main: August 2007 Archives

Mr. JazzWax, aka Marc Myers, tracked down the venerable baritone saxophonist Danny Bank, one of the few Charlie Parker sidemen still with us, to talk about Bird. Among Bank's anecdotes:

"One morning, sometime in 1951, I think, I took out one of the Sonatas for Woodwind by Hindemith and used it to practice. That night, after I played on two or three recording dates that day, I went to Birdland to hear Charlie play.

"As soon as he saw me come into the club, he started to pay the Hindemith Sonata I had played earlier while laughing through his mouthpiece. Bird had been listening to me through the walls! His ear was so amazing that he played what I practiced from memory when he saw me that night.

I just discovered that I had a defective link to Ethan Iverson's Do The Math, the blog of The Bad Plus. I fixed the link. Use it to see Iverson's tribute to the late British critic Richard Cook and read Cook's evaluation of one of Horace Silver's milestone recordings. I was startled to see how young Cook was. Dead at fifty. Enjoy life, folks.

The veteran Pennsylvania jazz broadcaster Russ Neff has launched a blog. Like his program, it's called My Favorite Things. Neff's first postings are based on archive interviews with George Shearing and Ray Brown.

Other Matters

If you've had nothing better to do, you may have been following every detail of the mens-room adventures of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and the apparent suicide attempt of film personality Owen Wilson. Society of Professional Journalists President Christine Tatum doesn't mention Craig in her most recent Freedom Of The Prez posting, but this paragraph applies to his ordeal.

I completely get the public personality-or-official lecture delivered in Media Law 101. Heck, I even get the far more advanced versions gleaned over the course of my career. You cast yourself into the limelight or get yourself elected to public office, and you ask for the scrutiny. You ask for the criticism, the leering, the praise, the fawning, the constant flashbulbs, the boatloads of letters and e-mail and the stupid guy begging for an autograph while you're in a public restroom. Once you enter that white-hot public spotlight, you can't leave it whenever you choose.

She deals directly with the unfortunate Mr. Wilson's being circled not only by the tabloid sharks but also by an appalling number of supposedly responsible journalists.

But journalists. What's their responsibility when an Owen Wilson has a breakdown and asks the media (and, by extension, the general public) to allow him to heal in private? He's no Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan or Nicole Ritchie driving under the influence on public streets. He's not even a Britney Spears, who has an incredible knack for taking her wackiness public. Might this be a time when we let a prominent person who apparently struggles with depression have the solace and privacy he needs? I certainly hope so.

So do I. To read all of Tatum's posting, go here.

August 31, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

For a long time, the Doug's Books section on the right side of your screen ended with:

His next book is a novel that has nothing to do with music.

The section now begins (bells, whistles, horns, raucous whoops and shouts, please):

Doug's most recent book is Poodie James, a novel published in 2007.
Poodie%20cover.jpgThe official publication was a few days ago. The book is now available. Preview readers have been extraordinarily kind. You can see some of their comments if you go to this page at the publisher's web site. In a convenient coincidence, that is also the place where you can place an order for Poodie. Please do. If you order directly from Libros Libertad, a pioneering new house in Vancouver, British Columbia, you will support their efforts to make a difference in the way writers of serious fiction and poetry reach their readers. In other words, if you buy from Libros Libertad, the publisher makes a little more money.

At the Libros Libertad site, you'll find an excerpt from Poodie James and a link to a longer biography of the author than you'll see on Rifftides. I wrote earlier that the book has nothing to do with music. That is true in the sense that music is not a central theme and no central character is a musician. It is unlikely that any book of mine could avoid music altogether. Here is a short excerpt from a scene in which Poodie, who is deaf, attends a dance.

The rhythm surging through his body made him happy. Poodie wondered if the dancers got the sensation from hearing the music that he did from feeling it, radiance in the belly, warmth around the heart. The first piece ended. Poodie applauded with the others.

Now the leader was singing into a microphone. The first words went by too fast for Poodie to see them, but then the man sang, "Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?" On each syllable the drummer hit the bass drum with the pedal and a smaller drum with his sticks. When the words came around again, Poodie laughed. Seeing him, the drummer laughed too. During slow pieces, Poodie could feel just a thump now and then, but on the fast ones the thunder of the drums rolled against him. Sometimes, when all of the men played at once, a wave came through the air and along the floor. It pushed into his chest and up through his feet and made his heart beat faster.

Fair warning: Poodie James has no car chases. It has a terrific train wreck, though.

August 28, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides reader Wade Nelson of River Forest, Illinois, writes:

After reading a piece about George Russell, I hauled out a 1957 LP by Hal McKusick called Jazz Workshop that I hadn't listened to in many years. Arrangements by Russell, Giuffre, Evans, Mandel, Albam and Cohn. Very fine music.

I couldn't agree more. McKusick was in an elite cadre of musicians during a golden age of jazz in New York in the late 1950s and early '60s. He had a distinctive tone on alto saxophone and a personalized adaptation of Charlie Parker's style. He worked often with George Russell, recording with Russell and in various combinations with Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Eddie Costa, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith and others. He is the alto soloist on George Russell's seminal recording of "All About Rosie." There is a good cross-section of McKusick's small groups from 1957 and '58 on the compilation CD Now's The Time.

Through the late fifties until 1978, McKusick was a CBS staff musician. I encountered him as a member of the band on the Arthur Godfrey radio program when I was doing a television news story about Godfrey. Godfrey's band also incuded pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Remo Palmieri and trombonist Lou McGarity. I don't know how they felt about Godfrey's singing or his ukelele playing, but they all seemed glad to have the work. That kind of employment for New York musicians no longer exists. Since studio work ended, McKusick, now eighty-three, has made his living as a private teacher.

August 28, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (2)

The Rifftides staff directs your attention to the right-hand column and the exhibit entitled Doug's Picks. All the picks are new. We invite your comments, as always.

August 27, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Labor Day Weekend's Detroit International Jazz Festival is looming, and Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press is profiling some of its headliners. In today's column, pianist Herbie Hancock tells Stryker about his early experience with Miles Davis.

"After a couple of months of trying to play what I thought would please Miles, I said to myself, 'I've got to let this out.'

"So the next gig, which I think was in Chicago, I just played what I really wanted, and if it clashed with something Miles did, I threw it in there anyway.

"After the set I thought I was going to get fired. Miles walked up and said" -- and here Hancock imitates Davis' famous raspy whisper -- " 'Why didn't you play like that before?'

"Miles wanted to hear me. That set me free."

Here's a little of what Stryker writes about Hancock:

Hancock's go-for-broke attitude electrifies the bandstand. Very little in jazz matches the anticipation that rises when Hancock starts a solo, because to a degree unusual even in an art based on improvisation, you never know what's going to happen -- and there's a chance you're about to hear the greatest piano solo you've ever heard.

To read the whole thing, go here, Perhaps you'll be as astonished as I was by the size Hancock's performance fees.

August 26, 2007 4:55 PM | | Comments (3)

The Rifftides piece about Charles Mingus brought a response from pianist and composer Jill McManus in New York.

Jill McManus

I knew Mingus! I was introduced to him one night when I took my mother, in from England, to the old Half Note in the '70s. I seem to remember it was pouring. We were waiting in line, chilled and dripping, chatting with Rev John Gensel when Mingus plunged in, and John introduced us. Mingus was charming, looked at them, one on either side of me, smiled and said, "Hmm, good Christian girl." (!!) ( think I lowered my eyebrows.) He and John then proceded to a contest of crushing beer tops with the thumb of one hand, and Mingus won.

Mingus heard me play the early set at the Village Gate one night and was complimentary, and always greeted me warmly except once: The Jazz Sisters band was to open for him downstairs at the Gate. We were a sextet, and his group was a quintet. We got a great response, the only female jazz group of its kind in that day. Word was sent that Mingus resented being upstaged by a band bigger than his, but after his pout we were invited to his dressing room for cake. He was actually very nice.

I sat in with Mingus once at the Vanguard ( I was a beginner player, had been studying with Roland Hanna) one night when he was having a spat with Jaki Byard. Jaki was simmering at the bar, and Mingus called me up. Wow. I struggled to stay in place with Danny Richmond's crazy style and dropping of bombs. Think I came out a couple of beats late on "Star Eyes." But Mingus said "Come back and play anytime."

The last vision - Mingus was in a wheelchair at Bradley's with a group of friends. I went up to him and reached out to shake his hand, not realizing he was paralyzed. I was so chagrined I almost cried. But he nodded and I saw he forgave me. One night not long after that I dreamed that he was on a big boat leaving shore -- it was foggy -- I was trying to reach out to him to say goodbye -- it was too far -- too late to jump across. The boat disappeared into the fog. I think he died that night, and I learned of it a day or so later.

Some years later I met his oldest son, Charles III, at an art opening on the East Side. He told me about the time his father put him on the roof of a shed, and said "Jump, I'll catch you. Trust me." The little kid jumped and Mingus stepped back and let him crash to the ground, saying, "Never trust anybody." The saddest story...

Jill McManus's previous Rifftides contribution was in a team report on last fall's benefit concert for Richard Sudhalter. In addition to composing and playing music, she writes about it for the Newark Star-Ledger.

McManus's Symbols of Hopi (Concord, 1984) featuring her compositions and piano, David Liebman, Tom Harrell, Marc Johnson, Billy Hart and American Indian percussionists, is one of the important recordings of the 1980s still not reissued on CD.

August 26, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Here's a video clip of an unlikely collaboration, complete with a little refresher course in jazz history.

August 25, 2007 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)

The Chicago pianist and self-described bon vivant Jeremy Kahn writes:

I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with Max Roach on a couple of different occasions: Once was for a workshop of an Amiri Baraka play about Bumpy Johnson, the black gangster in the twenties. It was performed by NYU students, one of whom was Muhal Richard Abrams's daughter Richarda. The first time, though, was for 3 plays by Sam Shepard at LaMama for which Max was supplying the music. Permit me a middle-aged memory:

When the phone rang, I was engaged in the kind of personal business that under-employed guys in their twenties tend to engage in quite a bit. Picking up the phone with my good hand, the voice said "Jeremy Kahn? This is Max Roach." I played along with this weak ruse while I tried to figure out which of my friends was doing this fairly convincing impersonation.

Much to my amazement, it turned out to actually be Max. He wanted me to be involved with the Shepard plays, along with Bobby Watson, Curtis Lundy and a drummer whose name I don't recall. He was Max's gofer, and Max seemed to delight in tormenting him.

During rehearsals, we smoked large amounts of reefer and hash totally out in the open. I mean, after all, we were jazz musicians, right? When called upon to play, Max would just count off a tempo and told us to jam. Sometimes he would sing a rhythmic figure and say "Do it in F minor". At one point we said. "How about back and forth between F minor and G-flat major? Like this?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah; that's good." Max ended up winning an Obie award for his "Original score", but was very gracious about acknowledging our contributions.

He was a great guy and a great hang 99% of the time, but, when he got pissed, he had a terrifying temper.

It was my privilege to have met him.

For a Rifftides remembrance of Max Roach, click here.

August 25, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

2007 is turning out to be a bonanza year for a Charles Mingus sextet that existed for a few months forty-three years ago. All of the band's members are dead. Its music is gloriously alive. The high point so far is a remarkable two-CD set capturing a performance that might have been forgotten except for a lucky discovery. On a neglected shelf, Sue Mingus, indefatigable preserver of her husband's legacy, found tapes of a concert the sextet played at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in March of 1964. Blue Note has released the music as Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964.

With the promethean bassist were pianist Jaki Byard, saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Johnny Coles and drummer Dannie Richmond. They were red-hot and full of joy at the Cornell engagement, which took place nearly a month earlier than the Town Hall concert that launched the band's celebrated European tour. Fresh from eight weeks at the Five Spot Café in Mahattan, Mingus had whipped the sextet and its repertoire into shape, achieving a combination of togetherness and abandon that can result only from long, steady work on the bandstand. This is a further reminder that the restrictive 21st century economy of the music business robs jazz of opportunities for creative development. When is the last time a major jazz group had a two-months' run in a club?

Charles Mingus, 1964

Mingus's emotional downs were often horrendous, hard on his sidemen, his listeners and himself. I once wrote:

If Mingus rose to towering rages, he also reached the sustained joy achievable only by musicians of the highest rank. It is a fact that all the musicians he abused, all those he screamed at and humiliated in public -- even those he assaulted -- forgave him, worked with again, and in most cases gave him credit for their development.

His ups could generate glory, and that's what we get in the Cornell concert. Mingus and the band are happy, even giddy. Their virtuosity is wrapped in good feelings. Exuding raw energy in his bass work, Mingus is the coach and cheerleader urging everyone on.

"Stride it now, baby, take it back a few years, uh huh," Mingus mutters to Byard during the pianist's second solo chorus on "Take the 'A' Train." His urging is additional fuel for the stride and boogie woogie fire that Byard builds before he slides into bebop time. Clifford Jordan follows with five hallelujah choruses levitated by Ellingtonian unison puncuations from Dolphy and Coles. Dolphy delivers one of his patented bass clarinet solos, full of wild interval leaps, inflected with speech patterns and intimations of birdsong . Coles, a great trumpeter who never got his due, begins the round of "'A' Train" solos reflective and thoughtful, with a touch of irony in his quotes. The performance includes a bass-drums conversation between Mingus and Richmond, as remarkable for its hilarity as for its intensity. In the midst of it, one of them exclaims, "Ya-hoo," an emblem of the elation this track--indeed, the entire concert--generates. Byard's swirl of solo piano on "ATFW You," a tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, opens the concert and sets the tone of exuberance.

The state of grace remains throughout the CDs, even in half-hour versions of "Fables of Faubus" and "Meditations," Mingus compositions that arose out of his frustration and anger over political and social conditions in America. He performed "Meditations" with the sextet at Town Hall, then almost nightly during the month-long tour of Europe in April of '64, and later that year with different personnel at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco and at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It was recorded on several of those occasions, but I have never been more moved by its solemnity and power than in this concert debut. The other premiere at Cornell was "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk," a piano piece that Mingus refined for the sextet during the Five Spot gig. As for "Faubus," the racist Arkansas governor inspires ridicule and good-natured derision rather than anger in this performance loaded with punning quotes that include Mingus's allusion to "Pick Yourself Up" and Byard's whimsy in a series of variations on "Yankee Doodle."

Mingus wrote the blues "So Long Eric" to wish Dolphy godspeed. Dolphy was to leave the group following the European tour. He and the others could not have known that in three months their astonishingly gifted colleague would be dead at thirty-six of a heart attack brought on by diabetes. Dolphy's mercurial flute work is the centerpiece of "Jitterbug Waltz." Mingus features Coles as "Johnny O'Coles, the only Irishman in the band" in a fast ¾ version of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." The news that he is going to play that unlikely tune and be the only soloist seems to come as a surprise to Coles. He scuffles a bit at the beginning, but by the end solves the piece's Gaelic mysteries in a powerful chorus. It's all great fun. And great music.

Rifftides reader Don Frese writes that he had the good fortune to hear the band live:

God, I was so lucky to see this group once at the 5 Spot just before the tour. It was a wonder the joint was still standing after, the performances were so intense. The second set was Parkeriana, the pastiche of Dizzy's "Ow" and other tunes associated with Charlie Parker, and the last set was "Meditations." I was in tears at the end.

Mingus Observed

Mr. Frese also provided a link to a video clip of the sextet rehearsing a portion of "Meditations" in Stockholm during the tour. To see and hear it, click here.

Mingus The Icon

Ten days from now, the Jazz Icons series of DVDs will release a new set of seven discs including the Mingus sextet videotaped during the '64 tour of Scandinavia. Other DVDs in the release feature John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Dexter Gordon and Wes Montgomery.

Mingus's Basses

Shortly after The New York Times article in late July about the widows of Charles Mingus and Art Pepper, Nigel Faigan, a Rifftides reader in New Zealand, wrote on the Jazz West Coast listserve:

I was interested to read about Susan Mingus and unreleased tapes. BUT I was dismayed to read that Mingus's Bass is leaning in a corner of the apartment. CM owned a beautiful French bass - if that is sitting unplayed for all those years, it may be suffering. Could someone find out whether the bass is being played. Like any instrument, it will suffer from disuse.

The Rifftides staff asked Sue Graham Mingus. This is her reply:

Charles's lion's head bass is being played by Boris Kozlov, and has been for the past six or seven years. One bass was given to Red Callender and another to Aladar Pege, the Hungarian bassist. The only other bass here is the one whose right shoulder was cut off and reversed by a master Italian bass repairman who lived down the block from Charles' studio on East 5th Street in the late Sixties and who accomplished this feat over a period of six months. Charles came up with this astonishing idea in order to facilitate bowing --- this was his "bowing bass."
--Sue Mingus

A Mingus Book


Further reading: Tonight at Noon, Sue Mingus's absorbing account of her life with Charles.

August 24, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Coming soon: meditations on Charles Mingus, who is proliferating posthumously this year. I had hoped to finish the piece tonight, but it is demanding more than I had intended to give it and night is rapidly heading toward morning. To borrow Dave Frishberg's line, I gotta get me some Zzzzs.

Stay tuned.

August 23, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Al Haig and Gene DiNovi came out of their teens into the excitement of bebop as the music was discovering itself in the early 1940s. They played piano with some of the most important musicians of the era, had periods of relative obscurity, then re-emerged -- Haig briefly. DiNovi is still enjoying a long second run and showing no signs of slowing.

Al Haig

Haig's first recording session, when he was twenty-one, was with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Curly Russell and Sid Catlett on the Guild session that produced "Salt Peanuts," "Shaw 'Nuff," "Hot House" and the classic "Lover Man" with Sarah Vaughan's vocal (all included in this collection). He went on to work extensively with Parker, Gillespie, Miles Davis and Stan Getz, recording with them and with Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Wardell Gray, Don Lanphere, Chet Baker and his own trio. He was one of the most inventive and influential bop pianists, generally considered second only to Bud Powell.

Blue Manhattan was Haig's penultimate album. Issued as a vinyl disc by Interplay, the LP became a collector's item and has finally appeared as a CD on the Japanese label M&I. The CD booklet incorrectly identifies the recording date as January 4, 1985. In fact, it was January, 1980, just short of two years before Haig's death at fifty-eight. With basist Reggie Johnson and drummer Frank Gant, Haig retained the fluency, harmonic nuance, swing, humor and much of the fire of his youth. With an ear to new developments, he tackled John Coltrane's "Impressions" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," as well as fresh material of his own.

Gene DiNovi

DiNovi, four years younger than Haig, began working with Henry Jerome when he was fourteen. He went on to play with swing era bands like Benny Goodman's, then with bop pioneers Boyd Raeburn and Chubby Jackson. He recorded with Brew Moore and Lester Young and played with Chuck Wayne, Stan Hasselgard, Buddy DeFranco and other instrumentalists. He was a favorite accompanist of Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, Lena Horne and Tony Bennett. Through the years, even while immersed in writing film scores, he kept playing.

All Through The Night is the most recent of a series of CDs DiNovi has recorded for Marshmallow records while making frequent tours of Japan and establishing himself as one of the favorite pianists of Japanese jazz fans. DiNovi's fleetness, resolutely two-handed style and light, firm touch incorporate elements of Powell and another of his heroes, Hank Jones, for whom he names a piece called "The Dean." The CD incudes bracing versions of Duke Jordan's "Jordu" and the Cole Porter title tune. DiNovi has fine support from the Canadian bassist Neil Swainson and a drummer new to me, Kazuaki Yokoyama. DiNovi has made his home in Toronto for several years.

August 22, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Record producer, writer and all-'round musician Bill Kirchner writes:

In 1995, I programmed and did the liner notes for Harry James: Verve Jazz Masters 55, a CD compilation of James' MGM recordings from 1959 to '64. These recordings are among James' best from a jazz standpoint; the CD is still available.

My thanks to trumpeter/bandleader/historian Dean Pratt--much more of a James authority than I am--who hipped me to these recordings in 1993 when I was working on the Smithsonian Big Band Renaissance boxed set.

August 22, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

In case you've forgotten or never knew, Harry James was a terrific leader who had some great bands. If that seems obvious to you, then you are a better listener than many of the critics who knocked James for what they decided was showy trumpet playing without much musical merit. There are many recorded examples disproving that misperception and, it turns out, several pieces of video that also demonstrate the quality of his band. The Rifftides staff is grateful to the big band authority Bill Kirchner for calling some of those clips to our attention.

One of James's excellent bands relatively late in his career had his faithful sidekick Jack Perciful on piano and riding herd on arrangements. Also in the rhythm section were drummer Buddy Rich and bassist Red Kelly, both of whom served James well in various editions of the band. The 1964 clips at the other end of the following links will attest to the band's power and musicianship and to the authority and taste of James's trumpet work. For evidence, go here



And, for a rare big band version of Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant" and some very hip, unshowy licks by James, go


While you're at You Tube, you may wish to look around a bit in the Harry James section for other clips from a wide range of his career.

August 20, 2007 5:48 PM | | Comments (0)

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world -- Albert Einstein

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed -- Albert Einstein

August 19, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Curiosity overtook me today about Carl Payne, the San Francisco cable car bell-ringer who collaborated with the great drummer Max Roach. I found Payne by telephone and added the story of what he's been up to since he sat in with Max in 1981. To read it at the end of the original posting, go here.

August 18, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The passing of Herb Pomeroy on August 11 leaves jazz education in New England without one of its most skilled teachers and the music absent an improviser and bandleader of rare originality. Pomeroy was a trumpeter who grew into a major arranger, leader and inspiration to hundreds of students at the Berklee School of Music and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Vibraphonist Gary Burton, a former Berklee student of Pomeroy who later became dean of the school, told the Boston Globe:

He was one of the most skillful and clever of improvisers. A lot of improvisers, when they soloed, played familiar jazz licks, as we say. Herb was one of the players where you could really see his mind at work. When he played solos, you could see him telling stories, developing themes, creating serious content.

To read all of the Globe article, go here.
Herb Pomeroy

There is regrettably little of Pomeroy's playing and little of his superb big band on CD. For his trumpet work of the early 1950s, I recommend Boston Days by saxophonist Charlie Mariano, one of Pomeroy's closest Boston colleagues. Pomeroy's splendid big band, with sidemen including pianist Jaki Byard, trumpeter Joe Gordon and alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli, is heard on the 1957 album Life is a Many Splendored Gig. A year later, Pomeroy backed Irene Kral in The Band and I, a collaboration of singer and big band that quickly became a classic and was recently reissued on CD.

Herb Pomeroy, dead at seventy-seven.

August 17, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

Max Roach died early this morning at the age of eighty-three. Phone calls and e-mail messages announcing his passing and commenting on his importance have been pouring in all day.
Max Roach
As a teenager, Roach began developing a way of drumming that grew out of the bop pioneer Kenny Clarke and was also profoundly affected by Sid Catlett. By the mid-1940s, Roach was the premier innovator among bebop drummers, with virtuosity, complexity and subtlety that made him perfect for the rhythm sections of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, his peers in bebop. Virtually all drummers in modern jazz patterned themselves to some degree on Roach. It is unlikely that drummers as disparate in style as Elvin Jones and Paul Motian, Ben Riley and James Black, Arthur Taylor and Mel Lewis would have developed as they did without Roach's example.

For an outline of his career and appreciation of his artistry, see the obituary by Peter Keepnews in The New York Times and another by Ron Wynn in Nashville's The City Paper.

YouTube has dozens of clips of Roach playing. This short video from fairly late in his career is a good one to start with. It captures Max looking handsome, healthy and happy -- and playing a typically inventive solo.

WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University is devoting its schedule through next Wednesday to Roach's music. In the New York area, tune in to 89.9 FM. Elsewhere, you'll find WKCR's streaming internet audio by clicking here.

I cherish remembrance of two occasions with Roach. The first was in New York in the early 1970s. I was at Lincoln Center covering a rehearsal for a concert that night at Avery Fisher Hall. By noon, my UPITN camera crew had enough material. I sent them back to the bureau to have the film processed and was heading off to find lunch when Dizzy Gillespie said, "You're coming with us." I ended up in a restaurant across the street with Dizzy, Percy Heath, Billy Eckstine, Max Roach and Roach's young wife. As we were settling in, Fats Waller's "Your Feet's Too Big" materialized on the sound system. The table conversation continued, but Max announced, "Quiet. I haven't heard this in years." So, we all stayed mostly silent for three minutes, listened to Fats and watched Roach's grin.

In 1981 when I was news director at KGO-TV in San Francisco, Roach was playing with his quintet at the Keystone Korner. That was the week of the annual contest to choose the best bell ringer among San Francisco's cable car gripmen and conductors. I told Todd Barkan, who ran the club, that if he could arrange for Roach and the winner of the contest to get together, we'd send a crew. Barkan was leery; he wasn't sure that the dignified Mr. Roach would go for what he might consider a gimmick.

Max liked the idea. The winner, Carl Payne, a gripman who over the years won the contest ten times, showed up one afternoon at Keystone Korner with a cable car bell something like this one.Bell.jpgRoach was waiting at his drum set. Mr. Payne could meter on that brass bell. He invented patterns that stimulated Max and the two spent a half hour or so playing for, to and with one another. I have never heard anything quite like it -- Max Roach trading fours with a cable car gripman. It made a good story on that evening's six o'clock newscast, and a memory that has stayed with me for a quarter of a century.

Writing this, I began wondering what had become of Carl Payne and tracked him down. We had a fine conversation. He told me that he joined the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency in the early 1960s after he did his stint as a US Marine Corps military policeman in Viet Nam. He worked on the cable cars until 1990. Then he took a new job as an officer with the San Francisco Police Department, where he still works as a beat cop in China Town and on Union Square. Every year at the cable car bell ringing contest, he is an honored guest. He told me that at the demonstration ring-offs, he always wins.

Payne treasures his encounter with Roach. When I told him about Max's death, he paused a moment, then said, "Oh, man, he was the nicest guy."

August 16, 2007 4:27 PM | | Comments (5)

It may seem that jazz gets less coverage in the general press than it deserves, but don't blame the Associated Press or the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle frequently runs substantial AP stories and pieces by its own staffers about major musicians and important developments in jazz.

Bassist Ron Carter was the subject of a recent Chronicle article by AP writer Charles J. Gans. Carter told Gans he rejects the notion that his old boss Miles Davis had disdain for the audience. He explains the circumstances that may have led to that impression. To read Carter's observations about Davis, the changing role of the bass, and his career, go here.

Reporter Sharon Cohen visited the musicians' village that Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. helped to build in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

The Chronicle's David Rubien had lunch with Lee Konitz. He found the alto saxophonist forthright, and amusing in spite of his irascibility as he approaches his eightieth birthday.

Thanks to Wolfram Knauer of Germany's Jazz Institut Darmstadt for alerting us to these stories. The institute is a fascinating place. I recommend a visit next time you are in the Frankfurt area. If you can't go, check out the institute's web site.

August 15, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The Rifftides Lead Of The Week Award goes to Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe for this entry:

NEWPORT, R.I. -- News bulletin: Major theft this weekend at Fort Adams State Park during the JVC Jazz Festival. Description of subject: Elderly gentleman, white hair, thick glasses, walks and speaks slowly, but plays piano like a madman. Date of birth: 12-6-20. Item stolen: the show.

Greenlee was describing Dave Brubeck. To read all of his review of Sunday at the Newport Festival, go here.

In the interest of survival, jazz festivals everywhere have loosened the admittance requirements for musicians and modified the already indistinct definition of jazz. There are no rules determining who qualifies as a jazz artist, so the Newport management might defend on business grounds its inclusion of B.B. King. Let's call it a borderline compromise. But I must share Greenlee's surprise at the presence on the Newport stage of the blues-rock-folk, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink performer Bruce Hornsby.

Next year at Newport: Ricky Skaggs, The Grateful Dead?

August 14, 2007 11:47 AM | | Comments (6)

In response to last week's Rifftides posting on free press issues, DevraDowrite brings up the Bush administration's relationship to press freedom and journalistic responsibility, particularly in regard to the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame episode. As I would have if I'd had the presence of mind to think about it, Devra links to the conversation on a recent PBS program among Bill Moyers and two constitutional scholars . To read her comments and get a link to the transcript of the Moyers program, go here. And think about Devra's concluding paragraph:

Having watched the program, I realized how little I know about the Constitution, the intentions of those who wrote it, and the predictions they made. I was fascinated by the discussion, and heartened that it took the subject of impeachment out of the realm of Bush bashing, or even partisan politics, and placed it in a solidly historical, impersonal perspective.

I wonder how many of us know as much about the Constitution as we think we do. I keep a copy on my desk and one in my laptop case, but I don't look at them nearly often enough. I'm making a resolution to brush up. We all should. With civil liberties under attack (as they always are) and a crucal election on the horizon, we need the understanding. For the price of shipping and handling, you can get a free copy here.

August 14, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Speaking--er, writing--of Benny Carter, as we did in this Rifftides posting and others that followed, there's a lot of Carter in the air this year of his centennial. The polymath saxophonist, arranger composer, bandleader, author and broacaster (whew) Bill Kirchner joins the celebration. Here's his announcement:

Recently, I taped my next one-hour show for the "Jazz From the Archives" series. Presented by the Institute of Jazz Studies, the series runs every Sunday on WBGO-FM (88.3).

Benny Carter (1907-2003) would have turned 100 this August 8. So the entire month of August on "Jazz From the Archives" is devoted to the music of this giant. My own contribution is an hour of recordings by notable artists performing Carter's compositions.

The musicians will be a diverse lot, to say the least. They'll include Miles Davis, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr., Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, Art Pepper, and the Loren Schoenberg and U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors big bands. Also featured will be a newly-released CD, The Benny Carter Centennial Project, with a distinguished cast of players.

The show will air this Sunday, August 19, from 11 p.m. to midnight, Eastern Daylight Time.

NOTE: If you live outside the New York City metropolitan area, WBGO also broadcasts on the Internet at

August 14, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (2)

A year and a half ago, Rifftides reported to you about an extraordinary concert the Maria Schneider Orchestra played at Jazz Alley in Seattle. Schneider was two days away from her Los Angeles premier of a new work commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, so in Seattle she kept "Aires de Lando" under wraps. In Schneider's CD Sky Blue, those who were not in Disney Concert Hall that night can hear the piece.
Maria Schneider

An adventure in unusual time signatures, Peruvian rhythms and percussion, "Aires de Lando" emerges as a highlight of Schneider's remarkable new CD. Her orchestration supports, enfolds and at times all but engulfs a compelling extended clarinet solo etched by Scott Robinson on layers of Schneider's harmonic richness. The piece is reminiscent of Bartók, not in style but in its melding of complex rhythms and textures with folk simplicity of melody. That is true of much of this album, among her six CDs the finest expression of the composer's restless and evolving talent.

The Jazz Alley concert included two pieces that are in Sky Blue, the title work and "The Pretty Road." Here's what I wrote about them in February, 2006

It is a writer's band, and the writer populates it with musicians who play her demanding compositions with virtuoso skill and provide ensemble cohesiveness that can come only from long, close association. Most of the band's members have been with Schneider as long as Robinson has. They are from the cream of New York players and include some of the music's most individual improvisers in a period of jazz not overflowing with individuality.. Among the memorable soloists at Jazz Alley was Steve Wilson on "Sky Blue," a new composition. Schneider told the audience that she wrote it after a friend died. It is a hymn, not a dirge. Wilson's soprano saxophone tone has breadth and depth rather than the pinched snake-charmer sound favored by many who play the horn. His solo was a marvel of structural unity and passionate delivery. "He took my breath away," said the woman on the next bar stool, "he's beautiful."

A new Schneider piece,"The 'Pretty' Road," is yet to be recorded, something to anticipate. It has to do with her memories of growing up in Windom, Minnesota, "the environment of my past," she said. She has layered into it little references to things she recalls--church music, childhood songs, a meadowlark, the sight of the town from a hilltop at night. It is program music of a high order. She featured on flugelhorn and trumpet Ingrid Jensen, who soloed with the self-editing of increased maturity that leavens her spirited virtuosity. The dynamics of Schneider's ensembles in the piece were meticulously shaped--almost micro-managed--by her graceful but definite conducting.

Wilson in "Sky Blue" and Jensen in "The 'Pretty' Road" solo again on the CD with, if anything, even greater cogency and passion. Schneider extends the practice of her mentor Gil Evans and his inspiration Duke Ellington of writing with specific musicians in mind. In "Rich's Piece," the only soloist is tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, a charter member of Schneider's band and a veteran of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Rich Perry

In her album notes, Schneider writes that the music, "asked to be nothing other than a meditation--the chance to ponder the beauty of sound, in particular, Rich's sound, and the orchestra would just cloak him in a sonic robe." Operating in the sparest of harmonic environments but cloaked in that luxurious robe, Perry reaches into his imagination and applies his mastery of the instrument to sustain beauty, and the listener's interest, in a performance of nearly ten minutes.

Inspired by the depth and direction of Schneider's writing, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, accordianist Gary Versace and alto saxophonist Charles Pillow are impressive as the soloists in the twenty-two minutes of "Cerulean Blue." Reflecting her attachment to birds and bird song, Schneider begins the piece with bird calls as if in a forest and develops it as an expression of her wonder at the miracle of birds and bird migration. She accomplishes that flight of imagination so evocatively that the listener is likely to absorb the idea without recourse to her program notes.

With her previous CD, Concert in the Garden, Schneider took her recording affairs into her own hands. She releases only through ArtistShare, a service designed to help musicians circumvent the traditional recording industry and receive more of the money they earn. A key part of the system is that listeners provide contributions to ArtistShare artists. A major contributor to Schneider's Sky Blue project was rewarded with the title of executive producer and pictured in the forty-page extra booklet that comes with the deluxe edition of the CD. Gold, silver and bronze contriubutors got prominent mentions. I don't know how extensive the market is for this kind of independent financing of musicians, but for Schneider, it's working. Concert in the Garden won a Grammy. It will be a surprise if Sky Blue is not nominated for one.

How do other musicians feel about Schneider's music and about her success? To my knowledge, there has been no survey on that question, but my sense is that Schneider's contemporaries, many older musicians and--almost universally--those in the generation behind hers, admire her work and are pleased that so talented and uncompromising a composer and leader receives recognition. Darcy James Argue, a young composer and operator of his own big band, may have spoken for them in this item in his web log.

August 13, 2007 1:26 PM | | Comments (3)

No, this isn't about Lester Young. It's about journalism and, ultimately, your right to know.

In her blog, Christine Tatum, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, kindly links to Rifftides. The Rifftides staff is happy to reciprocate. Tatum tackles free press issues. Her present tirade is against the outlandish requirement of the National Football League that photojournalists covering its games on the sidelines wear official red vests bearing the logos of NFL sponsors Reebok, the shoe manufacturer, and Canon, the camera maker. She calls it a "rule so offensive to journalists and ethical journalism that I urge all SPJ members to complain about it." And they do. You can read her critique and their comments at Tatum's blog, Freedom of the Prez.

Uniforms for journalists? What's next, licensing? Tatum discusses that, too.

If you think an unimpeded flow of information is vital to the survival of democracy, rummaging around in the Freedom of the Prez archives will be enlightening--and sometimes infuriating. She can be as tough on the news business and wayward journalists as she is on their enemies and detractors. If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, I'm glad that Chris Tatum is on the ramparts.

August 10, 2007 10:44 AM | | Comments (0)

One of my happiest assignments in recent months was writing the liner essay for a new CD by the New York composer, arranger and pianist Joan Stiles. She rounded up an all-star group of sidemen--Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington, Jeremy Pelt and Lewis Nash--for Hurly-Burly. Her writing and the playing by all hands sparkle in pieces by Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Fats Waller, Jimmy Rowles, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Stiles herself. Consider this not a review, but a hot tip.

This is short notice, but Joan is going to be on the radio soon to talk about the CD with Vince Outlaw of KSDS radio in San Diego. That's at 10:15 pm EDT, 7:15 PDT this evening. You can hear it by clicking here to get to the KSDS website and clicking on "Listen Now" on the right of your screen.

August 9, 2007 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)

The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.-- Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court justice

The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information.-- William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court justice

August 7, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

For further appreciation of Benny Carter (see the next exhibit), here are links to three video performances of the alto saxophonist among his peers. The first two are from a Copenhagen night club in 1985 with Carter's contemporary Red Norvo on vibraharp, pianist Horace Parlan, bassist Jesper Lundgaard, and drummer Ed Thigpen. You'll hear and see them in "Sunny Side of the Street" and then, without Norvo, in Carter's classic "When Lights Are Low."

Next, so long that You Tube had to run it in two parts, is "Autumn Leaves" from a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert at the 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival. The players are Carter, Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Joe Pass, Tommy Flanagan, Keter Betts and Bobby Durham. For both halves of this stirring jam session, go here and then here. Listening to their inspired playing, seeing the interaction, mutual appreciation and love among these guys--all of them but Terry and Durham gone--made me a little moist around the eyes.

Benny Carter, Part Three

Thanks to Terri Hinte for calling my attention to a conversation between Carter and Mel Martin, videotaped during the 1993 San Francisco Jazz Festival. Martin had more success getting Benny to talk about himself than I ever had when writing about him ("I'm not much interested in nostalgia"). He quickly converted Martin's answers to questions about him into observations about others, and did it with his elegant sense of humor. To see what amounts to a semi-mini-documentary put together by Bret Primack, click here.

August 7, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Benny Carter was born in New York City on August 8, 1907. He died in 2003 less than a month before his 96th birthday. Observances of Carter's centennial include a Hollywood Bowl concert on his birthday and the release of two new CDs. Welcome and deserved as they may be, those events are slight recognition of an artist whose broad gifts and creative consistency graced and influenced music for seven decades.
Benny Carter

Here's a little of what I wrote about Carter in the notes for Three Great Swing Saxophonists, a 1989 CD that included some of his best work from 1929 to 1941.

At the height of his career, he played alto, tenor, clarinet and trumpet, composed, arranged, and sometimes played piano and sang. He is--along with Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker--one of the three great original alto sylists in jazz. He wrote arrangements in the mid-'30s that sound fresh today. He was a natural born leader and teacher and one of the most important catalysts in jazz history. At the age of 81, as this is written, Carter plays elegant alto, and trumpet when he feels like it. He was deeply involved in a 1988 concert of his music by the American Jazz Orchestra, which he rehearsed to within an inch of its life. He travels the world as a performer and writes music with today and tomorrow in mind. He refuses to discuss his past triumphs, explaining simply but firmly, "I'm not much interested in nostalgia."

Parker, Hodges, Carter

One of the new albums is among the last Carter made as a saxophonist, the other a tribute to Carter by more than a dozen of his colleagues and admirers. The San Francisco tenor saxophonist Mel Martin struck up a friendship with Carter in the late 1980s and became a sort of musical Boswell to Carter's Johnson, featuring and promoting Carter compositions in his own performances. He went Boswell one better and collaborated in a full partnership with the great man he so admired. That resulted in a 1994 engagement at the Oakland music emporium Yoshi's and the Martin-Carter quintet CD Just Friends. The rhythm section--pianist Roger Kellaway, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Harold Jones--is superb. Carter and Martin play to and for one another with relaxation and an infectious sense of fun. Some of the pieces, "Perdido," "Secret Love," "Just Friends," have the air of a jam session about them, but any jam session involving Benny Carter had underlying order. The CD includes two gorgeous, little-heard Carter pieces, "People Time" and "Elegy in Blue."

The Benny Carter Centennial Project presents, in various combinations, musicians including Phil Woods, Randy Sandke, Warren Vaché, Bill Kirchner, Joe Wilder, John Coates, Loren Schoenberg, James Chirillo, Russell Malone and Carter's last rhythm section--Chris Neville, piano; Steve LaSpina, bass; and Steve Johns, drums. All of the compositions are Carter's, and he makes a rare appearance without a saxophone.

In ubiquity, urbanity and skill, if not in style, Woods is a younger counterpart of Carter. He and Carter were fast friends and recorded together memorably on several occasions. In the Centennial Project, he contributes achingly beautiful duets with pianist Coates on the ballads "Johnny" and "Other Times." On soprano saxophone, Bill Kirchner combines delicacy and deep understanding of Carter's melodic essence in his reading of the master's longtime theme song, "Melancholy Lullaby." A five-man sax section headed by Schoenberg rolls out perfectly interpreted performances of two of Carter's greatest arrangements, "I'm Coming Virginia" and "All of Me."

Trumpeters Vaché and Sandke nail the spirit of "I'm in the Mood for Swing," best known for the ingenuity and propulsion of Carter's sax section writing in a 1938 Lionel Hampton all-star recording with Harry James shining in solo. Sandke in "Again and Again" and Vaché in "Key Largo" team with the rhythm section for solo spots. In "Far Away," "Echo of My Dream" and "South Side Samba," Neville, LaSpina and Johns display the lightness and firmness that Carter appreciated in them as accompanists. Neville rolls out his modern stride in "Fable of a Fool." The final track is "All About You," a ballad Carter wrote toward the end of his life and presented to guitarist Malone. Malone plays it alone, followed by Carter's version on piano in 2001. It was his last recording, and he plays the piece with a tenderness that makes me wonder if he was more interested in nostalgia than he let on.

Here is a list of a few Carter CDs that I recommend.

All Of Me: Essential Carter from the 1930s and '40s, with a smattering of his M Squad TV music of the 1950s.

Django Reinhardt All Star Sessions: Carter in Europe in the 1930s with the great guitarist and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. This includes celebrated versions of "Crazy Rhythm" and "Honeysuckle Rose."

They All Had Rhythm - '45 and '46 and Groovin' High in L.A. 1946: Compilations including Carter's big band, plus Jimmy Mundy's, Gerald Wilson's and Wilbert Baranco's. Great arranging and playing by Carter, and fiery young soloists including, on Groovin' High in L.A., Miles Davis.

Jazz Giant: Brilliant in every respect. With Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles, André Previn, Frank Rosolino, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinegar and Shelly Manne.

Further Definitions: Carter's masterpiece of the early 1960s, with Coleman Hawkins, Phil Woods, Charlie Rouse and a powerhouse rhythm section. If you were limited to a collection of ten CDs, this would have to be one of them.

There are dozens of other Carter recordings. It would difficult to go wrong with any of them. You may want to go here and browse.

August 6, 2007 1:13 AM | | Comments (3)

Jazz blogs are proliferating. Two recent entries worth investigating are Marc Myers's JazzWax, whose current posting is an evaluation of Benny Carter, and Chicago bassist Bill Harrison's Jazz Underneath.

August 6, 2007 12:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Carol Sloane's blog piece about her short career in music academia recently inspired a Rifftides item about singers who misfire. Sloane's followup story recounts the time early in her career when she shared a bill with Oscar Peterson and impressed him, in a way.

I was singing at THE Village Vanguard; I was opening for one of the world's greatest JAZZ pianists. Was I not therefore A JAZZ SINGER??? And what do jazz singers do? They improvise! To hell with a boring, simple melody. It needed some embellishment, some "jazzing up". And so I commenced to work around, above and below the line every time I sang it. After one or two of these seriously flawed attempts to improve on Mr. Weill's melody, Oscar took notice.

He'd say: "Carol. Sing "My Ship", and of course I was flattered that my rendition so impressed the Great Man. He'd sit in the shadows on the banquette just to my left. Each night I sang with my usual abandon, and each night I'd eagerly look toward him, expecting acknowledgement for my inventiveness. Instead, his was a dead-pan expression, PopEye-like biceps firmly fixed across his expansive upper torso. Buddha displeased.

To get the whole story, go here.

August 1, 2007 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
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Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
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Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
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Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

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Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
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