Manifesto!

My second recent podcast (the first was about Rex Stout), this one concerning Wynton Marsalis and his famous broadside, “What Jazz Is — and Isn’t.” We also listen to Wynton’s album J Mood.

Go to this Apple link or search Manifesto! wherever you get your podcasts.

If you know my writing well, nothing I say here will be a surprise, but it is also true that conversation reveals hidden depths of emotion that print may lack…

Manifesto! is hosted by Jacob Siegal and Phil Klay, two important and smart writers/thinkers/podcasters. Thanks Jacob and Phil!

George Crumb, “Ancient Voices of Children”

Ancient Voices Of Children (A Cycle Of Songs On Texts By Federico García Lorca For Mezzo-soprano, Boy Soprano, Oboe, Mandolin, Harp, Electric Piano & Percussion) was released on Nonesuch in 1971, with the same cast that performed the premiere a year earlier.

Arthur Weisberg conducts The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble featuring Jan DeGaetani, Gilbert Kalish, Susan Jolles, Stephen Bell, George Haas, Howard Van Hyning, Raymond DesRoches, Richard Fitz, Jacob Glick and Michael Dash.

A significant number of George Crumb’s moody and theatrical compositions have been settings of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Ancient Voices Of Children tapped into the moment, including anti-Vietnam war sentiment, and remains one of the few genuinely abstract pieces from 20th-century formal American composition to have a cultural footprint larger than a shoebox.

The work is a feature for the wonderful mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani. Crumb wrote:

The vocal style in the cycle ranges from the virtuosic to the intimately lyrical, and in my conception of the work I very much had in mind Jan DeGaetani’s enormous technical and timbral flexibility. Perhaps the most characteristic vocal effect in Ancient Voices is produced by the mezzo-soprano singing a kind of fantastic vocalise (based on purely phonetic sounds) into an amplified piano, thereby producing a shimmering aura of echoes.

DeGaetani’s star turn is not supported by much harmony, traditional or otherwise; this leanness of texture helps create the “ancient” feeling proclaimed in the title. After voice, percussion is the most significant element. The score requires three official percussionists, while the pianos and harp play percussive roles as well.

1a. El niño busca su voz (The Little Boy was Looking for his Voice). Right away, a cadenza for DeGaetani, a document of extreme possibility. There are no words for the singer at first, rather simply phonetic sounds. Again, everything behind her is very sparse. The general feel throughout most of the movements is spacious, almost tentative. It works pretty well on record, but in live performance the execution of all the “tricks” (singing inside the piano, the instrumentalists taking turns with spoken dialogue, and so forth) adds another layer of tension.

1b. Dances of the Ancient Earth. Oboe and shouts of “hey” interact with the drums and harp. The oboe melody is derived from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

2. Me he perdido muchas veces por el mar (I have lost myself in the sea many times). DeGaetani whispers, the instruments circle and glisten.

3. ¿De dónde vienes, amor, mi niño? (Dance of the Sacred Life-Cycle). After another stunning operatic cadenza by DeGaetani, the drums take up a menacing bolero rhythm. Underneath the bolero, a tympani groans while slowly being tuned and de-tuned, a notable and rather aleatoric effect.

While intended for conventional classical music performers, the theatrical experimentation of Ancient Voices is absolutely a piece with all sorts of electronic and improvised music of the late ’60s. Indeed, simply reading the strange-looking score of Ancient Children requires the interpreters to go far outside the norms of common practice chamber music.

4a. Todas las tardes en Granada, todas las tardes se muere un niño (Each Afternoon in Granada, a Child Dies Each Afternoon). There hasn’t been much, if any, triadic harmony until now — not even with the Mahler oboe quote — but suddenly a rich D-flat major chord accompanies a quasi-flamenco preach from DeGaetani. Somehow this long sumptuous call is answered perfectly by a toy piano’s sad little marching Baroque cadence. The greatest movement of the suite.

(Note: in the Weisberg/DeGaetani issue, “Dance of the Sacred Life-Cycle” and “Each Afternoon in Granada, a Child Dies Each Afternoon” are complied into one continuous track.)

4b. Ghost Dance. The musical saw offers a plaintive whine and the castanets shake in dismissal. This movement is better in live performance.

5. Se ha llenado de luces mi corazón de seda (My silk heart has been filled with lights). Chimes, gongs, other percussion, a lonely oboe melody. The boy soprano is heard “offstage” in quick cameos in earlier movements, and finally comes onstage to meet the mezzo. However this is not a true apotheosis, but once again something sparse and fleeting. Rather than build an edifice, the composer gives us epigrams and runes.

Steve Lacy Trio, “The Window”

Recorded 1987 for Soul Note. Steve Lacy, soprano saxophone; Jean-Jacques Avenel, bass; Oliver Johnson, drums. All compositions by Lacy.

Steve Lacy the unique: a vital and uncompromising voice essential to seeing the whole picture. Steve Lacy the prolific: Lord lists 185 sessions as a leader, including many double LPs of long blowing by all hands. Lacy didn’t exactly have breadth, he played his thing on every occasion, so it comes down to who else is on the date and other, more intangible parameters. Where to start assessing this vast discography? Perhaps with The Window, which crops up here and there on critics lists. It is well-recorded, Lacy himself is at the top of his game, and the band is comprised of two key Lacy associates.

It’s a very good rhythm section, although it also says something that neither has a Wikipedia page in English. Jean-Jacques Avenel was a major practitioner, a lyrical poet who also had some good “thump” when playing time, hailed in his native France and underrated in America. Oliver Johnson had pedigree as a serious swinger (his first record seems to be with Charlie Shavers) before moving to Europe and collaborating with freer players. Both Avenel and Johnson recorded more with Lacy than any other leader, yet this is the only date where it is just the three of them.

“The Window” is a jazz waltz, with a wonderful chaotic head that leans to the more esoteric. Once the blowing starts, Avenel goes around the cycle in a pre-arranged fashion but Lacy hunts and pecks in the home key, telling a motivic story inspired by Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins.

“Flakes” is a lightly pulsing and repeating fragment that almost wears out its welcome before giving a way to a “chordal” bass solo. The long-limbed and searching soprano sax lines that follow are really beautiful. The band isn’t swinging, exactly, but they allude to steady time in addition to finding delicious moments of interplay.

Lacy plays very high in register at the top of “Twilight,” a substantial meditation in duo with Johnson. There’s a short repeating theme that helps organize the exotic exploration. Johnson stays on brushes throughout.

It’s time for something that moves, and the trio opens up with “Gleam.” The group isn’t trying to play serious bebop time, instead they offer ramshackle momentum and plenty of smear. Lacy’s tone is very intense and personal.

“A Complicated Scene” is in the Ellington tradition of “jungle music,” a familiar Lacy gambit. Everyone digs in, with Johnson at home in this groove..

The excellent LP closes with “Retreat,” another repetitive minor-key swinger that could only be from the pen of Steve Lacy. When improvising, the trio plays time, and then they don’t, and then they play time again. It’s not contrived, the phrases fall as naturally as breathing.

Don Pullen, “The Sixth Sense”

Recorded 1985 for Black Saint. Don Pullen, piano; Olu Dara, trumpet; Donald Harrison, alto sax; Fred Hopkins, bass; Bobby Battle, drums. All compositions by Pullen except the title track by Pullen and Frank Dean.

This fabulous album documents a moment of casual in/out in the music. Pullen played jazz at a high level, he held down the piano chair with Mingus, but Pullen also developed a throughly avant-garde style, with his palm and hand launching a fusillade of wild runs and clusters. He definitely plays changes with a glissando, which seems impossible. However he’s doing it, Pullen at full roar documents some of the most exciting and esoteric techniques ever created by a pianist.

“The Sixth Sense” is a funky slice of hard-bop in 5/4. Olu Dara is another player with an encyclopedic grasp of various jazz styles, having worked with Art Blakey before collaborating with all sorts of significant avant-gardists. Here Dara is bluesy and commanding over the meaty vamp. Good blindfold test! Donald Harrison is very young, and his presence on this disc reminds us that many so-called “young lions” of the mid-’80s had connections to more esoteric musicians. Harrison’s work here pairs with the Harrison/Terence Blanchard tribute to Eric Dolphy and Booker Little music with Mal Waldron, Richard Davis, and Ed Blackwell recorded a year later.

Pullen’s own solo begins somewhat in a conventional zone, but soon enough the astounding double-time flurries start. The left hand keeps the 5/4 going. As good as the horn soloists are — and they are very good — there’s never any doubt that the leader is the most commanding presence on this date.

Fred Hopkins was a star bassist of this peer group. Drummer Bobby Battle died relatively recently, in 2019. Battle isn’t mentioned often today, but he can be heard on about a dozen albums with Pullen, Arthur Blythe, David Murray, and others in that circle. Battle sounds just great on this whole album.

“In the Beginning” is comparatively “out,” with a melody that lunges between chaos and a few “tango” gestures. Battle’s free-form playing has an uptempo cast that works beautifully, while nobody did this style better than Hopkins. Harrison is fiery madness, Dara more lyrical. Hopkins listens to the soloists carefully, while Pullen is more like just molten lava.

Of course, during the piano feature, the heat becomes even more unrelenting. The piano is quite out of tune, but maybe it just got that way during tracking.

A hard-bop ethos returns in “Tales from the Bright Side,” which could be from Horace Silver (except for the piano clusters). The piano comping on “The Sixth Sense” was reasonably conventional, with Pullen demarcating the harmonic structure behind the soloists, but “Tales from the Bright Side” has more chaotic accompaniment. It’s almost like the fury of “In the Beginning” infected “The Sixth Sense” in order to become “Tales from the Bright Side.” The dance rhythm is very strong, but they are all really going for it as committed experimental improvisers; the time even gets turned around for a moment a few places, but who cares? In the wonderful piano solo, the bass-register percussive effects recall the more outlandish places in modernist concertos by Bartók or Prokofiev.

The gospel-infused “Gratitude” is a graceful feature for Harrison in duo with Pullen. There’s no improvisation here, nor none required for such a heartfelt yet sophisticated composition. The final piano chords radiate from deep space.

“All is Well” is — surprisingly — another piece with no obvious improvisation. The parade beat approaches and recedes in a traditional NOLA fashion. Less than two minutes of a happy feeling. The first time I heard this in high school it really kind of blew my mind. You were allowed to do this kind of special effect on a serious jazz record?

Five tracks: 41 minutes. Three extended pieces with solos — one odd-meter, one free, and one on a vibrant drone — followed by a hymn and a parade.

Morton Gould in 1968

Random YouTube find:

Morton Gould: Venice
(Audiograph for Double Orchestra and Brass Choirs)
and
Vivaldi Gallery
(For Divided symphony and String Quartet on Vivaldi Themes)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Milton Katims, recorded 1968.

Liner notes sourced from eBay:


At one point I owned this LP, but it made no impression, for I was searching out Gould’s most modernist and meaty works, some of which I wrote up at the time of the unheralded Morton Gould centennial. Listening now, I find the music beautiful and unpretentious. Part of the idea is sonic opulence, and this record documents RCA casually footing the bill for what was a decidedly experimental and non-commercial project.

In Venice Gould is poly-stylistic to a fault; the result is a bit like a random assemblage, a familiar Gould problem, and surely one reason this composer is all but forgotten today. Still, his command of orchestration is undeniable, and certain moments seem absolutely perfect. “Grand Canal” is best, thirds all over the orchestra, a fantastical night journey, the double orchestra and brass in wonderful concord. In a blindfold test, I would recognize “Grand Canal” as Morton Gould.

Vivaldi Gallery doesn’t sit exactly in one place or another: it is hardly a literal transcription but the avant-gardisms are subtle. Is it Stravinskian? Not quite, it is too cheerful, straightforward and strangely undemanding, although this suite would absolutely fail at a classical pops concert. If everything Gould does to Vivaldi had have been done with a more obviously radical motivation, it would make the whole thing less equivocal. The last two movements, “Continuo e Recitativo” and “Alleluia,” are the most dissonant and perhaps also the most successful.

On the other hand, there’s nothing else like Vivaldi Gallery, at least as far as I know. It is something Gould himself understood, something that only Gould could do, and he sent it out into an unheeding world with a smile on his face. I’ll give it another go-around again sometime, especially if I have the chance to listen to that wonderful 1968 RCA heavy vinyl on a quality hi-fi system. The Seattle musicians play with heart and the sound reproduction is simply gorgeous, even on YouTube.

Xmas 2021

Most of NYC entertainment is basically shut down for a couple weeks; the rest of my Zinc bar engagement and NYE with Marcy Harriell is canceled. We all hope we can re-open soon.

To help manage my disappointment, I made a little chaotic arrangement of “Go Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which one can see on Twitter.

Last night Sarah read the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh to me. It is so great! I was just floored. I guess it’s been about 40 years since I checked in. WOW. A.A. Milne was a genius. Always good to remember to count your blessings even as not all tidings are joyful.

The Written Word in 2021

I’m always a bit surprised to look back at the end of the year and see how much scribbling I’ve done. What follows is my own “best of” list. Thanks for reading, thanks for listening…

for The Nation

Billie Holiday
John Coltrane
Barry Harris

for JazzTimes

Eubie Blake
McCoy Tyner
Ron Carter
Pete La Roca (as told by Steve Swallow)
Ralph Peterson with Geri Allen

DTM commentary about music

Keith Jarrett/Dewey Redman/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian
TV Themes
24 Standards
Dave Frishberg
Frederic Rzewski
Richie Powell/Brown+Land

Two interviews

Alex Ross
Jeff “Tain” Watts

Only one substantial essay on crime fiction, but it’s pretty good if I do say so myself

Thomas Harris

Shorter, quicker, fun things

Get into modern jazz!
Fusion!!
Happy Birthday MAH!!!

Bonus: Mark Stryker on DTM

Chick Corea
Barry Harris


2021 was also the year I discovered Mick Herron, who is now in my pantheon, especially for his Slough House series, although his other books are good too.

Almost every entry in the series starts on the slow side: A few years ago I picked up Dead Lions and put it down again after not getting very far. Perhaps the tone is also confusing for a newbie, for during that false start I didn’t realize that Herron’s style was essentially playful, if not comic. At any rate, a quarter of the way through each novel, a key turns in the lock, and the books become exciting to the point of breathlessness.

There is a “hero,” the unlikeable Jackson Lamb, but most of the time we are with a collection of misfits, the “slow horses,” a group of demoted British espionage agents who operate out of Slough House. Each character is wonderful, and the way they interact with each other is even more wonderful.

The comic touches recall Len Deighton, but Herron’s true master is John Le Carré.

In early Le Carré, the author was against Russia in conventional Cold War fashion. The real world traitor Kim Philby was the direct inspiration for Le Carré’s greatest book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and George Smiley’s arch enemy was the Russian super spy Karla. There is a certain amount of investigation into the British social order, but those questions are posed with a light touch. We love George Smiley, and there’s nobody more Establishment than Smiley.

In time — especially after the fall of the Berlin wall — Le Carré realized that the true enemy might come from within the ranks of his Establishment, and the books took on a genuinely revolutionary cast, almost as if Noam Chomsky were writing thriller fiction.

Herron takes up the anti-Establishment theme of Le Carré’s later years with far more pizzaz. Almost all the action concerns infighting within the British Government, strongly recalling the bureaucratic chaos from the great ITV series The Sandbaggers written by Ian Mackintosh, although Mackintosh’s politics remain essentially conservative. Herron is a leftist — and has so much fun being a leftist!

I just adore these books. True kudos to a contemporary master.


There’s a lot to look forward to in 2022. If you haven’t yet, please take just over a minute to watch “The More it Changes, the More it Stays the Same.”

An Insider’s look at Dexter Gordon’s “Homecoming”

In my article on Barry Harris published yesterday, I mention Dexter Gordon’s Homecoming, and contrast it with another 1976 album by Gordon, Bitin’ the Apple.

Bill Kirchner responded by sending along this fascinating and surprisingly long article by Peter Keepnews, who worked Jazz PR for CBS for a few years. The success of Homecoming is contextualized in a way I hadn’t seen before:

It didn’t take me long to discover that Lundvall’s signing of Dexter Gordon had been barely tolerated by many key people in the company, and that his subsequent jazz signings were provoking a definite backlash. The reason was simple: There was a deep-seated belief that, with very rare exception, jazz records, no matter how ostensibly “commercial,” could not sell.

To an extent, that belief amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy—if you don’t work a jazz album, it definitely won’t sell. And while no amount of high-pressure salesmanship is ever likely to get Dexter Gordon a gold album—at least not until there is a much more fundamental change in the fiber of our culture than the record industry alone could ever bring about—a well-planned marketing campaign that precisely targeted Gordon’s audience and found the most effective ways of reaching them could conceivably jack up his album sales from their current level (roughly 35,000 per album, not bad for bebop) to as high as 80-or 90,000. The trouble is that in the record business, even in these recessionary times, an album that sells 90,000 copies is not considered a success in corporate terms even if it turns a comfortable profit. And the amount of money, not to mention time and thought, that would be required to get results like that would make the small amount of profit from a 90,000-seller look even less desirable—and even conceivably wipe out the profit margin entirely. Therefore, the reasoning goes, why knock yourself out pushing Dexter Gordon?

But, some readers might be asking, didn’t Columbia in fact give Dexter Gordon a major push? The answer is yes and no. It certainly looked like a major push, especially in New York, where there were not only big advertisements but lengthy articles throughout the daily and alternative press at the time of his first Columbia LP, Homecoming. Personally, I interviewed Gordon for the New York Post, and I remember being impressed by the elaborate press kit I received from CBS when Homecoming was released. As a matter of fact, that was one of the factors that persuaded me to leave the Post when CBS offered me the publicity job: I took it to be a sign that the company really was putting its money where its mouth was as far as Dexter Gordon (and, presumably, the rest of its jazz roster) was concerned.

But what did this push really amount to? The advertising campaign and the press kit cost a lot of money, but required no follow-through. The press blitz was partly the result of diligent work by one CBS publicist and by Gordon’s manager, but I think it was primarily the spontaneous result of a lot of jazz writers wanting to write about Dexter Gordon, who after all was not only a great musician and a colorful personality but, as an expatriate returning home in triumph, very good copy. I know that I went out of my way to persuade my editor at the Post to let me interview Gordon because I wanted to, not because Columbia Records was hyping him—in fact, at the time I interviewed him he hadn’t yet signed with CBS.

There was a push on Dexter Gordon’s behalf in that Lundvall let it be known to his staff that he took a personal interest in the success of Homecoming. As a result the sales people leaned a little more heavily than they otherwise might have on their accounts to buy it in decent quantities, and the radio people gave it an extra effort in spite of the fact that music on Homecoming was not compatible with most formats of commercial radio. The album attained a much higher sales level than anything Gordon had ever recorded previously; for that matter, it was probably the best-selling bebop album of all time.

But its success was not due to a commitment on the part of CBS Records to jazz, and it was not due to a sales strategy based on the nature and quality of the music and its potential market. It was due to executive arm-twisting, and it must surely have left a bad taste in the mouth of the people in the field (and some of their superiors in the home office) to know that time that might have been spent working “big” records was diverted to Dexter Gordon because of what could easily be construed as Bruce Lundvall’s whim.

The Defiance of Barry Harris

New from me in The Nation: “The Greatest Teacher of America’s Great Art Form.”

Thanks to my editor Shuja Haider for major help whipping this essay into coherent shape.

There are Barry Harris memorial ceremonies today and tomorrow:


Below: Sunday night, the last set, the final time Barry Harris played the Village Vanguard in October 2019. As he made his way to the piano, I suddenly realized this was it, that I wouldn’t get to bathe in his presence again, so I broke protocol and took this photo.


The first record Leroy Williams and Barry Harris made together was Magnificent! with Ron Carter in 1969. For me, this trio album is the beginning of the most profound Barry. A key is turned in the lock and for over a decade the maestro will be at his peak as a player. (Mark Stryker’s invaluable list offers a more detailed and informed viewpoint.)

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

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

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

Mark Stryker’s Barry Harris Playlist

One of the best written sources on Barry Harris is Mark Stryker’s Jazz from Detroit, and Mark has also now given us the definitive obit at NPR: “Barry Harris, beloved jazz pianist devoted to bebop, dies at 91.”

On Twitter, Stryker curated at wonderful playlist of key Harris tracks, now reproduced (further edited) here at DTM as a more permanent record.


These 20 tracks cover 46 years, from 1950 to 1996, and strike a balance between my favorites, the best of the best in terms of performance, and those that survey the sweep of Barry’s career and associations. The order is chronological except for one wrinkle at the end.

This playlist could have been far longer than 20 tracks, but this feels right. Not everything is represented here — there’s no Barry with Dexter Gordon or Coleman Hawkins, for example, and a couple of tracks that I might have chosen were not available online. Barry made a half dozen or so recordings after 1996, and there are some lovely moments that could be here, but I’m comfortable with my choices.

Whether you’re new to Barry’s discography or a committed disciple, there’s a lot to explore here.

1. “Hopper Topper” (1950). Barry’s debut record for the New Song label out of Toledo. “Cherokee” changes with no theme. Striking confidence for a 20-year-old, especially considering he had only been introduced to modern jazz three years earlier by way of the recording of “Webb City” by Fats, Bud, and Stitt. The even attack, precise beat and jabbing left hand here remind me of Horace Silver. Meanwhile, the young Frank Foster comes directly out of Sonny Stitt.

2. “All The Things You Are” (1958). Will Austin, bass; Frank Gant, drums. Barry’s first LP as a leader, Breakin’ it Up (Argo), opens with a ballad at a patient, walking tempo. Hardly anyone calls an adult tempo like this anymore. I think on some level Barry was always playing for dancers. Improvised curtains of lovely double-time melody. It’s an all-Detroit trio, and the record was produced for Argo (the jazz subsidiary of Chess Records) in Chicago by another Detroiter, Dave Usher. Dave had earlier co-founded Dee Gee Records with Dizzy Gillespie in Detroit but by 1958 was working for the Chess Brothers in Chicago. (Barry’s contemporary Dave is still with us here in Detroit.)

3. “Lolita” (1960) from At the Jazz Workshop (Riverside). An iconic record among pianists. Cannonball’s rhythm section, including Sam Jones on bass and 22-year-old Louis Hayes on drums. The cats are tippin’. Barry’s maturity is now in full flower. The whole LP kills. The sequential melody and harmony of Barry’s “Lolita” sticks with you, and he devours the changes like a ravenous wolf. Dig the eye-popping solo break and overall fluidity, swing, and expressive phrasing in the solo.

4. “Del Sasser” (1960) with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet at Newport. Holy shit! Cannonball sounds great, especially on the tag, but Barry wipes everybody out with insanely long-breathed lines, almost superhuman rhythmic drive and effortless flow. This is peak Barry Harris. Even at this blazing tempo he never gets bottled up. I showed this clip to Barry last year and, while he was often self-deprecating whenever I would tell him that he sounded great on some record or some tune, this time he raised his raised his eyebrow, smiled, and nodded his head as he listened, as if to say, “not bad.”

5. “Ascension” (1961). The standout track on Barry’s first solo piano LP, Listen to Barry Harris (Riverside). I don’t think solo piano was the best medium for Barry, and he sounds a little fidgety elsewhere on the date. But this track is bebop purity at its most swinging, eloquent, and sublime. Perfect time and enunciation. Barry’s tune descends from “Parisian Thoroughfare” with an altered bridge descending mostly by whole steps. The rubato verse winks at “Tea for Two.”

6. “My Heart Stood Still” (1961). Barry and Elvin created a special vibe — they had worked together at the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit in the middle ‘50s. It’s a drag they only made two LPs together: Barry’s Preminado and Yusef’s Into Something (both on Riverside). Barry delivers four heroic choruses, locking into Elvin’s triplety lope. He carries the melody in gorgeous block chords like a man sauntering down the avenue in his finest threads. The solo unfurls in snake after snake through the changes. Barry might have surprised even himself with his astonishing turnback into 2nd chorus. Dig the double-time in the second A of the 3rd , the virtuoso flow of ideas throughout the 4th, and the drapery of descending diminished chords at the end of the bridge on the out chorus.

Coda: The shitty, ill-tuned piano rankles. Would anyone expect Horowitz to record on that instrument? Of course not. Why should Barry have had to?

7. “Stay Right With It” (1962) from Chasin’ the Bird (Riverside). Bob Cranshaw, bass; Clifford Jarvis drums. The blues. Nobody swings at this ever-so-slightly bright medium tempo like Barry. He’s really TALKING on the piano, the dips and dives, the melodic curlicues, the feints and parries of rhythm and accent, the subtle rise and fall of dynamics and touch as his lines unfurl. He slaps the syncopated beat back and forth for 12 choruses w/ Jarvis’ ride cymbal and snare. The essence of the art form.

8. “The Sidewinder” (1963). Barry is too much the bebop purist to be the ideal pianist for Lee Morgan’s proto-boogaloo hit, but bassist Bob Cranshaw remembers Barry in the studio saying he was gonna play as funky as he could. The piano vamp sells the song. Also with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson (a regular at Barry’s daily colloquiums back in Detroit in the ‘50s) and drummer Billy Higgins.

9. “Luminescence!” (1967). The title track from Barry’s best LP with horns and his first record for Prestige. With baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams (another former student from Detroit), tenor man Junior Cook, trombonist Slide Hampton, Cranshaw, and drummer Lenny McBrowne. Barry’s lickety-split take on “How High the Moon” changes. High spirits from everyone — Slide! — with Barry batting clean-up & hitting it out of the park. Few reconcile grit, grace, and lyricism as seamlessly as Barry does here.

10. “Symphonic Blues Suite: Third Movement” (1970). With bassist Bob Cunningham, drummer Tootie Heath, and chamber orchestra. Wild stuff from Brother Yusef Lateef’s Suite 16. The side-long “Symphonic Blues Suite” for jazz quartet and chamber orchestra remains one of Lateef’s most rewarding large-scale compositions. At 2:42 here, Barry improvises Messiaen-like fragments (!) in the balcony of the piano, the closest this lifelong bebopper came to the avant-garde. Then he brings it all back home with a soulful slow blues. Preach, Brother Barry!

11. “Ray’s Idea” (1972) from Sonny Stitt’s masterpiece Constellation, with Sam Jones and Detroit-born drummer Roy Brooks (yet another former student of Barry’s). Stitt and Barry recorded together numerous times and had great chemistry. An inspired distillation of the bebop language. This is my all-time favorite Stitt solo for its freshly conceived melodic and rhythmic contours — not a cliche in sight — and in the key of D-flat to boot. Barry’s comping gooses the action and his 32 bars ring with exuberance, swing, and truth. Who needs a zillion choruses when you can say it all in one?

12.  “Renaissance” (1972). George Duvivier, bass; Leroy Williams, drums. One of Barry’s best LPs, Vicissitudes (MPS) is loaded with his intriguing original compositions, including this beguiling exercise in minor-key bebop. The interlude has a Barry-on-Bach feeling. He’s winking at Powell’s “Bud on Bach,” and perhaps also John Lewis’ baroque vibe. Then, surprise! Double-time and a deep groove from the trio, anchored by an animated drummer who worked more gigs with Barry than anyone. Coda: The first time I heard Barry live, in the summer of 1988 at a midtown Manhattan Chinese restaurant called the Fortune Garden Pavilion, the trio set up in the middle of the room. My buddy, guitarist Freddie Bryant, and I sat within inches of Williams’ ride cymbal as we ate; I felt like we were inside the band. Overpriced Midtown food never tasted so good.

13. “No Place to Hide Now” (1975). From a sweetheart LP, David Allyn’s Don’t Look Back. Piano-vocal duets with an oft-forgotten, plummy-voiced baritone. Barry’s masterful accompaniment — gorgeous harmony and voice leading — is a work of art. For all the singers who have trained at Barry’s classes over the years, there’s precious little of the maestro accompanying songbirds on record. Too bad. He was great at it.

14. “Like Someone in Love”(1976). Sam Jones, bass; Leroy Williams, drums. Barry enjoyed a productive run with producer Don Schlitten’s Xanadu label in the 1970s, taping five LPs as a leader and about 20 as a sideman. Rule of thumb: Buy any Xanadu record that includes Barry. Live in Tokyo is one of Barry’s top-tier sides. This is Bud Powell’s arrangement of “Live Someone in Love.” Super relaxed and super expressive. Barry’s varied articulation and placement of the beat—laying back, pushing ahead, riding right on it—excites the emotions. As he liked to say when teaching: Triplets rule the world!

15. “Round Midnight” (1976) from Live in Tokyo. Tremendous ballad playing, dramatic storytelling, and a surprising intro to the intro that’s a song all on its own. These eight bars, penned by Cootie Williams, originated as an interlude in the original 1944 recording of the tune by Williams’ Orchestra. Of course, Barry and Monk were close, living together at (Baroness) Nica’s house in Weehawken for a decade. Barry plays Monk compositions with the utmost respect but still delivers his own personality – a tricky balance.

16. “Oblivion” (1985). Hal Dodson, bass; Leroy Williams, drums. Look out! Bud’s flag-waver taken WAY upstairs. It’s not just the speed, but the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic integrity of Barry’s lines. God is in the details. Barry looks as relaxed as if playing a ballad.

17. “Giant Steps” (c. 1990). The YouTube videos of Barry’s workshops overseas are extraordinary windows into the mind of a master teacher. You can find his complete 14-minute-plus exegesis on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” but here is an excerpt: a chorus and a half — 39 seconds — of the most startlingly melodic playing over these changes you will ever hear. I wish Barry had recorded a full version of the song.

18. “All God’s Children Got Rhythm” (1990) from Live at Maybeck (Concord). Another upstairs tempo but with a twist: Barry opens at a moderate lope with a nutty arrangement. Dig the descending quasi-boogie figure in the left-hand that Barry copped from a tape he had of Monk practicing the tune. Barry’s spoken introduction is cut off here, but what he tells the audience is: “I have a special tape of Monk … I’m going to start it out like that and then play it fast.”

19. “Nascimento” (1996). From First Time Ever (Alfa Jazz/Evidence) George Mraz, bass; Leroy Williams, drums. One of Barry’s most alluring compositions, “Nascimento” was named not for the the famous Brazilian singer-songwriter but for a percussionist friend Barry once described as “a beautiful little cat.” The song was for many years Barry’s set closer. His diehard fans would always lead the audience participation — rhythmic handclaps during the interludes and wordless singing of the splendorous melody. It was magical. Every time.

20. “The Bird of Red & Gold” (1979). Dial BH for beauty. The title track from the best of Barry’s four solo piano recordings. It’s a celestial original ballad as radiant as a Shelley ode. Barry sings — literally — his own poetic lyric. Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

— Mark Stryker


Mark Stryker is the author of Jazz from Detroit (University of Michigan Press).

Also on DTM:

Connector in Chief: Chick Corea, 1941-1921 (by Mark Stryker)

One That Got Away: Steve Grossman, 1951-2020 (by Mark Stryker)

Interview with Mark Stryker — Part one about a career in journalism and Jazz in Detroitpart two is about saxophonists.

The Bard of Bebop: Ira Gitler (by Mark Stryker)

George Walker: Dispatches from Detroit (by Mark Stryker)

Traps, the Drum Wonder: on Buddy Rich (by Mark Stryker)