Composer/alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill’s winning of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music confirms that this venerable institution is finally in touch with more than Euro-centric sounds. In this Chicago Tribune article Howard Reich, who has served on the Pulitzer jury in the past, outlines the contentious history of the prize which has been given since 1943 to little-noted, so-called classical compositions, bypassing major musical figures such as Duke Ellington. Ellington was refused a special citation in 1965, which famously led to the resignation of two board members. Recent rule liberalization has led to the prize going to Wynton Marsalis in 1997, as well as special posthumous citations to the likes of Thelonious Monk, Ellington and John Coltrane; with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, a finalist in 2013. Threadgill – and Smith’s – prominence at the Pulitzers also confirms the continuing influence of the Chicago-birthed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians of which both are long-time members.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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The concepts advanced may come from the Indie-Folk and Indie-Rock world, but in this The Wire article, label owner Britt Brown advances some ideas which can lead to small label longevity. Brown, who has operated the Los Angeles-based micro LP and CD imprint Not Not Fun since 2004, suggests that the ideal situation involves artist loyalty, fluidity in musical definitions and having a concept of how recorded material may be perceived in the future. Oh, and unless the label is run by visual artists, musicians, not the company, should decide on their own release's presentation.
With her compositions like “Ida Lupino” now Jazz standards and having lead various bands for more than 50 years, at 80 pianist/composer Carla Bley is being celebrated as a Jazz “master”. Still, as she tells The New York Times’ Nate Chinen, she didn’t just want to be one of the woman of stature in Jazz – she wanted to be the only one. Gender politics aside, the article runs down Bley’s contributions to the music’s literature and her struggle to be accepted, touching on her Free Jazz association with pianist Paul Bley; her large group experimentation with trumpeter Michael Mantler; as well as her collaboration with bassist Charlie Haden in the Liberation Music Orchestra. Happily Chinen also mentions her more cerebral but still quirky small group work with electric bassist Steve Swallow.
Unfortunately Point of Departure’s Bill Shoemaker crams too much into this column tracking the birth and somewhat tepid acceptance of South African pianist Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) band organized in 1970s London. The basic story of putting together a large Free Jazz-oriented ensemble with different aims and roots than the American model is described. Yet the piece tries to deal with too many subjects, including in-fighting among members of the original Blue Notes: alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo plus McGregor; the evolving state of British Free Music, which introduced saxophonists Mike Osborn and Evan Parker to BOB; the incursions into BOB of Jazz pros like tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore and trombonist Malcolm Griffiths to gain mainstream legitimacy; detours into the problems of British government funding; plus the policies of British record labels hoping that a variant of avant-garde jazz could be the next big thing after Rock. If you can also put up with 21st Century reinterpretations of contemporary music writing and brief glimpses of almost forgotten Jazzers such as saxophonists Ronnie Beer and Kenneth Terroade, you will find some notable analysis of the BOB’s records among the essay's more than 7,600 words.
What would have been helpful is if Consequence of Sounds’ Ryan Bray had known – or looked up – the proper spelling of producer Bob Thiele’s name, who tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp speaks about here, or the correct title – Blue Haze – of the Miles Davis LP Shepp mentions; but Bray manages to transcribe some valuable thoughts the now-veteran Shepp has about his mentor, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Shepp, who later worked and recorded with Trane, recalls that he first heard him play in his native Philadelphia, but didn’t appreciate the older saxophonist’s skill until the latter’s justly famous New York club residency with pianist Thelonious Monk. Shepp also reveals the he could have used some guidance about chord changes from Trane when recording Ascension, since the younger saxophonist had just had his musical concept turned around working with pianist Cecil Taylor, the master of unbridled musical freedom.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.