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”.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 Taylor, Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, Horace Tapscott, the very obscure Hasaan Ibn Ali, and surprisingly, Ran Blake, even though he’s a Caucasian.
A faculty member of Switzerland’s Hochshule Luzern since 2009 following a four year stint at New York’s the New School; percussionist Gerry Hemingway has developed his own ideas about music teaching. At the same time he’s still a working musician, he tells Point of Departure’s Troy Collins. During an extended Q+A, the American drummer points out that many of his decades-old co-op bands still exist such as BassDrumBone with trombonist Ray Anderson, and bassist Mark Helias; the GRH trio with pianist Georg Graewe and cellist Ernst Reijseger; and the more recent one, the WHO trio with pianist Michel Wintsch and bassist Bänz Oester. At the same time, Hemingway, who has been interested in electronic music since the 1970s, is regularly involved in live interaction performances with visual artist Beth Warshafsky using Max/MSP Jitter, as well as recording solos and electro-acoustic programs with the likes of fellow percussionist Vincent Glanzmann. As an instructor though, he feels his job is “to keep the boat of history from sinking into a sea of well-meaning teaching methodologies, which sadly utilize unreferenced details that aren’t crucial to build personal artistic expression.” In essence he wants to nurture students not only formally but also by ear training careful listening, a slow, but meaningful method to get to the essences of music creation.
While others are using their Covid-19-enforced lockdowns to bake bread, study a language or play video games, Bay Area-based clarinettist Ben Goldberg has, since mid-March, been posting newly recorded sounds on the Bandcamp streaming service daily. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Andrew Gilbert, Goldberg says these musical outpourings give him something meaningful to do during quarantine. The improvisations which last from 90 seconds to 15 minutes, often layer tracks recorded using his many clarinets to create wider, more expressive textures. Initially only titled with the date of recording, since mid-June Goldberg has dedicated many individual tracks to political avatars such as Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well as to musicians with whom he has performed in the past, like guitarists Nels Cline and Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford. Listen to one excerpt here.
Not as depressing as he thought his birthday would be, British soundsinger Phil Minton tells The Wire’s Phil England that Covid-19 and Brexit have affected his career more than turning 80. A vocal chameleon who has been experimenting with unusual sound timbres for 60 years, Minton works regularly with other voice extremists like Audrey Chen and often organizes The Feral Choir allowing groups of non-professional singers in many countries to gather under his leadership for “belching obscene incoherent rubbish”. Initially a trumpet player and dancer, Minton first developed his unique vocal stylings as a member of pianist Mike Westbrook’s experimental big band, which also showcased guitarist Keith Rowe and saxophonist John Surman. When he rejoined Westbrook’s group in the 1970s he expanded his vocalese by also singing words, some of which came from William Blake 's poetry. Words are also the focus of his ongoing project with pianist Veryan Weston that performs musical settings of anarchist and anti-imperialist poems from figures like Ho Chi Min. Still, the vocalist says that some of his best experiences and biggest influences have come from vocalizing alongside Free Jazz drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo, Tony Oxley and Roger Turner.
Although he had established relationships with advanced musicians on both sides of Chicago’s racial divide since 1979, Tokyo-born bassist Tatsu Aoki still felt he didn’t fit comfortably into either scene. That’s why 20 years ago he organized his unique Asian improv project MIYUMI, he tells Bandcamp Daily’s Marcus J. Moore. Inspired by the examples of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)-affiliated musicians such as tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, in whose trio he played, and who inspired the bassist to hold onto his own concepts, MIYUMI was organized by Aoki, saxophonist Mwata Bowden and drummer Afifi Phillard. Over the years, the bassist, whose Jazz mentors include Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors, has incorporated other sounds into MIYUMI, such as a double-bass centred heavy pulse from progressive Rock and an emphasis on using traditional Japanese instruments such as the taiko drum. “But,” says Aoki, “the idea was bringing non-stereotype, naturalized taiko drumming into this avant-garde jazz setting.”
Somewhat of a stilted profile of Craig Taborn, The Morning Star’s Chris Searle still manages to elicit some interesting statements from the Minneapolis-born pianist. Talking about his home city’s Jazz scene and early influences, before he joined tenor saxophonist James Carter’s band, Taborn says that British figures such as pianist Django Bates and saxophonist Steve Wiliamson were part of his listening experience. Later on he established collaborative relationships with more advanced UK players like saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Dave Holland. Covid 19 has unleashed creativity in many musicians, he explains, at the same time as concerns over the death of George Floyd and other Black Lives Matter manifestations have provided more focus to the music. Still while Taborn’s group Junk Magic, featuring among others tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and violist Mat Maneri, has tried to mix protest themes with electronics, even its release was affected by real life events. Its mastering was delayed since the engineer in charge lives a few blocks away from the epicentre of many BLM protests.
Although he was at times part of many major Jazz groups, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (1931-2006) was never well known, even in advanced Jazz circles. That's because, says The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Shand, Redman was more interested in sound than technique and decided to lead his own group at the most inopportune time. That happened in the early 1980s, when Redman, a Fort Worth native like alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and who had formerly been part of the Coleman quartet, was simultaneously a member of bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, pianist Keith Jarrett's quartet and Old and New Dreams with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. But the self-described “country boy in the big city” split with them all, determined to be recognized for his own talents. It didn’t happen and in subsequent years he was overlooked in favor of other, flashier, tenor saxophonists, including his formerly estranged son, Joshua Redman.
True to the Northern country’s history of celebrating Canadians who succeed overseas, Toronto-based trumpeter Lina Allemano is now making a name for herself internationally, since she spends part of each year living in Berlin. Not only is she invigorated by the German capital’s open Jazz scene reports London Jazz News’ Sebastian Scotney, but the locals also appreciate her talent as well. She and her otherwise all-German trio, Rats & Mice, with bassist Dan Peter Sundland and drummer Michael Griener are featured at this year’s JazzFest Berlin for instance. Allemano, who prides herself on having detailed knowledge of both standard trumpet styles, having studied with Laurie Fink in New York, as well as extended brass techniques, which she pursued with Axel Dörner in Berlin, still insists that she won’t leave Canada to become an expatriate. Although she has been visiting Berlin since 2013 she doesn’t want to abandon the musical progress she has made and the original music she has created with her Toronto quartet, which has been in existence since 2005.
Evolution of improvised music isn’t just the purview of well-known innovators. Every musician with new ideas contributes to the sounds, and Capital Bop’s Luke Stewart profiles one such player who died recently. Tenor saxophonist Yahya Abdul-Majid impressed many listeners the few times he gigged in New York during the 1980s with drummer Jackson Krall ’s Secret Music Society, bassist William Parker’s groups and when he formed a close working relationship with drummer Denis Charles. But most of the time from the 1970s until he died Abdul-Majid stuck close to his Washington D.C. home base where his powerful yet mystical style was showcased in small clubs along with the sounds of the city’s few other advanced players. Most of his other out-of-town jobs which led to his highest profile, were with the Sun Ra Arkestra. Abdul-Majid had briefly been an Arkestra members when the keyboardist/composer was still alive; he then rejoined the band and stayed with it on-and-off from 1997 to 2018 as it subsequently evolved under the leadership of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. Although he rarely recorded or led his own groups,f his associates insist that Abdul-Majid's inspired playing will long be fondly remembered.