Forumesque 12

New DTM page: Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk. An anthology of all the DTM Sphere material from the last two years, including the questions for Eric Lewis.

On the eve of NYE, Sarah and I are throwing a rent party for New Directions. Sarah's description:

Sunday, December 30

8 p.m. Cocktails and Snacks

10 p.m. Musical Performances by Christopher O'Riley, Sam Newsome, and Ethan Iverson

Suggested Donation: $20

ABOUT THE DONATION:  If you can afford more, please give more.  All donations are fully tax deductible and benefit New Directions Support Group, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

BONUSES FOR BIG SPENDERS: I'm offering the same reward tiers as I did for my Kickstarter supporters: $100 gets you a private personal training or yoga/massage session. $500 gets you a catered dinner party (5-course tasting menu for up to 10 guests or buffet party for 30. You pay for ingredients, I shop, cook, and clean).

ABOUT THE CAUSE: When I was nine years old and my brother was seven, our single mother had a psychotic episode and was committed to a state mental hospital. This terrifying ordeal might have destroyed us, but my mother used it as an inspiration to heal herself and help others. She got her master's degree in group therapy and started a support group to help those in danger of falling through the cracks.

Twenty-six years later, New Directions is the largest support group in the Philadelphia area and has helped thousands of people suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, Asperger's, AIDS, and other illnesses. My mother is a loud voice in the media and with elected officials, working to combat stigma and make life better for those who suffer from mental illness.

Two years after I gave her my kidney (renal failure is a side effect of lithium), Mom is still going strong. Every dollar of your donation helps give her a living wage and supports the life-saving programming of New Directions.

For more information, or to make a Paypal gift online, see:

I don't feel like putting my address on the front page of the blog, but if you want to come, send an email to ethan.teaches (at) geemail and I'll get you the info. (We are in Park Slope.)


Non-TBP in January:

January 11 and 12 I'll be accompanying Johnny Gandelsman in the three Brahms violin sonatas at Bargemusic. This is extraordinary music, I've been practicing hard, and Johnny is a passionate player who has been giving me valuable direction in rehearsal. (He's in the acclaimed string quartet Brooklyn Rider.)

January 22 I'm a still-unannounced guest at the 92st Y, where I will take the low half of the piano for a dashing and undoubtedly note-perfect rendering of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The man at the high end of the keyboard will be Matthew Guerrieri, AKA Soho the Dog, and of course the reason for our reading is his remarkable book, The First Four Notes.

January 23 and January 24 Spike told me to bring something into Smalls, so I called the three other musicians I most wanted to hear play together and, to my delight, everyone was in. As I say, I made the calls, but there's no way this is anything but a collective, especially since the only directive is: be yourself. Ethan Iverson/Tim Berne/Andrew Cyrille/Sam Newsome.


Forumesque 12 is an opportunity to weigh in on recent posts and anything in the contents. Factual corrections are welcomed;  general questions are fine too.  I'll close the forum Saturday night before I travel home to the rent party.

It may take time for me to see the comments, especially today and tomorrow, so please be patient. (This is the only time I could see running a Forumesque, as I don't have much piano access over the holidays.)


UPDATE: Comments running to two pages.


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This is tribute to Harold Faltermeyer's Axel F, about which you tweeted last week. This song is most underappreciated by jazz purists. Performed by five sequenced synthesizers, it might be considered the height of '80's synthpop. It is also an excellent tool to teach kids how to jam. Any kid with reasonable finger dexterity (say 7 up) can pick up an instrument, learn this song and be jamming in minutes. The jazz teacher can program it into an iPad to function as metronome, go around the room show the students jamming skills. We did this when we were younger, Ethan, and it's great to see that you're still doing this.

Hey there Ethan,

I was curious as to your thoughts on Eric Lewis. Your interview, unlike most interviews on your page, lacks any significant comment or opinion on your part. I was really interested to see your take on Eric's rise to fame with Rockjazz (and whether that music has any real connection with jazz at all) and how his jazz playing (like on that Cherokee video) could be seen as typical of the competition-winning style of jazz that is seen too often - unswinging, "impressive" and ultimately pointless.

My impression of Eric was of an insular, self-obsessed man with more chops than he knows what to do with - which is possibly overstated. I'm interested to hear your honest opinion on his position in the scene, and what the success of musicians like Eric Lewis means for the community.

Fantastic blog as always, keep it up!

@Mark: There's no doubt that "Axel F" has incredible juice. Nice story.

Y'know, I've never seen BEVERLY HILLS COP? I really must see it sometime...maybe tonight is the night...Netflix has it!

@Callum: You are being too hard on him. And if you re-read what I wrote you will find my opinions there. I'll pull some quotes for you:

"I first heard you playing wonderfully well on The Magic Hour with Wynton Marsalis."

"When Ted Panken played me a track of you and Clark Terry together for a blindfold test, I couldn’t guess who it was: You were playing virtuosic stride piano, and I hadn’t heard you play that way yet."

"The year Eric won, the other finalists were Orrin Evans, Sam Yahel, and Jacob Sacks. I wouldn’t dare make the ruling that Eric is top dog of that incredibly diverse group."

"Kirkland’s untimely death left a hole in the scene that hasn’t been filled. My only regret about ELEW is that I personally am more intrigued by Eric Lewis, one of Kirkland’s best successors. Eric notes that The Magic Hour has “The types of contrapuntal and micro-polyrhythmic initiatives I favor experimenting within Swing.” I believe those initiatives would occasionally surpass Kirkland or even Roberts in complexity and intensity.

Of course, I need to remember: now and in the future, ELEW is still Eric Lewis, someone I am never going to follow at a jam session!"

I admit I was chuffed that Eric cited TBP as influence on Rockjazz. There's a few tricks to putting power guitar on piano that -- as far as I know -- I was first with.

Hey Ethan,
I always enjoy your writing on jazz and race, especially the material that addresses ways of performing whiteness in the jazz community that show respect to the African American traditions of the music. I was wondering what you think about jazz-related musics that draw from other ethnic traditions that weren't already part of the blend, like Rudresh Mahanthappa for example. It's a different situation from white jazz musicians for sure but do they have to navigate the same musical and social terrain to earn credibility? I guess it's as much of a sociological question as a musical one. And finally, just for fun, I would really enjoy your reaction to this clip of Monk's Mood played on koto (with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille in support). Is it heresy?

Hi, Ethan. My sense is that while you freely (and wonderfully) improvise when covering, say, Bowie, that you would not do that for Ligeti or Stravinsky. If that's accurate, why?

Looking forward to the Dakota show again this year (ninth year in a row, I think).

Thank you for turning me on to James P. Johnson! I'm slowly learning Carolina Shout (between finger-stretching exercises), and it's such a joy to feel and hear under my fingers. I literally laughed out loud when I first heard it - the extremes of register, the fact that it sounds like it's played with three hands, the two hands not really caring if they're progressing through the changes at exactly the same rate, the left hand blithely skipping beats in its oompah-ing, the relentless good humor. And it's so nice and bright, no major sevenths. I always enjoyed ragtime (I've lost count of the number of times I read through my book of Joplin as a kid) but never really realized someone turned it up to 11 like this.

Of course when I look up Carolina Shout on Google a lot of the conversation is in relation to an old lost blog post of yours. Any chance of that page getting resurrected at some point?

Hi Ethan, thanks a lot for the feature on the works of Charles Willeford. The depth and breadth of the pieces inspired me to revisit Willeford's work. I was wondering what your favorite crime fiction of 2012 was? My favorites included Don Winslow's The Kings of Cool, Ray Banks' Wolf Tickets, Megan Abbott's Dare Me and James Sallis's Driven. Thanks a lot for the words and music, best wishes for 2013.

Mr. Iverson,

I have been wondering what you meant by statement "Blakey's superior moral authority is obvious."

@Tim: There's a long tradition of jazz taking on music from other places. I like it when I discern a "local accent." Rudresh is tilling the right soil for him.

I dig the koto! I'm going to look for that record.

@Bob: You are totally right. Basically, when we play modernist classical music, we have a hard time keeping the harmonic language authentic when improvising. More here:

@Dan Schmidt: Great! Careful with the finger-stretching, don't hurt yourself. Just play octaves instead of tenths, that is totally acceptable.

There was a post rather aggressive in response to a provocation that I took down a day later. All the good stuff about it went into my big James P. post.

The original DTM sally that offended some (or, at least one) is still here:

The relevant section:

"When teaching at Banff this past summer, ten out of ten young jazz pianists were working on their post-Brad Mehldau/post-Keith Jarrett conception. That’s cool – I am full-on post-Jarrett myself, and in fact I’m influenced by Brad, too – but the same ten pianists then didn’t recognize James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout” when I played it for them in a master class."
"It’s really no big deal if any given young jazz pianist isn’t interested in James P. Johnson. One’s muses needn’t include early jazz if one wants to make good improvised music. But ten out of ten pianists not recognizing “Carolina Shout” really bothered me.

"Those so critical of Wynton should remember that this is the battle he’s fighting: to get respect for people like James P. Johnson. Not just respect as a fine pianist of the Jazz Era, but respect for James P. Johnson as an intellectual property vital to the American identity."

@Tim Niland: Nice books! I have only read DARE ME from your list. I presume you read GONE GIRL? Wow.

Offhand, those two are the only two from 2012 I would cite. Honestly, I don't read enough current stuff -- I'm stuck in the past and my researches.

@Matthew Lux: His carriage, his dress, his expression, his color -- Blakey is telling us how the world should be from very deep and respected place. He doesn't need to play, he's already won.

Thanks for the James P. Johnson context. (I can already play most tenths, just not the Bb-D types cleanly, and I'm being careful; I appreciate the concern!)

I feel like Henry Threadgill's Zooid group may be doing some of that post-tonal but still rigorous improvising you are looking for examples of in the post you link to in your response to Bob. It may even share some ideas with 12-tone music; at least Threadgill claims that it's all intervallic in conception and the intervals rather than the pitches are really the point of Schoenberg's system. Unfortunately I don't think anyone's close to understanding his language except his own group, although I'm much more confident that there is a semi-formal system underlying it than in the case of, say, Ornette Coleman. I've scoured all the interviews I can find (including yours) but he's either reticent about it or doesn't think anyone would understand him anyway. A couple of times I've thought about trying to transcribe and analyze a recent piece, but it's a pretty forbidding prospect.

Hey Ethan,

I've attended your masterclasses twice and am a huge fan of the blog and feel that it has influenced me as a player and student of the music and the history. Thank you.

Reading your somewhat recent interview with Fred Hersch I was struck by his relationship to Tommy Flanagan's playing. "Tommy, to me, even though his technique was more limited, he hung out on the edge a lot more. He wasn’t afraid to fumble a little bit, in favor of making something."
This struck me because I recall your writing on Hank Jones after his death and, specifically, this passage comparing performances by the two (Jones and Flanagan) on "Moose the Mooche":
"You can see how much Hank is improvising – he repeats himself less in three solos than Flanagan does in one."
To me, the implication here is that Hank Jones is the one more out on the edge!
Being the avid follower that I am (and of course aware of your studies with Fred) I wondering if you still feel the same way about Mr. Flanagan. For me, Overseas is am all-time top piano trio record, so maybe I'm a bit defensive (though I am certainly in agreement about the majesty of Hank Jones). Perhaps your comment was referring just to Tommy's one version of Moose the Mooche with Rony and Tony or I am missing the point.

Again, thank you for the time and love you put into Do the Math.

@Dan: Of course you are right about Threadgill,that's a great perspective in re: Brookmeyer's comment. Then again, Threadgill is in the tradition of Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane or other composer-improvisors who make all parameters consistent. Never heard any of those types play any modernist European-based classical music, though. Brookmeyer was the one who listened to Lutoslawski tapes and then was frustrated by an inability to transfer what he liked about it to conventional jazz. (I am now just riffing, not too sure of my turf here.)

@Alex: Ah! A subtle point. The comment was indeed only about that one version of "Moose." I just re-listened to OVERSEAS and you are right, it is an all-time classic. Also recently transcribed some Tommy on GIANT STEPS: "Cousin Mary" and "Mr. P.C." Really great.

But if you put a gun to my head I have to choose Hank. Sorry! (I'm not sure but I think Fred would take Tommy first.)

Hi Ethan,

Re: your Dave Brubeck thoughts, a question and a comment:

a) You mentioned the title track from the '70s Brubeck album "All the Things You Are", in which it sounds an awful lot like the first chorus of Dave's solo is out of step with the rhythm section (sounds that way to me, too). If that's right, why would a group of musicians, among whom surely several would have noticed and commented on that at the session, not just do another take and release that? Not that you were there at the session, obviously, but I can't really see any scenario in which releasing that track as the master makes any sense at all. Totally puzzling.

b) I haven't listened to a lot of post-DBQ Dave, but there are a few solo piano albums from the last twenty years that sport some lovely playing. Not boundary-pushing by any means, but a beautiful consolidation of another side of him. (Does that make them "historically irrelevant"? I must confess I've never understood what that means or, if it means what it sounds like it ought to, why anyone would care about it.)

@Simon: Gosh, I don't know why they didn't do another take. But it was clearly Dave's date, and maybe he didn't notice? No one else would have said anything.

I don't doubt there is some nice later Bru, Bill Kirchner recommended the duets with Desmond, which I've never heard.

To look at from another angle: many would argue that Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, and Hank Jones were less avant-garde than Brubeck. Certainly they were all less-important composers. Yet they remained historically relevant in a way that Brubeck didn't -- at least in my opinion, and I'm confident that many of my peers would agree with me.

Honestly, some of it simply has to do with how you sound next to Roy Haynes.

hey ethan
I have a fairly left field question relative to what's on your blog normally.

have you ever experienced any piano related injuries of the repetitive stress sort etc.... i heard that 80% of woking orchestra musicians play in pain!?!?

this area seems to be something that is little talked about compared to the sports world. i've got a touch of tendonitis in my hand and just figured i'd ask.

no worries if you don't have anything to respond with.

happy holidays sir and as always keep up the great work!


Hi again,

That's interesting. I had taken you to mean by "historically relevant" something like "unprecedented" or "trend-setting". But I take it now you mean something more like "worth remembering".

I wonder if a distinction between a (mere) listener's and a musician's perspective is relevant here. Though I'm not familiar enough with the three you list to make a comparison with Brubeck, my thought is something like "Here is a bunch of beautiful Brubeck", and judgements of historical relevance are just in those terms; whereas I suspect you (as a musician?) feel there is more sophisticated musicianship, or more to be learned from, in the three you mention, in a way that can be detached from a judgement of beauty. (I know, I know, "beauty" is not always a helpful term.)

@matt: This is a topic I care a lot about. I'm fortunate not to ever have had any pain. One the reasons is that I study with Sophia Rosoff:

The main thing is to use the fingers only as a final refinement, not as the main power. The big gears of the seat, torso, and upper arm must drive the little gears of the fingers.

If you have a touch of tendonitis, do everything you can to stop articulating with the fingers and find ways to use the big gears instead.

@Simon: Please keep enjoying your fav Brubeck! I just think it is interesting that someone who was so original and relevant ceased to be so in such a dramatic fashion. George Shearing also had something of the same career path, but I've heard far more from those who love later Shearing than Brubeck -- and, by the way, if you want some pretty solo ballads make sure you're hip to late Shearing! Talk about beauty!

What about Tommy Flanagan as,specifically, "group leader" - that's where you've never come to terms with him, or had the opportunity (I believe you never heard his great trios, or one of 'em, at the extended 2 week-runs at The Vanguard ?)... Had the chance to judge him as leader of an organic and exemplary, real jazz trio - directly comprable in nuance, dynamic, and event to the MJQ, but much more likely to be spontaneous and thrilling in performance. I think it's the best I've ever known, and one of the best in history...
I adore Hank Jones, the soloist (and his inexpicably, magical, glassy tone), but he never led a trio the way Tommy Flanagan did. Never. (You really never were there to hear the Flanagan/Peter Washington/Lewis Nash trio at the Vanguard? Shame! Did you hear the MJQ live?)(In any case, Hank Jones NEVER led a trio to comprable height. Never).
I believe Tommy Flanagan's greatest acheivment - apart from inspired thematic spontaneity as a soloist - is the profoundly orchestral conception he brought to the art of the trio - and Hank Jones didn't do that!

Hi. It seems to me you're overlooking the most obvious reason Brubeck's later work might have been less significant... sort of surprising from someone who talks about "bands" as much as you do.

@Red: Ah! The master, Red Sullivan, is here! So, I shut my mouth. But, Red, for those of us that didn't see the group live, what was the best record? I have SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD and NIGHTS AT THE VANGUARD, both from the club....

(at least, Red, I hope you like my praise of Shearing!)

@godoggo: you are so right, but I'm being tactful because everyone is still alive and probably in mourning right now...also, I just don't really know the records. To pass true judgement, I need to check it all out in a serious fashion, a research project that really does need to be done, but rather low on my list...

Excited as always for tbp at the dakota this new years season. Any chance you'd do a masterclass in minneapolis some year? Hope the holidays are restful for you!

"Sunset and The Mockingbird", sadly, does no justice to the trio, and can't be regarded as representative - much better is "Sea Changes" - still, though, it's not enough considering that that trio (the best one, w/Peter Washington and Lewis Nash) was together a full 12 years... (there is a rumoured 6 night run at The Vanguard in the can - Blue Note, I believe, has it - and it's supposed to be top drawer. To me, it's something of an Holy Grail).
The earlier trio w/Mraz and Kenny Washington is SUPERBLY represented by "Jazz Poet": GREAT record, essential in fact; and then the Flanagan/Kenny Burrell "Beyond The Bluebird" with Mraz and heralding Nash, is also fabulous, really fabulous... I think that's the pick!

Hey Ethan,

First, I just want to thank you for running this blog and being a member of the Bad Plus. I can't remember which I found first, but both your writing and your playing just keep me coming back for more.

My parents gave me a CD shaped present for Christmas this year, and as I opened it, I anxiously hoped my parents could tell Made Possible was at the top of my list. Thankfully, it was. I've gotten to listen to it quite a bit in the past few days, and it's simply magical. The musical connection you, Dave King, and Reid Anderson have is so unique, and it's lovely hearing you interpret each others' writing. I'll admit Never Stop is still a bit out of grasp (it's still a great record, I just can't understand fully yet), but Made Possible just has such emotional clarity that it conveys the music perfectly. Thank you for such a wonderful album, and I hope you guys continue to make many more.

On a more academic note, in your recent post on McCoy Tyner, you said that "He is underrated partly because Herbie and Chick are easier to imitiate." A while ago in this blog post ( ), Ronan Guilfoyle said something similar about Elvin Jones as compared to Tony Williams. Comments like

"I think it’s true to say that Williams’ influence is more to the fore these days than Elvin’s is."


"Secondly, I think Tony’s thing is easier to codify into something comprehensible to the aspirant drummer. This is not to say that what he did was conceptually of a lower level than Elvin, but his approach lends itself more readily to the kind of intellectual analysis that people like to make. "

are what I'm referring to. Although I haven't heard it said explicitly, I'd imagine something similar could be said in a comparison between Jimmy Garrison and Ron Carter, especially considering how Ron Carter is put up as the bassist to study.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on why the members of Coltrane's Classic Quartet are considered harder to imitate or codify than the members of Miles Davis's Second Quintet, especially given that Coltrane's playing has had such a much larger influence on saxophonists than Miles's playing has had on trumpet players. These groups, or bands really, are often held up as the two of the ideal small jazz ensembles, but they've impacted the jazz tradition differently, as these quotes show. I'm not sure what I'm expecting, but any further thoughts you have on the topic would be much appreciated.

Once again, thank you. Your blog and music greatly expanded what I consider jazz, and for that I could not be more grateful.


Hi Ethan -- happy holidays. Looking forward to your Detroit date at the end of January.

Re: Tommy Flanagan Trio.
I do think Red is on to something about Tommy's working trios in that there’s such a refined veneer to his conception that it's easy for folks to overlook just how integrated and elevated his groups were as ensembles -- a lot more than three guys just playing bebop tunes! Hank and Tommy were both orchestral pianists in the sense that each chord has a specific sonority rather than a generic voicing, and each moment both in playing a written melody or improvising is always orchestrated with a specific strategy or color (single note, chord, thirds, octaves, harmonic, rhythmic or dynamic choice, etc.). Often those choices are being made on the fly. But Hank's trios rarely extended those ideas to the full ensemble in as integrated a fashion as Tommy's did, with perhaps the possible exception of that first GJT with Ron and Tony, although that group remains an outlier in many ways. That said, the connection Hank had with his frequent bassist George Mraz was on a really high level. George of course worked extensively with Tommy too. Hmm.

FWIW, I once asked Tommy about how he developed his arrangements and he said that he didn't like to write out too much stuff. He might start with an idea or two in sketch but preferred for the ideas to develop over time in performance so they could evolve organically into a defined yet flexible template.

As far as the records go, beyond the two you have, "Jazz Poet" (Timeless, 1989) with Mraz and Kenny Washington remains a peerless explorations of (mostly) standards. The whole record has a kind of glowing halo of perfection about it. I saw this trio play much of this repertoire a year earlier during a summer stand at Sweet Basil. My plan was to hear one set and then go hear somebody else at another club, but the trio sounded so great that I ended up just staying there the whole night. I came back the next night with the same plan and again ended up staying the whole night. Cecil Taylor was there one of those nights. I remember Tommy spotting Cecil on the break and with a big grin half-shouting from some 20 feet away, "Hey, C.T.!" Another record to look for is "Sea Changes" (1996, Evidence) with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. The repertoire is half Tommy's tunes and half standards and the feeling is a little more club-like, casual than "Jazz Poet." I also like the Ella tribute by this trio on Verve called "Lady Be Good ... For Ella." Some folks are partial to "Beyond the Bluebird" from 1990 with Lewis Nash on drums and Kenny Burrell on guitar. (The title is a reference to the Detroit club in the early 50s that was a focal point on the Detroit scene. Tommy played in the house band there with Thad Jones, Billy Mitchell, Elvin Jones and bassist Beans Richardson.)

As a caveat, I would also say that the records, good as they are, do not always capture the breadth of Tommy's gifts. You needed to hear him live to really get the full majesty of his conception and feel just how strongly his focus, personality, spontaneity and musicianship was helping to shape the entire trio's conception. A very subtle artistry and intensity.

Coda 1: A couple weeks ago I heard some bootleg recordings of Tommy at the Blue Bird in April 1950 -- a full six years before his recording debut upon arriving in NY. He's playing with Frank Foster, drummer Art Mardigan (local white cat who Elvin revered) and an unidentified bass player. They play "Bouncing with Bud," which had only been recorded 8 months earlier; that means it must have just come out on 78 and the cats immediately took it down -- Frank starts his solo by playing the same break Sonny Rollins does. They also play "The Way You Look Tonight," "Yesterdays" and "Move." Frank sounds a lot like Sonny Stitt on tenor on those records with Bud Powell; Tommy sounds incredibly mature -- basically it's all there at age 20, though it's still early. Very much like Bud with a few sweeping runs on the ballad that nod to Tatum and at least one phrase that I remember winking at Monk. The touch is a bit harder to discern since it's not a great piano and you can hear that he's beating it pretty hard to get it to speak. So I'd need to listen more to be able to say whether Tommy's satiny touch is really present or not. But the playing here is definitely at a level equal to any of the first wave of post-Bud bebop pianists working in NY at the time.

Coda 2: All of the great Detroit pianists -- Hank, Tommy, Barry Harris, Roland Hanna -- are really spontaneous players. True improvisers. Always taking chances, going for shit, even if they don't always make it.

Coda 3: @Simon: I think what Ethan means by "historically relevant" is whether the music has become absorbed into and remains an integral part of the ongoing vocabulary of the jazz mainstream.

In your opinion, what separates a listener who has a music education from one that does not? I love TBP, and many of the artists you also enjoy(Cedar, Waldron, and more recent players like Vijay, Anat Fort to name a few of many) but I don't appreciate them from a technical perspective. Honestly, I don't really care to but I feel like having a musicians perspective creates a different way of appreciating great music. This I guess can be boiled down to a simple question, are Musicians different and/or better at appreciating music than non-musicians? I think about this alot when I read your blog and other musicians blogs.

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