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.)

The Long Goodbye

RIP Jack Sheldon, an important jazz and studio musician for at least half a century. Some people know his pleasing West Coast trumpet, others know his vocals for Schoolhouse Rock.

In my personal pantheon, Sheldon is there simply for his great vocal on “The Long Goodbye” from the John Williams soundtrack to the Robert Altman movie.

Williams is now omnipresent for Star Wars and many other orchestral scores in the grand Hollywood tradition of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner. However, Williams began as a jazz pianist before evolving into a somewhat experimental composer for film. The Long Goodbye is an early peak for Williams: indeed, for my money, this remains his best score (at least of the ones I’ve heard). It’s hard to write a good “standard,” and Williams knocked it out of the park with “The Long Goodbye.”

I wrote in my survey of all the Raymond Chandler adaptations, “Marlowe’s Music”:

John Williams’s monothematic score has nothing to do with his later blockbuster work for George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg. Again, I suspect the “theme on the car radio” moment in Marlowe is an influence. Other possible inspirations: Laura has one piece by David Raskin throughout. For Beat the Devil, Franco Mannino put the same melody on the ship’s player piano and in the square’s military band as well in his non-diegetic music. The score to The Third Man is mostly Anton Karas’s famous zither tune. 

There must be other examples, but surely The Long Goodbye is the most extreme use of one tune in varied fashion for the entire film.

At the very top of Long Goodbye we hear a bit of an old-timey rendition of “Hooray for Hollywood” before fading into Marlowe being woken up by his cat. The music for his apartment is a Dave Grusin’s jazzy trio playing an ornamented version of Williams’s lovely ballad “The Long Goodbye.” This seems non-diegetic, but Marlowe also hums a few snatches. We cut to a title card and Jack Sheldon croons Johnny Mercer’s lyrics as Terry Lennox interacts with a guard initiating Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. (Mercer also wrote the lyrics to “Hooray for Hollywood.”) Back to Gould, and the soundtrack is a straight female version. 

Continuing on here’s a partial list of all the different versions, both diegetic and non-diegetic: Muzak in the supermarket — Spanish guitar when entering Tijuana — Entertainer in bar sings and fumbles out-of-tune upright piano (saying, “I’ve got to learn this damn thing”) — Doorbell to Wade residence in Malibu Colony — Trumpet with strings for Eileen Wade — Sitar music for yoga neighbors — Marching band in funeral procession — Rock vamp at Wade party — Informally sung by gangster Marty Augustine — Hummed by Eileen Wade in car while Marlowe is chasing on foot — Short hallucinatory orchestra + guitar cue after final murder…

Finally, in perhaps a nod to the end of The Third Man, Marlowe improvises some silly harmonica (sounds like Karas’s zither?) when walking into the distance. The harmonica blends into a non-diegetic full rendition of old-time “Hooray for Hollywood.”

It’s an impressive movie with an impressive score. The Long Goodbye is also the most interesting Marlowe movie for film students, who these days delight in unpacking the metatextual themes.

Jack Sheldon absolutely sells the beautiful Mercer lyric in his vocal performance. On the full take on the soundtrack (we only hear the opening chorus in the movie), there’s a trumpet solo, that must be Sheldon as well, and I believe that is still Dave Grusin playing the accompanying suave jazz piano. (I’ve never seen a personnel listing for the bass and drums.) (UPDATE: Franco Vailati tells me that according to David Meeker’s Jazz on the Screen, the rhythm section is Carol Kaye and Nick Ceroli.)

Jacob Garchik sent along something else of Sheldon, an item centered on one of Chandler’s greatest admirers, Ian Fleming. This very early (1965) parody of James Bond begins with Sheldon reciting the novel Goldfinger verbatim before heading into fantasy, dropping some names like “Red Norvo” along the way. Those were the days…

 

Last Post of the Year

Nice to see the NYE gig tomorrow listed in the New York Times:

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Marcy’s husband Rob took a shot of the two us the last time I played at Zinc with Tootie Heath:

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That same night Tony Creamer got a nice candid of Tootie and I with Dylan Reis playing bass:

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Of the many think pieces I read this past year, one really stood out, The Decade Comic Book Nerds Became Our Cultural Overlords, by Alex Pappademas. The article is about film, but there are ways in which his devastating analysis of social media group-think transfers to everything else.

Pappademas nails it in his article, but that doesn’t mean 2019 wasn’t a great year for movies. Indeed, the three pictures I had high hopes for all delivered: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman, and Knives Out.

The Irishman is a grand sendoff, a full-throated “official closing statement” on a style and a generation. More unexpected was the mysterious Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I loved so much that I went back to see it again a week later. Both of these huge, slow-moving epics are more complex than their critics think. Both will stand the test of time.

Early on in the Bad Plus years, James Diers told me to watch Brick, the first film by Rian Johnson, which places a hardboiled crime story inside the convoluted high school milieu of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Knives Out is Johnson’s long-delayed follow-up to Brick. While Brick draws on Dashiell Hammett, Knives Out draws on Agatha Christie. Both have good scores by brother Aaron Johnson.

Knives Out didn’t have anything to do with high school, but it did remind me of Whedon’s amusing Much Ado About Nothing. After either the Avengers or Star Wars, the directors do a smaller scale passion project, perhaps to keep their head in a more creative game.

While the Scorsese and Tarantino movies are almost a dismissal of modernity, Johnson creates magic from the most timely of concerns. Again, a great year for movies, at least for the kind of movies I like.

This past year I continued teaching at NEC. (All I really want to do is sit around and talk about jazz, so they almost don’t need to pay me for hanging out with some of the upcoming best and brightest.)  The ECM disc Common Practice with Tom Harrell, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson came out in October. Commissions, tours, recordings, and special projects are in place for 2020. I am very lucky to do what I do….

Selected gigs from the last 12 months:

January

12 Billy Hart Quartet with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street at Winter Jazz Fest

29 — Feb 3 Billy Hart Quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street at Village Vanguard

February

8–10 MMDG Pepperland in Boston

28 “Bud Powell in the 21st Century” at NEC

March

8-9 MMDG Pepperland at Krannert Center

10 chamber music with Derek Bermel and members of Seattle Symphony

14-16 Dance Heginbotham “Easy Win” Philadelphia

18 MMDG “Pepperland” UK tour begins

April

(all month) MMDG “Pepperland” UK tour

May

3-4 trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster at Zinc Bar

8-11 MMDG Pepperland at BAM

17 quartet with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson at Jazz Gallery

28 trio with Robert Hurst and Nate Wynn at Cliff Bells, Detroit

June

1-8 duo tour with Mark Turner, including Healdsburg and Spoleto

14-15 Jazz te Gast festival in Holland, a collaboration with Marike van Dijk and many excellent European musicians; premiere of my orchestral piece, “Solve for X”

Lo-fi video of dress rehearsal of “Solve for X”, with Reinout Douma conducting the Noordpool Orchestra:

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(email me if you want the full score)

20–22 MMDG Pepperland at ADF

25-29 Village Vanguard, either duo with Mark Turner or quartet with Tom Harrell, Ben Street, Eric McPherson

July

19 Brahms G major violin sonata with Johnny Gandelsman, premiere of “Tiny Trio” with Johnny and Michael Nicolas, Bay Chamber Concerts, Maine

22-27 Langnau workshop, including duo gig with Ron Carter

August

2 Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner and Joe Martin at Newport (afternoon); Jon Batiste extravaganza at Newport (evening)

19-24 Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner and Joe Martin, Beijing and Tokyo, also one night of duo with Mark Turner in Tokyo

30-31 trio with Larry Grenadier and Al Foster at Mezzrow

September

10-21 trio with Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy European tour

October

15-17 quartet with Tom Harrell, Eric McPherson, and Ben Street in Boston, NYC, and Philly

18 two solo pieces as part of gala tribute to Cecil Taylor at NEC

22-27 Billy Hart Quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street at Village Vanguard

November

1-2 one piece duo with Mark Turner as part of gala ECM at 50 at JALC

13-16 MMDG Pepperland at the Kennedy Center

19-27 duo with Mark Turner European tour

December 

6 solo piano set at Spectrum, Brooklyn

13-14 trio with Dylan Reis and Tootie Heath at Zinc Bar

Memories 2019:

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with Tom Harrell (photo by Angela Harrell)

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dessert with Carla Bley (photo by Ruth Cameron)

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Al Foster and Ron Carter

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Pepperland UK: Yegor Shevtsov, Brian Krock, Vinnie Sperrazza, Clinton Curtis, me, Johan Henkens, Rob Schwimmer (photo by Jacob Garchik, who should really be in the photo)

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Barry Harris, final set of his September week at the Vanguard

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Sarah Deming at Thanksgiving (photo by Marcy Harriell)

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Mark Turner, me, Sarah Deming, Ben Street in Vanguard kitchen (photo by John Rogers)

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selfie with Craig Taborn at ECM event

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the squad helps me practice

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between Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard (photographer unknown)

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I bought my brother Spencer a lawn tractor

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met up with some old pals in Birmingham (photo by Rob Schwimmer)

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Bertha Hope and Vernita Ramsey at Van Gelder studios

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Larry Grenadier and Al Foster

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Mark Turner and Joe Martin

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On my wife’s side of the family, Xmas 2019: Bernice (97) had Donna, who had Nikki, who had Tyler, who had David (5)

Bonus track: Composer Alvin Singleton (DTM interview) sent me this great photo of Singleton taking his archives to Columbia University.

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Good-bye 2019, and hello, 2020!