Butch Thompson R.I.P.

I grew up with A Prairie Home Companion, where once in a while pianist Butch Thompson would get a chance to let loose with some Scott Joplin or a blues. Currently listening to a really nice and delightfully un-flashy “Jungle Blues” recorded in 1995 on a CD called Lincoln Avenue Blues, an album “dedicated to Jimmy Yancey.” Yeah Butch. Thanks for holding it down.

Jon Bream in the Star Tribune: “Minnesota piano giant Butch Thompson dies at 78.”

Summer Break 2022

Last week at the Village Vanguard was wonderful! Thanks to everyone who come out, everyone at the club, and to Ben Street and Nasheet Waits.

Ben Street

Upcoming gigs:

July 15 — trio with Butler Knowles and Dorien Dotson at Sharp Nine in Durham, NC

July 27 — Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at the St. Endellion Festival conducted by Emilie Godden, Cornwall

August 3 — “jazz night” at the St. Endellion Festival, program TBD

August 5 — trio with Conor Chaplin and Martin France at the Vortex, London

August 10 thru 14 — all-Iverson program (Easy Win, Adagio, Dance Sonata) for Dance Heginbotham at Jacob’s Pillow, the Berkshires

August 19 — trio with Larry Grenadier and Kush Abadey at the Jazz Gallery, NYC

September 5 — trio with Larry Grenadier and Nasheet Waits at the Detroit Jazz Festival

If you see me out there, please say hi!

Time to take a break from DTM, Twitter, and FB. I’ll be back sometime in late August. (Probably I will not be able to resist posting photos on Instagram.)

Sign-up for Transitional Technology to be directly informed about my return. Sign-up is free…although sincere thanks to those paying for a subscription. Paid subscriptions help keep fresh DTM content coming after all these years.

New! DTM is easily searchable. The “search box” is located different places on different devices and screens, but the upper right corner is a likely place on a laptop, while the bottom of any given post is likely on mobile. Find the search box and enter your favorite jazz cat. I haven’t written about everybody yet, but I’d be surprised if your favorite wasn’t here somewhere.

Big interviews and essays of 2022 so far:

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)

More modest endeavors:

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

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

Recent reading…

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness. Terrific sci-fi novel that digs deep into the topics of love and gender. Le Guin has some amazing passages of descriptive prose:

It had not rained, here on these north-facing slopes. Snow-fields stretched down from the pass into the valleys of moraine. We stowed the wheels, uncapped the sledge-runners, put on our skis, and took off—down, north, onward, into that silent vastness of fire and ice that said in enormous letters of black and white DEATH, DEATH, written right across a continent. The sledge pulled like a feather, and we laughed with joy.

Elmore Leonard, 52 Pick-Up and Swag. Somehow I never explored the two earliest crime novels that the author himself considered canon. They are far more downbeat and esoteric than later Leonard, and must have been a non-ironic influence on Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley series. I’m planning to keep reading Leonard in sequence; perhaps more to come from me on this topic. The Library of America edition Four Novels of the 1970s includes an extensive chronology as part of the endnotes.

Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends. While I rarely look at contemporary literary fiction, my wife encouraged me to read this recent smash hit. Rooney follows the thread just so in an utterly compelling fashion. “My ego had always been an issue. I knew that intellectual attainment was morally neutral at best, but when bad things happened to me I made myself feel better by thinking about how smart I was.” Put it on my tombstone, baby!

July 4, 2022

Every July 4, I watch Hendrix play the national anthem at Woodstock.

This year’s July 4 cover for The New Yorker is Chris Ware’s “A House Divided.”

Ware comments:

I was taught in school that the American experiment was rooted in consensus and compromise. But Internet algorithms have put us at an uncompromising moment of nonconsensual reality. Sometimes it seems the only thing that the left and right can agree on is that compromise is laughably naïve.

“Internet algorithms have put us at an uncompromising moment of nonconsensual reality.” I am online too much, and am about to take a summer break from all that. There is a lot of bad news, but everyone yelling about it online only feeds the machine and makes it worse. That much seems to be certain.

Stanley Cowell’s Juneteenth

June 19 is a good day to listen to the solo piano suite Juneteenth recorded in 2014 by Stanley Cowell.

The record is hard to find, expensive, and reasonably un-reviewed. Apparently the CD release is a big package with 40 pages of photos and, presumably, liner notes. I’ve ordered a used copy, because my casual listen on the streaming services suggests a masterpiece is hiding in plain sight. (Very important: The pleasant opening track on the album, “We Shall” or “We Shall 2,” is not part of the suite.)

The work is in ten sections and runs half-an-hour. It is not celebratory, nor is it angry. The temperature is mild, resigned, and subtle. Many European composition devices are used; indeed, as far as I can tell, it is almost all fully-notated. One track, “Reality Dreams Echoes,” is a crazy-quilt of Americana themes including “Dixie,” “Swing Slow, Sweet Chariot,” and “By the River,” concluding with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I don’t think anyone could improvise like this, they would have to work it out:

(The minor-third tremolo over chromatic bass two minutes in is a leitmotif of the suite.)

While there are a few enjoyable stylistic references to gospel and the blues, most of the music is in its own bag. The “Proclamation” theme begins with a rather ragtime-ish slow “E-flat, E, F” before a fanfare in F minor that hurtles through keys with unexpected swing. The most elaborate movement is a pianistically advanced set of variations on “Strange Fruit.”

Very interesting. Again, I have ordered a copy, and plan to write about this significant work more in the future….

Previously on DTM: RIP Stanley Cowell: A Universe of Music.

At first blush “Reality Dreams Echoes” seems to be in the Charles Ives tradition but to my ears it actually closer to North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski. (DTM.)

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

On June 25, there’s a tribute to John Heard at The 222 in Healdsburg, California.

John Heard played bass at the highest level. His name is a little less familiar only because he spent most of his career on the West Coast, but there are well over one hundred LPs in the discography, including many led by significant names such as George Duke, Count Basie, George Cables, and Bobby Hutcherson.

Two of those sessions are in my private pantheon. Early on I got the LP Night Rider, a two-piano date with Count Basie and Oscar Peterson accompanied by Heard and Louis Bellson, and I listened to that damn thing over and over. A quote on the internet says that Heard was Basie’s favorite bassist. It’s hard to know if that is true, but Heard is nothing less than perfect in this relaxed and exposed mainstream setting. His inspirations seem to be Ron Carter and Ray Brown, each note lands with sure-footed grace, and at times he leans on the front end of the beat.

Then there’s George Cables’s Phantom of the City with Tony Williams, which for my money is one of the best piano trio records of the era (1985) and certainly one of the best showcases for the compositional brilliance and virtuosic piano style of the leader. How wonderful to hear Tony Williams in this sort of situation as well. In addition to being a musician, John Heard was a fine painter, and the cover painting of Cables is by Heard.

Tonight I listened Bobby Hutcherson’s Color Schemes, an excellent session from the same year as Phantom of the City. The core quartet is Hutcherson, Heard, Mulgrew Miller, and Billy Higgins, with Airto adding percussion touches. The programming is intentionally diverse: latin beats up against swingers, a duo with piano (“Rosemary, Rosemary”) and the overdubbed title piece, featuring at least two Hutchersons and two Airtos. Heard plays the latin beats well, but his voice is more obvious on the swingers, throwing down hard next to the magician Billy Higgins on “Bemsha Swing,” “Whisper Not, ” and a tightly-arranged “Remember.” One of the best tracks is the final ballad, “Never Let Me Go,” with Hutcherson on rhapsodic marimba.

Sad to say goodbye to the great Leroy Williams, a drummer devoted to swing.

The first record Leroy Williams and Barry Harris made together was in 1969, Magnificent! with Ron Carter. For me, this trio album is the beginning of the most profound Barry Harris. A key turned in the lock, and for well over a decade the piano maestro was at his peak as a player.

During that time, Leroy and Barry kept on trying to play the upbeats later than the other. Heavy swing. Leroy is invaluable anywhere, but those tracks with Barry are truly something else. Leroy Williams and Barry Harris together! No doubt about it.

I didn’t know Barry, but I was around him occasionally because we shared the same piano teacher, Sophia Rosoff. At one of those gatherings (around 2005 or so) I got up the nerve to ask him, “Hey Barry, how many trio gigs have you done without Leroy Willams since 1969?”

Barry thought about it for a moment, then replied, “One.”

There is a fair amount of video of Harris and Williams from the late years, all of which is wonderful, but there’s only one track on YouTube from a bit earlier. This uptempo “Oblivion” with Hal Dodson is the real deal.

When I asked Bertha Hope to describe Leroy Williams, she said, “Right dead down the middle. Everything he does surrounds ‘one’ in a beautiful way.”

Leroy Williams has over 100 LPs in the discography, mostly in the ’70s and ’80s. Along with Barry Harris and Bertha Hope, major names include other keepers of the true jazz flame like Charles McPherson, Red Rodney, Pepper Adams, Sonny Stitt, Junior Cook, and Bill Hardman. Not all of that era of straight ahead music survives on LP that well. There’s a variety of factors, including the studios and the basic sonic presentation. However, recently live tapes of two tunes from McPherson, Williams, Michael Weiss, and Tyler Mitchell at Birdland in 1991 have surfaced: “The Song is You” and “Countdown.” Wow! This is truly great. On “The Song Is You” Williams really throws it around behind McPherson. Just gorgeous.

(Uh. Better practice “Countdown” tomorrow…)

The NPR obit of Grachan Moncur III by Nate Chinen offers a good overview. Several years ago, after Bobby Hutcherson passed away, I offered a close listen to Moncur’s sensational debut Evolution. In the last week I’ve been periodically listening to other Moncur albums and haven’t connected with them yet. Besides Evolution, the Moncur-led music I like best are two tunes from the Black Arts Repertory Theatre concert produced by Amiri Baraka on March 28, 1965. It’s Moncur’s quartet with Bobby Hutcherson, Cecil McBee, and Beaver Harris playing “The Intellect” and “Blue Free.”

“The Intellect” is a 24-minute sprawl that begins with a diatonic meditation in G-Flat. Hutcherson imitates windchimes, McBee groans in arco, and the leader’s beautiful slow gutbucket trombone is next door to Roswell Rudd. There’s a palpable Charles Ives influence, yet the track is also something that could have been recorded for a ’70’s ECM record.

Even more to my taste is the comparatively short and sweet “Blue Free,” which boasts one of the greatest Hutcherson wails I’ve heard over insane McBee. The whole track is exceptional: Moncur channels Monk for this riff piece and Harris swings out. The mid-60s was such a fertile time for experimentation. Like the title says, true “blue” and true “free” were allowed to be pressed right up against each other, and Moncur was a key figure in that beautiful mix.