Lew Soloff Goes On And On…With A Song In His Heart

Lew Soloff was a great trumpeter who was the epitome of a cross-over musician.  He made everyone around him sound good…a real team player.

Dave Liebman

YES, I HAD COPIES OF THE FIRST TWO BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS ALBUMS.  Lew_SoloffEVERYBODY DID, BACK IN THE DAY.

YOU KIDDING ME?

BUT AS I WENT THROUGH MY MUSICAL RITES OF PASSAGE DURING THE EARLY 1970S, MY REFERENCE POINTS FOR THE ARTISTRY OF TRUMPET MASTER LEW SOLOFF WERE FORGED IN A MUCH MORE OBSCURE CONTEXT…DURING THE MANY TIMES I MADE THE TREK FROM LONG ISLAND TO A FUNKY-BUTT CLUB ON MANHATTAN’S LOWER EAST SIDE–TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN THE MUSIC OF MY NEW FOUND HERO, DRUMMER ELVIN JONES.

THERE WERE NIGHTS AT SLUGS, LOCATED ON EAST 3RD STREET BETWEEN AVENUES B AND C, WHERE I WAS LITERALLY THE ONLY LISTENER IN ATTENDANCE. I’D ORDER A MUG OF WHITE WINE FOR A BUCK, AND POSITION MYSELF DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ELVIN’S BASS DRUM, AND JUST GLORY IN THE LUMINESCENCE OF HIS CONCEPTION, AS MISTER JONES AND BASSIST GENE PERLA KEPT SAXOPHONISTS DAVE LIEBMAN AND STEVE GROSSMAN PULSATING ON TECTONIC PLATES OF RHYTHM.

Steve Grossman_Gene Perla_Dave Liebman_Elvin Jones [1971]

Steve Grossman, Gene Perla, Elvin Jones and Dave Liebman

BOTH RESPONDED WITH SUCH UNBRIDLED PASSION AND VIRTUOSITY THAT I NEVER EVEN REMOTELY SUSPECTED THAT THIS REPRESENTED, FOR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES, AMONG THEIR VERY FIRST BIG-TIME PROFESSIONAL GIGS (ALTHOUGH DAVE HAD TOURED WITH TEN WHEEL DRIVE AND APPRENTICED WITH ANOTHER LEGENDARY DRUMMER, PETE LAROCA, WHILE STEVE TOOK OVER THE SAXOPHONE CHAIR FROM NO LESS AN ICON THAN WAYNE SHORTER, IN THAT MILES AT THE FILLMORE EAST ENSEMBLE WITH CHICK COREA, KEITH JARRETT, DAVE HOLLAND AND AIRTO).

NEVER MATTERED TO ELVIN, GENE, DAVE AND STEVE IF THERE WERE ONE PERSON IN ATTENDANCE OR A HUNDRED. THEY PLAYED AS IF THEIR LIVES DEPENDED ON IT; AS IF THIS WAS THE LAST GIG THEY WERE EVER GOING TO PLAY. THEY WERE INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC ITSELF, REFLECTING THAT SEARCHING TRADITION AND TOTAL SPIRITUAL COMMITMENT OF THE LATE JOHN COLTRANE.

Elvin Jones Big Tie by Chuck StewartHOWEVER, THERE WERE SOME NIGHTS WHEN ELVIN WAS EVEN MORE FIRED UP, AND THOSE GENERALLY OCCURRED WHEN LEW SOLOFF SHOWED UP TO SIT IN WITH HIS TRUMPET.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THE SOUND AND FEEL OF A GREAT TRUMPET PLAYER AND A MASTER DRUMMER, THE INTERMINGLING OF ALL THAT BRASS AND BRONZE, THAT IS SINGULAR TO JAZZ: THINK CLIFFORD BROWN AND BOOKER LITTLE WITH MAX ROACH; THINK LEE MORGAN AND FREDDIE HUBBARD WITH ART BLAKEY; THINK MILES DAVIS WITH PHILLY JOE JONES AND TONY WILLIAMS. ELVIN WAS OFTEN INSPIRED TO CALL OUT THE TRUMPETER’S NAME (“YEAH, LEW, BABY!”) WHEN IN THE THROES OF THEIR CONVERSATIONAL COMMUNION, AND THE WHOLE BAND SEEMED TO DERIVE A SIGNIFICANT BOOST TO THEIR ALREADY FORMIDABLE LEVEL OF PASSION, WHEN LEW CAME BY TO JOIN THEM.

Lew Soloff with BS&T

Lew Soloff with BS&T

FROM BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS TO ELVIN JONES?

NOT AS MUCH OF A STRETCH AS YOU WOULD THINK FOR A MUSICIAN’S MUSICIAN SUCH AS LEW SOLOFF, WHO CAME OF AGE AMONG A GENERATION OF PLAYERS WHO TOOK PRIDE NOT ONLY IN THEIR BEBOP ARTISTRY, BUT IN THEIR ABILITY TO BE TRUE WORKING MUSICIANS IN THE BEST SENSE OF THAT TERM; TO MAKE GIGS, AND TREAT EACH ONE AS SPECIAL, BE IT SOME LIGHTWEIGHT CATSKILLS HANG, A HUMBLE BAR MITZVAH OR A JINGLE DATE, LET ALONE THE FORMIDABLE READING DEMANDS OF A BROADWAY SHOW, A SYMPHONIC WORK OR A BIG BAND.

SURE, LEW SOLOFF GARNERED A LOT OF ATTENTION FROM HIS WORK IN ONE OF THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL CROSSOVER/JAZZ-ROCK GIGS WITH BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS. BUT HE COULD ALSO BE CALLED UPON TO PLAY “LEGIT” TRUMPET IN THE CLASSICAL SENSE, TO BRING A COMMANDING PRESENCE TO BOTH LEAD AND ENSEMBLE FUNCTIONS IN A TRUMPET SECTION, AND TO SOLO WITH INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY IN JAZZ-ROCK, MODERN JAZZ AND CLASSICAL SETTINGS.

Gil Evans, by Allan Tannenbaum

Gil Evans

AS SUCH, OVER THE YEARS, HE MADE A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION TO THOSE WONDERFUL GIL EVANS BIG BANDS THAT USED TO HOLD COURT AT SWEET BASIL IN THE VILLAGE, TO JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ENSEMBLES.  YOU NAME IT. LEW SOLOFF WAS A PRO’S PRO, AND A TRUMPETER PLAYER’S TRUMPETER. HE COULD BE JUST AS FORCEFUL OR AS INVISIBLE AS THE MUSIC REQUIRED.

LEW SOLOFF DIDN’T NEED TO BE A LEAD DOG JUST TO PULL THE SLED.

I LAST HEARD LEW SOLOFF LIVE IN JANUARY OF 2014, WHEN HE LENT A BRILLIANT TOUCH OF VOCALIZED COUNTERPOINT TO THE ARTISTIC CONCEPTION OF VOCALIST TESSA SOUTER’S VERY ORIGINAL APPROACH TO A CHAMBER-STYLED ENSEMBLE DOWNTOWN AT THE 55 BAR IN SHERIDAN SQUARE.

(LIVING AS I DO NEAR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE, EVERYTHING IS NECESSARILY DOWNTOWN.)

Lew Soloff & Tessa Souter [Iridium, Sepetmeber 2014]

Lew Soloff & Tessa Souter [Iridium, September 2014]

LEW WAS…WELL, LEW WAS LEW, ABLE TO TEMPER HIS CONCEPTION TO THE DEMANDS OF THE MOMENT, WITHOUT HOLDING BACK, YET NEVER OFFHANDEDLY IMPOSING HIS EGO ON THE MUSIC. WHATEVER WAS REQUIRED, BE IT HEAVY OR LIGHT, LEW HAD THE SKILL AND THE KNOWLEDGE AND THE SENSITIVITY TO MAKE THE MUSIC COME OUT RIGHT.

SO FOR LEW TO LEAVE US SO SUDDENLY, A YOUNG MAN OF 71, FROM A MASSIVE HEART ATTACK, IS AS STUNNING A LOSS AS WHEN HIS OWN MUSICAL COLLEAGUE, PIANIST MULGREW MILLER, SUCCUMBED TO A STROKE, AN EVEN YOUNGER MAN OF 57, BACK IN THE SPRING OF 2013.  YOU DON”T REPLACE CATS LIKE THAT.

[SIGH.  I RECKON WE’RE ALL PLAYING WITH THE HOUSE’S MONEY.]

IT WAS BACK AROUND 1998-1999, THAT THE NOTED PIANIST, CLUB-OWNER, RACONTEUR AND TIRELESS ADVOCATE FOR MODERN JAZZ, THE ESTIMABLE LORD TODD BARKAN, ENGAGED ME TO DO THE LINER NOTES FOR ONE OF LEW SOLOFF’S ALL-TOO INFREQUENT RECORDINGS AS A LEADER, A SESSION WHICH TODD HAD CO-PRODUCED: WITH A SONG IN MY HEART.

Todd Barkan and Miles Davis

Todd Barkan Invokes Louis Armstrong & Miles Davis

IT FEATURED AN ENSEMBLE ONE MIGHT LIKEN TO THE THE FAMED MURDERER’S ROW OF THE 1927 NEW YORK YANKEES, VERILY, EACH MAN A DUDE: PIANIST MULGREW MILLER, BASSIST GEORGE MRAZ AND DRUMMER VICTOR LEWIS.

I THUS ENJOYED THE PLEASURE OF AN EXTENDED HANG WITH LEW SOLOFF: BOTH TO REPRISE HIS COMING OF AGE AS A MUSICIAN, AND TO BRING INTO FOCUS THE MUSICAL VALUES WHICH SHAPED THE ENSEMBLE CHARACTER OF THIS ELEGANTLY UNDERSTATED AND VERY SOFTLY FOCUSED RECITAL, IN WHICH, BY AND LARGE (THE TITLE TUNE TAKING ON A MORE FORCEFUL APPROACH), BALLADS AND LEW’S HARMON MUTED TRUMPET DEFINED THE RECORDING’S SOUND SIGNATURE.

(UPON REFLECTION, ENGAGING LEW IN THE INTERVIEW PROCESS WAS ANALOGOUS TO THE GIVE AND TAKE, THE CALL AND RESPONSE ONE MIGHT ENJOY IN PLAYING WITH HIM ON A BANDSTAND–RIGHT UP THERE WITH OTHER CHERISHED MEMORIES OF ENGAGING GIANTS THE LIKES OF SONNY ROLLINS, HERBIE HANCOCK AND CLARK TERRY.)

WHILE WHAT FOLLOWS, IS A DISTILLATION OF CONVERSATIONS RELATING VERY MUCH TO A SPECIFIC PROJECT, AT A PARTICULAR TIME AND PLACE, IT NEVERTHELESS AFFORDS US THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE THE MEASURE OF A VERY SWEET MAN, AN ALL-AROUND MUSICIAN AND A TRUMPET MASTER OF THE VERY HIGHEST ORDER.

* * * * * * * * *

Lew Soloff1With A Song In My Heart is a summit meeting of jazz virtuosos, so confident in their mastery, that they’re able to strip away all artifice and zero in on the liquid cherry center of collective improvisation: tune and tempo. This is a session that invites you to immerse yourself fully in its lyric details, or to daydream away to its deep, easygoing grooves. With A Song In My Heart sings and swings, and Lew Soloff chairs this recital with the elegance and tranquility of a horn player for whom the trumpet’s technical challenges have long ago been surmounted.

On With A Song In My Heart, Soloff plays with such grace and ease, with an economy of means and such a real sense of nuance and shading, that it puts me in mind of another paradigm of brass refinement, Clark Terry—the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet. Soloff’s devotion to the music so transcends the technical challenges of the instrument, it’s tempting to overlook how hard it is to make it look so easy. Indeed Soloff plays like a man with nothing to prove, save for his deep devotion to the virtues of a song-like tone and a beautifully sculpted phrase.

Soloff’s Harmon-muted ruminations are so richly adorned with timbral and textural details, so lovingly punctuated by shrewd syncopations and telling silences, that one is reminded anew of the trumpet’s capacity not simply for brash rhythmic excitement but for sublime, voice-like melodic invention.

Lew Soloff With A Song In My Heart [Front Cover]“A long-time goal of mine, from listening to people like Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis, has always been to play something simply and emotionally,” Soloff explains.

“And there are many ways of doing it. There are people who play a lot of notes, and there are people who don’t play a lot of notes. But I have a particular fascination with the people who don’t. Like, what is that quality that makes them so special? And that’s the thing about this record that I like so much.”

Lew Soloff With A Song In My HeartWhich is why, in a sense, With A Song In My Heart represents the artistic apex of a long, circuitous creative arc—the culmination of Soloff’s life-long fascination with the instrument’s capacity for vocal expression.

Born on February 20, 1944, Soloff’s deep spiritual connection to the trumpet incubated away subliminally in the archives of his mind for years and years, until in a flash of memory, he realized the true origins of his artistic inspiration. “I was raised in Brooklyn until I was five,” Soloff recalls.

“I moved to Lakewood, New Jersey in the second grade. When I was in the fourth grade, they gave everybody a tonette, right. And then in the fifth grade they asked everybody what instrument they wanted to play, and I picked the trumpet, I thought, because it was shiny. Quite honestly that’s the reason I consciously thought that I played the trumpet, until I was in college, when I realized the real reason. I was walking back to the dormitory from classes one night, and I started to remember Roy Eldridge’s solo from “After You’ve Gone” with Gene Krupa, a record my grandmother and grandfather had in the house when I was like four or five.

“And back then I used to listen to Louis Armstrong, because of my Uncle, who was a show piano player named Jesse Solomon. He turned me on to Louis, and I was listening to records like “I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music” and especially “Shoe Shine Boy.” On the former he executes a scale where he goes up very, very sweetly to a high G on the trumpet, and that kind of turned me on to the upper register of the instrument. But I wasn’t conscious of this when I first picked up the trumpet, yet that was my introduction to music, and I began playing trumpet when I was ten. And after doing my first job in the Catskills when I was fifteen, I decided to be a musician because I had so much fun hanging around the musicians and entertainers. I just knew that this was my thing.”

As a young jazz fan, making my way through the catacombs of Manhattan it seemed as though everywhere I turned up, every other disc I laid my hands on, there was Lew Soloff. When I picked up on those early Blood Sweat And Tears records, there was Lew Soloff. Caught a performance by the Gil Evans Big Band, and there was Lew Soloff. Went down to the Lower East Side to hear Elvin Jones at Slugs and the drummer would just light up like a Christmas tree whenever Lew Soloff dropped in from another job to add his trumpet to the mix.

Lew Soloff3While perusing the credits to some singer’s record, inevitably Lew Soloff’s name would pop up.

Live or in the studio, it didn’t seem to make much difference what the music was or what you needed. Jazz or Latin. Instrumental or vocal charts. Improvisation or sight reading. Soloist or section man. Middle register lyricism or upper register screaming.  If you needed a trumpet player you could bet your budget on—then or now—the call went out for Lew Soloff, the ultimate team player and working musician.

“I don’t do that much studio work anymore,” Soloff points out over lunch as we discuss his rich tapestry of experience. “I’m almost totally involved in the jazz world. But coming up, anything I played, I loved—I just wanted to have the horn on my face. I was in the Catskills for seven summers from 1959-1965. And by doing that, I learned to sight read really well, playing different acts every night. I still do job-type jobs, because I have a family to support, and until you really break through in a major kind of way, it’s very difficult to make a living just in the jazz world, without anything else to fall back on.

“You see, the connotation of working musician to me is being hired to play your instrument, rather than being hired to play your music. And it’s all been a lot of fun for me. If it’s a really, really great arrangement it’s a joy. One of the thrills of my life was playing lead with Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand. When I came up there were so many great big band records, and I wanted to be one of those guys on the back of the album jacket, at first, but then I got turned on to some other things.

“I always improvised in the context of whatever little club dates I was doing and whatever jam sessions I could make. But in the summer of 1963 I played up at Kutscher’s Country Club in a show band. And every night I and the other musicians—including Dave Liebman—would jam until five in the morning. I learned a lot about playing that summer, and that I like to play too much to only be a big band trumpet player. I needed more expression than that alone could afford me.”

Lew Soloff5Working his way around the New York music scene in the ‘60s, Lew Soloff’s blend of craft and creativity soon earned him a reputation as musician’s musician, and it seemed as if all the top bandleaders gave him a holler at one time or another.

“I was a working musician on the scene, making rehearsal bands and recording dates,” Soloff says proudly of his formative days. “I did some club dates. I played in Radio City Music Hall. When I came to New York I started working with Machito and a whole lot of really good Latin players, such as Tito Puente. I even played with Vincent Lopez. The first jazz gig I had was with Maynard [Ferguson]. Then I started rehearing with Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson in that wonderful big band, and we rehearsed three hours a day, five days a week. And that was really a lot of fun.

“Then in 1966 [tuba player] Howard Johnson got me on the Gil Evans Big Band, and to me that was the greatest gig in my life. I played with him until he passed away, and I still play with his son every chance I get. I learned a lot about interpreting parts and also about soloing from Gil.

“I was basically knocking around town doing a lot of playing—not record dates, but a lot of playing with people like Maynard and Clark Terry—when I got a call to join Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1968. I kind of liked that first record. I prided myself on my versatility at that point. I knew several of the BS&T guys from the Catskills Mountains and the rehearsal scene in New York, while the other guys were basically from the rock and roll scene. But I had never played rock and roll, and I wanted to be able to play anything.

“Also, I thought I would meet some girls, too,” Soloff laughs.

Since his Blood, Sweat & Tears days, Soloff has appeared on countless recording sessions, but when producer Makoto Kimata heard Soloff playing duets with pianist Mulgrew Miller he was so taken by the trumpeter’s command of the Harmon mute, that he enlisted fellow producer Todd Barkan to help organize a session showcasing Soloff’s lyric talents in what amounts to an overview of the American popular song form…and great melodies in general, from Arlen and Rodgers and Kern, to this Tchaikovsky cat, who seems like a real comer.

Lew Soloff4And in teaming Soloff with pianist Miller, bassist George Mraz and drummer Victor Lewis, Barkan and Kimata assembled a band with the kind of deep intuition and measured restraint that allow Soloff’s music to simmer deep and hard without ever quite boiling over—the type of musicians who make a recording session resonate with a level of interplay worthy of working bands with ten years of collective flight time under their belts.

Echoing those sentiments, Soloff proudly points to this recording as evidence of what can happen over the course of two days when great jazz artists get to know each other deeply and have a blast doing so. “You know the way in which this record begins? With ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine.’ Well, those were the first notes we ever played together.”

Which is how, as they say, you separate the men from the boys. On “Come Rain Or Come Shine” Mraz and Lewis display a gift all too rare among contemporary rhythm players…the ability to render their accompaniments so that they’re practically invisible—plenty of heat, yet the song is never consumed by the fire.  Soloff and Miller dance gently around the melody, until Lewis shifts from brushes to sticks, signaling a telling modulation in emphasis, inspiring Soloff to respond by elongating his phrases ever so slightly, allowing his melodies to grow more elliptical and jagged, yet never losing his focused sense of the song. In like manner, Miller completes the circle with rhythmic/harmonic variations that gradually lead back to the repose of Mraz’s understated melodic embellishments.  In like manner do they approach the title tune, which concludes this session on an up note, swinging as hard as you please; an expressive rhythmic workout that frames Soloff’s more pensive ruminations in sharp relief, without ever quite breaking the sensual, intimate spell Lew and the band weave throughout

“That’s a good point,” Soloff allows. “Besides wanting to explore aspects of the song form, once we saw the way the music was going—with most of the cuts having a fairly relaxed feel to them—it just didn’t feel right to all of a sudden do some crash and burn tune right in the middle of it, and draw somebody out of that mood. We ourselves felt like sustaining the mood that the recording was already in. Now a standard such as  ‘With A Song In My Heart’ is a tune that you really have to know; it has some different things going on harmonically, and we really swing out, but still, I kept the mute in, and we didn’t roar and burn on it. It never got to that place, which is another side of what the band really can do, of course, but this record is very heavily influenced by singers, as it’s built around some great examples of the American standard.”

Lew Soloff6Still, the band achieves a nice sense of pacing and variety in their choice of tunes, tempos and grooves, such as the lovely Spanish tinge on “Deguello” (from Rio Bravo) and the near eastern vibe of Soloff’s own “Istanbul,” both of which benefit from the composing and arranging skills of Rob Moussney; Moussney also distilled down the “Andantino from Tchaikovsy’s Symphony # 4, Second Movement” into a beautiful jazz interpretation of a melody originally carried by the oboe, with a lovely harmonic role for Lew’s wife Emily Mitchell on harp (who also shines on “Deguello”). “In the original,” Lew explains, “there are a lot thematic developments that went through many, many modulations, and Rob kind of edited it down and got us back to the original key in a very nice, concise manner.”

Still, for all the great moments and superb interplay on With A Song In My Heart, the most telling emotional moments for this listener occur on a stunning Soloff rendition of “I’m A Fool To Want You,” the old Sinatra tear jerker. The trumpeter’s solo should be required listening for anyone who wants to gain an insight into what it means to be both a jazz improviser and a jazz interpreter.

The manner in which Soloff reprises the theme after Miller’s solo—walking on eggshells by stretching phrases in a breathless, sing-song manner–the voice suddenly cracking as if overcome by ruminations on some past love gone awry—is the reasoned, tender lyricism of a mature musician, overflowing with feeling, yet devoid of cheap sentiment. It is the sound of an original, confident in his mastery, incapable of playing a superfluous note.

An artist whose time has come, a trumpeter ready for any challenge.

An artist, who if we may be allowed a parting postscript, was still reaching for a higher ideal of his instrument, a mastery of both its hot and cool aspects, right down to the moment he was recruited to join tribal elder Clark Terry, and presumably the Archangel Gabriel, in some exalted celestial brass section, on the other side of the river.

In Lew’s own words, he never stopped reaching. “The universal spirit, or whatever it is, is what infects us, and makes us play the music.”

In that spirit of a lifetime’s journey, please refer to the incredibly emotive amen choruses Lew puts down on our final video clip of “Georgia On My Mind” (from October 20, 2013). 

If you love jazz, if you love blues, if you live the trumpet, this performance is truly Lew Soloff’s Sermon on the Mount.  It’s all here; all the discipline and aspiration of a lifetime distilled into one radiant, extended aria.  I mean, damn.  All soul and no artifice, transcending the horn itself, while seemingly referencing every significant expressive element of the trumpet’s cumulative vocabulary, going back to tribal elder Louis Armstrong, and all of his spiritual children. 

True mastery, but never for its own sake.

In a word? 

SOUL.

And because Lew Soloff never stopped reaching, we will never stop listening.

A peaceful journey, my friend.

Lew Soloff2

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Charlie Haden–Face Of The Bass

The bass, no matter what kind of music you’re playing, it just enhances the sound and makes everything sound more beautiful and full.
When the bass stops, the bottom kind of drops out of everything.
Charlie Haden

WHEN BASSIST CHARLIE HADEN PASSED AWAY IN THE SUMMER OF 2014, HE LEFT A VOID IN THE ARTISTIC FIRMAMENT WHICH IS UNLIKELY TO BE FILLED ANY TIME SOON.

Charlie Haden Bass ProfileHADEN’S WAS A POETIC SENSIBILITY, AN EVOCATION OF FREEDOM AND THE ASPIRING SPIRIT IN ALL THINGS MUSICAL.

NOR DID HE CONFINE THESE PRINCIPLES TO JAZZ IMPROVISATION ALONE.

AT MOST EVERY OPPORTUNITY HE ASPIRED TO EMBODY THE SPIRIT OF MAN AS HE FELT IT IN TERMS OF LIBERATION AND JUSTICE AND BROTHERHOOD.

Charlie Haden At EaseJ, Ocean Way 1994WHEN HADEN FIRST CAME TO NEW YORK CITY IN 1959 FOR A LEGENDARY SIX-MONTH ENGAGEMENT AT THE FIVE SPOT,  IT WAS AS AN INTEGRAL PART OF ORNETTE COLEMAN’S CONTROVERSIAL ENSEMBLE WITH THEIR ADVENTUROUS, FREELY INFLECTED POST-MODERN APPROACH TO COLLECTIVE IMPROVISATION.

WHAT WAS THEN CHARACTERIZED AS REVOLUTIONARY AND DECONSTRUCTIVE, WAS IN NO WAY A BREAK WITH THE PAST, BUT AN ATTEMPT TO FASHION A RHYTHMICALLY COMBUSTIBLE KIND OF COLLECTIVE CONVERSATION THAT BLURRED THE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN FRONT LINE AND BACK LINE, SOLOIST AND ACCOMPANIST, FREEDOM AND FORM–EVOLUTIONARY IN THE BEST SENSE OF THAT WORD…DEEPLY ROOTED AS IT WAS IN JAZZ AND BLUES TRADITIONS.

HADEN’S ABILITY TO MAINTAIN ONE BEAR OF A RHYTHMIC PULSE, WHILE MODULATING MELODICALLY AS IF THROUGH ALL 24 MAJOR AND MINOR KEYS SIMULTANEOUSLY, SUGGESTED A RESTLESSLY SHIFTING, ABSTRACT HARMONIC CANVAS, EVEN AS IT EVOKED THE RUSTIC, FOLKISH QUALITIES OF THE SUNDAY MORNING HYMNAL, THE AMEN CHORUS AND THE GRAND OL’ OPRY.

Charlie Haden with Ornette Quartet [Circa 1961]WHEN THE YOUNG BASSIST FROM THE OZARKS LOOKED ACROSS THE JAM-PACKED ROOM AND DOWN THE BAR FROM HIS PERCH ON THE BANDSTAND, STARING AT HIM INTENTLY–SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT, KID, WRIT LARGE UPON THEIR FURROWED BROWS–WERE THE MOST PROMINENT FACES OF THE MODERN BASS–CHARLES MINGUS, PAUL CHAMBERS, WILBUR WARE, PERCY HEATH.

YEARS LATER WHEN PEOPLE INQUIRED AS TO WHY HE PLAYED WITH HIS EYES CLOSED, CHARLIE WOULD CHUCKLE, AND REFERENCE THAT BAPTISM OF FIRE.

STILL, WHILE HIS EYES MIGHT HAVE REMAINED CLOSED, HIS EARS WERE ALWAYS WIDE OPEN, AS HE ENDEAVORED, FOR ALL HIS CONSIDERABLE TECHNIQUE, NOT TO PLAY THE MOST NOTES, BUT TO PLAY THE PRETTIEST, THE MOST MEANINGFUL–WHERE YOU ONLY NEEDED TWO PEOPLE TO FORM A CONGREGATION, AND THE SOUND ITSELF CONVEYED SOME SUGGESTION OF A DEEPER REALITY

Otherness if you like. 

SEEING HADEN FOR THE FIRST TIME AT THE NYC PREMIER OF ORNETTE COLEMAN’S SYMPHONIC WORK, SKIES OF AMERICA HALF A LIFETIME AGO, IMPLANTED A DRAMATIC IMAGE OF HADEN AS A PERFORMER IN MY MIND’S EYE, EVEN AS HIS SOUND WAS FOREVER EMBEDDED IN MY RECOMBINANT DNA.

A SOUND THAT NEVER LEFT ME, OVER THE COURSE OF MANY AN INTIMATE COLLABORATION WITH THE LIKES OF KEITH JARRETT, HAMPTON HAWES, ALICE COLTRANE, PAT METHENY, PAUL MOTIAN, PAUL BLEY, HANK JONES AND JIM HALL–NOT TO MENTION A SPONTANEOUS COLLABORATION OVER THE COURSE OF FOUR DAYS AT OCEAN WAY STUDIOS IN LOS ANGELES THAT I PRODUCED FOR DRUMMER GINGER BAKER BACK IN 1994, WITH CHARLIE AND GUITARIST BILL FRISELL–GOING BACK HOME (ATLANTIC).

Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman1

Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden

A FEW YEARS BEFORE THAT SUMMIT SESSION, I WAS RUNNING THE JAZZ DEPARTMENT AT THE HMV RECORD STORE ON 86TH STREET AND LEXINGTON AVENUE IN MANHATTAN, WHEN CHARLIE CAME BY THE SHOP TO PROMOTE HIS CURRENT RELEASE, AN INTIMATE AND CURIOUSLY OVERLOOKED RECITAL OF DUETS WITH PORTUGUESE GUITARIST CARLOS PAREDES–DIALOGUES.

(THE SINGULAR TIMBRE AND FOLKISH OVERTONES OF PAREDES’ 12-STRINGED INSTRUMENT, FRAMED AS THEY ARE AGAINST THE CAVERNOUS DEPTH OF HADEN’S MOANIN’ BASS FIDDLE, UPON FIRST BLUSH REMINDED ME FOR ALL THE WORLD OF ZITHER MASTER ANTON KARAS’ FAMOUS MUSICAL SCORE FOR CAROL REED’S FILM NOIRE CLASSIC, THE THIRD MAN.)

CHARLIE TOOK ME TO LUNCH, WHERE I HAVE AN ENDURING MEMORY OF HIM ORDERING A LARGE CAPPUCCINO WITH A TRIPLE-ESPRESSO SIDECAR–WHICH HE THEN PROCEEDED TO POUR DIRECTLY INTO HIS CAPPUCCINO, KNOCKING IT ALL DOWN IN A FEW SWIFT GULPS–FOR A BRACING CAFFEINE DEPTH CHARGE.

IN CONVEYING HIS ENDURING PASSION FOR THE SPIRIT OF THE BASS, OUR CONVERSATIONS THAT AFTERNOON FORMED THE BASIS FOR A PORTRAIT OF A CREATIVE ARTIST STILL VERY MUCH AT THE PEAK OF HIS POWERS, AND WHOSE ARTISTRY CONTINUES TO CAST A LONG SHADOW UPON ALL THOSE WHO LOVE JAZZ AND WERE TOUCHED BY HIS DEEP SENSE OF COMMITMENT TO THE MUSIC.

IN THAT SPIRIT, AND BY WAY OF A CONCLUSIVE SEND-OFF AND PERSONALIZED LOVE-IN, EVEN AS JAZZ MUSICIANS AND EDUCATORS GATHER IN NEW YORK FOR THE JAZZ CONNECT CONFERENCE + WINTERFEST FESTIVAL, FAMILY AND FRIENDS WILL BE HONORING THE BASSIST WITH A FREE MEMORIAL CONCERT TO BE HELD IN MANHATTAN’S TOWN HALL (CELEBRATING CHARLIE HADEN) AT 7:00PM ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2015.

I MEAN, IT’S NOT LIKE CHARLIE’S GONE.

Some notes just linger longer than others.

Ginger Baker, Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell at Ocean Way, 1994

Ginger Baker-Charlie Haden-Bill Frisell (Ocean Way Studios, Hollywood, 1994)

The face of the bass is an illusion.

Most see it as a specific instrument, the lowest note, the deepest sound.

But in truth it is the first note, the last note, the one note without which none of the other notes or rhythms would make any sense. The bass note acts as a fulcrum, a pivot point, translating the rhythms of the drums to the melody instruments, grounding the harmony of a song in time and space.

The face of the bass is the center of life.

Since first bursting on the jazz scene as Ornette Coleman’s prodigiously swinging teenage bass man, Charlie Haden has portrayed the face of the bass like a great romantic poet, imbuing each note with its own special glow. Eyes closed in a deep rapture, head thrust back as if hanging for dear life upon the forecastle to some lofty oaken mast as we sailed directly into the gusting fury of an ocean gale.

Charlie Haden and Paul Motian

Charlie Haden with Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian

Charlie Haden still appears in awe of music every time he plays–each silence as telling as the tones which preceded it.

“You see,” Haden explains, by way of defining his muse, “as a child growing up, whenever I heard music, whether it was country or classical or jazz, whether it was a band or a choir, the bass held everything together. It was the fullness that lifted everything up. My mom used to take me to the black churches in Springfield, Missouri when I was a kid, and I used to hear the choir singing, and I always loved the bass. And when I began listening to classical music, I always loved the sound of the bowed basses in the orchestra. When the basses stopped, it kind of got empty for me. They just filled up the room for me, and made everything really warm.”

And for all of Charlie Haden’s prodigious drive and freedom, it is precisely that sense of warmth, born of the high-lonely sound of Americana, which distinguishes his playing.

Over the last thirty years there have certainly been bassists with greater facility and flash, but while Charlie Haden doesn’t play the most notes, he’s made a career out of playing the prettiest. And therein lies Haden’s enduring gift to music, a gift which has lifted the ensembles of leaders like Ornette, Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, and has animated his own work, from intimate encounters with the likes of Hampton Hawes, Gerri Allen, Carlos Puedes and long time rhythm mate Paul Motian, to large scale, consciousness raising works with his own Liberation Music Orchestra, most tellingly on his award winning Blue Note release Dream Keeper–a magnificent marriage of folk, classical, jazz and spiritual values.

“Playing a lot of notes doesn’t mean anything,” Haden insists. “I place importance on every note that I play. It’s as if I may never play again. And I approach each performance as if it were an offering. It’s like when you walk into a beautiful cathedral, you have to raise yourself to the level of awe you feel. And that’s the way I try to prepare myself for a concert. You’re in a very intimate relationship with the audience, and you want to convey the preciousness of life to them in a succinct way get right to the point without any wasted notes.

“And I really don’t have any time for waste or tolerance for shallowness. So I look for the notes that are going to make the greatest impact on everyone, and the notes that are going to make something the most beautiful it can be. Whether or not I succeed is another story. I’m never happy with the way I play. I always think there’s so much more in the notes that I heard and couldn’t play. But I make sure that the notes I do play are played with great care and intention, great respect and reverence. And hopefully, it’ll give someone a good feeling when they hear it.

“I really see things as being alive: I see my instrument as being alive, I see the notes as being alive, I see music as being alive–music as being a close friend to you. When you touch music, and you’re in the act of improvisation, it teaches you humility, the importance of being a giving human being–to have respect and reverence for beauty. And before you can begin to grasp any of that, you have to start off with a reverent silence. From that silence you hear the textures of your soul. You see, there’s not just quiet, there’s reverence. And it’s like preparing yourself to be close to music. You have to have great respect for music.”

Which, for Charlie Haden, literally began at his parent’s feet. “I’m from Shenandoah, Iowa. My dad was from Missouri, and my mother was from Baxter Spring, Kansas, and they met and went to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. And as each one of my brothers and sisters were born, they were added to the group: Uncle Carl Haden & The Haden Family. It was similar to the Carter Family. I mean, my dad was friends with Jimmie Rodgers, the Delmore Brothers, Woody Guthrie, A.P Carter and all those people.

Charlie Haden & The Haden Family_A

The Haden Family

“I was born August 6, 1937, and I started singing earlier than any of my brothers and sisters. I sang my first song on the radio when I was 22 months old: `Little Sir Echo.’ Some of our sponsors were Waits’ Green Mountain Cough Syrup, Cocoa Puffs, Sparkolite Cereal and Pillsbury, and my dad had one of those `golden throat’ voices that you identify with immediately. We used to get duffel bags full of mail, and we went out over these real powerful radio stations in Springfield, Missouri near the Ozarks that would broadcast all the way to Canada and Mexico and that’s where I grew up. Then when I was fourteen, we got an opportunity to do a TV show in Omaha, Nebraska. I began my freshman year of high school there, and began thinking about playing the bass.

Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny1

Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden

“I’m basically self-taught. From the time when I was two years old, until I was fifteen years old, I sang twice a day on the radio. It was really disciplined in the harmonic sense, and my dad was very strict about intonation. If we got flat or sharp, we heard about it–believe me, man. So we developed these brilliant ears. And in my case, while I wasn’t playing an instrument, I was singing all these harmony parts.

Bird and Diz--CD Cover“My brother played bass on the show, and he was a big jazz fan. Around 1949-50 he’d acquired some Dizzy Gillesipe, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington records. Now my brother would never allow me to pick up his instrument. So I’d wait for him to leave, then run into his room and play the bass along with his records, and play drums with cardboard hangers on the pillows. And that’s how I got close to the sound of the bass and the sound of jazz.

“The orchestra instructor in school taught me about reading music and bowing. Then I formed a group with a drummer at North High; we called ourselves The Cool Four, right, and we played several assemblies in the auditorium. Our big hit was `Ragg Mop.’ `I say R-, I say R A, R A G G…'” Haden chuckles at the memory of the big time. “And then Jazz At The Philharmonic came through Omaha with Ray Brown, Charlie Parker and Lester Young and Willie Smith. Oh, man.

“I can never ever remember questioning what I wanted to be when I grew up–I knew I wanted to play jazz. Then my dad just decided he wanted to retire and get out of show business, and we moved back to Springfield. He was a fisherman, so he built a fishing lodge down on Lake Bullsholes in the Ozarks, and I finished high school living there. I applied for a bunch of scholarships, and finally decided to go to this jazz school on the west coast, the Westlake College of Modern Music.

“So I was playing bass with the house band on this TV show called `The Ozark Jubilee,’ and lots of people passed through from Nashville, which is how I got to meet the great guitarist Hank Garland, who was with Eddie Arnold. Hank and I used to play between breaks, and go into `There Will Never Be Another You’ or a blues, and he really gave me lots of encouragement. `Keep playing man. Don’t let anything deter you. Don’t stay in this place–get out!’

“And as soon as I had enough money saved up, I hopped a Greyhound bus and started at Westlake, but I dropped out because I was playing with a lot of different musicians every night, and I kept waking up later and later, cutting classes, and finally realized I was wasting my tuition. Then I started meeting up with some of my heroes at varied sessions, and I began learning the language by playing with them.”

Yet even in this formative stage, in spite of his profound admiration for all the grand masters of the bass fiddle, Haden had already internalized a rich, resonant sound all his own.

Charlie Haden in Isolation Booth, COLOR, Ocean Way Studios, 1994

“It was very important for me to get a really deep sound from the instrument. How do you do that? Well, when you telephone me I know who it is because I recognize your voice. Everyone has individual vocal cords. And I really believe that we’re all put together for a reason, and everything makes sense and our vocal cords go along with our structure and our metabolism and our genes.”

Well, if that’s the case you should sound like Eddie Gomez, I suggest hopefully.

“Oh no, no, no,” Haden laughs in horror. “No, I’m not talking about if your voice is deep then you’re going to be a deep bass player. No, that’s not what I mean at all.”

I was just checking.

“That’s great,” Haden says in his distinctive Midwestern twang. “What I mean, is that inside of every human being is their own unique musical voice. That’s why Bird could pick up anybody’s alto and sound like Bird. Why Art Tatum could play on any awful piano and sound like Art Tatum. It was always real important for me to get a deep sound, because I wanted everyone to feel like they were sitting around a fireplace or standing in the middle of a rain forest among these gigantic trees. I wanted a feeling of depth, and that’s what I strived for on the bass.

“I mean, when young players shop around for a better instrument, it’s not only important to find an instrument that sounds close to the way you’re hearing, but an instrument that feels good. Because if the fingerboard and the neck feel good to your left hand, that’s going to make the sound even warmer–because you’re going to almost feel your soul every time you press down on those strings, man. And I always try to play as if I could feel the depth of the instrument though my fingers, and through my ears, and hopefully it makes somebody else feel real cozy.

“And not only is the sound really important, but the harmonic structure inside of the human being is born through discovering one’s favorite notes on different chords. And I think that every musician has their own favorite notes. That’s what makes for a unique identity in music.”

Kind of like the way Ray Brown invariably begins each chorus down low on the tonic.

“There you go, there you go. I mean, Ray Brown playing on this album with Bird and Kenny Clarke called Sweedish Schnapps, has to be some of the most beautiful bass sounds I’ve ever heard; Jimmy Blanton playing duets with Duke Ellington; Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, Charles Mingus, Wilbur Ware, Israel Crosby, Wellman Braud, Walter Page; to me, all those bassists had this respect for depth and beauty–having a beautiful sound. When I’m with students at Cal Arts, I tell them to make the sound as deep as they possibly can, because when the sound comes back to you, it inspires you even more.

“See, nothing upsets me more then when I hear someone with a beautiful French, Italian or German instrument, that’s maybe 150 years old or more, and has this beautiful deep tone. Then they drop the action so low that the instrument doesn’t resonate, get a really bad pickup, plug into an amplifier with the treble and volume way up, and man, when you finger those G and D strings, they have a real metallic twang to them, and in essence you’ve taken a beautiful acoustic instrument and turned it into a bad electric bass. Go get a nice old Fender Precision or a Steinberger if that’s the sound you’re aiming for.

Charlie Haden Tells a Joke1

Charlie

“And that’s why I’ve always played on gut strings from the very beginning. You see, on the low strings, the wood sound can already come out, but on the G and D strings which are the high vibrating strings, you’ve got to really have strings that lend themselves to the wood sound of the instrument, and metal strings won’t do that. It’s easier to bow a bass if you’re playing all metal strings, because the gut strings don’t accept the bow as readily as the metal strings do.

So the A and E strings that I use are Thomastik Spirocore, which are metal strings, but my G and D have a gut core and a Tynex nylon winding. They’re called Golden Spiral strings, and are distributed by D’Addario.”

Still, with the advent of rock music (and the ascension of gifted, assertive drummers), the volume levels grew to such a degree that these unamplified resonances of gut and wood became a thing of the past. “I used to just put a microphone in a towel and place it in the tailpiece of the bass, and that’s how we got heard,” Haden shrugs, “but soon everybody was so loud, I had to get myself a Barcus Berry pickup and an Ampeg amplifier just to hear myself. I’d turn the treble completely off, the bass completely up, and the volume very low to try and get a natural acoustic sound, but it was really difficult.

Charlie Haden Tells a Joke2

Tells

“Then about four years ago, this young bass player from St. Galens, Switzerland, Stefan Schertler, came to a Joe Henderson concert in Genoa with me and Al Foster, to give me the very first prototype of his new pickup design. He put it right on the bass, and I recorded with it and it really knocked me out. It was the only pickup I’d ever used that amplified the true sound of the instrument without having a personality of its own otherwise you’re amplifying the pickup instead of the instrument, you see.

“And amplifiers were a big hangup in that way, too, until I discovered this wonderful little Gallien-Kruger amp, the 200MB. They’re very light and compact with one little speaker and they also have an outlet in the back for a mic cable so you can go through the house, which is even better than a direct box. I record with it and do concerts with it without using a DI, although when I’m recording I usually go on three tracks, going direct along with two acoustic mics one up on the fingerboard and one down by the bridge and I mix them together, to get both the body sound and the action sound.”

Charlie Haden Tells a Joke3

A Joke

Yet while Haden’s control of sound has become more acute, years of jive sound systems and intense volume levels have taken a toll on his hearing.

“It’s as if the volume keeps going up and up in my head. And I have really severe ringing in my ears–loud enharmonic clusters–all the time. And every time I play, if I don’t wear protection in my ears, the ringing keeps getting louder and louder and louder. I’ve been to several ear doctors and specialists, and they all tell me that there’s nothing that can be done about it. I even asked them if there were any way to make a hearing aid where I could turn down the volume of everything, and they cracked up.

“So as a result I have to carry ear plugs and stuff with me all the time, even if I’m out walking down the street. It’s a very frustrating thing, because if I think about how loud the ringing is in my head I could easily flip out. Sometimes I can’t even sleep because of it. But I’ve kind of gotten accustomed to it, and I’ve accepted it, and it’s pretty much a part of my everyday walking around life.”

But for Charlie Haden, acceptance is not a byword of his artistic credo. Ideals of struggle and resolution motivate him, because Haden sees and hears things not as they are, but as they should be–as they could be. So when Haden produces the brilliant young Cuban pianist Carlos Rubalcaba’s Discovery for Blue Note, or when he imparts the aura of the Spanish revolution on Carla Bley’s “Dream Keeper” suite, there is something more than music at play–it is, hopefully, an expression of truth and talent in pursuit of higher values.

“People have expressed their feelings about human rights and racial equality through many different art forms for hundreds and hundreds of years. I’d even go so far as to say that whether or not you know what your art is about, everyone that makes an impact in an art form has to be–or has to feel–a responsibility to improve the quality of life.

It’s like spreading deep values.

It’s like spreading creative values.

It’s like wanting to bring some depth back into the world.

Charlie Haden and the haden family [1939]

Charlie Haden & The haden family [2008]

Three Generations Of Haden

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Jack Bruce, Bass Out Front–HCKKH Blues & N.S.U [1968]

Rest in Peace, Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce at MSG [EPA-STEVE POPE]Here from 1968, is Jack Bruce’s modern jazz opus, the too-often overlooked THINGS WE LIKE, which certainly changed my life…looking as I was back then for a more modern conception of the jazz guitar.

This was pre-USA John McLaughlin, from 1968, then scuffling about on the English jazz scene, an old mate of Jack and Ginger Baker’s from their stint in the Graham Bond Organization, circa 1963-1964.

So impressed was drummer Tony Williams with what he heard of McLaughlin herein, and on selections he heard of a Ronnie Scott’s club date with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, that he hired McLaughlin sight unseen, and subsequently brought on-board Bruce himself to join them with organist Larry Young in the legendary original edition of the Tony Williams Lifetime (which you may sample herein on the desperate-sounding, punk jazz cacophony of “Vuelta Abajo”).

Jack plays acoustic bass on this electrifying collective performance of “HCKKH Blues,” which should prove a revelation to those only familiar with his influential bass guitar sound signature–his tone and attack are immense and commanding, guiding the group in a powerful 6/8 improv very much in the spirit of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman.

McLaughlin’s gnarly, vocaized tone is raspy and distorted, more a hard blues/Brit-Rock sound than an atypical jazz tone, and some of his asymmetrical phrases on one climactic episode (check in about 1:40) initially put me in mind of Eric Dolphy when as a young pup I first heard this performance, back in 1970-71 when THINGS WE LIKE was originally released.

Drummer Jon Hiseman provides elemental energy and swing, while reed-man Dick Heckstall-Smith is a heraldic melodic focus, very much in his Sonny Rollins mode, through towards the end of his solo he goes all Roland Kirk on us, simultaneously playing both tenor and soprano.

Jack Bruce--Things We Like CD CoverIn light of the three classic solo albums of Rock/R&B/folk/Classically-inflected songs which Jack Bruce unleashed post-Cream in a gush of creativity (SONGS FOR A TAILOR, HARMONY ROW, IN FROM THE STORM), his work on THINGS WE LIKE in general, and “HCKKH Blues” in particular clearly illustrates the jazz peidgree he and Ginger Baker brought to Cream.

(As did his subsequent collaborations with Tony Williams, Larry Coryell, Mick Taylor, Carla Bley, Billy Cobahm, Frank Zappa and further explorations of his unique take on the post-Beatles song form.)

Still, “HCKKH Blues” retains a special place in my heart, as does this elemental collective improv with Ginger and Eric from a gig at Winterland in 1968, “N.S.U.”

Note how time-wise, Jack’s bass tends to push ahead of the beat, while Ginger’s drums seem to reside just behind the beat, summing out into an extraordinary degree of rhythmic tension, inspiring a desperate sense of immediacy from Clapton, as the power trio relentlessly builds to a cathartic climax worthy of Ravi Shankar or John Coltrane–clearly anticipating the coming of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the burgeoning jazz-fusion movement, every bit as much as a host of hard rock and metal bands on the not too distant horizon.

Jack Bruce on Upright Bass

So much more which could be said, and will be said, about Jack’s solo albums, the greater arc of an illustrious career as an improvising bassist and a songwriter, iconic collaborations (such as his power trio hangs with Frank Zappa and Jim Gordon on “Apostrophe” and McLaughlin and Paul Motian from their “Rawalpindi Blues” showcase on keyboardist-composer Carla Bley’s operatic epic, ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL) his most recent set of songs, SILVER RAILS, and certainly a greater focus on more famous, influential songs, such as “Sunshine Of Your Love,” of course. of course…

But herein, in my own little corner of cyberspace, RADIO FREE CHIP chooses to celebrate a more obscure, under-appreciated aspect of the bass innovator’s instrumental oeuvre.  As such, Jack Bruce put the bass out front, giving the electric bass guitar a more prominent rhythmic-melodic role in modern music, paving the way for Steve Swallow, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and generation upon generation of electric bass virtuosos, much as Scott LaFaro’s freely-inflected counterpoint changed expectations of how the acoustic bass might function in a post-modern jazz ensemble.

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Sonny Rollins Ambushed By The New Yorker

This comment, posted by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins on his Twitter page, would seem to say it all.

Sonny Rollins Eminence Gray Head Shot in Red, by John Abbott [2005]

“Hey folks, this is some guy’s idea of a joke.”

The joke in question was a piece, published in that once-distinguished periodical, THE NEW YORKER, suggestively entitled, Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words, which purported to be made up of direct quotes by the artist, and which bespoke the lame, self-congratulatory, frat-boy mentality of their author, but more disturbingly, something quite sinister in its mocking dismissal of America’s greatest original art form—let alone one of its most revered innovators, a man feted by American Presidents, and beloved the wide world over.

Sonny Rollins and Barack Obama“Oh, lighten up, Chip, it was just a joke. Anyone could see that. I laughed my ass off. God, jazz fans take themselves so damn seriously.”

Yes, there it is. Turn the controversy on its head and deflect outrage away from the authors of this feast, and in the general direction of those whom you have wounded. After all, it was only satire.

Alas, that dog won’t hunt.

Had the tone of the piece not been so hurtful and clichéd; if the humor were even vaguely discernible to the naked eye, would THE NEW YORKER have been deluged by such a firestorm of outrage; would the editors (scrambling to cover their ass by erecting a flimsy litigation dome about the crash site) have felt compelled to post an Express Mail disclaimer, seemingly invoking the spirit of proofreading intern Lawrence Welk (subsequently corrected):

Separated At Birth [David Remnick & Lawrence Welk]

Separated At Birth? [David Remnick & Lawrence Welk]

 Editor’s note: This article, which is part of our Shouts & Murmurs humor blog, is a work a satire.

 And-a one, and-a two…

Sonny Rollins In Denmark

I mean, picture if you will Mister Sonny Rollins, minding his own business, ensconced in his new home in Woodstock, New York, reading, studying, and, as is his wont, P-R-A-C-T-I-C-I-N-G: practicing in the devotional sense; practicing in the search for transcendence; practicing for the sheer love of love of jazz; practicing for the joy of being at one with his tenor saxophone; practicing with a purpose—practicing in anticipation of returning to the arena of live performance in 2015, feeling as he does that there is yet so much left to accomplish, so much music with which he might flesh out and fulfill his legacy.

Diminuendo & Crescendo Dancer2

“Preach It, Sonny!”

One would think that after seven decades of inspiration and innovation that Sonny’s enduring legacy of spontaneous invention and transformational experiences–a legacy of promulgating the joy and dignity, the intellectual challenges and artistic integrity of jazz–would be simply unassailable.

Sonny Rollins at 14

Sonny Rollins At 14

Well, honk-honk, you’d be wrong.

You’d think from the smug, slapdash manner in which THE NEW YORKER editors invoked their one-size-fits-all, litigation-proof posture of s-a-t-i-r-e, that they regarded hack hall-of-famer Django Gold as the second coming of H.L Mencken, Ring Lardner and Dorothy Parker. Or that his cornball take on jazz had any basis in reality, humorous or otherwise.

Whitney Balliett

Spit To Be Tied: Whitney Balliett

I mean, this is the same publication, which from 1954-until-2001 (when he was unceremoniously shown the door), published the book reviews and elegant jazz musings of Whitney Balliett, who as a man of letters, understood that the cultural, intellectual and poetic foundations of jazz—both of the art form itself and of its most iconic practitioners, from Armstrong and Ellington, through Rollins and Coltrane–were inseparable from the greater fabric of the American experience in general–and of New York in particular.

I mean, God forbid Balliett should get wind of this mean-spirited, amateurishly executed piss-take from his time-share in the outer quadrants of the Andromeda Galaxy.

We’d be compelled to disinter his Earthly remains and mount them on a rotisserie spit, so as he might brown evenly on all sides whilst spinning in his grave.

Do you suppose that a dictionary definition of satire might afford us an insight into what David Remnick’s cadre of whimsical humorists might have had in mind when they zeroed in on Sonny Rollins as a source of fun for the whole family?

Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity.

Some common synonyms for satire: mockery, ridicule, derision, caricature…scorn.

I’m sure that if Lady Remnick deigned to descend from his perch high atop Trendsetters Valhalla to engage the enraged mob, he’d counter as to how the following synonyms may also be referenced to connote satire: parody, burlesque, caricature, lampoon…

Jonathan Swift_Modest ProposalPerhaps I simply lack the aesthetic distance with which to best imbibe the cutting, intoxicating wit of Django Gold.  To invoke his equal, we needs return to the halcyon days of Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal, wherein he proposed a perfectly logical solution to Great Britain’s post-Cromwellian Irish Problem (hell, as late as the American Civil War, signs in Manhattan specified, “No Dogs, Irish or Niggers”).

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled…”

Fast forward to the city of New York, not long after the abdication of his Holiness, Cardinal Bloomberg; to the July 31, 2014 edition of a publication claiming to be THE NEW YORKER, and it’s Daily Shouts blog.  Let the hilarity ensue:

“Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it. People take turns noodling around, and once they run out of ideas and have to stop, the audience claps. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.”

Stop, you’re killin’ me, Django. That tried and true “jazz ain’t nothing but a pride of noodling niggers” quip never gets old, does it? Please, take my wife. I needs reach for the Ray Bans so as to bask a moment’s longer in thine penumbra. As Don Rickles’ wife Barbara might put it, “Is that about it?”

“I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.”

Plainly it requires a special cut of Ivy League refinement to craft such a righteous bitch-slapping…in your face, and clearly Sonny Rollins had it coming, the pretentious ol’ pickaninny. Do the name Ruby Begonia mean anything to you?  Somebody, please, sample me a drummer (the real ones are too stupid to lay down an actual beat and repeat it over and over and over)–so that I might commence to riffin’, too.  Hit me.

Coming soon to Daily Shouts: Itzhak Perlman In His Own Words

Itzhak Perlman

Hey, Itzhak, Can’t You Take A Joke?

“Hey, ever notice how few Jewish composers there are?  That’s because it’s so much easier to simply buy up the publishing rights.”

Bada-Boom. Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of it.  Straightforward enough–JUST BE A JACKASS.

Now that I’m on a roll, let’s try another…

“Johann Sebastian Bach is the most overrated composer in the history of western music. He’s racked up more press because the goyim go for all of that sacred music he cranked out in between impregnating his wives to the tune of twenty children. When I think of all the time I wasted on those Solo Violin Partitas, when I could have been doing something constructive, like deep knee bends, or finally finishing Mein Kampf.”

Or as Tony Curtis’ conniving Lieutenant Holden might’ve observed to Cary Grant’s Commander Sherman in Operation Petticoat, “We’d say you were making your point the hard way, Chip”  All in a day’s work for The Satire Brigade.

Still, by what thought-process was Fool’s Gold’s derogatory, petty piss-take thought worthy of publication?  And what so ever did Sonny Rollins do to precipitate such disrespect?

Were Django and his posse gathered at some trendy bar down in the Meat-Packing District, imbibing dirty martinis, breaking wind and tossing off witticisms like discarded flowers, as if each of these aromatic effusions were commensurate with Arpege by Lanvin, when they had a vision?

Furthermore, what’s most troubling to this scribe about the whole dreary incident, is that Gold’s editor-in-chief David Remnick is not some Tea Party knuckle-dragger or in any way, shape or form, overtly racist; hell’s bells, he’s the author of King Of The World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of the American Hero.

duke ellington and louis armstrong

cassius-clay-sonny-liston-1964_bMuahammad Ali is an American hero? And not Sonny Rollins? Or Duke Ellington? Or Louis Armstrong?  Or a thousand committed artists still walking among us.  Wherefore then the dismissive condescension of Remnick’s hipster brigade?

Again, the note implicit in THE NEW YORKER’S patronizing tone, is one of downright SCORN, which Sonny Rollins so movingly articulated in a series of video responses fashioned with Bret Primack, an engaged, passionate advocate for American musicians who goes by the nom de plume The Jazz Video Guy and helps Sonny with his web site Please note: In his response, Sonny does not linger upon his own ego, anymore than he falls back on talent alone in pursuit of his muse.  Rather, like a young Cassius Clay, facing up to Sonny Liston, Rollins confronts these wimpy journalistic bullies, and gives them what’s for on behalf of his congregation, his people.  His children.

JAZZ IS REAL…JAZZ IS NOT A JOKE.

Apparently jazz musicians, black, white or beige, simply don’t know their place and are not worthy of cultural accreditation, let alone respect, from the likes of Remnick & Company; surely not commensurate with the sight of LeBron James rising majestically from the foul line for a slam dunk; the symbolic resonance of two black bucks beating the snot out of each other in ritual combat for the soul of the nation; the zip-coon posturings of some faux gangstas in a post-modern reprise of the old minstrel show; or the specter of moo-cow-pro-temps Kim Kardashian doing chin ups on the swarthy Johnson of some lucky brother, in the most uninspired depiction of fellatio since man first walked erect.

Perhaps the penultimate word belongs to another American Hero, who spoke of his frustrations with the indomitable jazz journalist Nat Hentoff, back in 1965, the night after the Pulitzer Prize Committee showed Duke Ellington their ass and invited him to pucker up. “I’m hardly surprised,” Duke said, “that my music is still without official honor at home. Most Americans still take it for granted that European-based—classical music, if you will—is the only really respectable kind. By and large, in this country, jazz has always been the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown, by Chuck Stewart

 And now for something completely different.

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Mop Mop: Max Roach’s Media Encounter With Kentucky Sour Mash

Chip Stern with Art Taylor, Papa Jo, Max, Shelton Gary [Cropped]

Chip Stern with Art Taylor, Papa Jo Jones,
Max Roach and Shelton Gary

Radio Free Chip here.  One hell of a long winter, was it not dear friends?

And was it ever brutal for your author on a number of levels, including an unending series of computer meltdowns–culminating in a very long, harrowing bout of the flu that lasted for the better part of two months and left me a physical wreck.

On top of that, there ensued a whole slew of family and personal obligations, and before I knew it, several months had passed without any RADIO FREE CHIP blog entries.

Woodford Reserve Distilliry

Woodford Reserve Distillery
Versailles, Kentucky

I’ve certainly missed all of you, and have been more or less dawdling along on some content as time allows, looking in time to make a suitable splash with the requisite passion about some great music I’ve been digging all the while.

Little did I suspect that my initial splash would be of old Kentucky bourbon, as featured in one of the more abstract, tongue -in-cheek advertising spots I’ve ever encountered (which a sizable contingent of humorless, politically-correct types on the Internet seem to think unforgivably sexist).  But then who would’ve thought that half a lifetime ago America would have both an African-American president and a growing number of states where sales of marijuana for medical or personal use would be legal? Go figure.

Which is why I was inspired to make a brief re-appearance to share this momentous cameo with you, even as other creative kettles percolate away on my psychic back burners.

Bourbon did you say?

Mia--Xmas Mia In Carolina [12-19-13]

Mia Caroline Stanley
April 15, 2013

Indeed I did.

You see, I was up early on Monday morning, April the 14th, a day before the first birthday celebration of my granddaughter Mia Caroline Stanley (down Charlotte, North Carolina-way, where my daughter and her husband relocated this past Christmas).

I’m presently engrossed in the conclusion of a reading marathon that began when I was laid up with the flu and a non-functioning computer:

Robert Caro--The Passage Of PowerI was finishing up Volume Four of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert Caro’s epic Shakespearean LBJ chronicle, THE PASSAGE OF POWER, while half watching/half listening to a re-broadcast of the MAD MEN season premier on AMC, when peeking out from behind a commercial voice-over, I discerned the familiar strains of my dear friend Max Roach’s solo drum composition “For Big Sid.”

I mean, what the fuck? Parade rest! I immediately came to full attention.

Angry Baby, Cropped

“Who characterized this commercial as sexist?”

No, it doesn’t seem to be the master’s original rendition (from his Atlantic release, DRUMS UNLIMITED), but a pretty righteous re-creation of what is after all, an actual-factual composition, a stately set of variations for the multi-percussion kit every bit as architecturally structured and melodically phrased as a Bach Solo Partita for Violin.

(Reinforcing the musical efficacy of Mister Roach’s formal designs, and his lifetime’s assertion that the drums are a musical instrument capable of every bit as much intellectual depth as a piano sonata.)  Max Roach--Drums Unlimited [Cover]

 

(Additionally, “For Big Sid” has been covered by innumerable drummers who looked to Max as an inspiration, such as Steve Smith, who recently collaborated with the folks at Hudson Music to author The Roots Of Rock Drumming: Interviews with the Drummers Who Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.)

The roots of Max’s most famous set piece have their origins in a dynamic showcase for the legendary drummer Big Sid Catlett, as featured in his famous live performance with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars

These variations in turn derived from a famous 1943 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins of his composition “Boff Boff [Mop Mop]”, which in addition to drummer Catlett, also featured such jazz giants as pianist Art Tatum and bassist Oscar Pettiford.

And to what purpose were Max Roach’s thematic variations on a set of rhythmic choruses by his great inspiration Big Sid Catlett deployed?  Why as a backdrop for a television commercial trumpeting, so to speak, the virtues of Woodford Reserve–a very old, very distinguished brand of Kentucky Bourbon, whose initial distillations go all the way back to 1780, marking them as the oldest of nine bourbon producers in the bluegrass state.

What can I say. Verily, the Rapture must be nigh.

Anyway, here’s a toast to you Brother Roach, the ultimate straight no chaser artist–I miss you every day I’m alive, and think of you with great affection every time I sit down behind my own drum set.

Chip's Drum Set [3-4-14]

And furthermore, as a token of respect, though I’ve never been much of an enthusiast for the spirits (now and again I would imbibe the odd beaker of Hennessy Cognac when hanging out with Papa Jo Jones, just so he wouldn’t have to drink alone), I shall in due course go out and purchase a bottle of Woodford Reserve Old Kentucky Bourbon at the earliest possible provocation.

Is there a precedent for people responding in kind to such media sophistication by actually purchasing the product?

Speaking only for myself, I recently purchased a box of Nabisco Honey Grahams out of solidarity with that company for answering the mendacity of some medieval knuckle-draggers who defamed the manufacturer for producing a commercial that they felt glorified Godless homosexuals in a two-dad family unit.

(“Everyday wholesome snacks, for every wholesome family–this is wholesome…”)

Nabisco chose to turn the other cheek, and responded to this hysterical crank chorus with an even more remarkable advertisement, which further celebrated themes of tolerance and diversity by doubling down on their initial message of love–pointing out how positive responses out-numbered the negative by a whopping factor of ten-to-one.

Likewise, many, many moons ago (circa 1985, if you must know), I saw a McDonald’s commercial featuring Aretha Franklin and Jerry Butler–The Queen of Soul and The Iceman–hocking a gastrointestinal atrocity dubbed the McDLT.

The premise of this commercial was that McDonald’s special packaging, not unlike Miss Aretha and Brother Butler, rolled both hot and cool, homie, reflecting as such the manner in which its soulful Styrofoam conveyance sequestered the grilled  from the chilled–so as to sustain the burger’s warmth and the crispy, wholesome qualities of the lettuce and tomato.  Can I hear an amen?

My reaction at the time was one of both solidarity and pity

Whatsoever had compelled Miss Aretha to lend her name and visage to such a cause?

“Damn,” I thought at the time, “If the Queen of Soul can abase herself for the sake of a fast food burger, the very least I can do, out of abiding love and respect, is to consume one on her behalf.”

Alas, some days later, when archeological remnants of the McDLT had yet to clear my colon, I determined that from this point forward, “Girl, you on your own.”

I trust that with due moderation, my experience of Woodford Reserve, and subsequent toasts to Roach, Catlett and Papa Jo, will prove far more engaging.

Big Sid Catlett Juggles

Big Sid Catlett

Mop Mop.

Posted in Uncategorized

Jim Hall–When In Doubt, Just Shut Up And Listen

I feel that jazz is not so much a style as a process of making music.

Bill Evans

Jim is from a generation where people are very, very…I don’t want to say close-minded—but very much set in their ways and established, and have firmly established the way they are going to sound for the rest of their career. Jim seems to be a work in progress. I want to be like him when I grow up. I still want to be moving and searching and growing and absorbing and trying to rework things and unlearn what I’ve learned and then learn it again.

Greg Osby

The guitar is still a mystery to me.

Jim Hall

So, this is how the world ends—not with a whim but a banker.

Paul Desmond

There’s nothing quite like taking a high-performance car out on the Autobahn and shifting into overdrive; opening up the engine; feeling that surge of power as light and sound dissolve into a blur of locomotion. However, were you to downshift into a lower gear, your perspective would be radically altered; you’d not only have the forest but the trees, as the haze of primary colors snapped into sharp focus, and suddenly you’d be able to perceive subtle nuances of brown and green and turquoise with the eyes of a child…or a painter.

Monet--White Water Lilies 1899

Jim Hall smiles thoughtfully at that notion as Django, his little dust mop of a dog, cuddles on his lap. “That’s funny you’d say that. Last year my wife Jane and I went to an overpriced spa in Massachusetts, and every morning they’d organize these groups to take brisk walks, and I was in the baby group because I was always gawking at stuff, looking at things, and I’d end up at the end of the line. And in front of me were all of these elderly ladies, because I can’t really just walk through the woods without lingering on things.

“So I guess you’re right—I’m kind of put together that way.”

Jim Hall olderJim Hall’s quiet, supple artistry transcends the instrument itself—he is the emperor of cool. In the tradition of bluesy minimalists such as Count Basie, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Gil Evans, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton, Paul Desmond, Thelonious Monk, and Bill Evans,

Jim Hall is not so much concerned with the means, as the ends.

He is a genius at playing next to nothing and imbuing each note with a deep spiritual hue.

Jim Hall is a master listener, a virtuoso of silence and inflection…the pregnant rhythmic pause.

Nor does Jim succumb to the allure of facile pattern playing; he constructs phrases; he makes music: lyrical, understated, melodic improvisations, marked by coy syncopated disjunctions, elegant conversational counterpoint and luminous harmonic architecture.

To this listener, Jim is the Monet of Jazz Guitar–with a painter’s eye for shape and shadow, color and texture, balance and form.

Jim Hall & Pat Metheny - TBB JAZZ FESTIVAL - PARIS juin 1991

Jim Hall & Pat Metheny
Paris, 1991

“To me, Jim illuminated the potential of the guitar by facing and addressing its limitations head on,” seconds Pat Metheny, himself one of jazz guitar’s most intrepid explorers, and Hall’s collaborator on one of the elder artist’s most intimate, probing recitals, the newly released Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Telarc).

“Jim found a way of increasing the dynamic range of the instrument by his special touch and picking technique and there are dozens of guitarists who have been influenced specifically by Jim’s approach—I’ve always felt that John Scofield, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick, and myself all have a particular relationship to what Jim hit upon in terms of phrasing and dynamics.

“Yet at the same time, as much as I think we would all point to Jim as an influence, I don’t think any of us sound particularly like each other…or Jim at this point, for that matter.”

“To me, this is the best kind of influence a musician can impart to other musicians: Inspiring you to find your own thing through your own research.”

Pablo Picasso--The Blind Man's Meal“And now I’m listening to all the younger guys in terms of what they’re doing with sound and phrasing,” Hall acknowledges, by way of returning the compliment.

“I would hate it if I still was trying to play what I did in the ’60s,” he says, shuddering at the possibility. “I think I would be out of music. I listen to all those young guys in order to keep growing, because that’s the way my brain works, too. I see it as a family, and we listen to one another, and kind of keep the language going.

“That’s why it infuriates me when people talk about Miles’ ‘electric band’ and put it down. I say it’s none of our business. For me, he’s like Picasso. You wouldn’t tell Picasso to keep doing the blue period, would you? ‘Oh, I preferred your representational work. Knock it off with those warped-looking people.’

“Again, I see music as a family, anyway, which is marvelous—it crosses across ethnic boundaries, gender boundaries, age boundaries, and all of the boundaries that people erect.

“Music doesn’t know about that.”

“I first met Pat when he was fifteen years old,” Jim recalls. “He had braces on his teeth and was kind of a juvenile delinquent. He had sort of semi-run away from home for a little while.

Jim Hall _Ron+Carter

Jim Hall with Ron Carter

“I was working at a place called The Guitar with Ron Carter, and Pat came in with Atilla Zoller. Pat had won a scholarship to some DownBeat camp, and Atilla had been his teacher. So Atilla was taking him around New York. He had been up to hear Freddie Hubbard at Club Baron’s; and he’d heard the Bill Evans Trio.

“So I knew him then, and I stayed aware of what he was doing when he went with Gary Burton. We did a concert at City College in 1982; he played just with Steve Rodby and I played with Ben Riley and Harvie Swartz. We played one or two duets, and then he played some with my trio, and it just seemed like we could play together.

Jim Hall & Pat Metheny2“The thing I love about Metheny on our duo record is that he gets so many different sounds. The thing he does on ‘Summertime,’ I was just awe-struck. That was just one guitar, no overdubs, like a Richie Havens strum. I’d be watching him, going, ‘Wow, look at that, what’s he going to do now?’ And I’m going, ‘Dah-duh Daah,’ and he’s going ‘Brrrrrooooommmmm!’ Then he played this thing he calls the Pikkaso guitar, with 40-some strings; he also played a nylon-string guitar, with a pick and with his fingers, and a fretless classical guitar as well as an electric guitar.

“And then we’d do five or six improvised things, which were literally spontaneous—we’d just look at each other. Those were done in the studio, sort of like refreshers. We would have worked on one tune for maybe an hour or so, and then we’d say ‘Let’s just play something free,’ you know, to kind of blow all the cobwebs out. I’d just sort of look at him and we’d start, and it felt like he was inside my brain. It was pretty unreal how he could react and almost think about what you were going to do next.”

Jim Hall & Pat Metheny is the culmination of Hall’s superb cycle of recordings for the Telarc label. Still radiant in the autumn of his artistic bloom, Hall’s work on Dedications and Inspirations, Dialogues, Textures, Panorama: Live at the Village Vanguard, and By Arrangement illuminates his youthful, exploratory attitude about music, showcasing him both as a master improviser and as a distinctive composer/arranger, whose music, though deeply informed by jazz, classical, and folk sources, is truly beyond category (a point driven home by Bruce Ricker’s superb documentary portrait, Jim Hall: A Life in Progress). In a sense, these six varied Telarc recitals find him having come full circle, revisiting the inspirations of his youth, re-exploring his experiences in the conservatory, and re-affirming the directions he began to pursue as an up-and-coming musician in the 1950s—a musical aesthetic defined as much by his willingness to take a long breath as to glory in the sound of his own singular voice.

Jim Hall became the antidote to rote guitar-speak, transcending the instrument’s technical entanglements to manifest a vision of the guitar as an authentic modern jazz instrument. In the process, Jim Hall became an inspiration to the technically challenged amongst us, who while we might’ve aspired to develop an improviser’s vocabulary on the instrument, came away from our encounters with the likes of Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix both inspired and humbled. If not for Jim Hall, it seemed as though the only honorable alternative was to toss our instrument under the first southbound truck.

“It’s an accumulation of things,” Jim points out by way of explicating his evolution. “I heard Charlie Christian’s solo on ‘Grand Slam.’ Two choruses of the blues in F, and it was like a spiritual awakening. Which I’ve never had otherwise—that really changed my life. I didn’t even know for sure what it was he was doing, but it sounded so amazing I wanted to be able to do that. And the great thing about it, is that when I hear that now, I have the same reaction, which is, ‘Gee that sounds great—I wish I could do that.’

“Anyway, I started on the guitar when I was nine or ten. Then I played the bass from the time I was in junior high. And I learned how to play it well enough that I could bow it to a degree. And then later on I did club date things where I played bass and sang a couple of tunes.

“So it was mostly bass and guitar until I got into music school, where I played a lot of piano—there was no guitar. I played piano to get in, and then I played string bass in the orchestra—which have come in real handy. I started a master’s in composition, studied a ton of counterpoint and form and analysis, took a semester of timpani and a semester of oboe, which was murder, let me tell you—I used to black out every time I tried to play it.

Jim Hall as a Young Man“So that’s one factor in explaining my approach to music. And another part of it is my personality, naturally. Some people can play fast. It’s almost like being an athlete. Some people are put together differently.

“Again, I’m having to infer this hundreds of years later, but I was around Tal Farlow a lot when I moved to California. I had heard him with the Red Norvo Trio, which was an amazing group. And then Jimmy Raney was a good friend of mine. And Wes Montgomery…I already knew Wes’ brothers before I heard him. And I’d heard George Van Eps since I was a kid, as well. So my point is, that it’s almost like I said to myself, ‘Okay, if I practice every minute for the rest of my life, I’ll never be able to do that. So what am I doing?’ It was like I said to myself, ‘Hey dummy, do something different.’ It seemed to make sense to do something personal that had to do with me, and had more to do with me than playing the guitar. Also, something that would fit in the context of what I was doing to make a living. So part of it was survival, too.

“So it had something to do with that, and it also had something to do with having gone through a music school [The Cleveland Institute of Music] where I heard everything from Gregorian chant to electronic music—so I was able to see music not just as Charlie Parker or John Coltrane or Charlie Christian or Bartok, but as an art form. And I didn’t feel as frantic about getting great guitar chops, although working with Sonny Rollins certainly got my attention,” he chuckles. “He sure got me practicing, because that gig was so challenging.”

Jim Hall was a cat who learned to live by his wits, made the most out of what he had, and developed an irrefutably hip, gracefully swinging survival strategy on the bandstand.

And the more Jim turned down his amp, the more intense he became. “I actually use the amplifier, especially now, I think, to play softer. Because I know that were I to play an unamplified guitar loud enough to project even to the second table at the Village Vanguard, I’d have to really bang the notes hard.”

So sure, other players may have had more elaborate floor routines, but no one was more musical than Jim Hall. Sure, Johnny Smith was more commanding; Django Reinhardt and Barney Kessell had more fire; Herb Ellis and Kenny Burrell were bluesier; Wes Montgomery swung harder (than everybody) and had a more driving, angular style of phrasing; Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney played longer, more complex melodic elisions. But Jim Hall took a little from all of them, as well as Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, and J.S. Bach, and distilled it down into a rhythmically sophisticated lyric style; something deeply felt and deceptively simple–to the point where he could blend in…or simply disappear.

Jim Hall_Bill Evans_Philly Joe Jones

Jim Hall with Bill Evans and Philly Joe Jones

For instance, piano players and guitarists aren’t exactly kissing cousins harmonically, because the manner in which the chords lay on their instruments is so different.

Yet Hall blends seamlessly with Bill Evans on “My Funny Valentine” (from Undercurrent on United Artist) and George Shearing on “Street of Dreams” (from First Edition on Concord). And while guitarists spend a lot of time practicing scales, how often can they match the flowing, intervallic grace and vocalized phrasing of the most commanding horn players? Well, on Sonny Rollins’ “Without a Song” and “John S.” (from The Bridge on RCA) and Art Farmer’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” (from Live at the Half Note on Atlantic) Jim Hall straps on his flotation device and crafts sly contrapuntal rejoinders, employing hip chordal voicings to engage Sonny and Art conversationally.

(Or as Art Farmer put it, “When you have Jim Hall, you don’t need a pianist.”)

Jim Hall with Art Farmer Quartet

Pete La Roca, Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Steve Swallow

More significantly, on Jim’s first working gigs, the bands functioned more like chamber ensembles than your garden variety jazz combos—so Hall was encouraged to evolve in an unconventional manner. Quite a challenge and a blessing: to be able to enjoy such a heady brand of creative freedom on your first important jobs.

“You’re telling me!” Jim laughs. “In the dictionary, where it says lucky? They have my picture there. I was really fortunate. Starting with the Chico Hamilton Group, and then two different Jimmy Giuffre trios—the one with Bob Brookmeyer and one with Ralph Pena—and the stuff with Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer.

“I was often in situations where I didn’t function in the normal guitar way. I had to either play written lines with Giuffre, or I’d get to write a lot, as I did for Chico Hamilton.

“So it had more to do with Music, with a capital M, than with guitar stuff. In fact, Jimmy would get after me about things in the phrasing. If I had a written part to play with him, and he heard lots of guitar strokes—picked strokes—I think for Jimmy that sounded like tonguing on the trumpet, so he’d say ‘Would you figure out a different way to play that?’ So I got involved in using the right hand more just to set the string in motion, and do more things with the left hand, whatever you call that…legato.

Lester Young1

The Prez
Lester Young

“I approached the guitar, not so much as a guitar player, but somewhere between a piano and a tenor saxophone—anyway that’s what I hear on the guitar.

“I was more influenced by tenor saxophonists like Lucky Thompson, Chu Berry, Ben Webster, and Lester Young than guitarists. I loved Lester Young’s sound. He had his own way of treating harmony and melody and rhythm. He played melodies all the time, and found the most beautiful notes within a chord that outlined it.

“And nobody could play a ballad like Ben Webster, and of course I loved Paul Desmond. I was into Ornette right from the beginning and a few years later, when I heard Coltrane a lot, I got interested in those arpeggiated things that he did. And Miles Davis could play silence better than most guys today can play notes—anybody.

“With Bob Brookmeyer and Jimmy Giuffre, here we were, three conservatory guys, exploring all sorts of traditional blues like Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

“And some of it came by osmosis through Bill Evans, too. Because I was around him a lot, and I heard him develop.

“The first time I met him he was in a quartet with Tony Scott…this is way before Miles, like in 1955-1956. This was with Paul Motian in Chicago when I was there with Chico Hamilton, and they were playing some other place where I stopped in to hear them. And my memory is that then Bill was playing somewhere between Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano…that is, like Bud Powell, but across the bar lines. But it still was very personal. And then I heard him when he joined Miles Davis, and I worked opposite him with Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Brookmeyer. And that would’ve been like 1958 or so.

“So I heard Bill a lot, and because of the types of groups I was in, I paid particular attention to the piano players in other groups to see what they did for accompanying. And for me, Bill just brought such a wide range of textures and dynamics and different uses of the pedal.

“And he wasn’t afraid to be pianistic and to listen real carefully. With a lot of those kind of bebop players it had gotten to be like boxing or some kind of macho thing, and Bill really wasn’t into that.

Jim Hall1“So I think I was influenced quite a bit by the way Bill voiced chords and the way he accompanied.

“Like a lot of times I’ll play chords where I’ll leave the root out, because I assume the bass player has that covered anyway. And maybe just some fourths piled up, that you can move easily if you have to. And there’s all sort of triadic stuff, where anything you hear in the way of a melodic line, you can harmonize a number of different ways.

“I took a lot of that stuff from the first George Van Eps method book, and I would use my own chord voicings [plays a variety of different voicings over the basic diatonic movement, sometimes forcing the harmony at gunpoint, like Monk—you will resolve]. Stravinsky did that kind of thing a lot, too. Like a C chord would be [plays odd inversions]…but it’s still a C chord.

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell1

Jim Hall and Bill Frisell

“Bill [Frisell]? I’d describe him the same way I describe Pat—you really felt like he was inside your brain.

“Like I knew that Bill got a kick out of the way I played rhythm. I think of rhythm playing the way a drummer plays the hi-hat cymbal. So my hand is going all the time, and sometimes I’m not actually playing a chord. You just might hear it hitting the strings, and then I’ll play a chord where I think it’s appropriate.

“On ‘My Funny Valentine’ Bill really bails me out on my own solo. He hears that I’m in trouble and he leads me into the next phrase. And when I played rhythm he just instantly stopped using his left hand, because he knew that was covered. He was amazing in that way.

Jim Hall as an Old Man

“You’ve still got to make music, though. All of the technical things? Those are just tools, and there still has to be something personal at play.

“I’d rather hear B.B. King play three notes than hear a lot of guitar players play all night with their zillions of chops, because there’s something about B.B.’s intelligence.

“I always figured I’ve made a living recovering from mistakes. You take something where you maybe didn’t literally mean to play it, and you try and make it fit somehow—and it’s fun.

“So that’s more what I’m interested in—making what everyone does right for the moment and for the music.

“The same way that Bartok did on the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. I think it’s the very opening of that [picks up his guitar and plays the part]. It starts as a fugue, with four or five parts, and then it goes to a retrograde, and pretty soon the retrograde and the original wind up in a unison and it ends like that—it’s just perfect architecture. Boy, I can just get torn up looking at the score and listening to that because I don’t know what that means philosophically, but it’s just gorgeous architecture.

Jim Hall as a Young Man2“All the other stuff is just there to be used in the service of whatever good music, good painting or good writing means.

“And when in doubt, when all else fails, don’t just do something—sit there,” he laughs.

“When in doubt, lay out—don’t say anything.

“I like that.

“If you’re in doubt, just shut up and listen.”

[Originally published in JAZZ TIMES: July, 1999]

Posted in Uncategorized

Chico Hamilton & Jim Hall–SPIRITS REJOICE

61

The cycles of birth and death being what they are, going on within us and without us, as is RADIO FREE CHIP’s wont—being both a freshly minted grandfather and a devout musician—we inevitably find ourselves singing an amen chorus or two of “Spirits Rejoice.”

CHICO HAMILTON QUINTET

The Original Classic Chico Hamilton Quintet of the 1950s
Featuring Buddy Collette, Jim Hall, Fred Katz, Carson Smith

And so, as we mark the passing of two iconic Tribal Elders by calling attention to their enduring gifts of love and light (and invoking their Sound Signatures), let us now briefly celebrate the music of drummer Chico Hamilton and guitarist Jim Hall, bonded in death, much as they were in life.

Because while there were surely instrumentalists who had more garish floor routines, Hamilton and Hall’s sheer musicality was predicated on more adult ideals: they were committed to fashioning as beautiful a sound as possible, while prioritizing the importance of space–and putting a premium on listening.

As musicians, they possessed a sense of elegance and restraint; a degree of conversational empathy and a collective generosity of spirit that manifested itself as a genius for imbuing the silences with as much power, if not more, than the notes themselves.

Chico Hamilton with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet

Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker

In the process, they created a delicious sense of anticipation, predicated on the notion that if you don’t play as if you were being paid by the note, there’s a good chance that the phrases and beats you craft will be filled out and completed in the listener’s mind.

Chico’s spiritual connection with Jim goes back to the golden age of jazz in the 1950s.

Inspired by Papa Jo Jones, Hamilton established himself as a master drummer on the West Coast through his work with the original Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Quartet and as a valued accompanist for singer Lena Horne. The drummer’s 1956 recording, Chico Hamilton Trio (Pacific Jazz), marked his maiden voyage as a leader, and in tandem with the great bassist George Duvivier and guitarists Howard Roberts and Jim Hall, El Chico produced one of the great trio recordings in the history of jazz: not much smoke, but plenty of quiet fire, articulated with a deceptively laid back brand of swinging intensity (on mallets and brushes, as well as with sticks) that is the hallmark of true class and style.

With Chico’s passage on November 25, and Hall’s death on December 10, their collective performance on Duvivier’s spooky blues, “Porch Light,” takes on a special resonance. Dig how Hamilton battens down the hatches underneath Duvivier’s probing bass line with his swirling, swinging brushes…a lost art. And God bless Jim Hall for his iconic tonal purity and groovy post-Charlie Christian phasing; did any jazz guitarist ever swing harder with fewer well-chosen notes?

Chico Hamilton on BrushesAlas, as a scribe, it often falls upon us to articulate the ineffable, and in the process, we often find ourselves reduced to leaning on easy clichés, comparisons and catch phrases.

And was there ever a more unfortunate label ascribed to anyone’s music, let alone that of Chico Hamilton, and to a lesser extent, Jim Hall, than that one-size-fits-all-jive known as COOL JAZZ.

I mean, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, having myself referred to Jim Hall as “The Emperor Of Cool.”

I guess the prevailing logic at the time was that if you were from NYC, you played hard bop, but if you were working on the Left Coast (or were a Caucassian), that somehow your music, your genre was therefore C-O-O-L…as in lacking swing, blues, balls, negritude–you name it.

Chico Hamilton with Fred Astaire & The Delta Rhythm Players from YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH [1941]

Chico Hamilton with Fred Astaire & The Delta Rhythm Players
YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH [1941]

I know for a fact that Chico deeply resented this bullshit, and as a progenitor of what might more accurately be called Chamber Jazz, while he led a number of innovative ensembles, featuring tightly crafted arrangements and unusual (for that time) instrumentation (such as his groups featuring cellist Fred Katz, woodwind player Buddy Collette and guitarist Hall), somehow Chico’s music was bagged, labeled, and often undervalued as Cool Jazz–a label that never seemed to stick quite as tightly to so like-minded a conceptualist as pianist John Lewis and his own equally elegant ensemble, the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The Hollywood connection? The sweet smell of commercial success? Who knows, but while Chico Hamilton’s command of the drums was more timbrally sensual, thematically cerebral and melodically elegant than jaw-droppingly technocratic, he was the finest mallet player and brush master this side of Big Sid Catlett and Papa Jo Jones, and he took a back seat to no one as a group leader (including Jazz Messenger pro temps, Art Blakey), with an eye for talent and how to nurture it within his group aesthetic, without losing ensemble integrity or unduly inhibiting any musician’s more adventurous instincts.

Jim Hall for one gives Chico major props for encouraging his development not only as an instrumental stylist, but as a composer/arranger; and his experiences with Chico certainly supercharged his evolution as a musician, particularly in his subsequent chamber jazz adventures with Jimmy Giuffre’s innovative trios, not to mention the dynamic post-bop ensembles of Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer.

Shall we drop names? Let’s.

Referencing naught but guitarists? Chico Hamilton not only launched Jim Hall into his creative orbit, but also helped provide a dynamic context for the likes of Howard Roberts, John Pisano, Dennis Budimir, Gabor Szabo, Larry Coryell, John Abercrombie, Barry Finnerty, Joe Beck, Rodney Jones and Carry DeNigris. And yes, that’s Chico Hamilton playing drums with ex-sideman Szabo on the guitarist’s hugely influential original, “Gypsy Queen,” from his solo recording, Spellbinder. Not to mention bassist Albert Stinson.

Horn and woodwind players?

How about this excerpt from the famous film JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY, showcasing Hamilton’s dramatic mallet work and moody melodic variations behind California native Eric Dolphy on flute (who to the best of my knowledge, was never summarily dismissed as a ‘West Coast’ musician). But don’t stop there: Chico also helped launch the careers of Paul Horn, Charles Lloyd, George Bohanon, Arnie Lawrence, Arthur Blythe, Steve Turre and Eric Person.

I can remember my college days during the early ’70s, when it seemed as though all through the record collections of my jazzbo friends, mixed in with their Miles and Coltrane, were all of Chico’s hugely influential recordings for the Impulse label, including Passin’ Thru, Man From Two Worlds, Chic Chic Chico, and The Dealer–and that somewhere on those LP sleeves, there’d be a photo of the drummer decked out in the fly-est threads this side of Miles Davis.  What a dude!

Chico Hamilton--Drum Shot from UnderneathNor did Chico let the grass grow under this feet over the next 50-some years, continuing to nurture young talent in a series of ever-evolving groups, such as Euphoria. while influencing several generations of musicians as an educator at the New School in lower Manhattan and as an NEA Jazz Master. Chico remained a presence, and a leader, and an inspiration to several generations of musicians and listeners (most notable among them, the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts), while keeping a prolific stream of recordings in the pipeline well into his 90s, even at the point when he could no longer mount the drum kit himself.

But clearly, as of 2007, he was still capable of making the drums dance and sing, as this elegant mallets showcase demonstrates.

In any event, as we take our leave of Foreststorn Hamilton, now that Chico is forever young, I have no doubt that many listeners–your narrator included–will find themselves re-investigating his extensive catalog, and digging back into his fascinating history as a instrumentalist and leader. If you count yourself among such sonic Pilgrims, there’s no better place to reacquaint oneself with the late drummer than in a fascinating series of interviews The Wall Street Journal’s own Marc Myers conducted with Chico a few years back on his own JAZZ WAX, the gold standard for jazz blogs on the internet. Enjoy.

Jim Hall? Outside of Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, there’s likely never been a more influential jazz guitarist, if we may paint him with so broad a brush. Because while Jim Hall wore his jazz pedigree proudly, I’m not convinced that he necessarily viewed himself so much as a guitarist, but as a musician–for whom the guitar remained a challenge and a mystery, and who grew old gracefully while remaining engaged by all of the young guitarists who grew up viewing him as a creative father, and who are now tribal elders in their own right.

And all individuals to a man: Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and Peter Bernstein among others.

In fact, Hall performed in Jazz At Lincoln Center‘s Allen Room with his trio just a few weeks back, a concert in which he was joined onstage by the aforementioned John Abercrombie and Peter Bernstein. In fact, active and creative to the end, he was due to undertake a series of duo gigs in Japan in January of 2014 with long-time collaborator, master bassist Ron Carter.

The last time I got to hear Jim Hall live, was as a special guest at Sonny Rollins’ 80th Birthday celebration at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater back in September of 2010, and it was frankly a bit unsettling, as he did not appear to be in the best of health, and was scuffling a bit before he finally found his sea legs, as Sonny cheered him on–one brother to another.

Still, here in some concert footage from the 2012 North Sea Jazz Festival, with long-time collaborator Scott Colley on bass, he reminds me for all the world of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, teetering between one silence and another, probing for invisible chords only he can hear, yet fully engaged, as he seemingly melts into the woody tone of his Jim Hall Signature Edition Arch Top.

Picasso, the-old-guitaristOn the second selection, as the bass player’s solo grows more intense, his rhythm playing becomes quieter and quieter, as if he were trying to subdue his amplifier, and invite the listener into the acoustic isolation with which he is absorbed.

And you know what? The more he comes down, the harder this listener finds himself listening. On the third and final tune, a blues, I thought back to some old B&W footage of Lester Young in a televised performance of “Fine And Mellow” with Billie Holiday, from back in 1957.

Though his strength was on the wane, and he didn’t seem to have his full wind, Lester imbued every note with a plaintive life force as if emerging from a deep sleep to recount some dimly remembered dream.

Every time I see it, now, I’m reminded that in the end, as the bar keep cries out last call, it ain’t about your quote/unquote technique; it ain’t about the notes–the human being is the instrument.

What once seemed sad, even tragic, now seems poignant; a special kind of beauty, born of an inner resolve–the will to create and to communicate. The elemental I AM.

I get some sense of that in Jim’s performance at North Sea, as he gets back up on horseback and takes the reins yet again, as if there were time for many more rides, out in the fresh air and sunshine.

Jim Hall Older2I have a lot more I could say about Jim Hall and what he means to me.  Some of it you can glean in another posting on RADIO FREE CHIP, wherein I reprise a lovely sit-down I had with Jim some years back, which originally appeared in another form as the cover story for the July 1999 edition of Jazz Times.

However, better to leave you with a pithy footnote from an exchange of texts I traded with Bill Frisell yesterday morning, as we expressed our mixed emotions regarding Jim (and Chico’s) passing.

“Having trouble finding words today. I am blessed to have known him. Feeling sad. But…wow. What a life. So much music. I’m so thankful.”

Spirits rejoice.

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Clark Terry: Heart…Soul…Class

Making the simple complicated is commonplace.
Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
Charles Mingus

To me, Clark Terry is the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet, one of the few brass players of whom it may be truly said that he imposes his will over the trumpet–and not the other way around.

cterryAnd while that may be a cunningly crafted illusion, Clark has always had a way of making the trumpet and flugelhorn do his bidding, with an ease of execution, a deep feeling for the blues, burnished tone, sophisticated harmonic sensibility and a degree of rhythmic-melodic fluency that are as warm, elegant and ebullient as the master himself.

I had the opportunity to spend a half an hour on the phone with Clark Terry back in 2000 upon the release of fourteen lovingly recorded encounters with a who’s who of jazz piano players for the Chesky label, entitled ONE ON ONE, appropriately enough—a joyfully engaging recital.

clarkterry as a young dude

And a most gratifying experience, because Clark Terry is among the classiest, most nurturing, affable, engaging souls I’ve ever met: a truly loving, gentle man, and not only a master performer, instrumentalist and humorist, but a direct conduit to the entire history of jazz, much of which he experienced first hand, with a great teacher’s gift for distilling things into deceptively simple principles, making the medicine go down easy—and imparting the unshakeable belief that you can do this, too.

Clark Terry in WheelchairAt several points in our conversation he elucidated some musical point by vibrating away with naught but his embouchure, buzzing away like a Bach Cello Suite by bringing a solitary forefinger to his lips.

Did I say buzzing? When I affix a forefinger to my own lips, on a good day I might elicit some vague semblance of sonic flatulence.

When Clark got to buzzing, there were notes, overtones, even chords—with nothing but his chops!

We are talking tone, people.  Each and every note an embryonic entity encapsulated in the luminous amniotic fluid of soul.

(In case you think I’m jiving, check out Clark’s amazing blues solo on nothing but his mouthpiece from a video clip of a Jazz at The Philharmonic performance with T-Bone Walker in the UK in 1966. Damn!)

I was flabbergasted. He made the basic principles of the trumpet come alive for me as no one ever had; in fact, being in his presence was so inspiring, I thought, “Hey, I can do that.”

Clark Terry and Snoop Dog

Clark Terry and Snoop Dog

Well, not really.

Still, after getting off the phone with Clark (way sooner than I wanted, but even back then his health was beginning to go south, and I didn’t want to wear his ass out), the first thing that popped into my head was that “If I am ever privileged enough to get more face time with this man, I am going to damn sure know more about the horn than I presently do.”

Clark Terry3In due course, my dear friend, master trumpeter Ron Miles, gifted me a 1911 Holton Cornet. I practiced just enough to glean some rudimentary insights into the overtone series and how you make a sound, more or less–which further enhanced my respect for trumpeters in general and Clark Terry in particular.

I never did get to speak with Mister Terry again, but our brief encounter is indelibly etched in my recombinant DNA.

Clark Terry AutobiographyRADIO FREE CHIP could expound at great length about all of the wonderful music he has made, musicians he has mentored and lives he has touched, but what follows is such an in-depth discussion about technical and musical aspects of the trumpet, that readers would be better served by purchasing a copy of CLARK: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CLARK TERRY, and thus allow Brother Terry to do the talking…instead of me.

If it seems as though Clark Terry has always been here for us, well, this beloved American icon was born way back on December 14, 1920, the seventh of eleven children. And in approaching his 93rd birthday, Clark Terry remains as engaged as he has the strength to be, whether as a teacher, or in a project linking the jazz aesthetic to that of hip hop with former student Quincy Jones and rapper Snoop Dog.

But these days he is largely bed-ridden, and while his spirit remains indomitable, his body, alas, is not, and the monthly expenses for 24/7 home-care attendants, above and beyond what Medicare covers, come to over $6000.00.

Cloud-Angel-formed-by-an-Air-force-jet-resizecrop--

Feel free to follow this link to Make A Donation for Clark Terry’s Medical Expenses or drop Clark and Gwen Terry a note–along with a check.

Here is their home address:

Clark Terry
4720 South Beech Street
Pine Bluff, AR 71603

Your love will lift him and the money will gift them…

99

I met you at Max Roach’s birthday party a few years ago on the Upper East Side. You and Sweets [Edison] sashayed in wearing a couple of full length fur coats, looking like a couple of collegians. I was sure you were going to bust out a couple of ukuleles and break into a chorus of Boola-Boola [laughter]. ONE ON ONE is sure a splendid recital, sir.

Oh, thank you. How do you like the concept, where I have a different piece of music for each of those pianists to use?

I think the concept affords you a wonderful range of repertoire.

Covers a lot of history.

Showcases the breadth and depth of your range. How much flugelhorn did you play?

I played them both at the same time. I played trumpet and flugelhorn on practically every track.

Well, that clears that up. And all that time I was thinking, “Damn, Clark sure gets a dark sound from the trumpet [laughter].”  Were you sending a psychic message to Papa Jo Jones on “Swinging the Blues?”

Yeah, how about that? [Clark puts his forefinger to his lips, and uses his chops to mimic the iconic sound of Papa Jo’s hi-hats]. He was the master of that. Not too many people can do that right…yet!

What is it that makes one particular style of horn a jazz instrument as opposed to a symphonic horn?

For the trumpet?

Yeah, like a Martin Committee.

Yeah, I have a Martin. In fact I’m using a Martin Committee now. They gave it to me as a 75th birthday gift at the Jazz Times Convention. Miles used to have them dip them in all those dyes: blue, black, green, yellow, white, purple…Miles would pick up the phone and tell the people [growls] “Green!” and they’d make him a green one. Tell ‘em “Blue” and next week he had a blue horn.

Clark Terry4
Had one to match all of his outfits [laughter]. Wallace Roney was playing a black one that Miles was using. I played it once. A nice horn, and it’s just like the old Committee Martins which I had for years. So he said, “I’m going to get ‘em to give you one,” and I said “Yeah, sure.”

And sure ‘nuff, two-three years later they did give me one on my 75th birthday. And so I’ve been using that religiously since then. But as far as comparing them with classical type instruments, they’re basically the same. It depends on what gets the best results for you. Wynton Marsalis all of a sudden feels that the mouthpiece should be continued through the rest of the horn and not detach.

Those custom-made Monette horns with the integral mouthpiece. My buddy Ron Miles plays one.

clarkterry300

Clark With His Flugelhorn

It wasn’t invented that way, but as the old saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.”

So some people like heavy horns for classical or jazz. Some like light, quick horns. Some like plated; some feel that the silver horns are more conducive to playing brassy-type sounds; other folks feel that gold gives the tone a darker character.

I don’t do a heck of a lot of lead playing anymore; in my younger days that’s what made me choose the Selmer flugelhorn, because it sort of made me go back to the days when the Jimmie Lunceford Band used to play flugelhorns—all of the guys in the section from time to time–just to change the mood. One of those flugelhorns is still around. Sy Oliver had one, and he passed.

And that reminded me of going back to get this type of sound. So much so, I used to put felt hats over the bell of my trumpet to get close to that sound. And we had a chance to do it. We worked with Keith Ecker, who was a technical adviser for brass to Selmer, and we put together a horn in his basement while drinking his home-made red wine [laughter]; put it together and sent it off to Paris, where they checked it out mechanically and made sure it was okay, then they gold-plated it and sent it back to me.

And in November, 1967, they sent it to my friend in Chicago, Syke Smith. And at that time we were recording with Billy Taylor, doing a thing of his called TAYLOR MADE JAZZ, with all of the members of the Ellington band. And Sykes brought it down to the studio and opened the box, and there was this shiny, beautiful flugelhorn. 

Billy Taylor and Clark Terry

Clark Terry [with Billy Taylor at the Piano]

I played a few notes on it, and Billy said, “Why don’t you put that on the date?”

And I said, “I intend to.”

So I played it on the date and went to club that night and he wrote a piece for me on the flugelhorn–the first piece he ever wrote for me—called “Julieflip on the Flugelhorn.”

Is it a different kind of tubing than the trumpet?

The flugelhorn is actually in the cornet family in that it’s conical shaped from the receiver straight through to the bell; gradually gets bigger all the way through the bore both ways. Whereas the trumpet goes one bore until it passes through the valves, and then it flanges at the beginning of the bell.

So that would account for the brilliance of the trumpet and the mellowness of the flugelhorn.

Absolutely. Right.

Is there any difference in terms of blowing into it in terms of air pressure.

Oh, yes. It has been said that they’re illegitimate scales, so you have to be very, very tender with them to achieve…you can’t blast ‘em; you can’t over-blow them—you can’t be too cruel with them [laughter]. You have to be very careful, because they can very easily be played out of tune if you don’t know how to use the tuning slide.

Ron Miles explained that on the cornet, it could be a little sharp in the bass, and a little flat in the upper register, so that you have to compensate as you’re going along.

Well, it took us years to really do some serious research on the flugelhorn, to figure out that you need to tune each pump instead of in one spot with the tuning slide. And the tuning slide on the flugelhorn is in the leader pipe; as you enter the mouthpiece into the receiver, then after you’ve made your regular tuning, you tune each pump, each slide, individually, and pull them into a position where it’s more conducive to make the notes that you want using that combination of valves…in tune.

So the minute you see a flugelhorn player, unless he’s been doing it for a long time, playing with all of these pumps—middle valve, first valve and third valve—not being altered somewhat or tuned, you can almost bet he’s going to play out of tune. It’s sort of like a violin or a trombone. Each little position may be marked—first, second, third, fourth—and if you go to the second position and it’s a little bit flat, you’re going to pull up a little bit with your lip or your slide; the violin, the same thing. What might be an A on the violin for one player might be a wee bit sharp or flat for another player. So they have to adjust according to their articulation, manipulation, and their ear. So there are a whole lot of things that go into producing one tone [laughter], on the flugelhorn, the violin–any instrument.

But even on the trumpet, Clark, you get such a dark, creamy sound: I always refer to you as the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet. When you were talking before about the relative intonation in relation to somebody’s note-of-A, the way Hodges would play, he’d slide up and down to the point where he was almost outside of the scale, but it always sounded in tune, and it was so…what do they call it in opera? Bel Canto?

Well, that’s one of the things where we have a lot of difficulty teaching students: to find the center pitch of their tone—the center of their tone—and to be able to maneuver. This is one of the lessons that we were taught by the old timers that are not in the books. They used to say, “Son, you’ve got to go back home and learn how to bend that note.”  Which means coming from below [sings upward bend] and find that pitch before you vibrate or go down to it [sings a downward slide]—but maintaining the center of the pitch in your mind. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not nearly as easy as some people think it is.

Clark-Terry as a Young DudeI remember hearing this black mezzo-soprano in a Verdi opera, and she came out with this big, pure voice, and nailed every note, yet the audience was kind of underwhelmed. And then this woman came out in the role of a gypsy woman; to my ears, her vibrato was all over the place. And the people went nuts, so I figured, “Well, I guess I’m not conversant in the tradition.”  It was not very pleasing…to me, anyhow.

Well, look at Johnny Hodges. He could actually milk it, but he would always get to that pitch before he vibrated or changed.

All of you guys with Ellington could do that. You and Johnny…and Barney Bigard in particular used to kill me with all of his bends on the clarinet. Getting back to your gear, have you used the same mouthpiece for years, or do you tend to fotz around?

Yeah I’ve played the same one for quite a long time. I got the mouthpiece I’m using now years ago. And when Giardanelli started making mouthpieces he looked at mine and decided he would make a bunch of these with the the same sort of dimensions as some of the already standardized mouthpieces.

And at the same time we were going through a thing here in New York, where most of the brass players had discovered that in the orchestra, all of the French horn mouthpieces were V-shaped, straight down, and flat-rimmed. You never saw a French horn mouthpiece with a bowl or cup. They all go straight down. So we came to the conclusion that this is far more conducive to what we were after than any other configuration. It’s good for longevity; it’s good for intonation; it’s good for range; it’s good for sound.

So we decided to get into that, and Giardanelli fixed a couple of them up like mine, with a flat rim and a V-shape; and it’s comparable to somewhere between a #3 or a #5 Bach mouthpiece. And it seems to be a mouthpiece that almost any player can use.

So we recommend something similar to that for students who get involved, because it gives you the flexibility and maneuverability to keep a nice range and a good sound. Some guys get on a versatile kick and they want to play higher than anybody, so they have a mouthpiece with a thimble for a cup and a pin-hole for the bore. It lets them play high, but then they can’t make a sound to match up with anybody else in any orchestra or big band.

Some horn players used to tell me how Cat Anderson had a trick mouthpiece. Uh huh–like that explained it. And I’d ask them: “Does he have a trick lip, too [laughter]?”

He had a trick everything [laughter]. A trick neck, a trick attitude–he was a strange cat.

Doc Cheatham told me that Cat would go through a Three-Card Monte game with multiple mouthpieces, where he’d employ one mouthpiece to play the section stuff and match up with everybody, but when it got to his part in the score–where he needed to ascend into that upper register netherworld–he’d kind of palm it and nobody would ever see him put the other mouthpiece in.

Well, he may have done that in his early years, but I used to watch him, because I’d sit next to him in the Ellington band, and I never saw him do that. He reached the point where he could do anything he wanted to do on one mouthpiece. And I don’t think anybody else in the world could make a sound on his mouthpiece, but him. And his lower register was big and his upper register was big—so he had mastered that thing.

A lot of guys can take all sorts of deficiencies and make something positive out of them, like the trumpet player Byron Stribling. He plays all wrong–up under the lip on the soft part of the lip–but he has mastered that fault of his and instead of correcting it, he’s mastered it. And he plays great. He has a big sound and his range is fantastic, so he never bothered about changing the mouthpiece.

Clark Terry-1940'sI had a little friend from London who played almost like Byron, and I couldn’t stand the sight of him [laughter], so I asked him if he would give me two weeks to correct it. And he said okay, but that “My teacher said that it was okay.” And I said, “Well, you tell your teacher…blahblahblah.”

And I had him do what we call the tuck and roll, where you tuck both lips over the top of the teeth and then roll down to that area where you can make a buzz [produces an amazingly musical buzz sound]; when you can make that buzz so that you can control it [makes it dance up and down in identifiable phrases, concluding with a low register descent]; when you reach that point, then you know you’re in the right area–but if you go too far over into the red part [indistinct flapping sound], you can’t make any upper notes.

So it has to be close to the center. 

Clark Terry in 1981Well, he did this for about two weeks without his horn, and then used his mouthpiece.  Then he put it in his horn, and now he plays five notes higher; his tone is bigger; and besides that, he won the honors of the little girl singer in the band [laughter].

When you were making all of those different sounds before with your chops, I was thinking of how you described the French horn mouthpiece, and a lot of their training involves controlling the tone without the valves, going back to the ancient horns.

Sure, that’s exactly the same principle that we use when we play on the bugle [plays long complex phrases with a deep descent into lower register] without valves. As a matter of fact that’s why there are so many good Mexican trumpet players…what do you call them cats, the mariachi? They were taught to use the mouthpiece long before they were allowed to touch their horn. So that’s why you never hear of any of them Spanish or Mexican players having trouble with single, double or triple tongues. They always have excellent articulation. And that’s because they were taught to play the mouthpiece first—master the mouthpiece. Like boxers say, “Kill the head and the body will die [laughter].”

I hung out with Dizzy one afternoon in his basement while he was watching the Clarence Thomas hearings on television. I set up a digital sound system for him and put on a CD I gave him of the delta blues-man Robert Johnson, and listened as Dizzy warmed up on his mouthpiece for close to an hour, and that’s all he did was mouthpiece, playing along with Robert Johnson. And I was struck by the range of different articulations he achieved with just his mouthpiece, and it occurred to me that all of those different tonguing techniques and such–those old-time, home-grown approaches–aren’t really taught much anymore, are they?

No. They really aren’t. There are so many things that are just skipped over in teaching things, and a lot of it needs to be learned.

I like all kinds of music from all generations. I’m not stuck in any one bag, but a lot of horn players these days sound more like classical trumpet players than jazz players in terms of articulation. I mean, in listening to a master player such as Maurice Andre, he gets that brilliant kind of shimmering tone, but obviously absent those vocal inflections that were such a vital part of the early jazz vocabulary.

The reason being, Chip, is because not that many people are conscientious enough to teach kids from whence you come. So they don’t know for the most part about bending a note, finding that center pitch; they don’t know about moaning and what you call flips—things that we learned from the old-timers. Which are not in books: like shakes, fall-offs, rips, doinks, buzzes and things that were concocted by the older players.

Because of the fact that most trumpet players of that period who got involved years ago, they had no teachers; so they saw all of these instruments in the pawn shops which had been ostracized by the classical players, such as the cornet, and things like that. And there wasn’t much call for these types of instruments, so the pawn shops were loaded, and cats saw these shiny instruments in the windows and they were self-taught.

They didn’t know the proper place to place the mouthpiece on their lips: over on the right corner, on the left corner, over towards the upper lip, down towards the lower lip, almost on the cheek—and so they couldn’t produce a proper sound. So as a result, they couldn’t produce a sound that was good enough to fit in a section and play a part with legitimate sounding players. So as a result of that, sometimes their tones would be kind of tinny.

So somehow they had to find a way to make their sounds more acceptable, so they began to do what we now call buzz, which simply means to hum as you produce your sound, which makes your sound bigger [produces a lip tone then adds a moaning sound an octave below, a la Slam Stewart].

Roy Eldridge used to play like that, and [trombonist] Vic Dickenson, even the saxophone players such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins—they all used that sound. So buzzing became a very important ingredient. Now not too many legitimate teachers would even want their kids to know that shit. And I think it’s very important that they do know it, as well as the three areas of the tongue that are very, very valuable for producing different sounds: the tip of the tongue which is a flutter; and the back of the throat is called a growl, like a dog; and then way down in the bottom, is the hum.

Clark Terry and Doc Severnsen

Clark Terry and Doc Severinsen

So you’ve got all three of those areas, which along with the manipulation of the plunger—another forgotten instrument—can produce all sorts of wonderful sounds. Like a type of tonguing called the doodle system: a-e-i-o-u, in order to prevent the kids from reiterating the second syllable. The -dle in the word doodles, the last syllables are ghosted; they’re swallowed…D-Dood. So it’s daadle, deedle, diidle, doodle duudle. And if they don’t learn to do that, they’re going to play dato, deto, dito, doto, duto. You want noodle soup, you don’t want noodo soup, because noodo soup don’t taste like noodle soup [laughter].

So these are some of the things that a few of us, some old folks who are still around, like to impart to the kids. And please believe me, it makes for a much better player when they couple that with the legitimate techniques.

Man, oh man, except for one small detail–like how I could never get a single sound out of the trumpet–you sure do make me want to pick up a horn right this instant [laughter]. Still, I reckon I better stick with my guitars and drums. That’s just invaluable information to pass along, Clark. Regarding legitimate techniques versus home-grown solutions, I once heard a story, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal, about how you took Dizzy to some classical teacher for remedial work.

Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie

Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie

It’s true. About the time Dizzy came through East St. Louis with his big band, the Board Of Education was doing a crackdown on professors who would teach their kids–who really idolized these people–and most of them puffed their cheeks way out like Harry James and Dizzy. So they went to Harry and Dizzy and told them what was happening with the kids, and that all of these young horn players were puffing out their jaw. And after they told Harry, bing, just like that he quit right away, and just played…he was phenomenal, just a phenomenal trumpet player—and he stopped puffing his cheeks and could play the same way he did when he was puffing his cheeks.

And so Dizzy came to St. Louis and asked me to take him down to Joe Gustav, who was a very domineering type of personality, who would scare the hell out of you. “Play something for me.” And Dizzy went…[sings a boppish descending phrase]. So he was walking away when Dizzy played that, and he whirled around and said “Do that again.” And Dizzy did something even more spectacular. So he says, “Play me some eighth notes, and Dizzy says bip-bip-bip-bip. “Faster!” and Dizzy goes bipbip-bipbip-bipbip-bipbip. And each note his jaws would fill out like a bladder. And Gustav says, “How long have you been doing that?” So Birks answered: “Well, I’m sorry G, but I’ve been doing this all my life.” And Gustav said, “Well, you just keep doing it—now get the hell out of here.”

And that’s a fact.

Puffing the cheeks is wasted energy, then?

That’s right; it’s wasted energy, and it impairs the continuity and the flow of the air column from the diaphragm. Kids need to concentrate on it almost like karate—HAH!—when you go through the brick you’ve got to keep a steady flow of air, with evenness in your air column. And that’s kind of hard to do when you’re puffing out your jaws; that’s all it is—very strenuous. Extra energy is expended. And it’s harder on the body.

Clark Terry and Max RoachIs that why Dizzy had such trouble with his intonation when he got older?

I think so, yes, because he didn’t start right, you know and couldn’t overcome that.  One thing, which I think is fascinating, is that he started out playing by just puffing a little bit; and then as his muscles started getting weaker and weaker, he had to put more and more air in there to support the air column.

His wife told me he didn’t start out like that, but as the years passed, his cheeks came out more and more.

If you look at pictures of yesteryear, he just puffed out a little bit in one cheek.

Like when he was with Cab Calloway and Earl Hines.

That’s right. And then he started more and more and more, and it got to the point where the more he filled up, the more he needed filling to support the air that came through—it had to go past those wind pockets.

It used to make me mad when people would jump on his ass at the end, because Dizzy wanted to die with his boots on…

Yeah…[sadly]

As much as Dizzy gave to us all, it seems like with some guys they either want you on an exercise cycle or six feet under…and I mean, fuck you, man.

That’s right…

But I’ll tell you what, all the times I saw him live during his twilight years, no matter where his pitch might have been that evening, when he got to “Round About Midnight” he was home. In retrospect, it seemed to me that he was such a virtuoso; he had set the bar so high for himself and everyone else; he had defined such a profoundly rhythmic style, that there was a lot less room for error as he got older.

Absolutely.

But then again, Miles also had intonation problems as he got on.

Well, Miles used to have a problem in the beginning, too, before he had really perfected the sound he wanted. Miles was one of the few St. Louis cats in his age group who didn’t study with Gustav. But his teacher, Mister Elwood Buchanan, did study with Gustav. So Miles always followed the Harry James thing; he loved vibrato. And when he commenced to vibrating, Mister Buchanan always kept a ruler with some tape wrapped around it, and he’d tell him “Stop shaking that goddamn note, ‘cause you’ll be shaking enough when you get old,” and he would hit him with the ruler.

Well, that’ll do it.

So there was that, plus the fact that Miles just loved those Heim’s mouthpiece that Joe Gustav insisted all of his students play: a very wafer-thin mouthpiece; deep, but it was curlicued outside, and it was a bowl—and he always insisted that all his students play those Heim’s mouthpieces. So Miles would always have me running around hunting for Heim’s mouthpieces.

See, my chops were a little bit too thick to use those little thin curlicue mouthpieces, so I had to resort to something similar to a Rudy Buck back in those days. And I’m sure Mister Buchanan rapping his wrists with that ruler, in combination with those Heim’s mouthpieces, helped him to develop a straight, pure type of sound. When he first came to New York, Bird couldn’t stand his sound. If you ever notice on all those records they made he had the mute in. They’d be playing and Bird’d say “Put that damn mute in [laughter].”

I was thinking about the mouthpiece and the size of the chops, and what you explained to me before when you were talking about hearing the center of the note…when Miles was with Bird, he really didn’t have that, did he?

No he was still working on his tone.

Although harmonically and rhythmically he sure seemed to know his way around.

Oh yeah, his rhythm patterns were beautiful. See, St. Louis was always known as a trumpeter’s town, all the way back to Charlie Kirk, who had a big sound. For some strange reason, trumpeters from that area always had good rhythmic patterns, because there were a lot of good drummers around there, and all the boats that came up from New Orleans stopped in St. Louis.

They were enticed to stop there because the rents were reasonable, the food was good, the booze wasn’t over-priced, and the ladies were pretty and very encouraging.

And that became a very integral part of the perpetuation of jazz. There was Charlie Kirk, and he had a big sound, and then there was Levi Madison, who had the prettiest sound in the world, and people used to go over to listen to him practice outside of his apartment.

But see, Levi was a bit weird, because he would practice for about five minutes, then he would laugh for ten or twenty minutes [laughter]. Play something pretty, then look in the mirror and laugh his ass off. So we’d jump down and not take a lunch just to hear 32 measures, you know.

And there was Hamp Davis—no relation to Miles—who used to be the preacher of all the parades. And St. Louis was a parade town; every day there was some sort of parade—and they couldn’t do a parade without Hamp, because he was the only cat in the world that knew all of them marches, and played every one of them an octave higher with one hand.

Good, God…

With his other hand in his belt or in his pocket, and he glided gracefully through the pot-holes and never missed a note. And there was Crack Stanley, Baby James…there were a whole host of trumpet players for us kids to learn from. And traditionally there were a lot of rhythmic things that we covered in playing with the older guys.

You know, Clark, I could talk to you forever, but I don’t want to burn you out. I would really love to continue this discussion at some point because what you’re talking about needs to be out there—it cannot be lost.

The tradition in which guys like you learned, it sounds like you were blessed to able to reference a combination of the classical tradition and the oral tradition, so you have that balance in your playing, and now the young guys have got all of the classical finesse, but they don’t have a connection to the oral tradition, and also they don’t have…it’s like how writers and musicians are constantly comparing the contemporary Sonny Rollins with the formative Newk of the ‘50s. First, he was a different person back then, and second, it was a radically different time socially….

Clark Terry--Too Old To PimpAbsolutely.

I mean do we want to go back to the way America was in the ‘50s and ‘60s just to get better jazz?

No.

Of course not, still, there’s a certain depth and richness to the vernacular you and cats of your generation would’ve gotten from playing a whole gaggle of gigs that had nothing to do with jazz. Lester Bowie, who was from St. Louis, told me about his formative days playing with medicine shows and circuses and the last generation of black vaudeville; growing up in the south—all sorts of life experiences, good and bad, that constitute a vital part of the music…

Clark Terry, SeatedAbsolutely.

And that’s what people really don’t get when they’re writing about it. It’s not just about the notes on the record—it’s about a spiritual and cultural and a social context.

Absolutely.

So that’s what I’d like to expand upon when we get another opportunity to speak.  In the meantime, thanks for everything, sir, and God bless.

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Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash—Borderless Music From American Patriots

American Revolution

America’s greatest gift to the world is our music.

Chip Stern with Mike Clark [for Freddie Blasie]

An iconic, original conception; a polyglot of many cultures—a paradigm for our ongoing democratic experiment.

Louis Armstrong Butt Naked

Louis Armstrong With An Open Invitation To The Tea Pary

And at this critical juncture in our history, when a group of embittered wing-nuts and evangelical know-nothings seem grim and determined to reenact the Civil War and to bypass the Constitution and the electoral process in favor of the Articles of Confederation and half-baked notions of nullification and insurrection, it is consoling to steal a few backwards glances and reflect upon what we are capable of when compromise and commonality of purpose are the order of the day, and we can thus rejoice in the fruits of our diversity and shared aspirations.

And so, for your consideration, some thumbnail sketeches of the grace and greatness we’re capable of manifesting when the tributaries of our cultural and spiritual waters surge together into one mighty river of soul.

From July 16, 1930, in Hollywood, a colloquy in black and white, between the jazz and country traditions, coming together in the shared vocabulary of the blues: “Standing On The Corner” or as it is better known, “Blue Yodel #9.”

This remarkably soulful, borderless collaboration features Jimmie Rodgers, known in his salad days as The Singing Brakeman—who along with The Carter Family, endures as one of the Founding Father Of Country music—yodeling his way through the blues, in the company of pianist Lil Hardin and her husband at that time…

Her husband was a young man from New Orleans who’d come up to Chicago with King Oliver in the mid-1920s, a free carbon atom in that combustible confluence of broadcast radio and modern electrical recordings that birthed the modern media epoch.

Not for nothing are the 1920s known as The Jazz Age, in large part because of this young man, who always claimed to be born on the Fourth Of July, 1900 (actually, August 4th, 1901).

He became a lightning rod for change, the progenitor of a joyous, freely inflected new style of instrumental and vocal phrasing, a swinging testament to a sense of new opportunities for growth, a can-do spirit that came to be synonymous with America itself–vocalist and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

louis-armstrong-and-his-hot-five [photo shopped]

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five (with Lil Hardin)

In both the literal and figurative sense, these scion’s of poor Mississippi and New Orleans roots, embody the reality of social and cultural cross-pollination that bubbled beneath the surface affectations and restrictive covenants of the Jim Crow South for poor whites and blacks alike..

As both groups sought to stake their claim to a piece of the American dream in the first part of the 20th century, between the years 1925 and 1933–when The Singing Brakeman succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 35–there were no bigger nor more influential figures in American music than Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong.

In the parlance of the day, their records sold like hotcakes, as did those of innovators such as Bessie Smith and The Carter Family, which in turn led some enterprising one percenters to have a brain wave. Boing. There’s gold in them thar hills out among the downtrodden of the working undrerclasses–there’s an audience for race music and hillbilly music.

There’s money in the truth. Who’d have thunk it?

Mia and Her Daisy Rock Girl Guitar
The spirit of their vision is beautifully distilled in this brief, iconic collaboration.

Then some 40 years later, in October of 1970, Armstrong was invited to reprise this historic performance in a moving duet with Johnny Cash on The Man In Black’s network TV show.

Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan

Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan

The degree of love and mutual respect these two giants bring to this performance is quite extraordinary.

It speaks volumes not only to Cash’s own power, originality and vision as a dynamic tributary of the folk, country and blues traditions, but of his generosity of spirit, which manifested in the sense of outreach and inclusion that distinguished his groundbreaking 1969-1971 prime time network TV show,

Cash not only put out the welcome mat for country-legends such as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters (including his beloved wife, June Carter), Merle Haggard and Carl Perkins, but for sixties movers and shakers the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ray Charles and Eric Clapton (then fronting Derek & The Dominoes). Not to mention championing a then unknown songwriter, Kris Kristofferson (and standing up to the network censors in the bargain).

This encounter between Cash and Armstrong is all the more moving because Satchmo was in failing health.

As you can plainly see from this video, he’d lost an enormous amount of weight, and was physically a shell of his former self–but you wouldn’t know it from his ebullient humor, burnished trumpet breaks and joyous vocal interplay with Cash.

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash Johnny Cash and June Carter1Come the following summer, barely nine months later, on July 6, 1971, Armstrong passed away–one month short of this 70th birthday.

Brother Cash himself passed away within four months of his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, on September 13, 2003, at the age of 71.

This is emphatic testimony by the real ambassadors of our musical and spiritual culture as to the actual, factual, non-fractious reality of The Real America.

Sound Signatures that speak to who we actually are and what we are capable of being, at our very best, when celebrating what it is that we–we the people–share…

Instead of fomenting some demagogic balderdash about a ludicrous frontier mythology that never existed, while bloviating about our differences and seeking to demonize those with whom we might respectfully disagree.

Jimmie Rodgers1Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong2Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family
Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash. [The Carter Family]

US-Constitution
Founding Fathers. American Patriots.

7

These colors don’t run.

Abe Lincoln Colorized

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Baby Dodds–Playing For The Benefit Of The Band

Baby Dodds and Art Hodes1Now each man has a solo, I gives him a different beat. It may sound to someone that’s listening close by the same, but it’s not. I would say it’s a different sound to it, because I gives every man a chance of his opening.

In other words, like a guy gonna come in, I give him something for him to come in on—and make it different from the fellow that’s got through. Even if it’s piano or trumpet or clarinet or trombone, I give some kind of indication that something else is comin’.

And that a lot of drummers don’t do, because you got to think. And while you’re thinkin’, you have to work with your companion or work with your band or work with your outfit. You gotta be thinkin’ all the time. When they’re thinkin’ about doin’ something, you gotta be thinkin’ something, too. And I try to make a distinction of some sort—and to the change—that you know, even if the guy don’t come in, you know somethin’ should come in there.

Baby Dodds American Music CD CoverAnd that’s the way I play–I play for the benefit of the band. And when I change like that, something else comin’—something different. And it’s got to be different, ‘cause I’ve changed it.

And you can feel a change. Even if you don’t hear it, you can feel it. And that’s why I drum along, and I do that practically with any band that I work with, because it’s up to me to make the changes.

Blowing instruments I play with, they make a change, but it’s up to me to give an indication of that. Just like you would say “What we do next?” and someone say “Well, I’ll tell ya.” Something like that, see? It’s an indication that something else is comin’—or something different is comin’.

Well, if you just go along and beat beat crash criddle, well, it’s no indication, and it don’t give you nothin’ to look forward to.

But when you make something a little different in there, somebody say “What’s comin’ up now?” Then maybe you hear the clarinet; or the clarinet’s playin’ or the trombone come in; or ya hear something else come in…the piano’s in, and I make something abruptly or something different, that’s the trumpet must be comin’ in. See, that’s the way I do. And it makes it very, very distinct where I do it, and makes it very…lovely for a band, because somebody know it’s their time.

And I don’t make a finish. It’s not exactly a finish. But that’s what you gotta be thinkin’ all the time: what the next person is going to do; who’s comin’ in next? And that makes you have a distinction of different ones comin’ in with solos.

And don’t mean for you to beat louder than the solo. Means for you to keep down. If it’s a clarinet, you know it’s a clarinet, you must keep down. Piano, you must keep lower. So those things, fellows don’t think about. They beat the same way if a clarinet’s playin’, be just the same—bam, bam—now that don’t make sense.

And you must play along with drums—drummers are essential in the band, they’re very essential. And of course you must drum like that. You got drummers who know that they are essential, which they are, because you play a band or hear a band who haven’t got any drums or the drummer hasn’t got no spirit or the drummer’s just beatin’—it don’t sound so good.

Now, that’s a study I had to pick up my self. No one told me that. No one showed me how. That was just what I had to do, because I do work all the time with my fellow man. I wanna see him happy, same as I—even, even if I’m not happy. If I’m unhappy, I wanna see him happy. Therefore it makes a big difference. Regardless of how I feel, so long as he feel alright. Then when you do that, and work in conjunction with your band, your people are dancin’ or sittin’ ‘n listenin’, they will have a different reaction.

Without someone that’s drummin’ think about these things, it’s no good.

Even if you feel in yourself “He’s not doing nothin’,” somebody’ll say “Gee, there’s a difference in the band there.” Why? Because you’ve done something different. No one wants the same beat all the time, even though you can do it. But it makes the band. And then the band’s got no pep that way. So that’s my i-dea of changin’ like that—it’s for the benefit of the band.

And goin’ along with the man blowing the instrument—I will say mostly blowing or piano—he must follow the phrases. And that’s why I wants to know each time a band starts to playin’, I want to know what they goin’ to play. That way, if it’s a number that I don’t know, I follow very closely—pay strict attention. If it’s one I know, well, I know where the phrases come—that’s why I can keep up. A lotta fellows don’t think about that.

And in a lot of bands you would say “Whatcha goin’ to play?”



“Whatchu want to know for—you only the drummer.”

Baby Dodds DrumsBut they don’t know—that’s very essential. You need to know what they going to play, and what tempo it’s going to be in. Well, that gives you a chance to give them something to work with. A man workin’, he can’t dig a post hole unless he’s got a spade, can he? If a man’s gonna nail somethin’, he can’t nail a nail unless he got a hammer.

Now those are the things what I think of with drumming, what a lot of fellows call me old fashioned, ‘cause they don’t know what I’m doin’. And if they was good drummers, they wouldn’t say I was old fashioned. They would say that I was more up to date than what they doin’ today. Because they know I had to study what I’m doing to make things sound like it do.

That’s why a lotta fellows, I play in the band, they like me to drum. I feel them all out. I work with all of ‘em: the guitar, banjo, the bass; I work with all of them—’cause they all belongs to me.  I feel that I’m the key man in that band, and it’s up to me to make all them feel like playin’. Even if it’s no more than joking with ‘em. You can joke along with a band, and you have somebody with a grin on their face, and still they’re blowin’.

And you can pass the word along, that somebody’ll feel good—well, that’s all up to spirit.

I’ll say, just like a pitcher and a catcher. Now you would wonder, why do a catcher go out to the pitcher and talk to him on the mound, and the pitcher never comes in and talks to the catcher? Because the catcher has got this pitcher in mind, to know exactly what to do, and for him not to get excited.

Well, that’s like my job. In drummin’, you have got to pay attention to each and every one, and you must hear that person distinctly, and hear what he wants—you gotta give it to him. If he don’t like that, if he don’t go with it, give him somethin’ else. And that way you keep your band smooth. You have to keep your band jumpin’ and keep everybody lively.

You know, you must, you must be a musician. You can’t just be anybody. Anybody can’t drum. Anybody can beat a drum, but anybody can’t drum.

You must study those things. Study a guy’s human nature. Studies about what he will take or see about what he will go for—all that’s in a drummer. And that’s why all guys is not drummers that’s drumming! So frankly, you got to use diplomacy—you must use that. You got to study up something that will make them work. You can’t holler at a man, you can’t dog him. You can’t do that, not in music.

Baby Dodds10Now it’s up to me to keep all that lively—that’s my job. There’s more besides drummin’ than just drummin’. There’s more besides drummin’ than just beating.

And it’s my job to know what that part is—I got to find it. And when I sit down with a band, that I hunts for.

A band that’s playin’ is an ensemble: I find the kick to send ‘em off with—I find something.

Now, unless a drummer can find those things, well, he don’t even talk to me as a drummer, ‘cause I know he’s not.

You see a band dead: A drummer can liven up everybody; make everybody have a different spirit; and he can make everybody pretty angry, too. And he can have ‘em so that they be so angry with him, but they have to play. So all those things, all and all, a drummer’s a big factor in a band, which you know that.

Then again, I think about the situation, how it derives with me now. There’s lots of things I’ve learnt even sitting down doing nothing, just thinking—a lot of things. I do believe, when I ever get back to my drums, I think I’ll be a different drummer than I used to be.

Because I have a deeper study in mind. I need my spirit study. Now I know that sounds very funny to a drummer to hear me say spirit, but drummin’ is spirit. You gotta have that in your body, in your soul. You gotta have it even in your drumming that go along, you gotta have that spirit.

And it can’t be an evil spirit—it’s got to be a good spirit. Now I know it puts you way back to thinkin’, why? Because music is no good if you’re evil. That’s no good. If you are evil, you going to drum evil. And when you drum evil, you goin’ to put evil in somebody else’s mind. Now, first thing you know, somebody put the evil in somebody else’s mind, well, what kind of band have you got? Nothin’ but a evil spirit band. That’s what I mean by spirit.

Mary's_11X14-087Now, if the spirit is good, any good spirit will dwell with good spirits—and God help a bad spirit band. But you know that it’s liable to do anything. They liable to step on each other’s instruments—anything. Might put lim boiger cheese on a man’s piano—anything. And that’s what the spirit is. That you has got to keep up…what I worked at so many times, Bill, until I just couldn’t do any different now.

‘Course, I haven’t got the spirit of liveness that I used to have, because I’m gettin’ older, but, I still have a little bit left. So you’ve got to keep a spirit in ‘em, and that’s a drummer’s job, ‘cause he’s not playin’ nothin’; he hasn’t got nothin’ in his mouth. He’s got to keep that spirit—that chatter—all the time in that band. Not loud enough to ruin the music, but loud enough that somebody can hear ‘em, and it’ll go around. His job is to keep everybody in good spirit: keep everybody’s jaw full; keep everybody playin’; keep everybody’s mind on what they are doing.

And the changes is still up to you. Now if you wanna make a band play louder, you can make it play loud. You wanna make a band play medium soft, you can make it play medium soft. You wanna make a band play pi-ano—very soft—you can do that. And no band is not goin’ to play and the drummer’s not doin’ nothing; they’re gonna feel that something’s wrong—they gonna come down, too.

Baby Dodds with King OliverThe drummer’s beatin’ his head off—well, who cares? So we gotta keep up with the drummer, drummer’s gonna drown us out, well, he’s gonna blow louder. So if he feels that the drummer is soft, well, he’s gonna come down, too.

I think if the average young drummer today were to feel that his part is to help the other fellow, not make him play himself to death, or not make him play something that he don’t want to play—his place is to help him.

And without help, there’s no band. Without a drummer that knows how to help, it’s no band.

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