Brave and Contradictory Rulings (Twitter Files 2)

More from the past….the Twitter past. (See previous installment.)

Many of the more interesting things I’ve tweeted have ended up here on DTM or on my newsletter Transitional Technology. However, when I downloaded my Twitter archive, I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten. 

Most of my tweets were about music, but there were also quick thoughts about crime fiction, movies and TV. It’s all related, for the idea of “genre” is crucial to my aesthetic as a practitioner. (Indeed, I believe that my compositions “Bill Hickman at Home” and “For Ellen Raskin” are the first jazz tributes to these genre icons.)

Taking the tweets out of Twitter and editing them into a highlight reel is bad for the content. It would be better to post photos of all the tweets (like the one at the top of this post) and hyperlink the references from the images. But that would simply take too much work. While paging through this diary, these are simply the snippets I don’t want to forget.

Early on, I tweeted covers of somewhat classic Peter Rabe pulp novels. In the 1950s, Rabe was almost a contender, and had some continued relevance thanks to Donald E. Westlake’s critical overview several decades later (now collected in the posthumous Westlake collection The Getaway Car edited by Levi Stahl). When I write about Hall Overton or Mel Powell on DTM, I am well aware that I am imitating Westlake’s survey of Rabe.

Westlake considered KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BY one of Rabe’s best
even more to my taste is MURDER ME FOR NICKELS, which has a comic touch

When I visited Westlake’s home, I didn’t see any Rabe on his shelves, but Westlake did have first editions of all of Eric Ambler. While slimming down for the pandemic, I gave away the Hall Overton and Mel Powell, but kept the Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell.

Speaking of Westlake, I tweeted this photo of a choice passage from one of his last, Dirty Money (written as Richard Stark).

A few years ago I settled in for quite a lot of Columbo, tweeting, “I love the endings: When the murderer is brought to heel, the show ends. Nothing further is required.”

It was great fun for a time but at some point it was enough. There was no need to see every single episode; instead I merely took in the dozen-plus classics that turn up on the Columbo internet lists. Death Lends a Hand (starring Robert Culp), By Dawn’s Early Light (Patrick McGoohan) and Any Old Port In a Storm (Donald Pleasence) are my favorites.

My feed offered choice quotes from three other episodes, all with Peter Falk wryly responding to the killer. These are the moments when the screw tightens, and Columbo is transformed from bumbler to nemesis:

Abigail Mitchell: I’m beginning to be very fond of you, Lieutenant. I think you’re a very kind man.

Lt. Columbo: Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell. Don’t count on it.

Dr. Mark Collier: “Am I to presume that I’m currently your chief suspect?”

Lt. Columbo: “I’m not sure ‘suspect’ is a strong enough word.”

Milo Janus: You know something, Columbo? You’re a devious man.

Lt. Columbo: That’s what they tell me.

I also posted this photo of Gretchen Corbett (from that Milo Janus episode, An Exercise in Fatality). If I’d had it back then, I’d have hung this poster in my high school locker…

When I was barely in the double digits, a few televised crime stories took over my whole inner life. Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first crack at an action film, can still click through my mind one still frame at a time thanks to endless re-runs on Channel 9.

A bit more obscure was the Charles Bronson/Lee Marvin collaboration Death Hunt, whose unimaginative title hides a pretty idiosyncratic film. Quentin Tarantino recently said Death Hunt was a movie that was better than you remember. At one point in my teens I could dream the entirety of Death Hunt during uneasy nocturnal slumbers.

On Twitter I posted about two other shows that made a lasting impact. “Dying Day” was an installment of ITV’s Armchair Thriller starring a young Ian McKellan. One of My Wives is Missing was a made for TV movie with the old hand Jack Klugman. Having finally tracked them down again as an adult — the internet really shines brightest at moments like these — I’m hard pressed to say why they impressed and terrified me so much in the early ’80s, although both have a stylized production with great music and visuals. Both also feature long confidence tricks culminating in shocking twist endings. (Merriam-Webster has selected “gaslighting” as their word of the year, a word tailor-made for “Dying Day” and One of My Wives is Missing.)

My posts about these minor shows drew sympathetic comments of recognition, a tribute to the power of B-level entertainment in an era when there was only four channels. I tweeted about One of My Wives is Missing because Joss Whedon tweeted about it. Probably Whedon admires it for the same reason I do: he saw it on re-run one weekend when he was 11 years old and there was nothing else to watch.

Speaking of Armchair Thriller, the “black nun in a rocking chair” cliffhanger in “Quiet as a Nun” haunted me like a ghost, I was almost physically ill. If you tweet about that little piece of ITV drama, the support group will gather soon enough. Maybe it is the organ music that makes that clip so damn scary.

Other tweets from the past decade…

I should really go 4 walk this morn but I’m halfway through THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS by Edgar Cantero and biting my nails

Janet Malcolm has passed. THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDER is definitely one of the greatest works I’ve ever read

Just enjoyed THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen. The modern sci-fi thriller done right: time travel and its discontents

“Like everyone else, including you, I frequently make assumptions on insufficient grounds.” — Archie Goodwin in A RIGHT TO DIE

“Sometimes even the experts had a hard time distinguishing between justified suspicion and paranoid symptoms.” — Ross MacDonald, THE DOOMSTERS

“Did you know Professor Haggerty well?” “Hardly. I did escort her to one or two college functions, as well as the opening concert of the fall season. We discovered a common passion for Hindemith.” — Ross MacDonald, THE CHILL

From THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS by Agatha Christie:

“It began with a combination of circumstances, but what doesn’t?” – Rex Stout, first line of “The Zero Clue.” (Terry Teachout’s response: “Boy, did he ever know how to push off from the starting line.” Miss you, Terry!)

“Heloise long ago reconciled herself to the idea that all is fair in love and war, which is just another way of saying that nothing in life is ever fair, because life is love and war.” — AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD by Laura Lippman

“The Virgin’s death is optional, as long as it’s last.” (from CABIN IN THE WOODS)

“Good night! This is where my tax dollars go?” (from THE X-FILES)

The two scenes of Max von Sydow and Robert Redford together in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR are two of my favorite things

Just watched TRAINWRECK…totally hilarious and touching movie. Wasn’t hip to Amy Schumer, now a big fan

Watched SAY ANYTHING for the first time last night. Great movie!

This past week I read INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice (1976) and watched the movie adaptation (1994) directed by Neil Jordan from script by Rice. Both great!

KLUTE. 70’s Americana is my bread and butter! God bless the music of Michael Small: Modernism made commercial for smart thrillers

Somehow never saw THE LATE SHOW w Art Carney and Lily Tomlin until tonight. Dang I love 70’s movies

DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is on Netflix if you are into that kind of thing

Just pulled THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE from shelf. What makes Lovecraft great is the depth of his belief…….he sees the unnamable horror in his mind’s eye with acute clarity

Although it is a fairly bad movie overall, Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella have one mesmerizing scene together in UNKNOWN (2011)

“The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.” — THE RULES OF THE GAME

“In real life, people don’t have archenemies” — SHERLOCK

Watched RUN LOLA RUN at last. Wow! Loved it. Experimental thrillers that actually work are so my thing

ROMY and MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION is a hell of a movie

Asimov’s centenary…completing the novelette “Nightfall” as a young teen was an unforgettable moment

Watched DRUG WAR directed by Johnnie To: One of the best genre films I’ve seen in a long time. A goddamn serious crime film

Rewatched BLADE RUNNER. A fav acting moment is when Joe Turkel realizes that Hauer has come for him, looks down at floor, and accepts fate

The novelization of ALIEN by Alan Dean Foster is good

The movie DRIVE is in my pantheon. It’s also a comparatively rare instance where a film makes me love certain tracks from pop music: Kavinsky “Nightcall” and College & Electric Youth “A Real Hero”

Great sign off: Malcolm Reynolds in FIREFLY: “See you in the world.”

Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.

Jayne: Don’t make no sense.


Ah, yes, “It’s the Bishop!” The first time I saw that Python skit (starring the late Terry Jones) it drilled straight into my chest and set off a chain reaction of uncontrolled laughter

I just had my mind melted by “Me Ol’ Bamboo”: Dick van Dyke and company in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. The (dance) canon at the beginning!!!

“Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.” Poirot in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD

MEMENTO Joe Pantoliano is fantastic, what a great performance. Rest of movie is OK; Nolan has flair but I suspect his oeuvre won’t age well

[but then, many years later after above tweet] Watched Nolan’s INCEPTION on the plane home. Maybe my taste is getting worse, but I liked it a lot more this time. Amoral rich-person’s fantasy, perfectly cast. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it does what it wants, and what it wants is to be is Nolan’s INCEPTION

“Practically all sentries were less than perfect. It was any army’s most persistent problem. Boredom set in, and attention wandered, and discipline eroded. Military history was littered with catastrophes caused by poor sentry performance.” — Lee Child, WORTH DYING FOR

Newish Target novelization of DW “City of Death” is very good! A high pressure assignment for Mr. Goss but he delivered a fun and convincing take on one of the most popular episodes. A few plot holes were fixed gracefully, a few sentences recalled Douglas Adams. Bravo

RIP to Dave Prowse, the shirtless Minotaur in “The Time Monster” (DOCTOR WHO) and the tough yet amusing bodyguard to Hotblack Desiato in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY [this was a bit of joke, for Prowse was trending because he inhabited the costume of Darth Vader]

In the same awesome music for British serial category: Michael Kamen w Eric Clapton for EDGE OF DARKNESS — Barrington Pheloung for INSPECTOR MORSE — Geoffrey Burgon for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Watched ANGEL HEART (1987). I love the first half, but when the movie goes down to New Orleans false notes begin to intrude. interesting score by Trevor Jones, with a sensational deconstruction of torch song “Girl of My Dreams” or Courtney Pine in full “Brecker w. Ogerman” mode

“I have more than 20 cups a day,” Nyberg said.  “To keep my energy up. Actually, maybe just to keep going.”

“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallender said. 

“No work would be possible without coffee.”

They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.

— from the Wallender series by Henning Mankel

Tarantino is 55 today. I remember going to RESERVOIR DOGS in east village w no idea what it was: there was just a cool-looking ad in the Village Voice. One of the significant art experiences of my life

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014, dir. Doug Liman) is an exemplary movie of its kind

About to watch MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991, dir. Gus Van Sant) ….Hadn’t seen since theatrical release — was edgy at the time, now seems more like a college theatre workshop. Some (intentionally) hilarious moments. Great score

I’m almost done with a re-read of 9-book series by Len Deighton: Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match — Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker — Hope, Faith, Charity. How I wish Deighton had ended the series early: the first trilogy is perfect, then there’s an epic decline

We are just two episodes in, but sincere kudos to Ben Frost for his evocative score to DARK 

It’s 5:30 AM and I’m watching a compilation of Tom Selleck looking straight at the camera 

There are some books I just read and re-read. HOPSCOTCH by Brian Garfield is so great every damn time. RIP.

The old BBC serial I, CLAUDIUS is great. Jacobi of course, many other actors, but Sarah and I were perhaps most astounded at Brian Blessed as Augustus, a complex portrayal indeed. Gorgeous theme by Wilfred Josephs

Just finished RECURSION by Blake Crouch; A thrilling modern sci-fi novel that — true the title — keeps folding back on itself

Idly discussing with friends the TV show COMMUNITY, which made me laugh as hard as any show ever has. Some *brilliant* episodes and pitch-perfect cast

John le Carré would have been 90 today. His greatest work remains his novel TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. The BBC television adaption is equally great; just rewatched the astounding quiet opening sequence 

The phrase “brave and contradictory rulings” has been wandering through my mind this morning. Looked it up: it’s from THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY. Tempted to make it my Twitter bio

About to watch HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, dir. David Mackenzie) — People like to say, “The don’t make ’em like they used to” but this solid crime flick with a Western tone is straight out of the past. Gorgeous to look at and many fine performances

About to watch TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967, dir. James Clavell) — This was a great movie. I am floored. I expected it to be mostly of historical interest but wow. Sidney Poitier! What an astonishing performance. The song is also remarkably beautiful

Thanks to my buddy Anna Wayland I watched the first episode of JOHNNY STACCATO last night. Much camp value and a lot of famous musicians on the set

Today I re-read Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST and re-watched Joss Whedon’s BUFFY episode “Once More, With Feeling.” In my personal pantheon, nothing ranks higher than these two

I’ve seen every Hammett adaptation, and MILLER’S CROSSING is one of the best. Probably Coens should have credited Hammett more clearly

Controversial take: I’d surely enjoy the conflicted yet ultimately sadly terrible protagonists of Sopranos and Breaking Bad for the length of a movie or two, but for all those many episodes…nah. Frankly I want clear good guys vs. bad if I’m gonna put in that kind of time. I watch TV to escape

About to watch ROBOCOP (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven) — just remembered that Miguel Ferrer is in this (“Albert” on TWIN PEAKS), which is truly cause for celebration — I watched ROBOCOP once before about 20 years ago. While the obviously satirical/political parts are brilliant, the many action sequences lack style and emotional complexity. Perhaps part of it is simply a budget issue (although the design team certainly did inspired work). — While many regard ROBOCOP as Verhoeven’s finest hour, I think perhaps TOTAL RECALL is more in balance overall — although the high points of ROBOCOP, especially the television news/ads and malfunctioning ED-209, are still sublime today

About to watch RISKY BUSINESS (1983, dir. Paul Brickman) — I adore this movie’s complete lack of morality. So fresh compared to almost all other “teen” movies. Shame Brickman didn’t do too much else

The (intentionally) godawful theme music of THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW is a snippet of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus leading into a wanking guitar blues. #perfect

Love this scary Junot Díaz story from a decade ago, “Monstro.” Post-Covid it is even more chilling

“Even the most promising clues usually only lead to illness. So many corpses roll away unrevenged.” I’m not really sure how I feel about the lurid fantasia of SEVEN, but upon rewatch I admired how every external shot was in the rain until the final scene

R.I.P. Jean Merrill. THE TOOTHPASTE MILLIONAIRE was my absolute favorite book in 6th grade. I can still recall selected sentences.

RIP E.L. Konigsburg. I read FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILIER thirty or forty times.

RIP Herbert Lom. As a kid, there was nothing greater than when one of the Clouseau movies came on.

[capsule reviews of my recent pop culture intake] PREDESTINATION: Good performances by Ethan Hawke and especially Sarah Snook, and I love time travel paradoxes, but the Heinlein short story “—All You Zombies—” sticks the landing better — CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER: I liked this! Of course, anything from the Tom Clancy universe is going to be at least a bit jingoistic and banal, but for what it is, a pleasing thriller with some good villains (especially the White House villains) — THE MEG. Nope, not for me, the sets and effects look great but the characters are too trite. I’m not against Jason Statham in the abstract, but I’ve never seen a good movie that stars Statham — GODZILLA (2014). CGI is getting there. Again, I doff my hat to the production team. But honestly I needed more screen time from the title monster and less human backstory…”Let them fight” gave a chill though. — CAPTAIN MARVEL. Brie Larson is refreshing, but “youthful” Samuel Jackson creeped me out. Comic book movies aren’t really for me but at this point I guess they can’t be avoided — (book) WORLD WAR Z. I loved this the first time, second go round was a bit less exciting. H’mm. Still a modern classic but now I see some of the stitching in the seams I guess — THE MIDDLEMAN. Olen Steinhauer can write a damn gripping thriller. Like many, he’s having trouble fully digesting our political moment quickly enough. The Cold War took decades; Deighton and Le Carre had time in a way moderns don’t — CROOKED HOUSE. I’ve been on an Agatha Christie binge, maybe I’ll write an overview for DTM? At any rate, of the dozen I’ve re-read, this is the one, a masterpiece of plotting and style

[I critiqued Statham in above thread, but then] WRATH OF MAN is quite good if you like that sort of thing

Nice to hear about a guitar being destroyed on SNL last night (I’m serious, things are way too squeaky clean in “big entertainment” these days) — .One of my touchstones is HAPPY TO BE HERE, an early humor collection by Garrison Keillor. This book is overall more esoteric and fierce than later Lake Wobegon material (although I love Lake Wobegon too) — 2nd story is from 1977, “Don: The True Story of a Young Person,” where 17-year-old Don, lead singer of Trash, becomes famous for *eating a live chicken* on stage. GREAT story that simultaneously honors and critiques punk modalities like “destroying a guitar” —- I first read “Don: The True Story of a Young Person” when I was about 17 myself, it made a life-long impression

Note to self: Fredric Brown, Frédéric Chopin, Frederic Rzewski

I took the night off and read ATLANTA DEATHWATCH by Ralph Dennis. Total fun! I’d say the book is somewhere between John D. MacDonald and Robert B. Parker. But unlike Travis McGee or Spenser, Hardman knows he’s a low level sinner first and foremost. I like that — I woke up thinking that there’s also an older echo found in the book. Depression-era gangsters and down and out families: W. R. Burnett, Edward Anderson, Paul Cain. Dennis is nowhere near as slick as MacDonald or Parker. I like that too

from the reissue of ATLANTA DEATHWATCH

My general take on action movies is predictable. THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) is a fav, partly because the creative team re-imagined the politics of the source material (Originally Ludlum saw the CIA as total good guys). On repeat viewings Damon remains mysterious and charismatic.

In THE ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998) you get to have your cake and eat it too: enjoy all the high tech fun and critique it at the same time. This is Tony Scott at his best, it all comes together for him here. Will Smith does the “confused man trapped in a strange maze” perfectly.

THE FUGITIVE (1993) is sort of the template for many movies since. For what it is, reasonably perfect. The acting performances still mattered in those days, with H. Ford and T.L. Jones as perfect antipodes.

And then there is THE MATRIX (1999). Brilliant plot, but abandoning the laws of physics reduces the bandwidth for the actors; almost into merely props. Most 21st action movies are pretty interchangeable. It’s THE MATRIX’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great. It is great.

Offhand, I can’t think of another action movie that I’ve seen that is quite at the level of these four. Maybe 1993-2002 was the peak: quite flashy but not yet a constant blare of CGI?

Upcoming gigs

December 15: trio with Chris Finet and Arthur Vint at The Nash in Phoenix

December 16 and 17: trio with Colin McIlrath and Arthur Vint at the Century Room in Tucson

December 20: opening set (before jam session) with Diego Voglino and Joe Martin at Bar Bayeux, Brooklyn

UMBRIA JAZZ (Winter session at Orvieto)

A few years ago I premiered Bud Powell in the 21st Century with the Umbria Jazz Orchestra — the follow up is:


arranged and conducted by Ethan Iverson

featuring Romero Lubambo, Peter Washington, Dan Weiss

The big show with Dianne is on December 28, 30, and 31. Happy New Year!

I also play a trio set with Peter Washington and Dan Weiss on January 1.

Is Jazz Improvised? and, What About McCoy, Herbie, Keith, and Chick? (Twitter Files 1)

I have been on twitter a bit over a decade.

Many of the more interesting things I’ve tweeted have ended up here on DTM or on my newsletter Transitional Technology. However, when I downloaded my Twitter archive, I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten.

In recent years my follower count has swelled and there has been more interaction, prompting the occasional multi-tweet rant. Two recent threads are presented here, now lightly edited.

One of the “joys” of Twitter is a basic agreement that everyone is working fast within strict confines. Accuracy and good grammar go out the window, and a certain amount of overreach is acceptable (if not even encouraged).

I’ve seen wonderful Tweeters simply unable to write breezy and readable Substacks. By the same token, taking the tweets out of Twitter and editing them into prose is bad for the content.

It is what it is.

Thread 1:

The more I learn about the tradition, the more I think jazz is NOT improvisation. It’s a repertoire, including what gets played in the solos. Billy Hart calls it “America’s Classical Music” for many reasons.

[In response to Jacob Garchik’s comment about Coltrane’s marvelous opening line on “Limehouse Blues”] Yes! It’s precisely worked out, and I suspect Coltrane told Wynton Kelly, “Hey, don’t comp for my first 8 bars.” In general, the faster the lines, the less improvised they are. That’s why Coltrane practiced so furiously all the time, he was working out his ever expanding repertoire.

True bebop (Bird and Bud) or anyone else authentic in the style sound a certain way because of just how much they aren’t improvising each phrase. The melody, harmony, and rhythm have to land just so.

Of all the greats of his era, Monk might improvise the least. Each phrase is carved in immutable granite, just so. Perfection. As far as I know he never played a wrong note.

Of course Monk mixes it up, he mixes it up constantly, but I’d be surprised if you could find many truly unique phrases during any given Monk solo. My guess is that almost every lovely, perfect phrase exists somewhere else on another Monk record.

Every single 12-bar blues Monk wrote is in B-flat. (This clarity of intent recalls Jimmy Yancey, who ended every blues in E-flat, regardless of key of the piece.) Also, Monk plays similar (and gorgeous) B-flat riffs on every blues. Makes total sense. A practical signature.

Some of my thinking on the topic of improvisation is informed by teaching jazz in recent years. In general, there is simply too much improvisation at the student level. Enough already. Learn the repertoire. My manifesto!

The Tristano school likes to bang the “pure improvisation” drum. However, a big space of “improvisation” in modern jazz is interaction. Paradoxically, the three greatest Tristano school players sound best with a fairly placid rhythm section — just one flaw of their whole “pure improvisation” rap. (To be clear, I love Tristano, Konitz, and Marsh.)

The great Sonny Rollins….Obviously, a thematic improviser of the highest order. But his work also always has fast and essentially un-improvised bebop lines woven into the texture. Those moments of pure bop are just as important as the spontaneous melodies. Both Rollins and Sonny Stitt each take a chorus on “Sonny Side of the Street” with Dizzy Gillespie. Rollins is motivic, Stitt is mostly thrashing through the bop repertoire. Both great. Rollins is obviously improvising more…yet Rollins also needs a few bop phrases for finished statement.

Pure improvised melody with no bop repertoire is valid. My man is Paul Bley (Rollins dug him too). But Bley also sacrifices swing and clarity by taking such risks. It’s great! But it ain’t true bop, let alone “better.” In the classroom I like to make these distinctions clear.

[In response to Todd Bashore’s comment about Gary Bartz.] Bartz says he is a composer, not an improviser, and Billy Hart says this is America’s Classical Music. Why? It’s one way of protecting black music writ large. Jazz education frequently starts in the most Caucasian parts of America with kind of a casual attitude: “Here’s a chart on ‘So What.’ Any of the white notes are ok for the first 16 bars. Play what you feel!”

Treating the jazz greats as composers with specific languages enforces some kind of helpful gatekeeping. It’s fun to play jazz, of course, but it’s not only fun.

Thread 2:

I grew up with the big four: McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea. There are many other pianists who are just as great but somehow those were the four, at least for my generation.

Needless to say — but I should say it anyway, especially on Twitter — all four are AWESOME. Getting into the weeds and discussing who I love best and why is an exercise in personal taste. A pointless and highfalutin dinner party game. Still can be fun!

The four divide in to two twos: McCoy and Herbie are greater than Keith and Chick. It’s totally obvious, in terms of true command of the true jazz language.

Between McCoy and Herbie, I give it to McCoy. Something about the big four is simply about burning jazz at a quick tempo over interactive bass and drums. There’s no comparison: McCoy all day long. Also, McCoy is the founding father. None of the other three exist without McCoy.

Between Keith and Chick, I give it to Keith. At times he channels something so spontaneous yet also truthful. He’s a huge virtuoso but always puts the music first. Plus, Keith is the most “two-handed” of the four, he actually might sound better without bass and drums.

Chick is a better jazz player than Keith, he knows a lot more about bebop and latin music than Keith. However, Chick’s spontaneous blowing thing can be kinda frantic and one-dimensional. Chick also made an appalling number of terrible, even unlistenable, LPs.

On the plus side, Chick can sit in with anybody and take it to a whole ‘nother level. Herbie can do that too. But when recently listening to Joe Henderson and McBride records from the 90s, I actually thought Chick’s guest appearances were more awesome than Herbie’s.

Don’t leave out quantity, though. In terms of a track record in the studio, Herbie has the fewest duds (and of course many are masterpieces). Almost every Herbie record as a leader (or even as sideman) does what it is supposed to do. This is not true of the other three — by a long shot.

What about the blues? McCoy is the most relaxed blues pianist. It goes from Jimmy Yancey to Monk to McCoy, just back porch casual goodness, strumming a guitar. Herbie is more like Oscar Peterson, a blues thing that (while great) is more studied and notey.

Chick’s blues thing is metallic and abstract, Keith’s blues thing is gospel. Both those approaches are also very cool…but neither have that extra level of unforced blues truth that McCoy has.

McCoy has one final advantage: He was not just John Coltrane’s pianist: Coltrane’s music would be unthinkable without McCoy’s contribution. In the end I regard John Coltrane as the greatest musician. So, another reason to make McCoy the supreme god of the four gods.

Roger Dickerson, New Orleans Concerto

The composer Roger Donald Dickerson was born in 1934. His works list is substantial but little of his music has been recorded for commercial release. As far as I know, there are just two early works to be heard on the streaming services, both programmed on somewhat obscure collections of all-African-American composers.

Just yesterday I discovered New Orleans Concerto (1976), which is on You Tube.


The description says:

3 movements
Leon Bates, piano
New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra / Werner Torkanowski
Live première performance

Bates is an interesting pianist; not only is he black concert virtuoso, but when he was younger, he was a committed bodybuilder. Not too many of those around.

The live recording of the premiere of New Orleans Concerto is not ideal sonically. However the performance seems excellent and the piece is incredible! The piano writing is full of blues material (it begins right away with tremolo figuration from James Booker or Professor Longhair) but the general context is post-Bartók dissonance and drive. Finally!

In the middle movement there is a haunting wordless vocal for mezzo-soprano or soprano, conjuring the blues in another dimension. The finale is boogie-woogie gone surreal, the kind of thing Louis Andriessen tried to write over and over again, but better.

Bates, Torkanowski and the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra deliver a fierce performance. In fact, the limited recording technology distorts in a few places: they were literally raising the roof in NOLA that night.

New Orleans Concerto is the piece I’ve waiting for. I’m so glad this exists. American music!! In the current climate, where black composers are actively being sought to be given commissions, there’s room to hope that this work could be revived on the concert stage and recorded in high fidelity. What are we waiting for?

Previously on DTM: In the overview, I wrote: “A lesser-known piece that may deserve repertory status is played by Karen Walwyn, the Piano Sonatina (1956) by Roger Dickerson.  Dickerson (who is lifelong friends with Ellis Marsalis) composed a graceful and detailed piano piece that manages the considerable feat of sounding like exactly what it is: A fully notated sonata from New Orleans.”

Dickerson was only 22 at the time he finished the Sonatina; the only other piece of his on the commercial streaming services is the Essay for Band (1958) from on the collection Out of the Depths. Like the Sonatina, the charming and energetic Essay is very well done, but both pieces are essentially conservative. There was room to wonder what the young composer might get up to a bit later. Now that I have heard New Orleans Concerto, I’m even more anxious to explore the rest of Dickerson’s mature music…

George Russell’s First Three Records as a Leader

George Russell was an architect of the music, a key associate of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and the author of the technical treatise The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Early Russell compositions (“Cubano Be, Cubano Bop”) and arrangements (“Relaxin’ at Camarillo”) from the bebop era retain their power to shock and amaze.

Russell played piano and drums but rarely featured his own capabilities as a soloist. In the liner notes of his first album, Russell talks about the rise of the “jazz writers” in the late ’40s and early ’50s, and quotes Gunther Schuller: “We must begin to think of form as a verb rather than as a noun.” Along with Schuller, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Lennie Tristano, John Lewis, and many others of lesser fame of that era, Russell was frankly seeking to inject more European techniques into bop.

The Jazz Workshop

Recorded late 1956. The core musicians of the Smalltet are Art Farmer, Hal McKusick, Barry Galbraith, and Bill Evans. A rotating cast of bass and drums includes Milt Hinton, Teddy Kotick, Joe Harris, Osie Johnson, and Paul Motian, who with some exceptions are usually playing reasonably straight swinging time underneath busy counterpoint and fast-moving changes.

Russell gives a lot of written notes to his front line. Farmer, McKusick, Galbraith, and Evans are looking at charts that are not far from European chamber music. One of the delights of The Jazz Workshop is simply the flawless execution of the parts, which are not easy to begin with, but also need to swing. After dispatching the written material, Farmer, McKusick, Galbraith, and Evans then take great solos, often short in duration, but still full of proper jazz talk. Incredible band.

“Ye Hypocrite, Ye Beelzebub” A bit of spiritual in 6/4 foreshadows Charles Mingus’s “Better Git It in Your Soul” from a few years later. The solos are in 4/4. Some of my favorite Bill Evans is as a bebop x-factor within a larger ensemble, as on John Lewis’s Odds Against Tomorrow, Tadd Dameron’s The Magic Touch, and Russell’s The Jazz Workshop.

“Jack’s Blues” Third Stream melancholy. Everyone is reading a thick part, including Evans. There are tempo changes and unusual effects, somewhere between Thelonious Monk and Russell’s teacher Stefan Wolpe. Russell’s liner notes are technical; in this case he writes that the “thematic development is based on the interval of the major second.” Yeah, but who was Jack?

“Livingstone I Presume” The piano has a crunchy motif reminiscent of Béla Bartók. Joe Harris plays a surprising 6/8 drum rhythm (called “jungle” in the notes); with the wild alto line it sounds like 2022 music from somebody like Steve Lehman. The blowing reverts to 4/4, but there are always stops, starts, and counterpoint.

“Ezz-Thetic” One of Russell’s best known compositions, a Tristano-ish line on “Love for Sale,” also recorded earlier by Lee Konitz with Miles Davis and later by Grant Green with Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones. The relationship between Billy Bauer with Tristano and Galbraith with Russell is obvious. As with Tristano’s composed lines, one can hear the effort required to bring “atonal” notes and phrases into the bop language. Gorgeous. McKusick sounds great, somewhere in the Konitz/Desmond soundscape but totally fluid and with some surprising note choices.

“Night Sound” A kind of blues piece with fully written out rhythm section parts and endlessly turning horn phrases. Evocative and smoky noir verging on atonality. Maybe my favorite track on this album. Unique music. Milt Hinton buffs will enjoy hearing the legendary bassist play such a long and complicated part perfectly; he also bows the final note. Right on, Milt.

“Round Johnny Rondo” Gotta say, I’d never guess that this is Paul Motian swinging out on this track like he’s Philly Joe Jones or Art Blakey. It shows how much Paul worked at becoming an idiosyncratic voice. The contrapuntal melody is ridiculous, and Art Farmer takes a particularly fine solo.

“Fellow Delegates” The longest track on the LP features Osie Johnson on wood drums and Russell himself on chromatic drums tuned to a “blues scale.” McKusick is on flute and Farmer is on muted trumpet. H’mm! Assemble, delegates: the workshop is in session.

“Witch Hunt” As with “Round Johnny Rondo,” the drummer is a surprise: I’d never guess this conventional and well-done latin beat was from the young Paul Motian. The theme is another charismatic contrapuntal maze, while the chords for the solos are again on the busy side. If I have a criticism of this wonderful music, it is that the solo sections can feel a little blocky and relentless in their harmonic motion, “Giant Steps” but without Coltrane’s inevitable logic. It’s hip as hell but just a shade constricting for improvised creativity. Russell himself would help inspire the modal movement, and eventually would adopt more open and modal structures himself. Something like “Witch Hunt” shows the road that was not taken — a road not taken for a reason.

“The Sad Sergeant” Russell writes, “The military and the blues theme is maintained throughout the composition.” It is so cute and adorable to hear Bill fucking Evans playing these complicated written parts.

“Knights of the Steamtable” Dedicated to Russell’s local musician’s union. Have I read of a jazz cat dedicating a tune to the union before? According the notes, Farmer is playing polytonally in his solo, but it doesn’t scan as that “out” to my ears. Beautiful trumpet.

“Ballad of Hix Blewitt” The notes say, “This composition is dedicated to the memory of a friend who possessed a legendary quality…I felt that he was a combination of the West, the blues, and good Dixie humor.” The piece begins as the least “jazzy” on the date, the drums lay out as flute, guitar, and piano intertwine. Hell of a blindfold test. The Brooklyn jazz kids are trying to compose music like this in 2022. The bitonal bluesy piano is awesome (probably all written out?) and the comic “Dixie” touch is silly indeed.

“Concerto for Billy the Kid” The Jazz Workshop would have been one of the earliest LPs where Bill Evans got a chance to make an impact with jazz listeners. The burning piano cadenzas over II/Vs (based on “I’ll Remember April” in F) show how well Evans understood Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano.

1956 is right around a turning point for recorded sound. Things were improving fast, and there’s something about the instruments in the room for The Jazz Workshop which is just perfect. In the notes, Russell compliments engineer Ray Hall.

New York, N.Y.

The next disc is a concept album celebrating the Big Apple in 1959. The instrumentation is for full big band, and the featured soloists include Jon Hendricks, who sings/speaks introductions to every piece, called “narration” on the LP jacket. Hendricks’s poetic/amusing contribution is a highlight of the disc. It really does feel like midcentury New York City…

“Manhattan” (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers) Hendricks enthuses over Charli Persip’s solid beat. When the tune comes in, the writing in the horns is quite dense and contrapuntal. Unlike the previous album, the tracks are quite long, and the soloists have more room to build a statement. The Bob Brookmeyer (then Brookmeyer/Frank Rehak), Bill Evans, and John Coltrane improvisations all begin duo with Milt Hinton. It’s quite a journey with these major voices interacting with Russell’s complex backgrounds featuring a wall of brass, fleet saxophones, tuba and guitar. The original Rodgers and Hart ditty is left far behind. Art Farmer plays well too, while Coltrane offers some shapes over a vamp near the end. A modernist piano cadenza (is Evans reading these outlandish chords from paper?) leads into

“Big City Blues” The tempo slows as Hendricks’s beat poetry takes a rueful turn. The syncopated bass line is long and written out, I can’t think of any other jazz from this era where the bassist would have to read quite like this. Kudos to Milt Hilton! There’s about six minutes of obscure modernist blues before Benny Golson seizes the day for some superlative breathy tenor. Art Farmer and Bill Evans also shine in solo statements. The horn writing is quite challenging and complex. Impressive music.

Manhattan: “Rico” In the previous decade, Russell had been there for the latin jazz innovations of Dizzy Gillespie, even writing a key work for the movement, “Cubano Be, Cubano Bop.” For the current offering, Hendricks talks about the price of plane ticket from Puerto Rico to New York over multiple drummers including the bongos of Al Epstein, Russell’s own chromatic drums, and the conventional but convincing kit of Don Lamond. As the piece proceeds, a kind of suite of different moods emerges, with fine solos from Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, and Art Farmer.

East Side Medley: “Autumn in New York”/”How About You?” (Vernon Duke, Ira Gershwin)/(Ralph Freed, Burton Lane) Hendricks explains that some New York denizens like to stay inside. Evans plays solo for time, really abstract and beautiful, setting up a poetic solo piano chorus of “Autumn in New York.” Hinton and Persip ease in — too bad there isn’t a record of this Evans trio! After horn commentary featuring those mysterious Russell lines, the tempo picks up and the piano trio offers “How About You,” which then moves into the horns and points exploratory.

“A Helluva Town” In the liner notes, Russell tells Burt Korall that he quit playing serious drums because of the great Max Roach. Roach shows up to give New York N.Y. its big finish on “A Helluva Town.” The drum solos are naturally spectacular (and seem to be connected to the opening Hendricks rave about the tempo of the city) but it’s not just Roach, there’s a splendid focus to this chart overall. Love those fast and wild Russell lines in the band.

While New York, N.Y. is an undeniable achievement, I rank it just behind The Jazz Workshop. Paradoxically, the many horns seem diminish the forward motion found on the first LP. When it is just McKusick playing one of Russell’s thorny lines, the lone musician has all the room to phrase it just so. When McKusick is joined by four other saxes, it all becomes a bit more fussy. There are other factors: The sonics aren’t sorted quite as well on the first LP (Bill Evans and Milt Hinton playing duo have more presence than the full band shout) and there are some awkward edits.

On the final track, Max Roach puts the horns in their place and the music drives forward. Offhand I can’t think of Max with a big band featured like this somewhere else, so New York, N.Y. still gets 11/10.

Jazz in the Space Age

(Full disclosure: This week, David Virelles and I will be playing Jazz in the Space Age with Pedro Guedes leading the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos for concerts in Porto and Madrid.)

The general aesthetic style of The Jazz Workshop and New York, N.Y. is similar. It’s all advanced music but the harmonic and rhythmic ideas are not far removed from common practice.

Things take a turn for the abstract in Jazz for the Space Age in 1960. In the notes, Russell suggests jazz will have a “pan-rhythmic and pan-tonal future,” and the far-out cover art is of a piece with other Eisenhower-to-Kennedy era modernist pop such as the Norge ball.

The nascent jazz education movement is also a visible new element. Three of the horn soloists, Al Kiger, Dave Young, and David Baker, were imported from the Indianapolis/Indiana University scene, and all three would appear within the same year as the front line of the important George Russell Sextet. Russell met Kiger and Baker when teaching at the legendary Lenox Jazz Workshop in Massachusetts, the same summer when Ornette Coleman was a student. Baker, a founding father of jazz education as we know it, would establish his beachhead at IU-Bloomington later in the 1960s. There’s quite a lot about Russell and this era in Monika Herzig’s valuable biography, David Baker: A Legacy in Music.

Bill Evans gets the credit on the cover and in the liners, but Paul Bley is right in the mix on all three “Chromatic Universes.” Again, there is a Lenox connection: Bley arrived just in time at the workshop, driving from California, to join in on the last tune and make an impression. In his autobiography Stopping Time, Bley claimed he got a few years worth of work in New York from sitting in on one tune at Lenox. Bley’s extended comment on Jazz in the Space Age is amusing, although it must be said that Bley also liked to tell a tall tale.

…there was a phone call from George Russell inviting me to be part of a project for Decca records. It was a piece for two pianos and orchestra, which involved a lot of written music. There was one condition. A large orchestral score went with the gig, and if I’d come over he’d give me the score. I’d have thirty days to practice it and return it to his apartment, at which time I would play the score. If I made a single mistake, the assignment would be given to another pianist.

I took the score home and went into the music room and Carla put trays of food under the door for the next thirty days. When I went back to his apartment there was no question of whether I would make a mistake. I hadn’t just learned it, I was that music. I played the score without the slightest hesitation and went to the record date for Decca Records. Bill Evans was on piano A and I was on piano B.

….By the time of the George Russell session, he [Bill Evans] was everybody’s favorite pianist, and rightly so. Riverside Records had even called one of his albums Everybody Digs Bill Evans.

The piece called for a lot of improvising by the two pianists, in three of four lengthy non-orchestral sections, accompanied by George playing strung beads pulled over the surface of small drums, and a rhythm section playing odd meters….We started with the rhythm section playing this very off rhythm. This was my universe — rhythm sections that played wrong, no harmony or melody given. This was the atmosphere that I normally breathed, and what flashed through my mind was, now, am I going to make it easy for Bill, or am I going to make it hard for Bill?

Because everybody loved Bill Evans. He already owned 99 percent of the jazz piano business. And I was hoping to get a corner on some part of the one percent that was left. So I threw the kitchen sink at him in the first phase — and I was appalled to hear him throw it right back at me. The was good and bad news.

The whole date went like that. No matter what I did, Bill was right there tossing it back — leading, following, doing everything George could have hoped for. After the first take, as the rhythm section faded out, George rushed up and kissed us on both cheeks and said no one had ever played his music properly before. The rest of the date went fine. The orchestral music was read correctly, there were three or four more long two-piano-with-rhythm sections, and we all left in a blaze of glory.

“Chromatic Universe, Part 1” Several pieces on the disc share the same moody introductory celeste chord accompanied by Russell on rustling chromatic drums. A fierce odd-meter vamp is established from Milt Hinton and Don Lamond, and we are off into a signature sound of the album, Evans and Bley playing together as one.

“Dimensions” Starts as a beautiful blues ballad with Dave Young in the lead, who has a lovely tone on tenor. The tempo picks up and now we are in the spacey up-tempo jazz that was Russell’s favored flavor: Kansas City swing but with Bartók in the bass line. Charli Persip is particularly fine on this track.

More than on New York, N.Y., the long compositions on Jazz in the Space Age have the through-line of inevitability. Evans takes a long ocatonic solo, one can hear him wrestling the very non-bop harmonic progression into something more like Bud. Trumpeter Al Kiger plays a good solo, as does Dave Young. (The students are working out, although I wish Hal McKusick, present in the horn section on all three albums, had gotten one more airy alto solo on a Russell record, considering how good he sounds on The Jazz Workshop.) The pianists don’t comp behind the horn solos, rather it’s all Hinton and Persip, with varied Russell horn backgrounds protruding at the right time.

“Chromatic Universe, Part 2” The three “Chromatic Universes” aren’t that different, the vamp is the same, but there are more horns with each reprise.

“The Lydiot” momentarily features another bass and drums vamp which is almost as challenging as the vamp of “Chromatic Universe.” I’d be curious to learn how hard it was for Milt Hinton and Don Lamond to play these odd meter vamps….maybe they had to practice, or maybe they could read it down.

In 1960, writing in 5/2 for forces wasn’t a viable option, so Russell writes 4/4 horn melodies against the vamp. In “The Lydiot” this technique is particularly successful, the horns build up a quite a bit of steam, somewhere between Charles Ives and Charles Mingus.

This is the first solo from David Baker on record, who trades off with Frank Rehak.

“Waltz from Outer Space” The melodic material is even more attractive than usual, bluesy yet atonal double time passages, call and response in the trumpets and saxes. Most of the piano blowing on the disc is linear, but for a moment Evans stops and plays some lovely locked hand modal chords, similar to his famous improvisation on “So What.”

“Chromatic Universe, Part 3” More of the chaos. The space ship recedes into the distance…

The three expanded band pieces on Jazz in the Space Age, “Dimensions,” “The Lydiot,” and “Waltz from Outer Space,” are really their own thing and seem to bring the Russell aesthetic to its fullest expression so far. The “Chromatic Universes” have Bill Evans and Paul Bley sounding like one wild four-handed pianist. All in all, a fitting capstone to Russell’s early large ensemble period.

(Bonus track no. 1)

Three standalone features for Evans, Eric Dolphy, and Shelia Jordan are in my personal pantheon.

“All About Rosie” A magnificent three-part work that opens the Gunther Schuller-conceived Modern Jazz Concert: Six Compositions Commissioned by the 1957 Brandeis University Festival of the Arts. The first two movements are contrapuntal and bluesy, classic Russell, and then Bill Evans lets fly in the third movement.

“Round Midnight” and “You Are My Sunshine” are two arrangements I’ve known since my teenage acquisition of the two-fer Outer Thoughts, a compilation of the Riverside LPs Ezz-Thetic and The Outer View. All the music from the Russell sextet is interesting, but these showcases for Dolphy and Jordan are truly special. Re-listening now I’m noticing how much piano Russell is playing in support of his ensemble. Sounds good, George!

(Bonus track no. 2)

Bill Evans and George Russell collaborated on a later occasion, Living Time from 1972. While credited as an Evans album, this ambitious and frankly quite messy project is obviously Russell’s baby just as much as Jazz in the Space Age. Every piece is simply called an “Event” (“Event I,” “Event II” and so forth) and most of the record is heavy on vamps, rock beats, drones, and exotic instrumentation.

The large ensemble has some extraordinary names (Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams for starters) but there are hardly any conventional jazz solos, even for the star pianist. (JoHen peeks out of the texture a bit on “Event V.”)

For that matter, there is not much conventional composition, either. In the notes, Orrin Keepnews explains that Russell is using “cycles,” which suggests that Russell was not armed with all that much music paper in the studio, but instead came up with many of the repetitive textures and riffs on the spot. Russell is quoted as saying, “It’s as if I were creating an improvised sculpture.”

In the realm of total speculation: Evans is reading a sophisticated vamp on almost every “Event.” Perhaps Russell brought in those reasonably detailed piano vamps and orchestrated them in the studio with the help of Carl Atkins, credited as Russell’s assistant in large print and photographed with Russell and Evans’s manager Helen Keane. (“Carl! Give the saxophones the middle line while I find the right mute for the trumpets.”)

Of course, this loose way of working is very 1972. One of Russell’s few peers, Gil Evans, went on a similar path, writing fewer pages for the full band around this time and later.

Maybe I’m mellowing with age, but I like Living Time a lot more than I used to. Formerly I considered the whole LP essentially a write-off, but now I can appreciate how Evans and Russell are dancing with the zeitgeist. Jazz in the Space Age is indisputably the greater album, but Living Time can also claim a proper place in the library of cool weird music.

Number One

Brand new essay: All-Star Television: Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Ralph Ellison, and Martin Williams

This article was truly a blast to write and was commissioned for issue 13.1 of the Journal of Jazz Studies. Thanks to Sean Lorre and Lawrence Davies for their thoughtful editing; I also got good feedback from Loren Schoenberg and Lewis Porter. 

Brad Linde found the amazing 1965 video, and on the Mingus centennial I sent it along to Brian Krock for uploading to his YouTube channel. 

The program has some of the most remarkable jazz on video I’ve ever seen, and the commentary is almost as fascinating. As I write in my essay: 

The thread of Ellison’s commentary would be picked up by future African American writers and musicians. Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, and Wynton Marsalis all regarded Ellison as a touchstone, and Ellison’s determination to define jazz, especially to define it in terms of a “Negro American” aesthetic, foreshadows Murray’s book-length manifesto Stompin’ theBlues and the “jazz wars” of the 1980s and ‘90s, of which Crouch and Marsalis were regular combatants.9 The first time I looked at Jazz: The Experimenters, I was a bit surprised to see Ellison in the “Stanley Crouch role.” This comment may paint me as naive, but I believe many of my peers also think of Crouch, Wynton, Ken Burns’s Jazz, and so forth as a phenomenon of the Jazz at Lincoln Center era. It is edifying to see Ellison take this side of the discourse decades earlier.

All the Things You Could Be by Now If You Had Joined Substack in the Early Years

(The title above is a riff on Mingus’s “All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother.”)

A significant social media presence and an overstuffed email list are good tools for any independent performing artist.

In addition to gigging, I write, and have to get my words in front of eyeballs (otherwise there’s no point).

What you are reading now, DTM, is central station, I’ve been publishing steadily here for about 18 years. However, ever since blogs went the way of the 33 RPM platter, I have needed to drive traffic to DTM from other apps and websites.

Troubled times, perhaps. Facebook seems old-fashioned, Instagram is mostly pictures, and Twitter has been roiling with uncertainty since Elon Musk’s recent acquisition. Some commentators predict the sharp decline of these social media giants.

I have built up a significant Twitter following, so would be very sorry to see it go if it implodes, but at least I’ll still have my Substack, Transitional Technology, which has a respectable membership, over 4000 subscribers. I haven’t done so much interacting with my subscribers at TT, mainly because I am so active on FB and Twitter, but I promise to start responding to comments and questions at my Substack if the threads take off.

Sign up is free, although Substackers who pay are definitely financing my quasi-long form content at this point. I occasionally think about knocking off the deep dives, for things are going well on the career front, and I’ve been writing about jazz and crime fiction for so long…

I’m still doing it, thanks to Substack. Within the last two months I’ve written substantially on Steve Lacy/Don Cherry, Gary Bartz/Charles Tolliver, Kenny Wheeler, and Peter Straub. As long as I have a paying audience, I’ll keep going.

I joined Substack when it was very new, mainly to have a solid vendor for bulk email. Apparently this was the right horse to back, for the company has only gotten more visible over time. Indeed, the amount of good music writing to be found on Substack these days recalls the early fun days of the jazz blogosphere.

Vinnie Sperrazza is a terrific drummer, and his new Substack is called CHRONICLES. 

Vinnie promises articles on:

1) Sanctified Dreams: A look at the music and context of the four albums released in 1988 which featured Joey Baron, Tim Berne, Bill Frisell, and Hank Roberts 

2) A Listener’s Guide To Lifetime: a complete guide to the music of Tony Williams from 1969-1980

3) Volition: Ralph Peterson On Record, 1984-1993

4) Who Invented Free Jazz Drumming? 

5 Alas Yeah No: Jim Black and Chris Speed, 1999-2010

6) An in-depth look at Chano Pozo

7) Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds: Early Jazz Piano Trio 

8) Celebrating JMT Records 

9) Instrumental Pop Hits, 1945-2000. “There are a lot more than we realize”

Lewis Porter’s Playback is publishing some astonishing things. Yeah Lewis!!!

I’m a big fan of Roz Milner on Music.

Nate Chinen is currently perhaps the most visible jazz critic (thankfully maestro Chinen has good taste) and puts longer musings at The Gig.

Jeff Sultanof dives deep into midcentury American (love Jeff on people like Nelson Riddle).

Phil Freeman of Burning Ambulance cuts a wide path, I’m looking forward to Freeman’s upcoming book on Cecil Taylor.

Ted Gioia, the Honest Broker, is the most successful music Substacker. Ted’s unique and powerful insights, especially into the business, have gone viral far outside the jazz community.

“Love, Sweet Love”

The first two runs of Mark Morris’s “The Look of Love” went very well. Burt Bacharach came to the dress rehearsal in Santa Monica and said he liked my arrangements. Blessed by Burt! I can live with that.

There were two good reviews of the Kennedy Center performances: Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post, and Carolyn Kelemen for MD Theatre Guide

The costumes are by Isaac Mizrahi. This picture by Skye Schmidt includes singer Marcy Harriell:

I snapped this pic two of my collaborators, drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson:

Steve Lacy with Don Cherry, “Evidence”

A few years ago, “Don Cherry” started trending on Twitter occasionally thanks to Canadian ice hockey. These days, “Steve Lacy” is trending with some frequency, especially after the guitarist destroyed a fan’s phone onstage.

Earlier this week, I tweeted jokingly about the topic.

For me, Lacy and Cherry together will always mean the November 1961 studio session with Carl Brown and Billy Higgins. Evidence is a unique and fabulous one-off featuring four tunes from Thelonious Monk and two from Ellington/Strayhorn. Cherry and Higgins were Ornette Coleman associates, while both Lacy and Higgins had played with Monk, and the melodic/creative feeling of the session is really a gorgeous cross between Ornette and Monk — with just a dash of Ellington. Perfection.

The mysterious Carl Brown holds his own in elevated company. Some have suggested that Brown is actually Charlie Haden, Buell Neidlinger, or someone else with a more familiar name. This is not true. Carl Brown split the scene shortly after this date, but for a moment he was a respected NYC bassist, and he sure sounds good on this session.

“The Mystery Song” One wonders just how Lacy dug up this novelty number from 1931, for in 1961 Ellington studies were still in their infancy, with only a few early 78s re-issued on LP at that time.

Update, December 2022: A few months after writing this post, I came across the sheet music to “The Mystery Song” in the recent anthology Rediscovered Ellington: Piano Arrangements. It says the copyright was renewed in 1960, perhaps for a folio at that time? At any rate, I can easily see the second page of this sheet music as the source for Lacy’s interpretation, for this sheet is what he plays. (With this as a guide, Lacy wouldn’t even need to find the original record.)

Ellington probably wrote “The Mystery Song” for a revue or some such while still appearing nightly at the Cotton Club. Lacy slows down the tempo and wisely cuts the “B” theme.

Ellington’s original is quite thick harmonically. What exactly are the chord changes for this updated version? Neither Lacy nor Cherry are too worried about that topic, beginning with stark octaves or minor seconds in the theme. These two true melodic geniuses wind a secret path while blowing.

The soprano saxophonist would keep on returning to the idea of Ellington’s “jungle music” for the rest of his career, but this track would remain one the best examples of this kind of Lacy-helmed “exotic groove.” Billy Higgins is so damn swinging, with his left hand holding a mallet to start.

Listening with headphones, I caught a slightly awkward edit going into the head out. Doesn’t matter. “The Mystery Song” remains one of the great opening tracks to a jazz LP.

“Evidence” The horn players drastically simplify Monk’s complicated rhythms in the theme. Some might dock them points for this “cheat,” although, to be fair, Monk never played “Evidence” this fast, and the straight hemiola used by Lacy/Cherry does work well. With Cherry and Higgins talking at this quicker pace, the music really starts to sound like Ornette’s band. The horn players improvise on the changes of “Evidence” but it’s wide open in feeling. In terms of where they were at in 1961, I’ve never heard Cherry nor Lacy sound better than their solos on “Evidence.” Pure magic.

OMG there’s an edit into the out head on this one too. Never noticed before. Some digital transfers are notably unkind to the tape era…

“Let’s Cool One” Drum breaks for Higgins in the slightly square theme. (I’ve written before, “Although he didn’t say so, I remain convinced Monk is making fun of the West Coast cool school with a supremely un-syncopated melody.”) Cherry is very bluesy in his gorgeous and extended solo. Lacy sometimes comments behind Cherry, which works well in this piano-less context. This date offers an especially fine display of Higgins’s left hand. Billy Hart told me that Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins share something in conception, and in the strut of “Let’s Cool One” I can dig what Hart is saying.

I always listened to the first side of the LP. The second side is also beautiful, but those first three tunes above are about as good as it gets.

“San Francisco Holiday” In 1961 this composition was brand new, and today it remains a lesser-played Monk tune. The inner-moving line is good for two horns. Great drum solo.

“Something To Live For” Don Cherry sits this one out. Billy Strayhorn’s ballad features sustained dramatic color tones in the melody and uneven phrasing in the form, factors that make it difficult to play well without supporting harmony. Cherry played piano in somewhat Monkish fashion…too bad he didn’t comp a few salty chords on the studio instrument for this one.

“Who Knows” Fast and amusing melody. Monk only recorded it once in the early years, in a blur of inaccurate horns: The title almost seems to mean, “Who Knows What These Notes Are.” In this rendition the connection to Ornette couldn’t be more clear. The tempo might be a shade quick for Lacy to play eighth notes; Cherry sounds more confident with his intentionally loose cornet ramble. The horn trades are fun and the spirits are high, with Higgins getting an appropriate concluding flourish.