Ethan Iverson’s Home Page

Go to Do the Gig (DTG) to see the list of upcoming jazz gigs in NYC each week.

Bio and press quotes are here. 

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Selected upcoming gigs of my own =

+ January 24: Tribute to Chef Jack Riebel at his restaurant The Lexington in St. Paul. Burt Bacharach is Chef’s favorite composer, and Vinnie Sperrazza and I will be in town for MMDG Pepperland, so we decided to bring out Marcy Harriell and reprise our fabulous NYE set. Completing the band will be local legend Erik Fratzke on bass.

+ January 25: Mark Morris Dance Group, Pepperland at Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis. (Bonus track: Sarah Deming reads from Gravity at Red Balloon in St. Paul earlier that day.)

+ January 30 and 31: Mark Morris Dance Group, Pepperland at Cullen Theater, Houston.

+ February 8: Mark Morris Dance Group, Pepperland at Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri

February 13-29: Martin Speake quartet UK tour.

Do the Math began in 2004 and runs well over a million words. The most significant posts are “pages” and 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: Essays especially for students.

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

Sonatas and Études: Classical music essays, including major pieces on Glenn Gould and Igor Stravinsky.

Newgate Callendar: A look at a few of my favorite crime writers like Donald E. Westlake and Charles Willeford.

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

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R.I.P. Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath was not just a musician. Jimmy Heath was a lifestyle, a mood, a way to make sense of the world.

The last time I saw Jimmy play was in 2016 at the Village Vanguard with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Al Foster. I never heard a set of Jimmy Heath where there wasn’t some down ‘n dirty blues, and that night he was particularly inspired on Sonny Red’s “Bluesville.” The snaky tenor lines burst through the air like soulful sparkles. It was a good reminder that Jimmy was the same age as John Coltrane, and that Jimmy and Trane had learned the blues together as teenagers in Philadelphia.

Jimmy was the middle child of one of the great jazz families. Percy was the elder, a major bassist for Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and eventually the bottom end of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Tootie was the younger, a quicksilver swinger who has played comfortably with everybody from Wes Montgomery to Don Cherry. For a time they joined together as the Heath Brothers, a band that must have appeared at every major jazz festival in the world.

When Jimmy, Percy, and Tootie played together, it was a conversation. Not just musically, but literally: They would talk to each other, the whole time, the whole gig. It was hilarious. They’d talk about who looked funny in the audience and who had the better hotel room that night. One time I saw Tootie play a loud cymbal crash during a piano solo, prompting Jimmy to yell, ‘That was a big one!” Tootie yelled back, “It had to be done!”

All the brothers had amazing verbal skills, they were all born comics and could riff like nobody’s business. After “Winter Sleeves,” one of the pieces in the Heath Brothers book, Jimmy Heath would address the audience in rhyme:

That piece was called, “Winter Sleeves”
based on a song called, “Autumn Leaves”
so I could collect the royalties
for my melodies.
Please!

The most familiar of Jimmy’s many compositions is probably “Gingerbread Boy,” thanks to a classic performance of Miles Davis with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. The tune’s jagged themes just sort of hang there, a set of questions and answers. Conversation in music, conversation on the bandstand. Miles recorded a few Jimmy Heath tunes and didn’t always give credit. “Miles! Could I have the royalties for my melodies….please?”

I Walked With Giants is Jimmy’s autobiography. It’s a valuable read, but no jazz master gives up all their secrets. Now that Jimmy is gone, he took a big part of what was living history with him.

Tootie told me a great story recently: While Jimmy was serving time at the Lewisburg Penitentiary, he put a band together that included William Langford, better known to jazz fans as The Legendary Haasan. When Langford decided to quit the prison band, he wrote Jimmy a letter to explain that he didn’t want to do it any more. Of course, Haasan saw Jimmy all day long, every day, at chow and exercise time etc. Still, Haasan sent Jimmy a letter.

I’m not sure what this story proves, exactly, except that it’s another reminder that when Jimmy played the blues, it was the real blues.

Jimmy Heath’s extensive discography deserves a serious critical overview. There’s a lot there, and most of it isn’t nearly as well known as it should be. As I type this, I’m listening to the truly brilliant composition “Six Steps” from Swamp Seed. The orchestration includes two french horns and tuba. Harold Mabern (also recently gone) gets the first say, Donald Byrd is supremely tasty, and then Jimmy himself tells it like it is. His brothers Percy and Tootie are in the rhythm section. Family, community, conversation, mystery, the spiritual, the unknowable, the slick, the smart, the surreal: Whatever I love about jazz, it’s all right here in this fabulous track.

 

 

 

 

Burt Reynolds on Johnny Carson

A buddy told me about the long and outrageous series of Burt appearing on Johnny. My parents didn’t watch Carson when I was growing up, and honestly I don’t know the Reynolds filmography (such as it is) that well either.  No matter. These clips are pretty astounding: Off the wall, nearly obscene, and just beautiful top to bottom. If late night TV were like this today, I’d buy a set.

My jaw dropped open several times watching this 1974 clip.

In 1978, they begin with a long palaver about a party at Burt’s house where Ed McMahon was invited and Johnny wasn’t. There’s a boffo finish.

Later that same year, Steve Martin filled in for Carson and got Burt to go for broke.

Press Agent

On Saturday I’m going to this 5 PM concert, AMOC AT THE RESNICK PASSLOF FOUNDATION

MATTHEW AUCOIN, arr. EMI FERGUSON / Three Études
CHARLES IVES / Piano Trio
ROBERT HONSTEIN / Unwind
SCOTT WOLLSCHLEGER / Secret Machines, Nos. 1 & 2

I’m a fan of composers Aucoin and Wollschleger, am curious about Honstein, and think the Piano Trio is one of Ives’s best pieces.

On a related topic, I’m slowly becoming a little more aware of composer Harold Meltzer. His Virginal is strikingly attractive.

Sara Laimon is the harpsichordist; Laimon’s CD American Piano Music of the 1940’s is one of my treasured documents, especially her recording of Leon Kirchner’s piano sonata.

I learned about Meltzer from Miranda Cuckson, who is performing with AMOC on Saturday. Everything in Cuckson’s email blast looks fabulous, I encourage DTM readers to go if these events are nearby! There’s even a gig a Shapeshifter!

This Saturday, January 11, I’m playing in a chamber program at the Resnick Passlof Foundation with my amazing friends in AMOC.

AMOC is a collective of artists making discipline-colliding work combining theater, music, dance, opera but our musicians also like to play together and just get into the music. We’ll be playing music by Ives, Aucoin, Wollschleger, and Honstein. Students tickets are available for $15.

If you’re upstate on Jan 26, Conor Hanick, Coleman Itzkoff and I are playing the Ives Trio there as well, on the Union College Concerts series in Schenectady, on a program also featuring AMOC’s brilliant tenor Paul Appleby with Conor performing songs by Schubert, Aucoin and Berg. I’ll be playing transcriptions of three early Berg songs as well.

On Jan 30 at 2pm, I’m playing at Merkin Hall on the PREformances series, which presents artists performing music they’re about to play on other concerts. With my colleagues and longtime friends violist Dan Panner and cellist Sophie Shao, I’ll be playing trios by Kodaly and Beethoven and a duo by Xenakis.

This is in preparation for the “Miranda Cuckson and Friends” concert at the Library of Congress in Washington on Feb 21. In addition to those three works, we’ll be joined by pianist Stephen Gosling for the Schumann Op. 47 Quartet and for Harold Meltzer’s violin/piano duo “Kreisleriana” (which I play on Harold’s currently Grammy-nominated album with Blair McMillen). I’ll also play the US premiere of a violin piece written for me by Iranian composer Aida Shirazi. The concert honors Leonora Jackson McKim, whose fund supports the LOC’s McKim commissions (Harold’s piece among them) and I’ll play some of the concert on her Stradivarius violin. Tickets are apparently already “sold out” but please check back in case spots open!

On Jan 31, my new-music group counter)induction celebrates its milestone 20th anniversary with a concert at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. I’ve been playing with the group for ten of those years and we’ve done a lot of very exciting music. The program will feature pieces by four of c)i’s nine members: Douglas Boyce, Kyle Bartlett, Ryan Streber, Jessica Meyer.

Amid all this, I’m doing a weeklong residency at Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, Jan 13-19. I visited there two years ago and the quality of music-making there is outstanding. I’ll be playing Scelsi’s incredible work Anahit for violin&ensemble with the student ensemble and conductor Jerry Hou on Jan 15 8pm. Jan 16 I’m joined by a wonderful group I’m bringing from NYC – Emi Ferguson, Sammy Resnick, Blair McMillen, Jeff Zeigler – for a concert of works by Chris Trapani, Jürg Frey, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Franco Donatoni and Magnus Lindberg. The following day we’re doing readings of works by nine student composers. Jan 18 I’m giving a violin masterclass and Jan 19 7:30pm I’m playing a solo concert of fantastic pieces by Aida Shirazi, Reiko Füting, Rozalie Hirs, Anthony Cheung, Anna Meredith, and Xenakis. All the concerts are open to the public, so please tell your Houston-area friends!

Genre-Specific

The jazz world is insular — too insular, by far! — but I wish John Halle had more command of the terrain in his broadside, “In Defense of Kenny G.”

Halle is right about a generic starting point, that jazz musicians generally don’t like Kenny G’s music, especially G’s saxophone playing. Halle enjoys quoting Pat Metheny on this topic. However, Halle misses the reason Metheny spoke up. Metheny waded in because Pat was defending Louis Armstrong (a name that doesn’t appear in Halle’s article). Pat’s a nice guy, he wouldn’t have ranted like this if he wasn’t trying to stand for Pops.

Halle gets even further afield by citing European techniques like counterpoint and composers like Steve Reich, Richard Wagner, and William Byrd. None of that stuff will help us assess Kenny G. Indeed, these pointless references are exhibiting the kind of snobbishness Halle is decrying in the first place.

Kenny G is within a genre, a genre called smooth jazz. Before we get a step further down the road to enlightenment we need to define what that is, specifically what smooth jazz saxophone is. Incredibly, the only other saxophonist mentioned in Halle’s article is Eric Dolphy, one of the most original and important avant-gardists of the 1960s.

When talking about Kenny G, Eric Dolphy is not relevant, unless you simply want to scream into the unseeing void.

Here is a partial list of saxophonists that might help you discuss the soulful origin story and continuing smooth context of Kenny G: Earl Bostic, Louis Jordan, Stanley Turrentine, Houston Person, Grover Washington, John Klemmer, Tom Scott, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Jay Beckenstein, Dave Koz, Boney James…

Halle doesn’t use the words “rhythm” or “feel” in his article. I suspect the problem many jazz professionals have with Kenny G is simply rhythmic. Of course, this is the side of the music that traces back to Africa, and also the side that is hardest to write about in an academic way. Is there any rhythmic difference between one of David Sanborn’s records and one of Kenny G’s? In my opinion, yes! David Sanborn’s records are way better rhythmically!  (Back to Metheny: I feel certain that Pat is standing up for Pops because Louis Armstrong gave us so much in terms of the basic beat of American music.)

All that said, I am actually willing to play on Halle’s team, at least up to a point. There is a way that hardcore jazz fans look down on smooth jazz that can be rather unsophisticated. After all, smooth jazz is far more beloved by the black community than any kind of “avant” or “straight-ahead” jazz, and it’s been that way since the beginning of smooth jazz. There’s genuine diversity in the audience for smooth jazz. Of course, all this connects to R&B as well. At times smooth jazz and R&B share the same audience. Indeed, Kenny G has many black fans! I personally think “modern creative jazz” — or whatever the hell this stuff is called in Brooklyn these days — needs more outreach, more beat, and more black audience.

(There are some who claim that Kenny G is not smooth jazz, but instrumental pop. I’m actually on firmer ground if that is the case, for I naturally approve of various classic pieces of upscale kitsch by Henry Mancini or even Enya — there’s no beef with “Orinoco Flow” in my household — in a way I don’t naturally approve of smooth jazz. However, Kenny G plays with a soulful, bluesy melodic expression and even “improvises,” so I see him more like Sanborn than Yanni, although I certainly understand the “instrumental pop” argument.)

Halle gets closer to what Halle is really trying to talk about when he examines the positive effects of Kenny G’s music on casual listeners. But when trying make sense of bigger political issues involved in that transaction, there’s not much to gain by gathering the opinions of jazz insiders…

To take the Kenny G political-critical discourse further, we need to look at other artistic figures who command an amazing amount of general interest but lack respect from fellow professionals. Offhand I might suggest classical pianist Lang Lang, the late painter Thomas Kinkade, and the “writer of the decade,” Rupi Kaur. An article assessing Kenny G, Lang, Kinkade, and Kaur in the terms of Halle’s socialist beliefs would be entirely valid. Indeed, I would be eager to read Halle on such matters.

But don’t come to me complaining about why I hate on Kenny G — unless you also want to talk about why Grover Washington is so much better than Kenny G.

(I have heard from a few people over the years that Kenny Gorelick is a nice person who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and I admit this clip is very funny.)