Circles and Benchmarks, Friends and Neighbors


Duo tour with Mark Turner continues this week in Europe. If you come by, say hi!










Philip Freeman spoke to us together for the podcast Burning Ambulance.  As I recall, both Mark and I were reasonably frank…

Guardian review of Temporary Kings by Dave Gelly.

We also were interviewed over email for an Italian magazine. Mark has rarely written anything about music or culture, so I was pretty excited to read these thoughtful paragraphs.  (Eventually these will be translated in Italian for the print issue of Musica Jazz.)

Mark Turner’s written comments are in bold.

1) Could you briefly recap your formative years?

I was born in 1965 at Wright Paterson Air Force Base in Ohio USA. Started playing the clarinet at 9 years old. I was introduced to Jazz, Soul, R&B through my parents as well as some of their close friends who were also Jazz enthusiasts. I would say that it was part of the culture at that time (mid 60’s though 80’s) for young black highly educated adults of their set to listen to this array of music. After college I went to NY and worked a day job and played in the street until moving to New Orleans for nearly a year. I moved back to NY and started working and recording there with many of the young musicians of the day. I also played for a while with Rufus Reid during this time and learned quite a lot from him.

2) Who are the musicians who mostly contributed to your growth?

Although I still learn from older musicians and those my age and younger, in my formative years that would be musicians like Billy Pierce and George Garzone who I studied with while at Berklee. Leo Potts who I studied with at Long Beach State. Also John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Warne Marsh, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Rufus Reid, Billy Hart. My peers would include Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Street, Jeff Ballard.

3) How do you regard your experience in a cooperative trio setting?

It’s been great with FLY. That said we do not play all that much but we have grown quite a bit in spite of that, as evidence our most recent tour last January. Maybe we are just getting older.

4) What is your opinion about the current European jazz scene, not only regarding musicians, but also promoters and audience?

Without Europe much of the touring we do would be gone. Each country is different of course but collectively there is a strong culture for support of the arts. I only have good things to say as it is a blessing that there are promoters, club owners, jazz societies, and audience that are even interested in hearing the odd/weird music that we play. In terms of musicians, I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing with European musicians. Some, like Jochen Rueckert and Jorge Rossy, are New Yorkers at this point as they have lived there for so long. Others are back and forth between US and Europe. Others less so. My point is that the European scene has gradations of proximity (close to far away) to the US in terms of sound/way of playing/compositions etc. All of it is of interest as each country incorporates it’s culture into an American art form.

An example: playing with Enrico Rava was a special treat and learning experience. He has the experience and mastery that any American musician of his age and stature. The difference is that his perspective is uniquely European. He and his generation did play with Americans of their day and he did do the New York pilgrimage. Yet his music is something that could only be an outgrowth of Italian culture. On  my first gig with him we were playing in a large hall in Rome. No rehearsal. Some of the tunes had a succession of repetitive II/Vs with late romantic type melodies. Really beautiful! They looked on paper like standards. I thought, “Ok this seems familiar.” Yet the melody/chord/form relationship was something that could not and would not ever originate in America. A bit like a Twilight Zone moment! The music lead me through a door that I would not have recognized otherwise. A fantastic juxtaposition of free form, melody, structure and old world wisdom. It felt familiar and utterly foreign. Like an American tourist might have felt in the 50’s or 60’s. The best of the European scene feels like this. Culture is strong…it can seep through in ways we cannot explain.

5) What about the present day American scene? What are the pros and cons?

Pros: audience, promoters, Jazz societies etc. are all fantastic for the same reasons as their European counterparts.

Cons: the US and Canada are large countries where mid size to large cities are very far apart ( the opposite of European countries). The audience, promoters, venues are there but spread out thinly on a vast landscape. This makes it difficult if not unfeasible to tour on the same level as in Europe. That said, I think this beginning to change.

Historically speaking the flight to the suburbs, urban planning, dismantling of public transportation (by oil companies), and the rise of home entertainment have significantly hurt live performance in the US among other issues. This phenomenon is particular to the US more than Canada, I believe. I don’t see this nearly as much or at all in Europe or Asia. Many people still live in cities and go out for entertainment, museums, dining, etc. They have proximity to each other and their culture…and more of a collective mind set with common cultural goals, relatively speaking. The US is a country of immigrants that even to this day do not share as much in common as say most Italians.

We also have the legacy of a caste or “Apartheid” type of society. Why do I mention this? Up until the 1950’s Americans were either rural or lived in cities. We were in some ways more like you in Europe. We were in separate “ethnic” parts if town but we were together in some shape or form within walking or trolley/subway distance to the nearest show. After World War ll their was a “white flight” to the suburbs…cities centers began a slow decline. Urban planning beginning in the 60’s and 70’s devastated many African American communities and city centers in general. Venues where a lot of Black entertainers including Jazz musicians performed, all racial groups attended.

By the the end of the 70’s much the infrastructure (venues, promoters, record companies) that maintained this Black entertainment culture (music, comedy, theater, etc.) was mostly dismantled. Meanwhile home entertainment demand rose as people in suburbs needed entertainment of some kind. Live entertainment of all types began a slow decline relegated only to the largest cities in the US (which are often 1600 kilometers apart or more).

Pre 1975-80 a North American musician could make a living in his/her city of residence and tour the US/Canada without ever going to Europe or Asia. Of course, musicians did travel to Europe and Asia but it was not a necessity. Today this is not the case although I think the tide is turning back to a pre 1980’s model. Why? There is a new relatively young leisure class that is moving back into cities from the suburbs all over the US and Canada. This means gentrification in cities all over North America with pros and cons in it’s own right. That said what it means for Jazz is that these people want things to do such entertainment, dining, recreation etc…which is creating a rise in venues to play. The most common example is venues like SF Jazz, Lincoln Center, Jazz St Louis, and others of a similar model.

Musically the scene is vibrant and exciting. Musicians young to old are making the music survive and thrive.

James Busby gave me an 1968 Downbeat that contained interviews with two of my favorites, Paul Bley and Hampton Hawes.

Bley on Bird:

Bley on Bird


Hamp on bassists and drummer

There was even a chart to Annette Peacock’s “Blood.” Damn. 1968!

Annette Blood

RIP Hamiet Bluiett. One of my all-time favorite tracks is “R&B” by the World Saxophone Quartet on Steppin’Sam Newsome offers a valuable anecdote.


Thomas Morgan and Eric McPherson finding the beat


Miranda Cuckson after rehearsal in Brooklyn


Justin Neely painted while Miranda and I played; the fabulous result is called “Everything That Was”


with Mark Morris


Pepperland band: Clinton Curtis, Colin Fowler, Jacob Garchik, Vinnie Sperrazza, Rob Schwimmer, Sam Newsome

(Rachel Howard review of Pepperland in Berklee for SF Chronicle Datebook.)