Flowers for Albert

A nice surprise awaited me the other morning when finishing up the latest Bernie book by Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. Good grief, I think I attained nirvana for a few moments there. Thanks Larry!

I was already enamored of the book, for Block has such a good time with the fantastical conceit of an alternative world. Bernie fans don’t worry: It’s a Bernie book through and through.

A picture I took of Lawrence Block and Ron Carter together is on my “Crimes of the Century” page.

On Monday Aaron Diehl and I hosted a Vinyl Listening Party at Jazz Gallery. Thanks to Dan Levy for sending along the set list. 

Ethan Iverson: Stanley Turrentine “I Want a Little Girl” from Blue Hour

Elvin Jones “This Love of Mine” from Dear John C.

Aaron Diehl: Hank Jones and John Lewis ”Stompin’ at the Savoy” from An Evening with Two Grand Pianos 

Modern Jazz Quartet “Lonely Woman” from Lonely Woman

EI: Hank Jones “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Bag of Rags” from This is Ragtime Now!

AD: Roland Hanna “Prelude No. 7 in a Minor (El Toro and the Geisha)” from Preludes

EI: Eubie Blake “Love Will Find a Way” and “Dicty’s on 7th Avenue” from Volume 1 Featuring Ivan Harold Browning

AD: Lucky Thompson “Sun Out” from I Offer You

EI: Oliver Lake Gallery w. Geri Allen and Geri Allen The Printmakers (both discussed but didn’t play)

Louis Jordan “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” from The Best Of Louis Jordan

AD: Marta Sánchez “The Unconquered Vulnerable Areas” from SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)

Both Aaron and I have heard a lot of music, but neither of us was too familiar with many of each other’s choices. Very interesting set! 

I started with two classic (but very different-sounding) Van Gelder items because that canon remains a good reason to have a turntable. Hank Jones’s original composition “Bag of Rags” is totally awesome and totally unknown. Eubie Blake is back in the news. Amazingly enough, one of the people credited on the first release of EBM (Eubie Blake Music) is Hank O’Neal, and Mr. O’Neal was in the audience! I had two Geri Allen albums on hand because Allen is almost the patron saint of the Jazz Gallery, for a whole roster of poll-winning pianists who regularly play at the club are deeply influenced by Allen. The tremendous Lake LP is hard to find, I wish the Gramavision catalog would be reissued. I closed with some famous rhythm and blues by Louis Jordan.

Part of my commentary was simply about metadata. In the liner insert of The Printmakers (her first album), Allen thanks about 150 people, a worthy starting point for an Allen biographer. The reissue twofers of the ‘70s have unique info not found anywhere else, for example these Louis Jordan liner notes by Dave Dexter Jr., who knew Jordan personally and even penned the lyrics to one of the hits. Dexter’s Wikipedia page is exceptional: Count Basie composed “Diggin’ for Dex” as a tribute while hardcore Beatles fans curse his name.

Aaron’s selection of wonderful John Lewis and Roland Hanna was only to be expected, for Aaron has curated programs featuring their work. However the Lucky Thompson album was a surprise, Thompson killing it on soprano sax with Cedar Walton killing it on Fender Rhodes. I gotta get that. Aaron is also conscious of community, and brought the lone new LP to the session, Marta Sánchez’s latest award-winning disc. 

That was an especially nice touch, for I had just seen Marta the previous night at the Vanguard as part of the David Murray Quartet with Luke Stewart and Kassa Overall.

I really enjoyed the Murray set. It felt like a throwback to pre-Wynton ‘70s and ‘80s jazz, with lunatic blowing over sweet tunes. Timely and fresh. I hope this band becomes a steady item, for it felt like an organic unit and was a great showcase for all four members. 

I’ve known Marta as a friend for a long time (I’ve written liner notes to two of her albums) and it was a thrill to see her at the Vanguard— the first of many such occasions I am sure.

Kinda cool article at NPR about “swing.” This kind of “unhip” approach to the matter will help orchestral players etc. Fresh sounds await.

The clickbait headline “At last, physicists unravel a jazz mystery” annoys cognoscenti but it’s definitely going to come in handy when I’m standing in front of an orchestra. (Me, begging: “You gotta come in later. Don’t be ahead, be behind. I’m serious! To prove it, scientists in Germany analyzed 450 records on a computer!”)

Black music is also a science, although for decades they kept mum about how it worked, at least to the general public. Surely Elvin Jones or J Dilla or whoever could look at this topic from an intellectual or mathematical point of view. 

Funny to think of J.S. Bach glaring at a modern species counterpoint book, grumbling under his breath, “Das ist völlig falsch! Es ist keine Mathematik! Du spürst es einfach!”

(“This is totally wrong! It’s not math! You just feel it!”)

Tom Harrell told me Phil Woods said that Louis Armstrong was the first to play behind the beat on record. Neither Tom or I know if that’s precisely true, but Woods’s comment is certainly worth considering. Pops: The Father. 

Both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras got more advanced at “laying back” over the decades. Ellington started earlier, and some of his first records are somewhat “ricky-tick.” Later on Duke imitated Basie with the horns hanging behind the rhythm section. That shift is perhaps one reason we admire the “Blanton/Webster” band so much, for at that point the cats in New York had time to hear and digest the records of the Kansas City crew with Basie and Lester Young. 

Steve Little drummed for Ellington in the ‘60s, and Steve told me Ellington said to him, “Don’t let the horns drag you down!” The “rub” is important. 

Later Basie, the “New Testament” stuff, has some of the widest beat around, especially live. Impossibly swinging. I was checking out Basie’s 1966 session Live at the Sands (Before Frank) recently. Looking it up just now, I see that this album has some mediocre reviews. WHAT. Live at the Sands (Before Frank) is the goddamn truth! Lockjaw Davis on the opening “Splanky?” God almighty. 

If the German physicists alert a few pairs of whitebread ears to the concept of laying back, then I’m all for the German physicists!

Busy Season

Birdland: Tonight through Saturday, two sets a night, the Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street, and myself. Sets are at 7 and 9:30 tonight through Thursday, 8:30 and 10:30 on Friday-Saturday.

Just for fun, one of my better photos, of Mark and Billy somewhere in an ancient basement underneath a club in Sardinia, fall 2021:

On Monday, January 23, I’ll be co-hosting a Vinyl Listening Party with Aaron Diehl at the Jazz Gallery. Aaron is a friend, but I also intensely admire his knowledge of the music. His recent “Before and After” in JazzTimes is simply wonderful in every way. My contribution as DJ will include platters featuring music by Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Oliver Lake, Stanley Turrentine, Geri Allen, Elvin Jones, and Louis Jordan. 

I’ll be back at the Jazz Gallery on February 3 and 4. I’m turning 50 on February 11, and these gigs are my birthday celebration. 

On Feb 3, I’ll be playing trio with Buster Williams and Billy Hart. (In other words, this night is a present to myself.) 

On Feb 4, I have put together a septet of the jazz cats who play with me on the road with Mark Morris in either Pepperland or The Look of Love: Jonathan Finlayson, Sam Newsome, Jacob Garchik, Rob Schwimmer, Simón Willson, and Vinnie Sperrazza. The two sets will proceed something like this: premiere of new “Prelude and Fugue” for piano, “‘Round Midnight” with Rob on theremin, a hearty serving of Iverson themes arranged for this one-off septet, concluding with sensational dancer Reggie Parker starring in his Benny Golson ballet, “Along Came Betty.” 

January 27, 2023 Richmond, VA The Look of Love Modlin Center for the Arts

February 7, 2023 Santa Fe, NM Pepperland Performance Santa Fe 

February 11, 2023 Manassas, VA Pepperland Hylton Presents Series 

February 17-19, 2023 Berkeley, CA The Look of Love Cal Performances

Victor Lewis

I just contributed to the fundraiser for the great drummer Victor Lewis, who is “suffering from a neurological issue that has lost him the use of his legs…We are hoping to see a recovery but it may take as long as one year.”

Lewis can play any genre of music with style and grace. More or less off the top my head, a few tracks and albums that made an impression over the years:

The hook-up with Kenny Barron is very strong. Barron is one of the most consistent workers in the history of the music, by definition all of his records are good, but Live at Fat Tuesdays has my vote as one of Barron’s very best, a scorching 1988 session with Eddie Henderson, John Stubblefield, Cecil McBee, and Victor Lewis. The opening “There Is No Greater Love” is a perfect example of the way this group of peers saw the tradition. Lewis is creative, interactive and impossibly swinging. I particularly dig Stubblefield’s gloss on a kind of Wayne Shorter smear. Later on that night, the uptempo “Lunacy” is pure modal burn, with fabulous Lewis throughout including a mesmerizing drum solo. 

Lewis mastered this forthright style when powering various Woody Shaw groups in the ‘70s. Shaw’s Stepping Stones at the Village Vanguard is exactly a decade earlier than Barron at Fat Tuesdays and features long workouts on “Solar,” “Green Dolphin Street,” and several beautiful Shaw originals. New York City! One wonders just how many nights Lewis has lit up a Manhattan bandstand during the last 45 years…

Barron, Rufus Reid, and Lewis made a solid trio album, The Moment. Of particular note in terms of a drum performance is a cover of Sting’s “Fragile,” where Lewis gives a serious glow of pop elegance to a jazz trio. This is not easy to do! Most straight ahead masters are not that interested in “rock” or “pop” drumming but Victor Lewis loves it all. Indeed, Lewis played a lot of great eighth note beats for Carla Bley, including at least one famous track, “Lawns” from Sextet, where Lewis’s spare backbeat becomes the still center of a long rumination by Larry Willis. (Lewis gave me a nice quote about Bley for my article at the New Yorker Culture Desk.)

Lewis is less known as an avant-gardist, but he’s dealing in the style on Oliver Lake’s early album Heavy Spirits, check out the fractured groove of “Owshet.” The record I know better is Current Set by Mark Helias. This wonderful 1987 date collects an unlikely group of musicians: Tim Berne, Herb Robertson, Greg Osby, Robin Eubanks, even Naná Vasconcelos on one track. Helias is a truly gifted composer for ensemble, penning memorable tunes and vibrant counterpoint. Lewis is right in there, stoking the fires and nailing every corner of the difficult arrangements. Helias has put this classic album on his Bandcamp page, a worthy purchase indeed. 

Another great composer associated with Lewis is George Cables. The George Cables Songbook is a relatively recent success (2016) with important participation by vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Lewis supplies beats from swing to funk to everything else. A bit earlier, Lewis joins Cables and Rufus Reid for the tribute disc Letter to Dexter. Try “Cheesecake” for the challenging “top of the middle” swing ride cymbal beat as well as it can be done. 

Lewis didn’t record that much with Dexter Gordon (usually the great Eddie Gladden was there with Cables and Reid) except for the big band LP Sophisticated Giant, a good example of flawless modern jazz drumming in a large ensemble context. I’ve never been quite convinced that Sophisticated Giant was a truly classic record, though…a better contender for “old school tenor legend can still record a spectacular disc in the studio” is Stan Getz’s Voyage (1986) with Kenny Barron, George Mraz, and Victor Lewis. Red Sullivan pulled my coat to this LP relatively recently. There’s definitely a glow around Voyage that puts it in the pantheon, especially on the ballads, where Lewis’s brushwork whispers the time in a sensuous manner.

We are back to Kenny Barron again (“Voyage” is even a Barron tune), a reminder that Barron and Lewis recorded “Dexterity” duo on What If? This fierce elaboration of a Charlie Parker theme is must-hear for fans of either the drummer or the pianist. 

Further listening includes music with Bobby Hutcherson, Charles McPherson, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer, Cedar Walton (The Composer is a great album!) and many others including Lewis’s own stellar bands. I need to know Lewis’s records as a leader better but right now I’m checking out Three Way Conversations, a charismatic 1996 session with Terrell Stafford, Seamus Blake, and Steve Wilson interacting with Lewis and Ed Howard. With no piano in the mix, Lewis’s drums sit front and center. Lewis is also a valued composer: the charming modal steeplechase “Hey, It’s Me You’re Talkin’ To” appears on several non-Lewis albums including Mark Turner’s first Warner Bros. disc.

The whole jazz community loves Victor Lewis and prays for a speedy recovery.

January Gigs

Amusing digital art by Julio Blazquez Cea:

Next week, Thursday January 12 at 9 PM, I’ll be in Vinnie Sperrazza’s trio with Michael Formanek at Bar Lunatico.

On Monday the 16th I’ll be playing an hour for the NYC Jazz Piano Festival at Klavierhaus presented by Jim Luce. Quite an amazing line-up of musicians! I’m concluding the festival with the last set at 7:30, where I’m planning to offer the NYC premiere of my through-composed Piano Sonata (and plenty of other things).

Then the Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street, and myself play Birdland January 17-21, five days, Tuesday through Saturday, two sets a night. 

Substack! It’s happening. Shuja Haider on magic, including a major new NYT profile of Juan Tamariz. Wow!

Vinnie Sperrazza on Pete La RocaPhillip WilsonFreddie Waits, and Ralph Peterson. What!

Lewis Porter on John ColtraneMiles Davis and Art Tatum. Unbelievable!

Hello, 2023

Just landed in Germany for a trio tour with Eva Klesse and Andreas Lang 

Wednesday, January 4th: Fat-Jazz Urban-Exchange, Hamburg 
Thursday: LOFT Köln 
Friday: Jazzclub Unterfahrt, München 
Saturday: Internationales Jazzfestival Münster

Last week in Orvieto was great! Sarah was along for the trip, which was an unusual treat. 

With Dianne Reeves, Dan Weiss, and Peter Washington:

I learned a lot from the great Ms. Reeves and her long-term associate Romero Lubambo. Amazing!!!! Thanks also to Peter and Dan for nailing the music. 

In addition to arrangements of the Bacharach music sung by Dianne, I wrote a pocket suite for big band, “Fanfare, Fable, and Fugue,” about 9 minutes in length. It’s not too hard and very fun to play. If anyone wants to consider programming it, drop a line and I’ll send the score (and audio when it arrives).

My scribblings from 2022 include these longer, edited essays:

On Knives Out and Glass Onion 

All-Star Television: Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Ralph Ellison, Martin Williams

For Peter Straub

Moritz Moszkowski (and de Schlözer)

How to be “Original” 

Three Albums by Abdul Wadud

Interview with Anthony Cox

The Genius of Jaki Byard

A “New” (meaning “Old”) Approach to Jazz Education

50 ECM tracks for ECM at 50 (2018)

Doodlin’ (for Ron Miles)

And the following quick pieces:

Get Carter by Mike Hodges, Ted Lewis, and Michael Caine

Argerich for Beethoven

Various tweets from a decade of tweeting (4 parts)

Mick Herron and Charles Cumming at Mysterious

Roger Dickerson, New Orleans Concerto

George Russell’s First Three Records as a Leader

Steve Lacy and Don Cherry, “Evidence”

Max Roach, “Members Don’t Git Weary,” Gary Bartz, “Another Earth,” and Charles Tolliver, “Paper Man”

Book of Kenny Wheeler

Vicissitudes: John Heard, Leroy Williams, and Grachan Moncur III RIP

The Second Piano Sonata of Poul Ruders

Lou Harrison’s octave bar

Andrew Hill: Shades and Strange Serenade

Lupu plays Brahms, Angelich plays Rachmaninoff

Birtwistle and Lupu, RIP

Charnett Moffett, RIP

photos of old cars

Ellen Raskin, Lee Server, Andrew Vachss

RIP Terry Teachout (with a guest contribution from Heather Sessler)

RIP Charles Brackeen and Mtume

Barry Altschul, You Can’t Name Your Own Tune

George Crumb, Ancient Voices of Children

Steve Lacy, The Window

Don Pullen, The Sixth Sense

Morton Gould in 1968

Also! guest posts:

James P. Johnson Gets Dressed by Matthew Guerrieri

New Cecil and the Old Crew in ’70s NYC: A Remembrance by Richard Scheinin

Stanley Crouch on Classic Cinema by Paul Devlin

What’s It All About?

New Transitional Technology, about my gigs next week, where I’ve arranged Burt Bacharach for Dianne Reeves and Umbria big band.

At this point my Substack is doing much better than this WordPress site in terms of views. (According to my stats, the recent Martha Argerich essay was looked at 5000 times on TT and 600 times on DTM.) So, no reason not to flip the emphasis. I’ll make sure the longer, more serious investigations are always archived here at DTM, but Transitional Technology is now the focus. Not everything will be cross-posted, so sign-up here if you don’t want to miss a word (sign up is free).

Argerich for Beethoven

It’s Beethoven’s birthday, so I thought I should listen a bit to the maestro. Ludwig van is great on his own terms and also as a sensational “gateway composer” for those new to the mysteries of European classical music.

Beethoven was prolific. There are 32 piano sonatas, all in the active repertoire, and all unique.

Haydn and Mozart also wrote dozens of sonatas, but there can be something a shade interchangeable in lesser efforts of those two masters. Even his slighter sonatas, Beethoven stamps each movement with a ruthless individuality. As part of his forthright “I am Beethoven!” style, he can turn corners caustically in a manner that perhaps recalls Thelonious Monk.

Several of the best Beethoven piano sonatas have evocative names: Pathétique, Moonlight, Appassionata, Tempest, Les Adieux. I hadn’t heard the Waldstein in a while, so I looked for a video. To my shock, I found an (audio only) bootleg of Martha Argerich playing the Waldstein in 1970.

In the 1990’s, when I immersed myself in European piano repertoire and performance, I collected the complete Argerich on CD — which wasn’t hard, for almost all of it was on DG and there just weren’t so many issues. However, in the age of plenty, now there are all sorts of previously unobtainable goodies on YouTube. As far as I know, Argerich has never recorded a Beethoven piano sonata for studio release, but there are at least two sonatas from live recitals online, the Waldstein and lo-fi video of Op. 10 no. 3 in D Major in 1977.

Argerich is universally considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all time. It is not just her unbelievable technique, but her gutsy and heartfelt way with a narrative. The performances never sound steely, fussy, or precious. She just goes.

Op. 10 no. 3

Presto. This is “late early” Ludwig van (he was 28), where many of the figurations are not far from a basic Cramer etude. The opening motto is almost foolish, and the fast passages are interrupted by hollow questions. I played this is a kid, and later on I looked for a really satisfactory recording. Of course, everyone I listened to was at least very good, but many seemed a bit too serious. Argerich’s fast tempo and nonchalant attitude is perfect. I actually burst into tears watching this first movement. (True story.)

Largo e mesto. A dark song, with florid passages that prefigure Chopin. Some pianists drag this one out, looking for more and more profundity, but Argerich simply follows the thread. While classical pianists are often praised for having a “delicate touch,” in reality long slow passages of soft sound require a lot of strength.

Menuetto: Allegro. Can you imagine when the only time you heard music was when you heard it performed in person? The smaller dance movements in major sonatas (from before the era of pre-recorded sound) were a way to keep the party going before closing time. Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti wrote their fast melodies for keyboard instruments with one dynamic and one articulation: “on” or “off.” Mozart and Haydn’s early pianos had more range. We don’t really know what Beethoven’s instrument was like, but it certainly didn’t sound like a modern Steinway. I’m sure the composer would be astounded and delighted by the range of color (meaning articulation, dynamics, and pedaling) unselfconsciously lavished this little dance tune (and trio section of forthright arpeggios) by Argerich.

Rondo: Allegro. A question — even a joke question — followed by an Italianate answer, before scurrying hither and thither. I suppose some “experts” might chastise Argerich for playing this “too fast,” but I love it. There’s no way to make this Rondo serious music, so why not delight in pure speed and precise articulation?


Allegro con brio. We are now in the thick of middle Beethoven, maybe my personal favorite era of the composer, where he expanded the language of Western music from top to bottom. The famous opening of the Waldstein may not seem like a big deal to 2022 ears, but at the time it was impossible. (Beethoven was 34.) The alternating of tonic major and tonic minor was also unconventional and — oh yes — the second theme of the C major sonata is in far-flung E major. Let’s go! Argerich is simply burning, of course, the aggressive left hand chords on A major have McCoy Tyner level of intensity. In the development section the sequences of arpeggios lash like a whip.

Introduzione: Adagio molto. In an era when there was no recorded sound, humans of all description tried to play their home piano. There was little hope an amateur practitioner would make it through the outer movements of the Waldstein, but the slow movement, a chromatically rich interlude, could be sight-read by just about anybody — at least until the transition, with all those 32nd notes… (I believe that Beethoven was the first composer to write so many 32nd notes.)

Rondo. Allegretto moderato — Prestissimo. At the time the finale would have been one of the hardest, flashiest piano pieces yet written. There is some debate about the octave glissandos late in the piece. Certainly Beethoven’s instrument had a lighter touch and therefore so they would have been a bit more playable. I saw Peter Serkin execute them perfectly after licking his thumbs first. In the comments on the YouTube, there is discussion about what Argerich does (and in the parallel place in the first Beethoven concerto). Then, there is the pedaling: the composer writes the rondo theme with the tonic and dominant under one pedal. Did he really mean this? How did it sound on Beethoven’s piano? (A related question exists with the famous Moonlight sonata.) Argerich, rarely shy with the pedal to begin with, keeps her foot down more than most. It’s gorgeous. In the interludes between rondo theme statements she absolutely rages and the coda — with its chain of impossible trills — is a burst of fearless sorcery.