Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


A growth and a rebirth period: Whit Dickey

Starting Tao Forms, his own record label, this year has given drummer Whit Dickey another way to disseminate the Free Jazz he’s been playing for the past 40 years. In this interview with Aquarium Drunkard’s anonymous questioner he insists that he’s still growing at the age of 66, and, after a period of illness and study, has decided to become more active musically. While Dickey’s membership in tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s seminal quartet is only briefly mentioned, he does go into greater details about his vibrational theories on the yin-and-yang of music; his early studies with percussionist Milford Graves; and how consistently listening to the vibrations from tenor saxophonist John Coltrane’s music provided the impetus to create Tao Forms. Since his improvising is idiosyncratic in itself, Dickey explains that he can find novel sound areas to explore whether it is, as on his newest discs, with musicians he has worked with for many years such as pianist Matthew Shipp – he played on Shipp’s first recording – and alto saxophonist Rob Brown, or newer, younger associates such as bassist Brandon Lopez. READ

Spiritual Jazz Survivor: Sonny Greenwich

Mystical is often used to describe many Jazz musicians but only a few have ever reached a genuine level of otherworldly playing like tenor saxophonists John Coltrane or Albert Ayler. One is guitarist Sonny Greenwich. But because of his age and nationality, Greenwich, now 84, and long based in Montreal, never received the international recognition he deserved. In these excerpts from Of Stars and Strings: A Biography of Sonny Greenwich, published in Point of Departure, Canadian author Mark Miller tries to explain why. Despite brief sojourns in the United States and with praise for his work with the likes of saxophonists John Handy and Hank Mobley, Greenwich was not able to establish a professional foothold there. In Montreal, while he was involved as a frequent player at the Jazz Workshop, which brought avant-garde players such as pianist Paul Bley and alto saxophonist Marion Brown to the city, the more conservative climate limited his local opportunities to work elsewhere.  Besides testimonies to Greenwich’s unique talent by such long-time associates like pianist/bassist Don Thompson, the piece also offers a brief history of how so-called psychedelic Jazz fared – or didn’t – during its heyday in late 1960s Montreal. READ

The more we emptied the room, the more we’d play: Kidd Jordan

A little late to the party, DownBeat finally publishes a small feature on New Orleans’ tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan just after his 85th birthday. With another hook that Jordan’s most recent CD was recorded the day before Corvid-19 infection fears closed down the entire city, writer Cree McCree stresses the adaptability of Jordan to any situation. Besides educating thousands of young musicians like saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison in colleges and the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, and playing R&B gigs on baritone saxophone, the saxophonist has also been the standard-bearer for Free Jazz in the city for more than half a century. Heavily influenced by hearing first Charlie Parker and later John Coltrane in person, over the years Jordan has played with such avant-garde avatars as saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor. Like them he keeps performing advanced music his own way, even if it empties the room at clubs and during festival sets, he jokes. Open to all sorts of sounds, Jordan once attended performances by composer John Cage and trumpeter Louis Armstrong on the same evening. As for the future, the saxophonist’s plan is to keep playing the music he loves as long as he can..     READ

The Lost Shorter: Trumpeter Alan Shorter

Known if at all as the older, weirder brother of saxophonist Wayne Shorter of Miles Davis and Weather Report fame, trumpeter Alan Shorter (1932-1988) was part of the Free Jazz movement in the United States and France, who recorded little and died in obscurity. Point of Departure’s David Grundy’s exhaustively researched essay is an attempt to provide a biography. Unlike his brother, who first played Hard Bop with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Alan Shorter was fully committed to new music. His mid-1960s New York tenure featured recordings with saxophonists Archie Shepp and Marion Brown and pianist Dave Burrell among others, and even a solo LP featuring tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri. But criticism of his so-called strained technique followed him then and during the six years after 1968 he spent in France.  While he recorded his second - and final - leadership disc there alongside tenor saxophonist Gary Windo, as well as LP sideman appearances with Shepp, bassist Alan Silva and pianist Francois Tusques, his on-stage behaviour described as either “militant” or “suicidal” led him back to the US. Although he never to played professionally again, a 1990s interview suggested that a cache of his novels, plays and other manuscripts exists and could be published. READ

Preferring to live in the Theatre of Questions rather than the Theatre of Answers: Keith Rowe

Celebrating his 80th birthday and more than 60 years as a professional musician, British tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe elucidates some of his philosophy in a wide-ranging interview with The Brooklyn Rail’s Todd B. Gruel. Although one of the founding members of two ensembles dedicated to electro-acoustic improvisation, the UK's AMM in the mid-1960s, and the international MIMEO in the late 1990s, Rowe follows his own path. This individuality also encompasses his visual art as a painter and affiliation and disengagement in various philosophical and political groups over the decades. Rowe’s discontinuous relationship with AMM, whose most constant members have been pianist John Tilbury and percussionist Eddie Prévost, and his similar history with the much larger all-electronic MIMEO, which has included Phil Durrant, Rafael Toral and Thomas Lehn, is part of this tendency. While encouraging the groups’ departure from melody, harmony, and rhythm, Rowe says he’s also interested in projecting sounds that are daring and playing  “anything disruptive”. Furthermore as his music evolves, he’s continuously working on stripping away all redundant material from his improvisations as well in his performance setup. READ

Giuseppi Logan’s Brief Musical Renaissance

Although he recorded two well-received LPs for ESP-Disk and one sideman appearance during the so-called New Thing’s highest profile in 1964-1965, after years of substance abuse and psychiatric hospital stays, by 2008 multi-reed player Giuseppi Logan (1935-2020) was living on New York streets and busking for spare change. Then he met younger multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle at a music store. This piece from Lavelle’s No Sound Left Behind blog recounts what happened during the next few years. Knowing of Logan’s 1960s sessions with the likes of drummer Milford Graves. trombonist Roswell Rudd and others, Lavelle gave him a bass clarinet and began getting the older musician to gig with him as well as alongside other advanced musicians such as bassist William Parker, drummer Warren Smith and bassist François Grillot. Thanks to help from the Jazz Foundation of America Logan finally was able to rent a room on the Lower East side. He subsequently recorded a couple of new CDs with Lavalle as well as older players such as pianist Dave Burrell. and was even the subject of a documentary film. However a few years later Logan badly hurt his hip and ended up in the hospital. Later on he was transferred to a nursing home in Queens where he spent his final few years, still playing reeds and piano, but unable to take jobs. Logan died in mid-April, and this article describes Lavelle’s fond memories of Logan and his influence on the younger man on personal, musical and mystical levels. READ

Creativity and Covid-19: How One California Musician Copes

Although he lost thousands of dollars worth of jobs when the Covid-19: pandemic forced the cancellation of multiple outside gigs, Berkeley, Calif.-clarinettist Ben Goldberg has enhanced his creativity by composing, he tells San Francisco Classical Voice’s Andrew Gilbert. More than that, he’s writing a new tune every day and posting his playing of each on Bandcamp. The music, which he posts under the general title of Plague Diary, has evolved as well. Rather than just performing on Bb clarinet, he now also uses an effects pedal, keyboards, loops and lower-register clarinets. “I’d never really recorded myself before so this is new to me,” he admits. The process allows him to use ideas he’s had in notebooks but never completed, or showcase tunes he’s already recorded with the likes of pianist Myra Melford, cornetist Ron Miles and drummer Ches Smith. Since Mid-May the course on improvisation at UC Berkeley he was also teaching online was wound up due to a state-wide shelter in place order, so the Plague Diaries not only give him focus and deadlines, but allow him to try composing in a new way rather than note by note and chord by chord. READ

Celebrating an Underappreciated French Free Jazz Piano Avatar

Now 82, Paris-based François Tusques was, in the early 1960s, one of the first musicians to play Free Jazz in France, and Bandcamp Daily’s Marcus J. Moore offers a brief but comprehensive rundown of the pianist’s prolific career. An early associate of American trumpeter Don Cherry, Tusques’ recorded his eponymous 1965 Free Jazz session with future local Free Music standard-bearers like saxophonist/clarinetist Michel Portal, trumpeter Bernard Vitet, flutist Francois Jeanneau and bassist Bernard “Beb” Guérin.  Within a few years, the pianist was also moving into other areas, exploring a mixture of improvisation and ethnic musics with the tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen and others; and even composing the sound track for director Jean Rollin’s horror film, La Reine Des Vampires. Tusques is still playing, and while Moore neglects to mention his later day collaborations with younger Gallic stylists such as saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, he does highlight collaborations the pianist has been involved with on and off over a 50 year period featuring pioneering American Free Jazz drummer Sunny Murray.   READ

Checking In with the New Polish Jazz

While a few of the 11 groups recommended to website Culture.PL by Dwójka radio presenter Przemek Psikuta as representing Poland’s most accomplished new Jazz musicians play rather conventional music, he does offer  some other intriguing choices. Putting aside those bands which specialize in expected mainstream or Fusion sounds, a focus on innovative players is also expressed. For example Psikuta writes about new CDs by Warsaw-based alto saxophonist Maciej Obara, whose Polish-Norwegian quartet deals with filmic themes; Wroclaw trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, whose Power of the Horns large, multi-instrumental ensemble works hard to tour the entire country; pianist Piotr “Piano Hooligan” Orzechowski, who is also experimenting with adapting electronics to his music; and the cooperative RGG trio made up of pianist Łukasz Ojdan, percussionist Krzysztof Gradziuk and bassist Maciej Garbowski, who have also recorded with international Free Music avatars such as saxophonist Evan Parker. READ

Irène Schweizer’s South African Connection … and Much More

Someone who forged an original style of improvisation starting in the late 1960s, one facet of Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer’s informal Jazz education was hearing the exiled South African players who settled in Zürich in the 1960s. In this The Wire excerpt from Harald Kisiedu’s newly published European Echoes, he recounts how during that time the pianist would frequently jam after hours in a Swiss club on the vigorous African melodies the South Africans introduced to the city. Her associates were members of the South African band, the Blue Notes, including drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and trumpeter Mongezi Feza. At a contemporary Swiss jazz festival her group at one point included Moholo Moholo and at another time Makaya Ntshoko, another South African drummer. Later on though, she expanded her musical interests when she made important connections to the leading German improvisers of the day, especially when she and Swiss drummer Pierre Favre formed a trio with German bassist Peter Kowald. Still later she crystallized her advanced musical concepts when she joined all-women playing collectives such as the Feminist Improvising Group (FIG). READ

A non-Jazz Musician who played with many Jazz Musicians: Richard Teitelbaum

Many facets of the diffuse career of pioneering electronic musician Richard Teitelbaum are examined by NPR Jazz’s Nate Chinen in this thoughtful piece published after the musician’s death at 80 last month. While known as a composer with an interest in world music, Bard College’s director of the Electronic Music Studio and a pioneering Moog synthesizer player, over the years Teitelbaum had an equally fruitful relationship with Jazz musicians. This link dated back to the 1960s, when, as the first person to bring a synthesizer to Europe, he joined with Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV), which also included composers Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski.  MEV also used Teitelbaum's electronic signals to perform in Milan and elsewhere with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and vocalist Irene Aebi. Adamant about his non-Jazz background, Teitelbaum. from the 1970s on still recorded frequently with woodwind player Anthony Braxton,  as well as playing and recording since that time with other experimental improvisers such as saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trombonist George Lewis, violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Joëlle Léandre, drummer Andrew Cyrille and pianist Marilyn Crispell. READ

One local club copes with the pandemic via live streaming

With Café Coda, his locally acclaimed night spot unable to operate because of the state’s safer-at-home order, Madison, Wisc. club owner Hanah Jon Taylor is using the club’s Facebook page to stream live concerts by local improvisers. Taylor, a flutist, tenor and alto saxophonist was gigging in other states and touring with the Sun Ra Arkestra when he recently returned home to discover the restricted business order. The way to continue getting the music to the people, he tells Isthmus’ Michael Muckian, is by presenting these streaming performances. With the club’s page set up to accept GoFundMe and PayPal pledges, any money contributed during the online performance will then be divided equally among the artist, the technical crew and the club. Taylor’s Cool School, his pro bono work teaching young musicians about Jazz through the local school system, will also now take place on the café’s website every Saturday using Zoom technology. Astutely, the reedist plans to continue online performances even after the club reopens to help offset income shortfalls.   READ

David Sanborn, Phillip Wilson and BAG

While alto saxophonist David Sanborn has made his reputation playing Pop-Funk on record and in the studios, his first association was Jazz. In this first person account for Ethan Iverson’s Do The M@th website, he recounts how hanging out in his St. Louis home town’s bohemian section as a teenager allowed him to play with and meet musicians who formed the nucleus of the city’s Black Artists Group (BAG). They included saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, trumpeter Lester Bowie and especially drummer Phillip Wilson. Naturally gregarious, and someone who would “talk non-stop”, according to Sanborn, Wilson and he became fast friends and the older musician talked others into letting the younger player sit in on many straight-ahead and avant garde Jazz sessions. One Sanborn particularly remembers was the four gigs where “I was the third alto in a little Hemphill band with Lake, me, Phillip and a local bass player.” Later Wilson, who was playing with the Butterfield Blue Band which recorded his composition “Love March”, got Sanborn a job with that combo as well. As a drummer, Sanborn says that Wilson was a colorist with deep soul who “understood the pocket”, a trait best heard as he uses an odd-meter beat on Hemphill’s Dogon A.D. LP. Yet Wilson could also play in the Chicago blues style, the saxophonist adds. “He had a certain touch, kind of light like a Jazz drummer, but also heavier like Rock. He could be really solid but loose on top, sort of like young Tony Williams and Buddy Miles at the same time.” READ

New York Jazz Clubs’ Post Pandemic Future

Obviously predictions can be a mug’s game, but The Jewish Insider’s Mathew Kassel tries to discover what could happen to New York’s thriving Jazz club scene once the Corvid-19 epidemic is over and they can reopen again. Both Deborah Gordon, owner of the legendary Village Vanguard, which has presented such important musical figures as bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist John Coltrane since its founding in 1935; and Spike Wilner, who owns Smalls and Mezzrow in the West Village, two night spots known for presenting jam sessions by younger improvisers; are less than optimistic. General expenses and rent costs continue to mount they say, but there’s no income with the clubs closed in compliance with the state’s social distancing directives. Even when the pandemic has passed, adds Gordon, the Vanguard will be at a disadvantage since its reputation means that many foreign Jazz fans and others are crammed into the basement room every night. Meanwhile musicians such as pianist Fred Hersch, who has often played and recorded albums at the Vanguard, fears that its potential closure, and/or that of other clubs could adversely affect the scene.   READ

Older Jazz Musicians Waiting Out COVID 19 with Acceptance

While response to the coronavirus has resulted in a shut down in performances venues throughout the music scene, the hiatus is particularly difficult for older players, reports The Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich. For 80 and 90-year-olds the cancelled gig may have been the last they ever play. But in interviews with Jazz survivors such as pianist Erwin Helfer, 84, guitarist George Freeman, 93, trumpeter Bobby Lewis, 84,  and others, Reich reports they’re upbeat and keeping busy. They’ve been through many tough situations over the years. For veteran professionals like Freeman, part of the First Family of Chicago Jazz that included his older brother tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and his nephew, saxophonist Chico Freeman, staying at home means he can practice more, especially the technical aspects of his instrument, and compose new tunes. Freeman had to forego his annual mid-April birthday celebration at a local club, where he was planning to unveil some new and different concepts, but he’s thankful that others are helping him get by during this difficult period. Still, he admits, “I miss playing jazz clubs … I’m very anxious to play in the clubs and very anxious to play with other musicians.” READ

A Famous Miles & Trane Gig that Never Was

Milwaukee jazz fans still talk about the music trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophone John Coltrane played as part of the former’s March 1959 gig in at Izzy Pogrob’s local Brass Rail club. Trouble is the gig never happened. Immersing himself in archival investigative journalism, On Milwaukee’s Bobby Tanzillo finds that despite newspaper ads to the contrary, at the last minute the week-long booking was cancelled. While the club was allegedly mob-run – less than a year later Pogrob was found in a ditch with nine gunshot wounds to his head – the official reason was musicians' illness. But further research finds that during that week Davis was rehearsing with the Gil Evans Orchestra; Coltrane and quintet's bassist Paul Chambers were recording tunes destined for the the Giant Steps session; and quintet pianist Wynton Kelly was also featured on two LPs. Tanzillo figures the real reason was insufficient money upfront. Yet today, even the site of the club, which had booked major Jazz talent before that, has been torn down and is now part of a long deserted lot. So nothing remains to memorialize the gig that never happened., READ

One Master Pianist Celebrates Another

Although British pianist Pat Thomas seems a touch too concerned with emphasizing the oppression of African-American musicians and playing up their links to African mentoring traditions in this Wire essay, he does offer some insight into the influence of the late American pianist McCoy Tyner on music in general. First he lists some of the negative generalities whites came up with in the 1960s when faced with experimental Jazz. Then he outlines Tyner’s piano apprenticeship. His theory is that the older pianist's interactions with innovators like bassist Jimmy Garrison, multi-reedist Eric Dolphy and especially saxophonist John Coltrane's constant experiments helped shape Tyner’s own career as player, bandleader and composer.  For himself, Thomas cites 1973’s “Enlightenment Suite” featuring Tyner with tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence, drummer Alphonse Mouzon and bassist Juni Booth as a favorite. Besides his views on Tyner, note what Thomas thinks about John Cage’s music. READ

Hyper focused on Creativity: Jaimie Branch

While New York-based trumpeter Jaimie Branch keeps most of her personal background and musical history close to her during this interview with Reverb’s Nick Millevoi,  by inference some insight into her creative process comes out. Regularly recording and touring has become an expected activity for the trumpeter since 2017 when interest in her first solo session allowed her to quit her (unnamed) day job after many years. She's now able to keep working with other New York and Chicago-based, players of her generation like cellist Lester St. Louis, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor. Finding a studio space to commute to and practice in many hours a day gives her the routine, she needs, Branch reveals. Also she can turn her attention to learning the synthesizer and drum machine as well as playing trumpet, composing tunes and even writing lyrics and vocalizing them to be part of future discs and tours. The trumpeter, who studied visual art as well as music in university, now designs her own album covers. But she admits that she finds musical creation and recording more pressured than art. She isn’t trying to compose the perfect tune, she says, but “I'm trying to write music that I want to be playing for the next year and a half or two years and have it be loose enough where it can transform (over time)”. READ

The Purpose of Music is to Heal People: William Parker

A rather short and sketchy profile of New York bassist, bandleader and composer William Parker by Jazz Trail’s Filipe Freitas at least offers some background about the first musical interests of this constantly busy musician. Pegged to a remounting of Parker’s project, Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield, the interviewer asks the bassist to itemize how this version differs from an earlier one with Amiri Baraka. By inviting poet Thomas Sayers Ellis to read some of Baraka’s texts, beefing up the horn section and adding backup singers for lead vocalist Leena Conquest, he answers. However when Freitas tries to pin him down as to the relative merits of poetry verses music and to list his favourite musicians and albums, Parker does so, but notes that the list changes every day, adding that “all forms of creativity are equal and complement each other.” What is most important, he insists, is how music can heal people. He came to that realization from experience after he decided to make his contribution to the improvised music world at 17, after taking up the bass  under the influence of Percy Heath, Charlie Haden, John Lamb, Jimmy Garrison and David Izenzon. Oddly enough though, he reveals that his initial musical education started with trumpet lessons and moved on to playing trombone. But this brass-path was followed even though he was first drawn to Jazz by hearing saxophonists like Paul Gonsalves, Don Byas and Gene Ammons. READ

Always err on the side of the music: Recording the first AACM sessions

Tape Op’s Steve Silverstein seems slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more studio razzle-dazzle involved in the mid-1960s recordings of the first LPs by Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) members in Chicago. However he supplies a fascinating and unusual take on how such sessions as Roscoe Mitchell Sextet's Sound, Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels and Degrees of Light, Joseph Jarman's Song For and a couple each by Lester Bowie, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and Anthony Braxton were captured on tape. Speaking to producers like Chuck Nessa and Bob Koester, who supervised those discs, he finds out about studio details, instrument set up and placement and the width of tape used in the recordings. Silverstein also discovers from these sources that as well as the technical expertise efforts of Stu Black, who engineered most of the discs, the general recording philosophy was to interfere as little as possible with the musicians’ concepts; to not try to replicate a live performance in the studio; or conversely to use studio refinements to alter the group's basic sounds. READ