Mr. Rob Schwimmer/Mr. Billy Hart

Next week: Thursday May 31st @ 7pm —
Solo Concert
Heart of Hearing CD Release Concert
for Piano, Theremin & the amazing Haken Continuum

at Joe’s Pub

The record at Bandcamp

I wrote the liner notes for Heart of Hearing, it’s really kind of an amazing disc. My pull quote: “Rob Schwimmer is a strikingly advanced polymath, a wizard on multiple instruments, a relentless comic, a throwback to the groovy ’60s/’70s, a repository of unlikely trivia, a summoner of strange beauty, a master of the absurd, a man with a heart of gold… In the end, Heart of Hearing is about harmony. Hallucinatory, complex, subtle pitches and people together. The 88 keys plus sine waves, a life lived in strange and beautiful music.”

Rob has been on the road with me and the Mark Morris Dance Group wowing audiences with his Theremin in Pepperland, but when he sits down at the piano at soundcheck, I wonder if I shouldn’t just give up the bench and conduct instead!

Sadly I will miss Rob’s show since I’ll be working across town. Mark Turner couldn’t make it, neither could Josh Redman, so we asked the great Chris Potter (who is on some of Billy’s older records).




Perfida Replicata

Yesterday  Josephine Bode, Dodó Kis, and I played a set at Moers. It can be watched at the ARTE FB page. Music starts 13 and a half minutes in.

The composition that begins and ends the set is a deconstruction of Angelo Beradi’s Canzone Sesta.


In between we improvise. In rehearsal Josephine and Dodó never sang, so that was a nice surprise. For the publishing information Josephine wrote down the title as “Perfida Replicata,” as that is Beradi’s marking for the final quick movement of the Canzone.

Last year at Moers I thrilled to watch Anthony Braxton play the contrabass saxophone, an instrument he more or less invented.

All recorder players have an arsenal of different sizes, but Josephine and Dodó both have a special interest in the contrabass recorder Paetzold. Dodó: “This instrument was developed by a German maker Herbert Paetzold in 1975, now it’s manufactured and distributed by Kunath.”


Blues the Most


JALC and DTM have been working together on a few recent occasions.

Andre Guess wrote up the panel “A Conversation on Jazz & Race” that he hosted with Wynton Marsalis and myself for JazzTimes.  It’s really an excellent convo (if I do say so myself), although at one point I mention Mahler and both Andre and Wynton make fun of me. Fair enough, that will teach me to reference Mahler….!?

….except that I use Mahler again in the notes I supplied for the JALO plays Ornette Coleman. Well, I guess I think it works. Try imagining the opening oboe solo in “Der Abschied” as Ornette with Charlie Haden in “Lonely Woman” and see if you can’t understand what I might mean….

Official blurb:

May 18-19: The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis celebrates one of jazz’s great original geniuses: composer, Pulitzer Prize winner, and alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman (1930–2015). 2017 Grammy Award-winning composer, arranger, saxophonist, and bandleader Ted Nash serves as music director for the evening, utilizing the Orchestra’s many colors to bring this music to life.

Iverson program notes:

Ornette Coleman’s magnificent melodies flew out of his plastic alto saxophone and changed the world. The contours were fresh and modernist, at times imbued with a frank lyricism reminiscent of European composers like Schubert or Mahler, yet always framed by deep blues ethos straight from the heart of Texas.

His early bands huddled around the blast furnace of his melodic genius and were inspired to create the rest of the orchestration. Almost by definition, tonight’s concert is not just about Ornette Coleman. It is about Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, and the best of the rest of his invaluable collaborators.

Tonight’s concert is also inevitably about all those fellow jazz legends who went to see Ornette Coleman at the Five Spot in 1959 and 1960. Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis were all directly influenced by Ornette with Cherry, Haden, and Higgins. Was there any other time in jazz history when so many major artists reassessed their music based on a recent arrival?

The biggest influence on Ornette Coleman was unquestionably Charlie Parker. When a very young Wynton Marsalis first visited Stanley Crouch, Crouch played some Ornette on the stereo, and Marsalis thought it was Bird.

Ornette knew not just Bird but also all the other significant modern jazz musicians. In a 1960 Downbeat blindfold test with Leonard Feather, Ornette Coleman smoothly identifies Miles Davis with Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, and Johnny Hodges. That’s not surprising, but Ornette’s correct guesswork about Al Cohn with Zoot Sims and Bob Cooper with Bud Shank might surprise those still suspicious of Ornette’s jazz bonafides.

An interview with Gunther Schuller from the same era offers more conventional jazz wisdom. Ornette observes how a quarter note feels different when you pat your foot, a comment that suggests the dance floors of the big band era.

Bird, the big bands, and the blues: These are the obvious sources for the music of Ornette’s first era, the era of Ornette that remains most impossible to resist.

However, Ornette went on to explore wider horizons. In 1962, perhaps under the influence of Schuller’s Third Stream, a trio with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett assimilated modernist classical music, where Izenzon frequently used the bow for his bass and Ornette played noise violin. In 1966, perhaps to react against that kind of intellectual culture, Ornette brought in his 11-year son Denardo to enjoy naive rhythms not yet tamed by professional experience. The 1972 monument Science Fiction synthesized all that Ornette had done before but also added pop ballads (perhaps inspired by someone like Joni Mitchell) sung by Bombay chanteuse Asha Puthli. The next step was right in line with many other jazz musicians after Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew: In 1973 Ornette plugged in rock guitars and created an idiosyncratic response to fusion, Prime Time.

Ornette’s oeuvre is rounded out by a large scale symphonic work, Skies of America, various chamber pieces, and a significant soundtrack, Naked Lunch, co-composed with Howard Shore and revisited last year at Lincoln Center with Denardo Coleman, Henry Threadgill, and Ravi Coltrane.

In sum, Ted Nash has all sorts of options for arranging the music of Ornette Coleman. While Ornette’s bluesy and searing alto saxophone was an unchanging constant, the settings were fluid, and eventually Ornette addressed most of the genres of music easily accessible to 20th century Americans.

Americans have responded to Ornette’s wide-ranging vision by embracing him as a touchstone artist. Tonight’s concert is another exciting chapter of presenting new ways to explore his phenomenal contribution.

A Paragraph from Tom Wolfe

As a teenager I thumbed through my mother’s copy of From Bauhaus to Our House without understanding much of it. However, one paragraph naturally stood out. Looking at it again I am struck by the perhaps needless cruelty of the author. Still, the larger point hits home then and now.

For that matter, in most of the higher arts in America prestige was now determined by European-style clerisies. By the mid-1960s, painting was a truly advanced case. The Abstract Expressionists had held on as the ruling compound for about ten years, but then new theories, new compounds, new codes began succeeding one another in a berserk rush. Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism, Hard Edge, Color Field, Earth Art, Conceptual Art — the natural bias of the compounds toward arcane and baffling went beyond all known limits. The spectacle was crazy, but young artists tended to believe – correctly – that it was impossible to achieve major status without joining in the game. In the field of serious music, the case was even more advanced; in fact, it was very nearly terminal. Within the university compounds, composers had become so ultra-Schoenbergian, so exquisitely abstract, that no one from the outside world any longer had the slightest interest in, much less comprehension of, what was going on. In the cities, not even that Gideon’s army known as “the concert-going public” could be drawn to an all-contemporary program. They took place only in university concert halls. Here on the campus the program begins with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” followed by one of Stockhausen’s early compositions, “Punkte,” then Babbitt’s Ensembles for Synthesizer, a little Easley Blackwood and Jean Barraqué for a change of pace, then the committed plunge into a random-note or, as they say, “stochastic” piece for piano, brass, Moog synthesizer, and computer by Iannis Xenakis. The program winds up with James P. Johnson’s “You’ve Gotta Be Modernistic.” Joplin and Johnson, of course, are as cozy and familiar as a lullaby, but they are essential to the program. The same thirty-five or forty souls, all of them faculty members and graduate students, make up the audience at every contemporary musical event. The unspeakable fear is that not even they will show up unless promised a piece of candy at the beginning and a piece of candy at the end. Joplin and Johnson are okay because both men were black and were not appreciated as serious composers in their own day.


UPDATE: Looked at Tyler Coates’s overview in Esquire, and was impressed by Coates’s concluding comment about The Painted Word: “…There’s something to be said for a writer willing to fall on his sword in order to get people talking about art.”