Michael Blum ’15 releases first jazz guitar CD, ‘Initiation’

by Margarette Nelson | 4/14/14 1:48pm

Though the son of two musicians, Michael Blum ’15 did not plan to pursue a career in music when he arrived at the College. Blum has studied music most of his life — his father was his first guitar teacher — but it was not until he played in the orchestra for the College’s production of “Hairspray” his freshman year that he considered pursuing music professionally, he said.

In the two years since, Blum spent thousands of hours practicing guitar. He released his debut album, “Initiation,” in February. The jazz album, performed by The Michael Blum Quartet, is a mix of standards from The Great American Songbook, originals by Blum’s instructor and Berklee College of Music professor Jim Stinnett and a track by Blum called “Six Weeks.”

At the College, Blum is a music and cognitive science double major, and he sings with co-ed a cappella group, The Dodecaphonics. He has also played in the pit bands for student productions “Hairspray” and “Spring Awakening.”

Blum said his technical acumen on the guitar took off during his sophomore year, when he began taking lessons with Stinnett, who had previously taught Blum’s father. Blum travels to Stinnett’s home in Candia for these lessons, which he credits with helping him take a “clear path and concise path” to musical mastery.

“[Stinnett’s] entire teaching philosophy is grounded in the perspective that you can’t learn to play jazz without learning the language of the masters,” Blum said.

Blum said he has learned much from transcription, an exercise where a musician practices playing a recording note for note, preserving its original rhythms and inflections.

“You hear it, you play it,” Blum said. “There’s not that much in between. It trains your ears and improves your technique.”

Blum said has mostly practiced playing works by guitarists Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, whom he counts as influences to his own work. He also listens to guitarist Ed Bickert and pianist Red Garland for inspiration, he said.

Blum also benefited from Stinnett’s network of musician friends to help him record his album. Stinnett played the bass on the recording and organized for Arizona State University music professor and drummer Dom Moio to fly in for the recording session. Stinnett had pianist Brad Smith from Bedford join the group as well.

Once they were all assembled, they rehearsed briefly and began recording extremely quickly, with the entire recording completed in two six-hour sessions at Chase Productions in Methuen, Mass.

“With [Stinnett’s] guidance and help, we hired some extremely good musicians who made the recording process very easy,” Blum said. “As long as you are well versed with the language [of jazz], you can sit down with anyone and speak it.”

Jazz pianist Grant Neubauer ’13, who met Blum his freshman year, described Blum as “very eager to play” whenever possible. Blum and Neubauer have performed together at the Hop Garage and Canoe Club Restaurant over the last two years.

He said he was impressed by Blum’s improvement and dedication.

“If he can keep up this path, he’s going places,” Neubauer said. “From playing with him two and half years ago to hearing the album, I’m pretty blown away from the amount of growth.”

Music professor and jazz musician Fred Haas said he was impressed with Blum’s ability the first time he heard him play a solo transcription at a music department workshop. Since then, the two have performed a duet together at Canoe Club.

Since the album’s release, Blum, who is off campus this term, has focused on promoting the album. He has reached out to individual jazz writers and applied to U.S. and international jazz festivals, he said. He is also working on a tribute to jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career as a performer.

“Right now I’m trying to make the connections and set a path for myself,” Blum said. “That’s partially the reason I record. It’s important to have a calling card.”

The Final Wordwith Michael Blum ’15

My favorite campus dish is: the Buffalo Tender Bob Marley, a tender bob with buffalo sauce and a hash brown.

If I had the chance to perform with one artist, dead or alive, I’d choose: pianist Oscar Peterson.

The best concert I ever attended was: the Christian McBride Trio show at the Village Vanguard in New York.

Correction appended: April 14, 2014

The online version of this article incorrectly identified the university at which Dom Moio teaches. It is, in fact, Arizona State University, not the University of Arizona.