Last Post of the Year

Nice to see the NYE gig tomorrow listed in the New York Times:

NYT marcy.jpg

Marcy’s husband Rob took a shot of the two us the last time I played at Zinc with Tootie Heath:

marcy zinc.jpg

That same night Tony Creamer got a nice candid of Tootie and I with Dylan Reis playing bass:

Zinc from Tony Creamer.jpg

Of the many think pieces I read this past year, one really stood out, The Decade Comic Book Nerds Became Our Cultural Overlords, by Alex Pappademas. The article is about film, but there are ways in which his devastating analysis of social media group-think transfers to everything else.

Pappademas nails it in his article, but that doesn’t mean 2019 wasn’t a great year for movies. Indeed, the three pictures I had high hopes for all delivered: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman, and Knives Out.

The Irishman is a grand sendoff, a full-throated “official closing statement” on a style and a generation. More unexpected was the mysterious Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I loved so much that I went back to see it again a week later. Both of these huge, slow-moving epics are more complex than their critics think. Both will stand the test of time.

Early on in the Bad Plus years, James Diers told me to watch Brick, the first film by Rian Johnson, which places a hardboiled crime story inside the convoluted high school milieu of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Knives Out is Johnson’s long-delayed follow-up to Brick. While Brick draws on Dashiell Hammett, Knives Out draws on Agatha Christie. Both have good scores by brother Aaron Johnson.

Knives Out didn’t have anything to do with high school, but it did remind me of Whedon’s amusing Much Ado About Nothing. After either the Avengers or Star Wars, the directors do a smaller scale passion project, perhaps to keep their head in a more creative game.

While the Scorsese and Tarantino movies are almost a dismissal of modernity, Johnson creates magic from the most timely of concerns. Again, a great year for movies, at least for the kind of movies I like.

This past year I continued teaching at NEC. (All I really want to do is sit around and talk about jazz, so they almost don’t need to pay me for hanging out with some of the upcoming best and brightest.)  The ECM disc Common Practice with Tom Harrell, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson came out in October. Commissions, tours, recordings, and special projects are in place for 2020. I am very lucky to do what I do….

Selected gigs from the last 12 months:


12 Billy Hart Quartet with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street at Winter Jazz Fest

29 — Feb 3 Billy Hart Quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street at Village Vanguard


8–10 MMDG Pepperland in Boston

28 “Bud Powell in the 21st Century” at NEC


8-9 MMDG Pepperland at Krannert Center

10 chamber music with Derek Bermel and members of Seattle Symphony

14-16 Dance Heginbotham “Easy Win” Philadelphia

18 MMDG “Pepperland” UK tour begins


(all month) MMDG “Pepperland” UK tour


3-4 trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster at Zinc Bar

8-11 MMDG Pepperland at BAM

17 quartet with Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson at Jazz Gallery

28 trio with Robert Hurst and Nate Wynn at Cliff Bells, Detroit


1-8 duo tour with Mark Turner, including Healdsburg and Spoleto

14-15 Jazz te Gast festival in Holland, a collaboration with Marike van Dijk and many excellent European musicians; premiere of my orchestral piece, “Solve for X”

Lo-fi video of dress rehearsal of “Solve for X”, with Reinout Douma conducting the Noordpool Orchestra:

solve for x page one.jpg

(email me if you want the full score)

20–22 MMDG Pepperland at ADF

25-29 Village Vanguard, either duo with Mark Turner or quartet with Tom Harrell, Ben Street, Eric McPherson


19 Brahms G major violin sonata with Johnny Gandelsman, premiere of “Tiny Trio” with Johnny and Michael Nicolas, Bay Chamber Concerts, Maine

22-27 Langnau workshop, including duo gig with Ron Carter


2 Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner and Joe Martin at Newport (afternoon); Jon Batiste extravaganza at Newport (evening)

19-24 Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner and Joe Martin, Beijing and Tokyo, also one night of duo with Mark Turner in Tokyo

30-31 trio with Larry Grenadier and Al Foster at Mezzrow


10-21 trio with Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy European tour


15-17 quartet with Tom Harrell, Eric McPherson, and Ben Street in Boston, NYC, and Philly

18 two solo pieces as part of gala tribute to Cecil Taylor at NEC

22-27 Billy Hart Quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street at Village Vanguard


1-2 one piece duo with Mark Turner as part of gala ECM at 50 at JALC

13-16 MMDG Pepperland at the Kennedy Center

19-27 duo with Mark Turner European tour


6 solo piano set at Spectrum, Brooklyn

13-14 trio with Dylan Reis and Tootie Heath at Zinc Bar

Memories 2019:


with Tom Harrell (photo by Angela Harrell)


dessert with Carla Bley (photo by Ruth Cameron)


Al Foster and Ron Carter


Pepperland UK: Yegor Shevtsov, Brian Krock, Vinnie Sperrazza, Clinton Curtis, me, Johan Henkens, Rob Schwimmer (photo by Jacob Garchik, who should really be in the photo)


Barry Harris, final set of his September week at the Vanguard


Sarah Deming at Thanksgiving (photo by Marcy Harriell)


Mark Turner, me, Sarah Deming, Ben Street in Vanguard kitchen (photo by John Rogers)


selfie with Craig Taborn at ECM event


the squad helps me practice


between Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard (photographer unknown)


I bought my brother Spencer a lawn tractor


met up with some old pals in Birmingham (photo by Rob Schwimmer)


Bertha Hope and Vernita Ramsey at Van Gelder studios


Larry Grenadier and Al Foster


Mark Turner and Joe Martin


On my wife’s side of the family, Xmas 2019: Bernice (97) had Donna, who had Nikki, who had Tyler, who had David (5)

Bonus track: Composer Alvin Singleton (DTM interview) sent me this great photo of Singleton taking his archives to Columbia University.



Good-bye 2019, and hello, 2020!

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (Or what about the Way to the Zinc Bar?)

nye marcy

In the 1960’s, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Dionne Warwick captured lighting in a bottle, crafting some of the most sophisticated pop music of all time, a small canon that defines American Music just as much as Stephen Foster, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, or George Gershwin.

Burt loved Dizzy Gillespie, studied with Darius Milhaud, and apprenticed with Marlene Dietrich. His melodies and harmonies combine high craft with that mysterious alchemy required to make a song a “hit.”

(In Dave Frishberg’s memoir, he describes studying the “Four Bs” while learning his songwriting craft: The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Brazilians, and Bacharach. Frishberg is an excellent jazz pianist and a fabulous composer of humorous material; his most familiar song in pop culture is “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock.)

It’s time to listen to Burt with fresh ears! We are going to do ten of his masterpieces “straight.” I have transcribed the original recordings and reduced all the sweetenings to piano, bass and drums. As I have been preparing for this project I keep admiring Hal David more and more. Hal David was definitely one of the greatest lyricists of all time.

Marcy Harriell is a versatile artist — like so many talented New Yorkers, her résumé makes one ask what she can’t do — but the skill set she brings to Bacharach is that of the grounded musical theatre pro. Who knows where this collaboration may take us? Join us New Years Eve for the first gig….In addition to a 10-song Bacharach set, I’ll be playing some jazz trio with Corcoran Holt and Vinnie Sperrazza.

Happy Holidaze

Two of my articles are Xmas -themed:

“Deck the Halls with Vince Guaraldi”

“Holiday Cheer and Voice Leading” (includes comments on Carla Bley and Johnny Greenwood)

The bookstores have Sarah Deming’s Gravity prominently displayed; please keep it in mind if you are browsing for a last minute gift. There aren’t so many record stores around anymore, but my Common Practice with Tom Harrell should be available at those that are left.

(Nice five-star review of the latter by Andy Hamilton.)

I admire the timeless purity of the great Christmas carols: their outstanding melodic and harmonic qualities have kept them in circulation. The 20th-century standards with a holiday theme are less important to me, but a few jazz renditions are fabulous:

A raucous “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bill Evans, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian.

Dexter Gordon’s stately-but-casual performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas.”

Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” replete with swinging sleigh-bells.

Charlie Parker’s incandescent “White Christmas.” Bird even has a little syncopated arrangement — a rarity for Bird when playing a standard — and he quotes “Jingle Bells” when blowing.

Keith Jarrett brought up jazzy Christmas when I interviewed him for DownBeat:

I was listening to the radio at Christmastime, and there were horrible jazz versions of horrible Christmas tunes. I was going to turn it off, but then Sonny Rollins came on with “Winter Wonderland.” I said to myself, “There’s no way I can turn it off now!”

Sonny put so much of himself into this piece. It was something that was only Sonny, and that something made the little tune transcendent.

For years I’ve thought that it would be good for Jarrett himself to record an album of carols, as the purity of that comparatively antique expression seems like a fit with the “Köln” side of Jarrett.

Until that happens, my  favorite choice for holiday LP (the disc to spin while trimming the tree etc.) remains resolutely middlebrow: The Canadian Brass playing Bach’s Art of Fugue.

Tootie Heath Returns


Turtle Studio

(photo by Michael Perez during the Philadelphia Beat session)

This coming weekend, Friday and Saturday, I’m showcasing the legendary Albert “Tootie Heath” at the Zinc Bar. The third member of the “classic trio” is Ben Street, who will join us on Saturday, but on Friday the young brilliant Dylan Reis will sub for Ben (who has an unforeseen conflict).

Tootie, one of the greatest drummers of all time and the man behind the kit of the first leader recordings of both John Coltrane and Nina Simone, has been a little less active lately. We decided to bring him out from Santa Fe and play as a kind of benefit for him; indeed, the bassists and I are giving him all the money from the Zinc gigs.

For about five years Tootie, Ben, and I played together several times a year. Every moment I shared on the bandstand with Tootie was a real honor. Ben and I both learned tremendous amount. Tootie’s DTM interview remains good reading, especially for students of the music.

Ralph Peterson had something nice to say about our trio in a recent DownBeat blindfold test:

Ralph Peterson blindfold Tootie
And my best fan, Guillaume Hazelbrook, transcribed my solo on “Bag’s Groove” from the same disc. (Those are Tootie’s tiny croatales at the top of this excerpt.)

On Sunday, 4 PM, Tootie will be at the Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn, giving a talk (or kind of workshop?) called “The Wit and Wisdom of Tootie Heath.” Bassist Martin Nevin and I will be on hand to play a few tunes, but I think Albert will mostly be taking questions and riffing. If you’ve never seen Tootie on a hot mic it is worth the trip: He is hilarious and obscene. Quite terrifying, really. All praise Tootie Heath!