The National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters of 2015, announced today, are musicians Carla Bley, George Coleman and Charles Lloyd — all personal favorites who provoked my earliest interests in jazz going beyond “jazz.” So here are listening recommendations — and my special shout out to Jazz Master Joe Segal of Chicago’s Jazz Showcase (receiving the A.B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy) who let teenage me in free to hear real jazz to begin with: Coleman Hawkins, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jimmy Forrest, Sun Ra, Rahsaan, Mingus, great Chicagoans Wilbur Cambell, Eddie de Haas, Jodie Christian and many more, putting me on path — Yeah! Thanks, Joe — Thanks!)
- Carla Bley’s songs full of her personal wit, dry humor and spare lyricism were first recorded by her then-husband pianist Paul Bley. Her sensibility flowered in Genuine Tong Funeral,with large ensemble charts for Gary Burton (a likely future Jazz Master) and next the rousing Liberation Music Orchestra, a ’60s classic and cultural marker. Co-founder with her second husband Michael Mantler of the Jazz Composers Orchestra (and the very important, independent New Music Distribution Service), she wrote with librettist Paul Haines the “chronotransduction” Escalator Over the Hill, a masterpiece of the large, vibrant the late ’60s and early ’70s crossover downtown/Woodstock music community (w/Cherry -McLaughlin – Haden- Motian – Barbieri – Karl Berger, Enrico Rava, Linda Ronstadt, Jack Bruce, Sheila Jordan, Don Preston, Leroy Jenkins, et al)). Since then she’s independently produced many fine, quirky albums with small groups and large, most recently with bassist Steve Swallow, her longtime companion. A total individual whose deadpan sophistication overlays much experience, ache, commitment and originality.
- George Coleman — performing with his quartet (Geo Coleman Jr. on drums) Friday, June 27 at Alvin and Friends in New Rochelle — stands tall a lineage of big hearted, big-toned blues-based/progressive bop sax men. But imho the very most memorable, melody-making improvisations he’s ever recorded are on Herbie Hancock’s beautiful original tunes written for Maiden Voyage. With Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams on the date, one might have expected Wayne Shorter — but George Coleman is just wonderful: imaginative, confident, mature, nuanced. His solos are burned in my memory.
- Charles Lloyd has always been interested in frontiers. As Eric Dolphy’s successor in Chico Hamilton’s group, he played flute as well as tenor, and his first albums in the mid ’60s have an edgy feel, related to what Yusef Lateef and Sam Rivers were up to. Then came Forest Flower, Lloyd’s triumphant Monterey jazz fest performance with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette, that got to rock-heads (sans “jazz-jazz” compromise — but check out “Sorcery“!). I always liked Lloyd’s straight-forward flute rendition of John Lennon’s “Here, There and Everywhere” on his album Love In from the Fillmore West (though in truth it’s nothing special and poorly recorded) — and his visit to the Soviet Union was hugely significant in promoting Eastern European jazz scenes. Lloyd continues to create adventurous, evocative music, finding highly creative collaborators including pianists Jason Moran, tablaist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland.
The music I’m suggesting here is 50 years old! But timeless. Bley, Coleman and Lloyd remain active, their inspirations and abilities hardly dimmed. Congrats on the official recognition and much appreciation to them for the enduring gifts they’ve given — they are truly jazz masters.