Ethan Iverson’s Home Page

If you are new here, make sure to look at the Bio page. 

Also important: Subscribe to my newsletter, Transitional Technology, here. (Sign-up is free.)

Twitter is my evil social media drug of choice, where I have more than 16,000 followers.

I teach privately; I also (during the pandemic) am making musical greeting cards.

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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Jeremy Pelt’s Griot and 700 on Igor

Unless I am missing something, Griot by Jeremy Pelt is the first true follow-up to Arthur Taylor’s Notes and Tones, where a celebrated African-American jazz practitioner interviews other celebrated African-American jazz practitioners. These interviews stand in stark contrast to conventional profiles run by white-dominated organizations. Recommended: order here.


Thanks to Evan Haga for inviting me to write 700 words on Igor Stravinsky for Tidal, a kind of “who was Stravinsky” for the uninitiated. It was an easy assignment; Evan also did a good job with the final edit.

While working on the essay, I posted my top 10 Stravinsky list on Twitter. In chronological order:

1. The Rite of Spring
2. Les Noces
3. Pulcinella
4. Symphonies of Wind Instruments
5. Octet
6. Oedipus Rex
7. Symphony in Three Movements
8. The Rake’s Progress
9. Agon
10. Requiem Canticles

People complained most about Firebird and Symphony of Psalms not making the cut, but what can I say, there’s no accounting for taste. (They do get a mention in the Tidal overview.) I doubt Pulcinella would make most lists (a lot of it is a fairly straight transcription of old Italian themes) but that work is a personal touchstone, and certainly a thoughtful example of how to do a makeover just right.

Bond, James Bond

Like many American males, I recently thought it might be enjoyable to re-visit the Bond movies in order. I gave up because Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only were so bad as to be essentially unwatchable.

The most fun about this aborted project was relearning some of the early movie history I knew as a kid but had basically forgotten. Of course, broccoli is a designed vegetable — some kind of cross between kale and cabbage, just like cauliflower — and Bond movie producer Albert Broccoli was the younger son of the Broccoli family responsible for that vegetable’s invention. Broccoli was so impressed with the Ian Fleming books that he decided to invest the family fortune. Despite not knowing anything about moviemaking, Broccoli acquired the rights to Doctor No, with the option to make the rest of the series.

Amusingly, broccoli was a small factor in a few ways for the franchise in the beginning. Sean Connery was not a fan, and his rather “tough” attitude towards the complimentary bowl of raw broccoli outside of the casting room impressed director Guy Hamilton. And the famous opening gun barrel sequence? Albert Broccoli knew film designer Maurice Binder slightly as a boy, since Binder’s father was the first large-scale importer of broccoli into New York.

Broccoli - Wikipedia

April Streams

This coming Tuesday, I lead Simón Willson and Vinnie Sperrazza at Desmond White’s Underexposed. Mostly compositions from myself….7 PM…apparently I am playing a Rhodes, which is a first, at least in a trio context…

On April 29, I’ll be joining the Billy Hart quartet with Dayna Stephens and Ben Street at the Jazz Gallery.

I Keep Looking for Charles Willeford

The last of the pandemic DTM overviews is a major edit/re-build of my 2012 investigation of Charles Willeford.

My big essay “Nothing is Inchoate” is much improved (originally 2012).

NEW: I transcribed a radio interview discovered last year.

NEW: Three fine essays Ray Banks wrote about Willeford had vanished, with Ray’s permission I re-edited the lot into a single page.

2012 interview with Ray Banks.

2012 interview with Willeford biographer Don Herron.

Piano and Piano

Currently streaming: Aaron Diehl plays Mary Lou Williams “Zodiac Suite” with the New York Philharmonic and Tito Muñoz. I believe this original orchestration hasn’t been heard since the premiere in the 1940s. Recommended.


I interviewed my former teacher Fred Hersch to preview his March 20th streaming concert for the Leuven Jazz Festival. The video is about 15 minutes long.


Like all my peers, I have healthy respect for the outstanding pure jazz pianism of Dave Kikoski. Students, check it out, a new book of Kikoski improvisations, transcribed and analyzed by Andrew Luhn.


Orrin Evans leaves The Bad Plus. I’ve always admired Orrin…I never listened to TBP MK II, but will keep my eyes and ears alert for Orrin’s future sounds, for he is a *major* voice on the instrument.


Mark Morris recently told me about Dana Suesse. I’ve played the old standard “My Silent Love,” but didn’t know it was from a longer formal composition “Jazz Nocturne.” Suesse is also a wonderful pianist, somewhere in the Gershwin-to-Confrey constellation.

Mwandishi Time

Thanks to Bob Gluck for writing You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band. I’ve been meaning to read this book since it came out in 2012, and finally just got around to it. Gluck has given us a invaluable resource; indeed, this is a landmark in jazz criticism.

The members of the famous ensemble — Eddie Henderson, Bennie Maupin, Julian Priester, Buster Williams, Billy Hart, and Patrick Gleeson — were interviewed for the book. Along with reasonably conventional historical detail, there’s an astonishing amount of technical analysis and musical notation.

Read Gluck for in-depth appraisal. Here are my slender notes on the three studio albums (simply to help organize the titles and the sessions in my own brain).


Mwandishi

— Ostinato (Suite For Angela). Not a suite, but a long 15/8 vamp (kinda E-flat sus) with two drummers (Ndugu Leon Chancler joins Jabali). Hancock’s keyboard solo is amazing. Actually it’s incredible the keyboardist is so damn comfortable in 15. In 1970 this must have been rather alarming to people like McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett.

— You’ll Know When You Get There. This is a lyrical tune in the vein of “Speak Like a Child” and “Maiden Voyage,” except that it is much more stop and start, with many cadenzas and a kind of “groupthink” that creates spontaneous structure, although a reassuring Thad Jones/Gil Evans “shout” ends each solo. Eddie Henderson shines in an extended feature. Maupin plays on flute and Hancock’s solo boasts an abstract and even “childlike” duo with Hart.

— Wandering Spirit Song. Ready for 21 minutes of a Julian Priester composition with “Wandering” in the title? No, not me either, not really, but I owe it to these masters to give another attempt. Reading Gluck is good, he explains what is going on step by step. Four minutes in, the (boring) opening drone resolves into a nice jazz waltz. Billy Hart’s contribution is undeniable. The composer takes a long lyrical solo; the trombonist could maybe be a shade hotter in the mix. After another head, the piece breaks into noise and Maupin gets a ferocious say on bass clarinet. The rhythm section swings hard in the waltz, but then plays the rubato burn just as well. That was surprising at the time, and to some extent remains novel today (at this point, more people are comfortable with the rubato burn than the swinging waltz). Hart told me he really loved the concluding duo of Hancock and Williams. The duo is in waltz-time, mostly, with effects and a general air of searching for extreme possibility.


Crossings

— Sleeping Giant. A 6/8 drum fanfare with all hands on percussion begins a side-long suite. Hart still plays some of these solo patterns on the gig today. Eventually Hancock settles in for some extending musings in A phrygian. As on the previous LP Mwandishi, the first proper blowing heard on the album is a wonderful workout by the leader. In both cases, the keyboard solo has undergone a certain amount of post-production, where key phrases get underlined or dialed back via studio magic. It works. Some aspects of these LPs might be dated today, but not the keyboard solos. Written material is introduced; the piece moves through styles ranging from spacey avant chorales to the most hemmed-in and rigorous funk. The “doubled” (via electronics) Bennie Maupin cadenza with Buster Williams in fervent support is something that should be heard at least once. As a whole I can’t say “Sleeping Giant” is really to my taste, but it’s certainly going for something fresh. Gluck loves the aesthetic unconditionally, and his analysis of “Sleeping Giant” goes on for over six pages.

— Quasar. The other two tunes on Crossings are by Maupin. The big change is the addition of Patrick Gleeson on synthesizer. (The three studio LPs divide neatly into three sides with Gleeson and three without.) One of the most profound aspects of this band was how earthy the band was — deep blues, swing, funky for days — while also able to conjure a landscape suitable for science-fiction. Total Afro-Futurism. Hancock begins with a few lovely polychords on acoustic piano before a chorale with synthesizer takes over the narrative. The main tune is features a D-flat ostinato in 7/4, but that texture is under constant attack. I’m not sure all the synth stuff really holds up today, but the best of it is great. There are a lot of vamp-heavy early-70s jazz LPs that are far more ponderous and unlistenable than anything from this band.

— Water Torture. A synth-intro gives way to one of the most attractive pieces in repertoire, with a beautiful, spacious, even menacing hi-hat groove under tightly arranged horns. Free interludes alternate with that wonderful groove. This is genuinely mysterious music.


Sextant

— Rain Dance. This is the only track where Gleeson’s primitive synth provides rhythmic information. Gleeson’s vamp is attractive enough, as is the first noisy blast of horns. The body of the track has Hart and Williams actually playing patterns in tandem with the sequencer. It works, I guess. More to my own taste are the absurd low synth drones that accompany Williams’s fabulous bass solo.

— Hidden Shadows. When I was first assembling a record collection, Sextant was the only LP from this era of Hancock I could find. “Hidden Shadows” was definitely my favorite track, with a mesmerizing odd-meter funk groove offered by Williams and Hart. Jabali plays a cowbell here, a comparatively rare occurrence. The out-of-key unison horn lines have a vaguely Ornette Coleman-esqe cast. Beautiful. Eventually Hancock brings in the acoustic piano for a rather shocking improvisation, full out, wild bitonal chords up and down the piano, almost as if he’s playing a fancy modernist concerto.

— Hornets. Another side-long jam, a cool funky riff underpinning diverse explorations. The horns solo but it is fairly collective in intent, an ethos only extended by Gleeson’s surreal contribution. When the clouds part a bit, eleven minutes into the track, Hancock delivers another devastating solo, this time on keyboards treated with a welter of post-production effects. The pianist was in his early 30s and actually at a kind of a peak as a player. The horns are all great, the collective ethos is compelling, but every time the leader takes total control of the narrative with an extended improvisation the music soars to an even higher level.


The band toured a lot and many bootlegs exist. The live setlist frequently included “Toys,” a swinger of the old school introduced on Hancock’s classic Blue Note LP Speak Like a Child. “Toys” gave Hancock, Williams, and Hart a spectacular chance to shine in a way quite different than most of the Mwandishi repertoire. In conversation, Hart and Williams have both cited the July 21st, 1971 version of “Toys” in Nice as something special. Here’s the scorching extended piano solo from that gig. All praise Buster Williams, for the swing is so damn profound in the bass.

At the end of the excerpt, the trio plays a special “break” for the next soloist, Eddie Henderson: a beautiful detail.


Gluck describes some of the bootlegs but You’ll Know When You Get There is a big book already. At some point a listener’s guide to the complete Mwandishi bootlegs would be helpful. I just learned that Brad Farberman is doing some of that research already on Twitter; the threads can be accessed from Farberman’s website.

Lady Day

New from The Nation (my second byline there), about Billie Holiday, at this point an underrated technician, especially since the high profile movies all focus on other things.

Thanks to Darcy James Argue for texting me the sentence, “One of the first things director Lee Daniels told his composer was that he doesn’t care for jazz.” I had idly contemplated writing about Holiday in light of the new movie but that text was the true starting gun.

Also, Mark Stryker reworked the opening for me, making it much better. Like WAY better. Additional thanks to Hyland Harris and Loren Schoenberg. However, the faults of the article are mine alone, not my helpful readers…