Posted: December 2, 2023

Pyramid Breakfast: Stanford Jazz Workshop Memories

I first attended the Stanford Jazz Workshop (SJW) in 1984, a 14 year-old High School rising sophomore pianist from Albuquerque, NM. This was my first trip to a jazz camp, and I immediately fell in love with the environment, the people, the music. My teachers that first year included George Cables, Mark Levine, Smith Dobson Sr and Larry Grenadier. I can still remember playing the songs Bouncing with Bud and Think on Me at the final concert, in Dinkelspeil Recital Hall. I’ve returned to SJW many times, first as student, then junior faculty member, and over 35 years since my first summer there, I still return to teach, play concerts and hang at the place I consider my summer second home.

The SJW experience has always been about more than just jazz music- it’s also about community. Many of the friends I’ve made there have influenced me and have remained my closest colleagues and bandmates. Michael Zisman, Gregory Ryan, Yosvanny Terry & Dafnis Prieto come immediately to mind among so many others. In the early years, many of us would meet at the Tressider Memorial Student Union for breakfast before heading to our morning classes. The cafeteria line there had a concept they called Pyramid breakfast- you could pick a few items from each category to make your own custom breakfast. My friends and I would grab our food, then head outside (Stanford’s weather is paradise in the summer) to talk about what we’d learned, what we’d heard, what we were excited about.

Even now, in the jazz clubs of NYC, I often meet musicians whom I first met at SJW- they come up to me and remember the songs we played when I led their ensemble, or recount some lesson I shared in masterclass or theory class, and I feel proud to be part of this continuum of jazz music and culture.

Thinking back to these days, and loving the title “Pyramid Breakfast,” I composed a song for my album, Radiance. It’s a 16-bar gospel and blues influenced tune, starting with descending dominant 7#9 chords coming down from the minor 3rd to the root, simple at its conception, but like many of my tunes, infused with crafty cleverness. The melody is reinforced by 4 note chords below, which works well in a piano trio context, but also lent itself to an expanded performance with horns at the SJW at 50 concert, in the summer of 2022 back in Dinkelspeil Recital Hall- bringing me around full circle to where it all started back in 1984. Enjoy Pyramid Breakfast, from Radiance.