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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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 purcahsing 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

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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…

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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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Points Of Departure: George Duke, Cedar Walton, Marian McPartland, Albert Murray

charon_carries_souls_across_the_river_styx [litovchenko]Yet again we find ourselves engaged in a day cruise down the River Styx, courtesy of RADIO FREE CHIP correspondent, the ferryman Charon, who regrettably, was quite busy as the summer of 2013 drew to a close. Inside of three weeks last month, he called home a trio of keyboardists with significant connections to various tributaries of American music—each quite beloved to their devoted fans.

Let us now call their names, and offer an amen chorus, by way of giving RADIO FREE CHIP readers a thumbnail sketch of their respective Sound Signatures—so as to initiate your own journey of discovery.

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As a little boy, George Duke’s mother took him to see big band performances by Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington.

His reactions were visceral and immediate

Racing through the theater aisles in pursuit of the former, while so captivated by the latter that he found himself shouting out to no one in particular, “Get me a piano.”

As fate would have it, when he went out to purchase his first jazz record, someone suggested Miles Davis as a good starting point, and providentially the cover art for KIND OF BLUE captivated him. Duke’s subsequent encounters with Miles, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans, John Coltrane and future mentor Cannonball Adderley—a veritable Justice League of America—were a source of enduring inspiration.

As for the path which would seal his own Sound Signature, in George’s own estimation, while he may have gone to the woodshed on Bill Evans, given his roots in gospel, doo wop and R&B, he gravitated towards the likes of Les McCann and Wynton Kelly–pianists who imbued their vision of jazz with a heaping helping of blues and funk. As things played out, like any devout student of American music (or the Actor’s Studio), context often determines one’s personal connection to magnetic north; and ultimately location-location-location (in this case Los Angeles) played a pivotal role in defining Duke’s evolution and final destination.

And so, Duke and his working trio came to partner with Jean Luc Ponty, which led to a sideman’s gig on the violinist’s own KING KONG, in which Frank Zappa fashioned arrangements of his own original repertoire as showcases for Ponty.

So taken with Duke was this baddest of Mother Superiors, that it led to a five year collaboration, which compelled the pianist to shed the blue blazer of a jazz purist, and don we now the gay post-modern apparel of a rocking crossover artist (and critically, to seal his aesthetic accord with synthesizers and electric keys).

This in turn begat a gig George characterized as the greatest experience of his life, with Cannonball Adderley, who surely helped supercharge Duke’s love for all things swinging, funky and sanctified, as did a subsequent partnership with drumming juggernaut Billy Cobham, in one of the most popular electric jazz ensembles of its day (wherein Duke could in turn mentor a proud young jazz-crossover upstart like himself, ten years removed, in guitarist John Scofield).

From such a foundation did Duke offer beguiling snapshots of his sundry aspects over the next 30 years, be they R&B or funk-oriented; jazz or fusion; as an instrumentalist or composer; improviser or arranger; instrumentalist and producer. Likely George’s career path as one of the main architects of a romantic brand of pop/soul jazz explains how he might have fallen off this listener’s radar screen, save for the odd assignation when friends pulled my coat to something—much as how my colleague Matt Merewitz of Fully Altered Media texted me on his passing: “What, no love for George?”

Ironic that in taking our leave of George Duke, we are inspired to revisit his formative work with Ponty, Zappa and Cannonball and an engaging all-star encounter with fellow funky jazz icons on The Legends of Jazz Special, let alone a revealing encounter with hostess Marian McPartland on a 1994 broadcast of her National Public Radio PIANO JAZZ radio show to even begin to take the full measure of a man who clearly had a lot more to give when he passed on within a heartbeat or two of his late wife, at only 67.

cedar_waltonLikewise, a man universally revered as a musician’s musician–the much respected pianist Cedar Walton, who passed away barely two weeks after George Duke on August 19, at the age of 79.

In the autumn of his years, Walton had just been honored, quite fittingly, as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master—which served in a formal sense to high five Cedar for a lifetime’s work and acknowledge his ubiquitous presence on the jazz scene as a leader, sideman and composer over the course of seven decades.

One of the seminal hard bop pianists of the past half century, Walton’s journey found him defining his Sound Signature through a more extended expression of the mainstream jazz piano tradition than Brother Duke, perhaps because he endured for so long as a centerpiece on the New York jazz scene, who came of age—and whose path was set as a professional—through extended experiences with two of the seminal jazz finishing schools of their day—the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet (1960-1961) and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1961-1964).

As documented on albums such as MOSAIC and on this remarkable video document from San Remo, Italy, on March 23 of 1963, Walton was a key component and the orchestral glue for what is arguably one of drummer Art Blakey’s most dynamic editions of the Jazz Messengers, featuring a veritable roll call of champions: Wayne Shorter on tenor, Freddie Hubbad on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and bassist Reggie Workman.  You can hear the history of the jazz piano in the introduction alone, let alone in his exposition, on Walton’s showcase “That Old Feeling” (located between 31:15-38:00 on your radio dial).

His virtuoso command of the vocabulary notwithstanding, Walton’s intro and subsequent solo on this showcase point to his finely honed gifts as a composer and arranger, gifts he would polish and expand upon on such original jazz standards as “Mosaic,” “Bolivia,” “Mode for Joe” and “Ugetsu,” and as a collaborator with a Who’s Who of Jazz royalty, including Abbey Lincoln, Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Pat Martino, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw among many many others.

Umbria Jazz 2010: July 13, 2010With his elegant, full-bodied orchestral stylings, and supportive, self-effacing temperament, Walton often allowed as how he preferred his role as an accompanist to that of a leader, and in part this explains his ubiquity and the glow of assurance and certainty that would come over musical pilgrims upon seeing his name listed in the credits–much as I did a few posts back in our tribute to Woody Shaw, where Walton chaired an exemplary quartet for trumpeter Shaw with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Victor Jones.

Cedar Walton’s mere presence on a gig was like a money-back guarantee that the pianist would be listening to his band-mates as if his life depended on it, and that this…this formal elegance and generosity of spirit would radiate from the piano chair, in the amber glow of his spontaneous arrangements and orchestrations.

Thankfully over the years, despite that touch of reticence, these musical qualities led to many an opportunity to extend upon his gifts as a team player and to chair many of his own ensembles, such as those splendid Eastern Rebellion ensembles with Sam Jones, Billy Higgins and Clifford Jordan, and a series of fine recordings for the Highnote label in the winter of his creative journey.

Elegant, eclectic and engaging, Marian McPartland was a gracious ambassador for American music and an inspiring role model for women in jazz over the course of a career that stretched roughly from World War II until the summer of 2013, when she passed away on August 20 at her Port Washington, Long Island home at the age of 95.

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Marian McPartland with Mary Lou Williams and Thelonious Monk

Given her prolific output as a composer and an improviser—let alone her ubiquitous presence as a Peabody Award-winning radio personality, it is worth recollecting how challenging was the path she set for herself given how her passion for any and all aspects of the jazz piano tradition would engender such a paucity of encouragement and positive feedback from her own family–let alone the bitchy condescension of some home-grown colleagues who should have been first on line to lend a helping hand.

A native of England, she was born Margaret Marian Turner on March 20, 1918. Enduring violin lessons at her mother’s insistence, she began teaching herself piano at the age of three, progressing quickly enough to gain entrance into London’s Guildhall School of Music, where much to the horror of her parents and teachers, she found herself inexorably drawn to the music of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Wilson and Hazel Scott, and when she was offered the opportunity to quit school and hit the road with Billy Mayerl and His Claviers (a four-piano vaudeville act), her own father tried to dissuade her with cash incentives, while her mother‘s gloomy take was that “‘You’ll come to no good; you’ll marry a musician and live in an attic,’ Of course, that did happen.”

Indeed, Marian met and married the noted Chicago cornet player Jimmy McPartland while on a USO tour during the war (he was a charter member of the city’s legendary Austin High Gang, who popularized jazz among young white musicians in the 1920s, inspired by the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong). Subsequently, upon arriving in the United States in 1946, the British jazz critic Leonard Feather offered this dickish assessment: “Oh, she’ll never make it: she’s English, white and a woman.”

“He always used to tell me it was a joke,” she recalled ruefully, “but I don’t think he meant it as a joke.” Nevertheless, she persevered, and while her husband’s musical inclinations trended towards Dixieland music, she was a modernist at heart, with a richly inflected harmonic palette and a buoyant sense of swing, which came to a creative head in the 1950s when she fronted a trio, most prominently with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Joe Morello, over the course of what turned out to be a twelve-year engagement at the Hickory House, back when 52nd Street was the epicenter of the jazz world in midtown Manhattan. She subsequently revisited the magic of her Hickory House Trio with Crow and Morello in a sumptuous sounding 1999 release, REPRISE (Concord), one of the classiest, most swinging live jazz recordings of the past 20 years.

Marian McPartland's Hickory House Trio

Marian McPartland with Bill Crow and Joe Morello

McPartland was one of the last remaining live music acts on 52nd Street, before that stretch of real estate between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was plowed under in favor of a series of soul-less office buildings. Self-sufficient and committed, she formed her own record label and remained open to all manner of fresh influences (not the least of which was the music of Bill Evans), continuing to grow and remain modern in the best sense of that term.

Yet ironically, her greatest impact as a musician and an ambassador of jazz commenced in the fall of 1978, when she recorded a series of encounters between herself and fellow pianists Mary Lou Williams, Billy Taylor, Bobby Short, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson for what became a 33 year run as the host of PIANO JAZZ on National Public Radio, in which McPartland created a warm, intimate environment with which to engage a host of great pianists, as well as instrumentalists, vocalists and songwriters from the world of jazz and popular music—a borderless, hierarchy-free format in which she regularly jumped into the deep end of the pool with everyone from the introspective Bill Evans and avant garde firebrand Cecil Taylor, to country music, soul and progressive rock icons such as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and Frank Zappa, and fellow broadcast personality (and kindred spirit) Studs Terkel. Her ability to be charming and accommodating, probing and insightful—to create a relaxing atmosphere in which to engender conversational intimacy and musical conversations—made PIANO JAZZ a national treasure.

She recorded prolifically, leaving behind a wonderful body of work documenting her continuing growth as a musician (and a series of highlights from her PIANO JAZZ collaborations) for the Concord label, and in November of 2007 she topped things off with the premier performance of her composition for symphony and improvised piano, A Portrait Of Rachel Carlson, with the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Donald Portnoy.

As writer Peter Keepnews observed in a splendid New York Times send-off, “Unlike some jazz musicians of her generation, Ms. McPartland never became set in her ways; her playing grew denser and more complex with time, and even late in life she was experimenting with new harmonic ideas. ‘I’ve become a bit more reckless, maybe,’ she said in 1998. ‘I’m getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it’s going to be, and make it work.’”

Finally, and all too briefly, a shout-out to Albert Murray, who passed away at the age of 97 at his home in Harlem.

Albert Murray--Stomping The Blues [Cover]

Murray was an influential social, literary and jazz critic; an essayist, novelist and historian; who along with Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis, helped found Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Among his many works, STOMIPING THE BLUES retains a particular resonance for this writer; one of the most thought-provoking, insightful books ever written about jazz and blues. Like much of his work, it is something of a tone poem in praise of our ongoing multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial experiment–for him the blues embodies everything noble and affirmative and resilient about the American spirit.

Ahead of his time or simply right on time? “The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people. It’s the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people. Jazz is only possible in a climate of freedom.”

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Sonny Rollins: Post-Boppin’ With The Saxophone Colossus

Sonny Rollins, by Freddy WarrenOver the course of a lifetime, I have pursued music and music has, by degrees, pursued me. Part of my passion is predicated on a desire to share what I have learned with friends and colleagues alike. Thus over time, RADIO FREE CHIP: Sound Signatures has evolved from a series of downloads culled from my sprawling archives to an evolving blog format in its earliest stages of development.

Or as I like to put it, “I am a DJ, I am what I play.”  Still, I continue to derive pleasure from my small network of personal musical communiques. So when I discovered through my blogmeister, Bret Primack, The Jazz Video Guy—a champion of American music, who counts among his creative endeavors, stewardship of Sonny Rollins’s web site—that the tenor saxophonist had taken a sabbatical and was relaxing in his new home by listening to composers associated with Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School (such as Anton Webern and Alban Berg), I began supplementing Newk’s musical journey with 20th Century music by Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Edgar Varese and Elliot Carter.

Sonny Rollins with Mohawk, by Lee Tanner

Eventually, in a decidedly swinging change of pace, I programmed a jazz compilation with Sonny’s mind in mind. My choices reflected that historical period between 1959-1961, when he withdrew from public performances to woodshed: expanding upon his already formidable command of the tenor, while deepening his awareness of harmony–an area where he’d adjudged himself to be lacking.

During this hiatus, Sonny famously spent a considerable amount of time on the Williamsburg Bridge, which connected his Brooklyn neighborhood with the Lower East Side of Manhattan, practicing his horn out in the open air (rather than unsettle his neighbors and their newborn baby). Ultimately Sonny rolled-out a provocative new working quartet, featuring the guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Ben Riley, as celebrated on their maiden voyage for the RCA label, THE BRIDGE.

It’s worth remembering that Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, inspired as they were by Charlie Parker, and having partnered with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, represented the cutting edge of the hard bop movement. Subsequently, when the jazz avant garde began to emerge with considerable force in the person of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, Sonny and Trane embraced their exploratory verve with far-reaching implications for musicians of their generation and those to come.

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The Williamsburg Bridge

Sonny himself began pursuing a harmonically freer, more rhythmically expansive style in returning to the daring piano-less formats he pioneered on THE FREEDOM SUITE, LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD, and WAY OUT WEST, collaborating with Ornette Coleman mainstays Don Cherry and Billy Higgins in a working band with bassist Bob Cranshaw (or Henry Grimes in the studio) on OUR MAN IN JAZZ, and subsequently partnering with Coltrane’s rhythmic ninjas, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, on EAST BROADWAY RUNDOWN.

Recorded in the summer of 1960, THE AVANT GARDE places John Coltrane squarely in the epicenter of Ornette Coleman’s music, teaming him with the innovative trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Ed Blackwell and bassist Charlie Haden (supplanted on three tracks by Modern Jazz Quartet bassist Percy Heath). While “Cherryco” is credited to the trumpeter, the previously unreleased tracks “Revolving Doors” and “All” from BEAUTY IS A RARE THING—THE COMPLETE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS OF ORNETTE COLEMAN, are plainly the same tune.

Cherry’s skittering, swinging solo has an oblique, blues-drenched melodic logic all his own, while Coltrane follows with a chanting aria that is unique in his recorded oeuvre. The tenor giant testifies in a series of dramatic repeated cadences that amplify the talking drum locomotion of the Blackwell/Haden groove, while evoking Trane’s deep North Carolina roots as the son of a preacher man.

Back in the mid-90s, I had occasion to engage the famous bassist Ron Carter in an interview for a MUSICIAN magazine feature I was then developing about his Blue Note recording, RON CARTER MEETS BACH. At one point, as an aside, I waxed nostalgic about the bass figure with which Ron and drummer Tony Williams brought “Gingerbread Boy” to its conclusion. Based on Ron’s reaction, I was left with the distinct impression that he never revisited this historic track after laying it down in the recording studio. So a few months ago, as an experiment, I transmitted him a download of this performance.

Ron’s e-mail response? “Wow!”

Did any band from that period manage to suggest the possibilities of a freely inflected, collective approach, while maintaining a dynamic connection to the rhythmic jet propulsion of bebop and beyond, quite like the Miles Davis Quintet did on MILES SMILES? On this anthemic interpretation of Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy,” Ron and Tony stretch a vamp and release form–simultaneously referencing both a vertical and a linear rhythmic reality–to the very outer limits of time and tempo in an elastic, interactive manner that inspires electrifying solos by Miles (very much in his Don Cherry mode), Wayne Shorter (like Lester Young taking a stab at late Coltrane) and Herbie Hancock (whose single-note lines unfurl as if tethered to a psychedelic barber pole).

Sonny Rollins’ signature tune, the calypso-inflected “St. Thomas,” references oral traditions deriving from his family’s roots in the Virgin islands, much as rock and funk emanates from Latin music and the Afro-Cuban tradition. Building upon Machito and Mario Bauza’s synthesis of big band swing with traditions grounded in their Cuban roots, Dizzy Gillespie’s recording of “Manteca” transformed the rhythmic landscape of jazz forever. And on this remarkable Paris studio session from 1973, Dizzy and tenor sax titan Johnny Griffin dial up a truly big time funk groove in a powerhouse reprise of the trumpeter’s 1947 hit.

Chip Stern and Dizzy Gillespie

Radio Free Chip & Dizzy

All the more remarkable because the drummer laying a layer of lard over every damn inch of this nasty-ass back-beat is none other than legendary expatriate Kenny Clarke, progenitor of the bebop approach to modern rhythm–in which the ride cymbal carries the primary pulse, freeing up the drummer to drop bombs and interact with the melodic instruments by deploying snare drum colorations and tom-toms accents all about the multi-percussion kit.

And whether rocking out or breaking into straight ahead swing, does the drummer known as Klook ever have a ball interacting with pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and percussionist Humberto Canto…with Gillespie and Griffin roaring and soaring over the top like cosmic wind-surfers in one of the most righteous, down-home versions of “Manteca” the trumpeter ever committed to tape.

Once, when hanging out with Papa Jo Jones, he played me an air-check of a Count Basie flag-waver entitled “Mutton Leg,” featuring some really ferocious, over-the-top lead tenor by Paul Gonsalves, who at one point made a daring ascent into the altissimo register of his horn that sounded more representative of Sam Rivers, circa 1970, than of the 1940s. Or as Papa Jo duly noted: “Paul Gonsalves played too many notes for Basie, so we gave him to Duke Ellington,” arching his eyebrows suggestively to make sure I dug where he was coming from.

Paul Gonsalves and Duke Ellington

Paul Gonsalves and Duke Ellington

Figuring that Sonny was already familiar with Gonsalves’ legendary 27-chorus tenor showcase on “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue” from the ELLINGTON AT NEWPORT recording, I instead dubbed him the audio from this Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert (as featured on the Jazz Icons DVD-release, DUKE ELLINGTON LIVE IN ’58). Gonsalves’ hoarse, expressive tone, technical facility, daring rhythmic phrasing and harmonic sophistication is mesmerizing, as one can glean from the enraptured expressions of audience members, and by Ellington’s enthusiastic high fives to “Paul Gonsalves, Paul Gonsalves.”

Speaking of rapture, on this joyous performance of “Folk Forms #1″ Charles Mingus sets the tone with a jaunty melodic figure on the bass, keying a series of rhythmic/thematic variations answered in kind by Dannie Richmond’s astonishingly melodic drums and the speaking-in-tongues polyphony of alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy and trumpeter Ted Curson, in a spirited post-modern emulation of a New Orleans second line.

This, my friends, is the blues writ large, played with a degree of emotional commitment that transcends melody and borders on pure speech, as the quartet extends collectively upon each others’ motifs with telepathic intensity until the effect is that of a vortex–of one continuous phrase. Dolphy imbues each and every note with unsurpassed vocal passion; the enormity of his sound, and the manner in which he brings things to a stand-up-and-shout catharsis is matched every step of the way by Curson’s incredibly expressive brass figures.

Finally, in the person of Julius Arthur Hemphill, we presented Sonny with a saxophonist who while clearly inspired by his music and that of Trane and Ornette, was truly beholden to no one. This native of Fort Worth, Texas, was a true American original; an extraordinarily distinctive composer, a fearless improviser and among the most visceral alto saxophonists you’ve ever heard—yet despite the acclaim he garnered as a founding member and primary composer for The World Saxophone Quartet, his legacy is largely neglected–likely because he took leave of us at the age of 54 back in 1995.

Julius Hemphill, 1980, Cropped, Deborah Feingold

Julius Arthur Hemphill
A Terrible Beauty

My first experience of Julius’ music on this performance of “The Hard Blues” (from the recent re-issue, DOGON A.D.), reminded me anew of my initial emotional response to Eric Dolphy–but if one were to liken Dolphy to a gaudy, bejeweled scabbard, Julius was naught but the hard, cold, steely reflection of light off of the cutting blade.

There is a cinematic dimension to Hemphill’s writing and a terrible beauty to his storytelling on the parched dream-scape of “The Hard Blues” that is supercharged by the taut minimalism of the ensemble, featuring cellist Abdul Wadud, drummer Phillip Wilson, baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett and trumpeter Bakida Carroll, suggesting as it does the folkloric urgency and vocal cry of delta bluesman Robert Johnson every bit as much as the painterly abstractions of a Sonny Rollins.

Which brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to Sonny Rollins—who in a very real sense, is both inspiration for this playlist and author of the feast. Of whom we may thus conclude, with something bordering on Biblical certitude, that there will never, ever, ever be, another you.

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Street Theater: Random Encounters, Assorted Zingers & the Art of the Put-On

Bird and Diz1

Bird and Diz Give You The High Sign

Having resided on Manhattan Island in NYC since 1976, I have come to appreciate by degrees both its potential for unparalleled levels of enforced intimacy and the curiously deferential nature of its citizenry.

Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett

Buster and Sam Try To Decide If It’s Worth It To Make It Through Another Day

New York City is like thousands upon thousands of small towns, stacked one atop another, in a largely vertical environment, and one learns straightaway to live and let live as a means of minimizing tension and conflict, and of optimizing the chances that you will get home alive to see another day. As a result, the best reaction is more often than not, no reaction at all. Of course, this is easier said than done, when at any given moment one of your fellow citizens can literally show you their ass, and suddenly, like it or not, you are enveloped in an episode of street theater as you contemplate your next make me or break me move. Think carefully now…it’s not so much that New Yorkers are jaded, or simply inured to the presence of so-called celebrities, but that cherishing our own privacy and personal space as much as we do—and as dearly as we pay through the nose to enjoy every square inch of our sanctuaries—we tend to be maybe a touch more deferential to the greats, the near-greats and the ingrates walking among us, so that chance encounters between mere mortals and those for whom the spotlight often shines well beyond the customary fifteen minutes, needn’t prove unduly awkward for observer or observed.

Angry Baby, CroppedChip Stern, Candidate Cropped

By the same token, if one is an impudent Nebrew upstart with a Yiddish predilection for the well-timed zinger, well then…all bets are off.

One afternoon in the late ‘90s, walking across Broadway on the Upper West Side, I encountered a familiar face in front of the Beacon Theater. It took a few swipes at the matchbook cover to set off a spark before the flame of recognition was ignited: “Well, I’ll be damned—it’s Ray Davies.”

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As in that Ray Davies, lead singer for one of the most iconic British Invasion bands of the 1960s, The Kinks, and boy, did my internal jukebox ever begin to yodel: “You really got me, you really got me…”

I guess a flash bulb must’ve gone off behind my spectacles, because upon making eye contact, I discerned an unmistakable glint of discomfort. With his wiry physical frame and nervous demeanor, Ray seemed all too typical of those quiet fellows from our school daze who overcompensated like Zeus almighty to become the lead singer in a rock band.

Never mind the enigmatic star power Ray might routinely project from behind a microphone stand—in the near field it seemed apparent that our mate had precious little fatty tissue around the old nerve endings, and by God the look in his eyes suggested impending doom:

“Sweet merciful Jesus, I’ve been outed; and now he’s going to want to engage me in a conversation—oh, agony.”

Sensing his desperation in such an awkward moment, and having nary a God damn thing to say to him in the first place, as we drew closer I recognized my obligation to let him off the hook; I turned on the high beams, and with a reassuring smile, extended my fist outwards in an enthusiastic thumbs up—and kept on trucking, all the while.

ray-davies-062113Well, I could practically hear the air rush out his butt as he exhaled emotionally in the blessed realization that this particular fan was content to keep it simple, stupid; as the clouds of paranoia parted, his face broadened into a giddy grin of gratitude and he returned my high sign with an enthusiastic thumbs up of his own.

Half a lifetime before this particular encounter, I was commuting back and forth between upstate New York and Manhattan, circa 1976, all the while trying to establish a foothold for my family in NYC. Waiting in Grand Central Station for a train back to Syracuse, I had occasion to glance behind me at a tall, striking-looking man; an athletically chiseled, middle aged African-American with a broad, patrician nose dominating his stately countenance.

Time and again I stole furtive glances and finally, as we boarded the train, I worked up the chutzpah to address him: “I beg you pardon, sir, I don’t mean to be a bother, but are you Sonny Rollins?”

Sonny Rollins With Dog

“Uh, yes, I am,” the saxophone colossus smiled shyly, as he sat down directly in front of my seat, passing the time peacefully with his wife Lucille by chatting and reading the Sunday Times. Me? I didn’t say word two to him, but inside my tiny little brain “East Broadway Rundown,” “Strode Road,” “Sonnymoon For Two,” “Way Out West” and damn near every Sonny Rollins tune I knew went into heavy rotation.

Just before he disembarked, we crossed paths near the rest room, and surely appreciative of my deferential silence, he was sweet enough to engage me in a brief conversation; a remarkably gracious gesture on his part, but as I got to know him over the next four decades, I came to realize that Sonny Rollins is nothing if not a mensch.

Me? I’m kind of a nudge, and over the years, in subsequent encounters with notable New Yorkers, I rarely averred from a well-placed zinger. Walking west at a brisk pace one summer evening across Central Park with the great drummer Beaver Harris, we finally took a breather on our way downtown at a Broadway bus stop, when who should we eyeball strutting north but the comedian Jackie Mason, arm in arm with a statuesque brunette straight out of a Richard Wagner wet dream of Valhalla.

I mean, it’s not as though Jackie Mason weren’t the most fascinating man you ever laid eyes on, but this Valkyrie simply towered over him. The two certainly made for an incongruous couple, and as they passed by, Mason kind of smirked at me, as if to say, “Pretty good, huh, pal?”

I took my measure of the scene, and borrowing a quote directly from his one-man show, then running on Broadway (which you may reference at 46:45 of the accompanying video clip), I shook my hand in an ambivalent gesture and quipped, “Too Jewish,” which elicited a wag of the finger and an appreciative laugh, one ball-buster to another.

Jackie-Mason-007

[Ball Busters Of The World Unite]
Too Jewish?

Speaking of ball-busting, when I was in college, my room-mate split for an off-campus apartment early in the first semester, and relishing the new-found luxury of my solo accommodations, I took it upon myself to go “shoo fly” to any and all of the congenitally Caucasian-types the school administration sought to couple me with from then on.

If rousing myself from a fitful sleep at five in the afternoon and blowing smoke in their face from a freshly lit joint didn’t stamp their postage, I would reach for my copy of The New York Art Quartet’s first ESP album, and put on their rendition of LeRoi Jones’ black revolutionary anthem, “Black Dada Nihilismus,” with a dramatic recitation by the poet himself.

Never mind returning as my room mate. I don’t think that poor innocent stopped backtracking until he reached the banks of the Mississippi.

Some twenty-odd years later I found myself in attendance at the Blue Note, a well-known jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village, for a friend’s concert: Drummer Max Roach, and his long-time working quartet (featuring Odean Pope on tenor, Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet and Tyrone Brown on bass).

LeRoi Jones was a contemporary of Max Roach’s from that period in history defined by the civil rights movement. They would eventually go on collaborate on Max’s autobiography. So who should appear three steps behind me as I ascended the staircase on a direct trajectory for the Blue Note privy? LeRoi Jones (or rather I should say, Amiri Baraka).

Talk about happenstance. As I prepared to seize the moment, I left my brother to his solitary contemplations, and upon hearing the sound of running water in the sink, I took that as my cue to emerge from the stall, in mid-recitation, and make for the adjacent set of faucets:

“Black Dada Nihilismus/Against what light is false/What breath sucked for deadness…”

Boinnnnggg.

“Mister Baraka? I’m a friend of Max’s. Chip Stern. A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Amiri Baraka

He regained his composure quickly enough to smile and thank me as he made for the door. Stopping, he collected himself, put on his game face…and did a double-take: “Man, that was one hell of an introduction.”

Of course, when we speak of street theater, I am but a humble aspirant; still, at one point in my journey the chess master of the universe saw fit to present me with a true rite of passage, putting me in direct proximity to a Knight Templar of the put-on.

Chip and Australian Friends

Casey, Stacy And RadioFreeChip Apply Some Finishing Touches To A Spontaneous Put-On

I was in the passenger seat of my mother’s Toyota, as we crawled up Sixth Avenue, when who should emerge to our right, hoofing his way towards Central Park South? None other than Andy Kaufman, in a neck brace no less, purportedly from wrestling women and getting buddy-slammed by Jerry Lawler.

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
The call has gone out for my scene, Mister DeMille. Lights…cameras…action.

“Watch this, Mom.”

I pulled myself through the sun roof, and in my best Mel Blanc/BronxBrooklyn HeeHaw hollered: “The winner and still chammmmmmpeenANDY KAUFMAN!”

Waaaaaaah!

He jumped out of his shoes as if zapped with a Jerry Lewis Joy Buzzer. Frantically scanning the street, until zeroing in on me–pie in hand from my offstage perch–he brightened and came to full parade ground attention, saluting as I passed in the vaudevillian semaphore for “You got me,” a friendly gesture of kinship…one bent soul to another.

Deborah Harry and Andy Kaufman Wrestling

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