A favorite story about Al Cohn: A friend who hadn’t seen him for a long time ran into Cohn on the street in New York and said, “Hey, Al, where are you living these days?”
“Oh,” Al said, “I’m living in the past.”
I’ve been having a couple of Al Cohn days. As executor of the estate of Jack Brownlow, last week I was going through things in his house. I came across two thick three-ring binders labeled “Letters” and was surprised to discover that Bruno had saved every letter I wrote him over several decades. In them, I found reports of events I had forgotten about. Because some of the letters concern matters Rifftides readers may find of interest, from time to time I’ll post portions of them. The one below was written from Los Angeles following a road trip. It now includes links to some of the people and places it mentions. I have also added illustrations. Some of the opinions I express have changed in seventeen years, and I now have lots of John Corigliano’s music. The puzzling salutation follows the practice Bruno and I adopted of using a first name to set up the use of a last name that more or less resembles another word. Silly? Corny? Sure it is, but that’s how we were.
November 13, 1990
I guess it’s about time you were Herring from me. My week in New York was packed with activity–journalistic, foundational, touristy and musical. I’ll tell you only about the music I heard and about the New York Marathon. That Sunday it was false summer. . .77 degrees.. .and the town was full of people from all over the world running in or watching the marathon. It was exciting, like an enormous fiesta, or carnaval in Rio, although I don’t recall seeing any bare-breasted women. I stood at the southeast corner of Central Park and watched the runners come around the final sweep. People were standing six deep along the roadway, shouting encouragement in 17 languages. I shouted encouragament in only six. Why show off?
When an exhausted runner faltered or slowed to a walk, the crowd would shout, “go, go, go,” “vaya, hombre,” “corre, madre,” “lun, lun, lun,” “laufen zie, laufen zie.” Cruel, I thought; it was certainly no laufen matter to the poor guy in agony out there. I stood there for a couple of hours watching. It was fascinating, hypnotic. I was inspired, for a few minutes, to train for next year’s marathon.
The first night in New York, I agonized over the possibilities: Mehta and the NY Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, Dutoit and the Montreal at Carnegie Hall, the Knicks at Madison Square Garden or chamber music at the Merkin Concert Hall. The choice was easy, actually; the first three were sold out. I’m glad they were, because the concert at Merkin was superb. It was a tribute to William Schuman on his 80th birthday and he was there in that 400-seat hall, which was maybe two-thirds full. He chose “In Sweet Music” and “Night Journey.” They were the two pieces of his that he most wanted to hear. He got great rounds of applause after each, standing and blowing kisses to the musicians, who played the music beautifully. Wonderful pieces, too.
Also in the audience was
John Corigliano, who got to hear a fantastic performance of his Sonata For Violin And Piano. Sidney Harth is a big, amazingly fat, man who plays the violin both delicately and with incredible passion. What a performance. I don’t have any of Corigliano’s music, but I heard the NY Phil premier his First Symphony on a broadcast a few weeks ago and liked it . He’s tonal but, within tonality, adventurous as hell, outrageous even, moreso than del Tredici. Good as all that was, the highlight of the concert was the Ives Trio, an astounding piece of music. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. At any rate, it was a thrill to see William Schuman. There was a reception afterward, and anyone in the audience was free to go to it, but what would I have said to Schuman or Corigliano? “Far out, baby. The end, y ‘know? Straight ahead, man. You sure write good for an old cat. You know Hovahness personally?”
So, I went downtown to Bradley’s and listened to Geoff Keezer with Peter Washington on bass and Steve Nelson, vibes. You’ll be happy to know that Keezer is even more impressive in person and that he looks not 21, but about 12. Lots of Bud Powell and Monk in his playing, more than I’ve detected on records. The place was crowded, so I was put at a table near the piano with a couple of guys one of whom took it upon himself during a break to give Keezer advice. Your true calling, he said (based on what I can’t imagine), is to go to Hollywood and write scores for movies. You could outdo Herbie Hancock, he said. Out of embarassment and in fear that Keezer would think I was with this oaf, I stared at the floor and once when I glanced up saw that Keezer was also staring at the floor. Later, after the oaf had left, I said to Keezer, do not go to Hollywood, do not score motion pictures, keep on playing bebop. “Of course,” he said.
Two nights later I went to the Blue Note for a Blue Note Records party. The band turned out to be Jerry Bergonzi, Joey Calderazzo, Adam Nussbaum and Dave Santoro. Bergonzi is a marvelous tenor player who worked with Brubeck a few years ago and has grown tremendously. Calderazzo is a stompin’ young piano player who has worked with Miles on organ and has a couple of records out on Columbia, Santoro is a very good bass player of whom I ‘d never heard. Nussbuam, however, was the star as far as I was concerned. He is a hell of a drummer. He played a sixteen-bar intro to one piece that was pure Blakey. A tribute, I guess, since Art had just died. A surprising and truly enjoyable evening.
The next night Orrin Keepnews and I went to dinner at El Parador, a favorite restaurant, it turns out, for both of us from the days when we lived in New York. Orrin was in NYC from San Francisco to work on some Bluebird reissues for RCA/BMG and to do a Nat Adderley session for his own label, Landmark. We were both staying at the Algonquin. Then we went to the Village Vanguard to hear Clark Terry, who had Victor Lewis, Don Friedman and a bass player whose name I’ve forgotten. All were playing very well, indeed. Clark and I had a reunion, with lots of laughing and hugs.
In the audience was Nellie Monk, Thelonious’s widow, who never goes anywhere, but came out for this because Monk thought so much of Clark. Orrin and Nellie hadn’t seen each other for 19 years and they had a great reunion, as did Nellie and Clark. Nellie told Orrin a lot about Monk in the final years, things nobody knows. I was not a party to that private conversation.
CT asked me if I was still playing the flugelhorn he got for me years ago. I didn’t lie; I said yes. In fact, I played it tonight with a new Tommyy Newsom CD. Tommy Newsom? Yes, his album, with Conte Candoli, Snooky Young, Dave Stone, Ed Shaughnessy and Ross Tompkins. Newsom adored Zoot and plays like him, without quite the passion, swing or harmonic stuff. But he plays well. It’s a nice CD on the LaserLight label.
On Thursday, I went to part of the Nat Adderley session. Nat, Vincent Herring, Jimmy Cobb, Walter Booker and a fine young pianist from Brooklyn named Rob Bargad, who replaced Larry Willis. Herring, especially on “Arriving Soon,” sounded so much like Cannonball it was almost ghostly. Happy ghost. His sound is not quite as expansive as Cannon’s, but then neither, as Orrin pointed out, is his body. Nat and I hadn’t seen one another, except for about three minutes once, since the days when the Adderley band used to spend so much time in New Orleans in the sixties. He greeted me warmly. He and I weren’t as close as Julian and I and the other day he asked me where Cannon and I used to go all the time. I told him I couldn’t remember specifically, but that it inevitably had to do with food. “Well,” he said, “I’d like to have come along.” I think he genuinely had felt left out, and I was kind of guilty about it and told him so and that seemed to make him feel okay. It wasn’t as if we were ditching little brother, but Nat apparently saw it that way. I thought he and (Joe) Zawinul were sometimes leaving us out of things. We humans are a sensitive bunch, aren’t we?
The band sounded good. Bookie is not a great bass player, particularly in terms of sound, but he has a lot of heart, works his fanny off, and Nat digs having him on the band. Which is nice, I think. Jimmy Cobb works as hard as Bookie and is a great drummer. Herring is astounding. I assume you have heard him. He has two or three records under his own name.
As for CDs, I have two of the Blakeys you mentioned. One For All is good. Brian Lynch’s feature is beautiful trumpet playing. Phillip Harper, who is on I Get A Kick Out Of Bu, struggles through every tune. You asked how fusion nonsense gets on otherwise good records. It’s because not only the producer but also the artist believes it will result in money. It is not mere rhetoric when I say that all of that fusion/crossover/new age crap sounds alike. I have sat on my stool in front of the CD player auditioning review copies, playing tracks from dozens of albums because I think that if a record company sends it I have an obligation to at least sample it. So I’ve heard a lot of it. It sounds alike in terms of harmonic structure, rhythmic patterns, sound mix, instrumentation and imbecility. And when a good musician like Dave Weckl or John Patitucci is the guilty party, it’s that much sadder.
I haven’t heard anything lately that I like better than the newest Artie Shaw reissue CD on Bluebird, Blues In The Night, with Lips Page, Roy Eldridge and some incredible Eddie Sauter charts. The digital remastering is masterly, so to speak. Keepnews strikes again.
Sometimes I miss New York.