George Coleman with Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones was born on this day in 1927, reason enough to finish up a transcription that’s been sitting on my desktop for a few months.

In March 1968 Jones led a trio with George Coleman and Wilbur Little. One LP came out officially as Live at the Village Vanguard on Enja, three more volumes were bootlegged as Skyscrapers on Honey Dew.

All the music is fabulous: Post-Coltrane New York City acoustic jazz circa 1968 had tremendous power. While many record labels lost interest in documenting jazz around this time, various lo-fi live tapes are fiercely charismatic.

George Coleman always sounds great, but on these ’68 trios with Elvin the tenor saxophonist seems especially monstrous. The correct name of the head is probably “Blues Inside Out,” but on Enja the tune is simply listed as “By George.”

Part of the joy in this performance is Coleman’s unflustered response to a chaotic rhythm section. Bassist Wilbur Little is way up on the beat, almost at odds with the drummer, yet there’s nothing to complain about, this is a pure 1968 kind of adrenaline. Jones isn’t holding back either, at times the bass and drums seem almost free form. Coleman floats easily on top, basically comping for the band, nailing every moment from bebop to intervallic to cries of Memphis blues.

Audio and transcription:

For the tenor players, here’s a PDF in the correct key:

Televideo Music in Brief Review

RIP Michael K. Williams. For my peer group, The Wire landed like a body blow.

I’m overdue to rewatch, but one aspect of the David Simon production remains vivid in my mind: There was no underscoring. The only music was diegetic. Williams had no sonic help when creating dramatic tension as Omar. (Williams didn’t need any help.)

Last month Sarah and I caught up with Mare of Easttown. The score by Lele Marchitelli was a bold act of style that helped generate form, for during moments of trauma the music was lyrical and lovely, playing against type.

We enjoyed the series, and the last act was unusually satisfying. A relevant comparison is the first season of True Detective. When the murder is solved, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson change their characters into “good guys” and it doesn’t really work. At the close of Mare of Easttown, Kate Winslet and Julianne Nicholson get into the weeds in a manner that is far more fresh.

Jean-Paul Belmondo also passed yesterday. As with Mare of Easttown, Le Professionnel (1981) is enlivened by a distinctive score by an Italian composer, in this case Ennio Morricone; also like Mare of Easttown, the pretty music acts in surprising counterpoint to violence. Le Professionnel is very French.

There are two adaptations of Thomas Harris’s fabulous novel Red Dragon. Somewhat to my surprise, Manhunter (dir. Micheal Mann, 1986) is much better than Red Dragon (dir. Brett Ratner, 2002). There’s nothing wrong with the normal orchestral score to the 2002 adaptation, but the overbearing synth score by Michel Rubini and The Reds in 1986 is hypnotic and striking. That musical detail is representative of the movies as a whole. Mann gives us a style and an image. Cheesy at times? Unquestionably, yes, but always a style and an image. Ratner gives us a bunch of stuff that I’ve already forgotten.

Studies in 3/4 Time

The Mark Morris music directors panel with Linda Dowdell and Colin Fowler is streaming until October. I really enjoyed the conversation, there are good musical details as well as amusing gossipy bits…I recount interactions with Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Yo-Yo Ma, and Simon Rattle…

Watch on YouTube

September Gigs

On the road again:

10 Chet Doxas trio w. Thomas Morgan @ Bar Bayeux, Brooklyn (record release of You Can’t Take it With You)

mini-tour with Marcy Harriell: Burt Bacharach (and solo piano)

15 Mabel Tainter, Menomonie, WI

16 Crooners, MSP

18 Sandhills BPAC, NC

24 Vinnie Sperrazza trio w. Michael Formanek @ Soapbox

Ethan Iverson plays Chopin…?

Until Wednesday, a video of yours truly playing Chopin for the Mark Morris Dance Group is online on YouTube. (My segment starts at 15:45.)

I’m not giving Arthur Rubinstein any serious competition but it is still a fun watch/listen. Sangfroid starts with Op. 2 no 1 (the worst thing in the world to start with) and ends with the Winter Wind. The Berceuse is…not bad? At any rate, the choreography is wonderful and the music is right there, supporting the dancers.

The year is 2000. My best friend Julie Worden is featured…so is John Heginbotham, who has gone on to be an important choreographer in his own right. The other terrific dancers include Joe Bowie, Marjorie Folkman, Lauren Grant, David Leventhal, June Omura, Mirelle Radwan-Dana, and Matthew Rose. Memories!

There is a long tradition of “Chopin dances” and of course Mark Morris makes the form his own. It’s a truly great dance IMHO. The other two dances on the video, Bedtime and Canonic 3/4 Studies, are also Morris classics. The singer of the Schubert for Bedtime is the legendary Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

Linda Dowdell, Colin Fowler, and I talk about Morris, dance, and piano in a public live-stream on Tuesday.

Dances to Piano Music: A Live Conversation 8PM ET
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
8:00 PM

Register here.

August updates

I’m still working on a big project, back after labor day, but quickly:

Congrats to Billy Hart on becoming an NEA jazz master. For fun, here’s a picture of Billy’s quartet with Joe Sanders and Mark Turner after a gig at the Umbria festival in July…

I am in a nice group of people offering “Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Stravinsky” in the New York Times yesterday.

Thanks to Zachary Woolfe for asking me to participate. Previously, Woolfe pulled me in for “make you love classical music”

and “make you love the piano”

Summer Break

I’m going dark on DTM and my socials for July and August — although I probably can’t resist posting occasional tour photos to Instagram


July 3: duo with Ingrid Jensen at Soapbox Gallery. Streaming and a few in-person seats.

July 9: New work in Perugia, about 50 minutes in duration, for two trumpets, two trombones, two saxophones, flute, clarinet, piano, bass, and drums.

Ritornello, Sinfonias, & Cadenzas

“For this major premiere at Umbria Jazz Festival, Ethan Iverson offers a tuneful exploration of musical techniques usually thought of as belonging to ‘classical music,’ but in this case played by a crack team of Italy’s finest jazzers. ‘Ritornello’ means ‘return,’ a recurring fanfare in the baroque style. ‘Sinfonia’ is a diminutive symphony, a gateway to diverse sonata forms. For the ‘cadenzas,’ Iverson and drum legend Jorge Rossy will rhapsodize against the ensemble. The instrumentation is modeled on Stravinsky’s Octet (with saxophones in for the bassoons) plus rhythm section.”

The next night begins a short tour of the Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner, Joe Sanders, and myself.

July 10 Umbria Jazz Festival
12 Paradiso Jazz
13 Milano Blue Note
14 Augsburg Botanical Garden
16 Bürgerhaus Unterföhring
17 Lublin Jazz Festival

July 21: Reed’s Ramble with Seamus Blake, Chris Cheek, Matt Penman, and Jochen Ruckert, Svendborg Jazz Festival

July 24: trio with Nils Bo Davidsen and Jeppe Gram, Odense Jazz Festival.

If you see me out there, by all means say hi!

Two concerts I attended in recent weeks were memorable.

Bruce Harris led a nice quartet at Club Norwood with Peter Bernstein, Alexander Claffy, and Kush Adabey. The cats were dealing on hip repertoire like Randy Weston’s “Saucer Eyes” and Woody Shaw’s “Sweet Love of Mine.” At one point Samara Joy sat in for two tunes including “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was,” and I burst into tears. Sarah felt it too: A star is born.

My friend Miranda Cuckson played a solo violin recital at Bargemusic of Iannis Xenakis, Michael Hersch, Georg Friedrich Haas, Aida Shirazi, and Carlos Simon. It was typically brilliant programming from Miranda, with an emphasis on microtonality, especially “bluesy” during two authentic masterworks, Xenakis’s Mikka S and Haas’s de terrae fini. I had no shame and snapped a post-concert candid:

Speaking of shameless, I had cheeseburgers with Lawrence Block the other day and made him take a selfie afterwards.

It was good to see my brother Spencer last month. I am his co-guardian and hadn’t managed to get to Duluth since January 2020.

I admit I practiced a lot during lockdown. At a few points I even interrogated this classic trio:

After Stanley Cowell passed, I licensed this photo from John Rogers, taken a few years ago at the Village Vanguard. From left to right: Fred Hersch, Iverson, Cowell, Jason Moran.

The next trio date is in the can, recorded in January, with Larry Grenadier and Jack DeJohnette.

One of the biggest influences on my criticism is drummer/historian Hyland Harris. Hyland is old pals with Mark Turner — they were at Berklee together — and late last year Hyland had us over to the Louis Armstrong House in Queens. Afterwards we hung for several hours talking jazz, jazz, jazz. As well as I know Mark, I still feel like a little kid at Christmas when maestro Turner decides to open up and discuss aesthetics. These are two of the best, right here:

2021 DTM:

North American Ballads and Squares (Frederic Rzewski)

There is Only Today

Interview with Jeff “Tain” Watts

Ethan Iverson plays TV Themes

Contemporary Composition (Lowell Liebermann, Thomas Adès, Matthew Aucoin, Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Scott Wollschleger)

Original Sheet Music of Two Dozen Jazz Standards

Mwandishi Time

Back to Babbitt (with Erik Carlson)

Interview with Alex Ross (and Wagnerian Piano)

Shades of Jazz (Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Dewey Redman)

2021 other places:

Billie Holiday, Technician

Eubie Blake

McCoy Tyner as sideman

Ron Carter in the early 80s

Pete La Roca (as told by Steve Swallow)

Ralph Peterson with Geri Allen