This week, Dave King rolls into town with a whole lot of music! Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Shapeshifter Lab, presented by Search and Restore. Full details here.
Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso have been leading the Creative Music Foundation since 1971, and the next workshop is in June. More details about this famous project here. Deadline March 19.
The Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street, and me has our second album out ECM, One Is the Other.
We are at Birdland this week Tuesday through Saturday. Please brave the endless winter and come out! Billy loves signing CDs if you can chase him down.
If the BHQ doesn't appeal, then there so much other great jazz in the clubs this week: Barry Harris, Ray Drummond and Leroy Williams at the Vanguard; Donald Harrison, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham at the Blue Note; something new every night as Smalls, Shapeshifter, and many other venues. I've heard the weather has really hurt business everywhere, so if you are on the fence jump off of it and support live music, everyone needs your support.
The BHQ is doing a European tour in May and virtually our first domestic Midwest and West Coast plays in June. More on that later.
Several months ago I quickly jotted the below as potential liner notes or press release for One Is the Other.
Lennie Groove (Turner) Mark Turner’s melding of Tristano and clave was recorded years ago on the early Turner album In This World. Since then, it has become a classic, with many musicians trying their hand at its stunning complexities: odd meter, unusual bass line, fast doubled melody. My intro suggests Tristano sped up and spun out.
Maraschino (Iverson) The blues may come in any and all colors. Perhaps a wisp of Paul Bley is here, along with collective free improvisation that strives for structural integrity. Billy Hart’s brushwork is masterful, so swinging yet without any clear pulse.
Teule’s Redemption (Hart) This was written for one of Billy Hart’s sons, a two-part work that eventually allows Ben Street and Hart to work closely on a powerful groove. Turner’s solo takes flight.
Amethyst (Hart) This unusual through-composed piece is another gateway to free improvisation. At one moment Hart and I are left to ourselves, allowing cubist patterns to repeat and develop.
Yard (Hart) He was there, right on the scene, when jazz began embracing the even-eighth note as a legitimate resource. This blues connects Charlie Parker with all those grooves Hart played with Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and so many others. The fierce abstraction achieved by every member of the group attests to a long working relationship.
Sonnet for Stevie (Turner) A swing piece for Stevie Wonder shows moody restraint, although the form is deceptively complex. Hart joked after listening to playback, "It's like Kind of Blue."
Some Enchanted Evening (Rodgers/Hammerstein) This group doesn’t play many standards, but in this case Hart (who loves musicals) wanted something for almost for encore purposes, a gentle reframing of the familiar.
Big Trees (Iverson) Specifically written as a drum feature. The idea of “rhythm changes” lurks in the background but is quickly discarded by the ensemble. The drumming may momentarily suggest other masters like Ed Blackwell or Max Roach but in the end Billy Hart sounds like nobody but himself.
The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome plays Monk and Ellington is a single track, available for less than two dollars from CD Baby and iTunes. More about it on Sam's blog.
Sam explores "Sophisticated Lady," "Misterioso," "Ask Me Now," and "In a Sentimental Mood" in a long medley. It's very abstract but intensely compelling. There's no one else that does what Sam does, period.
I've gotten to hear all these arrangements before live, and some of them are already recorded, but I can understand why Sam wanted to release this version. It's got a wonderful acoustic, the performances are inspired, and you can hear the audience listening hard.
Philip Sandifer has several books out. I supported his Kickstarter and received the first four volumes of Tardis Eruditorium recently. Those are all about Doctor Who, my ancient and still moderately ardent love. I naturally read the last one first, as this is about the era I know best, Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe. I enjoyed his blog entries, but reading them in a brilliantly packaged paperbound book was even better. (There's also new content.)
I don't know anything about Wonder Woman, but since I admire Sandifer, I got A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman too. Wow. Lots of interesting stuff here! I admit I just skipped around, looking at how the comic began, a long chapter about famous television show, and Sandifer's thoughtful coda. Still worth every penny.
Support your self-produced artists! This is clearly the way now: Many of our best just do it on their own.
(Another Philip Sandifer fan is Matthew Guerrieri, who does something for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony like Sandifer does for pop culture. The First Four Notes is just about to come out in paperback, so there's no excuse not to take a look.)
I asked my Twitter followers, "Yr favorite TV themes are...?"
Two relevant to jazz not mentioned are the The Price is Right, with a wildly funky bassist and sort of celebratory Afro-centric vibe put on a Charles Strouse tune (I don't know the arrangers or performers) and Roger Kellaway's piano on All in the Family.
I think the one theme that didn't come up - until a last minute tweet by Ted Reichman - that means a lot to me personally is The Twilight Zone by Marius Constant. This is (relatively) hardcore European modernism, a style I had no youthful access to in any other way but from the television. Much of the incidental music for TZ was just as important and truly top-drawer, with many big names like Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, and Bernard Herrmann (who contributed a theme tune as well).
That TZ music, just like the music for Doctor Who by Delia Derbyshire, Ron Grainer, Malcolm Hulke, Dudley Simpson, Paddy Kingsland and others, was crucial to my development as a musician. A blessed gateway to the strange.
Thanks to all!
Thank you, Lara St. John, for this amusing post about the (terrible) music to Game of Thrones. As always, DTM's slogan remains "Save Commercial Music" and her offer of genuine cello is a step in the right direction.
I wish that tune was a bit better, though. A favorite CD to play at parties is TV Guide: 50 All-Time Favorite TV Themes, covering the years 1953 to 2002, and the last ten are so much worse than the previous 40. More recently I don't like the themes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or House of Cards, either.
What is my most recent favorite theme? I have a Pavlovian response to Buffy mostly because I adore the show, but it also has some really unusual harmonic movement (admittedly of the bar chord "metal" type). Sherlock's main title is cookie-cutter but the incidental music is tuneful and memorable. Certain jazz musicians like Bear McCreary's work: Caprica in particular is distinctive.
Probably I'd need to go back a few decades to find themes I really respected as serious composition. Some of the Brits were wonderful: Howard Goodall for Mr. Bean (I recorded that with Bill McHenry), Carl Davis for The Day the Universe Changed, Geoffrey Burgon for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Dudley Simpson for Blake's 7, Barrington Pheloung for Inspector Morse.
Related twitter chatter from Ted Reichman alerted me to this grim Deadline article about "Self-financing composers" in high-end TV. Good lord. SAVE COMMERCIAL MUSIC.
D:O! was right there at the beginning of the jazz blogosphere, predating DTM slightly. In those first exciting years there were many connections between us; we were almost sister sites.
In a way I'm not surprised there won't be any new content, because they have covered so much. Surely every major avant jazz leader got their own post. There's always more and more obscure music, of course, but as far as covering the important bases, they did it.
D:O! was an influence on DTM and the way I see avant jazz in general. Thanks so much, Chilly Jay Chill and Prof. Drew LeDrew.
And I've just learned that drummer Bobby Thomas died late last year. [Wikipedia] I knew Thomas best as part of the Billy Taylor trio on CBS Sunday Morning, and remember a delightful bit where Thomas played a swinging waltz solo for Charles Kuralt.
How sad and shocking to learn of the passing of Rich McDonnell. Just last month we spent the day together, and I wrote up "A Visit to MAXJAZZ" for DTM.
We have lost a real warrior for our side.
Sincere condolences to Clayton and the rest of Rich's family.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch obit by Kevin C. Johnson.
St. Louis Jazz Notes obit by Dean Minderman.
Misunderstandings about Duke Ellington continue. Maria Popova just posted a shocking piece that goes all out to give the impression that Duke didn’t write the music he’s famous for.
What Ellington did was simply follow the fundamental impetus of the creative spirit to combine and recombine old ideas into new ones. How he did it, however, was a failure of creative integrity. Attribution matters, however high up the genius food chain one may be.
Of course there is a hell of a lot (over 1600 pieces?) of Ellington music that he wrote entirely alone. What Popova is talking about are some of the most famous tunes from the early years.
Perhaps I didn’t engage with this specific area enough in the recent essay “Reverential Gesture.” Formal compositional attribution is often a red herring in jazz. One reason I’ve always known this is from Duke Ellington records, where pieces from the early years have the white publisher attached as a kind of permanent indenture.
Quick: whistle something from Stravinsky!
Chances are, you whistled the opening to The Rite of Spring. That iconic phrase has an interesting provenance: Stravinsky admitted that he took it from a book of folk melodies.
This was his source:
This was his transmutation:
The source could never have been a hit. But Stravinsky’s asymmetric rhythm and the astonishing orchestration (the highest notes of the bassoon) made it an earworm.
I am absolutely convinced this is what Duke did with fragments from the early horn players as well. None of them - not a single Duke horn player, ever! - has contributed a standard to the repertoire. It was the settings that made these fragments famous.
Is the B section of “Mood Indigo” by Barney Bigard - except maybe it really was taken from Bigard’s teacher, or maybe somewhere else in New Orleans - that great a tune?
No. It is not. It’s awfully foursquare, which is why modern jazz musicians rarely play it.
But there was just barely enough there to inspire a “Mood” from Duke. That mood originated with him and suffuses his whole canon. That mood immortalized horn phrases from the jazz community the same way Bach's harmonizations immortalized chorale tunes from the Lutheran community. (Thanks to Matthew Guerrieri for that comparison.)
I don’t deny that Duke occasionally fiddled with attribution to keep as much royalties in his house as he could. But those eager to fault him for a "failure of creative integrity" must also remember: Everyone who loves jazz has always known how important dozens of great musicians were to Duke Ellington and the sound of Ellington's music. No other bandleader has shined such a powerful light on so many of his team.
Looking at Popova’s site further, I came across an earlier piece about Duke that is even more shocking:
Ellington was especially attached to the idea of serving as a spokesperson for African Americans — an aspiration admirable enough on the surface, but only if unbridled from ego and self-inflation, something of which Ellington was far from innocent given the amount of personal publicity he poured into his objective.
Duke undoubtedly did contribute to racial healing, partly through works that were proudly Afro-American in title. I can’t understand why anyone would want to take that away from him. That is not Terry Teachout’s perspective, it is Popova’s. She is in dangerous waters.
At the other end of the spectrum, the internet has another mild convulsion about the supposed death of classical music, this time begun by Mark Vanhoenacker in Slate.
This kind of think piece seems to crop up annually, but maybe Will Robin’s devastating response to Vanhoenacker on the New Yorker blog will keep doomsayers quiet for a while.
Those that attack classical music as irrelevant never seem to understand that writing it all down has pleasures and uses that can’t be replaced. Of course, all kinds of music interface with notation these days, but classical music remains the genre that generates intensely detailed manuscript requiring no recordings or community folklore to be understood.
In the wake of Vanhoenacker, Matthew Guerrieri proposed an amusing T-shirt where the word “necrophiliac” is made out of esoteric symbols from orchestral scores.
Full notation is a powerful resource that enables composers of a certain temperament to give their best. And if one of those types doesn’t succeed during their lifetime, there’s at least a chance that they will be discovered and understood by future generations.
It’s actually a boon time for classical music. Now that the biggest names have been programmed and recorded over and over again, lesser known but significant figures are finally getting their chance. This is the theme of my two classical reviews for The Talkhouse, Hamelin plays Busoni and Staier plays melancholy harpsichord.
I was also proud to be part of a recent concert performing rarely heard works by Miriam Gideon, Louise Talma, and Vivian Fine. It was just one fun gig. It wasn’t reviewed; there was no buzz; it didn’t herald an immediate renaissance in Fine, Gideon, or Talma. But the scores aren’t going anywhere. They are currently on the shelves of libraries and when the copyright runs out, they’ll be up at IMSLP. Talma’s Piano Sonata No. 2 will keep being discovered by the perpetually curious, and eventually it will have its proper place as one of the best 20-century American piano sonatas.
Contemporary classical composition is enjoying unprecedented stylistic diversity. I wish I could keep up more with everything than I do. I have a few favorite contemporary composers, but - just like me - they aren’t getting younger. I wrote about Peter Lieberson when he died. Rzewski, Birtwistle and Reimann are getting on in years. Even Poul Ruders is 64 already.
Speaking of Frederic Rzewski, I was intrigued by his pessimistic response to Will Robin’s piece in the comments. (I've waited a couple of weeks to see if anyone has said that this wasn't Rzewski - sincerest apologies if it was an impostor.)
What has captured this imagination (and the industrially-created market for "classical contemporary") are people like Steve Reich, who, although very skillful at what he does, can in no way be compared (as a composer in the traditional sense) with someone like Carter.
It’s true that I never felt the need to look at the score of my favorite Reich record, Tehillim from 1981, because it felt like I could hear it easily enough. Is that what Rzewski means about Reich vs. Elliott Carter? I enjoy Carter more when I have a score in hand than when I don’t.
For me, Reich is at his best with a close band of intimates, and Tehillim is a good example of band music. “Performer-proof” scores requiring symbols from the necrophiliac T-shirt shouldn’t be required in this situation. More power to Reich for getting his rhythmic folklore in fair order: "Steve Reich and Musicians" (a steadily working ensemble at that point) includes ringers like jazz vocalist Jay Clayton and professional world music percussionist Glen Velez.
Who am I to criticize Fredric Rzewski? But I’ve long wished that he worried less about “performer-proof” scores and made some more recordings as improvising pianist. He’s a one of a kind genius in that realm. Some of his own recent written music, like The Road, is comparatively anonymous. Enough of that. Rzewski should go into the recording studio and blow.
However, it’s true that the score to The Road isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps it is going to be properly comprehended in the future. At any rate, it is already up at IMSLP.
Improvisation, composition, tunes, settings - it’s up to the artist to determine what makes the right statement. Duke's band onstage; the score of Talma’s Piano Sonata No. 2; the record of Tehillim: these are all correct solutions.
I’ve finally heard Caroline Shaw’s award-winning Partita for eight voices. It's easy to imagine how much fun Roomful of Teeth must have had when working out how to perform this delightful collection of subversive ideas.
Partita is fully notated, and excerpts can be seen on Shaw’s website.
Unfortunately I got to Shaw in a backwards fashion, though a New York Times video of an “Improvisation.” I recoiled in horror the first time I saw it. On second viewing it wasn’t so bad, although it remains a collection of dated modal loops. Sternly auditing Partita was a relief.
Shaw is part of a current movement by some contemporary classical composers to embrace rock, pop, and electronica. It’s a worthy endeavor to be sure. There are growing pains, but there always are.
Almost a century ago composers started trying to put jazz in fully notated music. Most of it didn’t work, but a few things are still fun to hear, and the best deserve steady rotation. Thanks to Mark Stryker for linking to my Morton Gould celebration when reviewing a recent Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert.
Jazz appropriations work best when they are almost totally sublimated, as in Gould’s Symphony of Spirituals. Literal appropriations are problematic. When walking bass shows up in Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes for Paul Klee, it mars an otherwise excellent work. I see Shaw’s Partita and "Improvisation" in exactly the same light: one is vital, the other is flat.
Steve Reich always talks about Kenny Clarke, but he never tried to make some classical percussionist play a swing beat on a ride cymbal. Instead Reich wrote his own rhythms that have become venacular for modern chamber ensembles.
I predict that the path for appropriations of rock and electronica by classical composers will be similar. As always, an echo of folkloric music will inspire new transfigurations from those most inspired by full notation. It’s already happening but the best is surely in the future.
Related DTM: Interview with Marc-André Hamelin.
Bonus tracks cut from the Talkhouse review:
...Egon Petri, a titan of the keyboard whose 1937 rendering of Lizst’s "Ricordanza" frequently turns up on connoisseur’s lists of the very best ever, seems a bit confounded in the earliest recording of original Busoni that I know of, “All’Italia” from 1938. The textures are a bit unclear. Certainly the cheeky final cadence - in the wrong key, of course, a Busoni trademark - reads as flat instead of sardonic. Maybe Petri played it because it was dedicated to him.
...My own first serious interest in Busoni as original composer started with Paul Jacobs's incredible 1976 Nonesuch album of etudes by Bartók, Busoni, Stravinsky, and Messiaen. This disc, especially the Busoni, is also a favorite of Brad Mehldau.
...A passage like the following from the Second Sonatina makes a pianist scream in exasperation. A midrange melody should just peek out between a slow canon of stacked triads whispered at the softest dynamic. It’s not that the notes are so hard to play - although I doubt anyone could sight read it easily - but getting the right effect requires all manner of subtle maneuvers by all four limbs.
Yesterday we took Tootie Heath to his old neighborhood in South Philly.
He stood outside the house he grew up from 12 years on.
His old buddy saxophonist Sam Reed still lives in the neighborhood, and they posed outside the Lincoln Post, where Tootie heard his first live drums as part of the local marching band.
Tonight at the Falcon, we had some really nice special guests in the audience.
(Cameron Brown, me, Tootie Heath, Ben Street, Adam Nussbaum)
Cameron told me that his first time playing with Tootie was when Cameron was 19, with George Russell's sextet, documented on Sextet at Beethoven Hall. That reminded me that when I was 19 or 20, I played with Cameron backing the Kim Kalesti/Marion Cowings vocal duo. Winard Harper was the drummer. (I couldn't believe I had just moved to New York and was playing with people I had heard on records.)
What goes around comes around? I hardly ever work with a younger musician, but Ben Street is suddenly raptured away to Japan with Aaron Parks and Billy Hart. To complete the Tootie's Tempo run, Martin Nevin is stepping in. Martin has a big sound, great time, a genuine melodic sense, and loves all the right cats: Wilbur, Jimmy, Ron, Charlie, Street. Tootie and I are looking forward to playing with him.
Jan 29 Smalls (NYC)
30 Smalls (NYC)
31 Bohemian Caverns (DC)
Feb 1 Ars Nova (Philly)
Sources report that Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos at the Vanguard this week is as great as ever. Mark Turner's fabulous band is there next week.
Marc-André Hamelin is at Zankel Monday the 27th. He is also playing more intimate venues tomorrow and Sunday in MA; details here.
I've been listening in awe to Hamelin's latest recording, Busoni: Late Piano Music. More on that soon.
Also on Monday, but at noon in DC, the Library of Congress is celebrating the acquisition of the Max Roach papers. Details here.
The Dwanye Burno memorial is February 1; details here.
James P. Johnson updates:
Hannaford cites my DTM essay, which has just been updated with a transcription of "Feelin' Blue" by Collin Van Ryn. It's nice that younger players are checking out The Dean of Jazz Pianists.