Completely Natural

Now online: A recording/video documenting Alvin Singleton’s set of piano variations, Mutations, performed by Jackie Leung. From 1966, this is an early piece from Singleton: florid, dissonant, and intense, especially when compared to more recent spacious masterpieces.

When I interviewed him, Singleton told me how much he liked Herbie Hancock, and that he was at the 1964 Philharmonic concert that produced the Miles Davis albums My Funny Valentine and Four and More. Perhaps I hear a taste of Hancock’s more abstract harmonic language in Mutations, especially as the piece finds a slower, jazzier space around 4:45 in the Leung performance, the transition from the 3rd variation into the epic 4th variation. The whole piece is great; as far as I know, this is the first recording.

[…Hancock studied Olivier Messiaen’s modes of transposition…]

In 1998, Mark Turner recorded “Bo Brussels” on In This World with Kurt Rosenwinkel and two drummers, Jorge Rossy and Brian Blade. In the background of the composition is Messiaen’s third mode. Another great piece!

Cocktail piano

Starting tonight through the end of the month; solo piano; Monday through Thursday at the Zinc Bar, 5:30 to 7. No charge but you can make a reservation…

(The month-long gig culminates in New Years Eve at the Zinc, with Marcy Harriell, Corcoran Holt, and Vinnie Sperrazza, and the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.)

There Comes a Time

On Twitter I goofed off and crowd-sourced a “top 10 fusion tracks” list.

Only six ending up being perfect, meaning tracks that are strong musically and have popular outreach beyond dedicated music fans. (The idea that this is “popular” music is important, for this was the move from clubs to stadiums, and the records really sold much better than almost all previous acoustic jazz.)


Instrumental. Hot jazz improv. Nerdy and aspirational. Even 8th beats. Electric instruments. One artist, one tune.

First six in chronological order:

1. “Red Clay.” Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock build burning solos over the big beat of Lenny White. A perfect “intervallic” pop melody and a CTI best-seller: Hubbard’s career wasn’t the same after. The chaotic fanfare intro is most “pure fusion” element but it’s still 1969, they are just getting going. Another track from the same era and related personnel is Joe Henderson’s “Power to the People,” which might be even greater than “Red Clay,” but it’s just not as popular.

2. “Spain.” 1972. While from the earliest and least-fusion version of Return to Forever, this tune circles the planet. Iconic, etc. Chick Corea stole opening fanfare and was sued. Airto’s beat is a mixture of clave and rock; when Lenny White took over, the rock would be heavier but the clave would still be there.

3. “Chameleon.” 1973. Long, almost a funk jam, but the tune is perfect and still a hook, and Hancock and Bennie Maupin play awesome solos. Track speeds up unbelievably, Hancock regrets that now. A best-seller far and wide.

4. “Some Skunk Funk.” 1975. Among civilians, this is the least known of the top six. Still, when we say FUSION, we mean the Brecker Brothers and SOME SKUNK FUNK. Absolutely! It was really Randy’s band — he wrote the tune and plays great on it — but Michael will forever be the hero. (I never heard the original studio version until working on this post, I grew up on the faster live performance on Heavy Metal Bebop. Both have their charms: maybe a better overall feel in the studio, but more going-for-it insanity from Michael live.)

5. “Birdland.” 1977. My personal favorite Weather Report music lies between the spacey sounds with Miroslav Vitous and coiled virtuosity of Jaco Pastorius, usually powered by the very funky Alphonso Johnson on bass. But you can’t deny the epic Joe Zawinul composition that most humans know and like. Wayne Shorter plays the blues for about eight bars, and Jaco makes the most of a few fills. The whole album Heavy Weather really is wonderful: down with the haters!

6. “Phase Dance.” 1978. Pat Metheny rode the fusion wave into the longest and most consistent run of the big acts. Of course, I love Rejoicing with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins more myself, but this list isn’t about that. This list is about the pure joy “Phase Dance” has given to millions of humans over the years.

After the first six, it’s less obvious. Thanks in part to Maynard Ferguson, several generations of high school marching bands learned “Chameleon” and “Birdland.” But now we are in a different area, where guitarists and drummers know the music from trying to play along in their basements. These themes are not so familiar to civilians.

Selections 7 and 8 are “Birds of Fire” and “Stratus.” John McLaughlin! Billy Cobham! Mahavishnu! More dated than the top six, also busier, crazier, and the true heart of the snarling fusion beast. Odd-meters! GUITAR. DRUMS. Other selections may do just as well as “Birds of Fire” and “Stratus.”

Selections 9 and 10 are shared by Tony Williams and Miles Davis. Going back to the acoustic music of the 60s, Tony was ahead of everybody; he liked the Beatles and Brazilian music. Some say “Eighty One” on E.S.P. is the first fusion track.

Tony found a British Invasion guitarist for his Lifetime, and Miles poached McLaughlin for In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Miles gets the credit for the fusion revolution but Tony was there first. (Tony was mad about it, that’s why he plays so simply on In a Silent Way. Tony also wanted to call the style “Jazz-rock” instead of “fusion.”)

I personally never listened to either In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew much, they are too jammy for me — I like hit melodies best — but one can’t consider fusion without Miles Davis, the man who gave the style his imprimatur with both the audiences and the musicians. Pick a track from either — or pick excellent “Right Off” from Jack Johnson (which has no larger cultural footprint) or the later ’81 “Jean Pierre” which has entered the common practice rep. However, having made my list, I think the era really is ’69-’78. (Some would mention the earlier Filles de Kilimanjaro here as well.)

For Tony, the specialists (ok, it was just one specialist I trust, Vinnie Sperrazza, and a few people I don’t know on Twitter) gave me “Fred,” with another key fusion musician, Allan Holdsworth, who also wrote the track. It’s great, right in there (1975), and if you go to YouTube you can see 135 commenters losing their minds over the GUITAR and the DRUMS.

There were big hits that were not nerdy or aspirational, like “Breezin” and “Mr. Magic,” other things by Donald Byrd, Jeff Lorber, Stanley Clarke, Bob James, etc., and one can certainly stretch to Spyro Gyra and the Yellowjackets in one direction and Herbie Mann, the Crusaders, and Gary Burton in the other.

But I like my list, it feels right. Indeed, this is the definitive listing. No other list is necessary. (LOL!)

Related DTM: 10 gateway tracks to modern jazz.

“What do you give someone to introduce them to modern jazz?”

In my recent article on A Love Supreme, I make the observation that Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme are in a class of two.

The criteria includes:

  • Peak popularity with a general audience aligned with peak musicianship
  • Small group instrumental modern jazz with extensive improvised horn solos
  • A priority on group interplay, where each member of the band makes a personal and undeniable contribution to the overall sound.

Kind of Blue is obviously first. A Love Supreme is obviously second.

After those two there’s nothing else that fits the same profile. Time Out is not peak musicianship (I love it, but it can’t possibly be compared to the other two), and piano trios like Concert by the Sea, Live at the Pershing, and Sunday at the Village Vanguard aren’t quite right either.

In lieu of a third place winner, I’d submit ten Blue Note LPs.

They all deal with essentially the same continuum. Nothing that avant-garde, and not just no piano trios, but no organ or guitar dates either. A certain thing, and a thing that has outreach beyond serious jazz fans. These records could be in anyone’s collection; I’ve heard all of them in coffee shops and airports.

David Sanborn told me that classic Blue Note records were like classic Film Noir. That’s a perfect comparison. A baseline, all engineered by Rudy Van Gelder in a humble studio, all more truly alike than truly different.

There’s a lot of great jazz from all sorts of angles, but this is the center of the mosaic. A peak of American music, 1958-1967.

Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin‘ (1958)

Cannonball Adderley, Somethin’ Else (1958)

Art Blakey, Moanin’ (1958)

Hank Mobley, Soul Station (1960)

Dexter Gordon, Go (1962)

Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder (1963)

Horace Silver, Song for My Father (1964)

Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage (1965)

Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil (1965)

McCoy Tyner, The Real McCoy (1967)

In half the cases the album is not my personal top selection for the given leader. Many would disagree with me, but I’d choose Empyrean Isles over Maiden Voyage and JuJu over Speak No Evil. Less controversial is the suggestion the Blakey, Silver, and Morgan LPs aren’t automatically their best; it’s more that the opening title tunes have such a hold on the human imagination that they simply must be included. (Of course, they are all still great records from top to bottom.) With Adderley it is a similar case, that moody opening “Autumn Leaves” is just too important. (It’s also almost a way of sneaking another Miles Davis date on to this list.) As for Clark, Mobley, Gordon, and Tyner, it is a smooth 1:1 ratio, these albums make the list and are also personal favorites.

Lists are banal and reductive, but they are also interesting thought experiments. The complete list ends up being my proposal for “What do you give someone to introduce them to modern jazz?” A banal and reductive question, but an important question nonetheless. That’s the answer: Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, and these ten Blue Notes.

In the age of streaming playlists, the opening tracks of the dozen are a notably perfect “starter kit.”

“Cool Struttin'”
“Autumn Leaves”
“So What”
“The Sidewinder”
“Song for My Father”
“Part 1: Acknowledgement”
“Maiden Voyage”
“Witch Hunt”
“Passion Dance”

Of course, there are plenty of other things to play for a newbie, including Time Out, Getz/Gilberto, the great vocalists, the great piano trio records, the organ records, the guitar records, the big band records. But I like my list. It is all the same yet different, it’s all got charisma, and it’s all absolutely the finest music imaginable. Again, the center of the mosaic.


The first tune on the earliest date, “Cool Struttin,” and the last tune on the final, “Blues on the Corner,” are both 12-bar blues. They even walk at a similar tempo while referencing street life in the title. More truly alike than truly different — yet under the hood, what a turbo-charged nine years of change, evolving from peak Sonny Clark/Jackie McLean to peak McCoy Tyner/Joe Henderson.

Joe Henderson doesn’t get a selection — Inner Urge starts with a long bass solo, making it ineligible — but he is a force of nature on three sideman appearances.

It’s hard not to include Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard but the lack of piano — and, frankly, the raw mistakes of a fearless live performance — renders it a bit too abstract for civilians.

Perhaps the most commonplace modern jazz instrumentation is a quartet of tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. A Love Supreme is the fancy version; the meat and potatoes are on Soul Station and Go. But what meat and potatoes!

Modal jazz is more accessible and popular than bebop. Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme are the alpha and omega of modal jazz. Several of the Blue Notes are also a bit modal, especially the opening tracks. In a related topic: There’s plenty of hot blowing but there is not an undue emphasis on fast tempos. None of the opening tunes are fast.

Original compositions heavily outweigh songbook standards, although the standards are there. Only a few albums don’t have a literal blues form, but all have a blues ethos.

Drums: Elvin Jones, three. Art Blakey, three. Billy Higgins, two. One apiece to Jimmy Cobb, Philly Joe Jones, and Tony Williams; Roger Humphries and Roy Brooks split Song for My Father.

Bass: Paul Chambers, three. Ron Carter, three. One apiece to Sam Jones, Butch Warren, Bob Cranshaw, Jimmy Garrison, and Jymie Merritt; Teddy Smith and Gene Taylor split Song for My Father.

Piano: Sonny Clark, two. McCoy Tyner, two. Herbie Hancock, two. Wynton Kelly, one (plus one track on Kind of Blue). One apiece to Hank Jones, Bobby Timmons, Bill Evans, Barry Harris, and Horace Silver.

We are so lucky to have these records!

Artemis and Dianne Reeves at NJPAC

The TD James Moody Jazz Festival is celebrating 10 years, and the relief and joy of both the performers and the audience was palpable. NJPAC is a lovely hall, good sound, good vibes all-around.

Artemis is a supergroup of hot players that scans as a collective, but the music director and MC is the experienced Renee Rosnes, who has played with seemingly every consecrated mainstream jazz master. Anat Cohen, Ingrid Jensen, and Nicole Glover tell their stories in the front line, Noriko Ueda and Allison Miller are the engine room.

A group like this is not necessarily organic, but I always like hearing people who wouldn’t automatically play together work it out in real time. Indeed, the members of Artemis are more diverse aesthetically than the Blue Note confabs two generations ago such as Out of the Blue or Superblue. (Trivia: I bought Superblue 2 on cassette tape in 1989, with Renee Rosnes on piano.) The repertoire is varied but the intent is unified.

Set list:

“Galapagos” (Rosnes) — a burning modal fanfare, everyone got a say. Clarinet, Trumpet, and Tenor is reasonably unusual, but the impact was similar to any good hard bop sextet.

“Step Forward” (Ueda) — jokes about early piano lessons (Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” lurks in the background) moves into a fast and pretty waltz.

“Nocturnal” (Cohen) — Cohen showed off her skills as a colorist in the Ellington line in a moody number.

“Big Top” (Rosnes) — a multi-sectional showstopper, the highlight of the set. Even a bit of the AACM was present in the circus touches. However, when it comes time to play serious uptempo jazz, the cats in Artemis throw down. Jensen really is one of the best trumpeters around.

“The Fool on the Hill” (arr. Jensen) — A Beatles classic in Jensen’s slow and chromatic reharmonization.

“The Procrastinator” (Lee Morgan) — I suspect Rosnes did this arrangement, with an exotic piano intro and an emphasis on parallel harmony. By this time everyone was all the way in gear; Glover tore the changes completely apart.

“Goddess of the Hunt” (Miller) — another notably strong original. As with “Big Top” this kind sprawling form suits the band. Miller was dynamite throughout, and the drum solos were crowd-pleasers, but I’ve heard some of Miller’s own records, and I wouldn’t object if some of her more avant and pop tendencies pushed further into the mix as Artemis evolves. During the piano solo, Rosnes played some truly impossible double-time runs.

Diane Reeves’s fine band included Romero Lubambo, Peter Martin, Ben Williams, and Terreon Gully. They walked through a casual “Alone Together” to warm up with before Reeves came out. Her opening rubato a cappella statement on “Stella by Starlight” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Perfect pitch, perfect sound, wide range, direct emotion.

Josh Redman told me once, “The only person I don’t want to follow at a jazz festival is Diane Reeves,” and by the end of the set, I could see why. This audience was in the palm of her hand, she put everyone on the same page, preaching the truth of love and forgiveness.

I didn’t know every tune, but was surprised to hear Pat Metheny’s “Minuano,” which featured a strong scat solo from Reeves. (Trivia: I bought Still Life/Talking on LP in 1988.) There was a Brazilian theme throughout; of course Lubambo is a master Brazilian guitarist, and at the end Reeves said her next album will be all-Brazilian.

Other highlights included “A Time for Love,” duo with Lubambo, and Peter Martin’s rather astonishing opening cadenza to “Infant Eyes.” The band was grooving hard. It was apparently Williams’s first gig with the group and he offered serious vibes on both acoustic and electric bass. Gully played the room, played a “singer’s gig,” but a few happily esoteric fills confirmed his status as one of the heavy cats.

It was so nice to go out and hear a serious concert!


New for The Nation: “Which Version of A Love Supreme Reigns Supreme?”

Credit to Lewis Porter and Ashley Kahn: Anyone writing on this topic is indebted to their pioneering work, not just Porter’s biography of Coltrane and Kahn’s book on A Love Supreme, but also their superb liner notes to both the deluxe reissue of A Love Supreme and the new A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle.

The “score” in Coltrane’s own hand:

The payroll statement for the December 9, 1964 session at Van Gelder’s:

Bits and pieces that didn’t make the finished essay:

[From the essay: “Acknowledgement” is a groovy vamp, “Resolution” plaintive swing tune, “Pursuance” a burning fast minor blues, and “Psalm” a poem over a drone.] The euphonious key structure of the four pieces — F, E-flat, B-flat, and C — maps out the cellular information of much of the melodic material, 4/5ths of a pentatonic scale.

Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, Psalm

The opening fanfare is comprised mostly of E, F-sharp, and B, all notes “out of key” from the rest of the suite; a dramatic “neighbor note” (and also a partial pentatonic) implying the vast amount of chromatic elaboration Coltrane will employ to ornament his basic modal structures.


In addition to dry technical details, the work is grounded by a vibrant emotional rhythm: Love of life and of God. 


Omree Gal-Oz has created a score-scrolling video of A Love Supreme for YouTube. The final section, “Psalm,” where Coltrane performs his poem (at 26 minutes) is particularly exciting, for Gal-Oz makes the relationship of text to tone completely obvious.


It’s a bit unfair to bring up Plays Duke Ellington, for this LP might have simply been the record label’s idea: producer Bob Thiele had recently signed Ellington to Impulse! and probably this was an attempt at some kind of cross-pollination.  There’s a somewhat surprising amount of Coltrane/Ellington back and forth. Not only did McCoy track an album of Ellington covers, but Coltrane and Ellington made a classic album together; eventually Elvin’s first gig after Trane was with Duke.


A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is “Volume Two” of Live in Seattle, first released as a 2-LP set in the ’70s, then expanded with more tracks on compact disc in the ‘90s.

All the music recorded that week has a similar shape, especially thanks to a new chaos demon in the form of Donald Garrett on second bass. Garrett and Garrison are totally in their own zone, it’s almost as if they aren’t even listening to anyone else. When Coltrane calls “Out of this World,” the bassists immediately strum low E together. Tyner gently plays an octave E-flat for a while, trying to get them to find the right key, before giving up and grimly settling into E-flat dorian to support Trane’s impassioned preach of the old Harold Arlen tune. All the while, the bassists don’t let up, they just stay in the land of “noise bass on the open strings.” It actually kind of works, but it’s also pretty damn nuts. It’s easy to understand why Tyner left shortly after.

Yeah: If you like extended avant-garde bass, the Seattle music has you covered, especially during A Love Supreme. Garrison and Garrett wander around together after the opening fanfare, offer no less than 12 minutes of solo and duet interludes in the middle, and keep playing after the suite is over.

There are plenty of other highlights, including fervent solos by Sanders and Ward. Still, nobody but Coltrane and Elvin Jones knows the music. Even Tyner forgets that “Pursuance” is a blues form and blows a fierce uptempo solo in the “one key” style of ‘65 — although to be fair, maybe the pianist thought that trying to delineate dominant to tonic with two basses working against him was just too hard a job. 

If I had to chose, I’d suggest that Live in Seattle is even more essential than A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, especially for the extraordinary blowing from Coltrane and Tyner on “Body and Soul” and “Out of This World.” Together, Coltrane and Tyner had reimagined the Great American Songbook in their own image, and this is the final document of that astounding journey.


The McCoy Tyner quote, “All black peoples of the earth always improvise their music. We never sit down and systemize everything” comes from the Joe Brazil site curated by Steve Griggs. Brazil recorded all the Seattle material; Griggs was the one to discover the Seattle Love Supreme tapes in the Brazil archive. Many thanks to Griggs for all this vital work! The Brazil site is a treasure trove, and the Seattle Love Supreme is a magnificent addition to the discography.

The release of A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle has been unanimously praised by critics. I praise it myself. We must validate Coltrane’s quest, noisy bassists and all.

(Footnote: I love my editor, Don Guttenplan, but almost had a heart attack when I saw his subhead, “Is the latest posthumous addition to his canon released today the Holy Grail—or the tainted fruit of a system that denied Coltrane’s collaborators royalties or credit?” I could never call anything by Coltrane tainted. He told me sternly, “Writers don’t get to dictate their headlines,” but I threw myself on his mercy and he took out “tainted.”)

For a time I toyed with trying to write about the conflict of old and new from a musician’s perspective, perhaps trying to honor those who didn’t like the freer music made after Ascension. In the end I’m letting it lay. Trane was right. Of course.

Not too many consecrated African-American musicians have criticized Trane in public, but Jimmy Heath hints at the opposing viewpoint in I Walked with Giants:

I was working at Slugs in the East Village with Art Farmer when Coltrane died on July 17, 1967. We played late sets, and I was very tired when I went to the funeral on July 21 at the old gothic-style Saint Peter’s Lutheran church at Fifty-fourth Street and Lexington Avenue, with the Reverend John Gensel as pastor. That building predated the Citicorp Center site where the church is currently located. I sat next to Sonny Stitt during the funeral. I had been asked to be the pallbearer, but I couldn’t handle it. I was in tears when I saw Trane in the coffin. His face didn’t look anything like him. It resembled a puffed doll. I noticed his hands, which were just as they had been, and then it hit me that it was John. His whole life flashed back on me, and I was overwhelmed with sorrow. I had been so close to him during all those years with Dizzy and the many practicing sessions. I remembered when he was in Philly practicing all day and hanging out.

People were at the funeral from all over the country and the world. It was a big event, and I realized that the humble beginnings he had come from where similar to my own — more even than I realized at the time. For him to have risen to such a point and to then to have been snuffed out made me think of the old expression “Life begins at forty.” Lying in the casket, he was forty and gone. He was out of here. It was overwhelming, and I couldn’t really handle it. Dizzy was sitting in back of me, and there were musicians in the balcony playing free jazz. Dizzy said, “If they play that stuff when I die, Lorraine [Dizzy’s wife] will come in here and shoot all of them.”

Heath is too discreet to mention the musicians performing, but they were big names, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, and their performances from that day can be heard online. I wrote about the Ayler medley in “Albert Ayler at 80.” Ornette’s “Holiday For A Graveyard” is also beautiful.

While working on this essay, I noticed for the first time that McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones did not perform at Coltrane’s funeral. Perhaps this surprising omission indicates just how big the rift really was.

Ads for the Seattle engagement (thanks to Impulse! promo dept.)

John le Carré and Mick Herron

John le Carré would have been 90 today. His greatest work remains Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The BBC television adaption is equally great, for example the astounding quiet opening sequence:

My new British espionage addiction is the Slough House series by Mick Herron, which begins with Slow Horses. In time I will have more to say about Herron, but for now, I am so pleased to have a fresh literary obsession.