (drums).

A Love That Will Last (David Foster, Linda S. Thompson) – 2011 (3:31)

A Love That Will Last

Happy Together (Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon) – 2011 (4:57)

Happy Together

Dharma Heart Band

In 2007, my second wife, Stephanie, and I created the Dharma Heart Band. It was a new angle on the two-piano, four-hands genre in which we both played digital pianos and synthesizers.

We played mostly original music, much of it compositions that I had written and recorded differently years before. The music was lush and lyrical, with emphasis on simplicity and the beauty of electronic sounds.

Dharma Heart Band Logo

Dharma Heart Band at Burning Man 2011

We played around Seattle and beyond, including Burning Man, Seattle Folklife, and the Oregon Country Fair.

Oregon Country Fair 2012

CD: Lavender Mood

In 2009, we released a CD. We collaborated on the title track, Lavender Mood, and Stephanie wrote First Steps. I wrote the other tracks. The links below are on YouTube, compliments of CD Baby.

Lavender Mood album photo

Lavender Mood (3:07)

Dreaming (4:58)

Ottatto (5:33)

Rain (4:10)

Sunrise (3:18)

Initiation (4:08)

Tear of the Clouds (4:58)

Under the Hand (5:42)

Recollections (4:34)

What If? (5:08)

First Steps (2:42)

Kalima (4:35)

Araiza’s Song (6:38)

For the CD, I wrote some liner notes in the form of a poem that included all the song titles:

Lavender mood, lavender mood,
Sweet scent of healing on a breeze,
Dreaming, you can hear Araiza’s song.

A drop of rain, tear of the clouds at sunrise,
The initiation of a new love.

What if you could relive the past?
Ottatto, kalima, and other childhood words of make-believe,
Recollections of first steps along the path.

Play lightly the tunes of your heart.
The harmony fits nicely under the hand,
While the melody soars to meet the boundless sky.

Stephanie created some beautiful designs that found their way into our posters.

Jazz Flute Project

After focusing on keyboards for several years, I returned to flute playing on a whim. I found that the jazz idiom felt natural to me on the flute, and I became intensely interested in resuming my flute studies and playing jazz. In Seattle, I studied flute technique with Beverly Brossmann, Klaus Liebetanz, Sarah Bassingwaithe, and Kirsten James.

I started going to jazz jams, and I met some musicians who would form the first Jazz Flute Project lineup. We played a few gigs in Seattle and made some demo recordings.

Just Friends (John Klenner, Sam Lewis) – 2013 (3:52) This recording has Glenn Creech (guitar), Barry Bremer (bass), and Rogene Eichler-West (drums).

Just Friends
Jazz Flute Project in Seattle – 2013. Kurt Loewen (guitar), Rogene Eichler-West (drums), Ed Kefgen (bass)

I also made some demos with another rhythm section, consisting of Greg Bumpus (piano), Greg Domingo (bass), and Bob Chester (drums):

Georgia On My Mind (Hoagie Carmichael) – 2014 (4:17)

Georgia On My Mind

By late 2014, Stephanie and I had decided to escape the high cost of living, horrible traffic, and gloomy winters of Seattle. A return to Eugene made sense, so we went.

 

Eugene, Phase 2

In Eugene I continued to study jazz and flute technique. My flute teachers in Eugene were Mindi Calabrese and P.J. Rohr.

Jazz Flute Project

In 2015, I restarted the Jazz Flute Project with some great musicians in Eugene. We performed at the Jazz Station, the Fifth Street Market, the Springfield Second Friday Art Walk, and other venues.

Jazz Flute Project at the Jazz Station, Eugene, Oregon – 2017. Gerry Rempel (guitar), Jerry Gleason (bass), Don Elkington (drums)

I enjoyed designing posters for some of our gigs.

This demo features Gerry Rempel (guitar), Terry Takahashi (bass) and Adam Hendy (drums):

Lucky Southern (Keith Jarrett) – 2015 (3:33)

Lucky Southern

For more music and the latest information on the Jazz Flute Project, go to jazzfluteproject.com.

Bossa Nova Duo

While looking for a studio to record demos, I met Anthony Proveaux, expert recording engineer at Pro Arts Studios, guitarist, and bossa nova enthusiast. We collaborated on a flute/guitar duo devoted exclusively to bossa nova.

Bossa Nova Duo with Anthony Proveaux at the Jazz Station in Eugene – 2016

We performed at the Jazz Station and other venues.

Here is a live recording from one of our shows:

Wave (Antonio Carlos Jobim) – 2016

Wave

Rick Leighton

In Eugene I met singer/songwriter/guitarist Rick Leighton. He had written a collection of songs with a prominent role for the flute. We performed as a duo and also as a quartet with Carl Lopes on percussion and Steve Morgan on bass.

With Rick Leighton at the Festival of Eugene – 2015

We recorded a few of Rick’s original songs live at the Festival of Eugene in 2015:

Awakenings (Rick Leighton) (6:16)

Awakenings

Take Me Away (Rick Leighton) (4:57)

Take Me Away

 

Back to Portland

Eugene is a great town, but after five years there Stephanie and I were ready for a change. We decided to return to Portland, where we are today.