“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.

Max Roach, “Members Don’t Git Weary,” Gary Bartz, “Another Earth,” and Charles Tolliver, “Paper Man”

Summer 1968. Three killer LPs made in the space of two weeks document one version of serious and community-focused black jazz. In the larger frame, it was the Aquarian age, a time of youthful rebellion and the expansion of consciousness. The Civil Rights movement had scored major victories, but there was still a long way to go (Martin Luther King was assassinated in April). In the musical realm John Coltrane had died less than a year earlier, around the time Miles Davis released Nefertiti, the final Davis album without electric instruments. Black-owned Motown had established serious market share on the radio, and any kind of avant-garde technique borrowed from free jazz was also on the table.

Present on all three sessions was a pair of upcoming and outstanding horn players, Charles Tolliver and Gary Bartz. Max Roach’s Members Don’t Git Weary feature them both; Tolliver guests on half of Bartz’s Another Earth; Bartz guests on half of Tolliver’s Paper Man. (In the liner notes to Another Earth, Maxine Bartz says that the Bartz/Tolliver association goes back to 1959.)

According to obvious sources, these are the dates and places for the 1968 sessions:

Bartz, Another Earth (Milestone), June 19 & 25, Plaza Sound Studios, NYC
Roach, Members, Don’t Git Weary (Atlantic), June 25 & 26, RCA Studio B, NYC
Tolliver, Paper Man (Black Lion), July 2, Town Sound Studios, Englewood, NJ

June 25 is listed for both Roach and Bartz, which is unlikely, especially since they are different labels and studios, but not absolutely impossible. (The recording dates for the sessions are present in the original liner notes for Bartz and Tolliver, but not for Roach. Roach is found online and in the Lord discography. Possibly a user error entered the system at some point.)

Max Roach, Members, Don’t Git Weary with Charles Tolliver, Gary Bartz, Stanley Cowell, Jymie Merritt, and vocalist Andy Bey on the title track

Max Roach was one of the original bebop geniuses in the group that included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. In the ’50’s he co-led one of the great ensembles of all time with Clifford Brown; in the ’60s Roach was a visible advocate for Civil Rights, with albums called We Insist! and Speak, Brother, Speak!

Roach knew the whole history of the music, recording successfully with everyone from Duke Ellington to Cecil Taylor. The style of Members, Don’t Git Weary is absolutely of the moment, with little in the way of the pure bebop tradition of Roach’s earlier associates Bud Powell or Charlie Parker. Instead there are funk beats, electric bass vamps, and modal tropes straight from John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

“Abstrutions” Stanley Cowell supplies three pieces for the date. The main funky riff of “Abstrutions” is answered by a quartal phrase reminiscent of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Cowell is the only soloist, displaying greasy two-handed pianism with the horns giving responses. A radio-friendly track.

“Libra” Gary Bartz debuted this memorable modal theme on his first album, Libra, recorded the previous year. Staccato rhythmic hits give away to fast 4/4 for hard blowing from Bartz and Tolliver. Great drum solo, Roach’s kit is well-recorded. This is the one tune where Merritt walks, and I admit that this is the only place it might have been better if he had been playing upright instead of electric bass.

“Effi” Roach gets credit for playing the first jazz waltzes on record in the ’50s. By this point his conception was quite loose and fluid, perhaps even influenced by the way Elvin Jones played “My Favorite Things.” Cowell’s piece moves around a bit harmonically, but the horn trades make the most of the related pentatonic scale.

“Equipoise” Probably Cowell’s best-known composition. The first recording is a masterpiece, an evocative way to turn the modal burn into an impressionistic even-eighths tone poem. Both Tolliver and Bartz show their lyrical side. Again, while the chord sequence is quite complex, the soloists are able to access pentatonic scales common to disparate bass notes/harmonies.

“Members, Don’t Git Weary” While credited to Roach, “Members, Don’t Git Weary” is an older spiritual. The band plays in a loose rubato style, as on the opening part of of Coltrane’s “Spiritual.” Andy Bey sounds great leading the congregation.

“Absolutions” Jymie Merritt was a bassist associated with both Art Blakey and Max Roach. He wrote a few important pieces; the best-known is probably “Nommo,” an early excursion into 7/4 recorded by both Roach and Lee Morgan. “Absolutions” is a dark investigation of the Phrygian mode with an ominous 4/4 bass line. Cowell is on electric piano and Roach delivers many fierce single-stroke rolls next to Merritt’s vamp. The horns play their angular modal phrases that hew reasonably close to the dark keyboard tonality. Overall, the aesthetic of “Absolutions” is absolutely next door to the 1968 Miles Davis sessions that produced Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro, especially the similar in-your-face even-eighth drumming of Max Roach and Tony Williams. Fabulous.

The only serious problem with Members, Don’t Get Weary is the lack of piano solos, for Cowell only lets loose on the opening track.

Gary Bartz, Another Earth with Stanley Cowell, Reggie Workman, and Freddie Waits, joined by Charles Tolliver and Pharoah Sanders on the title suite

While Bird was the bebop word, Trane gave the modal message. In 1968, compared to the tenor sax roster, the altos were less thick on the ground. Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy had established the avant-garde model, taken up in varied ways by people like James Spaulding, Marion Brown, Jimmy Lyons and Ken McIntyre, but there was plenty of room for Gary Bartz to present the swinging and burning Trane concept on alto. (Sonny Fortune was Bartz’s peer, but he wasn’t so apparent on record yet.)

“Another Earth” This side-long suite is genuinely successful, a kind of updating of Coltrane’s long-form concept for Meditations and other pieces, but with more written material and more stylistic diversity. (In addition, the theme of planets in the cosmos recalls Coltrane’s Interstellar Space.) Compositionally there’s a lot here, but in the end it is also very much a feature for the leader’s incandescent alto. 

1) Fanfare with intervallic theme. 2) Intervallic theme becomes gospel with preaching alto solo. 3) Minor swing that almost immediately devolves into late Trane style with Sanders in full effect, followed by Bartz also in high-expressionistic mood, who brings in the time with 4) New uptempo theme, minor modal with a few dominant chord changes. Tolliver and Bartz both blow well over a loose rhythm section. 5) Bass cadenza. 6) “Wall of sound” chords from all hands with alto cadenzas. 7) A brief syncopated passage turns into a dirge, a hint of waltz, a hard unison flourish, then back to 8) Medium swing with Tolliver telling his story with that beautiful trumpet sonority. More joyous Bartz, before Sanders steps up to play a bit of swinging tenor before going more into the esoteric zone. Sounds great. Cowell finally gets a bit of a say, with a relaxed searching exploration in tempo, both hands in different places.  9) A few horn lines and concluding fanfare.

All told, “Another Earth” must be one of the very best long-form suites from this era and context. Freddie Waits is the true MVP, handling all the changes of mood with depth and finesse.

“Dark Nebula” The swinging piece alternates between 3/4 and 4/4. Workman may have been considered a straight-ahead bassist earlier in the decade, someone to hold it down next to Art Blakey, but by this time he evolved to being a true wild card, someone to give Richard Davis a run for their money in terms of an esoteric bass space. Workman’s solo here is notably creative and engaging. Towards the end, Bartz really takes flight over Waits’s exciting churn.

“UFO” Cheerful bluesy dominants next to each other, a bit Monk-ish in affect. Band swings out. Yeah. Cowell gets a good say. At this moment Cowell was truly a standout alternative to McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, able to play their shared modal language with personality and wit.

“Lost In The Stars” A Kurt Weill tune taken on duo by Bartz and Workman. From the beginning, it is hardly a basic ballad, but a rich exploration of possibility. Bartz’s heartfelt reading of the melody suspends over fast and abstract bass. (The idea of “Lost in the Stars” fits in with the “Interstellar” theme of the LP.)

“Perihelion And Aphelion” The aphelion is when the Earth is farthest from the sun; the perihelion is when they are the closest. This story is told musically in a tempo change from medium waltz to uptempo 4/4. Bartz’s theme honks out some of the lowest notes on alto, a moment that sounds particularly Coltrane-ish.

Charles Tolliver, Paper Man with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers, with Gary Bartz joining in on side B

This session was Tolliver’s first as a leader. It was recorded at Town Sound Studios in Englewood, which seems to have been a just-down-the-block but black-owned alternative to Van Gelder’s. Tootie Heath’s Kawaida was also recorded there.

The LP was somewhat belatedly released as Charles Tolliver and his All-Stars on Black Lion in 1971; my first copy was as Paper Man in the Arista/Freedom reissue series from 1975. In some ways Tolliver’s LP pairs with Woody Shaw’s first album as a leader, which was tracked for Blue Note in 1965 (and also features Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers, although all three don’t play as a unit) yet only finally released in the ’80s as In the Beginning. Another album from the associated network was 1969’s Brilliant Circles with Stanley Cowell, which also suffered from delays; my first copy was again the Arista/Freedom reissue series that had Paper Man.

If these three notably strong releases from Shaw, Tolliver, and Cowell had been presented as soon as the LPs were made from a label with a profile, we might write jazz history a little differently. Surely these troublesome delays were one reason Tolliver and Cowell started their own label Strata-East in 1971.

A few Strata-East dates were also tracked at Town Sound Studios, including Cecil Payne’s Zodiac. I really like the way the bass and drums are captured on Paper Man — indeed, this LP remains one of the best places to check out Joe Chambers — but the piano is a problem. Hancock doesn’t care, he is full of boundless enthusiasm on this out-of-tune upright.

As a unit, Hancock/Carter/Chambers are also heard on:

Sam Rivers Contour
Wayne Shorter The All-Seeing Eye
Wayne Shorter Schizophrenia
Bobby Hutcherson Components

All these Blue Note sessions are fabulous, but they are also all feature compositions that are quite complicated. Tolliver’s strong and charismatic themes for Paper Man are straight to the point, and the rhythm section truly lets the dogs out. Incredible session for all three, Hancock, Carter, and Chambers. Tolliver himself is large and in charge, putting himself right in the league with Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard.

Pianist George Colligan placed Paper Man in his personal top 10 list and wrote a blog entry where he goes though the six tunes. Colligan’s comments are on point, so I will direct readers to his post for the play-by-play.

Summer of ’68. Some serious music was being made!

What the World Needs Now

Tomorrow Mark Morris takes MMDG to Santa Monica for the premiere of “The Look Of Love,” his new dance set to Burt Bacharach compositions arranged by myself. 

I met Burt on Zoom a couple of times, that was pretty awesome.

Brian Seibert reports in the New York Times.

A short Broadway World interview recaps some of my history with Mark Morris.

The wonderful Marcy Harriell is handling the lead vocals; the rest of the ace band includes Blaire Perrin, Clinton Curtis, Johnathan Finlayson, Simón Willson, and Vinnie Sperrazza.

This is the second evening-length score I’ve put together for Mark Morris in recent years, the first was “Pepperland” to music around and about the Beatles. Nate Chinen came to the most recent performance (we’ve done “Pepperland” about 80 times now) this past spring:

Santa Monica this week, the Kennedy Center next week; many more performances of “The Look of Love” to follow. These are some of my favorite songs of all time and the choreography is wonderful. Sincere thanks to Mark Morris for everything

The Git-Go

Be there or be square: Billy Hart with Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson, and Ben Street at the Village Vanguard this week.

Photo of the band in action in London two nights ago by Conor Chaplin

Thanks, Shannon J. Effinger, for writing about the great Mal Waldron in the Washington Post: “Mal Waldron, sideman to jazz greats, gets a solo retrospective.” How wonderful to see thoughtful coverage of jazz in a major outlet.

In another sphere, Jacob Garchik goes deep on the absurd video game Trombone Champ for Slate.

Benoît Delbecq in his element, in front of a Pavlova and coffee at Le Zimmer in Paris
Eberhard Weber and Billy Hart after the gig in Esslingen

I enjoyed playing the Green Mill with Matt Ulery and Jon Deitemyer. The Chicago speakeasy has a storied history.

“Stella by Starlight” watches over the Green Mill bandstand

On Fridays at the Green Mill, organist Chris Foreman plays his B3 from 5 to 7:30. A bystander’s clip of “Teach Me Tonight” on YouTube gives an idea of Foreman’s formidable powers. The real deal!

Book of Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler: Collected Works On ECM is a handsome volume edited by Fred Sturm for Universal Edition. The first four parts of The Sweet Time Suite and “Sophie” are presented as full big band charts; another eleven themes have advanced lead sheets with written out piano voicings and horn counterpoint.

A key figure lurking in the background of Wheeler’s harmonic sensibility is Ralph Vaughan Williams, who conjured evocative English landscapes with open modal harmonies. Wayne Shorter also loved Vaughan Williams, and the line from Shorter’s writing on Ju-Ju and Speak No Evil to the music on Wheeler’s ECM albums is a smooth one.

There is not a single Tadd Dameron II/V in this Wheeler book; there’s not much blues either. Instead, there is a certain amount of 60’s free jazz chaos, plus a natural heraldic quality preached from Wheeler’s commanding lead voice on trumpet and flugelhorn.

“‘Smatta” (From Gnu High with Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette) A famous track from Wheeler’s most famous album. Jarrett is the X-factor, treating the music in high rhapsodic fashion. Bars of 3/4 interrupt the 4/4 flow. At the time this was uncommon, and the band isn’t overwhelmingly comfortable. The blowing changes given by the composer in the book are slightly more complicated than those played on the record.

Heyoke Suite: Part 2 (From Gnu High) The opening waltz of “Heyoke” is not in the book. The chart to the free tempo fanfare “Part 2” gives some clues as to what almost amounts to breakdown in the studio. At first Jarrett is content to read the piano voicings and support the written melody, but when the improvising begins, Jarrett goes into a more open Paul Bley zone. Holland does what he can to keep everything in line. A kind of magic persists.

3/4 in the Afternoon (From Deer Wan with Jan Garbarek, John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette) The two guitars intertwine gracefully over slow 3/4. A major triad with an added 4th is a key Wheeler sonority. After a 16-bar tune is heard once it goes up a half-step, another Wheeler signature (in this case with an added four bar tag.) Both Wheeler and Garbarek phrase the written melody freely. The trumpet solo is gorgeous, but Towner sounds a bit like he is reading from the chart.

River Run (from Around 6 with Evan Parker, Tom van der Geld, Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark, Edward Vesala) I owned this LP as a teen but didn’t listen to it as much as the ones with Holland and DeJohnette. The opening fanfare gives way to a bounce marked “Charleston feel” in the score. The circular 16-bar blowing form is pure Wheeler.

May Ride (from Around 6) A long vibes and bass duo vamping in 6/4 takes up some space before the good melody and changes happen. Truthfully this band is not as strong as the bands on the other albums here.

Foxy Trot (from Double, Double You with Michael Brecker, John Taylor, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette) John Taylor is perhaps more sympathetic to the composer than Jarrett, and the opening paragraph of piano on “Foxy Trot” is exactly what is on the page. Is Michael Brecker’s shiny sonority out of place in this music? I’ve never been able to decide. The form in tempo is another classic Wheeler progression, something abstract that nonetheless remains firmly bound to traditional tension and release. This style has gone onto be wildly influential, although most of the imitations lack Wheeler’s folkloric inner ear and commitment to naturalness.

Three for D’reen (from Double, Double You) An unusually long form in slow waltz time. Due credit to Holland and DeJohnette: They play so well together and are truly perfect for Wheeler. The ECM sound is partly defined by DeJohnette’s cymbals, which are large and in charge throughout Gnu High, Deer Wan, and Double, Double You. Taylor is excellent, although perhaps a bit literal when reciting the chord scales. Wheeler himself avoids collegiate-level chord scale boxiness through ragged phrasing, which at times recalls an avant master like Don Cherry. Jarrett, Garbarek, and Abercrombie are usually convincing, but Taylor, Brecker, Towner and others from this era (and certainly many lesser lights since) don’t always transcend what sounds like staring at the page of scales. More bebop and blues would probably fix it.

Blue for Lou (from Double, Double You) A ballad with alternating 4/4 and 2/4 bars. In this case the score is particularly helpful.

The Sweet Time Suite (Part I-IV) from Music for Large and Small Ensembles with horn section + Evan Parker, Norma Winstone, John Abercrombie, John Taylor, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine)

1) Opening On DTM, Darcy James Argue offers a technical analysis of this beautiful movement.
2) Called “Kind Folk” in the book but listed as “For H.” on the disc When the topic is music at tempo, Wheeler the composer seems to find a compelling progression first, before then amplifying the harmony in reasonably obvious fashion for the full horn sections. It works, but it also lacks a certain inner chromatic mystery that I associate with Duke Ellington and other favorite large ensemble composers. Erskine had a lot of big band experience, he’s a good choice for this date, one joyous big drum fill setting up a brass shout make me laugh. Towards the end of the chart, the 4/4 vamp is reduced to 3/4, leading to…
3) For Jan An attractive waltz with trombone in the lead. When Wheeler himself plays the tune a second time, it makes a difference. There are other quality horn soloists on the album, but Wheeler’s own improvisations immediately sort the aesthetic and put the genre in a more sophisticated space. After the improvisations, the fortissimo written conversation between brass and saxes is convincing, the Fletcher Henderson era transformed into a more Wayne Shorter kind of conception. Winstone was a major Wheeler collaborator, and her lyrics for the return of the theme are not given in the book, an oversight.
4) For P.A. An impressionistic and cinematic ballad for tenor saxophonist Evan Parker with ticking eighth notes in the guitar. I like it, but I prefer it when the tempo picks up and Parker starts to play in a more avant style. The noisy tenor cadenza over stop time is an album highlight. (It always helps when Wheeler has soloists who color outside the lines in the manner of the composer’s own asymmetrical phrasing.) There’s a swing section for a bass solo, a bit of 6/8, and a return to the opening cinematic texture.

(The final two movements of the Suite Time Suite are not in the book.)

Sophie (from Music for Large and Small Ensembles) A very pretty pair of chorales for brass and saxes lead into a rhythmic tune. Winstone’s wordless vocal unison over the full horns gives something looser and more dangerous to the texture. Great trumpet solo.

Ma Belle Helene (from The Widow in the Window with John Abercrombie, John Taylor, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine) Again, an even-eighth tune (this time 20 bars) repeats up a half step. Abercrombie navigates this kind of polychord logic well, with a casual, even bluesy, approach.

Nicolette (From Angel Song with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, and Dave Holland) Lee Konitz was an inspired choice for the front line. As far as I know, Konitz (at the time about 70 years old) had never done much complex written music in the Wheeler style. Still, a basic lyricism is the common tongue, and the absence of drums relaxes the expectations of “burning solos on hard changes.” Bill Frisell doesn’t always play this kind of harmonic movement, either, but his warm and tangy signature sonority is surprisingly perfect. “Nicolette” is a thoughtful AABA waltz.

Unti (from Angel Song) Frisell takes a bluesy intro. The score is marked “G minor 11” but Frisell bends it into a bit of folksy dominant. There’s some horn harmony written that Konitz doesn’t play until the end; Konitz also plays in the key rather than on the complex changes used by Wheeler and Frisell.

Perhaps other pieces on Angel Song land more securely than “Unti,” for example the small group arrangement of “Kind Folk” (also heard above in the big band arrangement). Holland vibes on the busy bass line beneath seriously strong trumpet and alto solos. As players, both Konitz and Wheeler have that precious grit that lifts any melody into something meaningful. It’s great to hear Wheeler’s own composed lines with twice the spice on Angel Song.

Richie Beirach and Kenny Kirkland

Out now: Ruminations & Reflections – The Musical Journey of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach from Cymbal Press. (Amazon link.)

Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. It’s hard to think of one without the other. Ruminations & Reflections collects dialogues that give the pair a chance to tell stories, set the record straight, and consider their contribution.

I’ve read a lot of what Liebman has previously published, including the memoir Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist: Musical Thoughts and Realities and the autobiography with Lewis Porter, What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, but there has been less of Beirach’s direct personal opinion available. One gets the sense that Liebman steps back a bit in Ruminations & Reflections to let Beirach hold court.

And hold court Beirach does: the great pianist weighs in heavy on all sorts of topics. Of course, Liebman is ready to lay down the law as well. It is conventional for these things to be restrained and politically savvy, but the duo let it all hang out and say exactly what they think. It’s just great. Much of it is simply positive, of course, they both just love music, but there are a few tasty barbs and complaints as well.

Occasionally they are willing to define things in rather bald terms. For Beirach, the big three of classical music are Bach, Schoenberg, and Ligeti. Both agree that the big three of jazz are Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, while the three jazz cats with the most swinging time feel are Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Elvin Jones.

(To be clear, I don’t necessarily endorse these opinions, but I do think they are interesting.)

The chapter on Chick Corea is worth the price of admission.

Richie: In those days for me it was McCoy, Herbie Hancock, and Chick. They had the linear approach mastered combined with fantastic original harmony, a great sense of swing, “killing” natural time, and a great understanding of the piano. All three were wonderful composers. They were the top of the line. The next record he did was Sundance with his amazing tune “The Brain,” which by the way is a 12-tone row. It is an incredible piece with great intervallic stuff.

Dave: I wonder if he got that from Coltrane’s “Miles Mode,” because that was Trane’s 12-tone tune.

Richie: Maybe, but I think he got it more from Schoenberg. I know he was working on this. Then he ends the melody of “The Brain” on a G minor pedal so here you have both worlds, the diatonic world of G minor pedal and the 12-tone world of the melody of “The Brain.” Chick solos on G minor pedal point with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette on bass and drums. It is one of the most iconic and burning solos ever. He utilizes everything McCoy has done and in my opinion even surpasses it in places in terms of pure virtuosity and intensity. Also he had Dave and Jack and those three of course were Miles’ rhythm section for couple of years so they worked together all the time. There was a certain synergy in that band because Dave Holland was like the horse. He loved to play time and gave Jack total freedom in a similar way that Ron Carter gave Tony Williams rhythmic freedom. Also Jack expanded the vision of what the drums could do in a small group situation. It was overpowering at times … it was so intense but it was always musical at the same time. The combination of 4/4 time with Dave and Jack while Chick played like a contemporary piano concerto greatly expanded the possibility of what was possible, helped by using the entire range of the keyboard. Generally jazz piano players usually don’t use whole range of the piano. To me this tune, “The Brain” was the next logical development after McCoy in the history of jazz piano.

Of course it went unnoticed by the jazz public.

More than most, Liebman has explained how to listen to his music, beginning with his book Lookout Farm: A Case Study of Improvisation for Small Group Jazz from the early ’70s. In this latest entry, Beirach offers substantial listening notes to the extensive Beirach/Liebman discography. In his way, Beirach is quite honest and humble about what he is trying to do, and I finished Ruminations & Reflections with even more respect for Beirach’s unique journey.

Kenny Kirkland’s shadow grows longer by the day. There are now two books: DOCTONE: An Oral History of the Legendary Pianist Kenny Kirkland by Noah Haidu (Amazon link) and Kenny Kirkland’s Harmonic and Rhythmic Language: A Model for the Modern Jazz Pianist by Geoffrey Dean (jazzbooks.com link).

Both Haidu and Dean are players, and both books document a moment of completion, for Haidu made a corresponding record of Kirkland tunes with Todd Coolman and Billy Hart, while Dean’s book was based a doctoral thesis.

It’s thrilling that Haidu and Dean have made this contribution to the literature. The authors work in perfect counterpoint: Haidu’s book is packed with frank interviews from Kirkland’s family, peers, and followers (I especially enjoyed the chapter with Jason Moran), while Dean has transcribed a bevy of Kirkland solos and offers much technical insight.

One of the takeaways from the books is how much Kirkland is on tape, which is far more than a glance at a conventional discography suggests. Dean includes a few solos that are hard to get, including astounding flights through “Giant Steps” and McCoy Tyner’s “Four by Five,” while many interviewees in Haidu mention tapes of Kirkland in action with varied bands.

I myself have a bootleg trio set at Gilly’s in pretty good sound that should really have wider distribution, for it is even stronger than any of the commercially available Kirkland trio recordings.

Is there any chance of a new online repository of recordings, where students and fans can access the deep cuts? This kind of stewardship would make a difference: After all, it is Kenny Kirkland.

Drift by the Window

Sarah Deming has a hilarious new essay out in the Threepenny Review, “Are you Jewish?”

Roz Milner kind of blew my mind with this overview of Yoko Kanno and the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop.

Lewis Porter finds the sound of Thelonious Monk knocking over a beer bottle on a record with Miles Davis.

Nate Chinen offers a close view of Brad Mehldau in concert at Vanguard.

Matthew Guerrieri celebrates Lukas Foss at 100 with an early Foss sonata.

The best TV I’ve seen this year is the recent HBO mini-series The Rehearsal with Nathan Fielder. Sarah and I went in cold, not knowing a thing about it, and we advise others to do the same. There are some pretty harsh critiques out there. To those philistines, I say: Art is ruthless, and The Rehearsal shows a path forward.

Two thumbs down to The Grey Man. Maybe the production team had too much money to play with? At any rate, the over-the-top superhero antics of The Grey Man makes a James Bond movie look like a documentary.

Top Gun: Maverick is a far more acceptable popcorn flick than The Grey Man because it plays a bit more by the rules of physics. They took that “Tom Cruise in a caper” thing from the banal Mission: Impossible franchise and gave it some gritty heft. It’s no masterpiece, but I liked it more than I expected.

Back to school, back to tour. Before fall gets any further along, a look back through a few summer photos:

Dance Heginbotham, who danced to my music so beautifully in the Berkshires
With Sarah Deming, Mark Padmore, and Vicki Mortimer, in St Endellion in Cornwall, after Padmore’s final performance of Peter Grimes (and his last night as Endellion music director after 11 amazing seasons)

Marta Sanchez and Sylvie Courvoisier
Billy Hart and Nasheet Waits
with David Virelles
with Jon Cowherd
Jerry Bergonzi, Gene Perla, Dave Liebman, and Adam Nussbaum in Detroit
Vinnie Sperrazza and Kush Abadey

The Baldwin that Paul Desmond gave to Bradley’s is now at the Jazz Gallery

Peter Washington and Al Foster

Rainbow as seen from Billy Hart’s porch in Montclair

In the Night Room

New DTM page: “Fiction Lets Me Get the Facts Right.” 

While a big bestseller during the horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s — a casual reader might know his name best from the collaborations with Stephen King — the late Peter Straub is harder to sum up than his peers. I knew Straub slightly and loved re-reading two of his best.

Don Was turned 70 the other day, so I put up a little homemade video for my socials. Don is from Detroit, and told me on Instagram, “Thank you for elevating Motor City birthday greetings to a whole new level!!!” 


This coming Tuesday, I’m at the Zinc Bar with Ben Street and Nasheet Waits.

Then on the weekend, Friday and Saturday, September 23 and 24, I’m at the Green Mill in Chicago with Matt Ulery and Jon Deitemyer. I played with Matt and Jon earlier this year, it was really fun, in fact they both had memorized my tunes in advance.

After that there’s a proper European swing with Billy Hart’s quartet featuring Mark Turner, Ben Street, and myself.

September 27-28 Paris/Duc Des Lombards
September 29 Philharmonie Luxembourg
September 30 Berlin/Zig Zag Club
October 1 Esslingen/Encounter Jazz
October 2. Milan/Blue Note
October 4 Jazz Club Ferrara
October 6 Bertinoro/Bistrot Colonna
October 7-8 London/Pizza Express

If you come to a gig, say hi!