Credo

Robert Blocker put his foot in it properly last week. Outraged tweets on my timeline were soon followed by several valuable longer objections.

Alex Ross.

Michael Lewanski.

Matthew Guerrieri. (If you look at just one of these links, make sure it's this one, a brilliant set of unlikely connections concluding with a luminous call to arms. Soho is always a good read.)

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It's so nice when a member of the opposition makes a public mistake, it gives us a chance to pile on and declare what we are striving for on our side.

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Despite wonky essays on DTM and professional entanglement with European classical music, I do not self-identify as a product of "academia." Therefore I have no serious opinion about what should be taught in music schools. Certainly jazz greats need the gigs at colleges these days, so...sure! Give our masters tenure. Of course. I nominate Billy Harper to lead the new Yale jazz program.

This next bit is addressed to students:

1) It seems to me that if you do go to college for music, the best thing to study there is European classical, the stuff that Blocker calls "canon." They know how to do it, they've been doing it for hundreds of years, it is material that makes sense out of textbook.

Learning that stuff is not going to stop you from dealing with black music, the blues, or anything else. It will just give foundation and context for all sorts of song form and harmonic modulation. The last time I played with Ron Carter, he had already done a jazz record date earlier in the day. In between the session and the gig, he listened to Beethoven in order to, "Clean out my ears and get me ready for B-flat seven again." (Ron Carter studied European music at Eastman.)

2) All the jazz greats existed outside the system. Indeed, most of them ignored the limitations of their racist society to create not just music but whole ways of living that forced fellow Americans to give respect. This kind of cunning, streetwise, and unstated elegance is a key to the music. I've never met an important jazz musician who wasn't some kind of gangster. (The last sentence could be said of most significant artists in any field, but it might particularly apply to jazz.)

So: If you are in a system, like a college jazz program, think about ways to undo the rules and make the system do something it might not think it can do. 

3) Finally, go to the library! After you leave school, civilian libraries will seem terribly unimpressive compared to those at any major conservatory. Ta-Nehisi Coates's bestselling memoir Between the World and Me is in part a magnificent homage to the library at Howard University. Possibly the best part of my sad and truncated career at NYU was just being able to go peruse the scores and books at Bobst every day. 

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I've gotten quite interested in Harold Shapero, a major composer who just might have been the greatest American Neo-Classicist. When he died only recently, I had barely even heard his name, partly because he hadn't composed much since about 1960. 

There were apparently two reasons Shapero stopped composing, both connected to college. He became a teacher himself: He stopped being a gangster. He fell in, raised a family and had hobbies. (All this is very bad for artistic production.)

The other reason was peer pressure to deal with the twelve-tone system. "Academic" is right! A whole crew of postwar intellectuals seized power in the universities and declared that rigorous atonality was the perpetual future. 

When Blocker says, "new music," I suspect that this kind of  unpopular "academic" genre is what he's talking about. Of course, "new music" could mean just about anything these days, and I certainly don't know what exactly they are up to at the Yale composition department. But surely a gold standard for the phrase "new music" is Milton Babbitt, and it is impossible to divorce Babbitt's (terrific) music from Columbia and Princeton. 

It makes sense. You research science, math, and the most esoteric and obdurate combinations of tones in the Ivy Leagues. Few people will know, few people will care, but you should still do it. 

I like Babbitt and a lot of other serialists, but I don't like how a whole generation of great composers were seemingly forced to march to that serial drum. Shapero tried the twelve-tone system in his Partita for piano and orchestra. It's his last major piece, and it's terrible. 

The real Shapero is found the the piece written just before, Credo for Orchestra. There are only nine pitches in it, the C major or the F major scale. A masterpiece. Really! I mean it. Check it out. On iTunes for 99 cents. 

I can easily hear Credo as a requiem for all the melody/harmony-oriented composers who gave up under the onslaught of academic serialism.

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So: Be careful what you wish for. Sure, it would be great to have all American institutions give money and respect to jazz. But based on the historical record, getting in the ivory tower doesn't help to sing the blues or make your girlfriend dance. And if there's no blues or dancing anywhere, then there's not much jazz, either.

09/02/2015

 

Drum Truth

My cats are out and about:

Friday in NYC, Albert "Tootie" Heath brings The Whole Drum Truth to Dizzy's. A must see if you love jazz drums! 

Tootie showed me the set list, which includes African Patterns and standards. For example, "Work Song" will feature Louis Hayes. "We will play, 'Bop Bam,' and then Hayes has it." As I say, a must see.

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Dave King Trucking Company does a Midwest tour this weekend. I've heard the latest album, Adopted Highway, and it's really great. Really looking forward to hearing them live some time.

Thursday September 3rd: The West End Music Conservatory in Milwaukee 

Friday-Saturday September 4th, 5th: Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis 

Monday September 7th: The Ice House in Minneapolis

09/02/2015

 

Universal Remonster
#002

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(San Francisco)

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Matthew Guerrieri on Dizzy Gillespie's Presidential bid

Greg Osby on Banned in New York.

Larry Blumenfeld on jazz in New Orleans ten years after Katrina.

Branford Marsalis just turned 55. Ted Panken put up a major profile.

Peter Hum talks to Harold Mabern.

Marc Myers on Bernard Peiffer.

Howard Mandel is on the Chicago beat now; recently he highlighted photos by Marc PoKempner. Wish I could have seen the Gary Bartz/Willie Pickens gig at the Showcase! 

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Alex Ross looks at 20th Century Symphonies. Also a Ross blog follow-up, and Kyle Gann's list

I once had the idea to survey the symphonies of William Schuman and Roger Sessions. Since they were both consecrated by the establishment, all the scores are sitting right there at NYPL. You could put the recordings in an iPod, hang out at the library for a week, listen, make notes. I still think it's a good idea if anyone else wants to do it. My title for the project was, "Taking One for the Team."

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(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)

08/27/2015

 

Universal Remonster
#001

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(JFK)

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Geof Bradfield interviews Steve Coleman.

Nate Chinen listens to Lucky Thompson anew.

Richard Williams goes to see Colin Stetson and Bill Laswell.

Savannah Harris interviews Jack DeJohnette.

George Colligan explains Drum Genius. Sounds good, George! I'm using Drum Genius now too. 

Doug Ramsey on Willis Conover.

Ronan Guilfoyle interviews Gene Perla.

Milan and Charles Simic discuss Slugs'. Hell of a photo of the Albert Ayler band!

Sam Newsome interviews Francisco Mora Catlett

Ted Panken interviews and discusses Oscar Peterson

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As soon as I have a CD player again I'm gonna start getting all the Xanadu reissues from Elemental. This is peak straight ahead jazz from the 70's. Indeed, I believe this is the greatest Barry Harris on record. It's not just his own albums like Plays Tadd Dameron, but any album with Harris as a sideman. The "Bud Powell intros" alone make the albums worth owning. For example, the Ronnie Cuber Cuber Libre that is coming out next year has the most insane Barry Harris.

Press page from Elemental. I haven't met this cat Zev Feldman yet but he clearly believes in doing God's work.

Short Jazztimes overview.

Review of Tootie Heath's Kwanza (The First) (I'm linking to this because I get I nice mention, of course. Reminder: Tootie, Ben Street and me play Chicago Constellation, Minneapolis Dakota and Menomonie Mabel Tainter at the end of the month.)

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(With thanks to Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, who sends out a weekly newsletter of links. My personal newsletter is Floyd Camembert Reports.)

0 Comments | 08/22/2015

 

The Past Isn't Past

A brand-new book has my highest recommendation.

A Good Life in Hell by Ai Tatebayashi and Justin Neely is a simple and superb examination of the life of  Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi and his wife Eiko. 

It's for all ages: The story will resonate with any adult yet the text is easy reading. The illustrations are simply fabulous.

Images at Tatebayashi's site.  

Online at Lulu.

08/21/2015

 

We're All In the Mood for a Melody

Two unusual gigs…

This week at [SF JAZZ]: Lounge piano in the Joe Henderson Lab, Thursday/Friday/Saturday.

I know all (or at least most) of the standards. They were learned at my high school restaurant gig. It is tremendous fun to deconstruct them at a moment’s notice. The correct way to introduce a spontaneous element? Take requests!

Usually I do this kind of thing as a surprise. Now that everybody in San Francisco has known for months that I’m at the audience’s service I’m a little worried. My fears were increased by an email from a SF friend yesterday: “Herman Chittinson! Dick Twardzik! Dick Katz!”

Ok, “taking requests” isn’t about obscurities. Nor is about breadth: Rock music and other “square peg in round hole” styles aren’t an option.

Cocktail piano is a beautiful, subtle art. While the repertoire hasn’t changed since about 1965, at times cocktail piano can even be subversive -- or at least it ought to be!

I plan to start each set in true ivory-ticker fashion, with reasonably authentic covers of Joplin, James P., Mary Lou, and my own recent “I’d Love a Rag.” After that, I will obey the hivemind and, "Honor the song, play the melody clearly, do something new, abstract, and exciting with the emotion."

(Tickets here.)

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Next week at Mezzrow, duo with Tom Harrell, Tuesday/Wednesday.

Around the same time I was playing cocktail piano in Wisconsin I would go to Jamey Aebersold camps at the summer. At one seminar Aebersold played a tape of Tom Harrell blowing some bop blues through all twelve keys recorded at a camp with Aebersold himself on piano. That got me interested in playing in all the keys; to this day transposition is a key element of my daily practice.

However I sort of forgot about that tape until Mark Stryker tweeted that it was on YouTube. It's frankly incredible.

Just before rediscovering that ludicrous blues, Mark Turner was telling me how much he was digging playing with Harrell. Having consistently enjoyed every single one of the many Harrell gigs I've taken in over the years, I eagerly went down to the Vanguard to hear them and loved the whole band with Mark, Ugonna Okegwo and Adam Cruz. (The album is called Trip.)

After the second engagement with Ron Carter at Mezzrow, I had a dream about playing duo with Tom there. I mean, a literal dream, it happened while I was asleep. I sent in an offer and Tom agreed to do it. So: we will see how it goes. At any rate Jamey Aebersold isn't even really a pianist and he got to play with Tom! All I need to do is hit more or less the right chords at more or less the right time on some standards and Tom will surely be free enough to improvise some of his astonishing phrases.

(Tickets here.)

08/18/2015

 

This Was Far Too Soon

New DTM guest page: "In Memoriam John Taylor" by Martin Speake.

I only saw Taylor play one time, at the Barbican with Tommy Smith. I didn't get to meet him but I left him a note  in his dressing room thanking him for his great contribution to the music.

08/13/2015

 

Another Op'nin, Another Show

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(Ski lift, Vail, CO)

The Vail Dance Festival hosts a remarkable collection of relevant classic and contemporary dance done in the outdoor Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in the resort town of Vail, Colorado. Kudos to artistic director Damian Woetzel for running such a great event. Among other highlights I saw wonderful Balanchine classics like Concerto Barocco and Duo Concertante as well as a fantastical and fantastic premiere of Pam Tanowitz.

I was there for Easy Win, the dance by John Heginbotham for Dance Heginbotham. It went extremely well; there was even a rave review in the NY Times by Alastair Macaulay.

It is traditional to have a ragtime selection. I resisted this at first, but when John told me, "I'd love a rag," I was sort of helpless. His comment even became a title. 

Rag first page

We are doing Easy Win at the Joyce for three shows in October. Between the buzz and the review there's a good chance it will sell out, so if you want to attend, act sooner than later... 

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I really like "putting on a show," an intensive process quite different than "playing a gig." I rarely post photos of myself on DTM, but can't quite resist this pair of "before" and "during":

Ethan_Sarah_Weaver

(with Sarah Stanley and Weaver Rhodes; photo by Adrienne Bryant)

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(click to enlarge -- with Sarah Stanley, Lindsey Jones, Macy Sullivan, Weaver Rhodes, Courtney Lopes, Kristen Miles, John Eirich; costumes by Maile Okamura; photo by Erin Baiano)

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Kudos also to Brooklyn Rider for providing so much great music for diverse dances. Drummer Greg Saunier was a real asset as well, contributing a wild score for Tanowitz and upping the groove factor on Vijay Iyer's "Dig the Say." Whenever I meet a real rock star like Saunier, it always proves true that their backstage costume and personality are just as outsized as their music. 

08/08/2015

 

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

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(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...

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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. 

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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