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 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 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.

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Richie Beirach and Kenny Kirkland

Out now: Ruminations & Reflections – The Musical Journey of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach from Cymbal Press. (Amazon link.)

Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. It’s hard to think of one without the other. Ruminations & Reflections collects dialogues that give the pair a chance to tell stories, set the record straight, and consider their contribution.

I’ve read a lot of what Liebman has previously published, including the memoir Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist: Musical Thoughts and Realities and the autobiography with Lewis Porter, What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, but there has been less of Beirach’s direct personal opinion available. One gets the sense that Liebman steps back a bit in Ruminations & Reflections to let Beirach hold court.

And hold court Beirach does: the great pianist weighs in heavy on all sorts of topics. Of course, Liebman is ready to lay down the law as well. It is conventional for these things to be restrained and politically savvy, but the duo let it all hang out and say exactly what they think. It’s just great. Much of it is simply positive, of course, they both just love music, but there are a few tasty barbs and complaints as well.

Occasionally they are willing to define things in rather bald terms. For Beirach, the big three of classical music are Bach, Schoenberg, and Ligeti. Both agree that the big three of jazz are Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, while the three jazz cats with the most swinging time feel are Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Elvin Jones.

(To be clear, I don’t necessarily endorse these opinions, but I do think they are interesting.)

The chapter on Chick Corea is worth the price of admission.

Richie: In those days for me it was McCoy, Herbie Hancock, and Chick. They had the linear approach mastered combined with fantastic original harmony, a great sense of swing, “killing” natural time, and a great understanding of the piano. All three were wonderful composers. They were the top of the line. The next record he did was Sundance with his amazing tune “The Brain,” which by the way is a 12-tone row. It is an incredible piece with great intervallic stuff.

Dave: I wonder if he got that from Coltrane’s “Miles Mode,” because that was Trane’s 12-tone tune.

Richie: Maybe, but I think he got it more from Schoenberg. I know he was working on this. Then he ends the melody of “The Brain” on a G minor pedal so here you have both worlds, the diatonic world of G minor pedal and the 12-tone world of the melody of “The Brain.” Chick solos on G minor pedal point with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette on bass and drums. It is one of the most iconic and burning solos ever. He utilizes everything McCoy has done and in my opinion even surpasses it in places in terms of pure virtuosity and intensity. Also he had Dave and Jack and those three of course were Miles’ rhythm section for couple of years so they worked together all the time. There was a certain synergy in that band because Dave Holland was like the horse. He loved to play time and gave Jack total freedom in a similar way that Ron Carter gave Tony Williams rhythmic freedom. Also Jack expanded the vision of what the drums could do in a small group situation. It was overpowering at times … it was so intense but it was always musical at the same time. The combination of 4/4 time with Dave and Jack while Chick played like a contemporary piano concerto greatly expanded the possibility of what was possible, helped by using the entire range of the keyboard. Generally jazz piano players usually don’t use whole range of the piano. To me this tune, “The Brain” was the next logical development after McCoy in the history of jazz piano.

Of course it went unnoticed by the jazz public.

More than most, Liebman has explained how to listen to his music, beginning with his book Lookout Farm: A Case Study of Improvisation for Small Group Jazz from the early ’70s. In this latest entry, Beirach offers substantial listening notes to the extensive Beirach/Liebman discography. In his way, Beirach is quite honest and humble about what he is trying to do, and I finished Ruminations & Reflections with even more respect for Beirach’s unique journey.


Kenny Kirkland’s shadow grows longer by the day. There are now two books: DOCTONE: An Oral History of the Legendary Pianist Kenny Kirkland by Noah Haidu (Amazon link) and Kenny Kirkland’s Harmonic and Rhythmic Language: A Model for the Modern Jazz Pianist by Geoffrey Dean (jazzbooks.com link).

Both Haidu and Dean are players, and both books document a moment of completion, for Haidu made a corresponding record of Kirkland tunes with Todd Coolman and Billy Hart, while Dean’s book was based a doctoral thesis.

It’s thrilling that Haidu and Dean have made this contribution to the literature. The authors work in perfect counterpoint: Haidu’s book is packed with frank interviews from Kirkland’s family, peers, and followers (I especially enjoyed the chapter with Jason Moran), while Dean has transcribed a bevy of Kirkland solos and offers much technical insight.

One of the takeaways from the books is how much Kirkland is on tape, which is far more than a glance at a conventional discography suggests. Dean includes a few solos that are hard to get, including astounding flights through “Giant Steps” and McCoy Tyner’s “Four by Five,” while many interviewees in Haidu mention tapes of Kirkland in action with varied bands.

I myself have a bootleg trio set at Gilly’s in pretty good sound that should really have wider distribution, for it is even stronger than any of the commercially available Kirkland trio recordings.

Is there any chance of a new online repository of recordings, where students and fans can access the deep cuts? This kind of stewardship would make a difference: After all, it is Kenny Kirkland.

Drift by the Window

Sarah Deming has a hilarious new essay out in the Threepenny Review, “Are you Jewish?”

Roz Milner kind of blew my mind with this overview of Yoko Kanno and the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop.

Lewis Porter finds the sound of Thelonious Monk knocking over a beer bottle on a record with Miles Davis.

Nate Chinen offers a close view of Brad Mehldau in concert at Vanguard.

Matthew Guerrieri celebrates Lukas Foss at 100 with an early Foss sonata.


The best TV I’ve seen this year is the recent HBO mini-series The Rehearsal with Nathan Fielder. Sarah and I went in cold, not knowing a thing about it, and we advise others to do the same. There are some pretty harsh critiques out there. To those philistines, I say: Art is ruthless, and The Rehearsal shows a path forward.

Two thumbs down to The Grey Man. Maybe the production team had too much money to play with? At any rate, the over-the-top superhero antics of The Grey Man makes a James Bond movie look like a documentary.

Top Gun: Maverick is a far more acceptable popcorn flick than The Grey Man because it plays a bit more by the rules of physics. They took that “Tom Cruise in a caper” thing from the banal Mission: Impossible franchise and gave it some gritty heft. It’s no masterpiece, but I liked it more than I expected.


Back to school, back to tour. Before fall gets any further along, a look back through a few summer photos:

Dance Heginbotham, who danced to my music so beautifully in the Berkshires
With Sarah Deming, Mark Padmore, and Vicki Mortimer, in St Endellion in Cornwall, after Padmore’s final performance of Peter Grimes (and his last night as Endellion music director after 11 amazing seasons)

Marta Sanchez and Sylvie Courvoisier
Billy Hart and Nasheet Waits
with David Virelles
with Jon Cowherd
Jerry Bergonzi, Gene Perla, Dave Liebman, and Adam Nussbaum in Detroit
Vinnie Sperrazza and Kush Abadey

The Baldwin that Paul Desmond gave to Bradley’s is now at the Jazz Gallery

Peter Washington and Al Foster

Rainbow as seen from Billy Hart’s porch in Montclair

In the Night Room

New DTM page: “Fiction Lets Me Get the Facts Right.” 

While a big bestseller during the horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s — a casual reader might know his name best from the collaborations with Stephen King — the late Peter Straub is harder to sum up than his peers. I knew Straub slightly and loved re-reading two of his best.


Don Was turned 70 the other day, so I put up a little homemade video for my socials. Don is from Detroit, and told me on Instagram, “Thank you for elevating Motor City birthday greetings to a whole new level!!!” 

Tour

This coming Tuesday, I’m at the Zinc Bar with Ben Street and Nasheet Waits.

Then on the weekend, Friday and Saturday, September 23 and 24, I’m at the Green Mill in Chicago with Matt Ulery and Jon Deitemyer. I played with Matt and Jon earlier this year, it was really fun, in fact they both had memorized my tunes in advance.

After that there’s a proper European swing with Billy Hart’s quartet featuring Mark Turner, Ben Street, and myself.

September 27-28 Paris/Duc Des Lombards
September 29 Philharmonie Luxembourg
September 30 Berlin/Zig Zag Club
October 1 Esslingen/Encounter Jazz
October 2. Milan/Blue Note
October 4 Jazz Club Ferrara
October 6 Bertinoro/Bistrot Colonna
October 7-8 London/Pizza Express

If you come to a gig, say hi!

Royal

THE DUKE

Duke Ellington wrote a wonderful set of themes for Elizabeth II, The Queen’s Suite. Kevin Whitehead tells the story:

In 1958, at an arts festival in Yorkshire, Duke Ellington was presented to Queen Elizabeth II. They tied up the reception line for a few minutes, exchanging royal pleasantries; our Duke politely flirted with Her Majesty. Soon afterward, maybe that very night, Ellington outlined the movements of The Queen’s Suite. He recorded it with his orchestra the following year, sent it to Her Majesty, and declined to release it to the public in his lifetime.

Posterity has judged “The Single Petal of a Rose” as one of Ellington’s finest pieces for solo piano, and is frequently played by classical pianists in transcription.

The news of the Queen’s death is wall-to-wall on every channel. A friend from England wrote me this morning, saying, “We have mentally checked out as of yesterday…many events are are being postponed….It’s staggering.”

J.K. Rowling’s stories concerning fantasy and royal bloodline have given untold pleasure to untold millions. In a viral tweet yesterday, the author explained:

Some may find the outpouring of British shock and grief at this moment quaint or odd, but millions felt affection and respect for the woman who uncomplainingly filled her constitutional role for seventy years…Most British people have never known another monarch, so she’s been a thread winding through all our lives. She did her duty by the country right up until her dying hours, and became an enduring, positive symbol of Britain all over the world. She’s earned her rest. #TheQueen

Naturally, anyone with any depth at all knows that a phrase like “The English Monarchy” implies not just stately glamor, but tremendous violence and sadness as well. This is why I like having Rowling weigh in on the royal death. Humans seem to need heroic fairytales almost as much as they need oxygen, whether it is Harry Potter or Queen Elizabeth II.

In A Question of Upbringing, Anthony Powell writes, “There is always something solemn about change, even when accepted.”


THE COUNT

Tonight is the beginning of the Harvest Moon. In Brooklyn last night, the gibbous was already stunning.

One of my first and most beloved cassettes was an anthology of early Count Basie. Most of the tape featured his famous big band, except for a lone piano feature, “Shine on Harvest Moon,” where the Count lazily spins variations over Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. There aren’t so many records of Basie playing standards from this era, but they are definitely an important puzzle piece, for Basie’s stark and open voicings on a Tin Pan Alley ditty absolutely foreshadow Thelonious Monk.

According to Wikipedia, the song debuted at the Ziegfeld Follies in 1908, and the composer attribution is in question. I never heard a vocal version, and am rather scandalized by the forthright request of natural light for evening lovemaking:

Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since April, January, June or July.
Snow time, ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.

Myron’s World

Sunday morning: If you want an unexpected yet gratifying listen, try the Violin Concerto no. 2 by Tom Myron, recorded live in 2006 with Elisabeth Adkins and The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sylvia Alimena. The work is unabashedly tonal and accessible, almost cinematic, and touched with a slight Americana accent. The gregarious nature of the musical language almost hides how sophisticated the details are. Myron knows just how to orchestrate for forces, and is absolutely unfashionable in all the right ways. It’s a substantial three movement work; if you have time for only one, try the middle slow movement, which begins with the most astonishing sequence of harmonies. 

Link to full piece on Broadjam site.