Deep Song

In New York City we are currently in the middle of Winter Jazz Fest, a time when the greatest musicians near and far swarm the city and play short sets in dozens of venues. This year the explicit mandate is “Jazz and Social Justice,” a phrase that has become popular since the last presidential election.

If “Jazz and Social Justice” has a theme song, it surely would be John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” a wonderful track originally included on Live at Birdland. Wikipedia claims that the composition, “…Was written in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963, an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four African-American girls.”

Wikipedia is probably not wrong, but Coltrane wasn’t overwhelmingly explicit. In the original liner notes, Leroi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) writes:

“Bob Thiele asked Trane if the title ‘had any significance to today’s problems.’ I suppose he meant literally. Coltrane answered, ‘It represents, musically, something that I saw down there translated into music from inside me.’ Which is to say, Listen.”

Reportedly the other members of Coltrane’s quartet did not know the title or the meaning of “Alabama” at the time of tracking. The only other time Coltrane played the piece seems to have been on the television show Jazz Casual, an occasion where Coltrane did not address the audience.

However, the point of just how much Coltrane himself tied the bombing to his composition is mostly moot, for every single glorious note recorded together by Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones strikes a blow for social justice. The story behind “Alabama” is actually told in any Coltrane performance. Whether they read about “Alabama” or not, any John Coltrane fan has a chance to embrace multiplicity and learn about American history simply by listening to his records.

Coltrane was sympathetic to Baraka and other civil rights leaders; he also supported the best players of ‘60s avant-garde jazz, some of which was explicitly tethered to civil rights protest. In 1965 a concert benefiting the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School was held at New York’s Village Gate. Baraka was deeply involved in the concert and then wrote the notes for the resultant album, The New Wave In Jazz.

All the musicians performing at Gate that night were fabulous, but Coltrane was the biggest star, and only his picture is on the cover of the LP. Coltrane could have played anything he wanted, but he chose to introduce a marvelous rendition of “Nature Boy,” a standard by Eden Ahbez (a real oddball in the in the history of American music) made famous by Nat King Cole.

The lyric to “Nature Boy” concludes, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”



w. Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Ingrid Jensen, Lewis Nash

Happy New Year!

I’m about to play in a new configuration with Eva Klesse and Phil Donkin in Germany. I heard Eva at a clinic last year and thought she was really swinging. To my delight she said that seeing Tootie Heath with Ben Street and me at the Vanguard was an important moment in her development. I haven’t met Phil yet but I’m sure these three nights are going to be at a high level.

January 3 Loft (Cologne)
Jan. 4 naTo (Leipzig)
Jan. 5 Jazz Club Tonne (Dresden)

January 7 I’m back working in NYC,  playing the Blue Note in Francisco Mela’s group with Hery Paz and John Hébert. On January 10 it’s the late night set at Smalls with Aaron Seeber and Simón Willson.

The Billy Hart Quartet with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street and me is part of the ECM stage at Winter Jazzfest on January 12. (Mark Turner will resume tenor duties with the BHQ starting the 29th of January at the Village Vanguard.)

January 19 I’m with Andreas Toftemark’s group at the Red Room in the East Village. January 25 I’m duo piano with Lewis Porter in Lexington, MA.

Last year, the first “freelance” year after 17 years with the Bad Plus, was surprisingly busy. The big projects included MMDG Pepperland, Concerto for Scale, Ethan Iverson in London, Bud Powell in the 21st Century, and the ECM release Temporary Kings with Mark Turner. I also realized long term dreams of playing with Miranda Cuckson and Al Foster. Thanks to all who tuned in.

2018 gigs in review:


11 panel on jazz and race with Wynton Marsalis at JALC
12 panel (moderator only) with Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Harold Mabern at JALC
14 Pat Zimmerli “Clockworks” w. Chris Tordini and John Hollenbeck at APAP
19-20 w. Houston Person and Chris Smith at Mezzrow
30 w. Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver at Korzo


8-11 Billy Hart 4tet (BHQ) w. Ben Street and Mark Turner at Jazz Standard
17-18 Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) Pepperland Seattle
21 MMDG Pepperland Portland
22 solo Portland jazz fest
24 MMDG Pepperland Toronto
28 BHQ San Antonio


1 BHQ Outpost Albuquerque
2 BHQ Santa Fe
9-10 w. Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy at Duc du Lombards, Paris
12-15 w. Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy in Italy
28 Sophia Rosoff memorial concert


6 “Concerto to Scale” with American Composers Orchestra at Zankel Hall
14 “Clockworks” w Pat Zimmerli at Merkin Hall
17 w. Billy Harper, Buster Williams, Billy Hart at Jazz Standard

APRIL 20 – MAY 5 tour with Martin Speake 4tet w. Fred Thomas and James Madden


10 MMDG Pepperland Santa Barbara
12 MMDG Pepperland La Jolla
17 w. Josephine Bode and Dodó Kis at Moers Festival

MAY 29 — JUNE 3 BHQ with Chris Potter at Village Vanguard


15-16 w. Ron Carter at Mezzrow
21-22 MMDG Pepperland New Haven
24 w. Miranda Cuckson Spectrum
26 w. Dayna Stephens, Thomas Morgan, Eric McPherson at Korzo
28 – 30 MMDG Pepperland Dartmouth


2 Lorraine Gordon Memorial

4-25 BHQ featuring Josh Redman European tour
Getxo Jazz Festival
Noches del Botanico (Madrid)
Casa da Musica (Porto)
Funchal Jazz Festival
North Sea Jazz Festival
Umbria Jazz
Nice Jazz Festival
Montalcino Jazz & Wine Festival
Souillac en Jazz
New Morning (Paris)
Festival Jazz La Spezia
Langnau Jazz Nights
Dinant Jazz


7-8 w. Dayna Stephens, Thomas Morgan, Eric McPherson at Jazz Gallery

13-20 duo w. Mark Turner
New York

27-30 MMDG Pepperland Berkley


5 w. Miranda Cuckson Spectrum

10-18 duo w. Mark Turner
Santa Cruz
New Orleans

23-31 duo w. Mark Turner


10-11 Dance Heginbotham “Easy Win” Boston

16-18 “Ethan Iverson in London” Raising Hell with Henry Purcell, Ethan and the British Composers, Ethan’s Last Rent Party

23-25 BHQ w. Dayna Stephens In Mexico
Mexico City


5 The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable led by Nate Chinen w. Kira Grunenberg, Matthew Kassel, and John Murph
7 w. Christian McBride and Al Foster at Zinc Bar
18 w. Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson at Korzo
29-31 “Bud Powell in the 21st Century” w. Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and the Umbria Jazz Orchestra in Orvieto

Happy Holidaze

At the very end of the month I’m premiering my first suite of big band music, Bud Powell in the 21st Century, at the winter Umbria Jazz Festival. It’s a kind of “concerto” for a quintet of Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and myself plus local horn players. Sincere thanks to Carlo Pagnotta, Enzo Capua, and Manuele Morbidini for the gift of this project. Thanks also to Darcy James Argue, who gave me a quick lesson in orchestration and Finale wrangling, and Brian Krock, who did the editing.

On February 28th I’ll be doing the same program with an all-student orchestra at NEC in Boston.

As DTM readers know, Hall Overton is my main man, and in some ways I emulate Overton’s arrangements of Thelonious Monk for my big band version of Powell, at least to begin with. (Halfway through the charts I start letting my hands go a little bit.) After all, Bud’s music is so great, how can we improve it? There are three pieces I regard as the most significant piano improvisations in the idiom made when Powell was a leader in the studio, “Cherokee,” “Tempus Fugit,” and “Celia.” I’ll play the Bud solos on the first two and the saxes have Bud’s flawless chorus “Celia.” The core quintet will play more or less exact versions of the only original pieces Bud wrote for horns (the session with Fats Navarro and Sonny Rollins) interspersed with original music, and there is a glamorous french horn feature on “I’ll Keep Loving You.”

(DTM: Bud Powell Anthology.)

Tuesday December 18 at 10:30 I’m at Korzo with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson playing my tunes and a standard or two. 9 PM is Jim Carney with Ravi Coltrane, Chris Lightcap, and Mark Ferber.

Wednesday 19 I’m a sideman with Kyle Nasser’s group with Rich Perry, Pablo Menares, and Jeff Hirshfield at Cornelia St. Cafe.  Perry and Hirshfield are a little bit the “elders” here, I’ve always admired their playing and am really curious to see how this goes…

After this week Korzo is no longer going to be hosting Jim Carney’s Konceptions series; Cornelia St. is closing next month. We all pray that more venues open and flourish for the thousands of great jazz musicians in this city.

New pages this year on DTM:

Received Wisdom

McCoy Tyner’s Revolution

Chamber Music and Piano Practice

Glenn Gould plays William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons (and Sweelinck)

Interview with Cécile McLorin Salvant

Interview with Joanne Brackeen

Interview with Bill Frisell

Other places:

Writings at the Culture Desk of the New Yorker  (Wayne Shorter, Doctor Who, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Vince Guaraldi, Vicky Chow, Michael Gordon, Carla Bley)

NewMusicBox:  The Syncopated Stylings of Charles Wuorinen

“Artist’s Choice” ECM streaming playlist

I think this is it on DTM until January: I gotta practice “Tempus Fugit” and “Cherokee.” Thanks for reading and listening.

Drum Poetry

I saw a great set of Peter Bernstein, Doug Weiss, and Leon Parker at the Village Vanguard tonight. I was particularly curious to hear Parker, who had moved away from New York for a time and just came back a year or two ago. He was kind of everybody’s favorite enfant terrible when I first got to town in the early 90s before vanishing to Europe for over a decade.

Well, Parker hasn’t lost a step. I loved watching him play a set of standards with two other world-class musicians. It was a relaxed and beautiful vibe.

Parker doesn’t use a high-hat. Very odd. He also just has one cymbal, and usually plays with matched grip. Looking at his kit before hearing him play, it would be easy to suspect he simply isn’t a straight-ahead jazz drummer, but more of a world beat or European conceptual type.


It’s an idiosyncratic set up but Parker’s a real swinger of the old school. His beat is precise, essentially metronomic, but it also has the roundness of placement that separates the groovy from the stiff. Perhaps Ben Riley is a reference for that driving, singing ride cymbal of Leon Parker.

Nothing Parker plays is that unusual, really, but the orchestration of the kit is by necessity unique. Parker has also allowed in non-straight ahead influences: mallet techniques from concert percussion and groove music from the planet at large. He’s certainly got enough power to play with anybody but in this situation he was restrained and tasty. A lesson all the way around.

It’s really a blessing to have Parker back on the scene. Peter Bernstein and Doug Weiss both sounded just great as well. Tonight was a kind of trio tribute to Jim Hall, tomorrow they start with Sullivan Fortner for the rest of the week. Essential NYC jazz of the best kind.