Sporting Edition

Sarah Deming writes a preview of the upcoming fight between Big Baby and Miracle Man for Inside HBO Boxing.

In England there is cricket. Thanks to early bits of Doctor Who and Douglas Adams, I’ve always been aware of the sport, and enjoy the relevant wikiquote page.

Drummer James Maddren told me to check out a skit by the Dutch group Jiskefet. It’s truly one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. Every image, action, and sound is simply perfect. Highest marks.

Dance to the Music of Time

There has been a lot going on. Leaving the Bad Plus is the biggest change, but various other sort of career and conceptual themes have also been undergoing transformation. I also just turned 45, which might be considered midpoint of the journey.

It really all does seem circular. Themes re-occur. The last month almost felt like a tour of the past.

Sarah and I visited Daniel Pinkwater. There’s a meme asking, “What four movies are you?” I don’t have four movies, but I do have the collected works of Daniel Pinkwater. Alan Mendelsohn, Boy From Mars; The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death; Lizard Music — those three books “are me.”

Sarah said, let’s give Pinkwater a monster. That creature cost me a small fortune in Tokyo, but she was right. It was the ideal present, a perfect transaction.

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On the drive we listened to Pinkwater audio books in the car. Amazing! I just learned that Mr. Pinkwater himself reads his books and you can buy them on iTunes. They are now an essential part of my travel library.

Rufus Reid turned up at the Pat Zimmerli Clockworks concert at Merkin Hall. Rufus is a consecrated jazz bassist, but for me he was also an important teacher. One afternoon at Banff in 1990, students and faculty were sitting around the coffee shop and Miles Davis’s “Bye Bye Blackbird” came on as background music. Rufus Reid sang along with Coltrane’s solo note for note. I was impressed and annoyed. To learn how to play, was I going to have to sing Coltrane solos too? That seemed hard — too hard! It took me years and some further strict teaching from Lee Konitz, but in the end I decided that Rufus was right. I can’t sing any Coltrane yet, but I can sing lots of Lester Young and Charlie Parker.

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photo by Vinnie Sperrazza

Seeing Rufus brought back that memory and by this time next year I promise to be able to sing Coltrane’s “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “All of You” from ‘Round About Midnight.

—-

I added “All of You” to the pile because Billy Hart told me:

The first time I fell in love with John Coltrane was his solo on “All of You” from Miles’ ‘Round Midnight. I’ve talked to Gary Bartz about this, and he felt the same way—that this solo made us Coltrane fans, forever.

Billy Hart is my most significant teacher and we have worked together for over twenty years. However, I had never played with Buster Williams and Billy Hart together, despite Buster and Billy being universally considered one of the great bass/drum combinations.

It finally happened on Tuesday, quartet with Billy Harper. Everyone agreed that it was extraordinary to hear the beat played by that bassist with that drummer.

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Billy Hart, Lenny White, Buster Williams

Lenny White was there. He plays with Buster all the time — they have become a classic contemporary rhythm section — but I think he wanted to get a taste of that other thing Mchezaji has with Jabali. In the dressing room I was as quiet as possible while I listened to them tell stories.

Billy Hart talked about learning Afro Cuban music from Lenny White! They were both playing with Pharoah Sanders. Neither was playing drum set, they both were on cowbells and claves. Afterwards Billy complained to Lenny about how Lenny sounded so much better than him, and Lenny said he was really checking out authentic Afro Cuban music. This anecdote explains in a flash how Lenny White was able to walk in and power so many of the greatest fusion recordings: The deep background for the “new” way of dealing with the even eighth circa 1970 was African procedures from thousands of years ago. Of course.

Patrick Zimmerli’s Clockworks with Chris Tordini, John Hollenbeck, and me is out, and so is — finally — Shores Against Silence, the recording with Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier, and Tom Rainey from 1991. I was at that recording session, and heard “The Paw” for the first time in the studio. Pat gives me a special mention in the liner notes to Shores Against Silence, which I think is only fair, as I’ve been telling people that this is an incredible record since…well, I guess since 1991.

Vinnie Sperrazza is becoming an important new collaborator. At the Clockworks gig he looked at the score and said, “I can hear how Pat was an influence on you.” No doubt — Pat will always be a monument in my life, which is elaborated further in our interview.

Vinnie took the photo of me and Rufus Reid together after telling me of a time he played with Rufus and James Williams at Knickerbocker’s. Yeah, Vinnie’s my kind of cat, with a swinging cymbal beat that undulates inside the music. We are working together in Pepperland, the extravagant revue created by Mark Morris for the Mark Morris Dance Group.

It is just wonderful to be back with Mark Morris again. For five years I was his musical director. I watched the dance shows every night, then after the show went to Mark’s hotel room and listened to Handel and Partch. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson would attend rehearsal; I played Schumann with Yo-Yo Ma. It was frequently up to me to bring conductors in line about tempi and singers in line about diction.

Pepperland is the Beatles as seen though the prism of classical music and it really works. It’s been really fabulous to expose Vinnie and other friends Jacob Garchik, Sam Newsome, and Rob Schwimmer to the magic of Morris. It’s also just incredible to leave the Bad Plus and be immediately involved in another hit project.

Concerto to Scale reflects Morris, Zimmerli, Jabali, and everything else I love. It certainly reflects Pinkwater. Program notes:

My first piece for orchestra is intentionally modest in dimension, or “to scale.” While composing, I re-read some of my favorite books from when I was a young adult and tried to capture that sort of joyful emotion. The work is dedicated to John Bloomfield.

Allegro. Sonata form in C major with plenty of scales. My left hand and the bass drum soloist are the rhythm section offering syncopations in dialogue with the orchestra’s conventional string material.

Andante. A 19th-centutry nocturne atmosphere meets modern polyrhythms. This is a dramatic elaboration of a piece originally written for Mark Turner called “We Come From the Future.”

Rondo. The tempo mark is, “Misfit Rag.” Ragtime is the way American composers traditionally insert a touch of jazz onto the concert stage, and who am I to disagree? The orchestra gets a chance to improvise and the pianist and percussionist enjoy a dual cadenza.

I didn’t really need to re-read Pinkwater for the Concerto — I’ve got those books memorized — but I did look at The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill (1972) and Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks (1963). Both are undisputed classics and are still in print. Interestingly, both are also about race relations, a fact that I had completely forgotten. They are white authors writing about the midwest in the 1960s, so perhaps not every authorial decision will past muster today, but they were in there, trying to swing. They were about my two favorite books when I was ten or eleven. I had good taste!

The review by Seth Colter Walls was gratifying (Amanda Ameer said I look like Schroeder in the picture, which is perfect) and I’ve been astonished how much I enjoy listening to the tape.

(If you want to hear the rough mix of the premiere or look at the score, sign up for Floyd Camembert Reports.)

Between Pepperland and the Concerto, it is starting to feel like my future will involve extended composition.

Composition might be part of the future, but I also will always be a jazz pianist who loves to play clubs. Starting tomorrow I am on an extensive UK tour with Martin Speake.

20/4 Sheffield Jazz Crookes Social Club http://www.sheffieldjazz.org.uk/
21/4 Brighton Verdict https://verdictjazz.co.uk/
22/4 Colchester Arts Centre https://www.colchesterartscentre.com/
23 Cheltenham Jazz http://www.cheltenhamjazz.co.uk/
24/4 London Pizza Express https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/venues/soho-jazz-club
25/4London Pizza Express https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/venues/soho-jazz-club
26/4 St George’s Bristol https://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/
27/4 Reading Progress Theatre http://www.jazzinreading.com/
29/4 Cinnamon Club Manchester http://www.thecinnamonclub.net/
1/5 Hastings http://jazzhastings.co.uk/
3/5 Cambridge https://www.cambridgejazz.org/index.php?name=home
4/5 Poole Lighthouse https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk/

Go to Martin’s FB page for more.

Martin and I also go back to Banff in 1990. It was a hell of a line up there and lasted for a full month: Faculty included Rufus Reid, Marvin Smitty Smith, Stanley Cowell, Kevin Eubanks, Kenny Wheeler, Hugh Fraser. Abraham Adzenyah taught dance from Ghana — I guess the first time I danced with a woman was in that class. (Now this post is getting too personal.) Steve Coleman was the artistic director.

The students were also amazing. Tony Malaby, Seamus Blake, Ralph Alessi, George Colligan, John Stetch, Andy Milne, Jorrit Dijkstra — Jeez, I know I’m forgetting some others who are now famous…

Especially important to my artistic development were Benoît Delbecq and Steve Argüelles, who went on to be a real force together and big influence. With Noël Akchoté they became The Recyclers and released Rhymes in 1994. You want to know something I checked out? Rhymes was something I checked out, especially the track “Suguxhama” by Argüelles and Django Bates. (It’s streaming.)

(Later, prompted by David King and Craig Taborn, I would listen to all the fantabulous Django Bates records with Martin France on drums. It turns out that France is going to be on a few gigs of the Martin Speake tour. Wow! I’m going to get to play with Martin France for the first time.)

At Banff two duo relationships had notable resonance. The wonderful Jill Seifers (a great vocalist who ended up dying far too young) and I did a set at the little Banff club that I listened to over and over. And Martin Speake and I made a recording that was tremendous fun, he’s splendid lyrical player who sees it from all the angles.

At the Vortex gig earlier this year, Martin told the audience that after we met at Banff, I sent him (by post from Menomonie, Wisconsin to London, England) a cassette of Ornette Coleman’s then-scarce Science Fiction accompanied by a note on Doctor Who stationery. Yes: It really all does seem circular. Themes re-occur. I freely admit I cannot wait for Jodie Whittaker.

Interview with George Colligan.

Interview with Benoît Delbecq.

Interview with Django Bates.

Stanley Cowell plays “Carolina Shout” at my James P. Johnson event.

 

Rich Scheinin on Billy Harper

I’ve got Mr. Billy Harper on my mind, of course.

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After Richard Scheinin contributed the Cecil Taylor essay to DTM, Rich mentioned that he was a friend and admirer of Harper. He has also written the liner notes to several Harper albums, and there are online essays for the Mercury News:

Like a Bolt of Truth from Above

Art Blakey told him, ‘Billy, I’m your favorite fan.”

Profile from 1996

Rich also curated a selection of Harper videos, saying, “Billy is a great guy and a genius, I think. Among living players, especially from that era, I’d say he and McCoy are my faves…”

[the rest of this post is Richard Scheinin’s commentary, thank you so much, Richard!]

With Thad and Mel. Billy comes in at 4:46 and — bam! Takes your head off.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbyFHre_nPU

Another with Thad and Mel, “Don’t Get Sassy.” Billy comes in at 4:20 and plays the blues. This one builds; the band eventually sits out and just lets BH blow:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcyT-CVH_6I

With Lee Morgan, early ’70s on “Soul,” which was an amazing show on Channel 13 in NYC. I remember watching this episode when I was in high school; it was the first time I saw Billy play. He’s on flute on the first number, back on tenor for “Angela,” which he recorded with Morgan on Lee’s final album. The quality of the video is terrible, but this is history, right? With Mabern, Jymie Merritt, Freddie Waits:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O4kb40-V_g

With Gil Evans at Umbria in 1974. The band plays Billy’s “Priestess,” and Billy enters at 3:51. The usual majesty and fire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihDjcW9u6y4

With Max Roach’s great quartet (BH, Workman, Bridgewater), with which Billy spent most of the ’70s. He comes in at 19:34. What focus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyOyl4suf64

With Blakey: There used to be great video on YouTube of Harper with Blakey and the Messengers in Copenhagen in ’68. It seems to have been taken down. Well, people may already know this one from the bootleg album: this is Harper, all of 25 years old, playing “Angel Eyes” with Art Blakey at Slugs’ in 1968. Just audio:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Blakey_discography#Live_albums

I wish there was video available of Harper leading his own group in the ’70s — THAT was something. Maybe Billy has it; I can’t find it. Oh, well. People probably know this from the record: “The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart.” I’ve heard this a thousand times and it still gives me the chills:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvTNnswzjhc

Of course, he continues to play fabulously.

This is Billy’s group, performing in Poland, 10 or 15 years ago. His working quintet was augmented by several horns and there’s a full chorus, too. “The Awakening.” More chills:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzBuAwi3hIM

Billy’s been playing with Randy Weston for 45 years. Here’s great footage from 2011 at the United Nations. I love the interplay with Talib Kibwe (TK Blue), who’s on alto:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jZKRfyOMHA

Recent video by the Cookers, playing Billy’s “Sir Galahad.” The whole band is on. Jabali! This is one of Harper’s classic tunes, first recorded on “Capra Black.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SZqOpzXd20

Frederic Rzewski is 80

Friday the 13th, 2018: Mr. Rzewski is celebrating a big birthday in London as Igor Levit plays a premiere at Wigmore Hall.

Next Thursday the Del Sol String Quartet plays Rzewski music old and new at Miller Theatre.

Two years ago Zachary Woolfe offered a valuable look at Rzewski’s politics. These days “political art” is everywhere: Rzewski’s whole life is an example of walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

One of the more important items in my CD collection is the Hat Hut recital of four North American Ballads and Squares. This used to be hard to find but is now streaming everywhere.

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It’s impossible to overestimate the impact the North American Ballads had on me. For a time I was playing my own folk song arrangements in the Rzewski style (“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “My Darling Clementine,” and so forth). This was the music that Yves Beauvais became interested in producing for a Columbia release. I didn’t feel right about entering the larger marketplace doing Rzewski knock-offs, so I blew Yves off. Six months later I called him back and said, “There’s this new band, the Bad Plus, which I think would actually be a good signing…”

Rzewski improvises his own terrific cadenzas. Recently I heard Igor Levit play “Which Side Are You On” and improvise his own cadenza. It was an exciting circumstance quite rare from a concert pianist of Levit’s stature. (I wonder if Levit would be improvising in public without Rzewski’s encouraging cue.)

Afterwards Levit told me there were two more Ballads composed since the first four. What!? Yes, indeed. Number 5, “It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad,” is a long and difficult masterpiece. Like most of Rzewski’s music, the score is available for free at IMSLP. A concert recording by the composer from 2000 is available as well, although there is something recalcitrant about the file (I haven’t been able to get it to play through smoothly yet).

The tune is first presented as a blues. Offhand I’d say there is only one person that gets permission to do this kind of thing — write an ornamented bluesy tune for huge European piano variations — and their name is Frederic Rzewski.

ballad 1

ballad 2

ballad 3ballad 4

ballad 5

(full score is at IMSLP)

 

Thank you Mr. Frederic Rzewski for an impossibly great contribution to music and humanity overall. Happy 80th birthday!

The World of Cecil Taylor

RIP.

The trio with Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille is widely held to be one of the great groups of all time. Video has surfaced of an extraordinary gig in 1973. At the seven minute mark the music finally begins in earnest and the camera angle on the piano is appropriate. Peak Cecil thunder. Nobody else played like this.

 

Jimmy Lyons was so great too, damn. Truly in the top tier of underrated cats. As the video continues, it becomes obvious why Lyons spent so much time simply inside the Taylor vortex. Lyons plays just how he wants to play, so unforced and so beautiful.

Cyrille is also perfect. Swinging like crazy but not a steady tempo in sight.

Lyons and Cyrille sound like jazz musicians. Their connection to Charlie Parker and Max Roach is obvious. Cecil didn’t sound like that. He had another kind of poetry, some other kind of sheer strength of will. Cecil never played as a sideman and probably he just couldn’t do it. The direction of the ensemble music had to come from him. Period. (The set with Mary Lou Williams is my least favorite Cecil, he just storms over her throughout.)

“I am the artist” was Cecil’s credo. That kind of assertiveness was relatively new in jazz when he showed up to wage war on convention. Perhaps this approach had a stronger dosage of European aesthetic in the mix than the previous jazz masters, although it is also important to remember that Pablo Picasso’s cubism was inspired by sculpture from West and Central Africa.

Certain listeners have compared the tempests of Taylor to noisy European composers. I personally go back and forth: sometimes I can see the direct connection of Cecil to something like the Jean Barraqué Piano Sonata, other times I think C.T. is just painting in broad African strokes. (These are not mutually exclusive conceits, of course.)

Actually the most “European” Cecil I ever heard was just recently at the Ornette memorial. What is he doing here? Reading an unpublished Debussy salute to the gamelan? It is stunningly gorgeous, and all the more eerie for being preserved only on bootleg video with oblivious other photographers fussing about, a jarring cellphone going off,  etc.  It sometimes feels like jazz can’t catch get a break…

 

The Cecil I listened to the most as a youngster were two of his earliest albums. The World of Cecil Taylor has a version of “This Nearly Was Mine” that can be placed on the Mount Rushmore of Deconstructed Standards.

(This may be bassist Buell Neidlinger’s most valuable contribution to the discography as well; Richard Williams has a fascinating commentary on Neidlinger, who also died just recently.)

Three tracks on Into the Hot, “Pots,” “Bulbs” and “Mixed,” are gems of bluesy horn composition. This is from 1962 but still sounds exceptionally modern. “Bulbs” in particular is my jam. I usually think comparing Cecil Taylor to Duke Ellington is a superficial cliché, maybe even worse than comparing him to Messiaen, but on the head of “Bulbs” I accept the Ellington-to-Taylor continuum.

 

If there hadn’t been a Cecil Taylor, we would have needed to invent him. Fortunately he was ready and willing. He held it down.

More on DTM about Cecil soon…

Book Report

The Jazz Bubble: Neoclassical Jazz in Neoliberal Culture by Dale Chapman has a lovely Jason Moran art exhibit on the cover but Moran is not in the text. Instead there are a half a dozen disparate chapters looking at certain moments in jazz history through a sociological/political lens.

There’s a lot of valuable material, especially the chapter on Dexter Gordon in the 70s and an overview of Verve songbook recordings. Any book like this gets me thinking, and kudos to Chapman for effort and entertainment. In the end, however, Chapman is talking to an academic audience, and academic approaches to jazz remain stubbornly in a key I cannot quite hear.

The phrase “Neoclassical Jazz” is not common currency, at least as far as I know. Apparently the phrase comes from Gary Giddins. It’s hard for me to imagine writing a swinging blues, showing up to the gig, handing the chart around, and telling the other musicians, “This is neoclassical.”  Still, I guess calling Dexter’s album Homecoming “neoclassical” makes some kind of sense, at least in the context of contemporaneous work by Weather Report and the AACM.

I’m not grounded in economic theory enough to follow Chapman’s deep dive into West Coast jazz venues. For the right reader these chapters might prove to the most intriguing.

I’m certainly against Neoliberalism; Chapman is too. Applying that concept to culture makes sense but a mixture of specific detail and smooth overview is elusive. I yearn for a sterner ruling on Joe Henderson’s Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn. It was a hit with the general populace but is it standing the test of time? While Chapman seems to really like the disc, some might argue that Lush Life is a devastating argument against the forces of the free market. (Although I love Joe Henderson, there’s no doubt in my own mind that Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy’s Ellington/Strayhorn tribute Sempre Amore from the same era is hipper in almost every way.) As usual, certain excellent quotes by musicians like Christian McBride carry more weight than quotes from other academics or critics.

In books like these, Wynton Marsalis gets regularly placed in opposition to Matthew Shipp.  That juxtaposition might work in a critic’s notebook but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a musician treat Wynton and Shipp as opposing poles. The difference between Wynton and Branford or the difference between Wynton and Roy Hargrove? I’ve heard those conversations. The difference between Shipp and David Ware or the difference between Shipp and Marilyn Crispell? I’ve heard those conversations too. Wynton and Shipp, though…what are we even talking about?

Wynton should be juxtaposed with Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, or Pierre Boulez. Those comparisons might be enlightening. In what ways have they all successfully served Music, and in what ways have they failed to rise above selling the idea of liberated individualism for greater corporate profit?

We could even get closer to home. He was a pioneer, but enough years have passed that Wynton is just one of many musicians in control of curating jazz in institutions. McBride is a radio personality. Jason Moran is at the Kennedy Center, Vijay Iyer is at Harvard. When I’m at NEC I am quite aware of the late Gunther Schuller and the living Ran Blake and Bob Moses. Josh Redman worked with SF JAZZ but bowed out. If I were writing a book about jazz and economics, all this seems to be a fertile field.

Enough carping. I read The Jazz Bubble with interest and will keep it on my shelf to return to in the future.