Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


You can’t fake the music: Amina Claudine Myers

One of the most prominent figures in the history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), pianist/composer/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers explains that her initial sound concept came from growing up in the country exposed to animal sounds, children's rhythmic play and Gospel music harmonies. But as she tells trombonist George Lewis, another AACM figure, who interviewed her for BOMB magazine, moving to the city, she became influenced by hearing notated music by Black composers and by playing straight-ahead Jazz and Blues with drummer Ajaramu and saxophonist Gene Ammons. Later, she says, she trained her brain to accept the music she absorbed, worked out and recorded with fellow AACMers such as pianist Michael Richard Abrams and saxophonists Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton. Focused on feelings, surprisingly or not, she’s also a Mary J. Blige fan. READ

Mixing Cinematic Structures and the Fundamentals: Tomas Fujiwara

Moving confidently between projects that encompass a colorful, cinematic vision and more open-ended free improvisations doesn’t faze drummer Tomas Fujiwara. As he tells Jazz Times’ Adian Levy, the quality of the end product depends on how well ideas flow. That’s why the most recent CD under his leadership reflects picturesque influences from Nirvana to the Middle East to Anthony Braxton. Initiated into Jazz fundamentals by the legendary drum teacher Alan Dawson, whose exercises he still practices daily, Boston-born Fujiwara’s closest collaborator over the years has been cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. Besides being part of Bynum ensembles that range from from a duo to big bands, the drummer has partnered with disparate figures such as Braxton and bassist Michael Formanek or guitarist Mary Halvorson and cellist Tomeka Reid. READ

One picture is worth one thousand plays

Jazz fans whose appreciation of recorded music is linked to its visual impact, will be fascinated by this glimpse into the album cover artist’s creativity from A History of Graphic Design. Created by designer Alex Steinweiss in the late 1930s as a more colorful way to sell albums of 78s, record cover illustration reached its peak between the 1950s to 1970s, when artists, designers and photographers such as Reid Miles, David Stone Martin, S. Neil Fujita, Mati Klarwein and Chuck Stewart produced iconic images for discs by, among many others, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Archie Shepp, Duke Ellington, Albert Ayler, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Ray Bryant and Miles Davis. READ

Yiddishe Mish-Mosh: Jamie Saft’s Many Identities

He’s composed TV and film sound tracks, played with hardcore band The Bad Brains as well as metal-Jazz rockers Slobber Pup, but despite appearances, New York state-based keyboardist Jamie Saft tells The Times of Israel’s Lisa Klug that all his musical ideas are based on tikkun olam or “repairing the world”. That’s why Saft, who cites mercurial composer John Zorn as a mentor, tries his hand at so many projects. Besides Slobber Pup, which includes guitarist Joe Morris and drummer Balazs Pandi; Saft’s productions include the Darshan project which balances Jewish mysticism and Hip-Hop sounds; the New Zion Trio which links Reggae and Kabbalah currents; plus his participation in individual sessions with major Jazz players such as drummer Bobby Previte, trombonist Roswell Rudd and saxophonist Joe McPhee.     READ

Bringing Jazz to the People: Steve Coleman

Saxophonist Steve Coleman is someone who is putting his money where his saxophonist reed is, reports LA Weekly’s Gary Fukushima. That’s because New York-based Coleman is using part of his MacArthur Foundation grant money to allow him and his band members to expose creative music to interested players during extended residencies, such as the three weeks they're spending in a Los Angles club. Coleman, known for the creation of M-Base sounds along with fellow saxophonist Greg Osby and others, was mentored during his Chicago youth by tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, and he wants to do the same for other young musicians. Coleman, who has spearheaded this sort of outreach for years, says it often results in encouraging players such as his band’s trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson or pianist Vijay Iyer, initially hesitant about following a musical career, to take that step. READ

There’s Always Room for the Cutting Edge: Mats Gustafsson

Despite the impediments placed in the way of creative musicians including everything from punishing airline schedules to illegal music down-loaders, Jazz will struggle but continue to flourish, says Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. In this Q+A with Something Else’s Sammy Stein, the reedist, known for his collaborations with players such as drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and saxophonist Ken Vandermark, says the music will last because of its emotional and spiritual message. At the same time he’s concerned in the way that the recording industry has so bypassed non-pop sounds that players are now forced to sell their own discs at concerts. Plus there’s the apathy of audiences who reward those who copy accepted jazz styles rather than exploring unique music available from players who still perform such as Cecil Taylor and Evan Parker or investigate under-appreciated, deceased avatars like saxophonists Joe Harriott or Bengt Nordström. READ

Dealing Differently with Traditions: Mary Halvorson

No longer the cutting edge of even covering rock music, at least Rolling Stone’s mandate is broad enough to expose its many readers to non-popsters like guitarist Mary Halvorson. Richard Bienstock does have to work in the obligatory reference to Halvorson being initially influenced by Jim Hendrix. But after that he does a good enough job noting that the guitarist’s mentorship with multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton expanded her interests in many directions. Bienstock heralds her solo work recording jazz classics by the likes of Ornette Coleman and Oliver Nelson, as well mentioning her new octet project in which she’ll be playing steel guitar. READ

Old Trombonists Never Die, They Don’t Even Blow Away: Roswell Rudd

Having made it to 80 without becoming famous hasn’t stopped trombonist Roswell Rudd from continuing to adopt new styles. The New York Times’ Nat Chinen itemizes the trombonist’s history, which includes pace-setting 1960s' affiliations with the likes of saxophonists Archie Shepp and Steve Lacy, as well as Rudd’s later work with so-called World musicians like a Malian kora player, a Puerto Rican cuatro master and a whole Mongolian band. There’s also space for jazzers like slide-trumpeter Steven Bernstein and trombonist Steve Swell to discuss Rudd’s influence on the sound of improvised music. READ

Worse Than Ever: The deteriorating state of non-Pop music

Creating music that is deemed non-commercial has always been deemed a short cut to obscurity and near-poverty. But in this provocative essay in Cuepoint, Craig Havighurst argues that the growth of corporate controlled music streaming services, straight-jacketed radio formats and celebration of lowest common denominator tastes, means that in the 21st Century, hearing and finding out about anything but mass focused music is nearly impossible. The days when someone like Thelonious Monk could be on the cover of TIME magazine are long gone, he notes. His points are valid, but Havighurst may be surprised to note that for maximum dissemination, Cuepoint flags his plaint as a “7 min read”. READ

More than Just Her Own Story: Matana Roberts

Matana Roberts’ ongoing, multi-disc, Coin Coin project deals with many more concepts than can be related to her own family’s history. The composer/saxophonist tells The Quietus’ Stewart Smith, that as someone fascinated by U.S. history, ephemera and folk arts, traveling through parts of the American South allows her to try to understand and interpret that area’s codes and what they meant for African Americans. Involved with computers and multi-media, she says she’s working to preserve this information in many platforms because “Life is so short that 100 years from today how much will certain things matter?”


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