The 2-year hiatus is over. Welcome back, John.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a nudge to get this blog going again. When I went to post something I realized, “it’s been over 2 years since my last post!” Yikes. Sorry about that.

While there aren’t any fireworks celebrating my return to the blogosphere, I will say that I’m excited to get writing again. I’ve changed a few things to this blog as I do so:

*a new layout. gotta keep with the times.

*added some space for my most recent tweets (I’m on twitter now. lots has changed in 2 years!)

*I changed the subheading/purpose for this blog from “Thoughts about God, music and other spheres of life” to be more specific…“Connecting the dots between pursuance of Christ and life as a musician.” Now that I’m tweeting regularly about anything and everything, I’ve been desiring an outlet where I can specifically share thoughts of mine as I walk out my life as a Christian musician. For those who don’t know me well, my faith is the most integral part of my life. It informs everything I do and it’s what I treasure and love the most (or at least what I want to treasure and love the most – I don’t always keep my priorities straight). I’m no expert at how integrate my faith with my life as a musician. And I’m not a “seasoned vet” at this point either. However, there have been a few things I’ve learned over the years, as well as things that I’m currently learning, that I believe are worth sharing for those that are interested.

*I’ve added some others sites/blogs that I frequent regularly. These now include other musicians that I’m close with who are seeking to live out their faith in Christ through what they do. Each of these friends are amazingly talented at what they do, and they powerfully live out the Gospel as full-time musicians. Certainly not an exhaustive list but check these folks out if you’re interested.

I can’t promise how often I’ll write (I did once and that obviously didn’t turn out well). But what I can promise is that this blog will exist, and I hope it’s a means of encouragement and exhortation for you.

With all that said, let the blogging begin (again).

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May 2011 Midwest Tour

After months of getting all the pieces together, I’m excited to finally announce the dates for the Midwest Tour I’m doing with good friend and incredible saxophonist Adam Larson. We’ll be doing lots of original music from members of the band (Nils Weinhold (guitar), Raviv Markovitz (bass) & Bastian Weinhold (drums) – all up-and-coming musicians in New York City) as we host a number of clinics as well as some marquee shows that we’d love to see you at if you’re in the area. All the details are below – hope to see you out!

5/9 – Puppet’s Jazz Club (New York, NY) // 6:00-8:30pm ($5)

5/10 – The Shrine (New York, NY) // 7:00-8:00pm

5/13 – Champlain Park High School clinic/performance (Champlain Park, MN)

5/13 – Eastview High School clinic & jazz concert (Apple Valley, MN)

5/14 – Dakota Jazz Club (Minneapolis, MN) // 11:30pm-1:30am ($5)

5/15 – Artist’s Quarter Jazz Club (St. Paul, MN) // 7:00pm & 9:00pm sets ($10)

5/16 – Hopkins High School clinic/performance (Minnetonka, MN)

5/16 – Edina High School clinic/performance (Edina, MN)

5/17 – Regis High School clinic/performance (Eau Claire, WI)

5/17 – Bull Falls Brewery (Wausau, WI)

5/18 – Evanston Township High School clinic/performance (Evanston, IL)

5/18 – Skokie Theater (Skokie, IL) // 7:00pm

5/19 – Quincy High School clinic/performance (Quincy, IL)

5/19 – Carl Sandburg Jr. College (Galesville, IL)

5/20 – Vito’s in Kankakee (Kankakee, IL)

5/21 – New Trier High School clinic/performance (Winnetka, IL)

5/21 – Paul Maslin’s Woodwind Shop (IL) // 12:00-2:00pm

5/23 – Jazz Showcase (Chicago, IL) // 8:00pm & 10:00pm sets ($15/$10 cover)

5/24 – SaxQuest (St. Louis, MO)

5/25 – Illinois Central College PAC (Peoria, IL)

5/26 – The Normal Ampitheater (Bloomington, IL)

5/27 – McClean County Arts Center (Bloomington, IL)

5/28 – Carl’s Pro Band clinic (Bloomington, IL)

5/28 – Eaton Art Gallery (Bloomington, IL)

5/29 – First Presbyterian Church Vespers Service (Galesburg, IL)

new music from great friends

Just in the past few months I’ve had two of my best friends release records that I’m incredibly excited about – both guys from UW-Eau Claire! do yourself a favor and check them out…

AARON HEDENSTROM ORCHESTRA – A SYMPHONIC JAZZ HIP-HOP EXPERIENCE

Aaron is an incredibly talented saxophonist, pianist and composer from St. Paul, MN and he recently released a large ensemble record that I was fortunate to be a part of. It features plenty of talented cats from Minneapolis, New York & Eau Claire, WI and it features Aaron’s inventive and soulful writing even more. Think modern big band + hip hop elements + raw/live feel + an unashamed love for music and for God. The record features Aaron’s Soul Searching Suite, a four-movement work that I’m a huge fan of. I’ve even borrowed the second movement from the suite (“the thorn in my side”) and played it on my own gigs. Check out Aaron’s site here, preview some tunes and buy a record…

TYLER ANDERSON QUINTET – LETTING GO

Tyler, just so happens, is also a talented saxophonist and composer and quite the entrepreneur. Just in the past couple years Tyler has formed his own quintet, written tons of original tunes that are deeply personal and expressive, and recorded an album that he’s releasing this month at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul, MN. Tyler’s well on his way to leaving an imprint in this world…his new album Letting Go has got some great compositions, a couple of which you can hear on his myspace page (my favorite of them being “freedom from expectations”). Also watch out for Tyler’s sideman, trumpeter Joe Niemann – dude’s got some serious stuff goin’ on! There’s a great write up about Tyler’s new record that Andrea Canter did for jazzpolice.com that you can find here.

It’s a blessing to have great friends making great music – always inspiring…Check these guys out – hope you dig what you hear!

Back on the Blogging Trail

Wow, it’s been forever since I blogged. Summer has been full of transition and lots of great things happening…

I got married! May 29, 2010 to Dani Tucker (now Dani Raymond!) – the wedding was incredible and we have been thoroughly enjoying married life together.

-I was home in MN for about 5 weeks and while I was home I got to be a part of the Aaron Hedenstrom Orchestra‘s debut album recording. Check out Aaron’s site here – some beautiful and thought provoking music that I am blessed to be a part of.

-Once Dani & I got back to NY, I had the opportunity to teach at the Purchase Summer Jazz Workshop for two weeks in July. What a great experience it was to develop two weeks worth of jazz history curriculum and to work intensively with a combo. I’m pretty sure I got as much out of the camp as the students did.

-Dani and I found a place of our own in Brooklyn, this time close to Prospect Park. Its a huge 1BR and we’ve loved it so far. We’ve even started a little Raymond video “blog” of our own to keep our family and friends back home up to date on whats happening.

-Since moving to Brooklyn in our own place, Dani and I have been involved with Sovereign Grace City Church here in Park Slope. What a huge blessing the fellowship has been here – check out the church here if you’d like.

Alongside the transitions into marriage and back into NYC, God has been doing a heck of a lot in me musically and spiritually. Pending I can stay on the blogging, the plan is to share some of these things in the coming weeks and months. Hope you stay tuned…

the magical artistry of Tom Harrell

Whew…long time between blog posts. YIKES. I told myself that I had to write about the 2 times I’ve seen trumpeter Tom Harrell in the past month – both have been absolutely incredible.

I first saw Tom play @ the Village Vanguard with his band, very shortly after he released his latest CD, “Roman Nights” (check it out here…) The new music he’s writing is really incredible, first off. I got a chance to chat with the drummer Johnathan Blake after the first set and he was telling me that Tom is always writing for the band and, because they’ve been together for some time now, he’s really starting to settle in a groove of how to write best for the group. But above all, Tom’s playing was out of this world. It helped that he was having an on FIRE night – it seemed like every single note he played was like it’s own masterpiece. It’s unbelievable to me how, despite Tom’s trumpet playing not being nearly what it was years ago, there still lies a purity and a subtle power in his playing that I’ve never heard anyone else come even remotely close to displaying. His phrasing continues to be more impeccable over the years, and his ideas and motives are strung together in way that defies beauty. Those two sets were life changing for me, musically…what an incredible thing to hear such beauty and cohesiveness in a trumpeter.

Second, I caught him playing with the SUNY Purchase Latin Jazz Orchestra and, while it was a completely different situation, Tom still brought his artistry up to another level. It’s truly amazing to me to see someone create like he does – always spontaneous and always so cohesive. Talk about someone making BEAUTIFUL melodies – which is what the heart of this music is.

Do yourself a favor and seriously check out Tom Harrell (esp. Roman Nights) if you haven’t much – it’s worth every second. Also, here’s a short list of youtube videos that are stellar too…

Hamburg video

Quintet – 2007

Quintet 2008 – Rhythm A Ning

w/Joe Lovano – Sail Away

w/Phil Woods

Brian Blade!!

I had an insane musical experience this week – seeing drummer Brian Blade for the first time…

Blade was playing in Myron Walden’s “In This World” band (along with Mike Moreno – guitar, Jon Cowherd – piano & Yasushi Nakamura – bass) at the Jazz Standard for one night only, and I’ve been hoping to catch him for months now. There have been numerous people that have used the word “special” for Brian Blade, and after hearing him in person now, I completely concur.

Talk about one of the most expressive musicians I’ve ever seen in my life! Blade is an absolute master at being incredibly clear with his instrument all the time as well as totally honest in expressing something deeply personal to him.

The other thing about him is that I’ve never in my life witnessed such selfless music making. Here’s what I mean: there wasn’t one second where Blade was trying to assert himself or his ideas over top of any other the music that was coming from the other members of the band. He typified being a “servant” to the music and to his fellow bandmates, and the result was anything but boring! On the contrary, it was possibly the most musical and explosive drumming I’ve ever experienced in my life! And not the super “chops-y” type of explosiveness, but rather a deeper and more gratifying kind. Absolutely incredible…

The other thing that blew my mind was seeing Brian Blade after the show. I’ve never been around another musician who engaged genuinely and gave time to every single person that came to talk to him…again, completely selfless and giving of himself – both musically and personally. What an incredible inspiration he is to me to live out the truth that it’s “better to give than to receive…”

If you EVER get the chance to see Brian Blade, don’t pass it up…I promise you it’ll change your life.

The Show Must Go On…

I’m learning this week what that age-old phrase really means…

Today my Grandpa passed away at his nursing home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Thankfully, his death wasn’t full of pain but rather peaceful and with most of our immediate family around. We knew he didn’t have that long left, but nevertheless, it’s still been mournful and full of emotions. Only the Lord knows where he is currently, and because of that I am incredibly humbled at the holiness and sovereignty of my Maker and Savior, Jesus Christ – the creator and ruler of the entire universe. Death is so real – to all of us, at any time. And only the Lord knows when and how our lives will end. And because of that, I’m reminded again how seriously we must all take eternity…

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it…the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

(Isaiah 40:6-8)

In dealing with all these emotions and thoughts, I find myself still having to continue on pursuing music and grinding away day after day. I remember playing a while back with Nachito Herrera (amazing mentor and Grammy-nominated Latin Jazz pianist), and we had to do a show on a day when something grave and serious happened to one of his family members. I remember the emotion and pain that Nachito expressed before we played and he said again, “the show must go on…” We proceeded to play the set and it was one of the most heartfelt, inspiring hours of music I’ve ever been a part of. It was humbling to see him have to play through the pain and emotions of hardship. Really, I guess that some of the most powerful moments in history (musical or otherwise) have come in the face of trial.

Regardless, I find myself somewhat in this position. Needing to push through hardship and emotional struggle and continue to create and practice diligently. Sometimes I know this can even be an enormous instigator of the healing process. Whatever comes of it, only the Lord knows. But for now, the grind and the pursuit continues.