A former Torontonian, who now divides his time between Montréal and New York City, trumpeter Ellwood Epps explains that the attraction of Canada’s second city to improvising musicians isn’t just the cheap rents, but also the acceptance of distinctive art, which helps to contribute to a so-called distinct society. Epps tells écho!’s Nicholas McGrath that the number of free improvisers moving to Montréal has increased four-fold over the past decade. Epps, whose experience ranges from duo gigs with alto saxophonist Yves Charuest to membership in Niolas Caloia’s large Ratchet Orchestra, admits that while larger Toronto attracts musician from everywhere, most are from a single generation. Free players in Québec on the other hand, range from the very young to those players 50 and over such as drummer John Heward and alto saxophonist Jean Derome, who ply their craft with players of every age.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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When trumpeter Kenny Wheeler died last year at 84, most commentators mentioned that the long-time London, England-based trumpeter was Canadian born. But The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum points out that the Toronto-born, St. Catharines-raised Wheeler always maintained close ties to his native land. Famous for his sidemen stints with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker's small groups and Johnny Dankworth's big band to American composer Anthony Braxton ground-breaking quartet, Wheeler influenced local musicians not only through performances at venues like the Ottawa Jazz Festival, but during the years he regularly taught at the Banff Centre’s jazz workshop in Alberta. Experiencing Wheeler’s music was both a “life-changing experience” and a “religious experience”, says respected Toronto multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson.
Jazz and improvised music went through many changes in 2014, with some new musicians coming to the fore and older masters maintaining their innovations. You can get some idea of that from National Public Radio’s annual survey of the best albums of the year. The 140 well-informed critics managed to cite varied sessions that ranged from younger stylists including alto saxophonist Steve Lehman (at #1), tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist Jason Moran to elder statesman like trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith (at #2), tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins – and of course John Coltrane’s Offering as the top reissue. Follow further links to Francis Davis’ analysis of the year’s music as well as further breakdowns of individual ballots. The curmudgeon view from this perch however is the glaring exclusion of most non-American and experimental players from the results.
The idea may initially have been spur-of-the-moment, but for the past couple of years, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson's 28-member Fire Orchestra has been organized enough to gig all over Europe. Despite players living in Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Nickelsdorf, Lund, Göteborg and Copenhagen, he tells London Jazz News’ Geoff Winston that the ensemble has reached a point where it successfully mixes together influences from Prog and Psych Rock, electronic and notated contemporary music plus the Jazz-improvisations of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Charles Mingus, John Kirby and Sun Ra.
Despite claims that internet streaming is a fine way to disseminate music, a debate in The New York Times presents many different points of view. Most germane are those from Jazz guitarist Marc Ribot, who points out that the greatly reduced returns musicians get from streaming verses physical sales, means making a living playing minority music becomes almost impossible. Reader comments are mixed, though professionals like baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton and guitarist Liberty Ellman confirm Ribot’s experience.
Following a business analysis of how Offering, the most recent reissued session by saxophonist John Coltrane, has become a best-seller and staple of the Jazz “charts”, Forbes contributor Nick Messitte comes up with some contrary research in the so-called age of digital. While repeating the old shibboleth that avant-garde Jazz has a small, inbred audience, he does point out that there's the allure of physical product with booklet notes and with no downloading allowed plus there's an advantage in investing in proper niche marketing. Of course, being able to market a lost session recorded by one of Jazz’s acknowledged greats can result in impressive sales as well.
Earlier this year the third annual Leo Feigin Festival took place in St. Petersburg celebrating the Russian-born, London-based record company founder. As The St. Petersburg Times’ Sergey Chernov points out, the festival is an outgrowth of Feigin’s efforts to not only release records by Western avant-gardists like pianist Cecil Taylor and bandleader Sun Ra, but also Feigin`s long-time effort to give recording opportunities to Russian experimenters like pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin and his trio, drummer Oleg Yudanov of the Jazz Group Arkhangelsk and younger players like multi-reedist Alexey Kruglov. As Feign keeps adding to his catalogue of 800-plus releases, his keen ears for talent means that some of the younger performers, featured at the festival may soon be recording on Leo.
While pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014), is best-known for his catchy compositions and funky playing which set the standard for Hard Bop in the 1950s and 1960s, he continued recording and touring for many years. In this reminiscence for New Music Box, trumpeter John McNeil, who has created some innovative but underrated CDs of his own, tells of touring as a sideman in Silver's quintet in the late 1970s. Silver, says McNeil, was stickler for rehearsals, being on time for a gig, keeping a musician’s own problems away from the job, and unconcerned with a person’s racial background.
A photographer as well as a saxophonist, Lisbon-based Rodrigo Amado tells Avant Music News’ Mike Borella about the gradual flowering of Portuguese Jazz that arrived with the country’s liberalizing society after 1974’s peaceful, ant-fascist revolution. As part of the scene, playing with other local sound explorers such as violinist Carlos Zíngaro, Amado was also fundamental in helping to create two different record labels to record more progressive music. Today besides playing locally, he has evolved recording and/or touring partnerships with musicians like Americans, trumpeters Peter Evans and Dennis González and multi-reedist Joe McPhee, as well as Europeans such as Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and British saxophonist Paul Dunmall.
Starting off with a background listening to Hard Rock, Blues and big band music and playing conventional Jazz, Berlin-based alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard finally heard records of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy plus tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle live and found herself drawn to Free Jazz. In this unsigned article in The Olden Retriever, she discusses her early years becoming a musician; her turn away from playing Bebop to less structured sounds; her views on the present scene of many Jazz festivals, but no mass media exposure for Jazz; and how her various groups, featuring among others, pianist Ake Takase and bassist Jan Roder, try to put their own stamp on classics by Dolphy and Coleman.
Although during the mid-1960s it may have seemed as if tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders materialized out of nowhere to add his frenzied playing to the ensembles of Sun Ra and John Coltrane, The Arkansas Times’ Will Stephenson points out that the saxophonist had already established himself in his home town of Little Rock. Collecting information from local musicians, Stephenson notes that before he traveled first to Oakland, Calif., and then New York, “Farrell”, as he was known, played R&B throughout the then-segregated city, studied Coltrane solos assiduously, and finally abandoned Little Rock around the time the racial situation become infamously ugly.
The neighborhood was out of the way, drug-ridden and dangerous, but from 1964 to 1972 Slugs Saloon was one of the most important Jazz clubs in New York. On this Radio New Zealand broadcast, Slugs' original owner Jerry Schultz, who now lives in that country, fills in the club's background for Daniel Beban. Featuring snippets of the music played on stage, Schultz's stories encompass how his club provided a stage for everyone from mainstreamers like saxophonist George Coleman and drummer Max Roach to outright experimenters like saxophonist Albert Ayler and pianist Cecil Taylor, not forgetting the years the entire Sun Ra Arkestra played there every Monday night. Schultz also recounts details about trumpeter Lee Morgan’s death at the club. Listen and
Perhaps most people won’t notice it at a time when the most popular Jazz celebrates accessible, swinging, melodic music, but tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler’s groundbreaking Free-Jazz classic Spiritual Unity was recorded 50 years ago this year. As Kevin Whitehead points out in Wondering Sound, on the disc Ayler overcame Free Jazz’s strident sameness by composing tunes such as his anthemic “Ghosts” which were catchy and hummable. Whitehead also outlines how the other participants in this break-through session – bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray – redefined the roles of their particular instruments just by playing on that LP. Contemporary players such as guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Eric Revis also testify to the lasting influence on Jazz of Ayler and that seminal album.
Jazz has been described by observers as astute as guitarist Derek Bailey as the most romantic of music with its inbred myths. One of the longest lasting is that the music spread northwards from New Orleans after the Secretary of the U.S. Navy ordered the closing the of Storyville right-light district in 1917. That’s pretty far from the truth as Bruce Raeburn, director of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive tells The Times-Picayune’s Alison Fensterstock, Not only were there few gigs for anyone but pianists in the sporting houses, but by that time major figures such as saxophonist Sidney Bechet, cornetist King Oliver, trombonist Kid Ory and pianist Jelly Roll Morton were already performing the music on the vaudeville circuit.
For more than 35 years, in different locations, the Roulette artist’s space has been a major centre of experimental music in New York City. Roulette’s trombonist/curator Jim Staley tells New Music Box’s Frank J. Oteri that his programming has been so open because his aesthetic was focused on the two Johns: John Coltrane and John Cage. That means that since he opened his loft to performance in the late 1970s, when Manhattan rents were less-expensive and foundation and government grants easier to obtain, he’s been as interested in presenting programs featuring avant-garde Jazz as those involving the Downtown minimalist scene. Staley, who early on played regularly with improvisers such as saxophonist John Zorn and guitarist Fred Frith as well as with committed notated and contemporary music composers, was as apt to feature and play with outside jazzers like pianist Borah Bergman or harpist Zeena Parkins as through-composed works. Sky-rocketing Manhattan rents drove Roulette to larger premises in Brooklyn a few years ago, but Staley's commitment to younger improv-influenced music creators such as Peter Evans and Nate Wooley remains.
Looking through her newspaper’s morgue, the Daily Star’s Johanna Eubank found a fascinating interview from 1922 with then-famous American bandleader John Philip Sousa, who dismissed what he called Jazz. Sousa (1854-1932), composer of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and numerous other marches, says Jazz “could never be permanent any more than the Gavotte, the rag time or the cake walk ... It will die as they have done.” Considering the interview predated the soon to be created historic work of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, not to mention later advances of Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Cecil Taylor, it looks like Sousa should have stuck to conducting.
Jazz’s long-time fusion with other musics appears to be a novel topic for Philadelphia Inquirer critic David Patrick Stearns. But he tries to properly understand the new oratorio by Philly-born, New York-based pianist Uri Caine. Commissioned by the Freedom Festival Community Choir, it’s based on the life and martyrdom of Philadelphia-based Civil War era leader Octavius Catto. Stearns, who draws parallels between mid-19th Century and contemporary race relations, notes that Caine’s father headed the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia during the turbulent 1970s. However the critic is obviously more knowledgeable about Caine’s improvisations on themes by so-called classical composers like Mahler and Hayden rather than the pianist’s more Jazz-centric work.
While his musical history goes back over 50 years, while working with major Jazz players such as alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, pianist McCoy Tyner and bandleader Sun Ra, among many others, sometime-Buffalo, N.Y.-based Juni Booth is as little know as a Free Jazz player can be. On the occasion of a Booth gig in the city, The Buffalo News' Jeff Simon tries to rectify the situation by highlighting his achievements. Simon’s recounting of Booth’s eccentricities may be one reason for the bassist’s obscurity. He has frequently spelled his first name as Joony, Jooney, Junnieh or Juini and often gives fictional names when approached by impressed fans.
American born and educated in European classical music, Miya Masaoka first began to stretch tradition when she began playing koto in a gagaku ensemble. But as she tells New Music Box’s Frank J. Oteri it was improvising with saxophonists such as Pharaoh Sanders and Larry Ochs, which opened up the Jazz tradition to her. After recording a CD of Thelonious Monk tunes with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille – “Monk did an album of Japanese folk songs, so I kind of did a version of him doing a version of Japanese folk songs” –she has since extended her musical reach by working in other situations with improvisers, composing graphic scores and orchestral pieces plus performing site-specific koto-centred works featuring bees and Madagascan cockroaches.
Well they do have elaborate rites and special costumes, but who knew that so many prominent jazz musicians were free masons? The Guardian’s John Lewis that’s who. In this wide-ranging piece on free masonry, which counted creative types like Mozart among its adherents – the order famously paid for his funeral – Lewis outlines the particular history of Black masonry. Stressing its fraternal connections, he reveals that musicians ranging from Duke Ellington to Nat King Cole were enthusiasts. Of course the Jazz composer who most made use of Masonic iconography and costumes was Sun Ra. But it’s never been proven that he was actually a mason.