Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


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

At Home in California: Charles Lloyd

Joe Cole of the Santa Barbara Independent appears awe-struck that a real-live National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master has actually lived in the area since the 1980s. But in this interview he does give tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd, 77, an appropriate forum for his thoughts. Lloyd, who voices prototypical California concerns about personal spiritual practices and worries about the state’s water shortage, does explain how his move from segregated Memphis to UCLA’s almost all-white music school in the 1950s led him to broaden his horizons after hours, playing with the likes of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Billy Higgins. Lloyd’s original musical ideas eventually led to the formation of his own quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette, resulting in fame and millions of LPs sold. However, rather than asking about Lloyd's subsequent decades-long hiatus from music, Cole lets the reedist concentrate on praising his most recent working band featuring pianist Jason Moran, plus plugging his new CD, the hearing of  which Cole bizarrely likens to the local pride the interviewer gets from watching Santa Barbara native Katy Perry sing. READ

Bye Bye Bernie: The Legacy of Bernard Stollman’s ESP Disk

When Bernard Stollman died in late April at 85, the usual number of outrageous, semi-apocryphal stories surfaced about his handling of ESP-Disk in its first incarnation from 1964 to the early 1970s. But as Richard Williams points out in his The Blue Moment blog, the risks that Stollman took recording unknown artists including tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, the Fugs, drummer Milford Graves, Pearls Before Swine et. al, far outweighed his deficiencies as a businessman. If ESP-Disk's royalty payments were late or non-existent, Graves who later founded his own label, points out that since no one else was recording experimental players, it was Stollman’s support which got the musicians noticed and their LPs distributed world-wide. READ

Forever Radical: RIP Ornette Coleman

When alto saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman died at 85 on June 11, one of Jazz’s major figures ceased offering new ideas as he had done during his nearly 50 years in the public eye. Among the published appreciations of Coleman’s unique gifts is one published in the New Yorker by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. Bynum first heard Coleman at a far enough remove from the alto saxophonist’s first records with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell to wonder how the swinging bluesy sound could be characterized as so far out when it first appeared on record. Bynum adds that Coleman’s music not only affected exploratory jazz musicians like tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and by osmosis more mainstream ones like trumpeter Miles Davis, but also experimental rockers, especially when the saxophonist, who also wrote a symphony and a chamber piece for string quartet, put together an electric band, featuring the likes of guitarist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. READ

Detroit Made Me: Gerald Cleaver

While many Jazz fans know of the American Motor City’s reputation for producing top flight players in the 1950s, native Gerald Cleaver speaks of the city’s continuing and influential deep musical roots. Although a New Yorker since 2002, Cleaver, part of the Black Host band with alto saxophonist Darius Jones, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-instrumentalist Cooper-More and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, tells The Detroit Free Press’s Mark Stryker, that his earliest influences came from Detroit. Growing up near the legendary Blue Bird nightclub he absorbed what he calls “real deal” Jazz. He was influenced by the examples of local players such as trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and drummer Roy Brooks. In fact, following university, while he was back in Detroit teaching middle school, it was local bassist Jaribu Shahid, who recommended him to saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. That eight-year association with Mitchell allowed him to express his made-in-Detroit confidence and eventually establish himself on the New York Jazz scene. READ

Photographer Witness to an Era: Chuck Stewart

Through a combination of talent, luck and access Chuck Stewart, now 87, photographed a huge number of Jazz’s most important figures from the 1940s to the 1970s. But, as he tells Newsweek’s Jared T. Miller, he created some of his now classic portraits of the likes of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, singer Nina Simone, multi-reedist Eric Dolphy, bandleader Duke Ellington and pianist Thelonious Monk only because he was a professional photographer doing a job for many record companies. Yet overly modest Stewart, who shot his first picture at 13, and studied photography in university, also says he would listen to the artists’ music before he took their pictures and decide how best they should be presented. His biggest regret: while most photos of Coltrane during his tenure at Impulse! are by Stewart, the cover shot of Trane’s famous A Love Supreme LP is from its producer’s snapshot. READ

Fluxus’ Irreverence towards High Art Lives On

Although the heyday of this provocative performance art-cum-music movement was in the years directly following founder George Maciunas’ 1963 Fluxus Manifesto and mostly died out after the 1970s, New Music Box’s Caitlin Schmid finds some manifestations of its anarchistic ethos still exist. While outlining  a few of the European-American movement’s more outrageous performance-pranks designed to mock music’s high seriousness, and including a video from a Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden, she completely misses Fluxus’ influence on free music. Both German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg were on the fringes of the Fluxus movement in the early 1960s. From that point on, their combination of commitment to outside sounds plus an anarchistic insistence on going their own way, had its genesis in Fluxus’ values and has continued to spur on other non-conformist players. READ

Rare Blue Note LP Found: Elvis Sings Monk

Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk was pretty selective in his choice of collaborators, although arranger Oliver Nelson and flugelhornist Clark Terry were some of his more unusual associates, along with more famous stylists like saxophonist John Coltrane, French hornist Julius Watkins and drummer Frankie Dunlop But until the London Jazz Collector (LJC) discovered the unreleased test pressing, few knew about Monk’s early 1960s one-off session with singer Elvis Presley. Revealing details about the hitherto unknown disc on its page, that includes LP cover pictures, song titles and Matrix numbers, the LJC explains that this project was an attempt by the singer to broaden his range by recording vocal versions of some of the pianist’s compositions. However the disc was subsequently rejected for release by Blue Note’s Alfred Lion because he didn’t think association with an untried singer would help Monk’s career. The LJC was even able to send copies of this rare disc to interested fans who read this important news story published on April 1. READ

British Free Music’s Hidden Comedy Link

Although improvisers such as saxophonist Lol Coxhill and drummer Han Bennink are known for their comedic bits, the idea of comedy playing an important part in Free Music seems an anomaly. But according to The Wire’s Clive Bell, in the United Kingdom at least, there’s a lot more connection than most realize between comedy and Free Improv. Besides obvious example like drummer Mark Sanders accompanying a bingo game and trombonist Alan Tomlinson playing in the middle of a country stream, he cites other, lesser-known instances, such as when saxophonist Evan Parker, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and Bennink accompanied with wide musical burlesque, British comedian/singer Vic Reeves on a recording. READ