Kart on Perkins

The latest on tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins’s solo methodology: critic and historian Larry Kart responds to musician Charlie Shoemake’s pondering the other day on the nature and origin of Perkins’s harmonic choices.

I understand what Charlie Shoemake says up a point, but then I don’t understand it all, at least not as it applies to latter-day Perkins, who seems to me to have become one of the more harmonically oriented players on the planet — a man whose melodies were in effect being generated by a series of (no doubt to some considerable degree self-invented) substitutions. Not only that, it also seems fairly clear to me that the obliqueness and, at times IMO, the awkwardness of Perkins’ latter-day harmonic thinking amounted to an attempt on his part to make obliqueness in that realm trickle over into the realm of rhythm,where Perkins apparently felt that he was far less fluid, hip, you name it than he would have wanted to be (witness his statements about how he felt about the rhythmic nature of his own playing versus that of Richie Kamuca when they were running buddies).
If I had to take a guess, I’d say that the model for latter-day Perkins was Thelonious Monk, in whose music every significant harmonic event (especially as rendered in pianistic terms) also was a significant rhythmic event (“the piano is a drum”). The problem here, at least for me, is that generating that kind of simultaneous harmonic/rhythmic friction and making it work in “language” terms over the long run is a heck of a lot harder to do on an essentially linear instrument like the tenor saxophone. One tenorman these days who seems to be doing, or trying to do, this is Rich Perry — whose playing to my ear bears some some resemblance to that of latter-day Perkins (at least in terms of underlying principles) and who, for what it’s worth (given Shoemake’s identification of Joe Henderson as a key harmonically oriented/knowledgable player), was so heavily influenced by Henderson when he was coming up that he was known as “Little Joe.”

Larry Kart’s new book is Jazz In Search Of Itself.

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