More Whiplash

It's hard to get everything right in a big DTM post. I need an intern to double-check facts and figures! Anyway, if you only saw "The Drum Thing" in the first 30 minutes, it's been since updated slightly thanks to minor corrections by Jason Gutharz, Miles Okazaki, Darcy James Argue, Noah Baerman and Dan Tepfer. Thanks readers!

At the end, there is a substantial addition. Here 'tis, so you don't need to scoll down on the big page:

UPDATE: In the wake of this post, I received the following email from Russell Scarbrough with many more interesting details about Hank Levy, "Whiplash," and Buddy Rich. Russell agreed to let me post it here. http://www.russellscarbrough.com/

Hi Ethan,

This whole Whiplash thing has brought back a lot of memories!

Hank Levy was a very inspiring, gentle guy, so very much different than the guy in the movie. He was very well known in jazz ed circles in the 70's & 80's through his association with Stan Kenton & Don Ellis, but not much of a self-promoter, so a lot of the things he was into just sort of disappeared.

I studied composition with Hank at Towson State from '90-'94, and played in the band there the whole time. We played only his charts (which we all loved). Many were the odd-meter charts he wrote for Ellis and Kenton - which is what he's known for almost exclusively - but he also had tons of quite innovative arrangements of standards which are practically unknown.

Quite a bit of the rock-oriented stuff those bands were doing (including Buddy, Kenton, Ellis, as well as Woody Herman, et al) were at the very strong suggestion of their management and record labels. Don Ellis's Connection album, for instance, was really a scandal among the arrangers who all felt strong-armed into doing assigned pop charts. For a time, they also thought odd meters were the way everything was going to go, so Buddy's management thought he should get some of that. So some calls were made, and Hank was asked to write something for Buddy's band.

Hank came up with a chart in 7/4 called "Ven-Zu-Wailin", an Afro-Cuban kind of tune, and sent it out to LA. The story goes that Buddy didn't really read charts. When a new arrangement came along, Buddy hired a session drummer to read down the chart in rehearsal with the band while he listened, then he would take over and he'd have it memorized (so the story goes).

Apparently this time (late 60's), the session drummer couldn't really get the feel, and the figures and set-ups were all over the place, and it just wasn't working. The record company guys were there (guess they wanted to record soon), and Buddy tries to play it anyway, and he doesn't get the feel either. So in a rage, he grabs the chart off the stand and flings it across the room and lets it be known what he thinks about odd meters (your imagination can fill in the blanks there).

So whenever I showed up for lessons with Hank, I would see the framed letter up on the wall of his office on Pacific Jazz letterhead, saying we're so sorry, but "Ven-Zu-Wailin" was "a little too different" for Buddy and the band, and they were returning the chart, we hope you find a good home for it, sincerest apologies, etc. And this crumpled-up chart came in the package with it. Hank LOVED that story.

Too bad, cause that probably would have sounded great. Hank later re-wrote in 4/4 and we recorded it - it was a burning chart.

We did play "Whiplash" all the time with Hank. It was one of the best-recorded charts of his, and Ralph Humphrey had a lot to do with that, but Ellis's band in general was much better on Hank's tunes than the Kenton band, which was frankly terrible (except when Peter Erskine was in the band). I haven't seen the movie to know if they played it, but the back half of that chart is written in 14/8, because the subdivision is 223322 - a really nice-feeling pattern that Hank said explicitly came from Bulgarian music, and which he used fairly often. Those different subdivisions of the asymmetrical meters are what has been lost lately outside of world music stuff, but Hank and Ellis were very interested in that. A lot of their most interesting experiments in that were never recorded, but we did some of those things - big band charts with 2 drum sets playing in different subdivisions at the same time, for instance.

We also played a lot of straight-ahead swinging in 5, 7, and other asymmetrical meters. Not 5/4 as in the "waltz+2" feel of "Take Five," but just 5-on-the-floor swinging. Hank's "Chain Reaction" for Ellis has a blistering straight-ahead 13 section for pianist Milcho Leviev to blow over (not long enough, but enough to prove that it can be done, and done well). He also had a few things that were overt homages to the Basie style, but in 5/4. I don't hear much of that kind of thing lately, though in some quarters odd meters are otherwise ubiquitous.

In regards to the substance of your post, it would be an interesting comparison to look at the elaborate "drum routines" of the Don Ellis band, which were virtuosic for sure, vs the vaudeville-like solos of Rich. Personally I find Rich's solos repetitive and hackneyed at best, and a true annoyance at worst. On the Roar of '74 album, which is a fantastic band playing really great arrangements, he basically plays a drum solo throughout every every tune, even where the charts have space to breathe built in - he just bashes right through. And then plays another solo at the end. If you ever want to see Bill Holman roll his eyes and shake his head ruefully, ask him about the charts he sent Buddy, and how they turned out on the record.

The genius of Mel Lewis is the perfect antidote to Rich-ophilia. 

Best Regards,
Russell Scarbrough

03/04/2015

 

Blood on the Drums

New DTM pages:

The Drum Thing, or,
A Brief History of Whiplash, or,
"I'm Generalizing Here"

and a guest post by Mark Stryker,

Traps, the Drum Wonder.

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Reminder, sign up for Floyd Camembert Reports if you want Iversonian spam about gigs etc. 

Tootie Heath w. Ben and me at Vanguard this week and Philadelphia Beat (nice NY Times review with amusing photo). Webpage update with other photos and Hyland Harris commentary.  Also Tootie's masterclass on Saturday. (Details below)

03/02/2015

 

Floyd Camembert Reports
(Moving to Email Newsletter)

Aw, what a nice thing Tim Wilkins has written about Philadelphia Beat for WBGO, where you can stream tracks as well. Damn. "Bag's Groove" sounds pretty good even if I say so myself.

Tootie Heath DTM page updated with Beat photos and extraordinary commentary by Hyland Harris.

The band is at the Vanguard next week. And:

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Tootie Heath will be giving a 3-hour masterclass for drummers and other observers Saturday, March 7 from 2 to 5 PM at:

“The Drawing Room”

56 Willoughby St. #3

btw Jay and Lawrence St. in downtown Brooklyn. Almost every subway train gets extremely close: Borough Hall for 4/5, Hoyt St for 2/3, Jay St for A/C/F…the very closest stop is Lawrence on R.

$20. The money goes straight to Tootie.

Ben and I will be on hand to play with Tootie a bit and perhaps play with others, depending on what Tootie wants to do. He may offer a 30-minute "history of the drums" he's been working on as well.

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If you can't get enough Iversonian gig notifications, sign up for my new TinyLetter newsletter, called Floyd Camembert reports.  I will try to keep most of that stuff off the blog. 

Especially students wanting to know about the masterclasses etc.: y'all should sign up, that will be my way of communicating.

Further details in the newsletter in re: 

Upcoming gigs in spring/summer 2015:

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman

The Bad Plus plays Science Fiction with Tim Berne, Ron Miles, and Sam Newsome

TBP with Mark Morris Dance Group at BAM: the Rite of Spring (Morris dance is called “Spring, Spring, Spring”)

Duo with Ron Carter 

Duo with Seamus Blake

Trio with Tootie Heath and Ben Street

Tootie Masterclass!

My own lame (but free) masterclasses

Billy Hart Quartet with Ben Street and Mark Turner

Iverson solo piano score for Dance Heginbotham: “Easy Win”

Solo piano night at the Village Vanguard, curated by Jason Moran, w. Kenny Barron, Stanley Cowell, Fred Hersch

Four nights of “Lounge piano” at SF JAZZ

CDs about to come out:

Tootie Heath Philadelphia Beat  (with extensive booklet including new and vintage photos)

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (on Nonesuch, this is a big one for us)

Donna Lewis Brand New Day (Yes, the singer-songwriter/pop star. With Reid and Dave and produced by David Torn)

Forthcoming essays: 

A new website for crime fiction, The Life Sentence, is about to debut: it will include my review of Thomas Perry’s latest book, A String of Beads (and overview of the complete Perry canon).

A roundtable in The Threepenny Review about Peter Sellars’s St. Matthew Passion at the Armory.

Again, subscribe here, initial missive coming in a few days.

02/24/2015

 

In Orbit

Rest in Peace, Clark Terry.

NY Times obit by Peter Keepnews

Peter Hum's comments and links

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In May 1958 Clark Terry went into the studio with Thelonious Monk, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe Jones for Orrin Keepnews and Riverside Records. The resulting album, In Orbit, is almost certainly Terry's best known as a leader, simply because Monk is such a giant and there are so few documents of Monk as a sideman.

Even though it is famous, In Orbit probably isn't Terry's finest personal showcase. Recordings with Oscar Peterson or Bob Brookmeyer or some of the Ellingtonians might offer a better example of Terry's bluesy insouciance in full unfettered effect.

It's not that Terry isn't great on In Orbit. But he's leading a quartet date of conventional tunes, and look who he's got on piano! Monk always remakes the jazz at hand into his own image. There’s seldom much room for anything in the frame but “MONK” when he’s around.

It would be one thing if Terry had played a bunch of Monk tunes or repertoire specially tailored for the date. Instead the set list is essentially what Terry would play with anybody. If In Orbit has classic status, that status is testament to Terry's grace under pressure.

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"In Orbit" Appropriately enough, the album begins with an abstract fanfare: Piano, flugelhorn, and bass all emit bizarre thumps before Philly Joe plays a fast two-bar break. That drum break is easy to follow, but only Sam and Terry come in correctly with Philly Joe on "4." Monk (rather unmusically) thunks on the following "1" instead. It's probably not an accident: Monk refuses to play that hard-bop “4” hit throughout the head in and the head out. (Philly Joe is there every time.)

The changes of "A" are what I think of as "Perdido" changes, although "Perdido" was surely not the first iteration of these fairly basic moves. “Argentina” on this album is also "Perdido" changes, so this progression was clearly on Terry’s mind.

When Terry blows, he confidently bops his way through the fleet tempo.

Monk isn’t quite as comfortable. Indeed, might this be the fastest BPM we’ve ever heard from the High Priest? Even though it’s not his usual turf Monk is coherent enough when connecting Harlem Stride and whole tone patterns at speed.

However, it gets a little weird when Monk comps so little during the trades. In my opinion, too much of In Orbit is a trio of flugelhorn, bass and drums. Shouldn’t the piano back Terry when trading with Philly Joe? The second chorus of trades is better but there are still holes. The last melody statement is pretty empty as well. It’s not clear whether Monk is being deliberate with a certain sparse aesthetic or just doesn’t have his head fully in the game.

“One Foot in the Gutter” Terry gets to lay his trademark talking gutbucket on us during this bluesy AABA song in F.

Monk is really amusing during the "waltz" bridge. The bridge changes are:

G-/ C7/ F/ F7
Bb/ B dim/ G7/ C7

At first glance, this seems fine...But when you look closer, there’s something that isn’t totally unforced: B diminished going to G7.

Monk must agree, because he steadfastly avoids that G7, no matter what. After B diminished, his hands close naturally on F second inversion instead.

Unfortunately Terry’s tune highlights the G7 with a sustained B natural in the melody before going to a syncopated hit on the upbeat of C7. Sam and Philly Joe try to honor the chart but Monk doesn’t care. He isn’t gonna play that G7. Fuck that G7.

Monk’s authoritative comping makes anything sound cool, even when “wrong,” so the first three choruses - melody, Terry solo, Monk solo - skate the debated moment smoothly enough. But when Terry comes back for more, Monk stops playing nice. Monk refuses to play the bridge at all. Instead of a "B," Monk just plays “A” again. Terry’s second go becomes four “A’s” in a row. Wow!

Terry retires to think this over, during which Sam gets a shot, who gamely outlines the “correct” changes on the bridge. (Monk is utterly silent.) Kind of a long song at this point. Terry takes it home from “B,”  still without a G7 from Monk of course.

No second take! Apparently they all thought, “OK, that was cool, time for the next number.” And it is cool: swinging jazz, the truth of the blues, warts and all.

Monk’s mischief may be teaching a greater truth. I’d argue that his lesson is that Terry’s tune doesn’t need any waltzing “B” section whatsoever. The nice melody of “A” could just be 16 bars, two 8s with different closures, something like Horace Silver’s “The Preacher.” This folkloric solution would be more groovy than going to further progressions for a bridge.

"Trust in Me” Monk’s superb intro toys with the tune before a trademark cascade ends with a perfectly uniform downbeat by whole band. You aren’t going to get that to happen again, better make this the take!

Monk frequently played standard ballads, but usually they were trio or solo. I can’t think of a Tin Pan Alley number at drag tempo with Charlie Rouse in the lead.

How lovely to hear Terry’s sympathetic statement over those sweet and sour piano voicings. “Trust in Me.” This is essentially perfect music. If I have a quibble, it is with Sam Jones, who occasionally "waits to see what happens" instead of offering an unrepentant voice. In the liner notes to the collected Riverside Monk, Orrin Keepnews says that Wilbur Ware was supposed to be on the date but didn’t show. I would love to have heard how “Trust in Me” would sound with Ware, who (along with Mingus) was the most rogue bassist of the era.

I certainly don’t mean to criticize Sam unduly, who's generally fabulous on In Orbit. Keepnews in the collected set: "Thelonious was particularly pleased with the work of Sam Jones, who was making his first Riverside appearance, and several months later asked Sam to join his group."

"Let's Cool One" The original liners of In Orbit conclude with producer Keepnews noting that Philly Joe, “…Fulfilled a long-standing ambition to record with Monk.”

This makes sense: All great drummers love Thelonious Monk.

As far as I know, Philly Joe would end up working with Monk infrequently. Certainly In Orbit is their only studio meeting of consequence, and on In Orbit, “Let’s Cool One” is the lone Monk tune.

It seems like Philly Joe might have guessed that his was his only chance, for he makes the absolute most of playing a Monk tune with the composer.

Monk's incandescent mind was always working on several levels. The title “Let’s Cool One” may refer to the white West Coast “cool school,” who in 1958 were probably making much more money than the black East Coast cats. If so, the march of quarter notes in the first three bars is reasonably condescending: “When we are ‘cool,’ we can’t syncopate for shit.”

Philly Joe can lay down a carpet as well as anyone, but when playing the melody of “Let’s Cool One” he chooses to be fiercely interactive. Perhaps he is making a point about playing with Monk; perhaps he’s making a point about conservative West Coast drummers who always stayed in the background.

I like a lot of West Coast cool school jazz myself, but also love the vicious attack on the style that is the first chorus of this “Let’s Cool One.”

Admittedly, I might be overthinking all of this. At any rate, I can’t imagine Philly Joe playing this freely in a first chorus with his usual pianists Red Garland or Wynton Kelly.

The drummer keeps up the heat for the solos of Terry and Monk. Indeed, he’s so strong at the top of Terry that Sam falters for a moment: “Oh, wait, is this the drum solo now?” Eventually, Philly Joe does get a chorus of immortal unaccompanied statement. It’s so good that he seems to think he’ll go again, and rolls for a bar when Monk and Sam begin recap.

Terry joins for last “A” only. Clearly Monk never gave him any paper, for Terry (who was famous as an impeccable studio musician) actually manages to fluff the tiny little "cool" tune.

No matter. This is Thelonious Sphere Monk and Philly Joe Jones jazz at its finest. It simply doesn’t get any better.

"Pea-Eye" Terry's memorable ditty is two choruses of up E-flat blues with different endings. Monk seems to eye the conventional hard bop offbeats in the second chorus with suspicion, and decides that pedaling offbeat left hand B-flats is (just barely) enough.

Terry’s solo is perhaps his finest of the date. Terry was Miles Davis’s teacher, and this blistering fast blues (against nasty Philly Joe fills!) shows that the teacher still has the measure of the student.

Monk hangs in there, although he'd probably be the first to declare that his solo isn’t giving Bud Powell anything to lose sleep over. The way he lays out at the very end is just weird. Maybe he's looking for his beer or something.

"Argentina" The other “Perdido” number is a mellow swinger that suits this band almost as well as “Let’s Cool One.”  How wonderful to have a vital Monk solo on something we’d never have the chance to hear him reframe otherwise. I love Monk so much. Late in life, he called one of his compositions "Ugly Beauty." Honestly, is there any greater artistic truth than the idea of "ugly beauty?"

Sam gets an impressive statement, and Terry offers some improvised Monkish straight-eighths.

It's going great, but by this point, nobody expects Mr. “Doesn’t Play Well With Others” T. Monk to help the band find the most appropriate ending. This sleeper track (again) awkwardly concludes as piano-less trio.

"Moonlight Fiesta" However Philly Joe found what he found, Afro-Cuban was a part of it, and this novelty number gives him a chance to honor that debt. Sonny Greer and Ellington "jungle music" are also in the mix, especially since this was a Juan Tizol work originally written for Ellington.  "Fiesta" is nice and short and not too serious. Bravo. 

"Buck's Business" Another up blues, now in F, and Terry is more like Miles Davis than ever (except the influence went the other way around). Maybe Monk is getting to like these fast tempos, because for the first time it doesn’t seem like he’s ready to quit after a chorus or two. He's there, but then he's not: After the piano solo, it seems like Monk has left the studio, but then he sits back down and grudgingly participates in the final melody. Those chiming major seconds sound almost atonal considering the context.

"Very Near Blue" Sara Cassey wrote interesting mood pieces recorded by Johnny Griffin, Elvin Jones, Hank Jones, and others. “Very Near Blue” is something rather heraldic and mysterious in dark E minor. In descending order of excellence: Terry knows exactly what to do, proud and committed; Philly Joe on mallets hints at double-time Greer; Monk offers loud footballs that come across as more unsettled than helpful; Sam tries a walking march but eventually seems dogged rather than essential.

“Very Near Blue” is almost a truly unconventional masterwork but not enough consensus is reached within the ensemble. The track also lacks a real ending, as it seems like the producers looked for the most harmless (unplanned) fadeout.

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[Last two paragraphs updated slightly, additions in boldface. I was working a bit hastily this afternoon.]

I've loved In Orbit ever since I heard it; I also remember having the honor of being the first person to play this "Let's Cool One" for David King. It's very sad that Mr. Terry has passed...but on the other hand, Terry was 94, did here exactly what he was meant to do, and now is the right moment to relisten to his records and celebrate his legacy. I had so much fun going back and giving this essential document a serious listen. I didn't know Mr. Terry, but I'm pretty sure (from what everybody has said about him) that he wouldn't object to anybody having a good time with his music, even if the occasion is a sad one.

Some have found my writing above offensive. Apologies, but I stand by my interpretation. The mysteries of the greatest 20th-century American music are just starting to be unlocked in ways both academic and practical. My comments above are not definitive. 

02/23/2015

 

Listening Session:
Presidents' Day and Mad Magazine

Harry Truman plays Mozart (badly) at the White House.

Richard Nixon plays piano on Jack Parr (his own "music," but he didn't orchestrate the strings).

Bill Clinton, saxophonist, plays some of "God Bless the Child" on Arsenio Hall.

My centennial celebration of Lester Young.

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I haven't thought of that marvelous 1958 Mad Magazine spread on Hi-Fi in decades, but it came up in conversation recently and I just found it at this forum. These days I'm most impressed by the last page, record reviews and letters to the editor.

Mad3

02/16/2015

 

Choruses/Chori

Smith-bessie-good man is hard-1927

(image stolen from Obscure Queer Blues)

Recently I was struck by the utter perfection of "Bessie's Blues," the superb sermon on Coltrane's Crescent. Is this the greatest 3.5 minutes of music ever recorded?

That's pointless question, but at any rate "Bessie's Blues" is a rare Trane track that could have fit on a 78. Coltrane would help pioneer extended performances on LP but it's also worth remembering that Trane learned his Pres, Bird, and Dexter from single short sides of shellac. Perhaps "Bessie's Blues" is a tribute to a bygone era: Coltrane scholar Lewis Porter suspects that "Bessie" refers to Bessie Smith, who of course only recorded 78's.

Speculation aside, there's no doubt "Bessie's Blues" has it all in a short span. His quartet was at a rarified peak, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones handling rhythm and harmony in a phenomenally sophisticated manner while still staying utterly traditional.

(Joe Martin pointed out to me in conversation how the way "Bessie's" lays in the LP sequence proves that point as well: After the stunning impressionistic rhapsodies of "Crescent" and "Wise One," "Bessie's" brings us back to the blues.)

The older I get the more I begin to peep the idiosyncratic yet folkloric genius of McCoy Tyner. It's not just his soloing, but also his comping.

 

Bessie's 1

Bessie's 2

Bessie's 3

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"Bessie's Blues" started a Twitter convo about 3.5 min (or less) jazz tracks from LP era. There were more than I realized. Mark Stryker is the man you need for this kind of job, and he was first in with the worthiest contenders: 

"But Not For Me" Ahmad Jamal Incandescent trio with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier. I told Billy Hart that "But Not for Me" was less than 3.5 and he said, "That's not possible: there's so much there!" Good point. They even have time to modulate, for Christ's sake.

"Three Little Words" Sonny Rollins The studio trio with Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker. I've always been disappointed that it fades out at a moment of unreal frenzy, but Stryker's contention is that "Sonny's ENTIRE history is in these 2 minutes & change: bop to abstraction, command, sound..." (I admit that for the "modern jazz on 78" conceit I might put the simpler yet deeply swinging Sonny with Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes "The Last Time I Saw Paris.")

"Riot" Miles Davis The second quintet explains exactly what they are up to in this brief missive penned by Herbie Hancock. Miles, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie all solo freely on the kaleidoscopic diminished scale while Ron Carter and Tony Williams roil and rumble beneath.

Again, this is Stryker's list, thanks Mark. Well, if LPs are really coming back, I suppose the next step would be to press two 78's. The first one would be "But Not for Me" and "Three Little Words," the second would be "Bessie's Blues" and "Riot."  I would be curious to listen!

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Last weekend Will Robin wrote a valuable article for The New York Times about the influence of Thomas Adès. While citing Adés's achievements is worthy enough, Robin also provides a listening list of current compositions by younger American composers. Brilliant.

I went through a real Adés phase myself when those first EMI records started appearing around the turn of the century. There's no doubt in my mind he's the great composer of the era. One of these days I need to survey his canon, perhaps if I'm lucky even interview him.

Asyla comes up repeatedly in Robin's piece, with good reason. (I played “Ecstasio” for a class at Banff with Miguel Zenón in attendance: A few months later I ran into Miguel at the NYPL, where he was looking at the score.)

Dance rhythm plays an major part in "Ecstasio." First the techno is bizarrely polyrhythmic, then ruthlessly obvious, and finally disintegrates into reminiscence. (When I played it for Rodney Green, his comment was, "At the end of night you are on the subway going home but are still remembering the club.")

Adés's surreal (yet still dancing!) rhythms are special partly because he can play them himself. There's no better example of piano virtuosity than his own recording of the sublime Traced Overhead. I had to buy the score myself years ago; it is with mixed feelings I point the way to a YouTube of scrolling sight and sound

I don't know what Adés knows of jazz. However, in Concerto Conciso he pulled off a pretty goddamn convincing interpretation of clunky swing. For the initial piano thunks  - and indeed the "beat" that goes through the entire first movement - it sounds like a normal binary 2 or 4. However, a glance at the score gives away the secret: that "beat" is half-note triplets, an agent that works against eighths in the chamber orchestra just like Elvin Jones on "Bessie's Blues." There's even notated drum set that lurches into full activity towards the end. The drummer doesn't sound like Elvin, of course, but it is astonishingly not so far off from Paul Motian. Bravo. The future awaits.

02/12/2015

 

Rite On

The Bad Plus has generally had some very nice press about our version of The Rite of Spring, but this latest hit is one I particularly like. Jason Haaheim and Rob Knopper interviewed me at length, then Haaheim wrote it up for their blog at the Met Orchestra Musicians. This is the first time I've seen the byline, "principal timpanist." 

I plan to blog about the Met's production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress later this year; maybe even a photo blog, as Jason and Rob are threatening to let me go backstage. For now, thanks to their generosity, I'm going to check out the double-bill tomorrow night of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. I'm currently staying with a friend who adores Anna Netrebko, so we just watched an hour of extraordinary Netrebko videos. This has made me excited for the Tchaikovsky; before this sudden immersion I was really just laying for the Bartók, as everyone in town is saying that Bluebeard is terrific production.

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It's not online, but the current issue of JazzTimes (Sun Ra is on the cover) has me participating in a Before and After hosted by David Adler. I like this one too; David chose very well selecting things I could sound reasonably intelligent talking about. 

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Sarah Deming: Fact-Checking the Atlantic's The Real Knockouts of Women's Boxing. Sarah's gym was also in the NY Times recently: Giving Young Athletes in New York a Fighting Chance.

RIP Ward Swingle. I have a soft spot for that first Bach LP, who doesn't? At Rifftides Doug Ramsey found a video of my favorite Swingle arrangement, the opening of the C Minor Partita. Christiane Legrand takes the long solo. Fabulous.

Finally, this is clearly the next step in human evolution: Publio Delgado harmonizes an TV ad for Jones Storage.

02/02/2015

 

Masterclass is On for Tonight

Tonight, starting at 7 PM, my free masterclass.

“The Drawing Room”

56 Willoughby St. #3

btw Jay and Lawrence St. in downtown Brooklyn. Almost every subway train gets extremely close: Borough Hall for 4/5, Hoyt St for 2/3, Jay St for A/C/F…the very closest stop is Lawrence on R.

Mostly for pianists; others welcome too. 

IMG_5097

(Last night my apartment building was on fire. A big drag, but everyone is fine. Also my libraries of crime fiction and jazz records survived untouched, so DTM marches onward unscathed!)

01/21/2015

 

The Function of Education Is to Teach One to
Think Intensively and to Think Critically

Selma is wonderful! Highly recommended. I saw it yesterday at BAM with a packed house. So, so good. Kudos to my man Jason Moran for the score; however the real relevation for this viewer was David Oyelowo as Dr. King.  Tom Wilkinson as LBJ was terrific too. When Oyelowo and Wilkinson were onscreen together it was simply electric. Now I need to catch up with the other work of director Ava DuVernay.

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Recent reading includes two books especially relevant to MLK day: 

Carl Van Vechten was multi-talented and prolific novelist, partier, photographer, and critic. He turns up everywhere when considering New York City in the 20's and 30's. Emily Bernard has focused on the most controversial part of his legacy in Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White

The blurb from Elizabeth Alexander on the back of the book couldn't be better:

An intrepid scholar, Bernard dives right into the waters of racial misunderstanding, political incorrectness, and unfettered love that drove Van Vechten's career. This is a passionate, dead-serious exploration of and meditation on nothing less than negrophilia and its cultural yield.

I knew Bernard previously thanks to her superb essay "Teaching the N-Word," where she mentions frequently using Van Vechten's 1926 novel Nigger Heaven in class. In A Portrait in Black and White Bernard has the opportunity to unpack Nigger Heaven and its perennially provocative title in detail. It is simply a fascinating analysis. 

Besides Van Vechten, I learned a lot more about James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and many other major figures of the Renaissance. I can fake my way through a discussion of black jazz of this era but I still have a lot of homework to do about fiction, poetry, and the visual arts. Thanks to Bernard I'm more intrigued than ever.

Read Bernard's post on her relationship to Van Vechten and the genesis of this book at Yale Press.

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Ed Berger does jazz history a special service by getting to know his heroes while working on biographies that end up being unusually definitive. I was impressed by Berger's big book on Benny Carter; now we have Softly, with Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music. Berger showed a final copy to the trumpet player shortly he died last year.

Wilder was a superb musician, someone of whom the phrase "could play anything" almost sells the matter short. Interestingly, in the book Wilder himself says that he was a more natural classical musician first, that playing jazz was more of an acquired study.

This is rare admission to make. Herbie Hancock told me the same thing in conversation once, but I didn't really believe him, as Hancock has done so much with so many forms of black dance music in a manner that seems as natural as breathing. In Wilder's case, this claim scans as more likely, at least in sense that his hard-to-find classical recital on Golden Crest is simple and perfect, not to mention that he spent his whole life in the studios, on society gigs, in Broadway pits, and even doing the occasional orchestral performance. (Apparently the exposed trumpet part in Petrushka was a Wilder specialty.)

It is easy to regret that there is not enough Wilder in free-wheeling jazz blowing sessions. Berger highlights the 1956 quartet date with Hank Jones, Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke Wilder 'n Wilder, especially a long and groovy "Cherokee" with impeccable taste, charming melodic invention, and sovereign chops. 

But Berger also makes it crystal clear that playing jazz was just part of Wilder's story. Breaking of Barriers in American Music lives up to its title as Wilder helps integrate the Armed Forces, Broadway, staff orchestras, and symphonic orchestras.  I was especially impressed with Berger's research in the long chapter "A Dream Realized: Return to Classical Music (1964-1974)," much of which concerns Wilder only indirectly. 

Read Berger's 2001 profile of Wilder in JazzTimes.

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Blacks in classical music is a troubled topic, then and now. Last week on Twitter, saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman (who generously posted his interview with Jackie McLean on DTM) referenced a worthy essay by George Lewis, "Improvised Music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives."

Lewis, a brilliant man, is really on to something.

In developing a hermeneutics of improvisative music, the study of two major American postwar real-time traditions is key. These traditions are exemplified by the two towering figures of 1950s American experimental musics--Charlie "Bird" Parker and John Cage. The work of these two crucially important music-makers has had important implications not only within their respective traditions but intertraditionally as well. The compositions of both artists are widely influential, but I would submit that it is their real-time work that has had the widest impact upon world musical culture. The musics made by these two artists, and by their successors, may be seen as exemplifying two very different conceptions of real-time music-making. These differences encompass not only music but areas once thought of as "extra-musical," including race and ethnicity, class, and social and political philosophy.

Lewis than goes on to bash Cage for not appreciating jazz. This lovely bit is really the heart of the matter:

John Cage's critique of jazz-well presented in his 1966 interview with the jazz critic Michael Zwerin-is of relatively little value as music criticism but may serve us well here as a textbook example of the power relationships that Fiske has recognized. In response to Zwerin's query about his thoughts on jazz, Cage replies, "I don't think about jazz, but I love to talk, so by all means, come on up" (Zwerin 1991,161).

To this African-American observer, situated in the 1990s, the interview should perhaps have ended there. From a 1960s perspective, however, we are in the presence of power, as two white males prepare to discuss "the trouble with black people" without, in the declining days of American high media apartheid, having to worry about a response. Even on a subject to which he freely admitted his lack of attention, Cage's opinion was apparently deemed sufficiently authoritative, by the structures of media power that decide such things, for the interview to continue and, finally, to be published and reprinted.

I have two problems with Lewis's essay. The first is the same that I have with his essential book A Power Stronger than Itself: The A.A.C.M. and American Experimental Music: a strange lack of discussion about rhythm. To me, all the true virtuosos of jazz (or Afrological or BAM or anything else you prefer to call it) are virtuosos of rhythm almost before they are virtuosos of anything else. At the very least, when separating jazz and classical players at an audition where they have to play both musics, inevitably the jazz cats will be able to play the notes of whatever classical piece (as long as it's not too hard) but the classical cats won't be able to play any uncomplicated jazz with the right kind of beat. 

George Lewis can swing on his trombone. I've heard him do it! So I don't know why he avoids the words "rhythm" or "swing" in his eight paragraphs about Bird and bebop. With all due respect, surely the Langston Hughes origin story about bebop, that it comes from

...The police beating Negroes' heads . . . that old club says, 'BOP! BOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . That's where Be-Bop came from, beaten right out of some Negro's head into them horns.

is simply less accurate than that those accents come from ancient, exceedingly complex and intellectual Afro-Cuban drums.

But maybe Lewis is acting like some of his elders, not telling the truth about how the music gets made to protect the secrets from getting out. (I understand that discretionary attitude, although of course I wage postmodern warfare on it weekly from my outpost here at DTM.)

The other thing that bothers me about Lewis's essay is the general conceit of comparing Charlie Parker to John Cage. I respect Cage, of course, but the idea of putting him next to Bird is simply ridiculous. Bird is so much greater. Cage isn't even fit to shine Bird's shoes. 

Still, it's good -- especially on MLK day -- to have Lewis remind me that this opinion may not be so obvious in all circles, even in spheres usually considered to be moderately informed about music.

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On a lighter note, my wife Sarah Deming dug up the retro local access madness of Star and Buc Wild, the "Universal Playerhaters," which she called "the best TV show ever."

Six parts from 1999 are on YouTube. It's totally genius. My man is quiet Buc Wild, who says little (he's usually eating) yet somehow complements every moment perfectly. Big ups also to the tasty set. Part 4 is a good entry point, although all the clip contain comedy gold. (NSFW?)

01/19/2015

 

That Was the Curious Incident

Many people know David King is a very funny man. Indeed, the (great) group Happy Apple has a cult following partly due to Dave's extended and profoundly hilarious commentary on the mic. He has never been the MC for The Bad Plus, I think because Dave knows that he would end up taking over the entire gig.

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Musical instruction videos tend to be pretty boring. Drum instruction videos can be especially terrible: 98% of the time they are fusionistas riffing about chops in an inane and unmusical manner. 

At long last, Dave is offering his own take on this genre: Rational Funk. There are six videos so far on his You Tube channel. Hard to chose amongst such riches, but episode two's exploration of the one-handed snare roll is really quite touching.

Of course much of what Dave is up to here is biting satire, but don't worry, the drumming is still authentically awesome. When he makes fun of people studying Cuban music ("be sure to get Miami Sound Machine and Buena Vista Social Club") check out what he actually plays with the conga. (I've actually never even seen him with a conga before, I wonder where he got it? Dave King definitely does not own a conga.)

After he becomes an international sensation with his pedagogy, I hope Dave will still have time to play with me and Reid...

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A new friend is classical pianist Yegor Shevtsov. Yegor just gave me his excellent CD ...avec un frisson: Late Piano Works of Debussy & Boulez.  It's a really lovely listen. For me, I was most excited to learn of Boulez's Incises, a work that exists in several versions. At ten minutes, the 2001 piano piece is a perfect blast of charismatic modernism.

The performance on CD is even better, with repeated notes that are even more deadly, but those curious about this major addition to the repertoire can whet their appetite with this well-produced YouTube of Yegor playing Incises in concert.

01/17/2015

 

Friends and Neighbors

Congratulations to Jazz at the Bistro for a wonderful upgrade and remodeling job. It was always fun to play here, now the experience is deluxe. The Harold & Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz in Grand Center joins SF Jazz and JALC as a multi-fold dedicated space for jazz. 

This reminds me to tell St. Louis fans to visit Dean Minderman's blog for local news and updates.

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In New York, of course, Winter Jazz Fest is going on. I'd be there if I could, although I'd be torn, because the newish supergroup Heads of State (Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Al Foster) is uptown at Smoke. Rumor has it that they are going into the studio very soon...

Johnny Gandelsman is also playing the complete unaccompanied Bach violin works at Bargemusic tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Jeremy Eichler reviewed Johnny's Boston gig earlier this week.

At any rate, New Yorkers have no excuse for staying home tonight! Always go out.

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Kyle Gann transcribes Ives. A very important post.

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On Twitter, there was a bit of amusing back and forth about the bootleg of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson playing "Sweet Georgia Brown" in 1958. It's regrettably hard to hear, but I find it intriguing that this tempo would even be on the table for these musicians at a jam session. It's a window into how the jazz greats of the era practiced: "As fast as possible" was really important.

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Photographer John Rogers sent me a YouTube playlist of not just jazz but all sorts of interesting American music. 

 

01/10/2015

 

Floyd Camembert Reports

TBP is not so busy for the first few months of 2015, so I'm having two free masterclasses on consecutive Wednesdays:

January 14 and 21

from 7-10 PM

“The Drawing Room”

56 Willoughby St. #3

btw Jay and Lawrence St. in downtown Brooklyn. Almost every subway train gets extremely close: Borough Hall for 4/5, Hoyt St for 2/3, Jay St for A/C/F…the very closest stop is Lawrence on R.

Mostly for pianists; others welcome too. 

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On Tuesday January 13 there is an impressive free memorial gathering for Charlie Haden at Town Hall produced by Ruth Cameron. H'mm, I'll be there of course but (although I'm listed) I am not playing - not that that galaxy of greats needs my help! 

A week later, on January 20, there's another major gala, this one in the name of saxophone great Michael Brecker and benefiting Cancer Research at Columbia University Medical Center and the work of Azra Raza, MD & Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD. DPhil. Notable stars will include James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bobby McFerrin, Randy Brecker, and Dianne Reeves. More details and tickets here.

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A few TBP hits, copied from website:

January

23 Northampton, MA -- Iron Horse
24 Boston, MA -- Berklee Performance Center - Science Fiction with Tim Berne, Ron Miles, and Sam Newsome

February 

27 Quito, ECU -- Fundacion Teatro Nacional Sucre

March 

25 Holland, MI -- Knickerbocker Theatre
27 Knoxville, TN -- Big Ears Festival, Great Hall

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The first week of March the Tootie Heath - Iverson - Ben Street trio plays the Village Vanguard. There will also be a new album, Philadelphia Beat.

01/06/2015

 

Frankie Dunlop and John Ore

Thelonious Monk emphasized rhythm in a manner that encouraged drummers. Some of the most exciting moments of Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, and Max Roach on record are occasions when they sparred with Monk.

Naturally, Monk couldn’t always get the big stars for his working band, so he looked for the best available swingers that could keep his furnace heated. Frankie Dunlop held it down for about three or four years in the early 60's.

Dunlop was a big band drummer who hit hard. Before Monk, Dunlop played with Maynard Ferguson, afterwards with Lionel Hampton. For Modern Drummer, Dunlop talked about Monk and big band music, especially Jimmie Lunceford, in one of the most interesting interviews ever done by a Monk sideman. (The best parts of this interview can be found at Todd Bishop's site.)

There was something else that Dunlop had besides swing. Something a little surreal in the language. It’s not totally slick and level-headed like Ben Riley or Shadow Wilson. There’s a hint of clunky and disorganized, like a little kid beating on pots and pans. For a big-band drummer, he can be unusually indifferent to setting up hits during the heads of Monk’s tunes.

(This sounds like Paul Motian, and, indeed, in my opinion, the two are very similar. Interestingly, Motian credited Lunceford's drummer Jimmy Crawford as a primary inspiration.)

Dunlop sounds wonderful on the Columbia studio records with Monk, but even better are the many live documents of the working quartet with Charlie Rouse on tenor and either John Ore or Butch Warren on bass. 

John Ore was also a kind of rogue musician. His lines don't outline the changes so much as create a groovy and grinding lower space. I admit to loving Butch Warren even more but there's no doubt Ore sounds truly great playing with Monk as well.

To close out Monk's contract with Riverside, Orrin Keepnews put out Two Hours with Thelonious, live gigs of the quartet with Rouse, Ore, and Dunlop in 1961. While seldom cited in jazz histories, this two-record set has always been beloved by musicians. There's just something really correct about it.

Just for fun, here is Dunlop setting up "Jackie-ing." He couldn't play the melody more clearly, but somehow Rouse doesn't know where to come in.

Dunlop intro on Jackie-Ing

I guess it was always Dunlop's gig to be misunderstood, underrated, or mysterious. To my mind he was always one of the great jazz musicians, and arguably the most perfect drummer for Monk, but I didn't even know he had still been alive when he passed away this past summer. John Ore wasn't my man, not in the same way Dunlop was, but when he passed away in late August I was again ashamed at not knowing that he had been around, either.

Neither man has had a proper obituary that I've seen. 

To celebrate them at the close of this rather rough 2014, here's Thelonious Monk's solo on "Bemsha Swing" from Two Hours with Thelonious. Monk starts strong, but he gradually plays less and less. Perhaps he's listening to his great rhythm section and realizing he doesn't even need to be there. Eventually he winds up mid-chorus, and Dunlop and Ore just keep swinging.

Monk bemsha 1

Monk Bemsha 2

Monk on Bemsha Swing

12/31/2014

 

Give

One day left for Vision Fest to reach its mark. Vision Fest is a crucial showcase for many of the music's most radical and freewheeling improvisors.

Another recommended tax write-off is Dance Heginbotham's Campaign to Sustain. I've known John for years, he's brilliant. This coming summer we will premiere the dance and piano collaboration Easy Win together. (More on that later.)

I'm also donating to Wikipedia and IMSLP just because I use their free services so much.

12/30/2014

 

Getting There

"Five Awkward Conversations with Paul Motian" by Vinnie Sperrazza. This utterly marvelous piece really gives a sense of what it was like to interact with Paul. Sincere kudos to Sperrazza, his whole blog is great. 

Kevin Sun has become one of the more active and interesting jazz bloggers. I'm pleased about his DTM references in this Bud Powell transcription and commentary.

Hank Shteamer on the new (!) Ornette Coleman album.

Alex Ross on organ music.

Interview with Sarah Deming.

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RIP Joseph Sargent. The Taking of Pelham 123 remains one of the great grungy '70's NYC movies, with a memorable "12-tone funk" score by David Shire. A perfect film for a slow holiday afternoon...

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I've seen a few "best of 2014" crime fiction lists. Perfidia by James Ellroy is usually there, but I must disagree, I quit after 200 pages. Ellroy is now a parody of himself. Of course there's still some genius in anything that Ellroy writes, but overall I find the work hopelessly out of balance. The reveal of Dudley Smith's daughter was a new low.

A book not on any lists is Storm Front by John Sandford. Probably Sandford is too popular for critical acclaim, but here is one working-class crime novelist who just keeps bettering his game. In Storm Front he is starting to get on the turf of Donald Westlake and Ross Thomas. (I'm serious.) The characters are human, the one-liners are hilarious, and there is not one violent death.

I never thought I'd say this, but James Ellroy should take some lessons from John Sandford.

12/28/2014