remembering sam rivers

Like so many music lovers, I'm mourning the death of Sam Rivers

I heard Sam play a few times, late in his life. Never back in the day, at the RivBea loft, though. 

But I do have a very clear memory of attending Jason Moran's sessions that led to his 2001 release Black Stars, at Systems Two in Brooklyn. Jason was maybe 25 at the time, Sam 77. Saxophonist Greg Osby, in whose band Moran played at the time, was producing. 

(I've described that scene below; Moran pointed out to me that these sessions were captured on video; about 4 minutes in is the action I'll describe here, the album's closing piece. There's also some nice commentary from Moran about what Rivers's presence meant to him.)

At one point, Moran walked over to Osby and said, "We're going to do a completely impovised piece, and Sam will start it on piano." Osby is one of those people who can raise one eyebrow without moving the other--I can't--and he did that in an exaggerated way. 

So Sam sat down and began playing, stuff some people would liken to Cecil Taylor for lack of better reference but really pools of pretty distinctive melody that decomposed here and there just like real pools of water when it starts to rain, and then some crashing stuff, and then, after a minute or so, with Sam working in the piano's middle register, Jason walked over and began playing in a slightly lower key, pretty much matching the trill on which Rivers had settled. Moran soon moved into a more structured harmonic territory, and with some of his own signature phrases. 
Rivers rose from the piano, turned away, and then turned back to pick up his flute, which was resting atop the piano. Then he pretty much strutted his way across the room to another microphone. He picked up his flute and began constructing something very songlike out of what Moran was doing. The duet that followed lasted roughly two minutes, slow and sweet, ending on one long tone of Sam's that bent down as it turned to breath, as you'd more likely hear from an end-blown flute. 

After a pause, Rivers looked squarely over toward the engineer's booth. 

"Got that?" he grunted. Moran grunted too, more softly: "Damn!" 

And that's how the album ends.

(The scene carries on a bit more in the video.)

Also, here's a little excerpt from a long 1997 interview with Steve Coleman that I published as a cover story in Jazziz. Here, Coleman recalls first encountering Sam Rivers at Rivers's RivBea Studio:

Chico Freeman called me one day and said, "C'mon, let me take you to this place." 
So we went down to Studio RivBea on Bond Street. There were all these crazy-looking cats. They just looked like madmen wearing all kinds of crazy hats. Sam looked like Fu Man Chu. I'm like, "What scene is this, and who are these people." The music didn't sound like anything I had ever heard in my life. Sam's big-band music was some of the most original shit that I had ever heard. And when it was played right, it was just stunning. It was all written out. Sam was very organized. He had trunks of music. Trunks full of it. It was never properly documented. Even those records we did ["Inspiration" (1999) and  "Culimnation" (2000), both produced by Coleman] were nothing compared to what all that music represented.

December 28, 2011 11:30 AM |


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