Ethan Iverson’s Home Page

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

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

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.

Photo credit above: Keith Major.

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


Morning in May

My newsletter/essay machine Transitional Technology has superseded DTM as my main venue. Sign up is free.

Recent posts:

Controversial music theory? A review of Philip Ewell’s new book

Georgia O’Keeffe and Anton Arensky

Country classics by Gordon Lightfoot, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell

Comments about Morton Gould and Karl Berger

RIP Ahmad Jamal. Two perspectives:

At the Pershing

A night in Paris, double-billed with Hampton Hawes

And there was a major article for The Nation, perhaps my most successful yet:

“The End of the Music Business”

June festival w. Miranda Cuckson, Mark Turner, Taka Kigawa, Timo Andres, Sam Newsome, Sylvie Courvoisier, Momenta Quartet, Judith Berkson, Marta Sánchez, Aaron Diehl, Scott Wollschleger, Han Chen, Robert Cuckson

Sono Fest! at Soapbox Gallery curated by Ethan Iverson

June 6 -18

Individual concerts $25. [Tickets]

Tues 6 Ethan Iverson duo with Miranda Cuckson
Wed 7 Ethan Iverson duo with Mark Turner
Thurs 8 Miranda Cuckson
Fri 9 Taka Kigawa
Sat 10 Timo Andres
Sun 11 Sam Newsome + Sylvie Courvoisier
Mon 12 Momenta Quartet plays Alvin Singleton and Meredith Monk
Tues 13 Judith Berkson
Wed 14 Marta Sánchez
Thurs 15 Aaron Diehl
Fri 16  Scott Wollschlager
Sat 17 Han Chen
Sun 18 Robert Cuckson first set, Ethan Iverson second set

Notes from the curator: 

There are two hour-long concerts every night at 7:30 and 9, more like jazz practice than classical convention. We expect to turn the room over (there are only 60 seats) so most of those who are performing formally notated works will probably play the same program twice (a comparatively rare opportunity to enjoy such a liberating sequence).

Tuesday, June 6 Ethan Iverson duo with Miranda Cuckson showcases my admiration of formal composition in the American grain. Our repertoire includes mid-century violin sonatas by Louise Talma and George Walker, alongside an Elegy by another particular favorite, Peter Lieberson. To round out the program, I’ll also play my recent Piano Sonata, which I have recorded for my next Blue Note release. (More on Miranda below, she appears four times in the festival.)

Ethan Iverson duo with Mark Turner rides again in the first post-pandemic gig of this configuration, which toured dozens of venues in both America and Europe and recorded Temporary Kings for ECM. Mark is the most influential tenor saxophonist of his generation. 

Miranda Cuckson delivers the most challenging music in a forthright and engaging manner. If I had an unlimited budget and resources I’d present the New York City premiere of the violin concerto Georg Friedrich Haas wrote for her; as it stands, I will enjoy her sublime solo sets. When she plays microtonal pieces by Xenakis, Sciarrino, and other high modernists, one can hear Miranda sing the blues.

Taka Kigawa is famous for legendary programs of contemporary music in unlikely spaces. A few months ago, I was on assignment in somewhat random circumstances and suddenly realized Taka Kigawa was sitting right in front of me. For much of this list I am calling in favors…but in this case I now owe Mr. Kigawa one. He will perform the complete set of Pascal Dusapin’s stunning piano etudes.

10 Timo Andres fits the bill: he’s a true composer-pianist of the old school, a proper virtuoso and a major voice in composition. To my delight, Timo has offered to play his program of Joplin Rags and Chopin Mazurkas. I have also insisted that he include a few of his own remarkable rhythmic and poetic piano pieces, which someday will be thought of as classic Americana.

11 Sam Newsome is a regular collaborator of mine in the score to Pepperland for the Mark Morris Dance Group, which we have performed together over 60 times. Hidden in plain sight, Sam is one of the freshest musical minds in New York. He mastered straight-ahead jazz, playing solid tenor for Terence Blanchard in the ‘90s, before changing to soprano and adopting a decidedly avant-garde approach, incorporating extended techniques and developing a language for solo saxophone. At Soapbox, Sam will play solo and duo with innovative pianist, improviser, and composer Sylvie Courvoisier. 

12 The Momenta Quartet (Emilie-Anne Gendron, Alex Shiozaki, Stephanie Griffin, Michael Haas) has recently released a wonderful recording of Alvin Singleton quartets. I have interviewed Singleton and regard him as one of the true living masters, with the four string quartets being a major contribution to this hallowed form. Momenta will play Singleton’s quartets no. 2 “Secret Desire to Be Black” and no. 4 “Hallelujah Anyhow” at Soapbox, alongside Meredith Monk’s lovely “String Songs.” 

13 Judith Berkson: singer, pianist, composer, cantor. My first exposure to Judith was at a rare NYC concert by the late Joe Maneri, an epic event that lives in my mind as one of the finest avant-garde jazz gigs I’ve ever seen. Judith has diverse capabilities. She creates electronic re-toolings of Robert Schumann; her solo ECM album Oylam is hypnotic; when she unleashes her full cantorial vocal style, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

14 Marta Sánchez has a bright future. I have written liner notes for two of her records and dig David Murray’s current quartet with Marta in a heavily-featured role. Her intricate and contrapuntal jazz compositions are in the modern style, but, crucially, they are also informed by the long musical lineage of her native country, Spain.

15 Aaron Diehl has grown into being not just a pianist of the first rank but an ambassador across several disciplines. Aaron swings Gershwin with the symphony, he smartly updates James P. Johnson and John Lewis for the modern taste, he casually deals out correct Bach at a recital, and rages into atonality with Tyshawn Sorey at the club. One of a kind. 

16 Scott Wollschleger possesses an ear for fresh notes, and delivers them in a slow and almost terrifying manner: Morton Feldman meets Thelonious Monk meets H.P. Lovecraft. His pianist is the stellar Karl Larson, who will supply mostly solo Wollschelger for the first set, with Miranda Cuckson joining on viola for one piece. In the second set, Miranda will play a Wollschelger violin premiere; other solo and chamber music will include Miranda, Larson, John Popham and Kevin Sims.

17 Han Chen is a major virtuoso and has carved out a vital place in the NYC sceneWhen Thomas Adès gave a master class at New England Conservatory several years ago, I cancelled my own NEC students in order to go check it out. Chen played Adès’s “Traced Overhead” and the composer told him, “You play it better than me.” The whole Naxos recital of Adès by Chen is simply marvelous. At Soapbox, Chen will play “Traced Overhead” alongside further masterpieces by Berg, Corigliano, and Ravel.

18 (first set) Robert Cuckson is another great NYC composer who lives a bit below the radar. When Miranda told me her dad was really good I demanded aural evidence, and, of course, Miranda was right. His style features long form structures that unfold in an unforced manner, high on lyricism and swept with chromaticism. For Father’s Day, Miranda will join a cast of elite chamber musicians including Haodong Wu, David Ordovsky, and Blair McMillen for a set of flute, violin, viola, and piano music. 

18 (second set) Ethan Iverson To conclude the festival I will play a solo set of surprises, undoubtedly influenced by all the sounds I’ve taken in from the previous two weeks. Dancer Reggie Parker also plans to make an appearance….

Very special thanks to the owner of Soapbox Gallery, Jimmy Greenfield, for hosting these musicians. Jimmy’s Yamaha piano is one of the best-sounding instruments in New York City, capable of producing truly miraculous tones in this unique intimate environment.


In Prospect Lefferts there is a very cool venue called The Owl Music Parlor. On Sunday (March 12) I’ll be playing two sets with Thomas Morgan and Eric McPherson. Dancer Reggie Parker (who was a smash hit at my birthday concerts) will guest on two tunes a set, probably “Now’s The Time,” “Along Came Betty,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” and “Three Little Words.” I first saw Reggie dance with Barry Harris and he’s the real deal. Of course, Thomas and Eric are both fantastic.

For my NEC students, I quickly wrote out a basic harmonization of Harry Warren’s “There Will Be Another You.” After hearing it all day in the classroom, I edited it slightly (that comment is for those eagle-eyed souls who saw the morning version on Instagram).

Like everyone else, I’ve played this ditty a zillion times at sessions, always as a medium-up bop kind of thing. Among the famous recordings in that mode are Sonny Rollins, Woody Shaw with Kenny Garrett and Kenny Barron, and Hampton Hawes with Barney Kessel.

My casual harmonization is for a ballad tempo, thinking of the slower vocal versions by Nat Cole and others. 

One of my students is now learning piano after playing good horn, and reading my chart was a bit of stretch until I told them, “You already know the tune.” Then it went much faster.

That’s the advice I always give about learning to sight-read. Find a fakebook with hundreds of songs, and play through the melodies that you know. For those that are better reading the treble clef than the bass clef, the bass-clef Real Book can be helpful. 

Reminder: Most of my steady output is now at Transitional Technology. Many things are not being x-posted here to DTM; recently that includes things on Wayne Shorter, Carlos Garnett, Friedrich Cerha, and a substantial quasi-rebuttal to a NY Times article on jazz piano. Sign-up to TT is free. Thanks for listening, thanks for reading.

Everything That Lives Laments

Rick Beato has interviewed Keith Jarrett for a reasonably slick video presentation. Any one who cares for Jarrett will need to watch. While it is tragic to see a giant after a debilitating stroke, Jarrett is unexpectedly and joyfully straight up in his rap, quite unlike much of his personal presentation in the past.

My own (print) interviews with the titan are here and here. The survey of the American Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian is one of my more substantial efforts as a critic. 

Truly ESOTERIC and UNFRIENDLY commentary:

Yesterday I listened to Keith Jarrett’s recording of “Stella by Starlight” from Standards Live. In my high school years I loved this record, but I’m less positive now. 

Of course I still find wonderful things. The flexibility of his phrasing is undeniable; also, Keith rarely overplays. He could start in top gear from the git-go, bursting in with a thousand notes per square inch like Oscar Peterson or another super-virtuoso, but he almost never does. It’s a trio with two other major voices, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and the pianist is inside the music with the bass and drums, not merely on top of the bass and drums. The ebb and flow of the trio is hypnotic.

In the Beato video, Jarrett says that when he was finding his voice, he didn’t want to play modal like McCoy Tyner. He then says he wanted to be more “Bach-ian,” meaning voice-leading in the contrapuntal European tradition like Bach. 

I am about to make too much of this, but this snippet of discussion with Beato reinforces my priors. In the essay I suggest that while I prefer Keith Jarrett to Chick Corea, Chick actually knows more about bebop: the real bebop of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and so forth. 

Jarrett learned Bach as a kid. Then he learned modal jazz a teenager because that was the dominant style. (He plays quite a bit like McCoy Tyner on his first notable record, Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower.) Then, seeking to become even more personal, he added “Bach” back into his aesthetic…and that was basically that, at least in terms of playing with swinging bass and drums. Keith never really did his bebop homework, not like Chick did. Keith told me himself that he didn’t know who Bud Powell was when he showed up for his first DownBeat interview. 

In the end part of the real bebop is a specific relationship to clave. I’m not sure what else is in the mix, we need to consult Barry Harris or another higher authority. But there’s something in there that Keith doesn’t have, and if he had that too, the Standards Trio would have been even greater. 

What ever it is, Bach doesn’t help. (Bud Powell would help.) 

Jarrett didn’t want to cop too much McCoy, but McCoy certainly had a thorough grounding in the real bebop. Indeed, McCoy learned some of those folkways and mores in person from Bud Powell himself. When Jarrett replaced McCoy with “Bach-ian” in his personal hierarchy, he skipped a step. 

This is a fairly obscure point, perhaps only relevant to my own personal journey. Indeed, I am so far down the bebop wormhole that I almost don’t like Jarrett’s “Stella by Starlight” anymore…and it used to be my favorite thing. My opinions go in cycles: In another decade I will possibly love it again. 

Everyone knows that Jarrett sounds great pretty much all of the time. On the Beato video, even in these reduced circumstances, Keith’s line sings. His relationship to the keyboard is unique.

To be clear, if the genre is not swinging jazz, then it becomes an entirely different topic. The latest Jarrett release is Bordeaux Concert from 2016. His growth as a solo improvisor has not been in the forefront of the discourse, but in terms of the esoteric “atonal yet pulsing” aesthetic — like the first track of Bordeaux — Keith is perhaps proving to be the greatest of all time. A lonely path. Due respect.

It is fairly confounding to think of the legendary Keith Jarrett going to physical therapy at a local hospital. Time comes for us all.

There have been some important recent strides in treating Parkinson’s disease. My close friend Julie Worden has created her own way of working. In this video, Julie demonstrates a “…Unique program that will combine Tai Chi, yoga, laughter and dance to help with balance, improve physical strength, calm the nervous system with breathing exercises, relieve anxiety, and relax the facial muscles and voice.”

It’s an hour program and her music choices are fabulous. If anyone wants to contact Julie, hit me back.

As the World Turns

Happy birthday to me! 

50 is a substantial number.

One way to measure: I was born three years before the American Bicentennial, so now I have lived through almost one-fifth of United States history.

Another way to measure: My father drank himself to death four days after turning 50.

Drummers by decade:

Billy Hart born 1940
Victor Lewis born 1950
Jeff Watts born 1960
Eric McPherson born 1970
Kendrick Scott born 1980

Hyland Harris looked at this list and commented, “Ten years is a long time.”

2023 has a lot of jazz centennials. (Complete list here.) 

Milt Jackson would have been 100 on January 1. Jack DeJohnette told me he was very impressed with Opus De Jazz, Jackson’s 1955 Savoy session, because of how swinging Kenny Clarke was on that date. “The whole groove on that album is incredible,” Jack said.

Tomorrow, February 12, Mel Powell would have been 100.  The Powell overview at DTM is one my most esoteric essays. 

The next major commission is symphonic in nature, so I’m reading orchestration books and wrestling with how to deploy forces. (A hint of what the commission entails is teased at this tweet.)

At a social event this past December I asked Missy Mazzoli to give me some advice. “Write first violins and flutes above the staff,” she said. Good advice.

There are not too many bass concertos, and even fewer of those bass concertos are any good. Mazzoli’s Dark with Excessive Bright (Concerto for Contrabass and String Orchestra) is truly unexpected, almost as if the soloist is a gritty bard in a Tom Waits mode. I am eagerly awaiting the new recording on BIS for Mazzoli’s forthcoming album of the same name. 

Also new and for string orchestra: Thomas Adès’s Shanty – Over the Sea. Bluesy, surreal, seven minutes, perfect. 

Both these pieces (the older recording of Dark with Excessive Bright and Shanty – Over the Sea) can be heard as singles streaming from the Australian Chamber Orchestra as part of their excellent ACO Originals series. 

When I was starting to write for big band, Tom Myron came up to me at a gig and told me seriously, “Write the trombone above the tenor sax.” Good advice.

Myron is a subtle and refined composer (try his sensational Violin Concerto No. 2) who — unlike many other fine contemporary composers — also really understands “pops” arranging for the symphony. When I asked Tom to vet my work before I hand it in, he immediately gave me an orchestration reading list and shared a few recordings I hadn’t heard before. In each case these works are not just great in terms of style and idea, but the orchestration is simply marvelous.

Walton: Symphony No. 1
Boris Blacher: Orchestral Variations on a Theme of Paganini 
Shostakovich: Symphony no. 9 
Honegger: Symphony No. 4 “Deliciae Basilenses”

I joked to Tom that Honegger 4 sounded like Claus Ogerman. He responded, “Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”

As part of my research into jazz (or “pops”) made with conventional orchestra, I purchased the recording of Ogerman’s Symphonic Dances. Without a rhythm section or a star soloist I am not quite sure that Ogerman’s middle-of-the-road argument carries the day. 

While many of my peers (such as Mark Turner and Ben Street) fervently admire the Ogerman/Michael Brecker collaboration Cityscape, my own favorite “serious” Ogerman remains Symbiosis for Bill Evans, especially the long “perpetual motion” soli for massed horns over a quasi-Brazilian rhythm section. That’s some unique music! Ogerman said he loved Max Reger, and one can sort of see that kind of Teutonic chromatic contrapuntal logic at work in this unpredictable 5-part writing.

From the condensed score of Symbiosis:

Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Shostakovich’s Festive Overture were two of the more familiar items recommended by Tom; they are both also somewhat close to a “pops” style. Having looked at the books and fooled around with my own sketches, I now see these two warhorses in a completely new way.

Also in our discussion, with my own comments:

Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3. Fascinating work and a key to the “Americana” concert style.

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra, Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra. I prefer the Lutoslawski, which features the greatest passacaglia I’ve ever encountered.

Milhaud: La création du monde. One of the first and still one of the best “jazz” pieces for “classical” musicians, although now I know enough to complain about some of the awkward orchestration.

William Schuman: Symphony no. 8. I learned about this masterwork from Kyle Gann, who has a long history with Schuman. At some point I’d like to listen to all of Schuman’s symphonies with the scores in hand… 

Kent Kennan is direct, excellent, and easy to read; Samuel Adler is also valuable but perhaps a little less fun. Gardner Read moves right along but my favorite is Adam Carse. The History of Orchestration is almost a century old (published 1925) but I just love the way Carse writes about the music.

On Gabrieli:

The addition of an extra choir or two does not dismay this inveterate polyphonist, nor does it compel him to resort to the doubling of vocal parts by instrumental voices. His desire is a full and rich volume of tone; co-operation rather than individualism is his instrumental creed, and an impartial distribution of material his only resource.

On Monteverdi:

Perhaps the most remarkable of the few surviving works by Monteverde is his Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, produced in 1624 but not printed till 1638. In this piece the composer presents two new and genuinely orchestral effects. Both are now the common property of the meanest orchestral composer and arranger, but early in the seventeenth century cannot have been other than startling or even bewildering novelties to ears unaccustomed to anything but a polyphonic movement of parts. Even at that time everybody must have heard string players twang the strings of their instruments with the fingers, but only Monteverde thought of using this as an orchestral effect. While the fight between Tancredi and Clorinda is in progress he directs the players to discard their bows and to strike the strings with two fingers, in short, he creates the pizzicato effect….

…The above passage follows one which contains what is no doubt the germ of the modern tremolo. The power to reiterate any note at almost unlimited speed is a feature of bowed-string-instrument playing which is shared by neither wind nor keyboard-instruments.

On Gluck:

…It is impossible to disassociate from his orchestration the principles of a composer whose artistic creed embraced such significant views as those set forth in the preface to Alceste: “that the instruments ought to be introduced in proportion to the degree of interest and passion in the words”; that “instruments are to be employed not according to the dexterity of the players, but according to the dramatic propriety of their tone.” Thus, dramatic fitness alone was to govern his use of instruments: the effect of the orchestra was to be true to the situation on the stage…

…It is hardly surprising to find that a composer who acknowledged no law but the law of dramatic truth should orchestrate his operas in a manner which broke many links with the past….

Carse dates himself by subtly criticizing the orchestrations of Bach and Handel. But, then again, the early music movement that re-invigorated Baroque performance practice was still several decades away. As with my researches into piano music, I enjoy reading the history from commentators and practitioners who learned their craft at the end of the 19th century and were more or less untouched by the stormy currents of the 20th. 

Amusingly, Carse ranks Elgar with Strauss and Debussy. Carse also documents that 1925-era historical moment when Mahler was considered far less successful than Strauss (although Carse himself admires both.)

The pairing of “Strauss and Mahler” reminds me of Matthew Guerrieri’s series of cartoons on his Soho the Dog website. Yesterday was a Guerrieri festival on DTM…why not conclude today’s post with my favorite? Seems somehow appropriate for turning 50…

Best Birthday Present

Matthew Guerrieri wrote three piano pieces for me!

Standard, Chorale, and Badinerie references my great love of crime fiction, with epigraphs from Boileau-Narcejac, Chandler, and Hammett.

I played through them on the backstage piano in Santa Fe yesterday.

Standard (A coeur perdu) — A coeur perdu (translation: With a Lost Heart) is a novel by Boileau-Narcejac, the French authors best known in America for writing the novel Hitchcock used as the source for Vertigo.

Guerrieri explains the basic plot: “A singer and her accompanist/lover cover up the latter’s murder of the singer’s husband, a composer, but the victim has left his own weapon: one last song that becomes a posthumous hit, tormenting the guilty couple on radios and jukeboxes wherever they go.”

A few lines of the book are at the top of the score, “Mais vous, c’est la vérité qui vous détruit. Vous voulez que l’amour soit une belle histoire.” (Translation: “But you, it is the truth that destroys you. You want love to be a beautiful story.”)

The piece is lovely and very much like an American songbook “standard” as Guerrieri suggests.

Chorale (A Soft Grey Smoke Ring) offers a collection of vertical sonorities. Indeed, I laughed out loud when reading though this one, because Matthew has been to many of my gigs and has heard me use many chords just like this. The last chord of bar 2 is definitely “Iversonian.” Towards the end, he uses a bit of addition: in bars 10 and 11 the articulations come at 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 beats. Do the math?

I play this on the fast side because the green room piano had little to offer in terms of a rich sustain. Next time I’ll aim for a more resonant concert grand and enjoy the “fog.”

More of the Chandler quote from The Big Sleep:

I couldn’t see the woman, then I could see her indistinctly. The arrogant carriage of her head seemed familiar. The man stepped out very quickly. The two figures blended in the fog, seemed to be part of the fog. There was dead silence for a moment. Then the man said: “This is a gun, lady. Gentle now. Sound carries in the fog. Just hand me the bag.” The girl didn’t make a sound. I moved forward a step.

Badinerie (Homage to Levi Oscant) — “Badinerie” means “banter,” and wow, a lot going on here.

  1. The bass line is an amplification of Vince Guaraldi
  2. the opening stanza is like a 12-bar blues
  3. the triadic chords over the bass line are essentially 12-tone
  4. the diminished chords are from Barry Harris (and other places, but I wrote about Barry)
  5. the B section is something like Lennie Tristano
  6. there’s a few snippets of walking bass boogie-woogie
  7. “Levi Oscant” appears as a party pianist in The Thin Man. Hammett is obviously paying tribute to Oscar Levant, a shared interest of Guerrieri and myself…the opening gesture of A coeur perdu above is in the Levant lineage.

In other words, PERFECT. Perfect for me! A mélange of many of my interests in one étude. “That makes it your party.” Damn right it’s my party. Unbelievable. I’m honored and thank my friend Matthew Guerrieri from the bottom of my heart.

Also on DTM: “James P. Johnson Gets Dressed” (by Matthew Guerrieri)

I tracked these pieces right after having lunch with Richard Scheinin, the estimable critic who (among many other things) recently covered Billy Harper’s 80’s birthday in the New York Times. Selfie of Rich and I below…

I wouldn’t know Matthew or Richard if it weren’t for the internet, so that’s one up to the power of digital connection!

Flowers for Albert

A nice surprise awaited me the other morning when finishing up the latest Bernie book by Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. Good grief, I think I attained nirvana for a few moments there. Thanks Larry!

I was already enamored of the book, for Block has such a good time with the fantastical conceit of an alternative world. Bernie fans don’t worry: It’s a Bernie book through and through.

A picture I took of Lawrence Block and Ron Carter together is on my “Crimes of the Century” page.

On Monday Aaron Diehl and I hosted a Vinyl Listening Party at Jazz Gallery. Thanks to Dan Levy for sending along the set list. 

Ethan Iverson: Stanley Turrentine “I Want a Little Girl” from Blue Hour

Elvin Jones “This Love of Mine” from Dear John C.

Aaron Diehl: Hank Jones and John Lewis ”Stompin’ at the Savoy” from An Evening with Two Grand Pianos 

Modern Jazz Quartet “Lonely Woman” from Lonely Woman

EI: Hank Jones “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Bag of Rags” from This is Ragtime Now!

AD: Roland Hanna “Prelude No. 7 in a Minor (El Toro and the Geisha)” from Preludes

EI: Eubie Blake “Love Will Find a Way” and “Dicty’s on 7th Avenue” from Volume 1 Featuring Ivan Harold Browning

AD: Lucky Thompson “Sun Out” from I Offer You

EI: Oliver Lake Gallery w. Geri Allen and Geri Allen The Printmakers (both discussed but didn’t play)

Louis Jordan “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” from The Best Of Louis Jordan

AD: Marta Sánchez “The Unconquered Vulnerable Areas” from SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)

Both Aaron and I have heard a lot of music, but neither of us was too familiar with many of each other’s choices. Very interesting set! 

I started with two classic (but very different-sounding) Van Gelder items because that canon remains a good reason to have a turntable. Hank Jones’s original composition “Bag of Rags” is totally awesome and totally unknown. Eubie Blake is back in the news. Amazingly enough, one of the people credited on the first release of EBM (Eubie Blake Music) is Hank O’Neal, and Mr. O’Neal was in the audience! I had two Geri Allen albums on hand because Allen is almost the patron saint of the Jazz Gallery, for a whole roster of poll-winning pianists who regularly play at the club are deeply influenced by Allen. The tremendous Lake LP is hard to find, I wish the Gramavision catalog would be reissued. I closed with some famous rhythm and blues by Louis Jordan.

Part of my commentary was simply about metadata. In the liner insert of The Printmakers (her first album), Allen thanks about 150 people, a worthy starting point for an Allen biographer. The reissue twofers of the ‘70s have unique info not found anywhere else, for example these Louis Jordan liner notes by Dave Dexter Jr., who knew Jordan personally and even penned the lyrics to one of the hits. Dexter’s Wikipedia page is exceptional: Count Basie composed “Diggin’ for Dex” as a tribute while hardcore Beatles fans curse his name.

Aaron’s selection of wonderful John Lewis and Roland Hanna was only to be expected, for Aaron has curated programs featuring their work. However the Lucky Thompson album was a surprise, Thompson killing it on soprano sax with Cedar Walton killing it on Fender Rhodes. I gotta get that. Aaron is also conscious of community, and brought the lone new LP to the session, Marta Sánchez’s latest award-winning disc. 

That was an especially nice touch, for I had just seen Marta the previous night at the Vanguard as part of the David Murray Quartet with Luke Stewart and Kassa Overall.

I really enjoyed the Murray set. It felt like a throwback to pre-Wynton ‘70s and ‘80s jazz, with lunatic blowing over sweet tunes. Timely and fresh. I hope this band becomes a steady item, for it felt like an organic unit and was a great showcase for all four members. 

I’ve known Marta as a friend for a long time (I’ve written liner notes to two of her albums) and it was a thrill to see her at the Vanguard— the first of many such occasions I am sure.

Kinda cool article at NPR about “swing.” This kind of “unhip” approach to the matter will help orchestral players etc. Fresh sounds await.

The clickbait headline “At last, physicists unravel a jazz mystery” annoys cognoscenti but it’s definitely going to come in handy when I’m standing in front of an orchestra. (Me, begging: “You gotta come in later. Don’t be ahead, be behind. I’m serious! To prove it, scientists in Germany analyzed 450 records on a computer!”)

Black music is also a science, although for decades they kept mum about how it worked, at least to the general public. Surely Elvin Jones or J Dilla or whoever could look at this topic from an intellectual or mathematical point of view. 

Funny to think of J.S. Bach glaring at a modern species counterpoint book, grumbling under his breath, “Das ist völlig falsch! Es ist keine Mathematik! Du spürst es einfach!”

(“This is totally wrong! It’s not math! You just feel it!”)

Tom Harrell told me Phil Woods said that Louis Armstrong was the first to play behind the beat on record. Neither Tom or I know if that’s precisely true, but Woods’s comment is certainly worth considering. Pops: The Father. 

Both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras got more advanced at “laying back” over the decades. Ellington started earlier, and some of his first records are somewhat “ricky-tick.” Later on Duke imitated Basie with the horns hanging behind the rhythm section. That shift is perhaps one reason we admire the “Blanton/Webster” band so much, for at that point the cats in New York had time to hear and digest the records of the Kansas City crew with Basie and Lester Young. 

Steve Little drummed for Ellington in the ‘60s, and Steve told me Ellington said to him, “Don’t let the horns drag you down!” The “rub” is important. 

Later Basie, the “New Testament” stuff, has some of the widest beat around, especially live. Impossibly swinging. I was checking out Basie’s 1966 session Live at the Sands (Before Frank) recently. Looking it up just now, I see that this album has some mediocre reviews. WHAT. Live at the Sands (Before Frank) is the goddamn truth! Lockjaw Davis on the opening “Splanky?” God almighty. 

If the German physicists alert a few pairs of whitebread ears to the concept of laying back, then I’m all for the German physicists!