Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Nate Wooley: Happenstance and Commitment

Point of Departure’s Troy Collins tries to put a handle on the myriad activities of trumpeter Nate Wooley and finds that the Brooklyn-based stylist is involved in everything from straight-ahead jazz with the likes of Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day band, tape and electronic music, to solo playing and as association with noise bands alongside Mike Pride and others. Wooley, who lucked into meeting a group of like-minded experiments when he moved from Denver to New York 15 years ago, insists that a musician has to use any means necessary to connect with people. He’s also adamant that musicians who can communicate in prose as well as music shouldn’t be criticized as being too articulate and told to stick to playing. Wooley, who says he wants his trumpet to sound like a voice, is open to situations that can range from working with Fender Rhodes specialist Jozef Dumoulin to being part of composer Anthony Braxton’s groups. Plus he has a unique take on why he surprised everyone by recording a whole CD of Wynton Marsalis compositions. READ

Sound and Continuum: Muhal Richard Abrams

Enigmatic and forward thinking, composer and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams seems to confuse New Music Box’s Frank J. Oteri when he doesn’t ascribe the same importance to some of his compositions that the interviewer does. But the focus of Abrams’ autodidactic methods, that also lead to the formation of Chicago’s AACM, is that all music is sound and all sound is part of a continuum. Besides modestly downplaying his role as a leader and teacher, Abrams insists that notated music figures such as Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Chopin improvised as well as composed and how he’s as influenced by their ideas as those of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington or any so-called jazz figures. Of course, as someone who taught himself to both play piano and compose an important body of work, inspiration and circumstances play roles in Abrams evolution as well. And don't forget stylists like Sonny Stitt and George Coleman with whom Abrams played during his apprenticeship. READ

Defining the Role of the Improvising Cellist: Daniel Levin

Perfect technique and faultless reading don’t add up to the skills needed to be a top-flight improvising cellist, reveals Daniel Levin in this interview with Anne Yven for London Jazz News and France's Citizen Jazz. The ideal is not to be afraid to play something others find bad, dumb or obvious. At least that’s what Levin tells beginning improvisers. His commitment to improv came from an experience when he was 19, and since that time he has built up steady relationships with many other musicians, most notably in one group with alto saxophonist Rob Brown and in another band with violist Mat Maneri. Levin also relates how when he was studying formally with Joe Maneri, the teacher/reedist allowed him to play his tenor saxophone for a while so that Levin would become less inhibited in his own cello playing. READ

Joe Fonda: The Physicality of the Double Bass

Throughout his years as bass player of choice for a variety of advanced Jazz combos, Joe Fonda has been  known for the joyful body language he brings to his playing. The reason for this, he explains to Jazz’halo’s Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther, is his long association with powerful drummer such as Lou Grassi, Barry Altschul and Harvey Sorgen. Fonda goes on to tell how he evolved from being a teenage ProgRock fan to an improvising Jazz musician, the influence of Ornette Coleman on his music, and how he defines the musical essence of the groups within which he plays. READ

The Pianists in My Life: Gary Peacock

Short and to the point, in the interview, veteran double bassist Gary Peacock tells Westword’s Jon Solomon about how his style has changed over the years through the input of the pianists with whom he’s worked. In Denver for a gig with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron, Peacock, 80, describes the appeal of piano stylists like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Paul Bley, and what each one contributed to his musical evolution. He also reveals that he decided to become a professional musician in this early teens, but didn’t find his ideal instrument until he started playing double bass in 1955. READ

Vijay Iyer is given The New Yorker’s Imprimatur

From its lofty height as arbiter of high-class culture, The New Yorker occasionally reaches down to profile someone from the popular arts. That seems to be the focus of Alec Wilkinson’s article on pianist Vijay Iyer. Newsworthy because he’s Asian-American not White or Black, Iyer who is described as often mistaken “for an accountant”, has a PhD, teaches at Harvard and is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s artist-in-residence. Besides the establishment credentials advanced, at least there is some mention in the story of his association with the radical Asian Improv group in California, his admiration for Thelonious Monk’s playing, his mentoring by saxophonist Steve Coleman and electronic musician David Wessel, and his on-going musical relationship with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose eclecticism defies standardization. READ

Another One Bites The Dust: RIP Jazz Record Mart

A venerable institution that fed the habit of Jazz and Blues fans for an amazing 57 years, Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart (JRM), which closed earlier this year, was probably the one store in the world that tried to stock any and every Jazz disc – on 78, 16, 45, 33, tape and CD. In this Chicago Reader article, Peter Margasak, who worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s recalls his experiences and that of others. Owned by the irascible Bob Koester, along with the Delmark record label, the JRM was simultaneously antique and futuristic. Ignoring modern retailing trends, the JRM gave experience and employment to obsessives, who ended up starting their own stores or record labels, such as Nessa’s Chuck Nessa, Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer and Okka Disc’s Bruno Johnson. The JRM also provided employment and a place to practice for musicians ranging from harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, cornetist Josh Berman and vibist Jason Adasiewicz to AACM stalwart, reedist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. The JRM was also the place committed Jazz musicians hung out, ranging from locals to visitors, including modernist trumpeter Ted Curson and Swing pianist Jay McShann.


Was Bitches Brew Teo Macero’s Greatest Creation?

Yes, according to George Grella Jr. in this provocative article for New Music Box. Although there’s no dispute that the themes of what is one of Miles Davis’ most famous sessions were created by the trumpeter and his band – including reedists Bennie Maupin and Wayne Shorter; keyboardists Chick Corea, Larry Young and Joe Zawinul, bassist Dave Holland  and drummer Jack DeJohnette – the finished product was as much the work of producer Teo Macero as Davis. Macero (1925-2008), who also produced important sessions for Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk among others, was a composer and friend of Edgard Varèse. Apparently he used sophisticated musique concrete-like splicing and editing techniques to move and re-orient sections of the recorded sounds to shape them into the form(s) that become the disc's six released tracks. READ

At home with Ornette and Cherry: Neneh Cherry

Of all the tributes that appeared after the death of alto saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman last year, one of the most personal and insightful was published in The Guardian by singer Neneh Cherry. Cherry, who is the step-daughter of long-time Coleman associate, pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, first met Coleman when her family stayed at his place in New York. She was 2½ and remained in contact with him for the rest of his life. Cherry, who remembers the alto saxophonist never speaking down to anyone – even a child – recounts how her step-father first met the alto saxophonist; how creative musicians always struggle for acceptance;  Coleman’s deep connection with the blues; and how and when she finally worked up the courage to sing one of his songs. READ

Getting Attached to Strings: How Tomeka Reid become an improvising cellist

Starting off as a so-called classical cello nerd from Maryland, Tomeka Reid has become an in-demand string player based in Chicago. In this Q&A with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins, she outlines how moving to the Windy City in 2000 exposed her to players such as flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed who helped her find her own voice via the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Today, besides working in the bands of veterans such as trombonist George Lewis and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, the cellist leads her own bands, including a trio with guitarist Matt Schneider and bassist Josh Abrams and is part of the intercontinental trio Hear in Now, with violinist Mazz Swift and Italian bassist Silvia Bolognesi. READ

The 50 Greatest Blue Note Albums (according to one source)

Humans love lists and humans love nostalgia. That’s probably why the editors of the Discover Music Web page decided to list their idea of the 50 greatest albums from what they term is “unquestionably the most iconic jazz label”. Besides a potted history of the imprint, the usual discs by Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey Jimmy Smith and Grant Green are listed along with some outliers such as ones by Tina Brooks and Sidney Bechet. But when it comes to pace-setting sounds, cracks appear in the façade. Few would quarrel with Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch as #4, or Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador at #6. But who put Don Cherry’s Complete Communion in last place, plus there's no mention of  LPs by Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill or Grachan Moncur III? READ

Taking Action on Solo Saxophone Playing: Jon Irabagon

Celebrated for his inventive work with bands such as Mostly Other People Do the Killing and guitarist Mary Halvorson’s Quintet, saxophonist Jon Irabagon has recently releases a solo saxophone CD, Inaction is an Action. In this piece written for Rova: Arts Web page, he outlines the strategy he evolved to create the disc. Initially fascinated by the solo work of Evan Parker, he went on to absorb sounds by other saxophone soloists such as Roscoe Mitchell, John Zorn, John Butcher, Ned Rothenberg and even Lee Konitz — and he includes an extensive list of solo saxophone CDs in the piece. Besides a discussion of the techniques he used and the focus he needed to create his project, he adds a postscript about reaction to the CD’s release. READ

Poetry in Musical Motion: The Life and Times of Steve Steve Dalachinsky

There’s really no contest in existence, but if anyone deserves to be called a Jazz Poet then it’s Manhattan’s Steve Dalachinsky. The Brooklyn-born, long-time Soho resident, 69, has been writing experimental verse since the 1960s. Along the way he’s written many CD booklet notes and many poems with a Jazz theme, most prominently The Final Nite and Other Poems: The Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006, which celebrates the art of saxophonist/pianist and underground music avatar Charles Gayle. The Villager’s Dusica Sue Mallesvic fills in the back story of the poet, who cites Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Ezra Pound, Delmore Schwartz, Federico Garcia Lorca, e e cummings and William Blake among his influences as well as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Just as key to the story is New York’s changing landscape: many of the venues Dalachinsky frequented and in which Gayle played, no longer exist. READ

Beyond U.K.’s Borders: Foreign Influences on British Jazz

Someone writing for a site called The Vinyl Factory doesn’t surprise by having preference and unique ideas of what constitutes “Jazz”. But in this short survey, Liam Izo manages to highlight some of the Commonwealth musicians who shook up the insular nature of Jazz in the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s. They include Jamaican-born alto saxophonist Joe Harriott; South African native, pianist Chris McGregor and his Brotherhood of Breath big band featuring his fellow countryman alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana; Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler; and even London-born of Caribbean heritage [!] vibist Opry Robinson. Too bad Izo didn’t extend his survey to Free Music area, which continues to attract many more expatriates from Europe and elsewhere to enliven the scene. READ

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