Just a quick note about some NYC jazz pianists:
I recently hung out with Michael Weiss, who has played with everybody, perhaps most impressively so on the Johnny Griffin to Benny Golson to Charles McPherson axis. Michael is at Smalls Friday and Saturday with David Wong and my main man Tootie Heath.
Across the street at the same time is Larry Willis and Buster Williams at Mezzrow. If I were in town I'd definitely make a night of it and see both gigs.
In related news, David Hazeltine has just released I Remember Cedar with an authentic Walton rhythm section, David Williams and Joe Farnsworth. This is potentially dangerous territory but I was delighted by what a superior listen it was. Hazeltine doesn't sound like Cedar Walton, but he sure sounds just as authentic as his team, and a playlist of Cedar's best underperformed compositions is a superb idea.
Related DTM: Interview with David Hazeltine.
Paul Motian’s melodies for improvisation rarely took more than a page to notate, but that doesn’t mean that his scores weren’t detailed. Motian frequently used phrase marks; sometimes chord symbols. Occasionally there’s something to raise a smile, like the tempo indication “latin” on the lunatic “Mumbo Jumbo.”
Motian always encouraged maximum freedom from his fellow musicians. Every version of his tunes is quite different. To cite an example I know well, “Byablue” was recorded twice by Keith Jarrett, both solo and quartet. While I learned Jarrett’s version as a kid, a glance at the chart handed to me by the composer was a revelation. Now when I play “Byablue,” I base it off of Motian’s handwriting, not Jarrett’s interpretation.
Going to the source gives one more room to make a personal statement. It's also just interesting to discover the composer's original intention, at least when the composer is profound as Paul Motian. “Victoria,” recorded in memoriam by TBP on Made Possible, is much closer to the score than previous versions where the melody and harmony was controlled by Jarrett or Sam Brown.
Cynthia McGuirl, Paul Motian’s niece and heir, has 115 of Motian’s handwritten charts. Those of us that love Paul’s music have been encouraging her to publish the collection. My personal vote would be for a facsimile edition, but that’s not the only option. Typesetting would be OK if a good editor was involved.
Cindy also has Paul’s fascinating unpublished autobiography, his legendary gig book (all the gigs he did, plus what he was paid) and many historical photos. Material from this archive has been showing up on Cindy’s remarkable blog and podcast, Uncle Paul’s Jazz Closet. (I’m particularly taken by the shot of Paul in a sailor suit.)
A few professional publishers have been contacted about making a Motian folio. So far I’ve been surprised at the lack of interest, but I guess music publishers are in the same bind as other vendors: sales of books and music are way down across the board.
Cindy is considering self-publishing a limited edition of her Uncle’s compositions in 4 volumes, ordered by date and albums. She’s hoping that sales of the first volume would pay for the 2nd volume, etc. Cindy gave her permission to post the original lead sheet of "Byablue" as she sees it for the composition book.
Surely all of Motian’s fans and students would love an official Motian book of tunes...? "Byeblue" is here, if you look around on Cindy's blog you'll find "Fiasco" and "Abacus" (very interesting phrase markings on the latter). But of course I'm just one diehard fan, which is why I am opening up the comment section on DTM:
Let Cindy know if this is something that people are interested in.
Also, what would make that edition most compelling? Facsimile? Typeset? Spiral-bound? Flat?
Comments are moderated. If you wish to say something to Cindy or me privately (like: you are a publisher that wants to take on this project!) just begin your comment PRIVATE and I won’t publish, but just forward to Cindy.
I'm on tour in Europe at the moment so it may take a few hours for me to publish your comment. Thanks in advance.
[the losing side in re: last Tuesday collates a few recent pop culture observations]
When considering my earliest cinematic experiences, two movies stand out: Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The boy is father to the man. To this day, I still have a soft spot for "supernatural meets urban landscape" conceits and innovative action movies.
I mentioned Ghostbusters a few years ago as part of a greater unpacking of institutional racism. Now Darcy has just sent me this unsettling new interview with Ernie Hudson. Hudson is careful to not mention race once - he still works, after all - but the takeaway is truly the blues. I can’t ever look at Ghostbusters again.
For some reason Raiders of the Lost Ark just came back around into rotation. This is probably not a news bulletin for most, but, my god, is this movie ever unapologetically racist as well. Indiana Jones lords over South Americans and Egyptians in ludicrous fashion. It’s the American Way at its most fatuous, writ large. I can’t ever look at Raiders of the Lost Ark again, either.
When I mentioned all this Dave King, he suggested that many ‘80s movies will be seen by future generations as akin to the way we see early movies using blackface today. He’s probably right.
Another early love was Doctor Who on television. These days the Doctor is back and bigger than ever, although the show also seems unusually vulnerable to political currents. Various factions watch intently, eager for any political misstep.
I backed Philip Sandifer’s DW reviews on Patreon. Sandifer is the most politically correct essayist I’ve ever seen, which is probably why his comment section is filled with those banging drums for various disenfranchised camps. (A low point were those that somehow saw “Kill the Moon” as a conservative anti-abortion message. As if not wanting to kill off a unique space creature was comparable in any way to the pro-life crew.)
In retrospect, I know that a big part of my boyhood attraction to the Doctor was that he only used violence as a last resort. Often he advocated for the opposing side before calling in the reserves. Perhaps because this hero was comparatively gentle and understanding, the show gained a cult following with those who felt oppressed. The brilliant architect behind the reboot was Russell Davies: Since then, gay camp on Doctor Who is no longer a possible subtext, it’s in plain sight.
It only follows that contemporary activists of all kinds see the new show as a litmus test. For myself, I find Peter Capaldi’s sardonic but humane characterization the most satisfying since the reboot. As for the stories: well, pretty good. Yes, too sentimental and faux-adult for sure. But I appreciate how this season scans as relatively sedate overall. For a while DW was looking like a bad Hollywood action movie most of the time.
I’m probably one of the few fans let down by a possibly racist detail from the last season. In “Mummy on the Orient Express” the horrible jazz is a parody of American black music. The BBC should really do better. Surely a few centuries from now (the time period of “Mummy”) they will.
Sidebar: The one episode of Doctor Who with decent jazz is “Silver Nemesis,” a truly inconsequential Sylvester McCoy tale boasting a bit of Courtney Pine shredding with burning Mark Mondesir on drums. Pine once interviewed me for the BBC, and we spent much of the time talking about Doctor Who.
The irony - at least as I see it, as an admittedly automatically empowered white male - is that Doctor Who lacks something today because it seems like every goddamn thing goes through a focus group first.
After all, if you are going to tell a story, some kind of authorial ruthlessness is required.
The most positive use of my free time recently has been rewatching the lone immortal season of Firefly. Now, this is authorial ruthlessness. Joss Whedon, riding high on Buffy and having learned some tough lessons on Angel, does a postmodern ensemble space opera just as he thinks it should be done. I’m not saying it’s not flawed. It’s television! Of course it’s flawed! But every character is solid, and every plot is inspired. (No wonder it got cancelled?)
For Halloween I went back to another Joss Whedon success, Cabin in the Woods. I’ve praised this movie before on DTM. If you are hesitating because you don’t like horror movies, I understand. But just so you know, Cabin the Woods is much more than a conventional horror movie. Indeed, it gives Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford roles that any actor would die for. I admit I have looked at the Cabin in the Woods scenes with Jenkins and Whitford dozens of times.
On Sadifer’s blog I’ve learned about the Bechdel test. (Again, I have a feeling that this is really old news to my younger readers.) I've been having fun seeing what passes the test or not. Of course, few of the crime films I adore pass. Cabin in the Woods does, not least because of the late entry of Sigourney Weaver, who also features in the original comic strip introducing the test.
Weaver's Ripley was a landmark character. Someone else I was thinking about recently is Linda Hamilton. Say what you will about Terminator 2, but Hamilton does absolutely heroic work in moving the battle right to the front door of male gatekeepers everywhere. Whedon's Buffy and Zoë are two of my favorite characters, but Sarah Michelle Gellar and Gina Torres don't radiate the same kind of physical power that Hamilton does.
On a related note, I'm kind of obsessed with this photo that Vince Keenan put on my Twitter feed via Old Pics Archive. Armenian guerrilla fighters, 1895:
Speaking of Armenia, and back to jazz, the next DTM post will be about the scores of Paul Motian.
Good grief. It's November already.
For those in the Philadephia area, I'm doing a special solo benefit concert for my mother-in-law on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
MUSICAL FUNDRAISER TO SUPPORT PEOPLE WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER, DEPRESSION AND THEIR LOVED ONES
WHO: Pianist Ethan Iverson of the jazz trio The Bad Plus
Sarah Deming, Ethan’s wife, will dazzle us with her homemade appetizers and drinks.
Sarah’s mom, Ruth Z. Deming, MGPGP, runs New Directions (www.newdirectionssupport.org) the premiere support group in the Greater Philadelphia area for people and families affected by bipolar and depression.
WHEN: Saturday, November 29 (of the Thanksgiving weekend) from 2 pm until 4:30 pm.
WHERE: The Willow Grove Bible Church, 200 Everett Ave at Division Ave, Willow Grove, PA 19090.
COST: $20 for general admission. Higher donors will get signed copies of Ethan’s CDs, T-shirts or other products.
In Tokyo, I went by another, less celebrated Village Vanguard.
New guest DTM pages, in memoriam Kenny Wheeler, collectively called "Three for Wheeler":
[UPDATE ON THE UPDATE at bottom of post.]
I'm still very proud of my George Walker Triptych. It's some of the best information about Walker on the internet, especially since it reprints so much work from Mark Stryker in Detroit.
In the interview, there's this exchange about Walker's performance of Brahms Concerto No. 2:
EI: Even if it is flawed, is there any chance that Brahms with Hanson might be available some day?
GW: The cello soloist in the slow movement plays a wrong rhythm that is unacceptable and the orchestra is not tightly controlled.
However, this is now outdated information! Walker in Brahms 2 is now available from Albany Records, coupled with Walker's own Mass and other choral works.
Even better, though, is a new release of Walker's Emperor Concerto from 1967 with Edwin London conducting. The Emperor is not usually one of my favorite concertos, but Walker's impeccable and rather martial attitude clarifies the basic emotion in a compelling way.
It's certainly stunning pianism. I have heard all of Walker on piano on record and find this Emperor the most impressive. The more recent records of standard rep are enjoyable enough, but in 1967 Walker was 45, still in his prime. He eats this Beethoven for breakfast. (As Walker himself suggests, the orchestra is also better than in the Brahms.)
In the 20th century, only a few major composers performed the hardest core rep concertos. (Rachmaninoff of course - Robert Helps played Liszt 2 with Monteux - did Prokofiev or Shostakovich play any?) And as far as I know, these two historical records of Walker essaying Brahms and Beethoven are the only examples that survive on tape.
Recently I got the score to Walker's first Piano Sonata. It's a masterful work that should be better known. Walker's record, while obviously exceptionally valuable, is sonically inferior and perhaps a bit stiff musically. Indeed, none of the Walker sonatas have seemingly definitive recordings, whether they are by Walker or someone else. I'd love to have a modern virtuoso investigate the five Walker sonatas as a group and search for their maximum charisma. They are superbly written for the piano by a superb pianist, and tell an interesting story of compositional development over half a century.
It's impossible to know how much institutional racism has played into Walker's career, which is impressive but inarguably hindered by always having been the wrong color in an almost all-white environment.
At 93, George Walker is a rather forbidding personality but we exchange emails from time to time. Those able to shine a light on him while he's still here shouldn't wait. Before interviewing or profiling him, be sure to read his essential Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist. (I discuss this book at length in "Three Scarecrows.")
This past August, Will Robin published a valuable piece in the New York Times about the travails and successes of Black Composers.
UPDATE: My comments above brought forth emails from both Walker and Robert Pollack.
Many pianists have played my piano sonatas. I have discouraged a few who wanted to record all of them because of their technical and musical limitations.The best performances are these works are on Albany Records. I have worked with all of the pianists before the recordings were released. They know what I expect to hear.
I spent over six hours with Frederick Moyer before he gave the premiere of the Sonata No. 4. Leon Bates commissioned my Piano Sonata No. 3 and gave the premiere of it in 1976 after working with me on it. Robert Pollock has been playing my Piano Sonata No. 5 for over six years.
There are no other pianists who have had this extended experience with these works. No one will play any one of them as well without working with me on them. These works are not subject to interpretation. If tempi and dynamics are not adhered to, the shape of the work is distorted.
I would not want any one of these pianists to record all five of my sonatas. This is a a daunting task that would not supersede what already exists. There is so much that must controlled. A friend, and a reputable pianist and teacher, who decided to play my Piano Sonata No. 5 two years has admitted that he still has a problem with certain passages in the work.
Although the popularity of my Lyric for Strings is well known, I have to remind people that many more pianists have played my piano sonatas. They have been performed on masters and doctoral recitals and in piano competitions like the William Kapell and the Cleveland Competitions. There are at least five doctoral dissertations on them.
I composed Three Pieces for Piano for my Town Hall debut recital in 1945. Horszowski, Serkin's assistant at Curtis, gave them to Horowitz. I decided to retain the first of these works, the Prelude, which is paired with my Caprice. The other two works were discarded. I also personally delivered my Piano Sonatas No. 1 and 2 to Horowitz's home and received a thank you note from him.
There are vociferous supporters in two camps- those who prefer the Sonata No. 1 and the others who are enamored of the 2nd Sonata.
...There is serious concern with your comment about Dr. Walker's piano sonatas with regard to the desirability for new and better recordings of them.
I have been involved in modern music presentation for 40 years, as composer, performer, educator, and administrator. My organizations produced performances of thousands of compositions by hundreds of composers as performed by dozens of professional performers. As director of Composers Guild of New Jersey, 1980-1997, I was privileged to present George Walker in his memorized performances of his Sonata #1 and Sonata #2, at the New Jersey State Museum (Trenton), and Noyes Museum (Oceanville), among other locations.
Dr. Walker's renditions of his Sonatas #1 and #2, and his recordings of them are at the top of our artistic achievement. You call him a superb pianist and composer. You at the same time insult him by suggesting that there could be better renditions of his Sonatas #1 and #2!
Dr. Walker considers my recording of his Sonata #5 to be a definitive one. Such a comment by the composer is all the approval that is necessary. I premiered the work on Maui, Hawai'i, in 2006, part of my organization's (http://ebbandflowarts.org) sponsored residence of Dr. Walker. Three years ago, at his request and with his approval, I recorded Sonata #5 for Albany Records. Since recording the work I have performed it publicly for memory five times in Hawai'i, Berkeley, California, and Xalapa, Mexico.
Thank you for consideration, and thank you for attention to and praise of George Walker, a "national treasure" if there ever was one.
I certainly didn't mean any disrespect. Perhaps the most logical context for my criticism may be seen at my essay on Stravinsky, in which I consider many recordings (including Stravinsky's own) and find both positives and flaws.
The Bad Plus plays Science Fiction! We are almost there. Rehearsals are going great. If you've never heard Reid Anderson sing, you are in for a real surprise. He could easily be a professional vocalist.
I can't sleep, I'm so excited. Unfortunately that means I just "made" an Ornette Coleman 2048 game.
Since I trained on Vollmer's diabolical Threes, 2048 is almost easy. I beat my own edition on the first time, of course. The main strategy is to put your biggest tile in a corner (I use upper left, or NW) and build "rivers" of ascending tiles to the corner (in my case the W is most important). Naturally, the biggest and final tile is Science Fiction.
Thanks again to Aaron Greenwald for the commission and continued support of TBP.
Tour dates, copied from website. The first two* (Durham and NYU) are the Sci Fi with Ron Miles, Tim Berne, and Sam Newsome. After that the band will be touring Inevitable Western.
*18 Durham, NC -- Duke University
*23 New York, NY -- NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
24 Ithaca, NY -- The Hangar Theater
25 Wilmington, DE -- World Cafe Live
26 Vienna, VA -- Barns at Wolf Trap
30 Tokyo, JAP -- Cotton Club
01 Tokyo, JAP -- Cotton Club
02 Tokyo JAP -- Cotton Club
07 Hertogenbosch, NDL -- Verkadefabriek
08 Hertogenbosch, NDL -- Verkadefabriek
09 Mannheim, DEU -- Alte Feuerwache gGmbH
10 Zurich, CHE -- Moods
11 Middelburg, NDL -- Schuttershofcafe
12 Odense, DNK -- Jazzhus Dexter
13 Oslo, NOR -- Nasjonal Jazzscene, Victoria
14 Gothenburg, SWE -- Nefertiti
15 Hasselt, BEL -- cc Hsselt
16 Amsterdam, NDL -- Bimhuis
17 London, UK -- London Jazz Festival
18 Toulouse, FRA -- Salle Nougaro
20 Zagreb, HRV -- ZKM, Zagreb Youth Theatre
22 Gdasnk, POL -- Polska Filharmonia Baltycka Gdansk
I became aware of Jorge Luis Borges in college. My new friend JM pressed a copy of Labyrinths into my hand and told me to read it. I was entranced, most particularly by the story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."
Thanks to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, I went back to "Menard" tonight. (For those wishing to understand the story without reading it, Nate Chinen gives a excellent summary in his column on Blue.) Good god, what an immortal masterpiece. Every sentence is either hilarious or profound. For straight-up funny, try this, a description of an arcane Menard work:
...A technical article on the possibility of improving the game of chess, eliminating one of the rook’s pawns. Menard proposes, recommends, discusses and finally rejects this innovation.
Since my previous post, MOPDTK has come under heavy fire for Blue, especially on Facebook. Some consider it racist; others cautiously approve of paying tribute to the masters but don't like the packaging, which includes the Borges's story "Pierre Menard."
The question of racial appropriation certainly can be asked. For me, considering how much bad jazz and imitation black music I hear all the time from white culture everywhere (the garish "jazz" music on the most recent episode of Doctor Who, "Mummy on the Orient Express," is a current irritation), MOPDTK actually playing the notes of a jazz classic seems perfectly acceptable. But I'd read someone else's considered opinion on this topic. Anyone who knows DTM knows I'm down to listen to a smart discussion about race.
Just a few further thoughts for those eager to condemn:
Black jazz means swing. And no, MOPDTK doesn't swing on Blue. Not really, especially in the bass and drums. They are indictable for this, sure, but at the same time they are revealing something else about themselves in an arguably humble way. As Borges explains:
The archaic style of Menard - quite foreign, after all - suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time.
He decided to anticipate the vanity awaiting all man’s efforts; he set himself to an undertaking which was exceedingly complex and, from the very beginning, futile.
The question, "How can you swing like Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb?" gets no satisfactory answer on Blue. But at least we know something more about this question than we did before.
To those not appreciating the meta, Borgesian, or conceptual aspects of Blue, my response is:
The importance of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the rest of the cast of Kind of Blue is hardly confined to jazz. To declare that they not be allowed to be part of a deconstructed or conceptual undertaking might inadvertently suggest they are not "worthy" of arty mischief. Of course they are worthy! They are Gods, nothing is going to harm them.
Besides, Miles and Coltrane would have actually been around NYC when Cage made "4'33"" and Warhol printed "Campbell's Soup Cans." In a way they deserve to be looked at through the prism of Blue.
The text of "Pierre Menard" is here, although the paragraphing is occasionally incorrect.
Not that it really matters, but I mentioned "Pierre Menard" in a jazz context on DTM a few years ago when discussing Bud Plays Bird. My comparison of that disc to the Borges story is in a way more appropriate than MOPDTK, as Menard stresses he is just trying to remember how Quixote goes, not copy it out. In the end Menard recreates only a few fragments, not the whole work.
From the minute I heard that Mostly Other People Do the Killing was doing a note-for-note cover of Kind of Blue I was impressed. I kind of wished I'd thought of doing it myself.
Jazz tends to mirror trends in the art world to a certain extent. But what jazz has been conceptual art? As in, the idea and context matters more than an objective look at the material? That it exists almost solely to provoke discussion?
To be clear, most satirical or humorous jazz like The Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Walking in the Moonlight" isn't conceptual art. John Zorn playing free jazz alto on top of a Sonny Clark tune is certainly "conceptual," but I don't think Voodoo is really conceptual art, either. Archie Shepp honking "Girl From Ipanema" in response to Stan Getz? Yeah, almost...but it also just sounds like plenty of other Archie Shepp. If there's a concept, it's less important than the natural individuality of the tenor player.
Usually the word "jazz" ends up getting almost irrelevant to most conceptual jazz-related work. Anthony Braxton outside with 100 tubas: that's conceptual art for sure, but at least I don't think it has all that much to do with jazz. Braxton's extremely strange jazz standards on piano is closer, but I wouldn't be unduly surprised if Braxton just feels like playing piano in a quartet sometimes.
Probably there are other examples I don't know. But surely there is nothing so blatant as Blue by Mostly Other People Do the Killing. This is conceptual art with the heart of jazz fully in the frame.
I'm blogging about it mainly because I have heard so many musicians and fans react in horror. I'm afraid to tell all these folks this, but it's true: You have already had a sincere and strong reaction to the conceptual art, so therefore you have already validated the work.
I've been trying to buy a non-digital copy of Blue but can't seem to get one yet, even for pre-order. (It comes out tomorrow.) A tune is streaming at SoundCloud. I don't really like it, of course. How could I? But it is definitely a strong statement. When I can, I'll grab it and happily file it my CD collection. It will probably go in the jazz section...
Sam Newsome blogged recently on a relevant topic: "What's the Deal with Interview Music?"
Sam is joining us this week for TBP plays Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction. In his post, Sam mentions Branford Marsalis. It's unclear whether or not our Sci Fi ever will be recorded, but if it does, there's an obvious grad paper in there: B. Marsalis A Love Supreme, MOPDTK Kind of Blue, TBP Science Fiction. All very different!
Debi and Sarah came as my cheering section for the first night at Mezzrow. Debi even snuck a shot of me listening. It's not really my style to post photos of myself on DTM but Debi lets us see how much I love Ron Carter.
Thanks to Fred Kaplan for his glowing review of the second night.
Spencer Murphy interviewed me about the hit for the SmallsLIVE tumblr.