Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


Now with a Rounder Sound: David Murray

After 20 years in Europe tenor saxophonist David Murray has returned to the U.S. to find a changed Jazz scene, he tells Do the Math’s Paul Devlin. Besides his own quartet of younger musicians, he’s working in all-star ensembles like a trio with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Gerri Allen as well as a revival of Clarinet Summit featuring Hamiet Bluiett, David Krakauer and Don Byron. But it’s difficult to make a living, with young musicians willing to play for hardly anything. This is a big change for Murray, who in Europe and Cuba organized big bands, regularly played large festivals, recorded prolifically and worked on educational projects. He also contrasts the situation today with the 1970s, when after growing up in California and absorbing sounds from slightly older musicians such as alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and cornetists Butch Morris and Bobby Bradford, in New York he quickly moved from playing lofts to better-paying nightclub gigs. Murray who says a musician needs at least 10 years of experience to be proficient, and whose music is now more swing-oriented than before, also discuses how his sound has changed over the years; he’s using fewer notes, but with more authority.   READ

Mary Halvorson: Inspiration and Improvisation

Although now one of the most lauded guitarists in improvised music, Mary Halvorson tells the National Endowment for the Arts publication's Rebecca Sutton that her initial guitar interest was Rock and Jimi Hendrix. However as she continued studying the instrument, immersion in her father’s Jazz record collection gradually turned her towards more challenging music. Halvorson, who has worked with ensembles of many sizes from duos to large groups – and is now even writing lyrics for a band with a singer – cites guitarist Joe Morris and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton as musicians who changed her musical life. It was Morris, who insisted she figure out her own way of playing, and who was responsible for her switching from being a science to becoming a music major in university. Later, Beaxton’s teaching gave her the freedom to ignore so-called mistakes and to be unafraid to try to play anything, even if she felt she was figuratively falling on her face. READ

Remembering BAG and drummer Philip Wilson

Although not as well known as many members of the 1960s Free Jazz explosion, drummer Philip Wilson (1941-1992) was an important link among Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), St. Louis’ Black Artists Group (BAG) and even Los Angeles’ Rock music scene. Pop-funk saxophonist David Sanborn – of all people – tells Do the Math’s Ethan Iverson how his friendship with the gregarious Wilson led to him becoming a professional saxophonist. Growing up in St. Louis, tyro Sanborn, through Wilson, was introduced to, and later worked with, inventive Jazz visionaries like saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill and trumpeter Lester Bowie, who later helped organize the World Saxophone Quartet and the Art Ensemble of Chicago  respectively. Besides playing early gigs with these avant-garde pioneers, it was Sanborn’s friendship with Wilson, who was working with the Paul, Butterfield Blues Band at the time, that got the saxophonist a job with that group and led to his first recording session in L.A.. READ

Rediscovering Palestine: The background of the American composer

European-based, Brooklyn-born composer/keyboardist Charlemagne Palestine seems genuinely surprised that he and his music have become popular in the 21st Century, leading to collaborations with the likes of electronic manipulator Ignaz Schick, percussionist Burkhard Beins and even fellow composer/trumpeter/guitarist Rhys Chatham. However as he tells Hanna Bächer of RBMA Radio, his best-known,  continuous compositions such as “Strumming”, actually have their genesis in the Jewish liturgical music he first performed as a child singer. Of course later being part of the 1960s-1970s musical gestalt centred on New York’s Bleecker Street and at  Los Angeles’ CalArts, where his collaborators were as likely to be singer Tiny Tim as electronic pioneers Terry Riley and Steve Reich, helped orient his sound creations towards uniqueness as well. READ

The London Improvisers Orchestra Presses On

Nearly 20 years after a group of London musicians decided to create their own large-scale improvising band following concerts helmed by American conduction pioneer  Lawrence “Butch” Morris, the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO) continues to flourish. In this piece written by Gerard F Tierney for the LIO’s Web site a bit of the ensembles history and changes over time is outlined. Initially guided by the likes of keyboardist Steve Beresford and reedist Evan Parker, new ideas of how to operate later came from saxophonist Caroline Kraaabel and pianist Pat Thomas, with guest performers in the person of soundsinger Jaap Blonk and trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith and others adding to the LIO’s maturity and appeal. Although the recitation of London locations may be a little hard to follower for the non-Brit, Tierney provides insight into how the orchestra continues to function, while staying true to its original goals of playing improvisations with little advance planning. READ

One hundred percent honest and genuine: Ivo Perelman’s music

The Village Voice’s Michel J. Agovino uses the fact that Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has released seven [!] CDs simultaneously to examine the reedist’s career, as well as praising the audacity of Leo Fagin, for whose Leo Records Perelman records. Pointing out that Perelman’s brand of no-holds-barred, unsweetened sound exploration  only appeals to a minority of listeners – and is well documented, as six of the saxophonist’s CDs were released together a few months earlier – Agovino tries to situate the Brazilian within the Jazz continuum. A Bossa Nova musician playing Free Jazz is one definition he suggests. As part of the story, Agovino also mentions some of Perelman’s long-time collaborators, including pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker; and notes that in its long history Leo Records has released many other  important sessions by the likes of pianists Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell. READ

Bley, Bley & Kimbrough: Solace in Creativity and Innovation

Trying to come to terms with Donald Trump’s vision of the world, The Paris Review’s Adam Shatz first investigates the recorded  cynicism of poet-singer Gil Scott-Heron and then turns to the expansive artistry of pianist Franklin Kimbrough, suggesting that his newest CD with bassist Jay Anderson and the drummer Jeff Hirshfield is alive with “quiet fire”. Shatz also lets his high-brow readers know that Kimbrough ideas didn’t arise in a vacuum, but through study of the work of fellow pianists Herbie Nchols and especially Paul Bley. Bley’s adaptation of Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary ideas mixed with the incisive composition of Carla Bley and expressed on a 1972 solo disc for ECM established a new way to hear Jazz piano, a concept subsequently refined by everyone from Keith Jarrett to Kimbrough. READ

Doing Everything Himself: Weasel Walter’s Big Band

 From his earliest days in Chicago, through his West Coast residency, to his relocation to New York in 2009, drummer Weasel Walter has become used to the D-I-Y lifestyle  – organizing gigs and recording sessions, then mixing, mastering,  packaging and releasing the product. He tells Jazz Right Now’s Cisco Bradley, his most recent focus is exposure for Igneity, his large-scale composition for 12 musicians, which in the past has featured soloists such as guitarist Henry Kaiser and guitarist/reedist Elliott Sharp. The most recent performance, with players like guitarist Brandon Seabrook, trombonist Steve Swell and trumpeter Jamie Branch, is an hour-long Free Jazz blow-out like the classics Machine Gun, Ascension and European Echoes. Yet Walter also says the composition is so flexible that it can be retooled to be played by five musicians in only 30 minutes.


Recorded Jazz’ 100th Birthday Still Shrouded in Racial Myths

Although it’s conceded that The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) cut the first so-called Jazz record early in 1917, 100 years haven’t diminished the band, and its cornetist Nick LaRocca’s, spurious claim to have invented Jazz. In a reasoned report on the subject, The New Orleans Advocate’s Katy Reckdahl speaks to noted historians at Tulane University as well as descendents of ODJB’s musicians, who repeat LaRocca’s shibboleths about how whites invented Jazz rather than African-Americans with more than skepticism. Eventually the mixing of so-called Black and White musics is agreed upon as the reason for Jazz’s birth, and this was reflected in subsequent post-ODJB recordings. READ

Still Fighting Sexism: Women in Jazz

Jazz-R&B pianist Robert Glasper’s assertion to pianist Ethan Iverson on his Do The Math blog that one of the reasons for his music's popularity is that it vibrates women’s “musical clitoris” garnered legitimate criticism for confirming Jazz’s latent sexist, reports the NPR’s Michelle Mercer. But while additionally pointing out that Iverson’s pro-liberal/feminist stance – a claim invalidated by pianist Vijay Iyer noting that none of Iverson’s previous Do The Math interviews were with female musicians, but with 42 men – is no excuse, it seems that others were skirting the problem. Not one other woman is quoted by name with an opinion as Mercer outlines the controversy. READ

Coltrane-Ali’s Interstellar Space Turns 50

Actually celebrating an anniversary that isn’t some Rock milestone, Rolling Stone’s Hank Shteamer  contributes an extended story on the creation of the classic Interstellar Space duo LP, record by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali in 1967, but was unreleased until 1974. Shteamer talks to Impulse Record’s Ed Michel for background on the delay, and John’s son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, for an analysis of the music, while tapping saxophonists as far apart in age as Ingrid Laubrock and Peter Brötzmann to pinpoint the session’s extended influence. Shteamer even has enough space to discuss some recorded salutes to Interstellar Space, including a recasting of the music by guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Greg Bendian; and another which extended the original concept still further, featuring tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis and Ali himself. READ

Cecil Taylor’s Teaching Stint at Antioch College Examined

Not exactly an in-depth study, but this article by WYSO’s Dave Barber casts some light on pianist Cecil Taylor’s stint teaching at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio from 1969 to 1973. Able to lecture and also rehearse with the so-called Black Music Ensemble of students and others who had followed him from other educational institutions, it was a rare opportunity for the pianist and his associates, alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Andrew Cyrille, to have their music regularly performed by a 20 to 30 piece orchestra. In fact Taylor brought in new scores to be performed by the group every day. Funding cuts finally ended the experiment. This story is linked to an archived radio broadcast of the same piece that includes some tantalizing glimpses of Taylor improvising in a college classroom.


Mats Gustafsson Shows off his Vinyl Collection – and it’s HUGE

Besides being one of the most prominent Free Jazz saxophonists, Swede Mats Gustafsson is a fanatic LP collector, or as he calls it, a discaholic. This interview with Anton Spice for The Vinyl Factory’s Web page took place in the basement of the tenor and baritone saxophonist’s home which is filled with 2½ tonnes [!] of LPs. When not playing in his own groups or in bands led by the likes of British bassist Barry Guy, Gustafsson and fellow discaholics like American guitarists Thurston Moore and Stephen O’Malley haunt every record store they can find in any country in which they play. Although he’s been a vinyl collector since he was 12, the saxophonist reveals that his want list still includes some LPs by the likes of Swedish saxophonist Bengt Nordström, Dutch drummer Han Bennink and even a limited pressing of a disc featuring Guy and British pianist Howard Riley. READ

Has Matthew Ship Stopped Recording?

Stopping Recording? That’s what the New York-based pianist Matthew Ship, who has put out 24 albums so far this decade alone, tells the Village Voice’s Michael J. Agovino. Shipp also insists that  that his most recent CD, featuring his long-time bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker will be his final disc ... well, aside from “a few things” he has to do for other labels. At least Agovino  speaks to other musicians and producers who cast some doubt on the pianist's statement and who note that Shipp made a similar pronouncement in 2003. After that though, discs kept being recorded and released. While its peg may be bogus or wanting, this article in the general media is comprehensive enough to situate Shipp within Jazz history, push aside the tired Ship and Cecil Taylor comparisons, and relate his playing to other advanced keyboard stylists such as Lennie Tristano, Paul Bley, Andrew Hill  and even the almost forgotten Lowell Davidson. READ

Knowing when to say ‘Ì Don`t Know’: John Lindberg’s Lifetime of Learning

Veteran bassist John Lindberg has devoted his musical life to discovering new and different situations. From his time as a teenage student of bassist David Izenzon and member of saxophonist Anthony Braxton's ensembles, to his founding of the seminal String Trio of New (STNY) York and membership in bands led by pianist Eric Watson, among others to times teaching at CalArts where he isn’t afraid to tell his students he doesn’t know something and works through the problems with them, “I inherently love a good challenge, of any kind,” he asserts. In this detailed interview with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins, Lindberg discusses his collaborative nature when composing notated music; his on-going playing relationship with avatars such as trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith (38 years and counting); how the STNY, initially constituted with guitarist James Emery and violinist Billy Bang introduced a new concept to improvised music; and how he’s been energized by such unexpected  influences as bird songs, immersion in natural surroundings, and even a stint volunteering as an EMT driver in a rural area. READ

Unveiling the Soul of the Artist: Chuck Stewart

After spending more than 70 years photographing many Jazz greats, Chuck Stewart died at 89 in late January 2017. This appreciation, by WBFO-FM’s Nate Chinen and film maker Carol Friedman, fills in the details of his schooling and wide-ranging career as well as pinpointing his generosity of spirit.  Stewart's avuncular nature served him well when he was creating the publicity shots and album covers that for years defined the way musicians looked to the public. Friendly with many Jazz greats, Stewart’s outstanding portraits and working shots of artists ranging from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis and from John Coltrane to Louis Armstrong, Eric Dolphy and even Billie Holiday, are cherished by many fans and record collectors. It turn out that beside his more familiar images, Stewart also left behind reams of additional photos. (A link to an audio interview with Stewart is included). READ

Small Jazz Labels are Thriving – Sort of

Taking a break from its new orientation towards discovering the most fashionable eating spots, bars or boutiques, the Village Voice allowed Michael J. Agovino to report on the health of New York City’s small Jazz imprints. Less upbeat than the premise would indicate, Agovino’s report confirms that most profitable small labels are ones which also have a foot in Latin, Indie-Rock or so-called World Music as well as Jazz. Still he does point out that saxophonist Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, In for a Pound, released on the smaller Pi label, which was unhyphenated Jazz, did win the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for music. Ironically the fact unexpectedly revealed as well is that almost all the label owners would rather produce CDs than currently fashionable vinyl. LPs are costly to produce and bad for the environment they say. READ

Creating Music for his Own Time: Daniel Levin

Going into the details of the selected improviser’s compositional process and cooperative playing situations Jazz Right Now’s Cisco Bradley presents a profile of New York cellist Daniel Levin. Someone who was immersed in playing so-called classical string quartets from an early age, Levin found that in order to express his own musical ideas he had to develop a personal language, something he began while studying with legendary Boston-based pedagogue and saxophonist Joe Maneri. Delving into the evolution of his own writing, Levin also notes how its interpretation depends in some part from the freedom offered by his long-time sympathetic relationship in bands with such players as bassists Joe Morris and Torbjörn Zetterberg, trumpeters Dave Ballou and Nate Wooley and especially vibraphonist Matt Moran. READ

I am a Stage Woman: Parsing Jöelle Léandre’s 40-Year Career

Fêted even by prestigious Paris newspaper Le Monde for her longevity, French double bassist Jöelle Léandre’s recounts the highlights and struggles of her 40-year career in improvised music to The Free Jazz Collective’s Stef. Linking her theatrical stage presence to an interest in Dadaism, Léandre also explains that other motivating factors in her life are trying to are reorder music’s hierarchy as well putting in hard work to express her ideas. Attributing her beginnings to exposure to the music of such American Jazz musicians as pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Anthony Braxton – with whom she would eventually record – she expresses a preference for small group interaction. She also insists that more women should become involved in creative music, singling out Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano for particular praise. READ

A Musical Life in 10 Recordings: Andrew Cyrille

One of Jazz’s most inventive drummers, over his long career Andrew Cyrille, 76, has dipped in-and-out of mainstream Jazz while helping to forge what is now known as Free Jazz. In this interview with Jazz Times’ Aidan Levy, the drummer reminisces about 10 records on which he was featured from 1961 to 2016, and the percussion strategies he used to make each memorable. Besides well-known dates he did with expected partners such pianist Cecil Taylor, conductor Butch Morris, saxophonist Oliver Lake and synthesize player Richard Teitelbaum among others, he cites an early LP by his own Maono quartet with then young saxophonist David S. Ware,  a drum duet with as inventive, but less recognized percussionist Milford Graves and other little remembered sessions including one with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and another vibraphonist featuring Walt Dickerson. READ