Blog

Hi I’m Andy.

I’m a percussionist, conductor, professor, and collaborator living in Knoxville, TN.

Below, I share my creative journey as an artist, with a focus on intentionality, technology, and community.

Posts in Listening
Freedom in the Groove
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I just returned from Macstock 2019 in McHenry, IL and had an amazing time. It was such a treat to branch out of my usual activities and share two days learning about something I’m passionate about, while also making some new friends.

I wondered how much I would have to add to the conversation as someone who is not a computer programmer or an engineer, for example. However, in meeting all of these tech-enthusiasts, I was amazed at how many of them mentioned music being their muse. My new friend Mike Melcer from NY showed me two awesome new-to-me apps (review on the way) that he uses for casual music making at home. He even stumped me when he asked for suggestions for apps that help develop relative pitch. Mike Schmitz and I had a great chat about his upbringing on violin and I got the chance to bump into Kourosh Dini, who lives in Chicago and regularly plays piano and guitar. All of us work in different fields day-to-day, so it was enlightening to see how easy it was to find commonalities.

The first night I was there, I had an extended chat with David Sparks (aka MacSparky) and Mike Melcer about a range of topics including Apple, Star Wars & Galaxy’s Edge, and his background as a jazz saxophonist. David has spoken often about how he uses the saxophone as a 30-minute break in his day-to-day, and how the short breaks actually help him to refocus and recharge his energy in the afternoon. Among our conversations, he mentioned a favorite track of his by Joshua Redman called “Hide & Seek,” from his 1996 album Freedom in the Groove. I could sense his pride when he mentioned his daughter being able to scat through most of the tune from his repeated plays of the track, an experience I’ve shared as I’ve heard various records work their way into my kids’ playlists and backseat singing. Always a heart-warming experience as a Dad.

When the weekend wrapped up, I grabbed a car to the airport and was actually feeling a little overwhelmed. The weekend helped to focus lots of really exciting ideas and possibilities to use technology as a means to creating more meaningful work, and that is always an exciting prospect. Once I worked through airport security at O’Hare, I popped in my AirPods and grabbed a meal at the Chicago Cubs Bar & Grill (where else?). I started reviewing my notes and was reminded that I needed to check out “Hide & Seek.” My history with Joshua Redman actually goes back to ~2002, when I joined some friends on an impromptu trip into Chicago from Northern Illinois University. We headed to the Jazz Showcase and saw the Dave Holland Quintet, grabbed dinner at the ESPN Zone, and then found out Redman was in town, so we headed up to Martyrs to hear him with Sam Yahel and Brian Blade, touring their recent Elastic album release. I picked up the album and played it nearly every morning for a solid year as I was getting ready…my roommate was a jazz bass major and may never listen to Joshua Redman again because of me.

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O’Hare that day was slammed and, in general, was feeling rather claustrophobic. However, thanks to my AirPods, I was having a completely musical experience – all but dancing down the terminal hallway toward my gate. David was right. “Hide and Seek” is an incredible opening track and the album ended up sticking with me for the rest of the night. It was so inspiring to reconnect with a musical favorite that had made his way off of my recent playlists. My gate ended up being at the end of the terminal in one of those basement, dead-end, cul-de-sacs, where everyone is crowded and miserable. Meanwhile, I was having a completely isolated experience trying not to draw attention to myself as I was digging each track of the album. I got on the plane and was seated next to someone whose body type was taking up half of my seat. Didn’t matter though, I was locked into the record.

I knew Sunday night was going to be a long night, with a late flight and even later commute home, but listening to this album made it feel like time travel. I finally hit Knoxville, just shy of 1AM and reveled while listening to Invocation, another favorite track of mine from the album. Now on my Apple Carplay and on my 3rd or 4th time through the disc, I was driving home and excited to start the week home with my family. My overwhelm was gone and the travel time seemed to disappear. The music inspired me and I was able to capture some clarity and meaningful notes on a few projects during the journey in Apple Notes. While AirPods, an iPhone, and Apple Notes are not exactly “advanced” technology, this experience never would have been possible years ago. We had talked all weekend at MacStock about using technology to get to the creative work, and I was thankful to be arriving home inspired, clear-minded, and ready to get back to the daily mission of creating meaningful art.

🎧: New Morse Code's "Simplicity Itself"

I've been a fan of Robert Honstein's music for a while now and have enjoyed working on his pieces Patter and Unwind at various times over the last two years with the University of Tennesse Percussion Ensemble. We performed Unwind in Tampa, FL at the McCormick Marimba Festival using a marimba, vibraphone, and cello pans and it turned out beautifully while also creating a great platform to work on polyrhythms with my undergraduate students. These rhythms combined with the piece's instrumentation flexibility provided our group with many "teachable moments" that semester.

Even better, my pals in New Morse Code, just released their debut album Simplicity Itself on New Focus Records, featuring Robert's two pieces mentioned above, plus music from Tonia Ko, Caroline Shaw, and Paul Kerekes. It's been playing at my desk for over a week now and I'm really enjoying it – especially the way it so perfectly fades away at the end of the album.. Be sure not to overlook the detailed cover art by Tonia Ko herself as well! The album is available for purchase now.

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ListeningAndy Bliss