Thus Endeth Jazz

At times it becomes extremely hard to believe in the future of the music I love best.

Jordan Peele voices the Ghost of Duke Ellington in Big Mouth:


(Duke’s entrance is 34 seconds in.)

It’s all pretty offensive in a simian sort of way, but the terrible scatting/music cue really pushes all my buttons. If I were in charge of Ellington’s estate I’d be looking for a way to block this character.

(Get Out is a masterpiece, but: C’mon, Peele! You don’t have to like jazz, but you don’t have to hurt it, either.)

{Related DTM: Reverential Gesture. Related New Yorker Culture Desk: Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, and One Night in New York City.]




New Year: Do the Gig


Musée Mécanique, SF wharf

In 2018, I’ll be launching a new site, Do the G!g, which will anthologize and review NYC jazz. If you are interested in hearing more about it — especially if you are a musician who wants to try out writing about music — sign up for Floyd Camembert Reports, I’ll be emailing a full description of the site and the job openings by the end of the week.

[longer pitch follows]

After 15 years of historically-focused output at Do the Math, it is time to branch out and attempt to help serve the current New York City jazz community. Basic coverage of the scene is at a dismal low while there are more excellent musicians than ever.

Do the G!g (a sister site run off the same WordPress account as Do the Math) will offer a splash page of listings. Suddenly free on a Wednesday night? Do the G!g will tell you where to go.

There will also be short and content-heavy reviews of performances written by a diverse group of young musicians committed to parsing the wildly eclectic current jazz scene. Reviews will be edited and sponsored by Ethan Iverson, but all judgments will be the writer’s own.

The reviews are not planned to be on the harsh “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” model. Simply reporting the repertoire and personnel is already valuable. Past that, reviewers for DTG will be quickly attempting to describe the content of the music. There’s so much going on, so many genres, so many references. Who is doing what and why?

Herbie Nichols on Thelonious Monk

What a thrill! Rob van der Bliek, the author of the Thelonious Monk Reader, reached out after reading the big DTM overview and sent me the scarce 1946 article by Herbie Nichols for the Afro-American periodical Rhythm.

Here’s the scoop on the elusive Nichols piece on Monk from 1946: At the time I was gathering and putting together the material for The Thelonious Monk Reader in the late 1990s, there was confusion about Nichols’ piece, since he was quoted as saying in A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives in the Bebop Business that he wrote the profile for the Music Dial in 1946. I was at the Institute for Jazz Studies perusing their files and came across a photocopy of a column Nichols had written in 1944 for the Music Dial, in which he briefly mentions Monk as someone to watch out for, and after consulting with a number of people and having searched the remaining issues of the Music Dial, concluded that this was what he was referring to. Not so … As it turns out, years later both Mark Miller, who was working on a biography on Nichols, and Robin Kelley, who was working on his Monk biography, unearthed the 1946 article, but as it turned out it had been published in a magazine called Rhythm.

Amazing. I am overdue to read Mark Miller’s Herbie Nichols book and this glorious find is just the right push for me to do so. The book is available here.

nicholsMonk 1nicholsMonk 2nicholsMonk 3

The Most Bizarre of Operas

The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès proves that there is still room to shock, perplex, and provoke in the Grand tradition. I had been speculating that Adès was getting more and more “accessible” and “tonal” over the years, but his latest work is as brutally abstract as anything from him that I’ve heard.

The production has gotten excellent detailed reviews by Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times and Alex Ross in the New Yorker, 

As every plot idea is a trope from fantastical fiction, The Exterminating Angel almost feels like a science-fiction opera. I loved the set. Hildegard Bechtler’s superb looming “Arc De Triomphe” put me in mind of the portal from the classic Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Met Orchestra percussionist Jason Haaheim snuck us in to the pit at intermission.

The ondes Martenot played by Cynthia Millar is a key element in the score (and another science fiction reference):


Sam Budish slams the door:


More percussion.


I said, “More percussion!” (Is this the only Grand Opera with roto toms?)


My date, Rob Schwimmer, next to the big bells (also used in Tosca)


Jason plays the tympani.


The following note might seem a rather unfriendly item to start a score with, but Adès is a genius, so these radical meters (a way to notate nested partial triplets without changing tempo) are apparently acceptable — especially since Adès can sing, play, and conduct it all himself.


A moment of Jason’s tympani score with those meters in action. (Hard to sight-read!)


Very special thanks to Jason Haaheim.

Monk in Durham in NY Times

Good news! From Aaron Greenwald’s FB: “NYT’s Giovanni Russonello has a lengthy review of Duke Performances’ MONK@100, our celebration of Thelonious Monk’s centenary. Russonello has written a smart piece of criticism w/ exceptional photos by Justin Cook. I’m hugely proud of the festival & deeply indebted to all of the folks who worked tirelessly to pull it together.”

Read article.

Monk@Durham Day 10


Ravi Coltrane guesting with David Williams, Victor Lewis, and me.

Set 1

Played Twice
Bemsha Swing
Ask Me Now
Wee See
Monk’s Mood

Set 2

Monk’s Dream
Ugly Beauty
Criss Cross
Monk’s Mood

After the concert a woman I didn’t know came up to me and said, “I’m so glad I got to hear ‘Criss Cross’ three times! I love that piece!” Then vocalist Kate McGarry said almost the same thing, “Great to hear ‘Criss Cross!’ I learned so much from that album!”  Hard to imagine these sentences occurring anywhere else but at MONK@100….

Ravi and I played “Monk’s Mood” duo in both sets. We sort of emulated the version that Monk did with John Coltrane. After a solo piano statement there are two unexpected cadenza chords, B dominant and B-flat dominant, before the tenor and piano continue more or less in unison. In my opinion the studio recording is a window into the process of Monk’s music, where he played his songs over and over and Coltrane caught as many notes as he could.

I was sort of amazed that both Melissa Aldana and Ravi wanted to play “Skippy.” Damn, that’s a hard tune. However, both really sounded great on it. I’m coming up with a kind of personal take as well. Possible think piece: “Skippy: A jazz standard for the 21st century?”

Ravi played soprano on “Bemsha Swing” and “Rhythm-a-ning,” that was a nice move and perhaps brought a little of Mr. Steve Lacy into the room. If MONK@100 were continuing another week, it would make sense to do a night of compositions by Monk’s best students: Lacy, Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Paul Motian, Roswell Rudd, Geri Allen….

But MONK@100 is done, and it was a huge success. Thank you to all, especially Aaron Greenwald (who created the project) and Tim Walter (who gave us Durham Fruit and Produce to work with).


Drummer Sarah Gooch loaned Victor some killing cymbals.


There may be a film of what happened here. If so, that will be thanks to Matt Durning.


My “taking candid photos” game was down, I didn’t even get a group shot of tonight’s quartet. But here’s Victor and Ravi talking about Geri Allen. (The last time they played together was with Geri at the Vanguard.)


Finally, a signal boost of the three big Monk pieces I published the week before the Durham festivities. (And scroll back to see quick overviews of what we did each day.)

Think of Monk (at the New Yorker Culture Desk)

Primary and Secondary Documents (this is the big one)

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Not Judged (auditioning tapes for the Monk Competition)