Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Have Bass Will Travel (and Compose): Mark Dresser

The San Diego Union Tribune’s George Varga appears a little too impressed with Mark Dresser’s curriculum vitae as a composer and professor at University of California San Diego to the expense of his work as an improviser. But Varga does portray the scope of the double bassist’s work, describes how Dresser has played with everyone from saxophonist Anthony Braxton to pianist and fellow UCSD  professor Anthony Davis. He also lists his influences which range from guitarist Jimi Hendrix to his mentor, double bass pioneer Bert Turetzky. Plus he repeats the bassist’s quip that being an improvising musician is akin to taking a vow of poverty. READ

Cresting the Wave: Guitarist Mary Halvorson

Although Point of Departure’s Troy Collins does spend some time rehashing the problems of female Jazz instrumentalists and discussing technical guitar minutia, in the main this Q&A focuses on the history and achievements of guitarist Mary Halvorson. Leader of her own band(s), as well as playing in groups as different as multi-reedist Anthony Braxton's cerebral ensembles and noise-Rock bands with keyboard player Jamie Saft and bassist Trevor Dunn, her ability to build rapport within specific musical languages has made her one of the go-to six-string players on the advanced music scene. In fact, Halvorson has been able to make all of her living from music for the past decade. Oh, and she still prefers to buy physical copies of LPs or CDs, not download music. READ

Bringing the Music Back to the People: Ernest Dawkins

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Jazz festival in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins tells The Chicago Reader’s David Whiteis that the reason the festival has succeeded and why he has had a 40 year Jazz career is that he’s always been self-sufficient. Known for leading his New Horizons Ensemble and big band, almost as soon as he started playing and practicing in the park Dawkins began studying at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ (ACCM) school under the tutelage of reedists like Joseph Jarman and Henry Threadgill. When he organized his own bands, Dawkins began mentoring younger players such as guitarist Jeff Parker, saxophonist David Boykin and trumpeter Corey Wilkes. Now, besides touring internationally with different AACM-affiliated groups, the saxophonist oversees and books major improvises such as saxophonist Kidd Jordan to play at the annual festival in Englewood's Hamilton Park as a way to bring the music back to the people. Initially supported by a grant and Dawkins’ own money, the festival is now part of a non-profit organization that also funds an artist-in-residence program and student ensembles. READ

Women’s Liberation: Carla Bley Now Leads Another Orchestra

A recent appearance at the Detroit Jazz Festival allows Metro Times’ Shelly Salant to report on how pianist Carla Bley has taken over leadership of The Liberation Music Orchestra, now that its founded bassist Charlie Haden has died. Bley, who has been the band’s arranger since its late 1960s beginnings, also tells Salant what it has been like being a woman creator in the midst of the Jazz’s on-going musical ferment during the past 50-odd years. Touched on in the interview are her work helming the pioneering New Music Distribution Service; her writing for the Jazz Composers Orchestra she co-lead with trumpeter Michael Mantler; and her more recent work with a reductionist trio featuring tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist Steve Swallow. As for stories about the legendary fractious Jazz Composers Guild itself, she insists that unlike the men she never yelled at anyone, “except maybe Sun Ra once or twice." READ

Analyzing Butch Morris’ concept of conduction

Trying to define properly the role of conductor and composer in terms of Butch Morris’ self-invented conception of conduction, Point of Departure’s Bill Shoemaker offers a trenchant analysis of some of Morris’ many orchestral creations. His point seems to be that unlike those in more formal roles, Morris didn’t deal with tempos, pitches or style, but in creating original sounds from scratch, often with musicians who hadn’t previously worked together. Shoemaker’s reasoning involves a posthumously released conduction CD where players with contrasting styles, such as tenor saxophonist Evan Parker and David Murray, are paired with spectacular results. READ

Uri Caine explains why and how he plays the Classics

One would have thought this sort of pigeonholing went out with the 20th Century, but The Montreal Gazette’s Peter Haeckel still seems amazed that pianist Uri Caine plays his interpretations of so-called classical music as well as Jazz. Luckily Caine explain how his taste for many forms of music evolved growing up in Philadelphia. He played electric pianos. gigged with hard boppers like drummer Philly Joe Jones and tenor saxophonist, Odean Pope, and also studied formally with legendary French-American pianist Bernard Pfeiffer, who besides playing Jazz had a real familiarity with European notated music. READ

Alvin Fielder, Arkansas and the AACM

Part gig promo, part Jazz history lesson and a part glimpse into the segregated South, the Arkansas Times’ Will Stephenson touches on all these topics when interviewing drummer Alvin Fielder. Fielder, 80, who lives in Meridian, Miss., was in Little Rock to play a concert with a local trio and participate in a panel discussion about how jazz’s influence helped integration. Stephenson’s Q&A deals with the drummer’s experience learning about advanced music from the likes of pianist Sun Ra and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell; his from-the-beginning membership in Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; and lets him spin stories about the AACM, his early R&B gigs; and contemporary Jazz’s pressing need for more young non-mainstream innovators.


Has The Nation Time Concept Become a Management Tool?

An avowed Communist, as well as a Black Nationalist, poet and Jazz theorist Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) would probably be more than shocked to see his phrase “Nation Time” subsumed as part of capitalist management theory. Yet in a rather convoluted essay in The Wire Stephen Shukaitis links a widely disseminated British ad featuring a happy saxophone-playing employee to a concept that suggests satisfied working is the same as doing  something artistic. In other words, nation time equals management’s time. That idea seems as confused as his analysis of the concept. Meanwhile, although Shukaitis does point to multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, whose 1971 LP was also titled with the phrase, the saxophonist/trumpeter now says he's more interested in discussing the artistic and philosophical ideas that subordinated nationalism in his work, leaving Shukaitis' thesis more than somewhat unproven. READ

Go West Older Robinson – Perry that is

Clarinetist Perry Robinson has been a mainstay of New York experimental Jazz since the late 1950s, but it took until he was 76 years old before he gigged under his own name in Southern California. In this profile related to that situation, The Glendale News-Press’ Kirk Silsbee celebrates the reedist who calls himself “the Woody Guthrie of jazz”. Robinson comes by the moniker honestly since his father Earl Robinson was a mover in folk circles that included Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others. But Robinson’s music is very influenced by Ornette Coleman’s advances and in California his playing partners included stylists like drummer Alex Cline and pianist Nobu Stowe.   READ

Alex Ward Discusses Composition and So-Called Modernist Music

Although parts of the text may be a little too “inside” for many non-musicians, this article on does present a fascinating glimpse of the compositional ideas of Alex Ward. London-based Ward, who is equally proficient on clarinet and guitar, is involved in many subsets of sound, including Rock, Free Jazz and Free Improv. His playing partners have ranged from elders like saxophonist Lol Coxhill and guitarist Derek Bailey to his contemporaries such as drummer Steve Noble and cellist Hannah Marshall. Conducted by bassist Dominic Lash, while both were on an airport bus, the Q&A starts by discussing Ward`s most recent CD and his new quintet and goes on from there. READ

Susan Alcorn is Free Music’s Most Accomplished Pedal Steel Guitarist

Although being the best-known pedal steel guitarist in Free Music may be akin to being the best Beethoven interpreter on kazoo, Baltimore-based Susan Alcorn makes the most of it, as The City Paper’s Lee Gardner relates. Classically trained (on trumpet!), as a Blues-obsessed teenager she learned slide guitar, which eventually led to playing steel guitar in Texas Western Swing bands. However her interest in the music of Ornette Coleman, Pauline Oliveros, Albert Ayler, Morton Feldman and others led away from country music and to Baltimore’s free scene. Today she’s fulfilled playing “nuevo tango” as well as fully improvised music.   READ

John Russell’s Apprentice Days

Now that he’s more than 60, it’s almost difficult to believe that guitarist John Russell is part of only the second generation of British Free Musicians – along with saxophonist John Butcher and others – but that musical variant is that new. In this fragment of an autobiography on his own Web page, Russell charts his progress from village guitar fanatic to city professional. Along the way he outlines his first exposure to the likes of guitarist Derek Bailey, percussionist John Stevens and saxophonist Evan Parker, as well as eccentric, today little-known, drummer Dave Solomon. –   READ

Never Separate the Sounds: Kirk Knuffke

Brooklyn-based cornetist Kirk Knuffke, who says that some so-called extended techniques were used by King Oliver and Red Allen as long ago as the 1920s and 1930s, makes it a point to work in as many modern improvised music contexts as possible. In this Q&A with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins he talks about his experiences with drummer Matt Wilson ’s mainstream combos; more experimental ensembles with guitarist Mary Halvorson among others; and his membership in the Steve Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread with baritone saxophonist Josh Stinson. Someone who dropped out of music school to gig regularly, he explains how informal studies with trumpeter Ron Miles and alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman helped define his style. Knuffke also supports the  idea of keeping recorded music in physical form, pointing out that neither streaming nor torrent downloading helps the music evolve or musicians make a living from their art. READ

Ornette Coleman’s Ideas Led to Creating the Creative Music Foundation

Ornette Coleman, not only set off a revolution in the performance of music, but also how it could be taught and experienced via Woodstock. N.Y.’s Creative Music Foundation (CMF). In this memoir, written for The Wire following Coleman's death, German-American vibraharpist Karl Berger points out how the impetus for setting up the CMF in 1971 came from the saxophonist. Long associated with Coleman, but someone who never recorded with him, Berger recalls that that his initial, contact with the saxophonist came after he went to Paris in 1965 and impulsively asked Coleman’s associate, trumpeter Don Cherry, if he could join his band. His involvement with that group featuring saxophonist Gato Barbieri, brought Berger into contact with Coleman, eventually leading to the founding of CMF. Coleman’s choices for the CMF board of director’s always kept thing interesting, says Berger. Read what John Cage said about supporting the foundation. READ

Connecting to Creativity: Vijay Iyer

Now that pianist Vijay Iyer is a music professor at the Harvard University, he’s able to explain his theories on teaching Jazz and improvisation to Colleen Walsh of the Harvard Gazette. Describing how his love for music finally superseded his academic career – Iyer studied math and physics at Yale and University of California, Berkeley, although his Ph.D. is on the cognitive science of music – he says he tells his students to internalize the immediacy of the music. And he uses John Coltrane’s struggles with recording “Giant Steps” as an example of this method.     READ

His LP Covers Helped Define the Music: Paul Bacon

Paul Bacon, who died at 91 in June, was responsible for many of the iconic album covers for Blue Note and Riverside records from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Initially interested in so-called hot music, Bacon tells Jazz Wax’s Marc Myers that soon after World War Two he became a modern Jazz fan. An artist and illustrator who also worked in advertising, Bacon helped evolve a look for the emerging 12-inch LP, which including classics like Everybody Digs Bill Evans and Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite. Bacon who also oversaw the creation of covers for discs like Monk’s Music, Misterioso and Brilliant Corners, was particularly close to Thelonious Monk, who he describes as someone who “didn’t lie and didn’t fake anything”. Check what Monk had to say about Chet Baker midway through this interview.     READ

Master of Projection: Vibist Jason Adasiewicz

As probably the most physical vibes player since Lionel Hampton, Chicago’s Jason Adasiewicz uses a variety of techniques to make his vibes heard in Alt-Rock or Free Jazz circumstance. But as Wondering Sounds’ Kevin Whitehead points out, he can rein in his playing when necessary. A former drummer, Adasiewicz has moved on from playing with his peers such as cornetist Rob Mazurek and alto saxophonist Aram Shelton to partnering internationally known improvisers such as British drummer Steve Noble and German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who helped him with sound projection. Tracing the vibist’s career and influences, Whitehead still insists that Adasiewicz’s best work is with his own Sun Rooms trio featuring drummer Mike Reed and bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten. READ

Still Not an Adult: Tim Berne

Sardonically referring to the praise that has accrued to him with his Snakeoil Ensemble’s CDs, alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Britt Robson that he really hasn’t grown up from enfant terrible in his 40-year career; it’s just that more people are listening to his discs. In a well-balanced piece on the saxophonist, Robson touches on Berne’s earlier music, discusses his influences, compositional style and the interpretative skills of Snakeoil sidemen: clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith on drums and vibes. READ

Europe’s Uncertain 1960s Welcome of the Blue Notes

Retrospectively the Blue Notes band and those groups subsequently led by its former members have been recognized as probably the most important music to have emerged from Apartheid-era South Africa in the 1960s. But, as Tony McGregor points out in his Tony’s Place blog, it took the group’s mixture of South African sounds and FreeBop a while to be accepted. His sympathetic account sketches the pre-European history of the Blue Notes – trumpeter Mongezi Feza, alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, pianist Chris McGregor, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo – making the point that racial conditions in their homeland forced their exile, even though they were well-rewarded “stars” at the time. McGregor touches on the Blue Notes’ early London gigs which influenced the likes of Evan Parker and Keith Tippett, and the later ironic early deaths of almost every member, so that the universally praised Moholo-Moholo is now the band’s only survivor. READ

AACM’s 50th Anniversary from The Trenches

Most reports on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) focus on the organization’s famous standard bearers such as Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. But to emphasize the AACM’s scope, New City’s Corey Hall discusses the experiences of two lesser-known but vital AACM members, drummer Dushun Mosley and violinist Renée Baker. Mosley, who has played in Ed Wilkerson’s Eight Bold Souls and with saxophonist Hannah John Taylor, recalls his AACM introduction after hearing Mitchell lecture while Baker, originally in an ensemble with flutist Nicole Mitchell, has composed and presented a large-scale gospel-opera. This project was initially encouraged by the late tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, one of the founders of the AACM.   READ