Ethan Iverson’s Home Page

Greetings! Thanks for stopping by! If you are new here, you might want to look at the Bio page. 

To keep up with my current events including my articles and gigs, subscribe to my newsletter, Transitional Technology. (Sign-up is free.)

Twitter is my evil social media drug of choice, where I post almost daily.

At the moment you are looking at Do the Math, a blog (but really more like an internet magazine) that began in 2004 and runs well over a million words.

The most significant DTM posts are “pages,” organized by topic:

Interviews: Over 40 discussions, mostly with musicians: Billy Hart, Ron Carter, Keith Jarrett, Marc-André Hamelin, Carla Bley, Wynton Marsalis, many others.

Consult the Manual: Lessons, mainly material written for my piano students at New England Conservatory of Music.

Rhythm and Blues: Jazz music essays about McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Geri Allen, Bud Powell, Lester Young, many others.

Sonatas and Études: Classical music essays about Glenn Gould, Igor Stravinsky, a few others.

Newgate Callendar: Crime fiction essays about Donald E. Westlake, Charles Willeford, a few others.


If you want to support Do the Math and also get updates about gigs, masterclasses, and new DTM posts, subscribe to Transitional Technology.

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Supreme

New for The Nation: “Which Version of A Love Supreme Reigns Supreme?”


Credit to Lewis Porter and Ashley Kahn: Anyone writing on this topic is indebted to their pioneering work, not just Porter’s biography of Coltrane and Kahn’s book on A Love Supreme, but also their superb liner notes to both the deluxe reissue of A Love Supreme and the new A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle.


The “score” in Coltrane’s own hand:

The payroll statement for the December 9, 1964 session at Van Gelder’s:


Bits and pieces that didn’t make the finished essay:

[From the essay: “Acknowledgement” is a groovy vamp, “Resolution” plaintive swing tune, “Pursuance” a burning fast minor blues, and “Psalm” a poem over a drone.] The euphonious key structure of the four pieces — F, E-flat, B-flat, and C — maps out the cellular information of much of the melodic material, 4/5ths of a pentatonic scale.

Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, Psalm

The opening fanfare is comprised mostly of E, F-sharp, and B, all notes “out of key” from the rest of the suite; a dramatic “neighbor note” (and also a partial pentatonic) implying the vast amount of chromatic elaboration Coltrane will employ to ornament his basic modal structures.

fanfare

In addition to dry technical details, the work is grounded by a vibrant emotional rhythm: Love of life and of God. 

(….)

Omree Gal-Oz has created a score-scrolling video of A Love Supreme for YouTube. The final section, “Psalm,” where Coltrane performs his poem (at 26 minutes) is particularly exciting, for Gal-Oz makes the relationship of text to tone completely obvious.

(…)

It’s a bit unfair to bring up Plays Duke Ellington, for this LP might have simply been the record label’s idea: producer Bob Thiele had recently signed Ellington to Impulse! and probably this was an attempt at some kind of cross-pollination.  There’s a somewhat surprising amount of Coltrane/Ellington back and forth. Not only did McCoy track an album of Ellington covers, but Coltrane and Ellington made a classic album together; eventually Elvin’s first gig after Trane was with Duke.

(…)

A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is “Volume Two” of Live in Seattle, first released as a 2-LP set in the ’70s, then expanded with more tracks on compact disc in the ‘90s.

All the music recorded that week has a similar shape, especially thanks to a new chaos demon in the form of Donald Garrett on second bass. Garrett and Garrison are totally in their own zone, it’s almost as if they aren’t even listening to anyone else. When Coltrane calls “Out of this World,” the bassists immediately strum low E together. Tyner gently plays an octave E-flat for a while, trying to get them to find the right key, before giving up and grimly settling into E-flat dorian to support Trane’s impassioned preach of the old Harold Arlen tune. All the while, the bassists don’t let up, they just stay in the land of “noise bass on the open strings.” It actually kind of works, but it’s also pretty damn nuts. It’s easy to understand why Tyner left shortly after.

Yeah: If you like extended avant-garde bass, the Seattle music has you covered, especially during A Love Supreme. Garrison and Garrett wander around together after the opening fanfare, offer no less than 12 minutes of solo and duet interludes in the middle, and keep playing after the suite is over.

There are plenty of other highlights, including fervent solos by Sanders and Ward. Still, nobody but Coltrane and Elvin Jones knows the music. Even Tyner forgets that “Pursuance” is a blues form and blows a fierce uptempo solo in the “one key” style of ‘65 — although to be fair, maybe the pianist thought that trying to delineate dominant to tonic with two basses working against him was just too hard a job. 

If I had to chose, I’d suggest that Live in Seattle is even more essential than A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, especially for the extraordinary blowing from Coltrane and Tyner on “Body and Soul” and “Out of This World.” Together, Coltrane and Tyner had reimagined the Great American Songbook in their own image, and this is the final document of that astounding journey.

(…)

The McCoy Tyner quote, “All black peoples of the earth always improvise their music. We never sit down and systemize everything” comes from the Joe Brazil site curated by Steve Griggs. Brazil recorded all the Seattle material; Griggs was the one to discover the Seattle Love Supreme tapes in the Brazil archive. Many thanks to Griggs for all this vital work! The Brazil site is a treasure trove, and the Seattle Love Supreme is a magnificent addition to the discography.


The release of A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle has been unanimously praised by critics. I praise it myself. We must validate Coltrane’s quest, noisy bassists and all.

(Footnote: I love my editor, Don Guttenplan, but almost had a heart attack when I saw his subhead, “Is the latest posthumous addition to his canon released today the Holy Grail—or the tainted fruit of a system that denied Coltrane’s collaborators royalties or credit?” I could never call anything by Coltrane tainted. He told me sternly, “Writers don’t get to dictate their headlines,” but I threw myself on his mercy and he took out “tainted.”)

For a time I toyed with trying to write about the conflict of old and new from a musician’s perspective, perhaps trying to honor those who didn’t like the freer music made after Ascension. In the end I’m letting it lay. Trane was right. Of course.

Not too many consecrated African-American musicians have criticized Trane in public, but Jimmy Heath hints at the opposing viewpoint in I Walked with Giants:

I was working at Slugs in the East Village with Art Farmer when Coltrane died on July 17, 1967. We played late sets, and I was very tired when I went to the funeral on July 21 at the old gothic-style Saint Peter’s Lutheran church at Fifty-fourth Street and Lexington Avenue, with the Reverend John Gensel as pastor. That building predated the Citicorp Center site where the church is currently located. I sat next to Sonny Stitt during the funeral. I had been asked to be the pallbearer, but I couldn’t handle it. I was in tears when I saw Trane in the coffin. His face didn’t look anything like him. It resembled a puffed doll. I noticed his hands, which were just as they had been, and then it hit me that it was John. His whole life flashed back on me, and I was overwhelmed with sorrow. I had been so close to him during all those years with Dizzy and the many practicing sessions. I remembered when he was in Philly practicing all day and hanging out.

People were at the funeral from all over the country and the world. It was a big event, and I realized that the humble beginnings he had come from where similar to my own — more even than I realized at the time. For him to have risen to such a point and to then to have been snuffed out made me think of the old expression “Life begins at forty.” Lying in the casket, he was forty and gone. He was out of here. It was overwhelming, and I couldn’t really handle it. Dizzy was sitting in back of me, and there were musicians in the balcony playing free jazz. Dizzy said, “If they play that stuff when I die, Lorraine [Dizzy’s wife] will come in here and shoot all of them.”

Heath is too discreet to mention the musicians performing, but they were big names, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, and their performances from that day can be heard online. I wrote about the Ayler medley in “Albert Ayler at 80.” Ornette’s “Holiday For A Graveyard” is also beautiful.

While working on this essay, I noticed for the first time that McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones did not perform at Coltrane’s funeral. Perhaps this surprising omission indicates just how big the rift really was.


Ads for the Seattle engagement (thanks to Impulse! promo dept.)

John le Carré and Mick Herron

John le Carré would have been 90 today. His greatest work remains Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The BBC television adaption is equally great, for example the astounding quiet opening sequence:

My new British espionage addiction is the Slough House series by Mick Herron, which begins with Slow Horses. In time I will have more to say about Herron, but for now, I am so pleased to have a fresh literary obsession.

Updates on James Newton and Misha Mengleberg

The You Tube score-scroller is a good invention. How wonderful to have a bevy of new uploads from James Newton.

Newton is hard to explain in a word or two. After establishing himself as one of the most celebrated of jazz flutists (his Blue Note LP African Flower was Downbeat’s record of the year in 1986), he transitioned to work as a full-time formal composer. Unlike many jazz-to-classical composers from his peer group such as Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton, Newton’s scores are fully written out in the European tradition and do not require an orchestra to engage with improvisation or graphic notation.

Of course, many great black American composers were solely concerned with notation; two of my favorites are Ulysses Kay and George Walker. However, the industry seems to prefer black composers to engage with improvisation. Perhaps if Newton had been fulfilling commissions with scores featuring a rhythm section and open sections then his music would be programmed more often.

At any rate, Newton’s choice to switch careers at midpoint from jazz soloist to formal composer has obscured matters. It’s high time for him to be more visible to anyone concerned with American Music writ large. When I finally discovered his music I felt a key turn in a lock.

In some ways Newton recalls Mel Powell, who played jazz with Benny Goodman before writing formal scores in the Milton Babbitt mold. However, Powell kept all his swinging Benny Goodman language at bay when sitting with a pen to write chamber music. Newton does not follow the model of Powell’s splintered psyche; instead, Newton lets in all of his life experience. The tropes of jazz, especially avant-garde jazz, give Newton’s formal music an exceptional melodic freshness and spontaneous joy. There’s really nothing else like it.

I’ve championed Newton twice before, with an interview at DTM and also an article in JazzTimes. Perhaps the score-scrolling videos will also do something to get the word out.

Violet is perfect for a score-scroller. Two marimbas are running in parallel lines and dyads, an unusual synchronicity for chamber music, but a recording on its own doesn’t give the visual cue the way a live performance would. There’s something African about these sounds, but that obvious cultural borrowing doesn’t stop this American composer from fully embracing modernism. Eric Dolphy (who studied Edgard Varèse and Olivier Messiaen in addition to Charlie Parker) would have loved this score.

Paul Griffiths gave Violet a rave review in 1998 for the New York Times.

A more recent piece from 2014, Elisha’s Gift, is taut and charismatic. Again, watching the counterpoint unfold helps clarify the precision of the composer’s intention. Just awesome.

I’ve embedded these videos, but by all means go over to Newton’s new channel, hit a few links, and teach the algorithm to promote these beautiful pieces, or at least grant him a little more searchable edge against his “competitor” James Newton Howard. (!)


After playing the Bimhuis in Amsterdam last week with the Billy Hart quartet, I left with a wonderful object.

Mishakosmos: Misha Mengelberg Music Book is a big volume of all sorts of themes, from graphic notation to lead sheets to a fully notated fugue, superbly edited by Michael Moore. It is available from ICP; the relevant page has more information and a nice quote from Uri Caine.

DTM obituary: The Great Mengelberg.

back to be.jazz

Caught up with the O.G. jazz blogger Mwanji Ezana at the gig last night in Antwerp.

Mwanji (also spelled Moandji) hasn’t updated be.jazz since 2008, but back when the jazz blogosphere was new and exciting, Ezana was a major player on a little scene that included Darcy James Argue, Steve Smith, Destination: Out!, Patrick Jarenwattananon, Pat Donaher, and others. (More than I remember! The tag “jazz and blogs” on be.jazz records an astonishing amount of activity.)

As far as my own story goes, Mwanji was first. Ben Ratliff had told me one night: “There’s this guy from Belgium, Mwanji Ezana, who is really smart, and is writing about jazz online.” I was still plugging my computer into a landline, but upon searching out be.jazz I immediately saw why Ben was impressed. Soon after, I talked Reid and Dave into letting me start Do the Math.

I admit I miss those days, circa 2005-2008, when the internet seemed much more freewheeling and innocent than it does now.

Is blogging mostly a historical practice, something as au courant as the 8-track tape? DTM is still here, but I am sort of a special case. My sense is that “the conversation” moved to conversational social media posts, aggregates like Reddit, and more recently subscriber platforms such as Substack. “Hot takes” are the main currency, especially concerning the culture wars, while fun and moderately in-depth music appreciation content done for the sheer joy of sharing has slowed to a trickle, at least compared to back in the day.

In the 2000s, a vast amount interesting info was placed online by rabid amateur fans and specialists. Most of that rare info was never officially published, and at least some of it is now lost. (“404 error: page not found.”) If there were a way to compile an anthology of “Best Amateur Music Writing” from those years it would be valuable resource. When looking up the jazz articles, be.jazz and the episodes of “Around the Jazz Internet” edited by Jarenwattananon would be a good place to start…


Certain other moments hit home on the recent tour. I’ve visited London frequently over the years, and the city has changed a great deal. Many old friends have grey in their hair. Trying to shake off a pandemic is another factor. When I turned south from Covent Garden and saw St Martin-in-the-Fields I felt something akin to vertigo.

I met the late jazz critic Richard Cook on the steps to St Martin-in-the-Fields sometime before The Bad Plus played its first gig. Thanks to Richard, my early Fresh Sound records got positive mentions in The Penguin Guide to Jazz, which was a lovely, huge doorstop of a book and one of the best sources of basic discographical information before the internet. At the time I was performing with the Mark Morris Dance Group and had brought along a girlfriend to see London. After taking tea with Richard, she told me that she had thought I didn’t talk that much, but now she knew that I could talk a lot about jazz. Doing the math, I suppose the year was 2001 — in other words, 20 years ago.

From A Dance to the Music of Time:

…nothing establishes the timelessness of Time like those episodes of early experience seen, on re-examination at a later period, to have been crowded together with such unbelievable closeness in the course of a few years; yet equally giving the illusion of being so infinitely extended during the months when actually taking place.

“Ursula” by Harold Land and “Hip” by Hampton Hawes

[West Coast interlude]

Jazz clubs are not created equal. For example: What music are they playing over the sound system when the band isn’t onstage?

Le Duc des Lombards in Paris always has some groovy tunes. A decade ago, Le Duc is where I heard Introducing Johnny Griffin, which is now high on my list for both Griff and Max Roach.

Last week a strange piece of great jazz was audible on the set break. Mark Turner told me it was “Ursula” by Harold Land.

Land has slowly been creeping more into the frame. Not long ago I spent some time with A New Shade Of Blue, which is an early example of Buster Williams and Billy Hart in an exposed and extremely swinging situation. In the car I re-listened to all of Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and decided that I had underrated Land’s importance to that famous group.

“Ursula” is from West Coast Blues! with Joe Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes, recorded just after Land’s most familiar record, The Fox. Before that was the debut leader LP Harold In the Land of Jazz, with marvelous Carl Perkins, a soulful pianist somewhat in the Sonny Clark/Hampton Hawes mold.

I plan to write about this spectacular opening Land trilogy at some point. Among other things, the compositional integrity of these LPs is very strong. Clifford Brown’s pieces for the Brown/Land group have gone into the repertory, but the Land originals on his early discs (not to mention Elmo Hope’s outstanding contributions on The Fox) push much further into pure modernism.

Indeed, “Ursula” can hold its own with anything intellectual or experimental written in New York for a Blue Note date at that time. Fun to hear East Coast legends Wes Montgomery and Barry Harris blow on this tricky form, but Land might be the only one comfortable here. His tenor sax lines snake so beautifully through the changes…

(Mark suggests I have the 2/4 bar in the wrong place, which could be true.)


Land also appears on Hampton Hawes’s For Real!, a wonderful quartet session that seems to be Hawes’s only studio date as a leader with a horn. Of the great 50’s West Coast jazzers, I know Hawes the best, and as I grow older, he becomes more of a touchstone. Truthfully I think Hawes is not so organized behind Land in accompaniment on the standards, at that point he might have been a more natural trio pianist. Still, For Real! offers truly great playing from all hands, Frank Butler is right in there, and this might be the most unrepentantly swinging Scott LaFaro I’ve ever heard, especially on the opening blues, “Hip.”

Hawes has a way with the piano that seems to be powered by an external supernatural source. His bluesy/bebop lines on “Hip” are really in a class of their own. Of course, there are so many: The 50’s terrain controlled by Bud Powell on one side and Horace Silver on the other includes Hope, Perkins, Harris, Sonny Clark, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and others.

Still. Hampton Hawes. Wow.

Pamela Espeland

Quite stunned and saddened by the shocking news that Twin Cities arts reporter Pamela Espeland has passed away. I didn’t know Pamela well, but she covered the Bad Plus whenever we played in Minneapolis. Over the years we exchanged a few enjoyable moments of marveling at our favorite musicians together. Her beat was not just jazz, or even just music, but the Arts writ large, and I’m sure she covered it all well — yet I believe she did really have a soft spot for jazz, an attribute not shared by most general arts journalists. 

I just saw Pamela last week at Crooners for the gig with Marcy, we spoke for ten or fifteen minutes. As always, she was very encouraging and positive. If I’d known it was the last time I would see her I would have tried to thank her more properly.

On one occasion I was somewhat of a genuine news story on my own, and she wrote about it for Bebopified

The Last Blues

John Coltrane’s birthday. A few years ago Billy Hart hipped me to a track that is not so well-known, although it is fearsomely great: “The Last Blues” is Trane’s final work in the blues form, with a complex gospel shout as a cappella head. Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones are at their peak. The session date is a few weeks before Ascension, and first came out on the posthumous LP Living Space.

In more banal matters, today marks my 6th anniversary of being sober: I was inspired by Trane’s example to make his birthday my starting point. The first 6 months were a drag, but after that, it became simply good routine. If anyone was considering such a move: jump in, the water’s fine.

George Mraz, Juini Booth, Rick Laird, Peter Ind, George Wein, Phil Schaap, Thurston Briscoe, Ruth Cameron, Sam Reed, Charlie Watts, David Lee, Jerry Granelli, Louis Andriessen, Norm MacDonald

Quick notes on important passings…


All the piano players loved George Mraz. He was initially endorsed by Oscar Peterson before going on to have serious relationships with the best of the best: Roland Hanna, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles, Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, George Cables, Steve Kuhn, Walter Norris, David Hazeltine, Emil Viklický, Mike Nock, Cyrus Chestnut, Renee Rosnes…

The collaborations with Richie Beirach had special weight. Elm with Jack DeJohnette is all originals, and Elegy for Bill Evans with Al Foster is all standards: Together these are two of Beirach’s best records and show Mraz as a truly exceptional player in a modernist bag. Also in this conversation are the duo LP Rendezvous, the first Quest record, and the important and prolific John Abercrombie quartet with Peter Donald.

Mraz would hire Beirach for his own projects, and one track is famous, a romantic cover of the theme from Cinema Paradiso. The bassist had an unforced relationship to European classical music and is eager to bow his heart out on Morricone’s “classical” movie theme. From that vantage point, Mraz was perfect for Hanna’s notated “Preludes,” Cables’s Bach fugues and Chopin nocturnes, and Beirach’s projects honoring Bartók or Mompou. When Viklický and Mraz explored Czech themes together, it was consciously “a la Bartók.”

The European side of Mraz’s thing was was intriguing — no other acoustic bassist got the award, “he always plays in tune” as often as Mraz — but he also held it down. They called George Mraz “Bounce” not just because he swung, but also because he was a “bad Czech.”

The Lord Discography lists 494 sessions. I’ve only heard a small fraction of them. Three I’ve always considered essential from my private stash:

Bob Brookmeyer Back Again (with Thad Jones, Jimmy Rowles, and Mel Lewis)
Hank Jones Upon Reflection (playing Thad Jones with Elvin Jones)
Tommy Flanagan Thelonica (one of the best Thelonious Monk tributes with Art Taylor)

Asking around today, I’ve added Stan Getz Voyage (with Kenny Barron and Victor Lewis) and Roland Hanna This Must be Love (with Ben Riley) to the “spectacularly good jazz LP” pile. But surely there are many more memorable Mraz moments for me to discover…


Juini Booth was nowhere as prolific, but was still an important bassist in the jazz canon. The record I love best from his discography is the unlikely masterpiece by Freddie Hubbard and İlhan Mimaroğlu, Sing Me a Song of Songmy (1971) with Junior Cook, Kenny Barron, and Louis Hayes. Conceived as a reaction to the horrors of Vietnam, this outstanding LP must be one of the best examples of a composer writing a “concerto” for jazz quintet.

Booth’s most familiar record might be McCoy Tyner’s scalding live Montreux engagement, Enlightenment, while one for the heads are the volumes of Rollins-influenced Steve Grossman in trio with Joe Chambers, Way Out East.

The only time I managed to see Booth live was a noisy set with the Sun Ra Arkestra in Ireland; I thought Booth sounded just great in that situation. Charlie Haden introduced me to Booth one night at the Vanguard and he seemed like a lovely gentleman indeed.


Rick Laird was the house bassist at Ronnie Scott’s in London in the sixties, playing with a truly extraordinary cast of American jazz stars: Ben Webster, Don Byas, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson, etc.

However, what has gone into the history books is Laird’s vital contribution to The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Both The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Prey struck like a thunderbolt at the time and remain fresh today.

Laird’s only album as a leader, Soft Focus, is inessential, but it does document Joe Henderson blowing on “Inner Urge” (as “Outer Surge”) in 1979.


Peter Ind not only played bass behind essential solos by Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and Warne Marsh, but recorded many of those tracks as well. Marsh’s Release Record, Send Tape was a Peter Ind production; all serious Marsh fans bow down to that LP as some of the best Marsh ever recorded. We wouldn’t have that astonishing document if Ind hadn’t turned on the tape and eventually put it out on his own Wave label.

Ind sounds nice and strong on Release Record, Send Tape, but in my mind I have typecast Ind and some of the other other background Tristanoites as timekeepers of little individuality or depth. I’m probably wrong about this. A few years ago I heard “Blues at the Den,” the lead off track from Ind’s retrospective album Looking Out. This casual bebop/blues 1958 improvisation features Ronnie Ball on piano. I sorta thought Ball was a distant third behind Tristano and Sal Mosca in the Tristano style, but “Blues at the Den” shows Ball could hang next to Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark. There’s always more to learn…


Ind is the bassist on Konitz’s Jazz at Storyville from 1954, an early George Wein production from the days when Wein was a simple club owner rather than the mogul who created the modern jazz festival.

A few years ago both Wein and Konitz came (separately) to a Billy Hart gig at the Jazz Standard. When I brought Konitz over to sit with Wein, George requested that Billy’s group play “You Go To My Head.” (That old torch song was the party piece I offered at Wein’s house and other Wein events when he was first debating whether or not to hire the Bad Plus.) I thanked him for the thought but told him, “Sorry, George, this is Billy’s gig, we are mostly playing his music.”

Konitz piped up, “I can play ‘You Go To My Head!'”

Wein looked disappointed and said, “Lee, you won’t play the melody, though. I never hear the melody when you play.”

Konitz wasn’t offended in the slightest, and shot back, “George, I keep telling you, I play improvised melody!”

I realized that this conversation had been going on since at least 1954, and snapped a photo.

Konitz, Wein, and the Jazz Standard: all gone now.


I didn’t really know legendary researcher/maven/advocate/radio personality Phil Schaap, we exchanged only a few sentences over the years, but I was pleased when photographer Ernest Gregory sent me this priceless document after Schaap’s passing. It’s the 2015 induction of James P. Johnson into the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Dizzy’s.

Left to right: Schaap, me, Chihiro Yamanaka, Chris Pattishall, Aaron Diehl, Barry Glover (James P. Johnson’s grandson), Marc Cary, Terry Waldo, and ELEW.

What I like about this photo is how everyone is paying attention to ELEW — as they should, for he is speaking — except for me and Phil Schaap! I am trying to get Schaap’s attention about something, perhaps rare James P. Johnson sides?

Phil Schaap. Good lord. A monument we thought would always be there is gone. If I had a dime for every time a musician said to me, “I just heard this killing stuff on ‘Bird Flight’ yesterday…”


Thurston Briscoe was another important radio personality. As the program director for WBGO, Briscoe was surely a reason WBGO was and remains the premier jazz station. When the Bad Plus first hit, we didn’t automatically crack WBGO, but Briscoe interviewed us in Montreal early on and I think must have given us his seal of approval. Maybe I’m making that up. At any rate, when he spoke with us, Briscoe was a pro offering a sonorous voice and a wonderful smile.

While I’m sharing photos from the archives: I searched “Thurston Briscoe” in my email and found this WBGO flyer from Josh Jackson in 2009:


Ruth Cameron did a lot to help her husband Charlie Haden, especially in terms of keeping Charlie sober and on the straight and narrow. As part of that process, Ruth created Haden’s Quartet West, which was absolutely Ruth’s idea. Admittedly, when I got the first Quartet West record as a teenager, I was appalled, thinking that my favorite bassist had lost his mind. Why the hell was Charlie playing this conservative Hollywood jazz instead of wild and woolly stuff with Geri Allen, Paul Motian, or Old and New Dreams?!

In time I would appreciate all the members of the Quartet and agreed with everyone else that the live show was wonderful.

Ruth had a nice sense of humor and a good eye. Two of her photographs grace DTM pages: a perfect shot of Carla Bley and group shot of TBP/Josh Redman/Brad Mehldau trio. I especially owe her for this shot of Carla and me:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_178e.jpg

As a gifted torch singer Ruth can be heard on Roadhouse, a satisfying set that has found new life on YouTube.


Sam Reed was vastly important to the music scene in Philadelphia. The obit from Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquirer is excellent, recounting the story of, “…The jazz saxophone player whose decades-long career included leading the band at the Uptown Theater in the 1960s when it was Philadelphia’s premier Black music showplace and serving as music director for Teddy Pendergrass in the 1970s.”

Reed was one of Tootie Heath’s best friends, and when Tootie and I were exploring his old South Philly stomping grounds at 20th and Federal, Reed walked up on the street and said hello. They hadn’t planned to meet that day; it was simply kismet. The old partners posed for me outside the Lincoln Post, where Tootie heard his first live drums as part of the local marching band.

IMG_3964

Imagine how many humans made out to the backbeat of Charlie Watts.

Watts was a classy gent and a big jazz fan. Offhand I can’t think of another rock instrumentalist who repeatedly stood up for jazz in interviews the way Charlie Watts did.

The Rolling Stones would have been a very different band with a busier or slicker drummer: The way Watts left out the right hand on the hi-hat during “2” and “4” was a modernist touch that reminded me of Paul Motian.

One of my favorite Stones tracks is “Street Fighting Man,” which had an exceptionally strange production: Watts is playing, “…a 1930s toy drum kit called a London Jazz Kit Set, which I bought in an antiques shop,” direct into Keith Richards’s cheap cassette recorder, which provides compression and distortion. Just great.


David Lee was an unheralded New Orleans drummer. One of Sonny Rollins’s best post-’60s working groups went frustratingly unrecorded, a quartet with Albert Dailey, Larry Ridley, and Lee. Still, Lee sounds good on a few diffuse studio Rollins dates and the odd live Rollins document, swinging hard in a traditional manner but also perfect for all the varied grooves embraced by ’70’s jazz. Lee began his career with Dizzy Gillespie and can be heard to acoustic, exposed, and wonderful effect in piano trio performances with Albert Dailey or Richard Wyands.


Jerry Granelli was the drummer in Vince Guaraldi’s trio for the Charlie Brown soundtracks, and also did important work with Denny Zeitlin and Mose Allison. The Granelli I know better was as part of the later West Coast crew surrounding Jay Clayton. Quartett’s No Secrets with Julian Priester and Gary Peacock is a very listenable set of collective improvisations from 1988. (The CD blurb is amusing: “Free jazz in a midlife crisis.”) At a Canadian festival some years ago I enjoyed a long duo set from Clayton and Granelli that kept interest despite the risky proposition of abstract voice and drums.


Along with John Adams, Louis Andriessen has been a big influence on recent generations of American “post-minimalist” composers. With both Adams and Andriessen, I’m just not always convinced by “the story of the counterpoint and the story of the harmony,” but people keep telling me I just don’t know the right pieces. At least for Adams I have one obvious choice for a composition I really like, Grand Pianola Music, but my Andriessen column is still empty. It will undoubtedly come around at some point.

Andriessen cared about jazz and blues, and one of his most problematic works is On Jimmy Yancey. I adore Jimmy Yancey and simply cannot accept the Dutch composer’s cubist rendition of the Chicago piano genius. In addition, Andriessen’s program note is pretentious and unmusical:

Scored for nine wind instruments, piano and double bass, the piece is in two movements. In the first, three Yancey themes are quoted; the second is a kind of In Memoriam. Both movements end with a typical boogie-woogie lick, with which Yancey unexpectedly ends all his recordings. He probably did this at a sign from the producer, when the three minutes which a 78 side could hold were up, because boogie-woogie pianists habitually played for hours on end in the bars to entertain the white bourgeoisie.

In academic lingo, Andriessen does not grant Yancey enough agency. He’s also just wrong: Yancey signed his pieces with a particular effect, which can be heard on tracks of varying length. And, as far as I know, Yancey rarely performed boogie woogies outside of his intimate social circle. It was Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson who made the Café Society circuit. The white bourgeoisie and Yancey didn’t have anything to do with each other — except maybe when Dutch chamber musicians play On Jimmy Yancey at the Concertegebouw.

However, let me set all reservations aside and praise The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky by Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger as one of the greatest books on music ever written. I love that book! Time for a re-read…


There’s a particular clip of Norm MacDonald that I can’t stop watching, a highlight reel of Mangrate ads, a pure explosion of joy. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere but in this tweet thread by Dan Ryckert.