The Scene Changes

George Coleman turned 87 on Tuesday; last night at the Vanguard he tore through rhythm changes at the Max Roach tempo. The band was Peter Bernstein’s fine group with Peter Washington and Joe Farnsworth. Mr. Coleman is with Bernstein one more night this week, tonight.

Charles McPherson is on tour! Starting tonight he’s at Dizzy’s in NYC. Recently he published valuable memories of Barry Harris (as told to Michael West) in JazzTimes.

More thoughts about the late Ron Miles soon. For now, I admire this post by Sam Newsome.

I was pleased to contribute to The Threepenny Review symposium on Jazz, Blues, and Soul. (Other contributors, found in the hard copy, include Greil Marcus, Geoff Dyer and Akira Tana.) My comment can perhaps be taken lightly — but also I am deadly serious.

Contemporary Music Review, Volume 40, Issue 2-3 is “Playing (with) Babbitt in the 21st Century.” My essay is on the expected topic, “Babbitt Jazzed: The Bad Plus’s Jazz Trio Arrangement of Semi-Simple Variations.” A lot of other interesting names are present in the table of contents! It’s an honor to be included in this celebratory publication.

“Floris Nico Bunink, Restless Bopper Advised by Bill Evans” by Werner Herbers.


Evans offers a long set of instructions on how to get into sight-reading and classical repertoire. This is quite the find.

Last week I went out to hear the cats, and apparently I have become that dubious person who barges into the dressing room after the set to take photos of the band for their social media.

Melissa Aldana w. Sullivan Fortner, Kush Abadey, Pablo Menares (not pictured, Lage Lund)

Tyshawn Sorey/Aaron Diehl (not pictured, Russell Hall and Greg Osby)

Aldana’s set was thoughtful and elliptical, tunes drawn from the new record, she’s a major player. Abadey might be my new fav drummer.

Less expected were the totally deconstructed standards from Tyshawn and company. The ringer is Aaron, who plays romantic piano gestures (double octaves, blazing chromatic thirds) in the context of high modernism. A fresh approach! Great to hear Osby too, a true master.

The context reminded me a bit of hearing Greg Osby with Paul Motian and Masabumi Kikuchi. Some of the best photos of Motian and Kikuchi were taken by their friend, John Rogers, who has a new book out, Old and New Dreams.

Speaking of Aaron Diehl: on November 17, 2020, I live-tweeted his solo piano concert at the 92nd St. Y. This was one of the very best streams I watched during the pandemic.

I’d love to have a recording of Aaron playing this set. For now, here’s the tweet thread as a more permanent archive:

Live tweeting Aaron Diehl —All the works tonight at the 92nd Y are by Afro-American composers. AD will play some pieces exactly “as is,” others will played as jazz. AD is one of the few pianists (ever, in all piano history) to have the capabilities to pull this off.

First suite SEVEN TRACERIES is by William Grant Still, the dean of black composers in America. AD plays them straight. These preludes are modest and attractive, moderately contemporary harmonic language, successful piano writing, a good opener

After the Still is done (played perfectly), AD dances on the bench for a second, getting ready to groove

Roland Hanna, CENTURY RAG. This is a true anomaly, a fully notated rag written by great modern jazz pianist. AD plays with a straight-eighth, just like Hanna’s record. Enjoyable piece — amusing chromatic harmonies that Joplin would have never used — makes me think of Art Deco.

WHOA! AD lets the dogs out and does some fierce blowing on the Hanna! Yeah baby

Two stride pieces. First a tone poem by Willie the Lion Smith, “Fading Star.”

It’s interesting to hear a work by the Lion on a concert grand played by a virtuoso pianist. This almost never happens, the instruments and performers are usually rougher around the edges. Brings out something else in the Lion’s music…

I’m speechless at the performance of James P. Johnson’s “Keep Off the Grass.” Come ON! I wish James P. could have heard that.

AD plays it his own way. I’ve worked on “Keep Off the Grass” myself and know every note — AD does his own thing. The left is just a hair faster than the right. So swinging

Now for a new piece by Wynton Guess, “J-Walking,” commissioned by the ACO. Guess writes: “I have known Aaron since I was a child and I was always amazed at his abilities, especially being one of the only people I knew at the time that could play ragtime and stride piano like my hero Marcus “The J Master” Roberts. The piece is based around this relationship we both shared to the stride piano greats like James P. Johnson and Jaki Byard.”

“J-Walking” begins with an amusing left hand solo like walking bass, then an eclectic mix of modernism and stride. I’ve told Aaron he should play more modernist and atonal music 😂, glad to hear him play the Guess, it’s a good vibe (Update, 2022 — hear him with Tyshawn improvising like Masabumi Kikuchi meets Ahmad Jamal holy shit)

Next up, Ellington’s NEW WORLD A COMIN.’ Fun fact: the “concerto” version of NEW WORLD A COMIN’ was premiered by Don Shirley (GREEN BOOK).

Shirley had chops but his jazz feel wasn’t the deepest. AD can get in there in a different kind of way. Ellington’s large-scale works require a penetrating interpreter for complete success. This piece is perfect for AD

To close, JUBA DANCE by R. Nathaniel Dett! This piece used to be very popular, it did a lot to put a basic kind of “black” aesthetic in American homes. Percy Grainger recorded it. Of course AD plays it perfectly! Bravo! Great concert!