Validated

Bill McHenry was the first one to play me this solo years ago. It was a blindfold test, and I hadn't heard much Warne Marsh yet, so I guessed "George Garzone." That's a stupid guess, but there can be something rather post-Coltrane (and therefore Garzone-esque) about later Marsh, simply in terms of notes per square inch.

At any rate it still is a hell of a blindfold test. Hell of a solo, too. With Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass and Alan Levitt, drums, from a studio session in Copenhagen unissued until 1997. 

Marsh is getting better known every year, it seems. I wish had been aware of more about him when younger but I just wasn't hip.

If we paged though the jazz journals of the mid-'70s there probably wouldn't be much acknowledgement Marsh's genius. That's understandable, given that Marsh never had a steady good band and seldom made excellent career choices overall. Still, they missed it. We missed it. Listen to this.

  Warne Confirmation 1

 

Warne Confirmation 2

Warne Marsh on Confirmation


04/20/2015

 

Ends in E-flat

In the wake of my humorous "solution" to the key of "Bye-Ya," Twitter kept going with a certain amount of debate about whether "Bye-Ya" is in A-flat or E-Flat.

I admire the Monk Fake Book edited by Steve Cardenas and Don Sickler very much. There's still no substitute for going back to the record, but for a quick fix, Cardenas has your back. Every editorial decision was considered.

In the book "Bye-ya" is in four flats. I emailed Steve about it, and he replied, 

This comes up every once in a while, among some the things Sickler and I debated over. There was no Monk chart on this one. It's a true anomaly, I've never felt settled on what key this was and ultimately came to the conclusion that it resides in both keys. Sounds like the key of Ab up to the E7, then somehow resolves to Eb. It's one of the things I love about this tune. Seems it can be convincingly argued one way or the other. When we were working on the book, Sickler was convinced it was in Ab, so that's where it went. Maybe putting it in C was the way to go, use accidentals and let eveyone else decide. Without a chart, the tune sounds the same no matter what key one thinks it's in, so for me, I'm not invested in trying to nail down one key. Sort like trying to decide what key "Giant Steps" is in, but in this case, we're not dealing with such disparate keys, which I think adds so much fuel to the debate as with the keys being so close, it's easy to think it must be one or the other. I say both. Wonder if Monk ever wrote a chart out or if he thought there was a definitive key? Unanswerable unfortunately. "Giant Steps," 3 key centers. "Bye-Ya," 2? No? Yes....

I posted some of this response to Twitter, which provoked a whole new slew of comments about the key of "Giant Steps." Some very high level cats were involved: Look at the threads of Josh Redman, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, Darcy James Argue, and Miles Okazaki for more.

---

For both "Bye-Ya" and "Giant Steps" I don't have an inflexible opinion. In the case of "Bye-ya" I always thought E-flat before, but now I love the possibilities of A-Flat.

As far as "Giant Steps" goes, it seems to me that while E-flat has the strongest case in the abstract, B is also a worthy contender. When it comes around to the top I feel a good strong tonic downbeat. In the case of playing it through the keys, in my mind I'm like, "Ok, start with B," not, "Start with E-flat."

At any rate, "Steps" is arguably more of a study than a finished piece. Coltrane was working out his material. My own sardonic tweets were: "In my view it was hipper when Trane put all those sequences over D minor. Therefore, my answer to 'what key is Giant Steps in?' is: D minor."

I'm joking but I also think it's important to remember that Trane didn't stay with "Giant Steps," that he searched for a more folkloric-sounding and harder swinging music that could use the same information.

---

"Bye-Ya" remains a bit more intriguing for me, partly simply because I'm wondering about how I've possibly misunderstood it for about 25 years. The confusing tonality (the parameters of which are clearly outlined by Cardenas above) shows how advanced Monk really was.

Going through the fake book I noted some other unusual uses of key in Monk's music. 

"Introspection" seems like "Bye-ya,"  the final cadences are so strong it invalidates previous movement. Therefore, both D and D-flat.

And similarly "Played Twice," which is mostly C but ends firmly D. Again, kind of like "Bye-Ya" in a way, except nobody would argue that "Played Twice" is in D (I hope). 

While I always think of "Coming on the Hudson" as in F, there's not one F chord in the song!

A section of "Criss Cross" is in what key? G minor? -- but it still sounds like B-flat, even before bridge and no B-flat chords? 

"Monk's Mood" and "Pannonica" are firmly in C, but both only end in D-flat.

"Ruby My Dear" is one of the hardest to parse. Roland Hanna talked about mediant movement...I'll call E-flat, but really that's just the first phrase.

What key is "Epistrophy" in? One could argue for D-flat, but...

---

Not satisfied, I decided to transcribe the piano part of the first recording of "Bye-Ya." This is from Trio on Prestige, which has always been one of my favorite records. The piano is out of tune, the bassist is barely competent (apparently Gary Mapp was mostly a policeman) and on "Bye-Ya" the unnamed amateur clavé player clashes cruelly with Art Blakey's wonderful beat.

It all adds up to local music. Kind of like the cats on the corner making up a song, except of course one of the cats was Thelonious Monk.

Cardenas also reminded me of how the piece was titled, at least according to Robin D.G. Kelley's biography.

Thelonious also dusted off his composition "Playhouse," another danceable upbeat tune but with an even stronger Latin flavor. Weinstock wanted to call it "Go." Hearing the Latin/Caribbean influence, he asked George Rivera, Prestige's accountant who was in the studio that day, for the Spanish translation. Somehow "Vaya" became "Bye-Ya." 

H'mm. The song is misspelled, maybe even mis-titled. Seems totally appropriate!

  Bye-ya 1

Bye-Ya 2

It's funny how strong E-flat comes across considering how little Monk plays that chord! I wrote it four flats for convenience but am in no way married to that key signature.

Part of it is Mapp, who often is playing in E-Flat, like in bars two and four. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling Mapp just didn't really know the tune. Throughout his whole career, Monk seemed to have a carefree attitude to his bassist's notes in general. (Al McKibbon seems as lost on early Blue Notes as on the final Black Lion trios.) If Monk taught by rote, which I believe he did, I feel bad for those in the studio trying to learn this music and nail it without a chart or much guidance. 

Mapp's beat is fine, but some of his notes are truly incorrect. At the end, he tags "D-flat, D, E-flat" twice when Monk just plays D-flat. Paradoxically, Monk's concluding D-flat argues strongly for E-flat being the key. He ended on the flat VII a lot ("Nice Work if You Can Get It," "In Walked Bud") but ending on IV would be really weird. 

---

Part of the problem with all of this is that classic jazz does not submit smoothly to European-style harmonic analysis. Not to say that Monk's pitches don't "work" according to Old World harmonic rules: On the contrary, they usually do. Still, another mysterious part of his music is the blues, black music, and all that stuff comes from a different perspective entirely. 

Both Monk and Claude Debussy featured the whole tone scale, but the emotions each conjure with that whole tone scale couldn't be more different.

---

Ending in E-flat was the true specialty of one of Monk's influences, bluesman Jimmy Yancey. Yancey would always play a certain tag in E-flat no matter what the key. As far as I know, he recorded in C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat. But the ending is always E-flat.

This isn't to suggest that Monk's E-flat cadence at the ends of the A sections to "Bye-Ya" and Yancey's abrupt tag in E-flat are structurally the same. They aren't!

But nevertheless Monk and Yancey are in the same family: Afro-American, resolute, unexplainable. Both made sure to never record a single track that didn't have personal and inimitable calligraphy.

---

The most shocking Yancey tag is probably at the end of 1939's "Yancey Stomp." If there is a piece in C major, it is "Yancey Stomp."

I didn't include the Mp3 of "Bye-Ya" here, because I know all DTM readers have Prestige Trio on their computers already. (Right?) But I'll give you "Yancey Stomp," which is comparatively obscure.

The complete Yancey on Document is a valuable purchase; for the less committed, any Yancey anthology will probably do. 

He recorded only after his prime and never quit his job as groundkeeper at Comiskey Park where his team was the White Sox. Yancey died in 1951: I wonder what he would make of his immortal music still flourishing years later, transcribed and studied all over the world?

  Yancey 1

Yancey 2

Yancey 3

Yancey Stomp (1939)

 

04/14/2015

 

Quick Reminder...

...sign up for Floyd Camembert Reports for info about gigs and workshops. Next edition will include true story of my first time working for Mark Morris. (Warning: contains male nudity.)

04/07/2015

 

Genre Work Struggles Toward Illumination

I've kept thumbing through Barry Malzberg's Breakfast in the Ruins since yesterday's post. One of the most impressive essays is about a book that has since vanished, A Gypsy Good Time by Gustav Hasford.

Hasford was a Vietnam vet who wrote the story Full Metal Jacket was based on, but for Gypsy Good Time he decided to try his hand at a P.I. novel. 

Malzberg is horrified at the results. I don't know the book, but I do know James Crumley's work, and for me Malzberg nails all the wrongheaded "literary" books written in the style of Hammett and Chandler:

...It was never the incoherence, but the promise of order which was the focusing matter of the P.I. novel, the indication that there was someone deep of soul, moving towards the center who would pound some meaning from all this. The writers, the great ones and the hacks alike, failed again and again in a thousand places in millions of words but still at the dead-center there was that sense of striving, of struggle, of the arc toward the light of knowledge. It is this which chased Hammett and Chandler and when they could no longer see the light perhaps then it was why they gave up, but is not this with chases Hasford (or, I think, Crumley); for them it is the darkness and the dank corridors which the genre as inviting. But those quarters were exit ramps and cul-de-sacs and taking them caused Hammett and Chandler to give it up; A Gypsy Good Time for all of its skill (because of all of its skill) simply is not the way to go. Back then, back towards the ascendant light. If the genre cannot struggle toward illumination, then it is not a symptom, it is the disease.

---

I like that a lot, the idea the genre work struggles toward illumination. 

---

There's turmoil at the moment in the SF world due to a really strange ballot at the Hugos this year. Read Charlie Jane Anders for more.

Also, read Anders's charming SF story "As Good as New," which takes a familiar trope out for a new dance. Genre work struggles toward illumination.

---

My re-up of DTM's April Fools' Joke about James Bond created a predictable amount of confusion. Anyway, one of the upshots was Kevin Sun sending me a massive collection of essays about all the Bond movies by Film Crit Hulk Smash, "Hulk Vs. James Bond: Staring Into the Id of a Boner Incarnate."

Hulk reminds me of Philip Sandifer, who I link to about Doctor Who. Hulk's all-caps style is a bit much; referring to yourself in third person is not my favorite, either. Still, it's fair to say I devoured these essays. Great points throughout.  

Like Sandifer, Hulk does a very through examination of politics. It's mostly pretty bad in Bond, of course. Interesting to think about the "roles" played by Bond girls. (I mean, not that interesting, but interesting enough when Hulk is decoding it.)

And also, sadly, in the same way I've looked at way too much Who because of Sandifer: Thanks to Hulk, I looked at a bit of On Her Majesty's Secret Service last night, and confirmed it just isn't for me. 

---

Hulk and Sandifer are into comics. Charlie Jane Anders is into comics. Hell, even Ta-Nehisi Coates is into comics. 

Everything is comics now.

---

I'm usually sort of sad that everything is comics now, but maybe the upside is simply this: politics. When the narrative is so light on verbiage, each move has impact. It can be addressed in an obvious way. There's less official social scaffolding you need to hang a narrative on. It's easier to be inclusive.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "The Broad, Inclusive Canvas of Comics."

---

Circling back to a genre I actually have expertise in, recently I started re-reading all the Inspector Morse books by Colin Dexter in order. The first chapter of Last Bus to Woodstock is simply marvelous, establishing time and place and literary excellence. However, the book's plot is politically problematic. Dexter is just gaga over high school girls and their sex life. At one point one character says to another, "Can a young girl be raped?" 

It's pretty awful, and then the second Morse Last Seen Wearing has more or less the same plot! I'll keep reading the series, I adore Dexter's voice, but I'll have my eye on this topic now.

As far as I can remember, I haven't really read Dexter since getting online. Kudos to writers like Anders, Coates, Hulk, and Sandifer for teaching me how to look at my entertainment more seriously. 

04/05/2015

 

Subdominant

Many of the most interesting musical tweets come from Miles Okazaki. Today he hit this one:

After You've Gone, Remember, Just Friends, Stardust...(start 04/04 with IV)

This means on April 4, you should play tunes that begin on the four chord, the subdominant change.

Jacob Garchik then suggested a whole lot more including "Bye-Ya" by Thelonious Monk.

The first chord of "Bye-Ya" is D-Flat but isn't the tune in E-flat?

WAIT.

Holy moly, the whole tune of "Bye-Ya," the bridge and everything, is in A-Flat! It's just that final cadence of the A sections that makes it E-flat. Garchik is the man!

For fun, here's my quick rather unswinging version of "Bye-Ya" with the final cadence in the right key at last. Happy April 4!

Bye-ya finishes Ab (wrong) 

04/04/2015

 

The Crimes of Our Lives

Lawrence Block has just collected his non-fiction writings about his milieu in a hefty anthology, The Crimes of Our Lives

As any DTM reader might guess, this is a soft lob. I adore crime fiction to the extent that I'm kind of an amateur historian; Block is one of the greatest living practitioners and a keen observer of his peers. 

I've gotten to know Larry and Lynne a bit (DTM blindfold test here). Between that friendship, my library, and a certain amount of perpetual internet stalkage, I had seen probably 70% of Crimes of Our Lives already. But how wonderful to have it in one place with a firm editorial hand. And there's no doubt that pieces I had previously read went down just as smoothly the second or third time.

One of the highlights was new to me: A multi-part overview of Block's earliest days as a grunt at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.  This collection of reminiscences should be looked at by anyone trying to write fiction.

Among the gems I'd seen before is a profound (this is not too strong a word) analysis of Robert B. Parker. Block's critiques of Mickey Spillane and old pal Donald E. Westlake are similarly valuable. Other authors discussed include expected names like Hammett, Chandler, Ed McBain, Charles Willeford, plus a few others that aren't so familiar such as bank robber-turned author Al Nussbaum and the entirely forgotten pulpsmith Henry Kane.

You'll have to read that one yourself to know why Kane warrants a chapter. I'll give you a teaser, though: It involves a rather graphic suggestion about the sex life of an extremely famous actress.

Oh, I see it's online at Mulholland Books, so check it out. If you are fan of this sort of stuff, I guarantee you won't be able to stop from ordering the whole collection The Crimes of Our Lives.

---

In the aforementioned chapters on the Scott Meredith agency, Block praises fellow Meredith jarhead Barry Malzberg and notes that his memoir "Tripping with the Alchemist" covers similar ground. I located that essay in the Malzberg anthology Breakfast in the Ruins

The book is a good read overall. Science fiction is not my bag in the same way that crime fiction is but there a lot of juicy stuff here even for a civilian. The long comparison of Isaac Asimov to Leonard Bernstein is brilliant.

Malzberg's style occasionally can be rather overwrought and self-involved for my taste; on the other hand, that passionate reach may just come with the genre.

---

In these two anthologies, both Block and Malzberg write about Fredric Brown. Naturally enough, Block covers the crime Brown and Malzberg the science fiction Brown.

In either genre, Brown was at his best when writing fantastical ideas with a hard-boiled edge.

However, it was working within a genre that unlocked his genius. Not too long ago I finally got a gander at his rare "serious" novel The Office. Wow, was that a boring read.

---

Genre is almost always crucial. The older I get the more I appreciate that a picture fits in a frame. 

---

Podcasts are now a medium with a multitude of genres! Even Fredric Brown didn't see that coming. 

On the last TBP tour I skeptically listened to most of Serial

Essential reading for fans of Serial: The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm.

Also valuable: Laura Lippman's take. Lippman's a pro. She was a Baltimore reporter who saw the crimes firsthand, then changed jobs to become one of our best crime fiction authors. I highly recommend her latest novel, Hush Hush

To add one more thing about Serial not covered by Malcolm or Lippman: Serial's genre is ostensibly true crime, but actually the affect is more like "transformational memoir." The big recent success that comes to mind is Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.

So, my theorem is: True crime + Eat, Pray, Love + podcast = Serial.

04/04/2015

 

Gigs at the Drawing Room

Although I am not personally involved in any of the following, this is my studio, and know they will all be great events.

“The Drawing Room”

56 Willoughby St. #3

btw Jay and Lawrence St. in downtown Brooklyn. Almost every subway train gets extremely close: Borough Hall for 4/5, Hoyt St for 2/3, Jay St for A/C/F…the very closest stop is Lawrence on R.

Friday April 3rd:

Kanji Ohta (Piano)
David Williams (Bass)
Leroy Williams (drums)
 
with special guests
 
A veteran bebop master from Japan, accompanied by two NY masters! This is a special CD release party for his recording "This Is No Laughing Matter"
 
7:00-10:00, $25 admission includes a copy of the CD
 
Saturday April 4
 
The lyrical and harmonically adventurous pianist Jeff Colella and extraordinary bassist Putter Smith are in town from LA celebrating their acclaimed duo recording Lotus Blossom. This performance concludes their East Coast tour and we're thrilled to have them at The Drawing Room!
7:00-10:00, admission $15
 
Sunday April 5
 
Rhythm section workshop with master jazz drummer JOE HUNT. Joe returns for his second masterclass at the Drawing Room. He was a drummer on the scene in NY during the 1960's and played with the likes Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, George Russell and a host of others. For the last 35 years he's been teaching and inspiring students at Berklee School Of Music, and the New England Conservatory. This is a great opportunity for pianists, guitarists, bassists, and of course drummers to get some pointers and encouragement from one of the greats. 
 
Michael Kanan and Putter Smith will be on hand to assist, and then perform a set with Joe. 
 
workshop: 2:00-4:00
trio performance: 4:00-5:00
admission $20
 
---
 
DTM editorial: Putter Smith is a wonderful musician. You might have seen him speak at the Charlie Haden memorial. I just wrote liner notes for the Mike Kanan-Jorge Rossy quartet plays Gershwin CD, and said of Putter:
 
Putter Smith: Classic Los Angeles bassist. Played with everybody when they came to town including Warne Marsh and Thelonious Monk. Free and lyrical solos strikingly reminiscent of Chet Baker. Former Bond villain legendary among fans of high camp for his portrayal of Mr. Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever.

04/03/2015

 

The Name is Bond

Large_upload

These are the Bond covers I grew up with in the '80s.

Ian Fleming's work can be underrated by those passionate about other escapist espionage fiction.  I subtly make that point in the blindfold test with Lawrence Block

Not that they are literary masterpieces, of course. But the books are far stranger than the movie franchise.

An interesting new essay, by Chris Ryan for Grantland: Spectre and the Age of Blockbuster Continuity. (H/T Vince Keenan.)

Raw-broccoli-lg

Like many American males, I recently thought it might be enjoyable to watch the Bond movies  in order. I gave up because four and five (Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only) are so bad as to be essentially unwatchable.

The most fun about that aborted project was relearning some of the early movie history I knew as a kid but had basically forgotten. Of course, broccoli is a designed vegetable - some kind of cross between kale and cabbage, just like cauliflower is - and Albert Broccoli was the younger son of the Broccoli family responsible for that vegetable's invention. After Broccoli fell in love with the Fleming books, he decided to invest the family fortune. Broccoli acquired the rights to Doctor No, with the option to make the rest of the series, despite not knowing anything about moviemaking!

Amusingly, broccoli was a small factor in a few ways for the franchise in the beginning. Sean Connery was not a fan, and his rather "tough" attitude towards the complimentary bowl of raw broccoli outside of the casting room impressed director Guy Hamilton. And the famous opening gun barrel sequence? Albert Broccoli knew film designer Maurice Binder slightly as a boy, since Binder's father was the first large-scale importer of broccoli into New York. 

04/01/2015

 

New News

The latest Floyd Camembert Reports just went out, including notes on upcoming gigs with John Raymond and Seamus Blake/Chris Cheek. There's also a bit about Going Clear by Lawrence Wright and my own tale of working with Scientologists in the early '90s. I got a personal letter from Chick Corea. (True story!)

Sign up here, I'll make sure you get a copy in the next day or so. 

03/26/2015

 

Espionage Encyclopedia

Yesterday I blogged about Skinner by Charlie Huston. In the very first chapter, Huston references Eric Ambler, which informs the reader that this is going to be a thriller with a political theme. It's a nice touch. (DTM: Come Out of the Darkness Into the Light of Day.)

I've now just finished the brand new All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer. Early on, a lead character is next to a woman reading Len Deighton on a plane. Steinhauer's plot is not really that much like Deighton's Berlin Game, but there are some related ideas including a romance/espionage partnership and a key airport crisis. Even chatting with someone on plane who gives up information is rather Deighton-ish. On the other hand, the last page is pure Le Carré.

Good work from Steinhauer. I've read the Tourist trilogy and found the characters more interesting than the Jason Bourne "badass assassin" playbook. With All the Old Knives there are no action heroes in sight, and the book is all the better for it. Highly recommended for espionage buffs. 

Hope the movie will be good too.

03/25/2015

 

Crowd Control

I’ve just reread Skinner by Charlie Huston. It remains one of my favorite thrillers of recent years. Although the book ends up being a powerful warning about the current condition, along the way the reader enjoys varied vicarious thrills including much current technology: drone quadcopters, plastic guns manufactured by 3D printers, mobile robot surveillance spiders.

During an energy conference in Sweden, angry protesters confront something new on four wheels: 

A new siren rises and fills the square, bounding off the faces of the tall buildings. A warning that something large and powerful is coming. At the far end of the square the police line splits open and a towering blue and high-viz truck, unholy product of a mating between a double-decker bus and a fully armored Humvee, rolls through, two water cannons above a high cab, windows covered by steel screens, a broad cow catcher mounted up front. 

I sort of blew by that passage the first time, but on the second go I stopped and thought for a moment, then hit google. 

Yeah. There it is, a Carat Big Bear

Bigbear-3

---

There's a strange subset of YouTube videos: arms manufacturers's advertisements. 

Carat has one for their armed Unimog.

Don't see Carat's armored water cannons there, but Alpine Armoring and IAG have you covered.

---

When flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, one of the logical questions was, "What was the gear?" Investigators decided it was a Buk SA-11 missile.

On YouTube, there was already a rockin' video of the missile system in action. It's not totally clear to me if this video is an ad created by the company or simply the work of a rabid fan. At any rate the manufacturer is easy enough to find: Almaz - Antey, who have the slogan, "High Technologies Safeguarding Peaceful Skies."

After MH17, I'm sure the military leaders of every country watched the YouTube video and picked up the phone to call Almaz - Antey. High-tech armament is notoriously fussy and unreliable, but now there was proof that the Buk SA-11 was a solid investment.

---

CNN anchor Rosemary Church was first criticized then fired for suggesting the use of water cannons in Ferguson. But what was used eventually was even more shocking. Questions were asked everywhere about the high-tech military gear. Where the heck did all that stuff even come from, anyway?

The answer was Homeland Security grants and the Defense Department's 1033 program. If you are a small-time small town police chief, don't worry, you can still afford fun toys!

Newsweek: "How America's police became an army"

"The Pentagon finally details its Weapons for Cops giveaway" at the Marshall Project.

---

I've spent some time reading about Bozeman's debate about their new BearCat. They are keeping it, unfortunately: Apparently the tearful pleas from the cop's wives at the town hall meeting sealed the deal. 

Bearcat

Before the vote went down, Blake Maxwell at the Bozeman Magpie offered some clear-eyed commentary on what this kind of machine means for communities. I particularly admire Maxwell's lead paragraph about the word "rescue." (That word is painted on the side of Bozeman's BearCat above. Photo stolen from Bozeman Daily Chronicle.) 

The prevalent usage of rescue in the media now is lipstick on a warhorse, just 11th-hour spin, and the city manager’s unflagging repetition of it has become an insult to our intelligence. The BearCat has a turret and at least 10 different “gun ports.” This vehicle wasn’t designed for handing out medical supplies or basic human necessities; it was built for killing.

03/24/2015

 

Richter at 100

At the masterclass with Ron Carter yesterday in Hartford, I mentioned the Sviatoslav Richter centennial, saying something the effect that Richter may have been the greatest 20th-century classical pianist. Ron interrupted me right away: "Yeah, but don't forget Walter Gieseking."

Fair enough. There are lots of wonderful classical pianists. Comparing them is usually pointless. I respect anybody who is genuinely competent in that esoteric profession.

---

Still, something about Richter sticks out. After Ron's interjection, I've been mulling over why I think Richter is so great. 

My conclusion is rather obvious: Richter was of his time. He was 20th-century. He was an unrepentant modernist. 

Everything that Richter played was informed by world war, by atonality, by Freud, by airplane travel, by recorded sound. The horrors and delights of his era were always present.

---

The vast Richter discography is complicated further by multiple versions of key pieces. One would need an extra lifetime to study the complete Richter on CD.

Off the top of my head, a selection of personal favorites:

---

Bach. From WTC II, the A minor prelude and fugue from the Phillips studio set. The prelude is somber (his teacher Heinrich Neuhaus suggested that especially chromatic Bach be played "without tone"), the crucifixion fugue strikes like a bolt of lightning.

Handel. Richter mentored several young musicians. When he got interested in the young and brilliant Andrei Gavrilov, Richter had them alternate on Handel suites. Nobody plays these suites on piano much - harpsichordists have a better chance - but hearing them as tag-team performance art makes them more accessible. On video, Richter starts the familiar "Harmonious Blacksmith" with the loudest, ugliest, longest low E imaginable. Before continuing, he stares at Gavrilov, who looks around the room in an unconcerned or even dour fashion. Russian modernist art, via Handel.

Mozart. Nope. Hard to "take over" Mozart. He doesn't fight back, so you've got to enter that space with grace. Surely there's a decent Richter Mozart track somewhere, though.

Haydn. The G minor sonata, Hob.XVI:44, is rendered with existential sadness. (Early 60s DG.) 

Beethoven. A key composer for Richter. It's all great. My offhand selection is a less-familiar sonata, the two-movement Op. 54 in F major on EMI. The opening minuet has gleaming sonority and ornamentation. Perhaps the octave outbursts are almost too loud, but that's Richter for you. The answering toccata goes like the wind. A perfect work and perfect for Richter.

Since Ludvig was so important to Slava, I'll offer one more: the live Diabelli Variations on Phillips, rather late, I think 1980's. Even the out-of-tune piano seems to play a part in declaiming a passionate message. This was my first Richter record and my first Diabelli; frankly I find almost everyone else pretty boring.

Weber. I believe Horowitz was the one who started the fashion of looking for classical-era pieces by Clementi and other minor composers. Not to be outdone, Emil Gilels played some Clementi better than Horowitz and also added Weber's second sonata. Richter's retaliated by unearthing the Weber third. It's a powerful enough work, especially under Richter's strong hands. The point is clear: If we listen to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, we should listen to Clementi, Weber, Dussek, Hummel, and Czerny as well. 

Schubert. Richter may still be somewhat controversial in long sonatas where he takes unusually slow tempos. I understand the objection; frankly I'd usually rather relax with Clifford Curzon or Wilhelm Kempff myself. On the studio recording of the intimate Allegretto in C minor D915, Richter's speed is more "Largo" than "Allegretto" but the emotion is starkly compelling. I'm not so sure of Schubert's awkward counterpoint in the brief canonic section, but if you can hear it "à la Shostakovich" that certainly helps! 

Chopin. Richter played lots of Chopin but for me it can be like his Mozart, either too brutal or too straight. In the centennial celebrations I have seen several mentions of his performances of Chopin Ballades. This surprises me, I will have to go back and re-listen.

My Richter Chopin selection is an obvious one: On the essential documentary Richter the Enigma the only complete performances are of Chopin études. The earlier performance of the C sharp minor Op. 10 is white heat. Chopin would have been astonished to hear the 20th century in action with all of its brutal power. The later era étude is the "Winter Wind" in A minor. Here we can see the ultimate professional: An old man who has played thousands of recitals casually sits down and delivers this classic fingerbuster.

Schumann. One of the great LPs in my collection is the recital of César Franck and Robert Schumann on Monitor. I believe Schumann's Humoreske was barely played until Richter discovered it for modern audiences. You want to talk about your modernist pieces! The Humoreske doesn't make sense unless you have a grotesque, occasionally almost military aesthetic. The rhythms are also exceedingly complex and a technical challenges formidable. Richter solves all interpretive issues.

Brahms. The pianist didn't like his recording of the Second Piano Concerto with Leinsdorf in Boston. It's true that there are some really notable finger slips. However, like so many others, I am bowled over by the recording's raw passion. The first two moments are especially marvelous.

Liszt. The Liszt selection is obvious, the étude "Feux Follets" from at the legendary Sofia recital from 1958. It's not just the speed, it's the sonority which is so magical. 

Franck. From the Monitor LP mentioned earlier, Prelude, Chorale and Fugue is the dead intersection between German and French music. There's a whiff of the sentimental and the falsely religious about this work, something like Busoni's plumped up transcriptions of Bach. However I never have a problem with this aesthetic if a truly great pianist is in residence. I can't imagine anyone playing this work better than Slava does here.

Debussy. Again for me an obvious choice: Estampes, the live recording from early 60s on DG. Somehow the piano sounds just like the gamelan Debussy was inspired by. 

Hindemith. Apparently the composer himself didn't think much of his Suite 1922. I don't know why: For me, it's his best piano piece. I admit I am probably influenced by Richter's phenomenal recording from late in life. He beats the piano into submission but in this context that is perfectly okay.

Tchaikovsky. Mussorgsky. Scriabin. Prokofiev. Shostakovich. Stravinsky. Rachmaninoff.  Richter's performances of composers from his homeland have special merit. 

Tchaikovsky's solo piano music is frequently trivial; however, the Grand Sonata in G becomes a major work in Richter's hands. 

Mussorgsky's Pictures of An Exhibition from the 1958 Sofia recital is Richter 101, frequently showing up on lists of "the best piano records ever made."  

I don't know Slava's many famous Scriabin recordings as well as I should. These days when I listen to Scriabin, I'm probably listening to Sofroninsky. One hopes that the familiar anecdote is true: When the pianists met, Sofroninsky greeted the other, "Genius!" to which Richter shot back, "God!"

Richter knew both Shostakovich and Prokofiev and his biography is often focused on those associations.

While not so familiar with either of these composers nor Richter's contribution to their discographies, I am impressed with the Shostakovich Piano Quintet which shows Richter's sublime abilities as a chamber musician. The insane brilliance of the Prokofiev Second Sonata is also inarguable.

Prokofiev 2 was composed just before Richter was born. Its mechanized ironies are totally of the 20th century, and was totally understood by the pianist when he learned it a couple of decades later. This aesthetic was Richter's birthright.

As significant as Shostakovich and Prokofiev are as composers, something else may have been even more important to the young Slava than the music itself: Actually working with great composers, seeing how they made new music that related intimately to current events. Richter somehow took that attitude along when exploring the whole history of piano repertoire, making everything he touched modern, exciting, and sad. 

Richter didn't record much Stravinsky. The most intriguing item is the piano concerto Movements. This is arguably Stravinsky's most recondite piece, and it shows just how curious Richter was about everything that he gave this unfriendly beast a try.

I want to conclude on an up note, so let's end with Rachmaninoff. 

In general Richter was an ideal Rachmaninoff interpreter. It would be hard to make a list of recommended Rachmaninoff recordings without Richter in there somewhere.

Was Rachmaninoff a truly great composer? I'm not sure; many others wonder this question as well. But perhaps because Rach always isn't the very best music, there is extra room for re-creative genius to take over and deliver a melding of composer and interpreter.

The collection of Preludes and Etudes-Tableux on Olympia from 1971 and 1983 is essential for any piano library. Four tracks come to mind right away: The heraldic B-flat major, the proto-Prokofiev F sharp minor, the Tolstoy carriage of B minor, and the Etude 7 in C minor, the one that unleashes a great torrent of bells near the end. The bells seem joyous at first, but then it becomes clear that happiness will be denied. The bells mark the passage of time, and mourn both the loss of old Russia and the birth of the 20th century.

03/21/2015

 

Donna and Marta

So much going on...I meant to include these last night on DTM.

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Donna Lewis, major pop star and singer/songwriter, has a new album out Brand New Day with Reid, Dave and me. It's produced by David Torn, who also wrote the arrangements, which is why we aren't calling ourselves TBP for this one -- it can't really be TBP if I'm playing someone else's piano parts, as cool as Torn's are! 

Donna and David were a dream to work with, and the resulting album is also dreamy to listen to. I brought it over to some friends for a listen and they went crazy for it. I suspect it will do very well indeed. If you are a collector of all things Iversonian, this is your chance to hear me as a pop pianist. I'm not gonna replace Rick Wakeman or Mike Garson on a list of major figures, but I admit it's got an interesting feel.

I always count my blessings to be associated with Reid Anderson and David King, and they really sound great on this record, too. Wow. A deep pocket.

Thanks Donna for giving us this opportunity! See you on the Grammys or something.

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Speaking of Reid, I was reminded of our long history with Spain when Marta Sanchez asked me to write the liner notes for her new album Partenika. While listening, I flashed back to all the music I'd played or heard connected to Fresh Sound/New Talent records. One of the best is surely Reid's The Vastness of Space. Just like Vastness, Partenika has two intertwining saxophones. 

I wrote in the notes:

Indeed, Sanchez’s music, while undeniably personal, stems directly out of a lot of the Spanish/New York music documented on Fresh Sound in recent decades. Thanks not just to Marta Sanchez and band for the sounds, but also to Jordi Pujol for documenting this vital evolution. 

Marta's group plays tonight at Jazz Gallery for the record release show. The band is:

Roman Filiu – Alto Saxophone
Jerome Sabbagh – Tenor Saxophone
Marta Sanchez – Piano
Matt Brewer - Bass
Jason Burger - Drums

03/12/2015

 

The Eyes Have It

My god, what are those first three guitar chords at the top of "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingos? That's so my kind of music.

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Jaleel Shaw has stepped up his game further with a long and exceptionally valuable post, "Black History, Black Culture, Black Audiences, Black Lives." In our Twitter convo, I suggested, "It is really time to air some of this stuff out," to which Jaleel responded, "Definitely. I agree."

The Whiplash page is updated with a link to Jaleel's post. Very special thanks to Jaleel Shaw for this contribution.

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Miles Okazaki has just published a book, Fundamentals of Guitar. If I was a guitar player I'd certainly be immersed. Miles is brilliant and far-reaching, ancient to the future.

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Sarah Deming wrote a humorous story from our marriage for The Threepenny Review, "Dirty Laundry." Uh oh.

03/11/2015

 

Spinning Wheel

RIP Lew Soloff. One of my first CDs ever was Speak Low, a (currently rather rare) straight-ahead set with Kenny Kirkland, Richard Davis, and Elvin Jones. Clips of this quintessentially late-'80s date can still be heard on the late trumpeter's website.

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Happy 85 years to Ornette Coleman. A few years ago I played around with anagramming the master's name:

Tentacle Monroe

Create Melt Noon

Calmer Tone Note

Romance Let Note

Oracle Omen Tent

Locate Term Neon

Nectar Lemon Toe

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More Drum Thing: Writing for the internet can always be enhanced by feedback.  The great saxophonist Jaleel Shaw weighed in. I've added to post,  but also here 'tis, so you don't need to scroll down on the big page....

UPDATE 2: Jaleel Shaw (jaleelshaw.com) offered some penetrating commentary on Twitter; with his blessing I'm reproducing it here. 

I read your post on Whiplash. Just wanted to address the part about "black intelligentsia not being interested"

For one, I think we have to remember there was a time when blacks couldn't use the same entrance to clubs as whites

If a club told me I had to use a separate entrance, I still wouldn't want to go to that club once things changed.

We also have to remember that there used to be clubs in black communities (like Harlem) that blacks went to & even owned...

Of many things that have changed, It's very clear that there aren't many "jazz" clubs in black communities any more.

We also have to consider education. I never learned about "jazz" or anything that had to do with my culture in grade school.

Luckily I had a mother that was into this music & exposed me to it & other styles of music at a young age.

In school, the learned about Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

I love Bach, but looking back, I wonder why I wasn't taught about Bird, Ellington, & other American musicians in school.

I was a music ed. major at Berklee. When I went to do my student teaching I noticed the urban schools had no music classes.

Meanwhile, the suburban schools were learning all about Ellington, Monk, Armstrong and other American musicians/composers

Almost of of the suburban schools I visited didn't have many if any black students. The urban schools were all black.

I can't say this is exactly why "many in the black intelligentsia aren't interested" in jazz, but I think it's beyond a start.

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Most of the responses that I know of concerning "The Drum Thing" have been positive. However, the Organissimo forum was strongly critical, and I responded a bit to their comments. I haven't changed my mind, but I don't claim to know all the answers, and perhaps in the future I'll mellow out on this topic.

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Thanks to Tootie Heath for memorable week in NYC. At the masterclass on Saturday, fellow drummers Hyland Harris and Joey Baron posed for a photo that shows just how serious jazz drumming really is:

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Lotta stuff coming up. Sign up for the newsletter if you want info: the second letter is getting mailed out tomorrow morning. 

03/09/2015