BEING by Chris Rottmayer out now!

March 8, 2024  /  News

Pianist Chris Rottmayer pays homage to Mulgrew Miller on Being, an album that explores Miller’s time with the Woody Shaw Quintet and features jazz master Rufus Reid.

Being is pianist Chris Rottmayer’s fourth album as leader and contains all original compositions performed by his quartet featuring Russ Johnson on trumpet and flugelhorn, Matt Endres on drums, and jazz master Rufus Reid on acoustic bass. Being is available now on CD and all digital platforms.

Rottmayer is a freelance jazz artist, composer, and jazz educator who calls Madison, WI his home. Two of his previous releases, So in Love and Sunday at Pilars, each spent considerable time on the Jazzweek jazz albums chart and reached #1 on the Roots Music Report’s jazz albums chart. Sunday at Pilars was the #1 overall jazz album on the RMR chart’s 2021 jazz album chart. Besides his freelance jazz work, Rottmayer is also a Lecturer of Music Theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Being is a collection of original music, written as part of a study of the jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller and his recordings with the Woody Shaw Quintet. Rottmayer began this intensive study of Miller’s playing with Shaw in 2018 when he first developed the concept for his dissertation, but had been a student of Miller’s playing his entire life. Rottmayer says “The pure energy on Shaw’s albums Lotus Flower and United has always excited me. I have really wanted to dig into more modal concepts, more pentatonic ideas, and explore planing and side-slipping, since most of my established language came more from Bud Powell and Charlie Parker. So I transcribed Miller’s playing and used his and Shaw’s language as inspiration for the creative work behind Being. With the help of my mentors and professors at UW-Madison, Peter Dominquez and Johannes Wallmann, I was able to connect with Rufus Reid. Reid collaborated often with Miller, and recording with Reid has helped me to connect with Miller on a level deeper than I could through listening to recordings or through personal study.”

Being contains five compositions that are part of the Miller study. “On The Street Where Woody Lives” is a contrafact of a contrafact. Shaw wrote “Green St. Caper” as his own version of the standard “On Green Dolphin Street.” Rottmayer’s tune is inspired by Miller’s language and Shaw’s harmony. He explains, “Shaw’s The Green Street Caper explores planing major seventh chords as substitutions to the original harmony of On Green Dolphin Street. The melodic language is highly pentatonic and quartal. My On The Street Where Woody Lives is a tribute to those ideas.”

Re-United” takes the Wayne Shorter tune “United,” famously recorded by Shaw and Miller, and places it in 4/4 time and with a new melody. Some formal elements are borrowed from Shaw’s arrangement as well. 

Autumn Evening” is an homage to Miller’s beautiful ballad playing. “Song of Modes” plays off of Shaw’s “Song of Songs” and explores more of Miller and Shaw’s modal and harmonic concepts. Rottmayer elaborates, “On Song of Songs, they explore the fifth mode of the melodic minor scale (ascending form) and that is a very interesting sound to me and not often used.”

Ballerina Dance” is inspired by Shaw’s “Katerina Ballerina” and is evocative of the exotic nature of Miller and Shaw’s harmony and modality during this period of the Shaw quintet.

The other five compositions on Being are reflections of the city of Paris, France, where Woody Shaw lived for more than two decades. They fold in seamlessly with the other half of the album. “Pigalle” examines the famous former red-light district famous for its theater and entertainment. “Châtelet” attempts to recreate the chaotic nature of one of the busiest stations of the Paris Metro. “La Seizième” reflects the beautiful peaceful feeling of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Paris, the 16th arrondissement. The beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower from the “Pont Neuf” was the impetus for the Rottmayer bossa nova of the same name. Finally, “Rue des Lombards” is one of the most famous streets for jazz music in Paris, home to several of the most famous French jazz clubs.

At its core, Being is an homage to Miller and Shaw, and one can hear the deep respect that Rottmayer and his band show in the execution of these tunes, but it is more than just a tribute. It demonstrates a path of learning and existing, a path that many jazz musicians have followed. In Rottmayer’s playing, the listener can hear a synthesis of Miller’s sound, but filtered through his own personal perspective and language, as has been the case in this music for generation after generation, helping keep the tradition alive while also moving forward. 

Track Listing

1. On The Street Where Woody Lives 6:36

2. Re-United 8:34

3. Pigalle 9:37

4. Châtelet 5:16

5. Autumn Evening 8:18

6. Song of Modes 8:14

7. Ballerina Dance 10:55

8. La Seizième 4:39

9. Pont Neuf 6:46

10. Rue des Lombards 7:21