The Modern Piano Concerto:
How Do You Beat it?

This last week I’ve been repeatedly listening to a playlist of two wildly disparate works: Aribert Reimann’s Konzert für Klavier und 19 Spieler and Thomas Adès's In Seven Days

Reimann, who will be 80 next March, has always had a bigger career in Europe than America. For a high-modernist, he has written unusually durable works for voice: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a champion of his opera Lear, and the Wergo recording of Neun Sonette der Louïze Labé with Liat Himmelheber and Axel Bauni is a personal desert island disc.

Probably one reason singers are a fit for Reimann’s aesthetic is that his rhythms are usually not precisely notated. You don’t have to sit there with a calculator and try to get the scansion right. You just declaim.

This rhythmic freedom can be true of his mature instrumental music as well. I’ve seen the score to Konzert für Klavier und 19 Spieler when visiting the Library of Congress. The conductor doesn’t usually beat conventional time, he mostly cues events as celluar melodies offset by ornate decoration transfer from one chamber collection to the next. (Even if the conductor does have some normal time to beat for one group, another group will be "on their own.") The result is refreshing and exciting. In a way it is closer to passionate stream-of-consciousness free jazz than most formally notated fierce atonal music with complex rhythms. Indeed, at various points the piano interacts with drums, horns, and even pizzicato bass in a way strikingly reminiscent of, say, the ICP Orchestra.

Reimann is an excellent pianist who can play his own music (another reason why I like him), although in the in Konzert für Klavier und 19 Spieler the keyboard duties are handled by Klaus Billing with the Basler Solisten-Ensemble conducted by Francis Travis. The piece is just 20 minutes with an obvious narrative. To me it is simply a classic work. 

The Wergo LP has never had an official digital issue. For a while my LP was appreciating in value, but no longer as there are various rips online, including on YouTube.

Although Adès is also a rigorous modernist who can play his own works on the piano, the rhythmic organization of In Seven Days couldn’t be more different.

I’ve been listening to the issued version with Nicolas Hodges on piano, but again there’s a version on YouTube with Rolf Hind. In both cases the composer conducts. Reid Anderson pointed out to me that Adès has an ear monitor. Of course! How else could he keep the orchestra perfectly on track with the video by Tal Rosner, which maps the music exactly? 

Huw Belling has publishing online an exceptionally valuable analysis, "Thinking Irrational: Thomas Adès and New Rhythms." A few paragraphs on In Seven Days are illuminating, along with an example of the score. It turns out that the metronome mark is 77, which is a tempo nobody could beat exactly unless they had it fed from a computer. (Pre-digital metronomes would have given you 72 or 78, but not 77.) All the meters are 7s. There are seven movements. The work eventually stops abruptly - Ligeti’s familiar marking “As though torn off” is relevant - and I’d bet anything that the end point was decided for some mathematical reason containing sevens, like for example that the half hour of music is 7777 bars (or 77 x 77 bars) or some such.

At any rate, this is really quite a feat, to get an orchestra to follow a conductor so precisely, although I would think key players would need ear monitors as well. I wonder if they are listening to a click track or a mock-up of the work. Whatever they are doing, the end result is spectacular. All of Adès conjures chain suspensions somewhere in the score, and In Seven Days is a real feast of constant almost resolution, this time heard though the scrim of minimalism, although with more sophisticated harmonic control than most post-minimalist composers.  I like Rosner’s video as well; the official release comes with a DVD.

Those interested in Adès should really spend some time with Belling's essay. I knew Adès's rhythms could be complex but I’m quite taken aback at how brutally non-standard and non-intuitive the notation has gotten. It’s one thing to hand impossibilities to the Arditti Quartet but really quite another to expect a full orchestra to go along with this level of unfamiliar. The fact that orchestras do go along is a testament to the general acceptance of Adès being one of the great composers of our era.

(Previously on DTM, a little bit on Traced Overhead and Concerto Conciso)

07/29/2015

 

Lennie-Groove

Well, DTM keeps trucking along. Has it been ten years? Actually I think it's been longer. 

Some of my posts have been controversial, usually when I've been a bit casual or hasty or when I least expect it. 

However, the post that worried me the most - I lost sleep, bled tears and blood, and almost threw my back out when hitting the "post now" button in 2008 - seemed to end up being generally accepted: The long look at Lennie Tristano, "All in the Mix."

Of course this was an autobiographical post. I play a lot like Lennie. I always will.

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"All in the Mix" stands apart from previous Tristano literature in that it takes race head on. To use a phrase from David King, these were the white weirdos in a black music. 

I'm possibly being egotistical here - and I hasten to add that I don't think I got everything right in this essay - but I'd bet that all future significant Tristano literature will have to react to my contribution.

The point being simply that ya gotta deal with race. Period. 

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I've just done a light re-edit. For those that know it already, the following is only significant addition, where I add the word "clave" for the first time:

“Ko-Ko’s” melody is a short introduction to blowing and “Marshmallow’s” melody is a full 64-bar chorus. It may seem like that between the faster tempo, the actual faster rate of notes, and the length of the melody, “Marshmallow” would be the harder piece to learn and play.

In reality, if I had to choose between the two melodies to teach any group of amateur musicians I would unhesitatingly choose “Marshmallow” as easier. The rhythm in “Ko-Ko” is hard to reduce to an even beat, whereas “Marshmallow” is right on. There are many accurate transcriptions of “Marshmallow” - despite its speed, it is almost made for easy transcribing - but who even really knows what “Ko-Ko” is? (It isn’t correct in the Charlie Parker Omnibook, for example.)

There is something about Parker and Gillespie on the head which is very accurate, very fast, very loud, very stop and start, and very loose, all of which is at the heart of mystical bebop rhythm.

I don’t know how Parker and Gillespie talked about their rhythm. Based on the literature, they didn’t talk about it much at all.

However, these days, the word “Clave” is used by sophisticated musicians when discussing the bebop era. Billy Hart was the first to suggest this nomenclature to me; I’ve heard Ben Street and Mark Turner use this word in reference to bebop as well.

Clave means, at least in part, a way of organizing musical sentences where specific accentuation is required. Is is not European; it is not “white.”  It is something that wouldn’t be here without American slavery.

The Charlie Parker melody and improvisation of “Ko-Ko” is full of clave. I wouldn’t say that “Marshmallow” is bereft of clave, but at the same time, there’s no doubt that the emphasis on “grooving rhythmic accentuation” is much less in “Marshmallow” than “Ko-ko.”

Also, compare Max Roach’s solo chorus with Denzil Best’s solemnly straight drum intro. (Best actually happens to be black). And both Roach and Gillespie (on piano) volley fiercely behind Bird’s solo in a way that is of no interest to the Tristano school.

This sounds like I am beginning to disparage “Marshmallow,” which is not what I am meaning to do. It is stunning that Marsh and Konitz could figure out how to do something new with "Ko-Ko" so soon - just four years later!

Discussions about race in jazz often dissolve into unhelpful generalities, probably because few musicians (and hardly anybody in academia) understand the mystical, subtle, clave side of bebop rhythm. But let me tell you right now: "Ko-ko" is still one of the highest expressions of that "complexity" ever recorded. And sending “Marshmallow” into the ring against it is folly.

So when Gillespie said that

...The cool period always reminded me of white people’s music. There was no guts in that music, and not much rhythm, either...

he is backed up by the comparison of these tracks.

But! “Marshmallow” remains really cool, especially with that sweet self-deprecating title. It's not "Ko-Ko" but it is full of rhythm and hard to do. Most black or white players of that era couldn't play “Ko-Ko,” but nearly as many would have had a problem with “Marshmallow.”

Frankly, discounting all his authentic masterpieces, there's a fair amount of Dizzy Gillespie on record (especially from his later years) that is less interesting than "Marshmallow."

We should allow everyone truly great a place at the top table.

Perhaps the reason why Gillespie felt he needed to be so harsh in print against Tristano was fundamentally extra-musical.

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The new edit was provoked by Kevin Sun's long and valuable investigation in to how Mark Turner is seen by his peers (part one, part two). I'm quoted extensively and DTM is linked to several times, including "All in the Mix." 

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I'm fascinated by a recent NY Times poll that contrasts the current moment with the era of the first posting of "All in the Mix."

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good.

When taking the long view, this is a positive trajectory. More of us - including myself - are awake to how far we need to go.

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In related reading, last week I devoured Ta-Nehisi Coates's bestselling memoir Between the World and Me. You should read it too.

Of course Ta-Nehisi is my man. I now cite him in "All in the Mix."

I've gotta tweak him about one thing, though. He never discusses jazz; as far as I know he has no real use for it. He's from the hip-hop era, and rightfully references that genre all the time. 

So when Coates writes...

The older poets introduced me to artists who pulled their energy from the void—Bubber Miley, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, C. K. Williams, Carolyn Forché.

...I'm disappointed. Or at least extremely skeptical that Bubber Miley means anything more to Coates other than "obligatory old time jazz cat reference." 

Not that Bubber Miley isn't awesome. I'm going to go listen to him on "Black and Tan Fantasy" right now. But this scans as a namecheck from consulting, I dunno, Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz or something. 

Part of Between the World and Me is taken up with looking for authentic African-American greats that can compete with anybody on any stage. Well, they are right in front of us, of course: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman...[list continues for several hundred more names, none cited by Coates]...

Coates doesn't need relatively obscure Bubber M. to get there. I hope at some point Coates takes up investigating jazz as an essential intellectual/spiritual property in a serious fashion.

07/26/2015

 

Down Those Mean Streets a Man Must Go

IMG_0538

(Yesterday's evening stroll in Konolfingen, Switzerland)

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Gigs in August: Have you subscribed to Floyd Camembert Reports yet? In a day or so I'll be bulk mailing a fleshed-out version of the following itinerary, with a little story about Tom Harrell.

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August 4: Premiere of original suite of completely composed piano music for Dance Heginbotham at Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado. Both the dance and music are called, "Easy Win." In October we play it in NYC at the Joyce.

August 11-16: Billy Hart Quartet with Mark Turner, Ben Street and me at the Village Vanguard.

August 20-22: Solo piano at SF Jazz. What! Yes, it's true. For this special engagement they will turn the Joe Henderson Lab into a groovy cocktail lounge. I'll be playing rags, boogies, and standards; even taking requests. I've had a great time doing this kind of gig before and I'm hoping to do more in the future if there's enough interest. San Francisco, please come out!

August 25/26: Duo with Tom Harrell at Mezzrow NYC. 

August 28/29: Tootie Heath, Ben Street and me at Constellation in Chicago.

August 30: Heath/Iverson/Street at Dakota in MN.

August 31: Same trio at Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie. Hometown gig: I told Tootie I'd better be billed first for this one...

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The current issue of Noir City is all about music. There's just great stuff in it. Vince Keenan has a partial rundown of the impressive table of contents.

NC15-TOC

My article covers the soundtracks to all the movies adapted from Raymond Chandler's novels featuring detective Philip Marlowe. Pretty cool for me to see my writing not just professionally edited but fleshed out with photos and sidebars.

An excerpt from "Down These Musical Streets":

Movie Marlowe begins proper with Murder, My Sweet (1944) starring Dick Powell. (Earlier unheralded Chandler adaptations Time to Kill and The Falcon Takes Over had detectives that weren’t even called Marlowe.) Based on Farewell, My Lovely, Murder, My Sweet was a hit at the time and still has a good reputation today. Each film frame is perfectly composed and just gorgeous to look at.

Marlowe plots essentially don’t make any sense. After being hired in questionable circumstances, the detective moves forward through bizarre circumstances. Behind every door there seems to be a body on the floor or a tough with a gun or a woman who can’t wait to kiss a shamus. None of the adaptations are able to follow the books, for the scriptwriters are forced to improvise short cuts when attempting to tie all the loose ends together.

To make this perpetual motion machine work, style is all. Roy Webb’s overture is glamorous, declarative, and dark. The wandering melodies, string tremolos, active bass lines, and chromatic harmony are straight out of the Mahler/Strauss tradition — especially as manifested by Erich Korngold — but fluffed up or streamlined in the right places to make it suitable for Hollywood. It’s hardly atonal, but the key center is deliberately vague, just like the twists and turns of a Marlowe plot.

Subscribe to Noir City here. If you care the least bit about crime movies past and present you will want this magazine regularly delivered in your inbox.

07/22/2015

 

Now Let's Blow this Thing and Go Home

Along with over 30,000 other people, I happily retweeted R Paul Wilson's minor masterpiece:

Death Star tweet

I care not all that much for Star Wars, but for some reason I respond to references to the Death Star in pop culture.

From the screenplay to Kevin Smith's Clerks:  


RANDAL The second time around, it wasn't even finished yet. They were still under construction. DANTE So? RANDAL A construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I'll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers. DANTE Not just Imperials, is what you're getting at. RANDAL Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they'd hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms. DANTE All right, so even if independent contractors are working on the Death Star, why are you uneasy with its destruction? RANDAL All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed- casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. (notices Dante's confusion) All right, look-you're a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia-this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn't ask for that. You have no personal politics. You're just trying to scrape out a living. The BLUE-COLLAR MAN joins them. BLUE-COLLAR MAN Excuse me. I don't mean to interrupt, but what were you talking about? RANDAL The ending of Return of the Jedi. DANTE My friend is trying to convince me that any contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when the space station was destroyed by the rebels. BLUE-COLLAR MAN Well, I'm a contractor myself. I'm a roofer... (digs into pocket and produces business card) Dunn and Reddy Home Improvements. And speaking as a roofer, I can say that a roofer's personal politics come heavily into play when choosing jobs. RANDAL Like when? BLUE-COLLAR MAN Three months ago I was offered a job up in the hills. A beautiful house with tons of property. It was a simple reshingling job, but I was told that if it was finished within a day, my price would be doubled. Then I realized whose house it was. DANTE Whose house was it? BLUE-COLLAR MAN Dominick Bambino's. RANDAL "Babyface" Bambino? The gangster? BLUE-COLLAR MAN The same. The money was right, but the risk was too big. I knew who he was, and based on that, I passed the job on to a friend of mine. DANTE Based on personal politics. BLUE-COLLAR MAN Right. And that week, the Foresci family put a hit on Babyface's house. My friend was shot and killed. He wasn't even finished shingling. RANDAL No way! BLUE-COLLAR MAN (paying for coffee) I'm alive because I knew there were risks involved taking on that particular client. My friend wasn't so lucky. (pauses to reflect) You know, any contractor willing to work on that Death Star knew the risks. If they were killed, it was their own fault. A roofer listens to this... (taps his heart) not his wallet. The BLUE-COLLAR MAN exits. DANTE and RANDAL remain respectfully quiet for a moment.

And from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Life Serial" by David Fury and Jane Espenson, when the trio is discussion modifications to their souped-up surveillance van, which has a giant painting of the Death Star on the side:

      WARREN

She's ready.

     JONATHAN

Sweet. Run me through it.

      WARREN

Ah. We got nine high-resolution surveillance cameras hooked in, super-wide angle, infrared, auto-iris, plus six types of audio matrix monitoring... that's filtered through a dual quad DVS system, and a...
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, fine, just tell me. Are you sure with all of this stuff that we'll be able to watch Buffy without her noticing us?

      WARREN

Absolutely. I mean, she'll never even know- w-what the hell is that?

     ANDREW

Death Star, dude! Wicked, huh?

     JONATHAN

Thermal exhaust port's above the main port, numb-nuts.

     ANDREW

For your information, I'm using the Empire's revised designs from Return of the Jedi.

     JONATHAN

That's a flawed design!

      WARREN

Guys! Okay, the thing is, since we're messing with the Slayer, who could pummel the three of us into a sludgy substance, it might be a good idea for us to not draw attention to ourselves!

     ANDREW

I could paint over it if you want.

     WARREN

Yeah, well, do that! Because this time tomorrow, the games begin.



Death star

07/15/2015

 

A Visit to Romantic Europe

All is going very well on the The Bad Plus Joshua Redman front. 

The July summer festival circuit has been a thing for at least 50 years. Tonight was Umbria in Perugia. The posters outside our hotel conjure such melancholy dreams of yore...

IMG_0515

The greatest Weather Report band? Interesting they have all the names listed. And Jackie Mac and Sun Ra. Surely many of the cats in Thad/Mel went to the jam sessions, especially with a gig in the same town two nights in a row.

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What is that Thad Jones sextet? And I wonder what Sonny Stitt thought about "The Saxophones of Anthony Braxton." Or Horace Silver about "Freedom." (Interesting that all three names, Rivers/Holland/Altschul, are there.) Keith Jarrett probably ate some gelato. 

IMG_0516

Man. What a bouquet of incredible bands. I grew up on a live tape of Basie right in this era.

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I think that Bill Evans with Konitz might be around on a bootleg. I hope they opened for McCoy, and not the other way around...

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Now check this out: Cedar, Horace, and Blakey on the same night. The hang backstage must have been something else.

Could that possibly be a quartet of Dizzy Gillespie and Don Pullen together?

Stan Getz in '76 probably meant a killing group with Albert Dailey and Billy Hart.

07/13/2015

 

I Am Justly Killed By My Own Treachery

My main man Daniel Pinkwater recently tweeted the story, Robot Kills Worker at Factory in Germany with the simple and telling analysis, "It begins." 

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On back-to-back multi-week tours, you do anything to keep busy, so when iTunes offered "The Best of the Tom Baker Years" I was essentially helpless.

How many times have I seen Genesis of the Daleks? I dunno, probably too many...but the really important viewing was the first, when I was a kid. At that time, the serial went directly into my darkest recesses of my brain and has been hardwired there ever since.

This is not an uncommon experience for Doctor Who fans, I believe: At the very least, Genesis turns up on "best of DW" lists with regularity.

I can't recommend civilian DTM readers to go rent Genesis now, unless you are a parent with 7-11 yr olds. It's cool for the era and the style, but for anyone casually conversant with genre entertainment in a mature way the tropes are entirely predictable. This last (final?) time, I mostly fast-forwarded to the good bits, and especially enjoyed the riotous participation of another of my main men, composer Dudley Simpson.

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One of the tropes in Genesis is particularly inevitable: At the end, the creator of the Daleks, über mad scientist Davros, is murdered by his creation. 

This, of course, ties in with "Robot kills worker."

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What was the first use of this classic plot resolution? On TV Tropes there are at least two relevant categories, "Hoist by His Own Petard" and "Turned Against Their Masters." (The former is where I found the title of this post, from Hamlet.)

There's no chronological order given at TV Tropes, though. Offhand, I'd suggest that the first use of "a machine destroys their creator" was in Ambrose Bierce's magnificent story "Moxon's Master" from 1893, but I could could be wrong.

(For all those shouting, "Frankenstein!": The original Shelly novel does not have this trope. I'm not a Frankenstein historian but I believe that "The monster kills the doctor" was strictly from 20th-century films.)

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I've been talking up the news story "Robot kills worker" quite a bit. Frankly, perhaps it's been a bit unseemly: At one point, my wife said to me, "It sounds like you have investment in this story, like your side won."

Well, I certainly didn't win anything, and naturally would have nothing but sympathy if I came in personal contact with the bereaved family of the dead VW worker.

If I do have a certain amount of glee in retelling the story, it is simply because it is one of the great tropes. A true classic. The first time it lands, you feel it. We all understand this transaction.

But when I was kid watching Genesis, I didn't quite know the trope yet. When Davos was "exterminated" by the Daleks it simply transfixed me. 

Rewatching the same damn scene tonight still almost brought me to tears. From the transcript:

DALEK: All inferior creatures are to be considered the enemy of the Daleks and destroyed.
DAVROS: No, wait! Those men are scientists. They can help you. Let them live. Have pity!
DALEK: Pity? I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. Exterminate!
(The last of the Kaled Elite die.)
DAVROS: For the last time, I am your creator! You must, you will obey me!
DALEK: We obey no one. We are the superior beings.
(Davros turns and raises his hand over the total destruct button.)
DALEK: Exterminate!
(Davros screams and dies.)
DALEK: We are entombed, but we live on. This is only the beginning. We will prepare. We will grow stronger. When the time is right, we will emerge and take our rightful place as the supreme power of the universe!

This is corny sci-fi, right? 

Right?

(he writes on his MacBook Air, the enormous power of which he does not understand, connected to the Internet, an enormously powerful communication system which he does not understand)

07/09/2015

 

Japanese Garden

RIP Masabumi Kikuchi, one of the most idiosyncratic jazz pianists.

When young, Masabumi mastered the modal language and played it with Elvin Jones. A little later he did electric funk with Gil Evans and Miles Davis. He studied composition with Gil, transcribed Alban Berg, hung out with Toru Takemitsu. Eventually, to engage with the Paul Bley tradition, he hired Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. This was the final term paper, for from about the mid-'90s on Masabumi sounded like nobody but himself. 

Masabumi was a troubled, combative personality. A real old-school egotistical 20th-century artist of the highest order. His best music has extraordinary vulnerability and corresponding extraordinary magic.

After his champion Paul Motian died it was only a matter of time before Masabumi left as well. 

Sitting and listening to Masabumi improvise in his chaotic apartment where the only working item seemed to be a perfectly tuned and maintained concert Steinway will always be a treasured memory.

DTM: Interview with Masabumi Kikuchi.

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Update: Jacob Sacks on Masabumi.

07/07/2015

 

Recent Reading (Links)

Sarah Deming on her Dead Dad (includes a few appearances from me)

Jon Opstad interviews film and jazz percussion legend Emil Richards

Patrick Macnee tribute by Charlie Jane Anders

(I'm a big The Avengers fan, of course. In my 20's I went through all the Steed/Mrs. Peel episodes. Waiting for decent quality streaming: I'd love view certain episodes again.)

Jazz diehards will want to look at this new treasure trove of photos from Lennie's on the Turnpike.

The Onion: Lovecraftian madness for schools

Dense and superb latest Miles Okazaki 

Dense and superb latest Soho the Dog

Ricky Riccardi writes loving and detailed assessments of Louis Armstrong at Dippermouth blog. I recently showed up as a footnote to his fascinating investigation of Satchmo at the Waldorf.  (The DTM post cited by Riccardi is Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.)

John Schott also references DTM in this valuable collation of Erroll Garner's tunes and keys.

DJA sent me a missive that really hit home: "6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy" by David Christopher Bell.

(On a related note, Mad Max: Fury Road is a worthy and innovative action movie without a load of crappy CGI.)

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I signed this worthy petition at MoveOn, "Show the Album Credits on Apple Music."

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For Iversonian gig/personal spam, try out  Floyd Camembert Reports. Got a couple of good photos for the next missive. (Unsubscribing is easy.)

07/05/2015

 

Shout It Out

Caro 1

My overview of the Dean, the Father, the Source, the Big Daddy, "In Search of James P. Johnson," has been refurbished. It's a whole lot cleaner overall, but the major upgrade is my recent transcription of "Carolina Shout" from the first 1921 recording.

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This Thursday, I'll be playing at Dizzy's at JALC for the induction of James P. Johnson in the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. The 7:30 set is for Johnson, the 9:30 set is for all the Harlem Stride pianists. The other ivory-ticklers (in both sets) are ELEW, Marc Cary, Chihiro Yamanaka, Aaron Diehl and Chris Pattishall. Also on hand will be bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Joe Saylor. What a blast! 

On Wednesday, Lennie Tristano and Dexter Gordon are also being inducted. It's good to see Mr. Tristano joining that illustrious constellation; I'm going to have to check out what's happening at that ceremony as well. 

06/30/2015

 

Gunther Schuller's Contribution
and
A Few More Thoughts About Ornette

My day with Gunther Schuller in 2010 is in two parts. The Third Stream stuff is what the BBC wanted. However, I'm more proud of the second section, where we listen his orchestral work Contours together.

When preparing for the interview, I went through the complete discography of Schuller working with jazz musicians. It was the first time time I paid serious attention these records and probably also the last, as my conclusion was that most of it just wasn't that successful.

During the same investigation, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was impressed with many of Schuller's compositions that had nothing to do with Third Stream. Based on an early exposure to Abstractions with Ornette Coleman, I expected all of his music to be unremittingly thorny, like Milton Babbitt or another high modernist, but that turned out to be far from the case. 

Since Schuller's passing I've been repeatedly listening to three significant pieces.

Symphony for Brass and Percussion, Op. 16 Schuller wrote this when 23 or 24. He played french horn, and like Paul Hindemith and Morton Gould was interested in giving the brass family some proper repertory. All that Schuller/Hindemith/Gould brass stuff is always a pleasure to hear. The brash and accessible style of Op. 16 suggests Shostakovich with a major infusion of Schoenberg. (The Schoenberg Op. 43 Theme and Variations for Wind Band is the only work I can think of offhand by the Second Viennese School with a relevant instrumentation, although it's far more retro than anything by Schuller.)

Anything good written for brass band keeps getting played, so there are several recordings by now. However, the first one with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting top New York freelancers at the legendary 30th St. Studios is a seriously valuable library item. The whole album, Music for Brass, is interesting, with fun pieces by Jimmy Giuffre and J.J. Johnson, although the other true masterpiece is surely John Lewis's "Three Little Feelings," with some extraordinary Miles Davis phrasing against Osie Johnson's ride cymbal. For me, this is the easily the greatest album of Schuller with jazz players, although tellingly his own contribution is not at all his famous "third stream" but simply excellent classical composition.

According to Schuller, most of Op. 16 isn't quite twelve-tone yet. However, his language would soon be entirely dodecaphonic. Probably because of the painterly allusion and a touch of jazz, his Seven Studies on Themes by Paul Klee has become one of the best known orchestral works by an American composer from the 1950's (although I prefer the piece from the same period I brought to Schuller, Contours).  From the '60's the Piano Concerto and Symphony are absolutely relentless serial explorations worthy of Babbitt; these days both are only known by specialists. After that peak level of abstraction, Schuller mellowed out his aesthetic, discovered his "magic row" (discussed in the interview) and started producing music that had not just rich chromatic interest but digestible narrative shape, closer to Op. 16 in spirit but with an absolutely unique and authentic harmonic palette. 

The other two selections on my memorial playlist are from the mid-'80s.

Sextet for Bassoon, String Quartet and Piano. The challenge of dodecaphonic composition is often simply rhythmic: Atonality seems to demand disjunct phrasing as well as disjunct pitches in order not to be unbearably corny. For this Sextet, Schuller bravely uses the comparatively simple paragraphing of a 19th century composer like Brahms. It works! For maybe the first time, a pairing of atonality and the classical style works. The first movement is such a pleasurable shock, with a plain introduction followed by a galloping 6/8.

Obviously, the bassoon is an instrument that demands special treatment. The "Arioso" seems ideal, with a majestic high reed song surrounded by opulent harmony. 

String Quartet No. 3. This may be one of Schuller's better known chamber pieces, as the Emerson Quartet recorded it for DG. Schuller's "magic row" has triadic properties similar to the row Berg used for his Violin Concerto, and both works use intriguing quotes. Schuller's note explains further links:

...The work is “lovingly dedicated to Louis and Adrienne Krasner", with whom I have been associated for many years...I first encountered Krasner's name as a 17-year-old, when his pioneering recording of the Alban Berg Violin Concerto appeared. I was so taken by the concerto and Krasner's playing of it that, since a score of the work was not available during the war years (World War II), I set about copying the last 6 minutes of the work from the record!

The third movement of this quartet incorporates a quotation from a Beethoven manuscript owned by Louis Krasner. This 13-bar fragment in G minor was evidently written by Beethoven on the spur of the moment for an English autograph-seeking lady admirer. The suggestion to use the Beethoven quotation actually came from Mr. Krasner. Little did I anticipate at the time the amazing coincidence - reaching across some 180 years - that the first seven pitches of Beethoven's theme, Eb-D-A-C-Bb-F#, correspond exactly to the first seven pitches of my row (in a particular transposition), a relationship which is exploited in a variety of ways both harmonically and melodically. It occurred to me afterwards that the situation is not dissimilar to the one encountered by Alban Berg in 1935, when he discovered in the writing of his Violin Concerto that the first four notes of the Bach chorale that he was quoting, “Es ist genug", were identical to the last four notes of the concerto's twelve-tone row. 

It's a wonderful piece in a stellar performance by the Emerson. Again, the slow movement ("Canzona") is an highlight: Indeed, this nine minutes of epic romanticism might be what I would chose to play first when making a case for Schuller as an underrated composer.

For Schuller is strangely underrated, at least in terms of what he did best. All the obits bang the Third Stream drum, yet as far as I know hardly anybody really loves most of the Schuller-penned collaborations with jazz greats like Abstractions,  Concertino for Quartet and Orchestra, Transformation, or Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk. His jazz criticism is also frequently praised, yet modern readers of Early Jazz and The Swing Era come away with serious questions. (See Darcy James Argue's DTM post, "Misunderstanding In Blue.")

If I were in charge of the history books, I'd let Schuller's involvement with jazz take a distant back seat to his composition. The best of Gunther Schuller is simply great American Classical Music.

---

Gunther Schuller and Ornette Coleman, gone: The 20th Century is vanishing before us.

Ornette and Gunther had a lot to do with each other when the Texan first came to New York. The 1960 interview between them is an important piece of the puzzle. 

In my essay "Forms and Sounds" (which starts with that 1960 interview), I speculate not just that Ornette's noise violin was inspired by modernist classical music but that the whole Harmolodic system was partially a response to the erudite musical analysis Gunther was eager to offer. "Well, Gunther's got his twelve-tone rows, I'll have rules and regulations, too," I can imagine Ornette thinking.

Possibly I'm overstepping my bounds here! But there's no doubt in my mind that Ornette was a fantastic assimilator. First he remade the blues and Bird in his own image, then modernist classical music, then rock/pop with Prime Time. It all went in and came out as pure Ornette.

Hyland Harris sent me the blindfold test Leonard Feather gave Ornette in those heady early days. Somehow I'd never seen it, although surely it's been reprinted since? Hyland's scan was a bit faint, so I googled around and found a good reproduction at Adam Melville's site

In the test, Ornette is revealed to be a true jazz cat. He knows everybody, commenting wisely on musicians as diverse as Bill Evans and Art Farmer. He really knows jazz! Must have had a hell of a record collection. I wouldn't have doubted that, exactly, but part of my reverence for Ornette has been fueled by regarding him as completely outside of the system, not as somebody who would instantly recognize Bud Shank and Bob Cooper or talk about how they played the beat.

Message received! I'll be thinking on this further...

06/23/2015

 

Recent Reading (Fiction)

Adam Brookes Blue Heron This extremely well-done espionage novel is an exciting debut. The short hand crib is: China + internet warfare + John Le Carré. Brookes spent time in China, so it follows that the descriptions of English nationals living there are exceptionally believable. The internal politics within the British secret service also ring true, and we reach the end of the breathless story without any unnecessary twists. I’ll be watching for the next Brookes.

Matthew Glass Fishbowl Great idea for a thriller: Use the triumph of Facebook as a model. There’s no doubt that social media is potentially an awesome form of thought control, and Glass's conceit feels plausible. There’s an echo of Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad; also the slightly weak ending feels cribbed from something else, perhaps even from Warren’s All the King’s Men. Very engaging overall, I read it in one go. 

Jo Perry Dead is Better  Not all meta crime fiction is to my taste, mainly because the basic crime story supporting the fantastical usually just isn’t good enough. Dead is Better is a welcome exception, with a really good plot underpinning a ghost’s investigations into his own death, a dog’s death, and a reprehensible criminal enterprise. An intentionally downbeat mood is enhanced with dozens of literary quotes about death. (The title comes from a cited influence, King’s Pet Sematary.)

Ray Banks Angels of the North The latest Banks is as realistic and depressing as it gets, like watching a traffic accident in slow motion. It’s also a history lesson, kicking off with an entitled and conservative quote from Margaret Thatcher before telling of how vigilantism came to a down-and-out community in 1986 Gateshead. Packed with fabulous slang and local idiom, Angels of the North is perfect source material for one of those compelling English mini-series TV dramas. (DTM: Interview with Ray Banks about Charles Willeford.)

06/21/2015

 

Recent Reading (Non-Fiction)

When we were on tour together, Sam Newsome was immersed in White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele. I was intrigued, because in my own jazz studies I have found the horror of segregation to have been a kind of crucible for greatness. Following from that, I have occasionally wondered about something being lost in the victories of integration. 

Steele is profoundly anti-affirmative action. I am not: I generally consider myself pro-affirmative action. Yet it is indubitably true that all the classic jazz I cannot imagine living my life without was made mostly by black musicians with absolutely no government support or sanction. In addition, I am privately contemptuous of certain art that gets funded under the auspices of what Steele calls liberal guilt. Checking off quotas does not automatically make for greater museums, literary anthologies, or jazz festivals.

It’s obviously a complex issue, especially when we leave the arts and go into the communities where normal people live. As any DTM reader knows, I praise Ta-Nehisi Coates and his idea of Reparations. At this point in my development, Steele may just be a bracing alternative, almost a way to keep one honest. 

While the whole book is superbly written, the memoir aspects are especially compelling. In the end, it’s the story of how a passionate man ended up accepting being labeled a “black conservative.” 

An interview of Steele with Ed Gordon gives an idea of Steele’s perspective, although my impression is that Steele is more comfortable writing than being interviewed. 

—-

I know little of pop and rock music, except of course as an American White Male born in 1973 it is essentially my birthright and folklore. U2 and Bono have mostly passed me by, except that some of the tunes are notably good… 

…but I remember being shocked by the 2002 Super Bowl halftime show, the one where Bono unzipped his jacket to reveal an American flag. What was that about? Trading on the righteous indignation created by 9/11 to what end? The Time magazine cover that followed, “Can Bono Save the World?” just added to my skepticism.

I’ve sort of kept a question mark by Bono’s name since then. Recently I opened The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) by Harry Browne. It was a thrilling, scathing, and educational read.

 The Amazon page has a solid blurb by Boff Walley:  

It’s the stuff you instinctively knew about Bono – his increasingly desperate flirtations with power, his fundamentally conservative and religious motivation, his adherence to neo-liberal and essentially Republican capitalist economic strategies, his old-style crusader’s vision of Africa as another culture to be colonised, blimey even his slimy and unapologetic tax-dodging – all that stuff wrapped up in a grounded, inquisitive, even-handed bookful of research.

I’m not knowledgable enough about geopolitics and celebrity charity to assert that Browne is truly even-handed or not. But not only does Browne does give Bono some credit, the footnotes documenting every damming assertion go on for pages and pages…so I am willing to take Browne at his word for now. As Walley says, it’s stuff you knew instinctively already. 

Elliott Prasse-Freeman’s critique in the Los Angeles Review of Books gives a good overview. 

Browne's exegesis is not so much about looking at Bono as it is looking through him — an intervention against an entire type, at what Bono has helped create, forcing us to weigh his useful advocacy (especially around AIDS in Africa) against the symbolic succor he lends to the brutal statesmen and corporations his advocacy work advances.

—-

Jazz students are advised to seek out the obscure 1980 tract Trane ’n Me by Andrew White III. White typed directly onto his Smith Corona and mimeographed for simple self-production. Kevin Sun found it in NEC library, and his survey helped inspire me to take a look myself. A superb quote by White posted by Dan Voss was also intriguing...

White is still around: While it’s possible someone should really cut a deal and get this invaluable material on Kindle. There’s also a White autobiography and probably also other writings, not to mention the hundreds of transcribed Coltrane and Dolphy solos.

Trane ’n Me records how a talented musician came to terms with John Coltrane’s music while Coltrane was alive and developing. At one point in a club in D.C., Coltrane is watching the band, so White calls “Giant Steps” and proceeds to play first Coltrane’s solo then his own variation. Afterwards Coltrane says, “I see you are playing all those HARD tunes.” 

Probably Andrew White and Shelby Steele wouldn’t agree on everything, but reading White Guilt and Trane ’n Me back to back offered some interesting parallels. I laughed aloud at this section (ellipses are his):

From a sociological point of view I guess you could say that jazz is an art form. You know…It is the largest contribution to the American culture given by Black people…Jazz was created by Black people…The source of Black Afro-American classical music is the mother country: AFRICA….Jazz is the music of Black people which symbolizes the struggle to gain equality and respect from the oppressors who brought us over here on slave ships under horrendous conditions four hundred years ago…send in your $5.00 for this symbolic dashiki made in Taiwan and assembled in Mexico…Stan Getz ain’t black…Neither is Woody Herman…This dashiki and some mind expanding herb will make you play all of the right changes in “Giant Steps” just like Trane, right?….Wrong!

After condemning the record industry as being Caucasian-controlled, Andrew White writes a page suitable for a footnote in Steele’s White Guilt:

The truth of the matter is that art is work. Genius is work. In order for genius to be realized it has to be met with equal matching funds, not from the National Endowment of the Arts but from the minds and backs of all of us. Work. Trane worked.

I wasn’t around Trane that much but I never heard anybody say they saw a halo around his head. 

Let’s get away from successes used as excuses for failure and mediocrity. 

WORK! WORK! WORK!

The only distracting element in Trane ’n Me in some rather exaggerated braggadocio.  Still, White is certainly not wrong to note that Andrew White the Third is a unique personality. I’m going to try to find his autobiography Everybody Loves the Sugar next.

Marc Minsker: "Andrew White, 'Keeper of the Trane,' is a Living Legend Unknown to Many" in CapitalBop

Harrison Wood interviews Andrew White

06/13/2015

 

The Shape of Jazz That Was
Change of Last Century
New York is Past!

Ornette Coleman: Gone but forever remembered.

The best thing I have ever read about him is still one of the earliest pieces, the interview and overview in A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business.

"Ornette Coleman" can be anagrammed thusly:

Tentacle Monroe

Create Melt Noon

Calmer Tone Note

Romance Let Note

Oracle Omen Tent

Locate Term Neon

Nectar Lemon Toe

---

Related DTM:

Forms and Sounds (guesswork about the Harmolodic system)

This is Our Mystic (early OC records)

Interview with Charlie Haden

TBP plays Science Fiction (includes analysis of my favorite studio album)

---

Apologies, but some time ago I "created" an Ornette Coleman 2048 game.

---

The recent lawsuit is infuriating. Mr. Coleman had not been well for some time. Anyone who met him during his sunset years would immediately suspect that New Vocabulary is simply a case of unscrupulous representation. I personally refuse to consider New Vocabulary part of the Coleman canon any more than any other tapes of students hanging out jamming with the generous sage. Period.

Interesting that similar kinds of questions (about the possible intellectual property abuse of mentally infirm master artists) are raised by the forthcoming publication of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman...

---

In the Charlie Haden documentary Ramblin' Boy there are a few moments of astonishing footage of the Ornette Coleman quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell from the 1972 European tour. A complete tape of the concert apparently exists. Now that this perfectly unmatched set of interlocking magicians is completely gone, the full video simply must be made available. The human race needs it to survive. 

06/11/2015

 

Hair Color

New DTM page: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, or, "Take Another Chorus on DB, Josh!"

Good review of the album by Nate Chinen in the NY Times.

Tour starts tonight. Dates copied from TBP website:

June 2015

10 New York, NY -- Highline Ballroom**
11 Albany, NY -- Albany Riverfront Park**
12 Washington, DC -- The Hamilton**
13 Philadelphia, PA -- World Cafe Live**
18 Seattle, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley**
19 Seattle, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley**
20 Seattle, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley**
21 Seattle, WA -- Dimitriou's Jazz Alley**
23 Victoria, BC -- The Victoria Jazz Society**
24 Vancouver, BC -- The Vogue Theatre**
25 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan -- Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival**
26 Edmonton, Alberta -- Francis Winspear Centre for Music**
28 Montreal, QC -- Maisonneuve Theatre De La Place Des Arts**

July 2015

04 East Sussex, GBR -- Love Supreme Jazz Festival**
04 Penedes, ESP -- Banco Sabadell Vijazz Penedes**
05 Paris, FRA -- Esplanade de la Defense**
06 Copenhagen, DNK -- Kulturhuset Islands Brygge**
07 Stuttgart, DEU -- Jazz Open**
08 Mannheim, DEU -- Enjoy Jazz Summer**
10 Istanbul, TUR -- Istanbul Jazz Festival**
11 Rotterdam, NDL -- North Sea Jazz Festival**
13 Umbria, ITA -- Umbria Jazz Festival**
14 Montreux, CHE -- Molde Jazz**
16 Molde, NOR -- Heineken Jazzaldia**
18 Alicante, ESP -- Fijazz Festival**
20 Albinea, ITA -- Villa Arno**
22 Langnau, CHE -- Langnau Jazz Nights**
24 Fano, ITA -- Corte Malatestiana**
25 San Sebastian, ESP -- Jazzaldia**
27 Marciac, FRA -- Chapiteau de Marciac**

06/10/2015

 

[pause]

IMG_0254

(from W Skyline Parkway in Duluth; click to enlarge)

DTM and my twitter feed is going on a little hiatus; back around June 10, when The Bad Plus Joshua Redman begins a major tour in support of our record on Nonesuch. First hit at the Highline Ballroom; complete tour dates at thebadplus.com

The only other performance I'm doing in NYC in near future is part of Albert "Tootie" Heath's birthday week at Dizzy's Club on Friday June 5. Tootie is 80 on May 31!

More about that and perhaps a few other personal bangles and beads in my newsletter Floyd Camembert Reports. Sign up if you want gig and masterclass notifications directly in your email inbox. The next missive will go out this week. 

---

Attribution can be a tricky thing in jazz. One doesn't offhand think of McCoy Tyner as unrecognized, but as far as I know, no jazz critic gave Tyner credit for inventing a language of jazz at the time. To this day, John Coltrane gets all (or at least most) of the credit. 

No reason to take anything away from Mr. Coltrane, of course. Still, when Coltrane got his major new label and contract for Impulse!, conceived of doing a big project with horns and vamps, called it Africa/Brass and hired Eric Dolphy to write the arrangements...

...Coltrane told Dolphy to simply orchestrate Tyner's chords. Dolphy and Tyner sat at the piano together, and Tyner gave Dolphy the information.

Tyner was not credited for the harmonies on the album jacket: he was just listed in the band as pianist, with his name misspelled as McCoy Turner. 

(This double gaffe has since been rectified in more recent reissues.)

---

Africa/Brass lurks in the background of any sort of large group Afrocentric jazz featuring modal chords and vamps. The latest take is getting a lot of attention: Kamasi Washington's The Epic.

Indeed, the very first thing we hear at the top of the first tune, "Change of the Guard," is essentially a McCoy Tyner quote. This pianist also gets the first solo. It's burning in full post-McCoy style. Nice work.

Who is the pianist?

Talk about attribution problems! I've seen a lot of press about The Epic, but the other musicians's names are not usually mentioned.

When I bought the album on iTunes, there was no digital booklet. No personnel given. 

Who's the piano player? Nothing on Amazon. Nothing on NPR First Listen. Nothing on Stereogum or Popmatters. (These are the first links that come up on Google.)

I guess according to the label Brainfeeder site, the keyboard player is Brandon Coleman and the pianist is Cameron Graves. Well, Mr. Graves (I hope I have the right name) nice long first solo on the album!

A trumpeter solos next. Good solo. I haven't been able to find out who it is, though.

---

I can understand the appeal of The Epic, there's something that makes it a real "mood" album. Fans and critics are comparing it to hip-hop because of Washington's illustrious associates, but what makes The Epic connected to the current moment isn't the style, which is actually retro (compare, say, Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Harper or Gary Bartz records from the early 70's), but the production. The tones, the evenness of the tunes, the attitude.

It's quite raw too, which I really appreciate. "Raw" is not at all what I associate with LA jazz normally. Let's hope this marks the beginning of a serious coup from our West Coast brethren. We need the incursion.

---

The last album from LA I bought from iTunes was the Whiplash soundtrack. (I hated the music but needed it for the blog.) That did have a digital booklet, but there was no personnel either, probably because the production team wanted to give the impression that Miles Teller was actually playing drums in the movie. (He's not.)

I'm sure Washington's team does not want to be associated with the terrible music of Whiplash in any way. Turn up the light on Kamasi's sidemen. There's enough love to go around.

---

Washington and crew may be thinking, "Let's make Kamasi a star first, we can credit everybody else later."

It's never too soon to address a band mentality, because the industry is most interested in stars, even in jazz.

A recent review of The Bad Plus really brings this point home.

It is churlish to complain about praise, but instead of being happy with Tom Moon's assessment of The Bad Plus Joshua Redman at NPR's First Listen, I'm embarrassed.  TBP has fought for fifteen years to be seen as a band of equals. That's what makes TBP work. On this specific project, to cite one relevant piece of information, for Reid Anderson's "As This Moment Slips Away," Dave King's "Beauty Has It Hard," and for that matter for Josh's "Friend or Foe," I play a chart written by the composer with hardly any personal variation. 

Anyway, I see a couple of fans have already offered some intelligent corrections about the article in the comments, which is only correct.

 ---

Moving on: The other CD I've been listening to a lot recently couldn't be more different: Miranda Cuckson's Melting the Darkness. You can read Cuckson's liner notes here, she does a much better job of explaining this music than I could. The one thing I might add is that the emphasis on microtonality gives this ultramodern aesthetic something of a profound lament. I never thought of Iannis Xenakis as a bluesman before, but try the first track, "Mikka S." 

Cuckson has Lutoslawski, Schnittke, and Bartók in the can for ECM with Blair McMillen, a wonderful pianist still a bit underrepresented on record. When that lands I'm going to do something about it for DTM. 

While I'm waiting, I'm planning to see Cuckson perform George Walker's Violin Sonata No. 2 on June 3 with Thomas Sauer. Sauer is to be commended for placing Walker in context with Beethoven for the The Beethoven Institute at Mannes. Both programs look great

(DTM: Interview with George Walker.)

---

On DTM since the new year:

Interview no. 2 with Ron Carter

Stravinsky's Rake at Met

Interview with Nicholas Payton

Warne Marsh solo

"Bye-ya" and "Yancey Stomp" transcribed

Genre Work Struggles Towards Illumination

Lawrence Block's The Crimes of Our Lives (in related missives, overview of Thomas Perry for The Life Sentence)

James Bond April Fools' Joke

Huston's Skinner, trucks for crowd control, armament ads

Sviatoslav Richter at 100

The Drum Thing, or, A Brief History of Whiplash, or, "I'm Generalizing Here"

Guest Post by Mark Stryker: "Traps, the Drum Wonder"

A close listen to Clark Terry and Thelonious Monk In Orbit

McCoy Tyner on "Bessie's Blues" transcribed + Thomas Adés

Books about Carl Van Vechten and Joe Wilder

Introduction to Rational Funk

RIP Frankie Dunlop and John Ore

05/20/2015