Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


How his wife Moki Helped Don Cherry Evolve from Jazz Trumpeter to World Musician

By the time he died at 59 in 1995, American trumpeter Don Cherry was as involved in creating distinctive World Music as he was playing improvised Jazz. The Washington Post’s Andy Beta ascribes the evolution to the ideas of Cherry’s Swedish wife Moki Karlsson (1943-2009), an interdisciplinary artist and designer. When the two met in the early 1960s, the Los Angles-raised trumpeter had already made his reputation playing in groups with saxophonists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and most famously as part of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s quartet with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell. Although Cherry would go on to be involved in more Free Jazz sessions with other players including saxophonists Albert Ayler and Gato Barbieri, accepting Moki’s broader ideas about the world he increasingly turned towards what he called organic music. Using her art and collaborative concepts – her work is seen on the cover of his Where Is Brooklyn? LP – the trumpeter added strands of Brazilian ceremonial hymns, Indian ragas,  South African jazz, Turkish and South Asian melodies, along with the sounds of Chinese zither, Malian donso ngoni and Indian tambura to his performances. As American minimalist composer Terry Riley, who was involved in a similar music search at the time, says of Cherry: “I always thought of him as a medieval minstrel, a guy who was obsessed with music and played it all the time no matter where he was.” READ

Memories of Steve Lacy by Someone who often recorded Him

For someone who professes not to be a writer, Martin Davidson, owner of the UK’s Emanem label offers well-research, well-thought out, humorous, and opinionated memories of the musical career of American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004). Part of a book on Lacy published by Nantes based Éditions Lenka Lente and excerpted in The Wire, Davidson apologizes for so frequently invoking his own imprint. But that’s necessary since many of the saxophonist’s more characteristic discs were released on Emanem, including Lacy’s first solo saxophone session. Ranging from discussions of Lacy’s earliest modern jazz sessions with pianists Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk, Davidson offers a knowledgeable précis of Lacy’s work from his legendary 1960s quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd, to his Free Jazz sessions with bassist Kent Carter in the 1970s, to his compositional and Free Music forays with musicians like saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Misha Mangelberg and electronic pioneer Michel Waisvisz in the 1980s, and culminating in realized projects involving mostly Lacy’s working group, featuring vocalist/cellist Irene Aebi, saxophonist Steve Potts, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch. Besides telling how some of Lacy’s most memorable music was created, Davidson also reveals the nuts and bolts of what went into recording and releasing improvised music in the LP and later CD eras. READ

A Deep Dive into Julius Hemphill’s Music

Expanding on the recent revival of interest in the extensive works of American saxophonist/flutist/composer Julius Hemphill (1938-1995), British experimental alto saxophonist Seymour Wright discusses some of the late saxophonist’s most crucial sessions. In this The Wire guide, Wright adds autobiographical snippets to put the works of the Texas-born, St. Louis Black Arts Group organizer multi-instrumentalist, multi-media pioneer and theorist in context. Included are embedded audio tracks of the eight musical selections that Wright cherry picks from the 1970s to the 1990s to demonstrate Hemphill’s Blues roots and compositional sophistication. The sounds feature Hemphill playing in solo contexts, alone or with overdubbing, as well as leading  groups ranging in size from duos to sextets and featuring such players as drummers Philip Wilson and Warren Smith; poet Curtis K Lyle; alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich; and the two partners with whom Hemphill played the most: cellist Abdul Wadud and trumpeter Bakida Caroll. READ

Curiosity Helped this Cat: Henry Threadgill NEA Jazz Master

Honored as one of 2021's NEA Jazz Masters, saxophonist/flutist/composer Henry Threadgill tells SFJazz’s Richard Scheinin that he developed his unique stylebecause he’s always been interested in playing and analyzing every type of music. A Chicago AACM member who moved to New York, Threadgill is best-known for Air, his cooperative group with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall; and his own bands with unusual instrumentation and distinctive names such as Very, Very Circus and Zooid. But while he also spent time in various Jazz ensembles with advanced leaders such as pianist Cecil Taylor and Muhal Richard Abrams there’s more than that in his background. In Chicago he played in marching bands every week; he travelled to tent meetings and sanctified churches with an evangelist preacher’s group; and he was in the house band of Blues guitarist Left Hand Frank. Simultaneously while studying at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music he took every course offered to understand theory and formal analysis. Travelling to places like Trinidad, Bali and Venezuela he also absorbed the local sounds. Because of the ACCM and the Free Jazz breakthrough he evolved a philosophy about music being particular to the time in which it’s made. “Better to do your own thing, because you’re not going to beat those other people” like Charlie Parker,” he says. “I don’t have to out-play Clifford Brown. I got to out-play me; the competition is with yourself.” READ

A Mixture of Memory and Devotion: the Music of Marion Brown

On the 50th anniversary of the release of the first of Marion Brown’s Georgia Trilogy LPs, The Bitter Southerner’s Jon Ross creates a poetic profile of the alto saxophonist who died at 79 in 2010.  Product of Atlanta’s Buttermilk Bottom neighbourhood, Brown’s composition on the albums Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Sweet Earth Flying, reflected the rural woods, urban alleyways and educational and religious background of that area. These 1970s sessions,  which featured contributions from, among others, vocalist Jeanne Lee, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianists Paul Bley and Dave Burrell and drummer Andrew Cyrille, also included echoes of African music, which Brown studied as an ethnomusicologist. Actually Brown, who made his reputation in New York, playing with pianist Burton Greene and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp in many bands, and later expatriated to Europe for two years, actually spent little time in Georgia after graduating from Clark College. But as a dignified Southerner, who, according to Burrell “understood the dynamics of social relationships,” he was able to give the musicians’ free reign to successfuky interpret the musical mixtures that informed his very personal compositions. READ

Coping and composing during the Pandemic: Olie Brice

With Five Hills, his Radar Commissions composition for trio that was only able to be performed as part of Jazz South’s Online Festival in April, British composer/double bassist Olie Brice tells Jamie Haber how his music has been affected by the Covid-10 pandemic. His advice for coping is to be patient, spend time outdoors and try to develop musically. Brice, whose regular musical associates include saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Mark Sanders, is devoting much of his lock-down time developing his sound, technique and approach to arco playing and has recently become obsessed with Julius Hemphill’s composing. Five Hills, which is performed by himself, alto saxophonist Jason Yarde and trumpeter Nick Malcolm, is unusual in that he usually doesn’t write for that small an ensemble and was created by consciously avoiding adding any external influences. Besides telling Haber about interesting albums he's heard and exceptional gigs he’s seen, Brice reveals that his very first exposure to Jazz as a toddler was at a concert featuring saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, with whom amusingly he now plays regularly. READ

Examining 1970s Soviet Jazz Trends

While Global Comment’s Denis Kovylin appears no more clueless than any mainstream writer would be trying to understand innovations in Jazz history, his recommendations for essential Soviet Jazz discs unearth some unknown-in-the West names. Limiting himself to discs released between 1972 and 1979  by the groups led by the likes of  Igor Bril, David Goloshekin, Oleg Lundstrem and Joseph Vainstein “popular among the Leningrad hipsters”, he doesn’t realize that sticking rock or bossa nova rhythms on top of swing era standards and aiming for pop/fusion was only far out in the context of the USSR. Still one disc he endorses has stood the test of time.  It was recorded in 1976 by Latvia’s Ganelin Trio of pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. Hesitant in describing the sounds, Kovylin seems not to understand that its importance was because of the trio’s Baltic-oriented originality. Unlike the others it wasn’t copying American models. READ

Be open and free, but listen: Amina Claudine Myers

Although perhaps a touch too inside for some, bassist Luke Stewart’s interview with keyboardist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers in Three Fold quarterly outlines some of the influences and background of this long-time AACM member. Coming to musical maturity in Texas, Myers was first involved with singing gospel and spirituals in local Baptists churches, as well as following Blues singers like John Lee Hooker. As an organist in Chicago clubs Myers backed up Soul-Jazz players like saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Eddie Harris, each of whom helped her develop an individual style to be inventive and unique each time she played standards and Blues. “I always know where I am when I’m playing,” she asserts, as “improvising gives you a chance to paint pictures.” Even before she joined the AACM, and was exposed to and taught more advanced sounds from the likes of pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, her turning point towards musical freedom came when she gigged as a pianist on a Europe tour with Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freedman and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. Without preconceptions Freeman just played every night and let Meyers do the same, and yet the improvisations always worked. READ

The Education of saxophonist Marty Ehrlich

Taking as its starting point the work saxophonist/clarinetist Marty Ehrlich did helping to collate a box set of previously unissued music by alto saxophonist/composer Julius Hemphill, Point of Departure’s Troy Collins traces Ehrlich’s career. Although white and with “deep family roots in Jewish liturgy”, living in St. Louis the young saxophonist was soon involved with players from that city’s Black Artist Group such as  Oliver Lake and Lester Bowie. Following graduation from the New England Conservatory, Ehrlich moved to New York and worked in big bands led by pianist George Russell, and multi-reedist Anthony Braxton. Associated with other innovative players like saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Jerome Harris, he led or was part of many small groups for the next several years. Transitioning to teaching at Hampshire College for 15 years, Ehrlich is now professor emeritus. Before Covid-19 he had intensified his recording and performing schedule. Someone who played with Hemphill for years and after the latter’s death led a sextet playing his music, Ehrlich’s skill combinations made him the perfect person to work on the Hemphill set and write about the composer. Modest, he still says that when listening to some of the solos he recorded with Hemphill who often played with the likes of trumpeter Baikida Carroll, he thinks they still “sound pretty fine”. READ

Kidd Jordan Is Finally Rewarded For His Improvised Music

After more than 60 years of playing music his own way for small selected audiences, Kidd Jordan, New Orleans’ doyen of Free Jazz has finally been rewarded with a $50,000 grant. It's from the United States Artists, a Chicago-based foundation, reports The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Keith Spera. Of course the tenor saxophonist. who still practices and/or plays every day, is now 85. With a parallel career as a well-respected educator at Southern University at New Orleans and artistic director of the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, Jordan has also taught budding players such as saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, pianist Jon Batiste and trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and his son Marlon Jordan, as well as Kent Jordan, another son who plays flute. At the same time he has long been part of his own free-form groups, including the Improvisational Arts Quintet, the first so-called avant garde band in a city wedded to Classic Jazz. Over the years he has also played with a raft of inventive musicians including saxophonists Fred Anderson, Cannonball Adderley and. Ornette Coleman. Honored to be receiving the grant, he jokes that he got it because “this old man has been scuffling all these years.” READ

Death of a Jazz Soldier: Mark Whitecage

He wasn’t a major figure who rewrote Jazz history, but alto saxophonist/clarinettist Mark Whitecage, who died earlier this month at 83, was one of the many musicians who contributed to Jazz’s evolution through membership in multiple bands. On The Free Jazz Collective’s blog, Martin Schray offers a personal view of the man’s talents. Someone whose interests spanned Swing era saxophonists, electronic music and Free Jazz, Whitecage arrived in New York at the tail end of the Loft Era in the early 1970s and was soon part of a group with long-time collaborator clarinettist Perry Robinson and others. Shortly afterwards he joined German vibist Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream Band, which boosted his reputation in Europe. From that point on until the end of his life, Whitecage recorded sparingly as leader, but played often with many other sound innovators including bassists Dominic Duval and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. His longest running affiliation, starting in this century, was with the co-operative Nu Band, which frequently toured North America and Europe and also included bassist Joe Fonda, trumpeter Roy Campbell and drummer Lou Grassi. READ

Sun Ra’s Philly HQ Finally Gets Some Earthly Repairs

Headquarters for the Sun Ra Arkestra since the composer/keyboardist and the big band relocated to Philadelphia a half century ago, the row house in the city’s Germantown neighbourhood is slowly collapsing. Alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, leader of the Arkestra since Ra left the planet in 1993, who  still lives in the structure, explains that the pump for the radiator heating system can’t heat the upper floors, termite infestation caused the floor joists to give way so that the basement floor collapsed into the sub-basement, there are gaping holes in the underground masonry, the plumbing leaks and the siding on the back of the house is peeling. Luckily a $7,000 grant from the Miami-based Robert D. Bielecki Foundation is paying for some renovations to be done by a local contractor, with Mark Christman, founder of the city’s Ars Nova Workshop serving as unpaid supervisor/coordinator. He and Bielecki say that the preservation work is necessary because the Ra structure is a Philly Jazz landmark like the house in which tenor saxophonist John Coltrane lived and the burial site of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley READ

The Ears of Texas are upon him: Rob Mazurek

Having moved from Chicago to the West Texas desert town of Marfa (population about 1,800), seven years ago, trumpeter Rob Mazurek tells Texas Monthly’s Andy Beta that his new environment has inspired him. Now he's able to investigate his connection with the “spirituality and physicality of space and time” even more than he could in the big city. He also literally has more physical space to do so, since his Marfa home includes a music room filled with a piano, church organ and modular synthesizer components plus a separate visual art studio where paints. Since his relocation, Mazurek says, the town’s vibrant arts community and closeness to nature has given him new inspirations for his many musical activities which include The Exploding Star Orchestra and various sized iterations of the Chicago Underground project. He still keeps in touch with fellow innovators elsewhere though, with his most recent recording featuring contributions from fellow Windy City associates including guitarist Jeff Parker and cellist Tomeka Reid. READ

How Toronto Musicians Revived Paul Desmond’s Love of Playing

Although world famous because of his decades-long membership in pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who also rarely recorded as a leader, avoided most opportunities to play in nightclubs and concerts heading a band. That changed radically in 1975, notes Thomas Cunniffe in his Jazz History Online blog, when Desmond accepted an engagement at Toronto’s Bourbon Street night club. As part of his extensive examination of the seven-disc se, The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings, Cunniffe explains that playing with locals guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller produced the sort of moderate tempos, melodic solos and low volume, polytonal background the alto saxophonist preferred. He loved the sound so much in fact that Desmond later secured gigs for the four at the Edmonton Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and a San Francisco night club. Meanwhile Thompson recorded all the quartet's music featured in the boxed set, including one night when trombonist Rob McConnell replaced Bickert, and it has finally been released as one package. Jazz History Online also includes a link to a video of the band performing live on the CBC television program Take 30. READ

Understanding William Parker’s Tone World

Trying to explain and itemize the currents that affect the music collected in William Parker’s most recent 10-album set, downbeat’s Dave Cantor describes the bassist as New York’s free-jazz caretaker. While the phrase could be more felicitous, it does highlight how Parker, from his earliest work with saxophonists David S. Ware and Frank Lowe in the 1970s up to today, has always operated within the so-called avant-garde sector. Since that time and because of his work as artistic director of the city’s now famous Vision Festival and leadership of ensembles including the In Order To Survive quartet and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, he has provided a forum for many advanced musicians including pianists Cooper-Moore and Matthew Shipp and singers such as Lisa Sokolov as well as dancers and visual artists. Concerned with communicating with as many people as possible through non-verbal universal tonality since he was a child in the Bronx, by performing his music in many different contexts and in many countries, Parker has extended his original musical concepts everywhere he has been. READ

An African take on Sun Ra’s life and music

While it may seems a little simplistic for those familiar with the details of the life and music of Saturn-out-of-Birmingham Arkestra bandleader Sun Ra (1914-1993), Léo Pajon’s interview with Paris-based journalist/musician Joseph Ghosn in The Africa Report is a fine introduction. The brief Q+A in this monthly that focuses on African politics and economics, also offers some unique insights into the ideas of the composer/arranger and keyboardist. Using as an entry point the most recent CD released by the Arkestra, now led by 96-year-old alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, Ghosn says it’s good, but lacks the spirit of innovation Sun Ra brought to the group. Among those concepts was early use of the Moog synthesizer and when Ra turned drummer Tommy Hunter’s mistaken electric feedback into a psychedelic reverb effect on Arkestra records from the 1960s onwards. Ghosn explains that Ra running his own record company and distribution plus changing his slave name to Ra was part of his long-time ideas of Black consciousness and economic independence. Plus Ra’s fascination with Ancient Egypt, a rich Nubian nation, as well as his stated desire to move Black people from the US to Saturn was linked to this new freedom within a program of Afro-Futurism. READ

Energy and Romanticism: Bobby Few

While long-time American-in-France pianist Bobby Few, who died last month at 85, was best-known for his playing on Free Jazz’s outer edges with tenor saxophonist Frank Wright among others, he wasn’t averse to playing and singing during gigs in small Paris bars, notes Pierre Crépon in this The Wire appreciation. A Cleveland native like tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, with whom he later recorded, Few played Hard Bop with the likes of tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in New York before relocating to France in 1969 with alto saxophonist Noah Howard and drummer Muhammad Ali, and adding Wright and sometimes bassist Alan Silva formed the Center Of The World band. During the subsequent half century he remained in France, Few worked with other groups including those featuring such saxophonists as Avram Fefer, Jacques de Lignières and Steve Lacy. All along he insisted his music, which included Blues and gospel overtones, was an expression of “love, joy, and happiness”. READ

Transitional British Jazz of the 1960s and the 1970s

British Jazz became known internationally during the so-called Trad Boom of the 1950s and during this century as bands adapted rock and hip-hop currents to Pop-Jazz, as well as for many Improv innovators starting in the 1970s. But modern Jazz was being played in the UK, shortly after it was created in the US and reached one high point during the transitional 1960s and 1970s. Although Bandcamp Daily’s Jim Allen seems most interested in naming which transitional Jazz figures also played live or in the studios with emerging Rock and Jazz-Rock aggregations such as The Soft Machine, King Crimson or Colosseum, he name checks and provides audio example of the music of many innovators whose influence extended into pop and rock as well as contemporary Jazz and Free Music. Included are saxophonists Tubby Hayes, Elton Dean and Jamaican Joe Harriott; big band composer/leaders such as Graham Collier, Mike Westbrook and South African native Chris McGregor; plus idiosyncratic stylists like Canadian-born trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, alto saxophonist Mike Osborne and pianist Stan Tracey. READ

To be an improviser, you have to be vulnerable: Angelica Sanchez

This brief profile of New York-based pianist Angelica Sanchez by The Harvard Crimson’s Mira S. Alpers does manage to discuss her influences and multiple collaborations. Beginning with the discovery of improvisation and Jazz as a young piano student, Sanchez began composing while still in high school in Arizona, which eventually led to her playing and recordings with the likes of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and pianist Marilyn Crispell. The recent dual piano CD she and Crispell recorded works so well, she figures, as a result of a long friendship, the two have developed. They first met a few years ago at vibraphonist Karl Berger's Jazz camp, after expressing appreciation for each other's music “A friendship helps” when recording a disc like the duo she says. “We had a really nice friendship before, but it's really when we started making music with each other that it felt like home.” As well, and oddly enough, Sanchez tells Alpers that she brings a fascination with neuroscience and biology to her improvisations and compositions. READ

Matthew Shipp discusses the Black Mystery School of Pianists

A celebrated Jazz pianist himself, Matthew Shipp’s article for New Music Box attempts to define the distinctive category of what he calls the Black Mystery School of Pianists. Unlike most popular Jazz keyboardists who easily follow the mainstream paradigm of the proper way to play the instrument, these musicians are true piano iconoclasts. Outlining a series of famous players not in this school, Shipp settles on a short list of innovators who, while also highly skilled virtuosi, resist academic codification and carved out a unique niche within the Jazz universe. Citing Thelonious Monk as the father of this school – although his descendants tend not to play Monk tunes – Shipp writes that those who fit within this genre are Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Cecil TaylorAndrew Hill, Sun Ra, Horace Tapscott, the very obscure  Hasaan Ibn Ali, and surprisingly, Ran Blake, even though he’s a Caucasian. READ