Welcome to Boston Jazz Scene

Welcome to the Boston Jazz Scene web site--the place to find out what happened, what is happening, and what is coming in jazz and other improvised music in Boston and surrounding communities. The most recent post is listed below this information. Words listed below the Topics heading to the right refer to information you can find here about jazz and other improvised music, the arts in general, food, and travel in and near Boston.

If you click on the Scheduled Jazz Highlights topic, you will see a selection of upcoming jazz gigs that we think are particularly noteworthy.

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If you click on the Images - Venues topic, you will see a selection of photos of current and former Boston area jazz venue locations.

If you click on the History - Jazz Timeline topic, you will see a brief list of significant events in the development and evolution of jazz in Boston beginning with the first groundwork in colonial America.

If you click on the Essays on Music topic, you will see essays about the development of jazz and other music since the late nineteenth century and particularly the evolving context in which the music has been and continues to be created.

If you click on one of the Travel options, you will see a variety of information that may be of interest to people visiting Boston (or even some people who live here).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jazz Journal – 2016


As the final entry in this Journal for 2016 we present a commentary about troubling developments that affect clubs, galleries, and storefronts presenting performance art--and therefore the musicians who perform there.  The December Journal entry follows the commentary.

Commentary:
The renewed harassment of producers of performance art by Performing Rights Organizations

Over the years in this Journal I have offered examples of how the Musicians Union and the Performing Rights Organization (PRO) agents are among the key obstacles to the health and flourishing of sonic arts and entertainment in the U.S.  Yes, the stated motive of those organizations--the fostering of fair pay and good working conditions for musicians and fair compensation for composers of copyrighted works--is to be applauded.  But, as I have suggested in previous Journal entries, the road to music hell is paved with Musicians Union representatives and PRO agents.  I mention these previous references here and now because PRO agents at this moment are involved in a particularly troubling assault on not-for-profit performance spaces.  In other words, if you are a not-for-profit presenter of performance arts that include music or are a musician who likes the idea that there are performance galleries and store fronts in which you can present your music, then read this Journal entry and act accordingly.

 PRO agents claiming to be representing ASCAP have been contacting not-for-profit facility operators with charges that the venue operators have failed to pay the ASCAP fee for performances of copyrighted compositions.  In certain cases, such fees make sense.  For example, when superstar X performs at Symphony Hall and sings a tune by Harold Arlen, ASCAP or BMI collects a specified amount.  That makes some sense.  It’s a big deal venue presenting a superstar and the tickets are expensive.  That’s all part of doing business on the big stage.  Alert PRO agents are just one of the reasons your tickets to see superstar X are so expensive.  So that’s the way it works.  ASCAP (generally with paperwork assistance from people running the venue or producing the show) takes a specified amount of the ASCAP fee obtained from ticket sales and gives it to Harold Arlen so that he can enjoy the fruits of his creativity.  Right.  Harold Arlen is dead and his grandchildren who didn’t do squat to get his reward enjoy the results.

We could keep pursuing this path, but you get the idea.  In those rare circumstances in which the composer receives a bunch of money for his creations, the system makes sense.  For example, do you really feel bad that Paul McCartney keeps getting a zillion dollars a year because his music is copyrighted?  I don’t.  More power to him.  But the Paul McCartneys of the world--in terms of copyright wealth--are a pretty small portion of all the composers dead and alive still protected by copyright.  The rest for the most part is just a game--a sick game to keep PRO agents employed at the expense of venue operators and musicians, and even the composers themselves. 

So let’s get down to current reality.  An operator/producer of a local performance space was accosted by a PRO agent.  The operator was told that some of the performances presented at that space included music composed by ASCAP composers and that the producer owed money to ASCAP.  The operator’s decision--perhaps because of being financially able to bite the bullet (although I doubt that)--was to pay ASCAP fees, etc.  So now the producer pays them money and keeps track of all composed music performed at the venue.  In other words, this fine person is paying money and going blind doing paperwork to keep ASCAP happy.  If you know something about local not-for-profit venues you understand that the situation I just described is absurd in its callousness.  It’s sort of like a criminal gang infiltrating the local Visiting Nurse’s Association to suck whatever they can from non-existent financial resources.  (Thanks to an old Bob & Ray skit for the idea.)  I avoided specifics here to protect the too innocent. 

But there is an absurd ASCAP pursuit that resonates in very specific terms.  I refer to the Church of the Advent series produced by Matt Samolis.  Is there a not-for-profit operation any more devoid of profit than that performance series?  I’m pretty sure that--although he would deny it--Matt loses his own personal money every time he puts on a Church of the Advent gig.  He, of course, would not see it that way.  For him it’s just what you do to put on these gigs.  I know what he’s talking about.  In the 1980s I put on a few gigs at the Willow Jazz Club with the assumption that I would lose money.  The only question was “how much?”  But what I did was relatively inconsequential compared to Matt’s year in and year out selfless presentations.  Matt’s commitment to all kinds of performance art and his success--in the most important sense--in doing so should be cause for general celebration.  And the thanks he gets is a PRO agent who apparently has no concept of the damage he does.  The alternative is that the PRO agent is a genuinely evil human.  I vote for ignorance.  Be that as it may, the details (the few that I have at this point) warrant telling.

A PRO agent supposedly on behalf of ASCAP contacted Matt Samolis to tell him that there had been reporting from ASCAP members citing events at the Church of the Advent.  These instances of reporting stated that ASCAP member musicians and composers’ work was being shared publicly at Matt’s Church of the Advent concerts and that the members were due ASCAP remuneration.    Or maybe it was something as simple as--and more credible--that one or more composers had listed those events on their web sites as instances when those works were performed.  Or maybe--and this is what I believe to be most likely--the PRO agent went trolling.  You know, that variation on, “When did you stop beating your wife?” and get the answer (no matter how articulate or confused) on tape.  Unlikely?  Not really.  In a court of law the accusers need to face the accused.  As part of the questionable practices of PRO agents, the venue operator is not told which music supposedly was performed or which composer is not being paid the PRO fee.

Therefore the only way a producer can find out what is going on--and whether or not the PRO agent is trolling--is to take the PRO SOB to court.  If the producer is a millionaire, he/she has a lot of options.  But I do not know of any gallery or store-front or church library performance producer who has such financial or legal resources.  And the PRO people know it.  So what is a decent, civilized human who spends his time producing gigs for musicians, composers, and actors to do?  He accommodates the PRO agent by paying him his money to get rid of him.  And then he shuts down his performance art operation.  He cannot afford to pay the fee required to avoid intimidation.  But that is not the end of it.  Yes, performances at the library of Church of the Advent are over.  However, the demands of the PRO agents (on behalf of ASCAP?) and Matt’s reaction to all of that are not completely clear at this time.  But what is clear--clearer--is that the Musicians Union and the PROs continue to kill music performance.  Think about it.  Try a couple simple examples.

Go into the BSO gift shop at Symphony Hall.  In that shop you will find DVDs of BSO performances under the direction of such conductors as Munch and Leinsdorf.  You know, people who are dead.  There are no DVDs of performances of recent music directors such as Levine or Nelsons.  From 1957 to 1979 the local PBS TV affiliate televised 175+ BSO performances.  And most of them were recorded on videotape.  The orchestra used to make radio broadcasts of performances available to radio stations around the country.  By the late 1970s about 150 PBS TV stations subscribed to the videotaped BSO broadcasts.  There was income from the radio and TV broadcasts, bringing additional money to the musicians and funds specified for the BSO Pension Institute (i.e., retirement funds).  All of that was fine.  For a while both the Musicians Union and the musicians were happy.  But production costs increased and PBS income did not keep up with the costs.  That’s one reason there are so many shows on PBS distinguished primarily by people with British accents.  Presenting reruns of BBC TV shows is a lot cheaper than being creative.  Just as it was a lot cheaper and easier to shut down recording and distribution of performances than to do the hard work of fixing the problem.  If all people concerned truly had the best interests of the BSO in mind, the Musicians Union and the musicians could have worked together on behalf of insuring high visibility and durability for the orchestra for decades to come.

And the lazy, short-term vision of the Musicians Union continues to hold sway today.  The union has succeeded in convincing the musicians that everything is fine.  The musicians make more money than the rest of us, and they have other financial resources particularly in local music schools.  The fact that they have no incomes from TV broadcasts or radio distribution apparently does not bother them.  They suffer from union propaganda and short-term thinking.  Instead, if they bought into the idea of allowing video and audio recording and distribution for free the program might fly.  I can imagine the stunned reaction of orchestra members.  They have bought into the idea of money for services rendered to such an extent that they cannot see that no money in their pockets or in the Pension fund for distribution of recordings on TV and radio costs them virtually nothing.  They are not getting extra money right now for such distribution; they will miss nothing by allowing the distribution with no immediate payback.  But by initiating a new recording/distribution program, the BSO has everything to gain.

All large classical ensembles are struggling economically, and only the smart will survive.  No doubt a good deal of Musicians Union brainwashing and musician smugness (“Hey, we’re the greatest orchestra in the world.”) cause BSO performers to believe that the BSO--the musicians’ paycheck--always will be there.  Maybe some orchestras will survive, but they won’t necessarily be the best or even located in Boston.  Young people in Boston and other US cities can listen to radio broadcasts of recent live recordings of orchestras based in Cleveland, San Francisco, Dallas, Milwaukee, and elsewhere.  Several days per week.  Does a young person in Chicago or Seattle even know or care that the BSO exists?  Even now I’m sure there are large numbers of people not located anywhere near the central Atlantic coast who think “BSO” means Baltimore Symphony.  If current BSO musicians fail to outlive their pensions, they may be the lucky ones.  In spite of these troubling developments the Musicians Union shows no evidence of having the musicians’ best interests as a core mission.  That’s just one example of the darkness on the horizon due to a lack of constructive vision (how’s that for a euphemism?) on the part of both the Musicians Union and the musicians supposedly being helped by the union.

Because almost no one under the age of fifty among jazz musicians belongs to the Musicians Union, the more devastating problem for creative musicians is the PRO agents.  PRO agents have killed live performances at restaurants and clubs in the Boston area (and elsewhere, of course) for decades.  Most owners of restaurants and bars are trying to make a living.  One of the most common ways to attract potential customers since before the beginning of the twentieth century has been to bring entertainment to the venue--entertainment invariably including music.  Since mid-century in particular PRO agents have succeeded in removing live music from commercial venues.  Bar and restaurant owners logically come to the conclusion that they cannot pay both the musicians and the PRO fees and make money.  The result today is that very few restaurants and bars in the Boston area offer live music of any kind.  In effect live music is disappearing from our social venues at an alarming rate.  Like the Musicians Union, the PROs do not see that killing the public performance of music is bad for whatever constituency they supposedly support.  The Musicians Union and the PROs give the impression that the primary goal--unstated though it may be--of these organizations is to sustain the organization and--perhaps most important--to sustain the jobs and salaries of the organization officers. 

The great irony in all this is that the leaders of the Musicians Union and PROs do not see that inevitably they will be victims of their lack of constructive vision.  It is not simply a matter that musicians no longer are interested in joining the union or that composers cannot receive PRO revenue when musicians do not perform.  It is that the failure of the Musicians Union truly to serve the needs of the musicians and the PROs to serve the needs of both the composers and the musicians will result in the demise of those organizations.  I exaggerate?  Really?

You may remember the scene in the film when Patton (George C. Scott) talks about “the carts.”  He tells of his dream/vision of the Germans hauling supplies in carts.  Not trucks.  Carts.  When he saw the carts, he knew that the end was near for the enemy.  Think of the not-for-profit venues in the Boston area and the PRO agents fishing there.  The not-for-profit venues are the “PRO carts.”  Bars and restaurants that present live music are disappearing.  The PRO agents are running out of commercial venues--historically PRO bread and butter.  And so the PRO agents turn to the not-for-profit and gallery venues--poverty-stricken ventures--for whatever funds they can obtain through intimidation.  These harmful, contemptuous PRO pursuits are the “Patton carts” of creative music.  They signal the end for the PRO agents.  And maybe that is good.  But the damage that occurs to these important venues in the meantime likely is considerable.  The most creative musicians in the Boston area perform in these venues.  If their goal were to get rich playing music, they would not be performing in such places.  But these places are what they have.  There is a limit to opportunities provided by house parties and back room jam sessions.  And so it is important for venue operators, musicians, and composers to work together to disrupt the efforts of PRO agents. 

There are actions that music producers, composers, and musicians can carry out to disrupt and potentially halt PRO agent assaults on the hand-to-mouth venues.  First, it would be a good idea to pick up the second edition of Steve Hershman’s Hands off the clubs! for background information and ideas.  Information about that booklet can be found in the August 2010 entry of this Journal.  The main thing to keep in mind about the PRO attack on live music is that the primary PRO weapon is exploitation of music copyrights.  If no one performs copyrighted music in your venue, PRO agents have no means of attack.  The next logical question is how a presenter of performance art can avoid the presentation of copyrighted music.  The most obvious answer is to avoid the presentation of music altogether.  Although that would solve the problem, it merely would help accelerate the PRO destruction of live music performance.  There are other more functional options.

The most obvious option is to present completely improvised music.  Because no composition is involved, there can be no PRO attack on the basis of copyright.  There is nothing finer than improvisation performed at its highest level.  But limiting music performance to improvisation exclusively would be as problematic as limiting live music to composed music exclusively. 

A second option is to perform exclusively works whose copyright protection has expired.  As much as I have enjoyed fine jazz performances of “Rose Room” and “Indiana,” most music that old does sound dated, not particularly inspiring vehicles for jazz improvisation in the twenty-first century. 

Another option is to present composed music that has no ASCAP or BMI protection.  In other words, a producer could present musicians whose compositions have either a foreign copyright or no copyright at all.  A variation on that idea is to have a musician perform who has made an agreement directly with the venue producer for performance rights.  The payment for the performance rights could be something as simple and inexpensive as a candy bar.

A variation on the idea of performing uncopyrighted music is the exploitation of chord changes.  Every jazz fan is aware of the dozens of compositions based on the chord changes of “Tea for Two,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and other popular works.  Such derivative compositions do not violate copyright law and in fact can be copyrighted.  For example, one of Dan Morgenstern’s best-known lectures focusses on the many different compositions and subsequent recordings Duke Ellington made based on the chord changes of “Tiger Rag.” 

A conversation I had with Ray Santisi several years ago was informative in this regard and offers a fine example of PRO agent harassment as a decades-long pursuit.  When Ray was a pianist in jazz clubs in Boston in the 1950s, he witnessed relentless PRO agent activity.  He told me how the club owner of one venue where Ray performed would handle the problem.  The club owner had an employee who knew the faces and/or demeanor of PRO agents.  The employee would stand by the front door looking for agents.  If he spotted an agent, he would signal to the band that the agent was coming.  As a result of that information the band would change what it was playing.  For example, if the band was playing “I’ve Got Rhythm” at the time of the signal, they would switch to one of the band’s original tunes based on the changes of “I’ve Got Rhythm.”  Then the band would continue to play nothing but original compositions.  Of course the PRO agent would not recognize any of the melodies and eventually leave.  At that point the band would go back to playing whatever it wanted to.

I hope that this discussion alerts music producers, musicians, and composers to the problems posed by PRO agents.  After all, if music venues are forced to stop presenting music or to shut down completely, then everyone loses.  According to Matt’s research and resultant perspective, “If enough [PRO] members disagree with any set of practices within a PRO, there may be value in organizing and trying to influence elected policy makers to make the desired changes. But the immediate, short-term action is to refrain from including the smallest venues in any reporting.”  While I applaud the idea in theory as perhaps the best solution to the problem, anyone familiar with bureaucratic organizations knows that the leadership of such organizations typically is lacking in long-term, constructive vision.  In addition, the momentum of such organizations invariably is status quo.  But pursuing rational policies from within such organizations can do little harm and perhaps much good.  I hope that the information I have presented here offers at least some ideas--or more likely a combination of ideas--that may help small music venues to survive the PRO attack.  Unfortunately, for the next few decades or more the only answer may be legal action.  After all, would any reasonable court rule that a music producer who is barely getting by and musicians who barely make enough at gigs to pay for gas to and from those gigs and band leaders who almost invariably lose money on such gigs should somehow as a result of intimidation come up with money for the PROs so that the great-great-great grandchildren of a famous composer should reap the rewards of effort and beauty that they contributed nothing to?  I hope not.  And there is hope in the original Supreme Court ruling on the matter (which led to the formation of ASCAP) when composer Victor Herbert and his lawyers won the right to compensation for public performance of Herbert’s works.  Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that “if music did not pay, it would be given up.  If it pays, it pays out of the public’s pocket.  Whether it pays or not, the purpose of employing it is for profit, and that is enough.”  Two points here are of significance.  First it is obvious that Justice Holmes had no significant contact with music.  If he had had such contact, he would know that even without payment music would not “be given up.”  Second, and most immediately relevant here, is that the heart of the Supreme Court decision is the assumed profit motive of the presentation of live music.  In other words, if the presenting producer or group (e.g., Matt Samolis’ Church of the Advent series) has no profit motive in offering live music, then current PRO practices are legally invalid.  Therefore, legal action on behalf of protecting small venues from PRO agents has merit.  But if such a case is to have the visibility and success it deserves, it should be a class action suit…



December 2016

It was the last gig of the year in a number of ways for Steve Lantner and his ensembles.  The 12/20 “quartet” performance at the Outpost was the last until 2017.  And it was the last performance by Joe Morris for an undetermined period while Joe takes up his special residency in Calgary (with no doubt stressful, brief commutes to the U.S. to fulfill teaching responsibilities at NEC).  So the Outpost gig served as a year-end blowout for the quartet--Steve Lantner, Allan Chase, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray.  But there was some special icing on the party cake in the form of previously unannounced Forbes Graham on stage.  Forbes, a long-time Steve Lantner band mate turned the ensemble into the quintessential quintet.  If the various Steve Lantner quartets may be thought of as being as good as a jazz ensemble can be, then Forbes demonstrated the old Rock saw, too much is not enough.  The band picked up previous ensemble conversations once again, as if they never had been apart.  I think one of the reasons Steve is such an effective band leader (in addition to picking the best musicians to play with) is that he leads more by inspiration than by a bunch of hand waving.  Sometimes it’s a nod of the head or a slight hand gesture, but mostly it comes from the piano.  He gets a pattern or even a brief melody going, and band members grasp immediately where to take the music.  Where each person takes it then inspires, nudges other band members to reach farther.  And it snowballs.  An especially fine example of this give and take occurred in the middle of the first set.  There were very rare instances of duo soli from the front line of Allan and Forbes.  It was individual solos all around.  At one point Forbes was taking a fine brief solo, pushing sounds and ideas.  Really exploding beautifully.  As he concluded his statement, he offered subdued, brief tones in the direction of Allan who was ready, reed in his mouth.  The tones were a welcoming message, a request to Allan to enter the joyous sonic experience, to take over the moment.  And he did.  Such a moment is an exemplification of the humanity of the communication that takes form musically when Steve and his music partners get together to create sonic art…

The DADA and Futurist lights did much to open the eyes and ears of John Cage and the rest of us.  I have come across bits of information that cause me to recall John Cage in a video documentary talking about the domicile of Cage and Merce Cunningham.  At the time the composer stated that he particularly loved where they lived, near a fire station.  Cage reveled in the sound of the fire engine sirens as the firefighters sped past his home in Manhattan.  That inaudible line between “noise” and music that Luigi Russolo and later Cage celebrated came to me rather poignantly from a couple references I saw recently in print and online to Scottish scientist/musician John Robison.  According to The Atlantic, in approximately 1800 Robison invented a precursor to the siren.  The magazine noted in a timeline, “He intends it as a musical instrument.”  Caroline Taggart’s online book about the evolving meanings of words claims Baron Charles Cagniard de la Tour turned Robison’s musical ambitions into an early version of the siren we know today on emergency vehicles and police cars.  In other words, in the early nineteenth century there was for a brief time a wonderful ambiguity between musical sonics and everyday noise makers that warned ships of danger and opened passage for fire engines.  I’m sure it is a moment that John Cage and others of his camp would have cherished…

The 12/15 performance of Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club at the Outpost may be thought of as an ideal Explorers gig.  Because drummer Curt Newton was delayed due to important family matters, the first part of the evening was devoted to the chamber version of the Explorers Club.  The charts--old and new but particularly new--captured the cool school sound and pushed it into the future.  Band members--Charlie Kohlhase, Seth Meicht, Daniel Rosenthal, Eric Hofbauer, Aaron Darrell, and Josiah Reibstein--made the music come alive as a chamber ensemble, and they never lost sight of the crucial link between ensemble team work and support for soloists.  Wonderful soloists.  This chamber jazz magic came across especially well with the performance of Charlie’s “Winter of Our Disco Tent,” the title a bit of Shakespeare/Steinbeck punishment.  The voicings and general performance of the work on this night was a wonderful echo of Birth of the Cool but fortunately updated into the now.  Curt showed up to turn the band into the more “conventional” Explorers.  But the transition was a perfectly smooth one from the chamber ensemble to Curt’s entry and settling onto the drum stool to make kicking ensemble sounds.  The transition proved that these stop-on-a-dime and start anywhere musicians can handle whatever they encounter and make it sing.  And so the regular Explorers took over, every bit as convincing and engaging as the chamber group.  The charts and solos were superb throughout the evening.  Each of the seven had at least one stunning solo.  Near the end of the second set I was thinking about the fine solos throughout the evening, and it hit me that Josiah had not had enough solos.  Then I thought about how compelling his support work was.  Worth showing up for all by itself really.  Then Charlie closed with the now “traditional” exit piece, “Blues for Alice.”  Josiah took a solo.  It lit up the Outpost, making the wait even more worthwhile, inspiring and leading into an impressive sequence of solos by others in the band.  And so the Explorers Club keeps pushing forward…

Visual artist and percussionist Peter Bodge almost never plays the drums anymore.  That fact signals a loss for fans such as me.  His spot on intuitive percussion work always was a joy to witness.  However, during the past decade in particular his focus has moved from sound to image.  On the other hand, sound--specifically jazz--is central to his visual art.  In a variety of ways his works celebrate the music of Cecil Taylor, Billie Holiday, Joe McPhee, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, and so many more.  The diversity of technique and the range of subjects are quite apparent at his one-man exhibit at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport throughout most of December.  Below is a photo of Peter next to Love Cry, a celebration of Albert Ayler featuring the words ALBERT AYLER in layers. 

This close-up detail shot of the work gives some idea of Peter’s use of the repeated black letters of the jazz giant’s name.



Jazz fans in eastern Massachusetts know that one of the earliest extant (and possibly the earliest) Adolphe Sax alto saxophones is on display at the MFA.  The history of jazz instruments in the Boston area received a boost recently when former Governor Deval Patrick donated his second noteworthy jazz gift to Berklee College of Music.  In 2009 he donated his father Pat Patrick’s collection of charts, notes, and recordings to Berklee, a significant gift echoing Pat Patrick’s tenure with Sun Ra.  On 11/19 of this year Deval Patrick gave Berklee the baritone sax and bass clarinet of Harry Carney, a major influence on Pat Patrick of course.  The horns were given by Carney to Pat Patrick who considered the Ellingtonian to be a mentor, according to Nick Balkin, Berklee’s Media Relations Associate Director.  Berklee’s Bill Banfield and Danny Harrington provided other relevant details.  Harrington is particularly enthusiastic about Carney’s baritone sax, the last baritone sax that Carney ever played and the last vintage of Conn’s final production run of professional saxophones.  “It has a quality not found in modern horns,” he says.  Banfield, Director of Africana Studies at Berklee, has a particular interest in the mentor/mentee relationship between Carney and Patrick.  Apparently Banfield goes into that relationship in some detail in his recently published book, Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016)…

In some online promotional materials for the 12/21 performance of Construction Party at the Lily Pad there was the suggestion that the band would be playing composed/arranged works for improvisors.  The band does have a catalogue of works composed by band members.  But the promotional materials lied.  I’m joking.  Plans change, and often promotional information fails to keep up.  And that’s what happened 12/21 when the band--Dave Rempis, Forbes Graham, Pandelis Karayorgis, Nate McBride, and Luther Gray--presented freely improvised music rather than charts from the book.  It was a good decision.  Dave Rempis comes to Boston during the Christmas season to visit family and perform.  This year there was no real rehearsal time.  Rather than potentially stumbling through charts with ensemble rust, the band decided to display its free side.  Although it was a good decision, the results had some rough patches, particularly regarding programming.  Both sets featured pyrotechnics, speed, energy.  On and on.  Then the last improvisation of the night--which should have been plugged somewhere into the middle of the first or second set--was a fine slow-moving, pensive work that closed out the night to send us on our way.  It was the perfect moment for a flag-waver, but perhaps no flag-wavers were left in the improvisatory arsenal.  However, make no mistake.  The programming could have been better, but not the music.  What the band played lifted the audience out of its seats.  Visitors and locals showed up to hear these superb musicians, and there was no disappointment I could find on the faces of fans at the end of the evening.  Just elation…

 We live in a culture in which we do not expect young people to learn how to see, hear, or think.  It is not a new phenomenon.  I felt the same way when I taught English in one of the better public schools in the state.  Another state.  But “where” in New England does not matter.  In public schools close to Rte. 128 my children received even worse educations than the students I taught.  And things are worse today than what they experienced.  There is nothing wrong with young people today.  They are bright enough.  It is just that they never are called upon to use their “brightness.”  As it has been for many decades, the student with the best memory wins.  I can remember the horror on the face of one of my advanced freshman class students when he discovered that memory was not enough for my class; he would have to think.  He certainly would have nothing to worry about today.  What a shame.  It is a shame that thinking was such an odd requirement for students when I taught.  It is an even greater shame now.  I guess I’m somewhat carried away here, but I hope I’m leading to something practical.  Yes, identifying a painting by Mondrian on a test may be nice, but it is not seeing.  Identifying that tune played on a piano is “Für Elise” may be fun, but it is not hearing.  Correctly stating that the syllogism conclusion “All boojums are widgets” is false may suggest some type of logical understanding, but it is not thinking.  Because of this sorry state of affairs, we cannot expect the typical intelligent 16-year-old or 29-year-old or 50-year-old to hear a great performance of one of the books of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier or of Elliott Carter’s Boston Concerto or a performance by John Tilbury or any of Steve Lantner’s ensembles.  It is clear that--not just for the sake of sonic art--but for the sake of humans/our culture we need to open people to thinking and to art.  The younger the better.  Before age six months preferably.  But there is little for the time being that we (outside of our own immediate families) can do for humans that young.  So all of you musicians who teach students--no matter how young or old--can make a difference.  We know that the students (or at least their parents) want you to teach them how to play notes correctly.  But you can undermine all that by teaching them the joy of music.  I say this knowing that many of you already do that.  Musicians can surprise students with joy by performing great music in their schools.  And there are wonderful musicians--not enough--who do that.  But one of the finest ways of exposing young people to the joy of music is to help them come to LIVE concerts.  Some local musicians--such as Joe Morris and members of the Fringe--are good at doing this.  These kids justifiably are convinced that it is hip to be there.  Among the more aggressive pursuers of our lucky youth are the so-called classical music ensembles.  The efforts of SARASA, Boston Baroque, and other such ensembles are exemplary.  Recently I was perusing a program booklet of the fine early music ensemble Blue Heron and noticed the group’s ticket pricing policy.  It is common for jazz and classical music performances to have a range of ticket prices and also a special reduced rate.  A fine idea.  (Although my favorite pricing tongue-in-cheek promotion was offered by Composers in Red Sneakers who listed tickets costing “$10 general admission.  $15 for students with ID.”)  At any rate, the ticket pricing for Blue Heron was not the typical $5 less for young people or the common gallery charge for jazz gigs of “best offer.”  Blue Heron kept it simple and smart.  Anyone under the age of 18 gets in for free.  What a great idea.  We can debate the cutoff age, but the idea is sound.  How many 16-year-olds have been at your gigs in the last year?  Maybe someone of that age will show up for a free gig and be confused but show up again because it’s free.  Maybe eventually bring a friend.  Maybe more than ready to pay for entry at age 19.  Maybe a hip parent will bring a son or daughter because it’s free.  Maybe…

Charlie Kohlhase's Explorers Club closed out the year with a bang--two performances in December, 12/15 at the Outpost and 12/28 at the Lily Pad.  The 12/28 band--Charlie, Seth Meicht, Daniel Rosenthal, Josiah Reibstein, Jef Charland, and Curt Newton--was a sextet rather than a septet and featured the always impressive work of Jef Charland on bass.  Jef has been a partner of Charlie for many years.  So the guest spot was an asset rather than a challenge.  The material of the evening was familiar to all Explorers fans.  But there were instances that were pleasant surprises for me.  Longtime music fans--from the days of the Willow and the 1369 Club--Kevin and Lou showed up at the Lily Pad 12/28.  I had not seen either of them for decades.  Kevin claims he does get to music gigs, but apparently our paths just do not cross.  More puzzling, Lou claims that he does not get out to live jazz gigs “because nothing’s happening.”  His comment was a shock to me.  Lou is a post-Ayler jazz fan.  Although there were more out-of-town musicians performing here in the 1980s, the local scene is far better today than in the 1980s.  By that I mean the best local post-Ayler music performed here today and in the 1980s is in the same realm qualitatively as the best visitors.  But the quantity of that quality is greater today than it was in the 1980s.  For example, among the top improvising people were Shock Exchange, Lowell Davidson, The Fringe, the Joe Morris Trios, Raphé Malik’s groups, and then a bit later bands listed in programs for the annual Autumn Uprising.  Today--in spite of the passing of a few giants--most of the best musicians of the 1980s to mid-1990s still are performing here.  In addition to that, we have an impressive number of new terrific players and killer band leaders.  Many of their exploits are covered in this Journal every month.  I made some suggestions about upcoming gigs to Lou, but I suspect he will ignore them.  Another pleasant surprise 12/28 was a fine antidote to the mild complaint I made in this month’s Journal regarding the 12/15 Explorers gig and Josiah.  I wished for more Josiah solo time.  I had not complained about it to Charlie, but maybe he read my mind.  So I got my wish.  Thanks to Charlie and Josiah.  Finally, although it was not completely a surprise, it was good to hear and see the “Blues for Alice” closer tradition (this time in A-flat) continuing at least to the end of the year.  I have not mentioned before some of the benefits to keeping the tune as a fine closer.  One of those benefits hit me in particular on 12/28.  Typically I hear a band’s closer as a special kind of “good night” piece but still consistent with the music that preceded it.  On 12/28 the piece hit me as something else.  The music of Charlie Parker and Charlie Kohlhase are after all from very different generations, different contexts.  There may be key signatures and other common links, but the aesthetics are distinct, happily distinct.  And now I believe that the distinctions are why the Charlie Parker closer is so wonderful for people such as me in the audience.  The musicians can speak for themselves about this subject.  But what I hear in the Explorers is an evening of terrific music of one type and then something quite different.  In other words, maybe it’s just the joy of “seeing” an evening of musicians who for one final statement are a completely different band.  By analogy, think of seeing Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo and then followed by Double Indemnity.  What a treat…


November 2016

This month was better for me and my family than October, but to quote Tom Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men, “The hits keep coming.”  The result is that I was home for much of the month instead of out in the sounds I love.  I did manage to catch some music, thankfully.  Here’s hoping for better months ahead.  I open with something that no doubt has meaning to almost anyone, jazz fan or otherwise…

The five-second rule has been around at least since my childhood, not long after the discovery of fire.  So it came as a shock recently when I was reading the 10/29 issue of Science News and discovered (p.4) that the rule does not hold.  Apparently picking up an Oreo you dropped on the pavement in less than five seconds does not protect you from attack by germs.  Researchers at Rutgers (and you thought they spent all their funds on football) discovered that five seconds is too long for protection from germs.  Not only that--these guys really did pursue this subject--they found that wet food grabs more germs than dry food, the longer the food stayed on the germy surface (surprise, surprise) the greater the number of germs that adhered, and a carpet (except in my house) is less likely to transfer germs than other surfaces tested.  So the research suggests that wise people should just throw away the dropped cookie.  The other way of looking at it is that some people go sky diving without a parachute for dangerous adventure, while the rest of us can just get up from the couch to grab and engulf the dropped potato chip for that rush of danger…

Charlie Kohlhase returned 11/7 with his terrific chamber jazz Explorers--including Seth Meicht, Daniel Rosenthal, Josiah Reibstein, Eric Hofbauer, and Aaron Darrell--and the impact was every bit as impressive as the 8/18 outing.  Josiah and Eric were not on the original performance which featured a quintet.  I’m tempted to say, “If you want to know how good the 11/17 gig was, check out the Journal review of the 8/18 performance.”  The repertoire was virtually identical and most of the band members were the same.  In other words, both gigs were terrific; end of story.  But something was different.  Josiah had relatives from across the pond in the audience and we all sang/played to celebrate Seth’s birthday, his “29th” suggested Charlie.  No doubt such events added positive energy to the room.  Nevertheless, there are significant technical developments that are taking place, clarifying the aesthetic nature of this group, solidifying its separate identity.  The long-term musical relationship between Eric and Aaron is evolving into a special support duo in this ensemble that is active and attractive harmolodically to the extent that audience eyes and ears are torn between the strings and the soloists.  When Josiah joins that duo, the chamber group identity is even more clearly apparent.  But there is more involved in the evolving identity of the group’s sound.  The front line is evolving also, working the charts, shifting voices.  I am convinced that these changes taking place in sub-sets of the band and in the whole ensemble are inevitable with musicians this good.  Over time as a chamber group these musicians are hearing each other differently.  That change in what they hear causes changes in the ways they think and react.  It is a wonderful process to witness.  Of course the improvisations are affected as well.  So is the chamber version of the Explorers better than the band with percussion?  No.  How about vice versa?  No.  They have become two very different bands in which the only instrumental difference is the absence or presence of a drum kit exploited by a top shelf drummer.  What is my preference?  To misquote Charlie quoting John Tchicai, “I’ll have this… and some of that, too.”  Amen…

During the past couple decades “What if…?” books have been durably popular.  You know, “What if the Nazis had won World War Two?”  Or, “What if Catherine of Aragon had had a son and Henry VIII turned out to be an ideal father?”  That sort of thing.  More recently we have faced a much more immediate and troubling “What if…?” scenario.  Namely, “What if the recent Presidential election results had been reversed?”  In other words, what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won the electoral vote and Donald Trump had won the popular vote?  It is a question of significant implications.  The way things worked out on the morning of November 9, Hillary Clinton congratulated Donald Trump and the peaceful transition from one President to another was underway.  Recent history suggests that liberals are pretty stable, rational.  There were a few post election rallies featuring disappointed liberals chanting and singing and going home peacefully.  The pain was real, but revolt of any kind was pretty much out of the question.  The disappointed liberals could find solace in the stuttering questions and commentary of female voices on National Public Radio.  But what if the outcome were reversed?  What then?  Yes, there may have been some form of legal challenge from Trump, but the more important question is one of public reaction.  A wide range of people voted for Donald Trump.  For example, I’m sure that a good number of people simply decided that they would rather vote for a bag of marbles than the deceptive and incompetent Democratic candidate (and unfortunately a bag of marbles was not on the ballot, Trump being the closest option).  If Clinton’s supporters might be described as passionless, the same could not be said of the Trump followers who saw him as something much more than a bag of marbles.  There is a solid base of Trump supporters who are passionate and emotionally-driven.  Perhaps not all of them own trucks with gun racks, but enough of them have bought into the idea of “the rigged system” (perhaps maintaining that position even after the recent election results) that we cannot expect them to go quietly into the night of a reversed outcome.  Nevertheless the details and duration of the resultant mayhem on Main Street America of a reversed outcome are not clear.  We can be sure that stories about Hillary Clinton’s likely cabinet members would not be front page news in the national press.  There might be a few features about individual acts of gallantry or bravery on the part of members of a very busy National Guard.  But we don’t really know what the National Guard would face and how that explosion of “disenfranchised” Americans would evolve over the post-election hours, days, or more.  Or how long that explosion would sear.  The questions are important because the election of Donald Trump does not mean that people have stopped buying bullets.  We need accurate and functional answers to the “What if…?” questions, but unfortunately the answers are likely to come from the same pollsters and pundits who confidently predicted a Clinton victory.  At a time when our political system seems fragile, perhaps broken and the fabric of our nation frayed and deteriorating, we need to know who we are, the full spectrum from left to right.  We need answers--and in a hurry--because the Electoral College is certifying that a fox is in charge of the chicken coop…

Eric Hofbauer presented his most recent jazz quintet arrangements of through-composed music of the 20th century at a concert 11/7 in Boston College’s Gasson Hall.  The Eric Hofbauer Quintet--Eric, Jerry Sabatini, Todd Brunel, Junko Fujiwara, and Curt Newton--is the same lineup used to present his first arrangement of such music, Le Sacre du Printemps, in 2013.  The fact that Eric continues to tackle this thorny artistic challenge and that these musicians remain committed to the ongoing project is an impressive testament to Eric’s musicianship and leadership as well as the musicianship and character of the other band members.  The first work transformed by Eric and the band 11/7 was Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England.  There are parts of the performance that faltered.  My impression is that the arrangement needs tightening up a bit.  But the performance does succeed.  I confess apprehension prior to the performance.  Ives is a brilliant composer, but like Elliott Carter, I find that Ives “too frequently was unable or unwilling to invent musical material that expressed his own vision authentically, instead of relying on the material of others.”  In other words, the problems raised by quotes in jazz solos are at the heart of the weakness of much Ives material, including Three Places in New England.  Because of the “familiar” tunes scattered in the work, I anticipated that this jazz ensemble might be seduced by the tunes and overplay that material.  Not to worry.  Eric and the band exploited the humorous potential of the quoted material to a great extent beyond the more historically “authentic” intentions of Ives.  In other words, the arrangement and the individual contributions overcame successfully the annoying pastiche of Ives.  This performance was successful enough that it challenges (surpasses?) the ensemble’s transformation of Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time).  The second through-composed work 11/7 to be transformed into a jazz ensemble piece is Duke Ellington’s Reminiscing in Tempo.  According to British jazz journalist A.J. Bishop, the piece is a three-part work recorded on four sides of 78 RPM disks in 1935.  The recording is not completely through-composed, he claims.  He suggests that the second half of the piano solo that opens part two of the three-part work is improvised.  Nevertheless, for practical purposes, Reminiscing in Tempo is a through-composed work.  Ellington created several through-composed works, but almost all of them (including The River and music for Timon of Athens) used instrumental resources one associates with so-called classical music.  I know of only a couple through-composed arrangements written specifically for his jazz orchestra.  One of them is a work that Herb Pomeroy performed with his big band and with some frequency, A Tone Parallel to Harlem (sometimes referred to as The Harlem Suite or just Harlem).  It is the only through-composed Ellington work that was written in both a symphony orchestra version (for Toscanini, who requested it but never used it) and a big band version in 1951.  The thirteen minute forty-two second big band version I have (probably one of at least two analog documents) was recorded on August 15, 1966 and is available on the CD Duke Ellington - The Private Collection Volume Ten (Saja 91234-2).  The other through-composed work for jazz orchestra that I’m aware of is Reminiscing in Tempo.  Reminiscing in Tempo may be Eric’s greatest challenge among his jazz ensemble arrangements of through-composed works.  The last statement by Bishop in his 1964 analysis of the work hints at some of the problems Eric faces when he says the work “has more in common with the ‘cool’ jazz of ten years later than with the jazz of his own time.”  If that is not enough, Gunther Schuller correctly points out in The Swing Era that the work was not written for a specific set of instruments but for a specific set of musicians playing those instruments.  Further--and perhaps an even greater challenge for Eric--Schuller notes that Ellington “restricted himself in Reminiscing in Tempo to one primary theme…, a contrasting secondary theme, two brief transitional passages…, and a harmonic vamp on which the main theme is built.”  But perhaps the biggest hurdle to Eric’s transformation is the over-the-top repetitive character of all of that basic construction.  Assuming Schuller’s count is accurate, “Theme A appears fourteen times in six different keys, mostly melodically unvaried…”  Schuller’s analysis of the work is quite extensive, explaining the techniques Ellington employs to make the repetitive nature of the work attractive and challenging to the ear.  There is another related obstacle to Eric’s transformation of the work, the fact that there is a single recording available of Reminiscing in Tempo.  In other words, there is no other functional document to help Eric understand how Ellington envisioned the “life” of the work.  I make reference here to recordings of two other works to suggest the value of multiple recordings of the same work.  The first example is Ellington’s first multi-sided disk extended work, Creole Rhapsody.  The Ellington Orchestra recorded the work twice six months apart in 1931 on the Brunswick and Victor labels, respectively.  In a 1963 article A.J. Bishop goes into detail analyzing the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the music performed on the two sessions.  Most telling for our purposes here is Bishop’s assertion, “The Victor version is so different from the previous one that it is virtually a new composition.”  Those two sound documents would be invaluable for anyone attempting to do something original with the Ellington arrangement(s).  I’m not suggesting that a second Ellington recording of Reminiscing in Tempo would have offered such dramatically different results, but wouldn’t Eric love to have had that second “look” at the arrangement.  A second and perhaps more subtle example is the first movement of Ellington’s Perfume Suite, a historically significant collaboration between the band leader and Billy Strayhorn.  The first movement, identified on various recordings as “Sonata,” “Balcony Serenade,” “Love,” and similar titles, features a wonderful repeated theme performed by the sax section with subdued brass support.  Strayhorn’s finger prints are all over the music of the saxophones.  That movement of Perfume Suite is a special favorite of mine.  It caught Joe Maneri’s ear, too.  One summer day a number of friends were enjoying the good sunshine and conversation at my home.  I put on a recording that included the Perfume Suite.  Joe Maneri, who of course knew something about Ellington, did not really know Ellington the arranger.  There was chatter all around on the patio, but Joe heard the reeds of “Balcony Serenade” and lit up like a Christmas tree.  I was walking across the patio, and he accosted me.  We talked about Ellington and Strayhorn.  That was the beginning of our “Ellington Sessions” that he and I held at his home every month or two for a few years until his death in 2009.  The movement includes a “simple” repeated theme that ebbs and flows and sighs relatively briefly, perhaps too briefly (approximately a minute and a half in length).  In effect it is a microcosm of Reminiscing in Tempo, a through-composed work that breathes and evolves through several cycles.  But “Balcony Serenade” offers us the advantage of being available on several recordings.  True, it is a product of an Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration and Reminiscing in Tempo is a work of Ellington alone, but the band leader, about a third of the musicians in the band, and the architectural philosophy of arrangement are shared on the recordings of both works.  The sax section on all recordings of the movement that I’ve heard is superb.  For our purposes here there are a couple pieces of information that suggest how much Eric could gain from the availability of a second recording of Reminiscing in Tempo.  The first piece of information is that each “round” of the “Balcony Serenade” theme is far more different from the preceding “round” than the composed material would suggest.  Each statement is pursued as a new statement by the reeds and brass.  In a related way, the band members interpret “Balcony Serenade” in a subtly but distinctly different way in different performances of the work.  I use italics with the word “interpret” because the normal meaning of “interpret” does not apply to what the saxes and brass do.  For example, even the earliest recorded performances of the Bach Cello Suites by Casals give the listener a special insight into the Bach work and the uniqueness of Casals.  But Casals is not improvising.  By comparison the Ellington band members do not improvise in the performance of “Balcony Serenade,” but what happens with the saxes and brass transcends the conventional meaning of interpretation.  It is a remarkable activity somewhere between interpretation and improvisation.  Each recorded performance of “Balcony Serenade” is stunningly unique.  If my words do not convey how distinct each performance is, consider the timing of the material.  The sax and brass work of “Balcony Serenade” is very brief, approximately a minute and a half long.  Now think about the impact that different interpretations might have on the length of that section of “Balcony Serenade.”  One might expect the longest recording of that brief material to be perhaps five percent longer than the shortest.  Maybe as much as ten percent?  In my recordings of the Perfume Suite the sax and brass work within “Balcony Serenade” varies from one minute and twenty-seven seconds to a maximum of one minute and fifty-five seconds.  Such a range of sonic experience offers the listener quite a bit of input for the potential transformation of the work into something new.  I suggest that such input is far more useful than similar information about a classical work.  You can listen to a dozen different recordings of Le Sacre du Printemps (even including several conducted by Stravinsky) and the range of interpretations suggested in the recordings are unlikely to get you closer to the true intention of the composer.  That’s not the case with Ellington.  So, without the benefit of more than one recorded attempt at Reminiscing in Tempo, how did Eric and the band fare?  Overall, very well.  This rather lengthy commentary about Reminiscing in Tempo in the context of Creole Rhapsody and Perfume Suite is an attempt to get at the problems exhibited within the 11/7 performance of Reminiscing in Tempo.  How does one take a snapshot of an inevitably morphing composed work (that somewhat successfully grapples with a challengingly repetitious architecture) and transform it into an arrangement for jazz ensemble?  And without the natal insight or personnel resources of Ellington?  As I’ve suggested, you pursue it with great difficulty.  Because of the size of the quintet and its sonic possibilities and limitations it is almost impossible to get across the specific nuances of the original composition/arrangement, and so Eric did something quite logical.  He presented the “same” arrangement as in the recording but with a much more transparent alignment.  This decision, while logical, put an extreme burden on the musicians who had no more access to the original recording and Ellington’s intentions than Eric.  Because these musicians are so good, the problem of transparency was not as great as it might have been.  Unfortunately, however, the problem of making the transparency work was exacerbated by the very essence of the Prehistoric Jazz project: the transformation of through-composed works into jazz arrangements for jazz quintet.  In the case of Reminiscing in Tempo that means adding improvised solos to the re-written arrangement.  The original recording is about thirteen minutes long.  I did not time the 11/7 performance of the transformation of Reminiscing in Tempo (including improvised solos).  The thought never occurred to me.  My guess is that the performance lasted about twenty minutes, maybe longer.  In any event, one of the results of including the solos is that--to this listener at least--the recurrent A theme seemed to recur too often.  I suspect that the impression is due to a combination of factors listed above and the “extended” length of the piece due to inserted solos.  What’s an arranger to do?  There are many possibilities (some maybe even useful), none of which would be news to Eric I’m sure.  I have not discussed with Eric the thoughts I have about the 11/7 performance of Reminiscing in Tempo.  This was the first performance of the work in public.  The first field test.  Eric is an astute musician who no doubt was aware of everything on 11/7 that I’m writing about here.  He needs no advice.  One can be confident that he will come up with some challenging and engaging solutions.  The one thing I’m sure of is that cutting out the improvised solos is not one of the options.  Not only are improvised solos central to the identity of the Prehistoric Jazz project, but it is a fundamental fact that all five soloists inspire Eric to create such wonderful charts.  In that respect Eric Hofbauer and Duke Ellington are very much on the same page, and we are the lucky ones…


October 2016

This month was not the best for me and my family.  There was recovery from one disease early in the month, a terrific mini vacation for almost a week, ongoing battles with disease among family members, and tests and operations continuing into November (and perhaps beyond).  The stress has been (and remains) both physical and psychological.  In practical terms regarding this Journal, I managed to catch a too-brief portion of a jazz performance early in the month and nothing else.  Nothing else.  Basically--since before 1980--as far as I can remember there never has been a month during which I’ve failed to witness a complete jazz gig.  Until now.  The result is that there is no comment here on jazz performances in the Boston area during October of 2016.  Also the absence of live music in my life, settling for recordings only, reinforces my passion for live performances.  Some other thoughts here may be of interest.…

In the June 2012 publication of this Journal I wrote about the somewhat ludicrous caution signs along the Cliff Walk in Newport and later added words and an image regarding the possible “link” between those signs and the Anatomy of a Murder logo.  On my mini vacation this month, spending time on the Cliff Walk, I came across a caution sign modified as reproduced below.
What in the world has happened to our youth?  I’m assuming someone young wrote those letters on the sign, perhaps someone in high school or an inebriated college undergrad.  How could anyone--even someone a little bit slow--write the exclamations “Ah   Ah   Ah” next to the falling cartoon character?  I confess that I never have witnessed anyone fall from a cliff, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone in the middle of the fall would exclaim, “Ah   Ah   Ah.”  Any cartoon character I have seen in similar circumstances invariably utters, “Aaaaaaaaah,” or something of that ilk.  It’s just more evidence of the failure of parenting and the educational systems in our country…

The 10/1 issue of Science News (page 5) has information about a disease that should be of interest to musicians who play reed or brass instruments.  Bagpipe Lung is a disease caused by regular inhalation of fungi living inside bagpipes.  The bottom line for musicians according to Science News is, “Bagpipe, trombone and saxophone players be warned: Musical instruments with moist interiors should be cleaned immediately after use.”  But you already knew that…


September 2016

It was a Sunday evening gig at the Press Room in Portsmouth, NH and the venue did not even post the gig until a couple days before the performance.  Maybe that is why there was the sense at the event that the management did not expect a good-sized audience.  There was only one waitress (fortunately a good one) on the floor to cover the 20+ tables in the upstairs performance space.  And the sound board was not being run by a professional, a situation that delayed the start of the 9/4 event while bassist Peter Kontrimas fixed the sound.  The situation was disrespectful to the revered Paul Broadnax and his fine band mates, including Les Harris, Jr. on drums.  Also it was disrespectful of the drawing power of the band, which came just shy of filling the room (in spite of the poor local promotion).  But somehow the word did get out.  Several Massachusetts-based fans were there, but the bulk of the crowd consisted of long-time jazz aficionados from NH who jump at the chance to catch Paul.  Mostly they witness Paul’s music on those rare occasions when he plays in NH.  Sometimes they hit jazz performances in northeastern Massachusetts (e.g., the Sahara Club), but for the most part they stick to jazz in NH.  I’m sure that many of them had been at the gig the last time I caught Paul at the Press Room.  At that time (and on 9/4) I heard of fans showing up from such distant places as Keene.  And their genuine enthusiasm for the music showed.  By way of comparison, Thelonious Monkfish in Cambridge has a much better piano than the one at the Press Room, but Thelonious Monkfish does not foster real jazz fans.  When Paul and his friends play at Thelonious Monkfish, they perform over the roar of audience conversations (the primary reason I gave up on that jazz room).  On the other hand, the Paul Broadnax fanatics at the Press Room show up to listen to every note.  On a break I mentioned the terrific audience to Paul.  With obvious appreciation he said, “I even was able to hear someone cough.”  And those fans were rewarded.  Yes, they got to hear the requests.  But--more important--they got to witness these hand-in-glove compatriots perform at as high a level as anyone could hope for.  Their support work was flawless and energizing.  Several times throughout the evening the trio executed one of those dead-in-your-tracks endings in which all three band members have to know when to stop playing.  Exactly.  In a “normal” situation when the band shuts down together, everyone in the audience offers some variation of “Oh!” or “Wow!” (and band members nod accordingly).  But on this night the whole band knew where everything was and just calmly executed the “shut down.”  No reaction of acknowledgement.  The audience was impressed the first time it happened.  There were the “Oohs” and “Ahs.”  By the third time the audience got it.  This they realized was not merely superb interlocking of musicians.  They were hip enough to realize that such things as a dead-on “shut down” were simply manifestations of something more important.  And what was more important is that it became manifest primarily in the solos.  Peter hit levels of sonic art that I never had heard from him before.  He was “writing” compelling short stories right before out ears and eyes.  Stories I never had heard from him in decades of fine listening.  Stories of wonder.  I remember the great Alan Dawson, a remarkably lyrical improvisor, who told me that what he looked for in a drummer mostly was the contributions to--the impact on--the ensemble.  All of what Alan talked about was there in the ensemble activity and Les’ solos.  Too often drum solos are transformations of Krupa’s (justifiably) celebrated “Sing, Sing, Sing” work--bombast, cleverness, technical wizardry, and such.  Fortunately Les is beyond all that.  And fortunately he was in the same profound zone as his band mates.  His solos were the most lyrically compelling I had heard from him over years of highly impressive work.  His brush and stick work were neck-snappingly beautiful, and I was lucky to be there.  And what of the band leader, Paul Broadnax.  Terrible.  Just terrible.  I joke, of course to grab your attention.  Anyone who reads these Journal entries knows that I have the highest regard for Paul as a person and as a musician.  So you will not be surprised to discover that I really liked his work 9/4 at the Press Room.  As I think of that gig, one of the aspects of Paul’s playing comes to mind because of how unusual it was.  I’m talking about quotes.  I heard from Paul more tune quotes during solos than I’d ever heard from him before.  In general I agree with former Woody Herman sideman and music educator Jerry Coker about quotes in solos.  Mostly they are weak substitutes for potentially profound improvisations.  Nevertheless there are uses of quotes that generally do not cause flinching among even the most unforgiving fans.  For example, Dexter Gordon’s handful of chestnut quotes are not sounds as substitutes for meaningful content.  The late reed giant uses them as signature themes just to make sure you know who the giant on stage is.  In his case it may be thought of as a variation on “an immediately recognizable sound,” perhaps as an adjunct to his own special horn timbre.  The wonderful Gray Sargent uses quotes with great frequency and quite effectively, apparently unable to avoid linking ideas (rather than specific similar melodic lines) of the central work and the external link.  The links are not obviously of melodic similarity nor (with rare exception) are they clever intellectual/word pun connections.  He tells how the core of each composition connects to the other in profound sonics.  And on 9/4 we hear Paul have an evening of quotes in greater numbers than I can remember from him.  I hasten to inject that the quotes as used by Paul did not undermine the profundity of the substance of those solos.  I think something remarkable happened at the Press Room.  I think the quotes came in some sort of almost uncontrolled torrent.  The music of his life.  At age ninety--as remarkable as he is in conversation and at the piano--the sand in the hour glass is running out.  I’m subjectively projecting when I say this, but I suspect that the almost involuntary “extra” quotes are perhaps a subconscious (and true improvisation at its best ultimately comes from there) recognition that there is not enough time on the gig to play all of the great tunes that he revels in performing.  And the hook at the core of the references is that the number of opportunities to play the music of Ellington, Gershwin, Jobim, Porter, and [fill in the names of the rest of the great song writers of the twentieth century] is limited.  Think of all those great songs and song writers.  If you are a twenty-something singer or instrumentalist, consider the seemingly “infinite” possibilities.  Somewhere there is a list of the great song writers of the Great American Songbook.  The list probably is too short.  Is Dorothy Fields in the list?  Burke?  McHugh?  How about Landesman?  Potentially it is a pretty extensive list.  Mister or Miss Twenty-something Mainstreamers, are you going to present to your audience every one of the great tunes written by these special composers?  And most of them wrote more than one great tune.  How well are you going to do in the 40, 50, or 70 years left in your life to revel in all those wonderful compositions?  Now jump ahead to age 90, if you still are “knocking them dead” at age 90.  What music do you decide to fill your on-stage life with?  The clock ticks.  And that is what I heard in those many quotes offered by Paul 9/4 at the Press Room.  Not quotes for lack of creativity.  Not quotes in an acknowledgement of the vastness of the repertoire that he cannot mathematically offer to his audiences.  No hurried desperation.  But as a positive statement of the repertoire he knows--knows in a way that no Twenty-something or Forty-something can know--and revels in.  Some of the repertoire has been given to him from the early decades of the twentieth century.  But most of it was born and first performed when he was teething, or on his first date, or going off to war.  “Stardust” is in his blood as is “Straight, No Chaser.”  Paul plays his DNA, and he celebrates that DNA by quoting the “missing” tunes on the set.  But, more important, he celebrates that DNA--and his extraordinary musicianship--through the non-quote components of his improvisations.  When it comes to creativity in spontaneous arrangement of material and improvised solos I’m tempted to say that Paul was the “youngest” musician on the stage.  The energy and extraordinary creativity I referred to that Peter and Les brought to the gig was completely their own, but I am confident that what Paul was doing was fueling all the wonderful music that they gave us.  For example, there was a moment that superficially was so simple it could have passed unnoticed by most fans (but not by Peter and Les).  I wish I could remember what tune it was.  But that is lost.  What Paul did was on the surface simple but stunning.  He closed out one standard with a repeated sequence of chords.  Over and over.  I never had heard it used before.  Beautiful in its simplicity and rightness.  A  Twenty-something musician (if he had discovered the idea) would have worked it over and over for a week to get it just right for the next bebop gig.  On 9/4 we in the lucky audience heard Paul play the sequence “without thought” or apparent effort.  The closing cycle of chords just fell off his fingertips.  He could not help himself.  It’s just music.  The most important kind of music…

Melissa Kassel and Tom Zicarelli returned to their Inman Square haunt 9/18 and brought familiars Phil Grenadier, Dave Clark, and Gary Fieldman with them.  I was late to the Lily Pad event at least partially because of the charismatic presence and engaging commentary of Joe Burgio and John Voigt during a rehearsal of Joe’s wonderful ensemble and supporting musicians.  It was difficult to walk out on such fine people/artists.  The quintet at the Lily Pad was performing quite well when I entered the gallery and fortunately saved a lot of good stuff for me and the other fans.  I missed Tom’s horn, but it is difficult to argue against his always creative and compelling piano work.  The rest of the band has performed for years with Melissa and Tom and seems to be evolving into a stable ensemble.  If so, that’s good news.  Dave has decades of experience with Boston’s best mainstreamers and beyond.  Other band members can go anywhere and be sure that he will not get lost.  Gary is so in demand in Inman Square that I tend to think of him as everyone’s house drummer.  If that’s not enough, Phil and Gary have a Monday duo gig ongoing at the Lily Pad.  Phil is one of my favorite living trumpet players, and there are a ton of fine ones in jazz venues around the world.  But in Phil’s case I find myself running out of adjectives.  I hear other players--fine ones--approaching the kinds of things he does, but they all sound like they’re trying to play like Phil.  He’s the one who gets it right.  And Melissa gets it right.  She’s out front, setting the context, choosing the material, calling upon each musician’s special skills, vocally challenging all the other people to bring their best game.  And they do…

I have been working my way very slowly through the recently published collection of letters written by John Cage.  I emphasize “slowly” because I find myself stopped in my tracks on almost every page.  There may be a reference to early relationships among people of the avant-garde of the time, significant but surprising events, or simply observations about the state of the art world.  I find it impossible to digest Cage’s words without pause and pondering.  For example, on page 80 there is Cage’s letter to K.S. Dreier and Joseph Albers in 1948.  Dreier was an artist and social activist, who, among other accomplishments, with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme.  Albers, of course, was a giant of the Bauhaus and eventually the head of Black Mountain College.  Cage had just had his first visit to Black Mountain College and in this letter was expressing frustration over failure to find support for destitute artists and a desire for help from Dreier and Albers.  The letter includes some unclear specific references, but what Cage was attempting to accomplish and how the circumstances then echo in our own time (what one might describe as the arts struggle continuum) are quite clear.  I include the central message of the letter below and in all capital letters as Cage wrote it (apparently, on my brief examination, the only letter in the book expressed in all caps):


GREETINGS TO ALL.  HAVE MADE SEVERAL ATTEMPTS TO OBTAIN SCHOLARSHIP FUND FOR MERCE’S STUDENTS BUT TO NO AVAIL.  BECAUSE OF THEIR INNER TRANQUILITY AND SUMMER PLANS (SARA HAD ALREADY GOTTEN SUITABLE CLOTHES AND FLASHLIGHT) PLEASE SEND FINAL WORD BY FRIDAY WHETHER ONE, TWO, OR THREE OF THEM CAN BE TAKEN CARE OF.  THEY ARE PENNILESS.  ALL OF US ARE EXHAUSTED HERE AND HAVE PROFOUND NEED OF BLACK MOUNTAIN.  CAN LIPPOLDS COME TOO?  THEY HAVE TESTED THEIR HEARSE FOR SLEEPING PURPOSES AND FIND IT WORKS.  SARA PRACTICALLY INSISTS ON COMING IN THE MANNER OF A STOWAWAY IF NECESSARY.  PLEASE CONSIDER ME THOUGHTFUL IN ALL OF THIS FOR I HAVE NOT MENTIONED ALL OF THE MANY OTHERS WHO WANT TO COME TOO.


Over the past couple years Luther Gray has put together a series of mixed media art performances that feature his own graphic projections and the work of his bass-less trio.  He and his video projection equipment and two band mates showed up 9/10 at Third Life Studio for an evening of the latest installment of the project.  Again, although I applaud well executed presentations of mixed media activity, I am reluctant to discuss in detail the visual media presentation on this occasion.  It may be useful to mention that Luther’s dry humor remains with the return of the wonderful skateboarder and the new (to me) flying saucer pilots (always in threes) with slightly variable Roswell eyes.  But the most obvious change in the images since the last time I saw them is the significantly improved technical control of the images and their presentation.  On to the music.  I’ve enjoyed these mixed media presentations in the past, but I think it is safe to say that the performance of Luther, Allan Chase, and Steve Lantner 9/10 was an artistic breakthrough.  Luther’s writing (comprising the bulk of the material) and arrangements (i.e., all of the material) are challenging for listeners and musicians.  For example, Luther’s own material is superficially “simple,” but the execution of the material is anything but easy.  This is the first time I’ve been to one of these performances in which I felt the musicians really had the music nailed.  I’m watching Steve work his way through difficult arranged material and support/improvisations, and I am having trouble comprehending what I’m witnessing.  He’s playing “impossible” stuff, but there is no sense of difficulty.  The music is effortlessly tumbling from his fingers.  Same thing with Allan.  He’s making it look like “business as usual.”  But it isn’t.  It’s extraordinary.  I had to stop looking at the projected images, something I would not do normally.  But I had to witness what was going on.  Part of the challenge of the music is the cerebral nature of the material.  Intellect is to some extent inevitable in great, innovative music.  Charlie Parker was not just some good alto player who might have done OK in school.  There is brilliant intellect in every one of his finest solos.  But the “cerebral” nature of great music (on the surface) varies.  I could not help thinking about one of my favorite “cerebral” geniuses, Milton Babbitt, as I listened to the music on 9/10.  Babbitt had great respect for jazz.  I kept thinking as I witnessed what was going on how much Milton Babbitt would have loved the trio’s “cerebral” music.  Certainly it was like nothing he ever had heard.  But I believe he would have heard it.  I thought of him saying something like, “Let’s raise a glass of fine craft ale to this wonderful music.”  Or something like that.  Babbitt, of course, is not on the top ten list of most fans of so-called classical music, as amazing as his music is.  And so I witness this extraordinary performance 9/10 and wonder how well such fine, challenging music can survive, even in a town that used to celebrate on a regular basis the great innovators in classical music and jazz.  “Used to” is the operative term.  I remember when dozens of people several times each year would show up at Boston area venues to catch the music of Babbitt and other challenging composers and when Ed Blackwell was on the bill at clubs several times per year (even though he did not live here).  Things have been less than ideal in the Boston area, as far as audiences with ears are concerned.  But the Union Square area of Somerville seems to be changing things.  Once again, it was a larger than average--and carefully listening--audience that showed up to witness the music 9/10 at Third Life Studio.  A hip bunch of listeners and some killer music.  Remembering Milton Babbitt, I raise my cup to Luther, Allan, and Steve.  Thank you for the future…

Leap of Faith--going back to gigs at the Zeitgeist on Broadway--has been one of my favorite improvising groups.  And Dave “PEK” Peck has been and remains a central--important--figure in the band’s evolution over the years.  But I confess that I have problems with some of his “clock time” arrangements.  On the 9/17 Leap of Faith gig at the Outpost he showed me one of his arrangements for a Leap of Faith ensemble with individual, group, and full ensemble activity delimited by clock time.  I loved the chart.  But on 9/17 he implemented the same idea with a Leap of Faith quartet but without arrangement detail.  The only specification was that the group improvisation must last seventy minutes.  My goodness.  Think about it.  You (as a band member) are staring at a LARGE digital clock, watching the numbers change, as if you are in a marathon.  Not exactly like John Cage adventures or the timed adventure implied in the chart Dave showed me.  The big clock seemed so intimidating without other functional parameters.  It is true that improvising ensembles occasionally have problems with endings.  You listen and hear a good end point, and you know some or all of the band members hear it too.  But somebody in the band decides to keep that piece going.  And that never works out well.  The better improvising bands tend to avoid the problem, but it happens occasionally even in such instances.  So Dave’s desire to fix the problem by using a clock (if that’s his intention) is understandable.  But any problem that the clock can fix in this case is replaced with problems posed by the clock itself.  On this evening there were qualitative ups and downs throughout the performance’s clock-set seventy minutes.  So, for example, about fifteen minutes into the piece--I’m guessing because I was not looking at the clock--there was an instant when whatever the band was working on came to a solid conclusion.  End of work.  Start up another offering.  But no.  There was no ending.  Everyone knew that the music had to keep going, even though the piece really was done.  That type of ending/start-up sequence happened a couple more times before the band stared at the clock at approximately 1:09:30, sustaining tones until the seventy minutes ran out.  I’m all for constructive architecture employed in improvisational works.  But, for an improvisational group as good as this band is, one would like to see occasional risk of failure (after all, improvisational risk is central to all forms of jazz) rather than see clock-time stifling a really good time.  Having said all of that, I point out here that this version of Leap of Faith is a winner.  Glynis, Dave, and Yuri breathe together (and need no stop-watch assistance), and most of the single-set evening was terrific.  A bonus was the addition of one of the busiest jazz musicians in the Boston area these days.  Charlie fell right into the group while putting his personal stamp on the music.  I look forward to this quartet’s return…

After Charlie Kohlhase's successful 8/18 chamber group outing devoid of bass and drums I was anxious to find out how that experience--and particularly his latest compositional work--might reveal itself with more typical Explorers instrumentation.  That instrumentation--featuring work by Charlie, Jason Robinson, Daniel Rosenthal, Bill Lowe, Josiah Reibstein, Eric Hofbauer, Carlos Pino (a young bassist who obviously prepared for the gig and played his butt off), and Curt Newton--showed up 9/15 at the Outpost.  Most of the material Charlie used with the chamber group was tackled by the 9/15 ensemble also.  So there was an opportunity for comparison.  The superficial results were so different that I refrain from comparison, other than to say that the chamber group effectively evoked the chamber jazz tradition of the 1950s through the 1960s and the performance 9/15 was a fine evolution of the Explorer ensembles of recent years.  I hasten to add that I had a great experience at both events.  Any time Charlie wants to do another of those no-bass and no-drums gigs, I want to be there.  The 9/15 octet performance was a special kind of evolution of the more “typical” Explorers instrumentation.  It is difficult to know whether Charlie thinking about new charts or chamber jazz or something else is at the heart of the evolution, but the positive results were obvious and particularly engaging.  The evening consisted of works by the band leader and others that mostly were arranged by Charlie.  And the important evolution was one found more in the arrangements than in the compositions.  As Kohlhase fans know, his compositions over the years hold up well.  And so they did 9/15.  But, whatever the cause (Charlie pushing the envelope might be sufficient explanation), the arrangements of his newer compositions (and therefore his most recent arrangements) brought the music to a higher level.  The musicians in his ensembles always played the charts well (at least almost always), and the fine musicians always arose to the challenge when it came time to solo.  But because of the new charts there was a powerful combination of improvisatory support and ensemble transparency.  All of that resulted in performances reaching a new qualitative level.  What all the musicians were doing made each musician--in ensemble or solo--come across sonically at his best.  All of this significant evolution of Charlie’s music means that there is even more to look forward to with Charlie and his superb band mates…

On a break at the 9/14 double bill produced by Eric Rosenthal, bassist Damon Smith introduced himself to me and handed me some recordings, one of them featuring Damon in a Fred van Hove trio (Burns Longer on Balance Point Acoustics BPA-2, if you want to find it).  I’m guessing that one of the reasons the bassist gave me a copy of the engaging CD is that van Hove, Misha Mengelberg, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and others of that ground-breaking generation are in a sense “musical fathers” to Georg Gräve (sometimes spelled Graewe).  No doubt it was a CD calling card for the upcoming 10/5 gig which unfortunately I will miss. When I got home I thought about the last time I saw Georg in person, fifteen years ago on the morning of 9/11.  The superb Georg Gräve Quartet (with Frank Gratkowski, Kent Kessler, and Hamid Drake) was on an east coast tour.  After their 9/10 gig here they stayed overnight at my home.  The night was warm, and the five of us stayed up too late talking on the patio.  I’m afraid I was the cause of the late night.  In those days I drank beer and on that night too much.  I would not shut up and am guilty of keeping those fine people up way too late.  A few days after the concert and subsequent events I sent Raphé Malik (of all things) a copy of the Armstrong-Ellington recordings.  I always have loved those recordings and made the leap to share them with Raphé, even though I knew that he was first and foremost a Miles Davis fan.  I never heard from him about the recordings.  But in those days Raphé was a phone person, seldom picking up the pen.  But in my letter to him I used the recording as a lead-in to comments about 9/11.  At that time I wrote to Raphé, “We stayed up until 5 a.m  Then on the morning of the 11th Hamid Drake’s daughter called to tell us about the disaster in New York.  What a horrific switch from such joy to such sadness in just a few hours.  Some friends of friends were lost.  Fortunately, people such as Mat Maneri and Tor Snyder are OK.”  My reference to those two musicians is rooted in the fact of their proximity to the damage in Manhattan.  Closer to home for me in Framingham there are two families near my home experiencing personal loss in the 9/11 damage.  Even now as I get exercise in Tercentennial Park typically a couple days each week I pass the beautiful memorial to the seventeen Framingham citizens who lost their lives on 9/11.  And yet, I was very confused on the morning of 9/11 when I answered the phone call from Hamid’s daughter, at the time a graduate student at Harvard.  When I was awaked by the call I might have had something of a hangover, but certainly not much sleep.  She informed me that a jet plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers and perhaps something about terrorism.  I cannot remember.  I knew it was a bad event, but my brain could not cope with what in all of her sanity and concern she was trying to explain to me.  I must confess that even in hindsight those events do not make sense to me.  They happened, but they do not compute.  I do not understand such hatred-driven insanity, even though I think I have some understanding of desperation.  On that morning finally my brain began to kick in and I said, “Would you like to talk to Hamid?”  I’ve never been quick, but this was exceptional, even for me.  The poor woman must have wondered whether or not my brain worked at all.  Short answer: no.  So Hamid was awakened and answered the phone.  As the rest of the people in the house gradually awakened to the noise of the TV commentary (Frank, being the world’s greatest sleeper, was last to get the news), they attended to breakfast and alternately the bad news on the TV.  There were shifts in the band’s itinerary even before they left the house.  But none of it altered the uncertainly of the unknown, including the D.C. beltway and whatever security obstacles they might find there.  I remember how awful I felt when I waved at the band as they backed the vehicle out of the driveway.  I remember feeling somehow responsible for the fact that such a successful 9/10 gig had turned into this disaster for them.  Inexplicable.  Insanity indeed…

We 5 is a new group headed by Jacob William that performed 9/9 at the Outpost.  Jacob is a superb bassist and--perhaps even more important--a remarkable ensemble alchemist.  Over the years he has led a variety of bands featuring some of the best musicians in the area.  I guess I should define “area” as “the world.”  It may be sufficient to say that, if I miss a Jacob William led performance, it is because I’m not ambulatory (you know, ill or out of town or something of that nature).  So at the Outpost we got a chance to catch a new off-the-wall Jacob William ensemble.  I say “off-the-wall” because Jacob has a pool of about a dozen people he works with and juggles to make his long-standing ensembles work.  But the folks he brought with him 9/9--brilliant though they are--are not part of his “familiar” pool of band musicians.  It really is quite a leap of faith on Jacob’s part that he would believe the terrific quality of the people in this new ensemble would cause the music to work together and in a way that is consistent with Jacob’s aesthetics.  Maybe it does not sound like much, but it is everything.  Killer bands do not just happen.  To oversimplify: genius is not enough.  The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens worked--not because Louis Armstrong was a great improvisor but--because the great improvisor was operating in a context of Lil Hardin Armstrong and Baby Dodds (yes, geniuses in their own right) and other musicians who breathed together.  So this completely new ensemble was a risk.  Failure artistically is no fun.  I should mention that the persons of risk are Charlie Kohlhase, Jerry Sabatini, Eric Hofbauer, and Curt Newton.  Now those of you who have a clue as to what’s going on are asking the obvious question, “How could a band consisting of these terrific musicians fail?”  The answer--if you have read what I just wrote--is EASILY.  Great musicians do not necessarily create a great band.  So what happened 9/9 when all these terrific musicians shared the stage?  The process--and it was a process--was fascinating.  To open things there was a little bit of this and then a little bit of that.  Then as things got rolling, there was a lot of this and a lot of that.  These were musicians who came to play, but they danced together a lot to figure out what to play.  The first half of the first set was quite something to observe and hear.  The “dancing” was compelling in its own way because these are top-shelf musicians.  They are so good that a period of frenetic busy-ness type dancing is more than worth catching in itself.  But even more significant, it was dancing with purpose.  The dance was the way in which the fundamental sonic/aesthetic questions were raised: “Who are we?  What can we become?”  Over time band members used the dance data to start answering the questions.  I’m tempted to pick out moments--Jerry Sabatini’s commentaries with mute, Curt’s completely rethought pots and pans percussion, Eric and Jerry’s shared guitar-amp reverb, Charlie bulldozing when needed and sonically caressing when needed, and always Jacob pointing, nodding, bass-prodding.  But it is the band that is the issue.  Is this going to be a band with an identity that matters?  Even before the abbreviated second set began, some important questions were answered.  We already knew how terrific all the musicians are.  Now we knew that there was something of consequence going on.  On 9/9 before the evening was over we knew that this is a new band unlike any other in town (or anywhere else).  It also was obvious from the latter part of the first set and entire second set that this band had the potential to develop its identity into new and profound territory.  The band made an important first step in defining “who We 5 is.”  I hope we have many opportunities to discover “who We 5 can become.”…

Although the music was filled with surprises, I doubt that any experienced fan in the audience was surprised by the superb quality of the music of the Steve Lantner Quintet--Steve, Allan Chase, Forbes Graham, Joe Morris, and Jerome “Jerry” Deupree--9/27 at the Outpost.  Probably the biggest surprise was the replacement of Luther Gray with Jerry Deupree in the drum seat.  Both are among my favorite Boston area percussionists, but they come from different generations, and their approach to free playing differs.  Their eclectic performance repertoire is similar--everything from alt rock to bebop to completely improvised music--but their approaches to free playing (both outstanding) are marvelously different.  Luther is a new pioneer, pushing technique and time into the coming decades.  Jerry is a sound sculptor, an architect.  Both drummers have big ears, but they hear and react differently.  The result 9/27 was that the “regulars” in the band--all with great ears--responded to and fed Jerry and each other ideas that on the surface were different from those on other Steve Lantner gigs.  For example, at one point in the first set Steve attacked the piano to chip off big, solid blocks (bricks?) of sound that tumbled out onto the floor to the rest of the band.  Then Joe, in top form all evening, offered a stunning arco solo that fed off the architecture around him.  The solo was followed by muddy boulders rolling down a hill, thundering into the room thanks to Jerry.  The front line observed all of this construction and deconstruction in silence for a while, but the boulders inspired Allan to explain on his horn the wonder of it all and then Forbes picked up the comments with a rapid-fire power assault of his own.  Although much of what I’m writing here may give the impression that Jerry dictated the course of the music, that is not my intent.  Obviously his impact was enormous, but much of what he did was in direct response to the wonderful music coming at him.  For example, after a terrific first set of music, Jerry shook his head and offered a quiet exclamation of what a marvelous challenge it was to respond to what was going on around him.  For much of the evening the music offered a wide range of stone and construction sonic images.  But the music of the second set was even more sure-footed and expansive than in the first set.  No doubt the fine hearing/communication among the musicians was enhanced to some extent by the decades-long relationship between Joe and Jerry.  Beginning early in the 1980s I remember witnessing Joe Morris trios established here featuring such outstanding drummers as Laurence Cook, Thurman Barker, and Jerry.  After the second set I asked Jerry when he first performed with Joe.  He said, “’83, maybe ’82.”  And here they were on 9/27 with another group of outstanding musicians.  Once again Steve and his band mates proved that brilliant music is possible week in and out.  All you need is brilliant musicians with great ears and who live to create great music.  Simple. Oh, so simple…

August 2016

Due to a variety of time-consuming personal matters during the first half of the month (some of them positive and some of them not) I caught no gigs during the first half of the month.  I was lucky enough to catch a fine gig at the Outpost 8/18, and that was my first live jazz experience in August.  As the month continued, I took off for a few days of recovery in New York (for Storm King) and western Massachusetts (for MassMoCA).  I certainly hope for a greater quantity of fine jazz experiences in September…

A huge Stravinsky fan, I return occasionally to the Stravinsky-Craft “and” series of books (beginning with Conversations with Stravinsky and continuing with “and” books such as Memories and Commentaries, Dialogues and a Diary, Themes and Conclusions, and on and on).  On page 83 of Expositions and Developments (Doubleday and Company, 1962) the composer talks about his marriage to Vera and some “help” from actor Edward G. Robinson, along the way mentioning time spent in the Boston area and offering evidence that the absurdity of U.S. immigration policy is systemic and ongoing.  He says:

“We were married in Bedford, Massachusetts, on March 9, 1940…, and we lived in the Hotel Hemenway (Boston) until May…  In August 1940 we entered the United States from Mexico on the Russian quota, and immediately applied for naturalization papers…  We became United States citizens on December 28, 1945.  (Edward G. Robinson had come as my witness, but he was discovered in the proceedings to have been an illegal resident himself, technically, for the past forty years.)”…


So-called “chamber jazz” of the late 1940s through the early 1960s often featured horns and “classical music” instruments without support from drums.  There were exceptions, such as Chico Hamilton’s marvelous quintet, but usually such jazz ensembles were devoid of a trap set.  I looked forward to the 8/18 performance of Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers because the ensemble was scheduled to include neither acoustic bass nor drums.  Whether Charlie’s arrangements for the gig were intended to evoke a “chamber jazz” aesthetic or not (I think not), the instrumentation almost made such transparent sonics inevitable.  The quintet had a seductive instrumental balance of two brass (Bill Lowe and Daniel Rosenthal), two reeds (Seth Meicht and Charlie), and guitar (Eric Hofbauer).  One of the delightful ironies of the instrumentation and arrangements is that Eric’s electric guitar became the anchor for almost everything that happened around him.  Among the terrific results of that situation was a duo in which the guitar (wisely avoiding the bottom end of the instrument) served as the “bass line” for a no-holds-barred Bill Lowe tuba solo.  Another fine bonus of the evening (beyond familiar works by John Tchicai and Charlie) was three 2016 charts composed and arranged by Charlie.  Because the three works were new (to me at least) and they were offered by this “chamber” ensemble, the impact was quite a challenge.  In the best sense.  The lack of support and chatter from percussion forced all members of the band to work out the elasticity of the counted-off time.  Sometimes individuals intentionally would push the time against the time of the rest of the band, and other times the band would move the time feel en masse, like some really hip amoeba.  One of the new works variously juggled time, historic references, and pushing the envelope.  When the piece was over, Charlie announced the title of the work and source of the title.  And all of the whys and wheres of the piece came together in my head.  He had named it “Lenette” for Lennie Tristano and Ornette Coleman.  Once again Charlie closed out the evening with “Blues for Alice.”  In E-flat I think.  I mention this because Charlie made a passing comment that he was thinking of coming up with a different closer.  I have no argument with that idea, but I believe the Charlie Parker tune has not run its course.  As fans know, each time Charlie’s band members perform the work, they do so in a different key.  I’m under the impression that he and his musicians are well into the second cycle of twelve keys.  Each time there is a change in key, band members are forced to rethink the work and their approach to it.  I never seem to tire of witnessing each of them going through the process.  It was a fine evening of music that made me even more disappointed that I was out of town when the bass and drums returned to the Explorers.  It would have been interesting to see if there were any aesthetic carry-overs from the “chamber” group to the more typical lineup.  In any event, I hope Charlie does not abandon the chamber version of the band.  And I hope that the composing bug continues to bite…

In a year-end wrap-up of opinions of Silicon Valley CEOs and other innovative leaders Atlantic Magazine asked, “If you could put one invention or innovation back in the box, what would it be?”  The top vote getter was “Nuclear and atomic weapons” and the next most popular target was “Facebook and/or Twitter.”  As Jennifer Pahlka, founding director or Code for America, put it, “As Jeff Hammerbacher once said, ‘The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.’  We need today’s talent working on stuff that matters to our future.”…

Some older music fans can remember when Harvard Square was a cultural center in which students, faculty, and Cambridge locals could partake of culturally diverse restaurants and a variety of spaces that offered all kinds of performance art, especially a wide range of folk, jazz, and ethnic musics.  The experience was a major component of undergraduate life for young people at Harvard and other schools.  I wonder, for example, whether the typical Harvard undergrad circa 1960 remembers more fondly a highly touted survey course or the ability to witness performances by Joan Baez with frequency in Harvard Square.  Harvard Square was special then and to a great extent even into the 1980s.  I think of the Square when it was truly a center of intellectual and cultural energy and compare it to the brain-dead, “bankified” (to quote Elsa Dorfman), shallow boo-tique it has become.  Yes, there still are Shay’s, the Brattle, and the gutted remains of Grendel’s.  (thankfully)  But almost all of Harvard Square is depressing.  I must confess that I do not have a handle on the economic and political intricacies of Harvard Square.  By that I mean was Harvard Square so vibrant “back then” because of hipper, more demanding students or broad socio-political factors that energized the Square or a more sophisticated Harvard administration that understood the necessity of such a cauldron for its undergrad population?  I do not know.  But I know that Harvard University owns property in and around Harvard Square.  It can decide whether it wants to invest its property with art and intellectual and spiritual engagement or just another commercial venture.  Yes, Harvard has developed creative spaces in Central Square, and I applaud that fact (assuming the disenfranchised get free tickets to the gigs there).  But Harvard Square is the key here.  After all, it holds the name of the University.  If Harvard Square is in the sorry shape it is now, that situation reflects on the university itself.  This fact raises the more important--more important potentially than Harvard Square property--element of influence.  By way of example, McGill University in Anglophobe Montreal survives and thrives in “hostile” territory because it is central to the very economic essence of that city.  The good citizens of Montreal are alert to all offensive Anglophile measures pursued by individuals or the Canadian government and attack accordingly.  Except when it comes to that academic English-speaking institution known as McGill University.  Those citizens know when ethnic indignation goes too far.  I’m not suggesting a free ride for McGill, but you get the idea.  And so it is--or could be--in Harvard Square.  Harvard University has the ability to say, “No more banks in Harvard Square” and have it stick, no matter what the yuppie town fathers might like.  The university has the ability and duty to meddle in its own affairs for the sake of the student body.  And it should.  I bring up all this history and depressing “current events” because of a brief article in the Berkshire Eagle.  I know it is not standard reading for Boston area jazz fans.  But I was tooling around western Massachusetts for a few days and came across what strikes me as despicable news.  No.  Not as depressingly absurd as the presidential candidates of the two “major” political parties.  But thunderously close to home.  Here I am in North Adams, a city in which most people are too busy trying to survive to care about Boston or Cambridge.  So it was something of a shock to discover an article in the major local newspaper about doings in Harvard Square.  I encountered an article titled “Future of Harvard Square’s historic newsstand uncertain” (8/21/16, p.A3).  It caught my eye.  I’m having breakfast in a hotel, anticipating a day of Kiefer and other wonderful art encounters, and I see a reference in a headline in a local paper that only could be relevant to Out Of Town News.  I don’t even have to read the story, and I know that Out of Town News is under siege.  How bad do things have to get before Harvard University wakes up and says, “Enough is enough”?  It’s not that Harvard Square lives or dies based on the status of Out of Town News.  It’s that things are so bad that Out Of Town News gets put on the chopping block before Harvard acts.  Just for the record, I include a portion of the Berkshire Eagle‘s comments about the process: “City officials for years have been weighing designs but haven’t settled on a plan.  They’ve expressed interest in redeveloping the kiosk for public, rather than commercial, use.”  There is no reference to the university’s reaction or inaction.  “Public” use?  If Out Of Town News were an ATM there would be no interest in tearing the building down.  Apparently the cultural and historical nature of the newsstand (including the fact that John Cage performed 4’33” for a mostly confused and amused crowd next to Out Of Town News in the 1970s) means nothing to Harvard administrators.  Here is an opportunity for the university to prove that it is something more than an Academic Training Machine.  If “public space” is in short supply (and I see no evidence of that) then this would be a great time to save Out Of Town News and the public space around it while replacing some ATMs and banks with more public spaces…  

Needing a brief traveling adventure in the second half of the month, I spent several August days at Storm King north of New York City and at our own MassMoCA in North Adams.  Storm King is dedicated to modern and contemporary sculpture and therefore is not a compelling subject for the jazz focus of this Journal.  However, because I believe in the constructive intersection of the arts, I will mention two strong impressions of Storm King at my first encounter for those who also may love visual art.  The biggest impacts were the sheer power of encountering 500 acres of mostly impressive sculpture and witnessing the work of Richard Serra in a bucolic setting after encountering his work exclusively either inside buildings or in urban settings.  If you are a Serra fan and never have seen the results of the artist “planting” his four-part work in the great outdoors of grass and trees, then make some time for a visit to Storm King.  The other stuff (including several David Smiths and Alexander Calders) isn’t too shabby either.  On the other hand, even if you never have connected with visual art, there are two sonic works available at MassMoCA that may be of interest.  One of the works, Stephen Vitiello’s “All those vanished engines,” is a reaction to and a component of the museum’s millwork roots as revealed in the Boiler House.  Vitiello’s sound sculpture incorporates ambient sonics with fictional narrative in a combination that is quite compelling within the context of skeletal but visually powerful machinery.  I make a visit to that rusting history and the sonic response every time I visit MassMoCA, even though my primary pilgrimage each time I visit North Adams is to the Hall Art Foundation’s “temporary” gift of Anselm Kiefer works next to the Boiler House.  The other compelling sonic work is Julianne Swartz’ “In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway.”  Responses to my inquiries suggest that the work may be “permanent” (i.e., available for public experience for the next five or ten years).  Not insignificantly, the piece can be heard by anyone who walks across “The John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge” connecting two museum buildings.  The music is not even approximately that of Cage, but the ambient sonics and the somewhat adventuresome vocal work offer challenges and are consistent with music that the choreographer would use in his performances.  Regardless of the strength or weakness of the Cage-Cunningham link, walking across the bridge (and I did that several times) is a fine sonic-environmental experience.  It’s another example of how effective the intersection of art forms can be when done well.  Now, if MassMoCA performance curators would bring in some great improvisors (and/or new composed music), rather than focus primarily on merely hip performers, that would be nice.  The place has visual art.  But it might be good for them to pursue with some conviction the idea that there is sonic art.  Maybe someday they will present (for example) Jeremy Denk and/or some fine Bostonian improvisors in the MassMoCA performance schedule.  Anything is possible…

Even the best musicians/band leaders miss the mark on occasion.  As I’ve mentioned many times, we Bostonians are blessed with band leaders who lead fairly stable bands of extraordinary quality and those who like to put together one-off mix and match gigs that often are filled with wonderful surprises.  But almost no band leaders--no matter how terrific--can guarantee superb music every time one of their bands hits the stage.  However, there are a very few who seem to be able to accomplish that feat consistently over the years.  One such musician is Steve Lantner.  It does not seem to matter whether he shows up to a gig alone, with a single partner, or four or more band mates.  I know that the music is going to rearrange my neurons in some type of astonishingly constructive way.  I was happy to be at the Outpost 8/23 to catch one of the classic piano-bass-drums Lantner trios (Steve, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray).  And the music was fine.  Joe first and foremost is a guitarist, one of the most innovative and creative that I know about.  His bass work does not operate at that level.  However, he has over the years become more than competent technically on the instrument.  Combine that technique with Joe’s extraordinary musicianship, and he usually challenges and surprises on the acoustic bass.  At the Outpost 8/23 Joe did not challenge or surprise.  He had a fine time supporting the work of the other two musicians, but I got the feeling that he was along for the ride.  The fact that Joe offered less than his usual scintillating bass creations was doubly disappointing.  While the trio’s music was superb, it was something other than what we have come to expect from this marvelous ensemble.  Not less impressive.  It is just that it was great duo plus bass rather than great trio.  The other disappointment is that--if I understand Steve correctly--that was the last time this lineup will perform for the foreseeable future.  So we had what may be a trio finale celebrated with piano-percussion work at the highest level rather than this classic Steve Lantner Trio lifting the bandstand.  But, as I mentioned, whatever the configuration, on 8/23 I had my neurons rearranged in some astonishingly constructive way…

July 2016

Nonagenarian.  How many of us can conceive of what the term means?  I doubt that I will survive into my nineties.  And given what ailments come to people who approach or surpass age 90, I’m not sure I want to reach that “lofty” peak.  Therefore I am in awe of Paul Broadnax who reached age ninety in January and battles a list of ailments that easily would sideline almost all readers of this Journal--and certainly me.  Unlike most of us, he grew up jamming with other Boston area teenagers such as Ray Perry and Roy Haynes even before Charlie Parker cut his first record with Jay McShann.  In other words, the music is in his blood.  He’s a musician, a true musician.  He has a will to keep playing until they drag him off the bandstand, having offered his last wonderful solo--and his last breath.  I don’t say this dramatically or for any special effect.  It’s just that I find the real artist musicians are like that.  You know, “This is who I am.  What else am I supposed to do with whatever years or minutes I have left?”  Yes, that’s what the real jazz musicians do; it is what Paul Broadnax does.  He and supportive--in more ways than can be counted--bassist Peter Kontrimas  took a quick ride (that turned out to be two hours in traffic) to nearby Hampton Falls, NH for a fine summer gig at the village bandstand on the common as part of the community’s summer music series.  The good folks of that community gave Paul a lifetime achievement award.  How fine that is.  It is all too rare for us lucky folks to celebrate the great contributors while they still contribute.  Applause.  And applause for the trio--Paul, Peter, and Les Harris, Jr.--and the 200 (an estimate from a handy observer) locals who showed up to bask in the music and clap with enthusiasm.  Several Paul Broadnax fans from MA made the trip to Hampton Falls, drummer and visual artist Peter Bodge among them.  Peter has a gallery show scheduled for December.  He claims that one new work in that exhibit is inspired by the cover images of Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures recording.  The two sets of music 7/21 consisted of what might be described as Paul Broadnax fan favorites.  So the play list was familiar--but improvisationally engaging--for longtime fans and was a new adventure for most people in the crowd.  Hearing the first few notes of “The Party’s Over,” most people in the audience had no idea that the gig was about to end.  Paul and his enthusiastic fan base look forward to many more joyous Paul Broadnax sound parties…

A recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has noted that researchers had predicted that the radiation rates of the Bikini Atoll (where 23 nuclear tests were carried out in the 1940s and 1950s) would have dropped to 16 to 24 millirems per year by now.  The U.S. standard for annual radiation rates set a safety limit of 100 millirems per year.  But predictions for the atoll were quite a bit off the mark.  The researchers found that the island produces an average of 184 millirems per year and some parts of the atoll emit as much as 639 millirems per year.  In other words, there is an awful lot we do not know about the durability of lethal nuclear radiation.  Or, to put it another way, given its radioactive temperature, for many years to come the Bikini Atoll will be anything but a tourist hot spot…

Eric Rosenthal has been offering Boston’s new music fans diverse and challenging music during the past several months with his .01% series.  It’s a political statement in broad national terms.  But I see it as a constructive commentary on the status of jazz, particularly regarding post-Ayler music--and perhaps on the sluggish and brain-dead art world in which puppet shows and “let’s all sing together” musicals are a substitute for performance art.  Heck, I can remember when the ART in Harvard Square gave us amazing performances of Chekhov and Shaw, rather than burlesque as “art” and watered down and ineffectual Orwell.  If you want to see 1984 well transformed from the book, check out the Michael Radford film with John Hurt in the lead.  I still believe that the folks at ART were stunned by the success with audiences of their genuinely creative performances of No Exit.  But I digress.  Whatever the name of the series and its political intentions might be, the key fact for our purposes here is that Eric’s series is intended to bring creative musicians and audiences together.  And he seems to be succeeding.  For example, there was a good-sized audience 7/13 at the Lily Pad, and pretty much everyone hung around for both sets and reacted enthusiastically.  The music definitely was challenging, and for the most part engaging.  BOLT--Eric Rosenthal, Jorrit Dijkstra, Eric Hofbauer, and Junko Fujiwara--was up first.  BOLT is a group that intermittently is terrific and alternatively sluggish in the extreme.  This is not a new problem, and I hoped the problem would disappear.  But it hasn’t.  In fact, as the group has grown and become better, the problem has become more troubling.  The quartet consists of four solid musicians.  Jorrit’s alto sax work has grown significantly in recent years.  Eric is not merely one of my favorite guitarists.  He’s a remarkable all-around musician.  Junko is playing the best cello of her life.  It is a joy to show up and see her push the envelope.  Anyone who reads this Journal knows the esteem in which I hold Eric Rosenthal as a producer, band leader, and middle-of-the-fray musician.  This is a killer post-Ayler improvising quartet.  Except for the problem.  I never have been enamored of Jorrit’s pursuit of the Lyricon.  Maybe the “electronic woodwind” instrument never really caught on for a reason.  Every time he goes to work--sampling, blowing, twitching cables and knobs--a line from a frustrated Sam Spade (Bogart) to Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor) in The Maltese Falcon comes to mind: “You’ve got to convince me that you know what this is all about, that you aren’t just fiddling around, hoping that it’ll all come out right in the end.”  It is particularly frustrating because Jorrit is an experienced musician who knows how to make real music.  His obsession with this obstruction to creativity is ironic because around the world there are so many fine other musicians he can look to for electronic music possibilities of substance--everyone from fellow Hollander Jaap Blonk to Andrea Pensado, Christof Kurzmann, Ikue Mori, and others.  But one of the most compelling ironies is that while Jorrit fiddles and fudges, his performances on the alto sax have soared qualitatively in recent months.  That’s the greatest irony.  When he plays the Lyricon, other band members seem to tread water, waiting for the obstacle to move on.  When he plays his alto sax, the band seems rejuvenated, becoming a wonderful, living musical force.  Luther Gray’s Quintet performed on the second set of the pairing.  The group--Luther, Jeb Bishop, Andy Voelker, Pandelis Karayorgis, and Nate McBride--played works that are by now familiar to Luther Gray fans.  Most, if not all, of the musicians on the gig had performed these pieces before.  In fact, as I sat in the Lily Pad listening to the band, the quality of the ensemble and interplay was so high that I began wondering if this specific ensemble had performed as a group before.  The answer is no, but the effect was completely convincing.  Again and again these guys nailed Luther’s deceptively “simple” charts.  And those well-executed charts did their job inspiring fine interplay and superb solos.  I can’t remember anyone since the last time I saw Cecil Taylor “destroy” a piano the way Pandelis did occasionally throughout the set.  And always to brilliantly constructive ends.  Jeb and Andy make a terrific front line with different musical personalities that complement one another during “conversations” or ensemble readings.  When one musician solos after the other there is no thought of competition because they think so differently.  But they are so connected as musicians that a soaring improvisation by one of them simply inspires a high quality solo response from the other.  Nate McBride is and--as far as I know--always has been an intuitively superb improvisor.  That type of intuition is invaluable for a jazz musician, but it also is something that cannot be taught.  However, there is a downside to such a gift.  Having that ability is potentially destructive in practical ways.  For example, when Nate returned to Boston in July of 2013 he had not been performing much and had been practicing not at all.  And that pattern of behavior continued here.  He played on a few gigs but still did not practice.  Understandably he needed time to get his complex personal house in order.  I believe it was on his first gig back in Boston (or pretty close to that).  At the end of the evening his fingers were bloody.  At that time and on other subsequent occasions he resorted to arco work more than usual.  But his intuitive improvisatory skills meant that consistently we were treated to solos that were challenging and engaging.  But there was a significant difference in Nate’s performance 7/13.  At the end of the evening I asked him about the difference, but he was as revealing as the Cheshire cat.  So here I speculate that Mr. McBride has been doing some shedding.  Maybe not a lot, but some.  There is no other way that I can account for the fact that both his support work and his improvisations 7/13 were dramatically superior to any of his performances that I’ve witnessed since his return.  If his work on the quintet gig is an accurate indication of the status of his musicianship, then Nate truly is back.  Truly fine news.  Luther probably is happy with this quintet gig.  His charts were executed as well as I’ve heard them played.  And band mates played their butts off.  If that’s not enough for fans, Luther as a percussionist is a Boston treasure…   

I spent the day in the Harbor Stage tent at the Newport Jazz Festival 7/29, initially because it was easier staying in the tent rather than trying to avoid getting soaked in the rain.  Later I stayed there because I found a seat I liked and decided to stay put to keep it.  I got to the event too late to catch the URI Big Band.  It would have been nice to say hello to the band’s director, Jared Sims, a name familiar to many Boston area fans.  The second set featured the Heath Brothers.  The two remaining brothers--Jimmy and Tootie--took the stage with trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, pianist Jeb Patton, and
Jimmy Heath who will be 90 in October

bassist David Wong.  It was a productive combination of authentic mainstreamers and “youngsters” who emulate the music of the 1950s.  In the same way that Paul Broadnax is authentic because of the timing of his musical roots, Jimmy and Tootie are historically authentic.  And they’ve done a fine job of training the younger band members to engage in musical interactions and support that tend to ring true.  I’ve seen this sort of success before.  If an ensemble has solid leadership and a critical mass of authentic veterans, then the whole band seems to produce convincing heads and support work.  The number of authentic veterans necessary to establish the critical mass is variable, but it tends to be something approaching fifty percent of the number of people in the band.  Although Tootie’s drum work throughout the set was a strong force on behalf of authenticity, the greatest difference of the giants came through in the solos.  For example, if you replaced Jimmy Heath of the 1970s in the Heath Brothers Band of that time with the Jimmy Heath I was witnessing on 7/29, there would be no loss of quality in the saxophone solos.  Terrific stuff.  Yes, he paced himself by featuring other band members and offering vocals instead of sax solos on occasion.  But in many ways he remains the engaging personality and fine improvisor that he always was.  Age is relevant to authenticity.  Albert “Tootie” Heath is a spry 81 years old (even though he has trouble walking).  Jimmy Heath will be ninety years old in October.  The result is music that feels like music one might have heard at the Newport Jazz
 
Albert “Tootie” Heath, a mere youngster at 81 years old

Festival in the late 1950s with occasional references to the 1970s.  Not dated.  Present in the now, in the same way that an especially convincing performance of a familiar Haydn piano sonata falls on one’s ears as a surprise.  I’m making note of this set because authentic mainstream/bebop music is rare in performance.  The challenge for younger musicians is to find a new path, a personally unique path.  The true post-Ayler musicians pursue that path, and it has many options.  The trickier of the path’s alternatives is the one of mainstream transformation, turning mainstream music into something that retains a chordal center but does not sound like a conventional tune.  Most attempts at this type of music--such as the dead slow versions of standards fad (that fortunately died out about a decade ago) or the application of intricate “cleverness” (which never seems to go out of fashion but almost always fails musically)--are unimpressive.  An example of success on this path is Eric Hofbauer who has demonstrated with his defunct Infrared Band and current Pocket Aces that walking the line between mainstream and totally free music can work brilliantly.  The next three ensembles 7/29 on the Harbor Stage pursued the “new” in different ways, most commonly via minimalism but not at the quality level of John Tilbury (e.g., Tyshawn Sorey & Alloy) and “clever” technical twists and turns (e.g., the personable Sullivan Fortner who enjoyed such adventures, particularly with the sax work of Tivon Pennicott who has digested many of George Garzone’s ideas but needs to develop his own voice).  Also it is worth mentioning that no one does George Garzone better than George.  Eric Revis also did incorporate many tricky technical twists (perhaps sometimes too many).  I occasionally found myself thinking about how productive the rehearsals were because of how well the musicians nailed the charts rather than thinking about the music itself.  Not a good result.  Nevertheless, Revis’ Parallax was the most convincing ensemble of the final three on that day.  I saw the best-known version of this quartet in January--Eric Revis, Ken Vandermark, Jason Moran, and Nasheet Waits.  That “old” lineup is pretty impressive, but I think the Newport configuration--with Kris Davis and Chad Taylor replacing Jason Moran and Nasheet Waits--(which is going into the studio in early August) is more impressive.  The earlier group consists of celebrated improvisors with strong musical personalities.  When I heard the band in January I found it to be somewhat disjointed.  Exciting solos but not a clear ensemble personality.  The Newport band lacks no improvisatory skill, but the charts (even with the occasional distracting “cleverness”) are quite successful in defining sonic/architectural context.  The result is that the solos impressed AND the band has a recognizable face.  In fact, the band members are so connected that a closing completely improvised work was one of the highlights of the set.  A word about the piano is in order here.  Throughout the day the acoustic piano came out of the board sounding like an electric piano.  Harbor Stage gigs of previous Newport Jazz Festivals have had the same problem.  I am not technically equipped to ascertain whether the problem is the acoustics of the tent, the engineering personnel, or the sound equipment.  In any event, the problem remains.  In the final set of the day there was an additional, more disconcerting problem.  The problem was the poor sound board coverage of Kris Davis.  I’d be tempted to attribute the problem to the fact that three of the band members were late to the gig because of an accident on the highway.  But that does not completely account for the problem.  Kris Davis arrived on time.  That means that the sound engineers had at least a half hour to get the piano sound exactly where she wanted it.  I know that it is tricky trying to do a sound check for only one member of a band, but some information could be gleaned from a “solo” sound check.  If that’s not enough, consider the fact that during the performance the piano is the only instrument in the band that had serious sound problems.  How serious?  At the end of the set I asked a couple Traveler type jazz fans whether or not they had heard Kris Davis’ left hand at all during the final set.  The answer was “No.”  I was not imagining things.  I add to that the fact that her right hand disappeared during the loudest passages of the band.  And yet, I was able to hear enough of her music that by the time the set was completed I had became a Kris Davis fan.  Apparently she and Tom Rainey are married.  My goodness.  What a wonderful duo gig that would make.  As a final thought I mention a superb moment during the last set in which Kris Davis ripped off pieces of duct tape and used them to create a marvelous prepared piano.  For some reason I heard all of her prepared piano playing just fine.  I am thankful for that.  Somewhere John Cage was smiling…
 Update:9/2/16: The comments above about the relationship between Kris Davis and Tom Rainey are incorrect.  They are not married to each other.  My thanks to Charlie Kohlhase and Ken Vandermark for straightening me out.  That fact does not alter my assertion that Davis and Rainey would make a terrific improvising duo…

Every year Downbeat Magazine offers for display a self-incriminating catalog of “Worst Critical Thinking” in the form of a supposed anointment of the best jazz musicians in the world.  Not only is such a pronouncement inherently absurd, but the people who vote for the “best of the best” each year number in excess of two hundred jazz commentators.  Amazing.  Think of all the jazz critics publishing opinions about gigs and records featuring jazz musicians.  OK, now come up with a list of those critics who can write competently, know a good deal about the history of jazz in general, have a functional niche that they specialize in, exhibit the ability to perceive quality jazz performances independent of style or chronology within the jazz continuum, and (perhaps most telling) offer useful insights or information about the musicians they cover rather than use the music to celebrate the critic’s own wisdom, “hipness,” or knowledge.  It’s a reasonable (if not thorough) list of criteria.  So how’s the list coming?  Have you got five names?  Ten?  More?  Really?  Where are these people hiding?  They certainly are hiding well in the list of critics specified as voting in the annual poll.  To be fair, the names of some genuinely creative improvisors appear in the list.  If you hunt you can find a few post-Ayler names (e.g., Mats Gustafsson) and some giants of ages past who still scare the astute listener (e.g., the Heath Brothers; see elsewhere in this month’s Journal).  Perhaps most amazing, Hamid Drake, a brilliant post-Ayler musician, actually WON the poll in the Percussion category.  How is that possible, given the cast of characters involved in the voting?  It’s somewhat analogous to cast members on a “reality” (now there’s an oxymoron) TV show spontaneously deciding to abandon that week’s stupidity for engaging in readings of poetry by Gregory Corso or Alexander Pope.  The selection of the wonderfully creative Hamid Drake takes place in a poll in which we find a couple dozen votes in the Big Band category offered to the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, in whose ensemble Hamid performed for a time.  Maestro Brötzmann shut down the Tentet in 2012.  As far as I know he has not revived the outfit.  It’s sort of like having sports writers picking Michael Jordan for the 2016 NBA All-Star team.  But, typically, the most humorous critics picks can be found in the Rising Stars group of “winners.”  Again, having a category of musicians who deserve wider recognition (as in the old DB days) would be constructive.  There are so many musicians who are terrific and deserve recognition that such a category would be far more useful than the usual “best of” poll.  But DB sticks to its Rising Stars catastrophe.  I’ve written in a previous Journal entry just how ludicrous this category is, particularly for musicians who have been creating fine music for decades.  It’s insulting to tell a musician of 50, 60, or older that he or she is a rising star.  Twenty-somethings potentially are rising stars.  Veterans deserve more respect.  Maybe we should just have a contest to determine who the oldest Rising Star of all time is.  But unfortunately that might make a point at the expense of some wonderful veteran who deserves no such insult but does deserve wider recognition…

When I listed the 7/18 gig at the Outpost as a Scheduled Highlight I referred to the quartet as an “all-star” band.  Certainly the designation was apt.  We in the Boston area are fortunate in that we have the ability to witness all-star quality local post-Ayler musicians consistently throughout the year.  Nevertheless, it is somewhat unusual to encounter an ensemble consisting of nothing but such giants.  Anyone showing up to an all-star gig has the right to expect music of a very high quality throughout the evening.  That certainly is what I expected.  But to refer to any of what I witnessed 7/18 as of “very high quality” would be to understate the case.  The performance by Forbes Graham, Pandelis Karayorgis, Eric Rosenthal, and organizer/coordinator Jacob William was a rare coming together of extraordinary musicians and--even more important in this instance--the coincident decision of all parties involved to play music as if there never would be any music after the last note of this evening at the Outpost.  The gig began with a roaring fire, every part of the stage a burning hurricane of light and sound.  That apparently unstoppable onslaught did stop, almost imperceptibly.  We in the audience found ourselves in the middle of subtle, pensive music of exhilarating beauty.  All of these developments--and more--took place in an environment in which all the musicians (without word or signal of any kind) decided to make a commitment to context.  A thorough commitment.  It is as if each and all decided silently that if everyone in the band focussed “entirely” on improvised contextual profundity, everything else would take care of itself.  And it did.  Try to imagine.  You are part of an improvising quartet and, through some miracle of unspoken communication, you are creating ensemble context of unsurpassed beauty and inspiration.  And it is your turn to solo within that context.  If you are a musician operating at the level of these musicians, you probably have no choice.  You cannot help yourself.  You produce the best solo imaginable.  And, if you are Forbes and Pandelis (or any duo combination in this group) trading improvised lines, there is no better duo statement imaginable.  In case it is not obvious from my words so far, what happened 7/18 at the Outpost was something as likely as being struck by lightning.  Any time these musicians perform, the music is likely to be superb.  And if this same quartet performs again, I will recommend that fans show up and do so myself.  But what happened 7/18 is something that took place in another realm.  Throughout a jazz fan’s life there are sets or evenings of music that transcend even the “best” of evenings.  You know what I’m talking about.  Those events that you wish were captured--not in a sound or video recording--but in a “reality time capsule,” a time traveling device that you could call up a week or a decade (or more) after the event just to re-live the REAL moment that you experienced.  You understand that wish.  I’m adding the 7/19 Outpost gig to my short list of “reality time capsule” gigs…


June 2016

Kit Demos, Jeff Platz, Pandelis Karayorgis, and Eric Rosenthal performed together 6/3 at the Outpost.  In conversation these four musicians are very different people with very different personalities.  Not surprisingly their musical personalities are quite different also.  In some musical settings such differences can result in artistic disaster.  The music on that night was anything but a disaster, possibly because of the commonalities of all the musicians--mutual respect, a shared joy in the creative process, openness to different ideas.  Kit might throw some of himself to Eric who would take the creative “other” and send his transformation of it to Jeff who would grab the “Ericness” and flip the time or line into a guitar sonic offering to be processed and reworked by Pandelis, and on and on.  All of that taking place while brilliant, inspired solos moved around the bandstand.  Throughout the two opening improvisations and subsequent compositions these men engaged in sonic transformations--each person transforming and being transformed.  Hardly ever prone to offering overt humor, Pandelis at one point gave us a brief joke.  Most (if not all) of the charts had never been performed by the entire quartet before.  In some circumstances such charts might be an annoying challenge.  In this case the often tricky material apparently was devoured with relish.  It was like that throughout the hour and a half single set.  Four truly creative improvisors leaping with abandon into the unknown--and coming to the surface, smiling with the lucky rest of us in the audience…

By now you know that if you visit NYCity in the summer, you can catch some free live piano in Bryant Park each week day with your lunch (12:30-2:30).  Again you can catch a range of people offering mostly solo jazz piano at the East end of the park.  You have missed Armen Donelian and Bertha Hope who performed there in May and June, but Jon Weber and a host of others are scheduled through the end of September …

Jim Hobbs and Tatsuya Nakatani have performed together before in a variety of configurations (including a two-drummer Fully Celebrated Orchestra gig about twenty years ago), but the rare (approximately) annual appearances here by Tatsuya--and the superb quality of the music of both men--made the 6/18 duo gig special.  Therefore, an astute and good-sized audience showed up to find out what would happen.  There were two sets of quality music, and each set had its own character.  The first set was all about magma, the rumbling (and lightning) of earth/volcanic flow.  Tatsuya called up a range of “toys” and cymbal/bow work accompanying the low stuttering of the bass drum pedal.  Jim seared and soared on the alto saxophone.  But he also was drinking water.  Not much.  So the plastic water bottle he had in his hand was only slightly empty when he put it in the bell of his saxophone.  In my experience reed improvisors usually put empty plastic bottles in the bells of their saxophones (for practical reasons, if you think about it).  But practicality in this instance was not an issue.  A person could move a partially empty bottle of water from his mouth to the bell of his horn without negative consequence on this gig, and Jim did.  The result sonically was different from that of the typical use of the plastic bottle in the bell.  The effect Jim produced was a compressed, wonderfully thin reed sound.  Quite fine.  I hesitate to analyze it further, partially because the sound was wonderful without mechanical/academic explanation.  The essential matter of the sound (at least partially because my youthful experiences with the alto saxophone were so limited) is that I cannot attribute the sound he created primarily to the almost full water bottle or to the technical/artistic brilliance of the man (the latter being the case no matter what the mechanics are).  And isn’t that fact wonderfully revealing about Jim Hobbs himself?  After the set I talked briefly with Tatsuya who described his remarkable “vagabond” itinerary in which he plans to be in Anchorage AK in September (after a “Conestoga” journey across the U.S. and Canada) and eventually in NYCity (after a similar eastward journey).  We also talked about his arrival in Boston (to establish himself here for several years) in 1994.  I found that revelation fascinating because I had assumed that he arrived here a couple years before my return to Boston in 1994.  In any case, because Tatsuya set roots here in Boston from Japan, we are fortunate that he remembers his fans here and musicians such as Jim who shared creative music with him back then.  And the sharing continued in the second set 6/18 at Third Life Studio.  The second set--for lack of a better description--was the ballad set of the evening.  There were elongated melodies from both musicians and surprising (to listeners only perhaps) consonances of sonic lines.  Jim, of course, is a master of the improvised ballad.  And Tatsuya can overturn the cadenced or thunderous cliché of what percussion is “supposed to be” with mallets, brushes, brass-lipped cymbal sonics, and more.  No doubt it was a joy for all in attendance but also a lesson lost.  I hope there was a percussionist in the audience to witness the work of Tatsuya.  Creative reed players in the Boston area are smart enough to show up to “learn” from the amazing work of Jim Hobbs on some kind of regular basis.  But what Tatsuya offers (as is true in the case of Jim) is not taught in the music schools and conservatories.  Significantly there is the additional factor of rarity.  How often does a creative percussionist in the Boston area have the chance to witness the technical achievements and (more important) the creative brilliance of Tatsuya Nakatani?  For them it is a lost opportunity.  For the rest of us who were at the gig it was a wonderful evening of the connection of Jim Hobbs and Tatsuya Nakatani.  We are the lucky ones…

It was an evening of Charlie Kohlhase and friends, but it took the form of two distinctive chart-driven trios.  The Pocket Aces--Eric Hofbauer, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--were up first.  This ensemble has been one of the most fascinating to follow during the past several years.  The band always has used charts as a key to improvisation and group interplay.  But the earliest incarnations of the trio featured engaging heads rooted in the jazz mainstream and improvised solos and ensemble interaction that pushed the “comfortable” composed context to its very borders.  Gradually there was a shift in the compositions/arrangements causing the interplay and solos to veer farther and farther from the conventions of mainstream ensemble work and improvisation.  I have not discussed this fact with any of the members of the trio, but I would not be surprised if the transformation has been sonically invisible to them.  As you may have experienced, when you are focussed on an important activity, sometimes you realize what happened only in hindsight.  On the other hand, the evolution of this group may be very carefully programmed internally and superficially.  In any case, the 6/24 performance of the trio suggests a bold step musically.  It is as far aesthetically as these guys have gone to date.  The heads--by various members of the band--come across as more improvised than composed.  Hearing most of this material for the first time, I cannot assess whether that impression is the result of composed material intended to come across as improvised or the flexibility of the band’s presentation of the charts resulting in that impression (or some combination of both).  Because these “improvisational” charts are the context for group interplay and individual improvisation, you can imagine how far these wonderful musicians pushed themselves on this gig at Third Life Studio.  When the charts push the “conventional” envelope so far, the group interplay and the individual improvisations necessarily are farther “out” than one might expect on a mainstream gig.  Another way of describing this 6/24 performance is that the Pocket Aces performed its most inaccessible music.  And yet, the audience reaction was quite positive.  Why?  I cannot say for sure.  But one factor may be the humor and passionate commitment of the three musicians.  It was quite infectious.  The other factor that comes to mind--and I have been slow to pick this up--is what has been happening in Union Square.  Boston’s creative art scene is floundering.  There are some interesting visual arts activities that have not been completely destroyed yet.  And theater seems to be flourishing.  But most of the other art forms seem to have been abandoned by the leaders of the “Hub of the Universe.”  Cambridge still is home to most of the area’s jazz venues.  But Cambridge has become Yuppie Central.  Having been attracted to the arts and the veneer of elite academia, the citizens of Cambridge have no interest in jazz or any of the other art forms.  Therefore it is not such a big surprise that Somerville has become an oasis for artists and fans of the arts.  And for now at least these open citizens have found Union Square to be the hub of new art, creative art.  Where storefront galleries in Cambridge may draw twenty people to a creative music gig (or just as likely 2 or 4 people), Third Life Studio tends to bring out at least twenty people (or even double that number or more) to hear what’s happening in new improvised music.  And so it was 6/24 at that venue.  It was no surprise when the audience applauded with apparent true support when Pocket Aces finished its set.  And that audience hung around for music by the second trio--Charlie Kohlhase with Aaron Darrell and percussionist Devin Drobka.  Charlie brought in out-of-towner Devin Drobka because he witnessed the drummer’s work several times a few years ago when the percussionist was active here.  If that was not enough to spark audience interest, Charlie called upon Aaron Darrell to take on acoustic bass responsibilities in the trio.  In perhaps an unanticipated way, the evening of music was a celebration of Aaron Darrell.  Of course, it is not so unusual for a bassist to perform in two sets of music in an evening.  But in this case Aaron had to rearrange his music brain in short order to switch from charts and aesthetics of Pocket Aces to this very different threesome with very different charts.  It may be sufficient to say that Aaron Darrell continues to impress.  He makes it all seem so easy.  The repertoire of the Kohlhase trio set was one of the best aspects of the band’s performance.   There was a taste of fine John Tchicai music, but mostly it featured charts by the three band mates.  We even heard Charlie Kohlhase material we had not heard in a while.  After the set was completed Charlie mentioned that he would be making a greater effort to write new compositions.  That is great news for both musicians and fans.  The second-set trio pursued a variety of charts with great abandon.  Devin Drobka ran the gamut of technical devices, offering at least one different device on each piece.  But in no instance did he let the technical focus interfere with making the music of the moment happen.  All members of the trio ran into situations in which the three of them never had performed a work in public (or even in rehearsal) before.  And these guys made it happen as if it were a walk in the park.  And it was.  It was a fine Union Square walk in the park…

When it comes to political folly George Orwell remains the expert for our time.  We all know about Animal Farm and 1984, but his insights go well beyond those works.  For example, if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had read AND TAKEN TO HEART (fat chance of that), the lessons about the mutual destruction of the imperialist power and the recipient of the imperialist’s “good will” as articulated in the semi-autobiographical novels Down and Out in Paris and London and Burmese Days, maybe they would not have been so stupid as to invade Iraq as part of a big imperialist vision of a “Democratic Middle East.”  Recently I came across an Orwell quote that seems perfect for today, as our British friends foolishly flee rather than help fix the broken EU and we face having to vote for (or against) one of two stunningly incompetent Presidential candidates (because we failed to prevent such people from representing us at the party level).  We allowed this to happen because we failed to heed what Orwell knew all too well: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”…

If one were to anticipate an evening of improvisation featuring the brass work of Forbes Graham and Jeb Bishop, the expectation might be for some sort of conversational duo.  But the trio format (adding Luther Gray percussion) proved to be a wonderful decision.  As a “third horn” Luther slid in and out of a variety of roles--third solo voice, time keeper, narrator, and more--to enhance and challenge whatever path Forbes and Jeb might choose.  The first improvisation of the first set was a lengthy travelogue.  By that I mean the music went “everywhere” from exhilarating technical displays to melodic inventions to choral encounters and beyond.  The adventure was so impressive that at the conclusion of the improvisation I wondered to myself if anything else could be done for the rest of the evening.  Had they put so many things into that effort that they would be forced to come up with some kind of rehash?  I’ve seen even very fine musicians fall into that trap.  For example, at least some readers probably have encountered stories of musicians agreeing to do an evening of solo improvisation and showing up, giving the best performance that they could, glance down at the time and realize with horror that the evening has just begun.  But nothing of the sort was happening 6/4 at the Outpost.  That first foray was merely a warm-up piece.  With each effort throughout the two sets the intimacy of communication grew.  The resultant evolving and expanding breadth and depth of the music was as compelling to witness as a process as it was for its inherent beauty.  Fans at the Outpost experienced a joyous evening of music provided by three treasures of the sonic arts.  Given where and how the music was going when the sound stopped, I hope we fortunate listeners can witness the continuation of this trio process in the not too distant future… 


May 2016

People who are familiar with the Boston Jazz Scene web site probably are aware of the fact that a major focus of the site is the history of jazz in Boston, everything from the Major Contributors to the Jazz Journal, which covers fairly recent music events.  But, because of the significance of developments here during the 1970s, I made an effort to create a Journal for the 1970s, however brief.  It was a significant period of transition and growth, a time when an array of musicians and fans looked longingly backward while other musicians were breaking ground (and a hip subset of fans was cheering).  And so I wrote about the 1970s, but I also came up with context.  The entire century of jazz--even into the bebop era--was about entertainment and dance--most importantly dance.  New forms of jazz always created problems for the status quo.  Right from the beginnings of jazz, fans and musicians resisted aesthetic evolution.  Sometimes the resistance was at least partially racial, as in the case of George Wein having to bite the financial bullet almost every time he booked Charlie Parker at Storyville (while the same band would pack the place at the Hi-Hat, not that long a walk away from Wein’s club).  But much of the resistance to the “new” was and remains sonic unfamiliarity.  To this day one can find Trad jazz fans and musicians who claim that later jazz forms such as Swing and Bebop are not really jazz but rather other completely different forms of music.  And let’s not forget that the aesthetic argument between the beboppers and the “moldy figs” was an argument between Bop fans/musicians and their Swing counterparts (not Trad fans/musicians as is sometimes suggested).  If there was a difference between the post-Ayler evolution of jazz and its predecessors, it was (and remains) in the extremity of the resistance to change.  The resistance after well more than a half century has not disappeared.  I suspect the main reason it remains is that the average college student does not want to dance to any forms of post-Ayler music.  It is danceability after all that has kept mainstream jazz going (even if people do not dance at most mainstream gigs).  The crowds left when the dancing stopped.  The big aesthetic changes began during the 1960s.  And then particularly in the 1970s conservative fans, jazz institutions, and even the musicians themselves became concerned, perhaps scared.  Think pieces in a variety of publications proclaimed that jazz was dead.  I remember my tenure on the board of the Boston Jazz Society (one of those jazz support groups founded in the 1970s as an antidote to post-Ayler jazz) and several times unsuccessfully attempting to convince other board members that the Society’s slogan--”Jazz is Alive”--logically implied the validity (or potential validity) of the opposite philosophical position.  All of this retro and avant cultural stuff was going on while the jazz support groups were born and went about their business.  Through all of this activity there was a connected group of people at the churches on Newbury Street and some other places who said that jazz without sonic or aesthetic boundaries is a good idea.  In the middle (or at the head) of all that was Mark Sumner Harvey.  From the early 1970s until this minute Mark Harvey has fought the good fight for economic and social fairness among all of us on this planet.  And he understood that the right path needs a strong song.  He chose jazz.  And now he has chosen to share his memories of that jazz scene in Boston of the 1970s (and early ‘80s) through writing, recorded documentation, and a celebratory kickoff 5/1 at the Piano Factory.  The opening music featured the rhythm section of John Funkhauser with keyboards,  John Voigt, and Harry Wellott providing support for Tom Plsek, Arnie Cheatham, Peter Bloom, and Mark Harvey.  There was Tom offering a trombone solo that sounded remarkably like a didgeridoo (due to a new wooden mouthpiece created by Erik Nugent) and a terrific solo by Arni Cheatham.  But mostly the music came across as more respectful of the occasion than of the musical tradition it was celebrating.  But that was the warmup.  The feel of the evening was on the whole improvisational (and apparently intentionally so).  As the stage area cleared gradually, other people improvisationally wandered to the drum kit (Syd Smart) and the keyboard (John Funkhauser).  A bass stick followed under tow by John Voigt.  The rhythm section kicked in and others could not keep from joining the sonic event--Peter Bloom, Mark, Arnie, and Tom.  These guys blew the nostalgia away.  No alarms went off, but the place was on fire.  When the smoke cleared, Mark made some comments about jazz in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s and opened the floor to questions and comments.  There were memories about gigs, bands, subsets within the jazz community—racial, geographic, and aesthetic--and how groups such as the Jazz Coalition helped break down the boundaries.  I put in my two cents about how those efforts helped set the stage for the fact that today Boston is perhaps the only unfragmented major jazz center in the U.S., a significant contrast to Chicago and New York City, where cliques battle for a piece of the non-existent pie.  There were more memories and enlightening comments to be offered than there was time to hear them.  Tom gave the bandstand over to more music.  In this case Bob Gullotti showed why today the Fringe packs them in every week at the Lily Pad after years of weekly gigs somewhere in town since the group’s founding in 1972.  Joining him were John Funkhauser on bass, an unplugged Ron Savage at the keyboard, and Arni Cheatham on sax.  These folks lifted the bandstand to offer the perfect conclusion to a fine celebration.  I suggest that people interested in what happened on the jazz scene in the 1970s and 1980s go to History - Jazz Journal 1970s on this web site for a contextual overview and then pick up your copy of The Boston Creative Jazz Scene: 1970-1983, put the recorded document of bands of the era in your playback equipment, and begin reading Mark’s fine details.  In case you are the last person on your block without a copy of the fine book/recording package, you can order a copy at this site

Johannes “Hannes” Bauer died from Lung cancer 5/6 in Berlin.  He and his older brother Konrad (alternately Conrad) were a pair of celebrated trombonists.  Hannes was an extraordinary improvisor and a constructively provocative conversationalist.  Some readers of this Journal are aware of my complaints about the extent to which sound recordings have impaired the development of classical and jazz musicians.  But Hannes’ views on the subject were even more extreme than mine.  I can remember talking with him just before he was scheduled to offer a set of his fine trombone work in a duo with Fred Lonberg-Holm 6/7 during the 2015 Okka Fest.  As we talked the PA system was presenting some music by Sun Ra’s band.  I made a reference to that recording  when I explained that the Governor of Massachusetts was the son of Pat Patrick.  Hannes responded that he was aware of Sun Ra but probably never had heard any of Sun Ra’s recordings.  Further discussion revealed that Hannes did not listen to recordings.  I was surprised and pushed the point.  He said that very rarely he might listen to some Beethoven, but he never listened to his own recordings or those of any other jazz musicians.  For him the music was in the moment of creation.  And then he played his trombone, demonstrating just how clear his thinking was.  I did not know it at the time, but he had been going through chemotherapy for lung cancer for about six months.  It was too little too late.  More recently I had a chance to talk with Jeb Bishop just before a terrific Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet gig 5/11 at the Lily pad.  Jeb had known Hannes quite well, the two of them having shared countless duo trombone “battles” during Peter Brötzmann Tentet concerts  around the globe.  Jeb knew that time was running out for Hannes.  Earlier this month while on tour in Europe, Jeb sent a couple emails from Cologne to Hannes to let him know that Jeb was looking forward to seeing him shortly  in Berlin.  Before Jeb left Cologne he got word from Hannes’ wife that Hannes had passed away.  When Jeb got to Berlin he met several other musicians who shared the loss with him.  It was a gathering of mourners with many memories.  We sad people who had an opportunity to know Hannes--even briefly--are lucky enough to have some idea how great our loss is… 
 
Fred Lonberg-Holm and Hannes Bauer perform Sunday afternoon June 7, 2015

Gargonz--George Garzone, John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti, Jerry Bergonzi, Bruce Gertz, Luther Gray, and Phil Grenadier (as a fine new addition)--made its first appearance in at least a decade.  The lineup was the same as the original one featured with some frequency at the Willow Jazz Club in the 1980s, except for the added trumpet and Luther Gray in the drum seat instead of Bob Kaufman.  It’s been a while, but this ensemble has not forgotten how to catch fire.  And word of the 5/16 event at the Lily Pad obviously reached a pretty big audience, even including Claire, bartender at the long defunct Michaels’s Pub on Gainsborough Street where the Fringe got its start in the early 1970s.  The gig opened with a free jazz assault (including the reading of a brief composed fragment played by the front line in the middle of that assault).  The barrage advanced with just about every instrumental possibility from three-horn simultaneous arguments to a drum conversation (including longtime Bergonzi partner but Gargonz newby Luther Gray and Bob Gullotti) to arco and pizzicato chatter on the basses to solo and support work from all scattered throughout the extended improvisation.  The impressive thing about it was the relentlessness of the quality of the work in terms of not merely energy but also creative digging.  There were times when I shut my eyes and involuntarily found myself at the Willow in the mid-1980s.  The commonality of the experience was not identity.  The five band members of the new septet who performed on the Gargonz gigs of the 1980s--Bob, Bruce, John, Jerry, and George--are better musicians today with more experience and a greater array of musical resources.  But the then and now music of Gargonz share the same visceral energy and the same boundless searching curiosity.  It was a fine moment embracing the then and the now.  These folks blew the roof off and the audience reacted in kind.  The experience was of such quality and presented so much to chew on that I could have walked out and gone home, more than content with what I gladly had survived.  During a pause of a few minutes George smiled broadly and claimed that when you are playing with “musicians this good, it’s like sex.”  After a ripple of laughter throughout the audience there was another pause, and Jerry said dryly, “No comment.”  The open joy of the evening was like that during, before, and after each music offering.  One cannot top the first music of the night, the improvised work, with “more of the same.”  So they decided to do more of the same by not doing more of the same.  They chose to perform the jazz classic, “I Hear a Rhapsody.”  My goodness.  They destroyed the classic, but I suspect that Messrs. Baker, Gasparre, Bard, and Fragos would have applauded as loudly as anyone in the room.  The ensemble kept the head alive, throwing it around the bandstand while taking turns improvising in solo and group tag teams until every permutation of tune and spontaneous creation came to some imaginary stop sign.  Jerry’s “Almost Blue” closed out the almost hour-and-half-long set before they cleared the room to collect a new entry fee for the next set.  I certainly got my money’s worth, but it would have been kind to let people know by word at the door or in the publicity what the “ticket policy” was.  In any case, the music I heard will resonate joyously for a long time to come…

Beyond Biology is a quintet that is built from a pool of seven or eight of Boston’s stellar improvisors.  Regardless of number and availability of the members of the pool, the 5/31 Beyond Biology--leader Jacob William, Jim Hobbs, Jeff Galindo, Junko Fujiwara, and Laurence Cook--performance at the Outpost was something of a reunion.  I had not seen Laurence Cook perform in months.  As Journal readers know, Laurence’s 4/16 scheduled performance at Third Life Studio was prevented by a faulty fire alarm.  Personal and family matters have been keeping Jacob William traveling much more frequently than in the past.  He explained that he has been out of the country at least once per month (along with a busy national schedule).  The result is that his local gig scheduling has been hampered.  He hopes to present one gig per month throughout the summer.  But the impact of his travels left us with a rare performance by Beyond Biology.  The 5/31 gig was only the second one by this group in 2016.  The 5/31 performance was kept to a single, hefty one-and-a-half-hour set.  At least partially that single set was intended to allow Jeff and Jim to scamper off to perform at late-start gigs at the Lily Pad and the Bee Hive.  Whatever the logic, we lucky folks in the audience got a chance to witness extraordinary individual contributions and exhilarating duo and ensemble interactions in improvised segments lasting from perhaps two minutes to twenty minutes, depending on what the muse dictated.  On this night the music tended to occur in conceptual duos, while a variety of group activity “cheered” the duo work onward.  There was a lot of chatter between Junko and Jacob.  For much of the evening Jeff and Jim alternately took solos, stoking each other’s sonic fires.  And Laurence.  What a treasure he is.  Unpredictable.  Simplicity beyond simplicity.  All night it was Laurence and whatever else that was going on--that kind of duo.  So you know his musicality and wonderful surprises pushed all on the bandstand to reach higher.  That’s some of the wonder of 5/31, but of course there was more.  Each time Beyond Biology performs there is creation at the highest level.  This evening was one incarnation of unpredictable art at its best.  Next time what happens likely will take on different forms and movement.  But the constant will be the quality.  High quality…

Pursuing the creation of art--whether it is painting, writing plays, or making jazz happen--is a difficult, sometimes illusive/elusive journey.  For several decades Pandelis Karayorgis has composed charts, (more recently) taken on pure improvisation, and formed and led ensembles.  Throughout it all he has established an enviable track record of sound events of significant and durable quality.  There have been bumps in the road of course.  Most of the creative bumps can be attributed to the ephemerality of qualified/simpatico band members and the seduction of intellect.  The former problem is inherently a challenge for any band leader.  The latter bump can occur only when the band leader is as intelligent and intellectual as Pandelis.  All great music must appeal to the intellect, even if we listeners are not conscious of the intellectual component as we enjoy the music itself.  But creative people naturally are fascinated (even seduced) by ideas.  The challenge for the more intelligent creative artists is to use ideas in the service of art rather than the opposite.  On occasion (and fortunately rarely) Pandelis falls into that trap.  And now Pandelis has a new quintet, an ensemble of sonic light (and potentially brighter horizons).  I mention the past and the sonic present for a reason.  For approximately the past year I have had the fear that Pandelis has lost his way.  There have been problems with recent Pandelis Karayorgis ensembles.  Some of those problems are rooted in the two creative bumps noted here.  I waited with eyes and ears toward positive resolution.  But the resolution did not come.  In fact, I heard an even more troubling development--predictable music.  Whatever listeners might say about the music of Pandelis Karayorgis, they certainly could not claim that it was predictable.  In fact, some of his arrangements and improvisations were so filled with surprising implication that I found myself occasionally lost.  The shear power of the quality of the work invariably would carry me along to a “connection point” and the clarified path.  But his music in the most profound sense always was a challenge.  And then during the past year or so bits and pieces of predictability began finding their way into his charts and solos.  Over time the music’s predictability became the rule, a puzzling constant.  I try avoiding making suggestions about music to musicians (for a variety of reasons perhaps to be taken up at some other time) and therefore never mentioned my concern to Pandelis.  But I could not help speculating to myself about the cause of the significant change.  The speculation got me nowhere.  Perhaps he intended to use the charts in workshops for young students or sessions for people unlikely to know anything about jazz.  Not likely.  Was he trying to simplify charts for novice band mates?  Again, that made no sense.  Music that is pared down or superficially simple does not have to fail to challenge audiences and band mates.  For example, nothing is superficially simpler (and at the same time more profound) than the music of John Tilbury.  If that was not enough, Pandelis was performing with some excellent musicians.  I had no answers.  Just concerns.  Then this latest quintet happened.  The first time I caught a version of this band (with almost identical personnel), the group was searching for its sea legs.  But what was happening on the bandstand suggested a genuine sea change.  Then the pieces seemed to be coming together later at the 5/11 gig at the Lily Pad.  And now the latest version of the Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet showed up 5/21 at Third Life Studio and made me believe (at least for the present) that bandleader/arranger Pandelis Karayorgis is back and on track.  The arrangements (even the “old” ones) were artistically functional, filled with unpredictable encounters of improvisors and chart readers and both/either happening simultaneously and joyously.  These were gentlemen who knew the charts, slept with them under their pillows, invested in them, and made them dance and surprise as an ideal band should.  So what we had 5/21 was Pandelis Karayorgis and a quintet without (for the most part) bumps of intellect and ensemble performance.  The charts--even the older ones--were realized as charts are supposed to be realized: inherently engaging and challenging while creating the perfect ground for creative improvisation.  The evening apparently was a good taste of where Pandelis Karayorgis is right now.  Throughout two sets of music, except for three charts, all of the material performed was written by Pandelis.  The Pandelis Karayorgis charts were invariably challenging, and the band members danced with the material, no matter how “intellectual.”  For example, the chart of the thorny “Summer” was read and caressed by the band members as if they had written it themselves (to enhance their own improvisations).  And the occasional interjection of charts by other band members bodes well for future interjections.  Their sonic compositional voices are different from that of Pandelis with constructive results.  For example, most band members have performed in public Jeb Bishop’s “Razor Lip” at least a couple times.  So it probably should not have been a surprise when the band attacked the chart with knowing energy.  It was a fine setup for Seth Meicht who sonically leaped off the stage with (apparently Shepp-influenced) saxophony of the most soaring kind.  Fine stuff all evening long.  And nowhere in Pandelis’ solos or charts did I hear predictable music.  Am I too optimistic?  I hope not…

Charlie Kohlhase put together a tribute to the late post-Ayler master, John Tchicai, and I could not help thinking about the vast array of musicians throughout the planet who loved John Tchicai and would have made fine contributions to this celebration.  For example, I remember the warm embrace between Peter Brötzmann and John Tchicai--very different sonic personalities--outside the Lily Pad a few years ago.  As different as they were, they shared many of the same battle scars.  And, more recently, the great John Tchicai fan and fellow traveler, Garrison Fewell, who also is no longer with us.  But none of that stopped the intrepid musicians--Charlie, Daniel Rosenthal, Jason Robinson, John Ehlis, Eric Hofbauer, Aaron Darrell, and Curt Newton--from offering their thanks and accolades.  All these folks at least musically are Massachusetts bred--and aren’t we lucky that they are--and they decided to do what probably is not done quite so well throughout the rest of the jazz world.  They celebrated at post-Ayler icon and did it in a way that I believe John Tchicai would have enjoyed.  I have no question that each musician showed up focussed on making sure the performances would do justice to the man who influenced so many Boston area musicians with his recordings, performances here, and personal connections.  I remember the conversations I had with John Tchicai at gigs and social gatherings, and always his interaction with me was thoughtful, probing, non-confrontational, and constructive.  He always struck me as the very definition of “gentleman.”  It is important for me to note that, although I am talking about my interactions with and memories of John Tchicai, my experiences and impressions are not in any way unique.  I am sure that countless fans and musicians in the Boston area (and far beyond) could call up a wonderful catalogue of fine experiences.  In fact, that was one of the special aspects of the 5/8 gig at Third Life Studio, Charlie Kohlhase’s comments about his experiences with the music of John Tchicai (both recorded and live) and the man himself.  Charlie preceded each piece with comments about the work, when and where Charlie was when he encountered the recording or his first time experiencing John performing it.  Such references often led Charlie to bring up other personal experiences he had with John.  With all that it was the music itself that was the focus of the celebration.  Presented in mostly chronological sequence (sometimes off by a year or so because of programming aesthetics), the music was performed in a very effective array or instrumentation, everything from duo to septet.  I was most impressed by the quality of the music, not merely John’s wonderful chronologically evolving compositions, but the sure-footed execution of the charts and inspired improvisations.  These musicians studied the charts, took the rehearsal time seriously, and showed up to play the most celebratory music they could.  To a man the band members nailed the music with assurance and fire.  Other than performances in which John Tchicai’s actual presence was a central element of the music, the entire evening was the best performance of the master’s music I’ve ever witnessed.  I was lucky to be there…

In the May Scheduled Highlights I noted that Anthony Braxton was one of five people to be awarded honorary doctorates at NEC ceremonies 5/22.  Early this month Ann Braithwaite was kind enough to pass along a couple photos of the event taken by Miro Vintoniv.  Thanks to them for giving me permission to display this detail of Anthony Braxton at the time of award. 
Anthony Braxton 5/22 at New England Conservatory.     
Detail from photo by Miro Vintoniv                   

     When I posted the 5/24 Steve Lantner gig I was under the impression that the band would be a kind of reunion for one of Steve’s quartets that hadn’t performed in many months.  I was wrong, but no apology is necessary.  The quintet--Steve, Allan Chase, Forbes Graham, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray--is just a band of five men from two of Steve’s several quartets.  At the end of the evening an audience member came up to a couple guys in the band raving about this ensemble, as if this quintet were the only time these guys were amazing.  I was standing there, hearing the well-intentioned comment.  It’s the kind of thing that happens a lot in the Boston area.  Some people show up only when musicians from out of town perform.  For some reason this fan had the same kind of attitude about the quintet, as if there were a magical chemistry about this specific configuration.  I tried to get across the idea that any combination of musicians--from duo to quintet--found in Steve Lantner’s “pool of the extraordinary” will produce music of this astonishingly high quality every time.  But these fans of the visiting musicians have not witnessed the other configurations of Lantner ensembles (and are unlikely to do so in the future).  It is an ongoing frustration that I live in what may be the best post-Ayler jazz town in the U.S., and there is such a small fan base knowledgeable enough to appreciate what we are blessed with.  I go to jazz festivals and have some contact with fine musicians in New York and Chicago who are mired in the consequences of ugly jazz politics and musicians with commensurate distorted personal goals.  Yes, there are amazing musicians in those towns, but when was the last you witnessed the “amazings” not hampered by performing either boring charts or in a band populated by boring musicians?  It happens but it is rare.  I do not mention names because I love the music of those people and am pained by their plight (even if some of them do not seem to be aware of it).  Week in and out I am privileged to witness bands such as the Charlie Kohlhase band tribute to John Tchicai, the 5/24 gig at the Outpost, the 5/31 Beyond Biology gig, and on and on.  If that’s not enough (as I suggest elsewhere in this month’s Journal), it looks like Pandelis Karayorgis is getting his mojo back.  In covering the 5/24 gig I’ve gone off on a rant of sorts about the sad state of affairs outside the Boston area, and as a result the detailed praise of each of the wonderful musicians on the gig is lacking.  Apologies for that.  I will mention briefly an interaction between Allan Chase and Forbes Graham.  It is not enough, but it may be instructive.  By way of context I reiterate that all these musicians are top shelf.  I’d happily put them on the stand with any of the other superb improvisors on the planet.  One of the key things about a Steve Lantner gig is that everyone in the band knows all about what I just wrote.  They know that they are showing up to perform with the best.  In days of yore, that meant head-to-head battles.  You know, Hawkins vs. Pres.  That kind of thing.  I suspect that there is something like that in these Lantner bands, but I hear what’s going on as something much more constructive.  After the gig was over, I talked with Forbes about his life in general.  But I found the attempt to talk about his day gig and similar subjects not gaining much traction.  He could not help talking about what I interpreted as his life-blood, the important gigs such as the one that had just occurred.  He was in effect living for gigs like the one that just ended, but still had not ended for him.  He was still floating, energized from the experience.  And how could he not be?  I mention him because discussing a typical interaction between Allan Chase and Forbes Graham may be instructive.  I think it happened in the second set, but really it could have happened anywhere during the evening (or during the past five years).  The music is burning (but the “ballads” are killer also), and Allan decides to say something on the alto sax.  He offers sonics that are relevant and technically compelling, and there are sounds coming from the horn that aren’t in the text books.  But, most important, he’s spilling his guts on the bandstand.  Raw revelation.  No cover.  The music is too important for superficial decorum to matter.  And, as Allan creates this wondrous music, Forbes stands to the far right of the stage, completely focussed on the Allan Chase adventure to his left.  He knows that he will have to say something significant on his trumpet when Allan completes his statement.  Throughout all of this the careful observer understands that what is going through Forbes’ mind is not the tradition of one-upmanship that we associate with jazz of the past decades.  No doubt it is too presumptuous of me to speculate what Forbes Graham was thinking.  Nevertheless, I will take into account what I think I know about him and suggest that besting Allan’s remarkable statement never entered his mind.  Rather (I believe), Forbes saw and heard what was happening and was exhilarated by the profound beauty of it.  He heard all that and at the same time knew the music was a setup for him.  What could be better than hearing the best music imaginable as a doorway to trumpet beauty of the highest level?  The result was Forbes playing profound interplanetary music.  What else would a Forbes Graham of such extraordinary resources and passion do on such an evening?  And the most important fact is that “play like it’s your last gig” approach to music from top-shelf musicians is not peculiar to the musicians of the 5/24 gig.  It’s an extraordinary week-in and week-out phenomenon.  And I’m lucky enough to be aware of and luxuriate in it.  In a few weeks I will spend a day at the Newport Jazz Festival.  I have attended the fest off and on since the late 1950s.  I have the highest regard for George Wein for what he’s accomplished in Boston, Newport, and elsewhere.  But I do not envy the challenges of trying to put on a “big draw” festival these days.  Most of what people who show up to the big festivals are looking for is something like mainstream/bebop jazz.  And that music is both metaphorically and literally dead.  There is a tiny handful of living practitioners of the art who perform convincing music in that realm (such as Paul Broadnax).  But the young practitioners are painful to listen to.  On the other hand, to the credit of George Wein and his cohorts, there is new music on the Newport Jazz Festival.  And, for the most part, the less said about that the better.  No Matter.  I will be there, suffering through almost all of the day, hoping to find at least a few groups who do not bore me to death.  There are some musicians from New York and elsewhere who may surprise me.  I enter the fray with optimism.  I hope I am lucky and hear some music that really challenges the ear.  Maybe even some musicians who will perform as if it is their last gig.  Maybe.  In any event, my great consolation is that I can come home to witness the real deal.  People playing music of the same high quality--the same passion--of Armstrong, Parker, and Ayler.  I truly am thankful for the bastion that is Boston…


April 2016

The Open Sound presentation 4/16 at Third Life Studio scheduled a lineup of two different classical music sets and two different jazz/improvised music sets.  Normally I would not mention any specifics about the composed music performances, but a couple comments may be relevant to readers of this Journal.  Flutist Mike Avitabile offered a fine set of music, the last work of particular interest to jazz fans.  “Density 21.5,” a piece favored by Eric Dolphy, was written by Edgard Varèse, an influence on Charlie Parker and other beboppers.  A solo performance by Vic Rawlings followed.  On 4/16 most of his work with electronics and amplified cello (no more than a half dozen bow strokes) demonstrated the same quiet aesthetics of the presumably now-defunct undr ensemble.  With James Coleman being the only member of the quartet living in the Boston area (and Vic recently moved to central Massachusetts) it seems even a more remote possibility that somehow Greg Kelley will be lured from the West Coast for a Boston area gig.  But I digress.  There were a couple brief bursts of “normal” volume static sounds from Vic’s equipment.  But the contrast between the quiet work and those bursts gave the subjective impact of the bursts as being offered by Keith Rowe.  One of the signal (no pun intended) aspects of Vic’s performance is that it was as much theater as music.  At the beginning of the set he gave the impression by action and demeanor that he was merely setting up his equipment.  But the audience was hip and caught on quickly, sustaining attention even though Vic’s actions and demeanor superficially did not change.  It was a fine performance inside joke.  For example, people who are into the music of Paul Lytton will show up early to catch him setting up his equipment.  They engage in the ritual act.  And so it was for Vic Rawlings--but in reverse.  He held exactly to his twenty-minute allotment completing the disassembly of his electronic gear at the end of his last minute.  Fine work.  The string trio Sound Energy was up next, offering a minimalist work by Bostonian Marti Epstein and Webern’s Opus 20.  Sound Energy has taken on quite a challenge.  With the remarkably successful development of the string quartet by Mozart and Haydn, the string trio has pretty much gone the way of the dodo.  If that’s not enough, these musicians apparently limit their Sound Energy repertoire to works composed approximately during the last one hundred years.  And so it was ironic that Webern’s String Trio, one of the most famous of those rare twentieth century string trios should be killed 4/16 at Third Life Studio.  The musicians were into the second movement of a fine performance of the work when a very loud fire alarm sent musicians and audience members into the street.  According to jazz writer Michael Rosenstein, that was the second time in less than a month that the faulty fire alarm went off during a concert.  As members of the fire department checked out the building, it struck me that almost certainly for valid reasons of public safety they would shut down Third Life Studio and presumably the rest of the building until the faulty alarm is fixed or replaced.  More recently I learned that a daytime event at Third Life Studio a few months ago was stopped because of the faulty fire alarm.  In the meantime, a fine string trio was silenced in mid-sentence and a superb jazz quintet--Charlie Kohlhase, Junko Fujiwara, Jeff Platz, Kit Demos, and Laurence Cook--was left on the street, its music unheard.  And it is not a minor matter that some musicians--Kit Demos and Junko Fujiwara in particular--drove for many miles to no useful end.  Let’s hope the problem is fixed soon.  There are at least two more concerts planned for Third Life Studio this spring…

In recent months regarding Western classical music I have mentioned that there are some signs that a rebirth of interest in ear-stretching music of the most recent 100 years is taking place.  In that regard during this month I experienced more good news.  Two days in a row I witnessed live performances of the music of Anton Webern.  One of those instances was the interrupted event 4/16 at Third Life Studio.  The next afternoon I witnessed the performance of a Webern work by the Parker Quartet at Paine Hall.  I cannot remember any previous experience of a live performance of that composer’s music on two consecutive days.  On the other hand, audience ears have a long way to go.  Waiting for the music to begin I heard a man in the row in front of me explain to a friend, “One of the works is traditional, another is avant-garde, and the third piece is really avant-garde.”  He was talking about the three string quartets that were about to be performed, compositions by Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and Webern respectively.  The two avant-garde pieces were written more than a century ago and less than twenty years after the Tchaikovsky quartet.  The Bartók work was his first quartet, and the Webern Opus 5 was one of that composer’s pre-serial works.  There were grumblings about the difficult music from other quarters as well.  But not all was lost.  The Parker Quartet opened the concert with back-to-back performances of the Webern and the Bartók respectively without pause.  It was presumably a daunting gulp of challenging music for recalcitrant music fans.  However, the Parker’s performance was so technically astonishing and aesthetically convincing that the subsequent applause was genuinely enthusiastic and sustained.  Chalk one up for quality…

Guitarist John Ehlis was in town with his family to investigate potential undergraduate opportunities for one of his children.  I’m sure he showed up with a good plan of attack.  Otherwise the prospect of investigating the more than one hundred colleges and universities within the Rte. 128 ring would be a nightmare.  The good news for those of us at the Outpost 4/14 is that he brought his guitar as well as Charlie Kohlhase and Eric Hofbauer with him.  Actually it was Charlie’s gig.  So Charlie determined that the trio would perform composed material--mostly John Tchicai works--in instrumental permutations of solo, duo, and trio.  For the most part it was a fine idea.  Implementation of the possibilities was quite engaging and revelatory.  The three solos demonstrated beyond mere instrumental peculiarities just how different the musical voice of each person is.  Everything from the specifics of technique to the musical roots of each man.  The three pairings resulted in three completely different conversations.  These solo and duo performances were spiced by ensemble work in a trio format that exhibited interactive consistency and engaging diversity of architecture.  If that was not enough, there were shared verbal stories from the stage as well.  All and all, it was an evening of friendship and fine music, concluding just before other members of the Ehlis clan walked in, seemingly happy to be basking in the glow of academic pursuit…

Eric Rosenthal brought in two quartets 4/13 at the Lily Pad to make different sounds with eight different people.  He played drums in a group that (as far as I know) never had performed together before--Eric, Steve Lantner, Junko Fujiwara, and Charlie Kohlhase.  Nevertheless, these folks played as if the band were well-seasoned but on the last gig the group ever would have.  No tomorrow.  Yes, Steve and Junko have been performing together a lot recently, but this essentially was a pickup band that decided to be a world-beater.  Some of the remarkable creative energy came from Junko.  Perhaps the soaring music comes out of the fact that she is going through a particularly upbeat time in her life.  Whatever the reason, Junko’s music on her most recent gigs that I’ve witnessed has been extraordinary.  At one point on the 4/13 gig she took an in-your-face pizzicato solo, and, as the drums casually moved into the cello world, she kept pushing.  It continued when the piano joined the party.  A revelation, enhanced so beautifully by Steve and Eric.  The solos and support work (regardless of whether or not one could be sure which was which) of Steve and Eric were sufficient reason for a fan to be there and appreciate the good fortune.  Another quite special aspect of the gig was Charlie’s contributions.  He plays totally free music too rarely, and his performance 4/13 was as good an argument I can imagine against that rarity.  Charlie found himself surrounded by superb free playing and responded as true masters do.  He blew the roof off.  Well, at least some of us lucky folks in the audience were lifted along with the bandstand.  The quartet of musicians on the second set--Pandelis Karayorgis, Seth Meicht, Nate McBride, and Curt Newton--are among the most respected in the Boston area.  Nevertheless, these gentlemen had their work cut out for them.  When they began to play the bandstand still was smoldering from the sonics of the first set.  But there was more to the burden.  This post-Ayler ensemble employed charts as a context for improvisation with the intention of performing as a quintet.  Jeb Bishop, who apparently got his calendar messed up, never made the performance as part of the front line.  So I imagine at least some members of the remaining quartet hit the stage hauling a bit of angst with them.  Instead--because that’s what real musicians do--they hit the charts running.  Seth played whatever he had to, making sax and trombone voicings work all by himself.  But everyone was affected.  They rehearsed as a quintet, hearing trombone all over the place when they rehearsed.  And here they were at the Lily Pad, and there was no trombone voice.  So the question becomes: Did these guys play so superbly because they knew they had to work harder without Jeb or because they were preceded by one of the best sets of music so far in 2016 or both or something else?  I don’t know, but I felt elevated in the results.  The killer performance continued until 9:30 p.m. when some air went out of the balloon.  Was it because a half dozen fans scattered throughout the fine audience had to get home to save the baby sitter or some other emergency or was it the fact that the effort to overcome the obstacles resulted in aesthetic fatigue or something else?  I don’t know…

Ethiopian jazz musician Getatchew Mekuria (sometimes, particularly in Britain, spelled Mekurya) died 4/4 after a long series of illnesses.  Of course he was not well known in the U.S., but he has some fairly solid links to current and former Bostonians. Our own Either/Orchestra shared the stage with Mekuria on more than one occasion, perhaps most famously at the 2008 Lincoln Center Outdoors concert.  In addition Ken Vandermark, primarily through work with the Ex, performed with the visceral saxophone legend several times in Addis Ababa.  Mekuria had developed a durable relationship with the Ex, especially guitarist Terrie Hessels (AKA Terrie Ex).  Terrie was instrumental in creating opportunities for Mekuria to perform at concerts in spite of physical disabilities and raise significant funds so that the saxophonist had personal home care until the end of his life.  No doubt there will be memorial concerts in Addis featuring an array of international musicians…

I hadn’t seen the band in a while.  One of the leaders of the Melissa Kassel & Tom Zicarelli Group has been sidelined for a couple months recovering from foot surgery, and she will be hobbling for a couple more weeks.  Melissa is feeling good and obviously had a ball at the Lily Pad 4/24.  The entire band--also including Phil Grenadier, Dave Clark, and Nat Mugavero--was another matter.  After the layoff there was some rust on the wheels, and it took a bit of time to get going.  But a few bars into “Spring for Joy” the band was purring like a new Rolls.  By the time the tune was completed, one almost could hear some fantasy Don Pardo character announcing, “The band is back!”  And welcome back…

Throughout the twentieth century there was not merely jazz as an important form of music but also a jazz cultural context.  The preeminent physical locus of jazz culture was the traditional jazz club.  Even though today major jazz centers such as Boston have several jazz venues that define themselves as jazz clubs, one might raise the question as to whether or not there is anything left of what we might define as “jazz culture.”  I maintain that the heart of the past century’s jazz culture remains, even though perhaps most jazz fans and even some musicians may be unaware of it.  I believe that a large number of jazz musicians are aware of perhaps the most significant aspect of that culture, the social connection specifically among musicians.  Some audience members convince themselves--it’s a self-deception--that they are part of the social mix among musicians that is central to jazz culture.  But the perception is foolishness.  I’m not suggesting that musicians and fans have little to share off the bandstand.  But if you are what Steve Lacy called a “recreationalist” musician or a fan, you cannot know the sacrifice/joy of engaging in an activity that only other musicians who engage in the sacrifice/joy truly can understand.  I like to think that the real musicians know who they are and that they know the difference between themselves and the pretenders/recreationalists and the fans.  That kind of “working jazz musician” aspect of jazz culture has been significant since the early days of jazz and remains so today.  But there are other lesser (but significantly telling) aspects of jazz culture that remain even though they are not so obvious.  Two recent events at facilities/institutions not typically associated with jazz help articulate important aspects of jazz culture (or the lack thereof).  One relevant event was the 4/7 performance at the Gardner Museum.  When the musicians and visual artist completed the performance, they took their bows, acknowledging the appreciative audience, and left.  I mean left.  I hung around to see the participants to chat, but they were gone.  I’m sure that eventually they came back for their instruments.  But no doubt they were in a room somewhere talking to Peggy Guggenheim or other museum types.  (I joke of course.)  But the culture is different.  Just as I thought nothing of talking to Blakey on a break at the Jazz Workshop or grabbing James Williams after the first set to have dinner next door when he was playing with Elvin Jones at the Blue Note, if Rudresh Mahanthappa and Neil Leonard were playing at a jazz venue in town, the post-gig reception would have been much more informal--I’m tempted to say “jazz human.”  Here’s another example.  A jazz musician friend showed up for the “celebration of jazz” at Harvard 4/8 a bit late for the start of the first set.  But because the set was a single solo piano improvisation and it lasted for more than ten minutes and the gig was at Paine Hall, he was asked to wait until the end of the performance to be allowed in the concert hall.  Hey, it’s Harvard and classically-oriented Paine Hall.  What do you expect?  Taking a quick jaunt through the history of jazz on my friend’s behalf, if he had walked into a set in any jazz venue with music provided by Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, or anyone else of stature you can think of, he would have been welcomed gladly (barring sold-out status).  My musician friend walked away from Paine Hall to pursue something else.  Applause.  (I do have a jazz culture bias.)  OK.  Let’s flip things into a different direction, pop music culture.  How about Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore?  Some fans may know that Thurston Moore is enthusiastic about post-Ayler improvisation and that he and our own John Voigt and Laurence Cook were in a pretty explosive improvising trio that toured a bit.  But back farther than that Thurston Moore performed at Chicago’s Empty Bottle Festival in the 1990s.  Mats Gustafsson, one of the improvisors on the bill, was a big Thurston Moore fan and was among the improvisors who performed with the guitarist.  I was there for the post-Ayler jazz, of course.  But I was impressed by all the people lined up around the block to catch a glimpse of and hear the magic notes of the Sonic Youth icon.  I suspect that, once these fans were inside, many of them were confused to witness the guitarist having a great time doing something other than playing tunes.  Nevertheless, the die-hards hung around until the end.  The end for them was the last sounds on the stage.  When that last set was over, all these Sonic Youth fans found their way out the front door.  The rest of us, jazz musicians and fans, hung around, breaking down equipment, chatting about the day’s music or other things, the next meal, the usual things.  But all the Sonic Youth fans were gone because hanging out with touring pop stars is not part of their culture.  Except for one fan.  It may have been luck or insanity, but for some reason that Sonic Youth fan was sitting on some steps by the main stage with Thurston Moore.  I was lucky because I was aware of such an informal, unforced connection between the pop icon and the fan.  I watched from a distance and felt a kind of joy that this formerly distant fan was for a time having access to the words--the person--of a genuinely terrific, self-effacing human, Thurston Moore.  As I think of that, I think of how lucky I am to be a fan of the music in which I witness these terrific musicians--jazz musicians--week in and out.  That fact is why in this Journal sometimes I digress, bringing up such human musician matters as stoats and childhood memories.  The music after all is more than sound alone.  And what about “the good old days,” when some major bands would be booked in a New York club for six months or more, and the places often were packed?  Well, it must have been a mixed blessing.  The bread sometimes was fairly good and the work was steady, but relatively few people in the audience showed up to shut up and listen.  A jazz gig was a social event, a place and a sound context in which to catch up with the daily lives of friends and perhaps dance.  Before some clubs initiated a “shut up during each set” policy for patrons, a room could get quite noisy.  Just put on a recording of a jazz ensemble performing during some of the earliest “live jazz” club sessions.  Even with careful--for its time--recording techniques, the clinking of glasses and crowd chatter sometimes almost drown out the band.  We are so used to the noise that it has become part of the music on those classic disks from the 1950s.  But try one of those disks with a different mind set, just focusing on the crowd noise.  It’s pretty obtrusive.  My favorite moment of such sessions occurs on the first Chico Hamilton Quintet recording (World Pacific PJ-1209) during the first few bars of “Walking Carson Blues.”  The session takes place at Strollers in Long Beach on August 4, 1955.  The significant intrusion during Carson Smith’s opening bass work is the beeping of an automobile horn just outside the club.  It is so much a part of the recorded performance that I would be disappointed if in some future re-issue a creative engineer deleted the car horn from the music.  Nevertheless, I am one who prefers silent audiences on recordings and at in-person gigs.  That fact brings up at least one advantage to live post-Ayler gigs over mainstream jazz gigs.  There is a continuum of “mainstream jazz culture” at clubs that feature bop/mainstream music, and that culture includes chatter right through the music (except in clubs with an enforced “no talking” policy).  On the other hand, the culture of post-Ayler gigs is that fans show up primarily to see and hear the music.  A chatty audience member can expect at least dirty looks.  So there is a jazz culture and there are jazz sub-cultures.  However, as the world turns music cultures evolve.  One such force for change is the “house gig.”  Jazz house gigs to a great extent are business as usual.  But in the classical world such things signal change.  Classical house gig series such as Groupmuse are a fans-musicians hang, very much like a post-Ayler gig or a jazz house gig.  But the upper echelon classical ensembles traditionally use such intimate and personal gatherings strictly as big income events.  You know, “Give us $500 and you will be enjoying your pheasant under glass at the table two seats away from the visiting countertenor.”  Although large and prestigious classical ensembles may be in trouble financially, it isn’t because they are having their gala dinner on the same night as a Groupmuse gig…

Kit Demos’ Dark Matter gig 4/23 at the Outpost was an engaging intersection of the arts, in this case the spontaneous visual art of Jeff Lipskycreated during the presentation of the sonic art of Kit, Jeff Platz, Jim Hobbs, Todd Brunel, and Eric Andrews.  On this evening Jeff Lipsky chose to create mostly abstract images on paper using chalk.  Throughout the evening the visual artist worked in layers--first in great detail, then covering much of that detail in broad washes of color, only to build a layer of detail on that, followed by a broad swath, and so on.  Editing as he went.  At the end of the evening, when the sonics were silent, the visual artist lamented that he had not completed his work at the same time as the musicians.  Apparently he had more editing to do.  I was glad that I had a good view of his easel throughout the extended single set.  I arrived a couple minutes late to the gig, but the entire quintet had not yet arrived.  So some fine quartet music preceded the arrival of Todd.  The one constant throughout the quartet-quintet evening was the time-keeping of Eric Andrews who, except for a couple very brief moments, consistently played straight time of one sort or another throughout the entire evening.  No doubt the conventional pulse was a jolt intended by Kit to shake up the fine array of musicians.  No sleeping on a Kit Demos gig.  Normally straight time occurs seldom if at all on post-Ayler improvised music gigs, usually as a change to rearrange the musicians’ thinking.  On this gig the time--however varied--was relentless.  Some, such as Todd, grabbed the time and threw the idea up in the air for consideration, even making oblique references to swing era tunes.  Jim used his alto sax as a bulldozer of sound, perhaps a dissenting voice.  But all of it was an engaging stew of “incongruous” sonic statements.  Jeff supported and soloed, apparently unfazed by the shifting fabric, offering some of the most compelling Platz work I’ve heard.  The leader makes all of this impossibility happen.  And yet, during a particular bass solo late in the evening, it hit me that one of the most exhilarating performances I can imagine is Kit Demos on the stage alone with his bass and electronics making sounds.  Wouldn’t that be something   

Recent research (Science News 4/2, p.5) claims to have determined why U.S. men’s lives are approximately two years shorter than those of men in the twelve other “high-income countries,” such as Germany and Sweden.  The research suggests that “death due to injuries are the reason for much of the gap…  An analysis of… data revealed that deaths from injuries due to firearms, drug poisonings and auto crashes account for 48 percent of the differences in men’s life expectancies.”  But maybe the last sentence of the article states the most significant finding:  “These causes of death are less of a problem for American women.”  Apparently once again the male-dominated science community overlooks the simple fact that American women are smarter than American men…

I was able to attend only the first half of the second evening of the two-day Creative Music Convergences program at Paine Hall curated by Vijay Iyer, the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts.  (I’m glad I was able to type that; I doubt that I could specify his title in a single breath.)  Over the years there have been many jazz performances at Paine Hall, but I got the joke when a member of the crowd waiting to get into the hall asked to no one in particular, “Is this the first time a black person has performed in Paine Hall?”  As if in response to the question, the lineups on the two evenings both represented the colors and races of the planet fairly well and offered a sampling of post-Ayler musicians from outside the Boston area exclusively (mostly NYCity but even Chicago).  I don’t think it will surprise local musicians and fans that Boston’s post-Ayler best will continue to be missed in the fog of New York.  In spite of personal time constraints I was able to catch the first two sets of music 4/8.  (Awful I know, but better than nothing.)  The evening began with a solo set by Craig Taborn.  He’s a pianist with substantial music knowledge and technique, but I found his performance devoid of surprise.  On the other hand, upon the conclusion of his performance, the audience reacted with enthusiastic applause, the vast majority of people seated near me offering an ovation while standing.  Nevertheless, my primary interest in showing up was the music on the second set, the “composed” architecture and improvisations of the Ikue Mori-Wadada Leo Smith Duo.  I first encountered Smith’s music live on February 13, 1988 when Dave Bryant brought him to Brandeis to perform with the pianist.  And here the innovative trumpeter was so many years later, performing at Harvard, playing even better than at my last experience catching him in Chicago in the 1990s.  Morbidity rates tell us that Smith, who will be 75 at the end of this year, is in the new century the proverbial spring chicken.  Maybe so, but not so for trumpet players.  You may remember the embouchure problems of a much younger Miles Davis.  I remember the pain of witnessing Buck Clayton, about five years younger than Smith is now, struggling to get a note--any note--out of his trumpet on a gig at Lulu White’s.  Soon the giant put away his trumpet and focussed his talents on arranging and band leading.  Nearer to home I remember Herb Pomeroy, more than ten years younger than Smith, struggle to get even a single octave out of his horn because of trouble with false teeth.  I hasten to add the results of his pushing that seven or eight note range resulted in some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.  So here I was at Paine Hall 4/8 witnessing Wadada Leo Smith create a range of sputters and tones--primarily via embouchure--to push the two musicians and the audience to new sonic experiences.  Even bringing forth clarion calls when desired.  This is the second time in three months that I have been lucky enough to witness the brilliant work of Ikue Mori.  Wonderful on both occasions and different on both.  On 4/8 she carried out the dual role of individual voice--talking to and prodding the trumpet--and sonic context in which she and Smith soared and shoveled their way forward.  Given the primarily non-acoustic samples she was working with, I found myself puzzled that sonic images of the Davis-Evans recordings kept coming to mind.  Obviously unlike the music created from the Gil Evans charts, but evoking the aesthetic rightness of the front lines and the superb context.  As far as the whole evening’s program is concerned, my evening was cut short.  On the other hand, I can think of no better way to end a musical evening…

Over the years I have tried to point out the stupidity of jazz magazine polls.  One of the flaws in the Downbeat polls, for example, is that they changed the name of the Deserving Wider Recognition category to Rising Star category.  One fairly common result of the change is that well-established musicians in their sixties and older are insulted with an “accolade” that seems to imply a youngster a couple years out of Berklee.  Leave it to Downbeat and JazzTimes to “celebrate” poor Avishai Cohen and for the folks at Jazz Boston to rub it in.  The Jazz Week 2016 promotional sheet tries to bring out the fans with (verbatim): “For four years running, Cohen has been voted Rising Star-Trumpet in the Downbeat Critics Poll.  Jazz Times reports that ‘Avishai Cohen has rather quietly become one of the most creative trumpet players in jazz.’”  So here’s what comes to mind:  What a horrible thought if Avishai Cohen were to win the Rising Star prize every year.  The guy would go to his grave knowing that he did a phenomenal bit of rising but never quite made it.  And what would be sillier than the JazzTimes quote?  Unless your game plan is to spend the rest of your career performing exclusively with people who share the aesthetics of John Tilbury (as noble as that might be), who would want to “rather quietly become” anything?  That’s why those rare people who can afford it, such as Wynton Marsalis and Kenny G, hire marketing firms…

The trio performance 4/7 at the Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall was an hour’s worth of sonic and visual commentary about art as a process and the evolving context of that process.  Perhaps because the visual artist was outnumbered by the two sound generators, the art form chosen to make the statement was music.  The sonic component of the event consisted of an evolving electronic ground that shifted between ethereal and rhythmically oriented “dance” sections of a suite--composed and improvised--that featured the saxophone work of Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto) and Neil Leonard (alto and soprano).  The improvisations in particular offered opportunities for the musicians to share with the audience and each other the creative possibilities within the context of the programmed and composed sonics and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons’ projected visuals.  The presentation truly was an integrated art event.  Neither the visual art nor the sonic art would have had its realized impact without the other.  Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons presented “music” as a significant doorway to the art experience by limiting her images to the basic symbols of music notation--notes, clefs, time signatures, staff lines, and so forth.  The display--mostly abstract--of such symbols during the realization of the music was at the heart of the artistic interaction.  Just as the music employed repetitive cycles as it moved toward the completion of a sonic arc, the visual component of the work did also.  Through manipulation of visual media resources, the artist transformed the music notation by “unwriting” the images, overlapping and distorting the images, burying a set of notes with many other notes, altering the size, texture, and color of notes, and more.  All of this visual activity (in sonic context) potentially raised questions in audience members’ minds about art in terms of ephemerality, originality, quality, public/critical acceptance and rejection, the relationship between shifting perspective and meaning, and more.  Even the conclusion of the performance offered its special transformation of an idea famously posed by Eric Dolphy.  When the computer and horn sonics are quiet and the projected images are dark, what remains?...

 
March 2016

Three giants prepared for the music of the first set 3/22 at the Outpost with their traditional warmup routines.  The subject primarily this time was recordings they had encountered throughout their lives (including those by Charles Lloyd and Chris Connor) and singular incidents that cause people to become creative improvisors rather than rock musicians.  For Allan it was Charles Lloyd who was performing on a TV show.  Allan had never heard of him, but that performance caused Allan to put down the bass guitar and pursue the sax.  Musicians never should underestimate the impact they have on other people.  How lucky we are that Allan was watching TV on that night.  It certainly paid off for Steve Lantner, Luther Gray, and the audience witnesses 3/22.  Perhaps it was the conversation, but, whatever the reason, the first set of music was mostly about energy manifest in many combinations and forms.  Each musician took on and shuffled “traditional” roles.  For example, sometimes Luther established a supporting context for Allan and Steve.  Other moments he played the “melody,” and still other times he defined the music’s pulse.  In the same way, Allan and Steve took on an array of roles--including offering silence to create space.  It was a masterful display of communicating and sharing voices, music at a level one wishes it were possible to witness on any gig.  But at the Outpost it happens every time these gentlemen perform together.  The warmup discussion preceding the second set focussed on everything from Miles Davis live to a hanging dead fisher (no stoats this time).  The second set of music began with an ethereal adventure (perhaps just to make sure no one in the band would be at all predictable).  The second piece of the set was a high-energy barrage mostly.  Exhilarating, bringing to mind the late Coltrane quartet (with Tyner) minus the bass.  But by now you know that this trio needs no bass.  Because of that fact I got hit with some avalanche-like images of the great Schlippenbach-Parker-Lytton Trio, churning and roiling.  But such thoughts faded in the presence of what I was witnessing--a force to be dealt with on its own terms.  Astonishing.  No one wanted this music to stop.  So there was an encore that focussed on creative percussion, the band’s last stand of the evening, celebrating the wizardry of Luther Gray.  Not a bad closer at all… 

On 3/29 I picked up a copy of the April Downbeat and noticed that the lead story is about the fiftieth anniversary of the first Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra performance at the Village Vanguard.  The opening sentence of the feature says, “The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, still thriving 50 years after launching its regular Monday night residency at New York’s Village Vanguard, marked the anniversary…”  Well that’s not quite accurate.  The article eventually to some extent corrects the error, but a bit of clarification is in order.  First, some version of the band has existed for fifty years but with different musicians, leaders, and band names during that time.  Here’s a summary.  The original Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra under the leadership of the two musicians lasted approximately thirteen years pretty much intact from 1966 through 1979 when Thad Jones moved to Europe.  Then the band continued under the direction of Mel Lewis until he died in 1990, approximately eleven years under his solo leadership as the Mel Lewis Band.  If one takes into account that Mel Lewis was part of the founding team, then the total is 24 years.  After the death of Mel Lewis the band changed its name officially to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.  The band retains that name.  The current leader of the band is trombonist John Mosca.  I bring up this sequence of events because the half-century celebration tends to overshadow an existing longevity record established across the Massachusetts border in East Providence, Rhode Island. When Duke Belaire's Jazz Orchestra celebrated its 24th anniversary at Bovi's Tavern in East Providence in 1992, it surpassed the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis/Mel Lewis band record of just under 24 years at New York's Village Vanguard and became what must have been the longest-standing big band jazz club date under the leadership of the same musician. The run ended in 1997 when Duke Belaire called it quits after 28+ years of weekly gigs. However, Duke Belaire continued to lead the band on the first Monday of every month well into the new century (i.e., late 2005). Presumably that makes him eligible for some other kind of record. The long run of Duke Belaire’s leadership in no way undercuts the significant durability of the Monday night band performances at the Vanguard. And equally important, the fiftieth anniversary celebration inevitably acknowledges to some extent the wonderful musicianship of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. The anniversary party may help generate a bit more enthusiasm for the underrated arrangements of Thad Jones, certainly one of the best post-Swing era big band arrangers…


As I’ve mentioned a number of times in this Journal, although Curt Newton and Eric Rosenthal have performed together quite a few times in a variety of ensembles since at least the 1990s, they never have performed together as a duo.  I’ve pleaded and coaxed during the past several years but to no avail.  But miracles do happen.  Finally the two percussion veterans assented.  I got my wish.  To thicken the broth they brought Jeb Bishop and Taylor Ho Bynum with them.  So the gig was advertised as a percussion duo and a brass duo in a package deal.  And it was really fine to see and hear the four of them conversationally and in musical settings.  The sequence of events was something of a surprise.  Typically, if two different groups are on a bill, each group plays a set, and there may or may not be a third set comprised of musicians from the first two sets.  On 3/9 at the Lily Pad the music began with a percussion duo, continued with two brief sets of music by the two percussionists and the two brass musicians, and concluded with a final brass duo.  The percussion duo of Curt Newton and Eric Rosenthal was everything I had hoped for (except for two sets by that superb duo).  One of the most enjoyable aspects of the performance was the joyous response of each musician to the work of the other as the men offered a range of solo, duo soli, and duo ensemble interactions.  And with all these surface shifts the sonic content evolved compellingly through a wide array of melodies, rhythms, non-rhythms, conversations, arsenal displays, and other stage-lifting music.  Through it all, as intimate as the connection was, each musician projected clearly his own music personality.  It was a joy to behold.  Let’s hope this first is not a last duo encounter.  The surprise foursome of two percussionists and two brass players was a mini-set of music followed by an intermission.  The quartet during the first min-set never quite gelled.  I suspect that a sequence of a full set of brass duo followed by a full quartet set may have worked better, giving the brass duo more solid footing before the quartet performance.  But the quartet recovered during intermission and played a second mini-set with ease and conviction.  The final set featured the brass duo--trombonist Jeb Bishop and Taylor Ho Bynum with his trumpet family--performing at the top of their game, raising a fine storm of terrific sonics.  It was Jeb’s first real gig since he moved to the Boston area (after a couple sit-in opportunities).  He obviously is performing superbly and is enthusiastic about the prospect of connecting with other post-Ayler adventurers here.  Taylor does not return here often enough.  Money and other resources just are not readily available here (or anywhere) for the creation of something as fine as his Boston Braxton Project, an ensemble that shook up the scene so beautifully during the first years this century.  But we can hope.  Special thanks are in order for Eric Rosenthal for putting together as part of his .01% Series an evening of such wonderful music…



The Luigi Nono Conference, Utopian Listening, sponsored by Harvard and Tufts was held 3/23-26 in the Granoff Music Center of the Tufts Somerville-Medfield campus.  Although the papers, panel sessions, and performances of that conference are outside the purview of this web site, an exhibit in the lobby of the Granoff Music Center may be of interest to some readers.  An audio-visual display in the lobby included a model of a work by architect Renzo Piano, Prometeo Musical Space.  The work was created as a performance space for Nono’s opera, Prometeo.  It was designed specifically for that opera and could be dismantled and reassembled for subsequent performances.  Because the space was designed for an audience of 400 people, it is unlikely that the citizens of Perth or even Massachusetts ever will witness a production of the opera.  Nevertheless, the functional design of the facility should be of interest to musicians of all types.  Superficially the design of the Piano performance space is similar to that of the Gardner Museum’s Calderwood performance space.  But the specific intention of the two music spaces is essentially opposite.  In Calderwood Hall the musicians perform in a central space surrounded by a square of audience seats at performance level and in balconies--a square box of seats around a performance area.  Piano’s Prometeo Musical Space also is a box-shaped performance space, but the audience of 400 seats is set up at floor level in the center of the box.  Musicians perform around the seats at floor level and on stair wells and “balconies” around the audience seating.  In addition, musicians may leave the four sides of the space to walk among the audience members in the center of the space.  In effect, the Calderwood and Prometeo spaces are functional inversions of each other.  Each design has its advantages and limitations.  For example, my favorite experiences in the Calderwood space (both in 2014) were sitting in the first balcony looking down on the hands of Paavali Jumppanen as he performed Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X (witnessing hands in a way that would be impossible in a conventional setting) and two performances by the Calithumpian Consort of Stockhausen’s Aus den sieben Tagen (in which ensemble members were scattered throughout the central performance space and the balconies, thereby taking advantage of the multilevel box configuration of the hall).  On the other hand, typically I find the visual experience of Calderwood Hall to be problematic, except in instances in which I have had a seat on the main floor.  In the same way, as engaging as the Prometeo Musical Space is, its potential advantages suggest potential limitations.  For example, the location of the audience seats in the Renzo Piano music space would be less than ideal for a solo piano performance.  Nevertheless, I suspect that the Prometeo Musical Space offers more constructive music options than Calderwood Hall.  In other words, if Stockhausen and the Arditti Quartet could make the Helicopter Quartet (1995) feasible, then performing virtually any string quartet with musicians scattered throughout the Renzo Piano music space should be a relatively simple matter.  There was a hint of the experiential possibilities of the Prometeo Musical Space during several concerts offered at Utopian Listening, particularly La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura (1988) featuring plenty of very effective sonic ambiguity via eight “tapes” projected through speakers surrounding the central audience and the wonderfully executed solo violin work of Miranda Cuckson who wandered in and out of the performance space hesitating at various locations within the area long enough to confuse and compel audience members.  The main point here is that, although the Prometeo Musical Space is intended as a specialized performance space, the basic concept is constructively provocative.  Some information about the Prometeo Musical Space including images is available at the Renzo Piano web site




The Broadnax-Kontrimas Duo show up at Bullfinch’s in Sudbury for the Sunday Brunch about every one and a half months.  It’s a shame that the event isn’t more frequent.  Because, in spite of the electronic keyboard (acceptable as it is), this is the best context in which to witness Paul Broadnax and Peter Kontrimas in action.  Apparently other people have discovered that fact.  As people more astute than I might notice, the 3/13 gig occurred on the morning after the clocks are set to “spring forward.”  In other words, the conventional wisdom is that most fans of the duo would be too tired to show up or would show up very late to the gig.  Although the official start time of the first set is 10:30, most people typically do not show up until 10:45 or 11 a.m.  By 11 a.m. on 3/13 the place was crawling with fans of this piano-bass duo.  To some extent these events are social gatherings, opportunities for regulars to catch up on personal troubles or adventures.  But all of them show up primarily for the music.  At least twice I heard different members of the audience exclaim with more than a touch of awe that the nonagenarian’s piano work is “better than ever.”  To some extent Paul apparently is unaware of the growth of his keyboard creativity.  Over the years and even on 3/13 I heard him rave about the prowess of other jazz pianists.  So far I have had no luck convincing him that, although there are some mainstream pianists with more technical facility than Paul, they lack the substance Paul’s playing has, the genuinely creative music that Paul offers.  I’m sure that part of his positive reaction to the music of lesser lights is rooted in modesty.  At the same time it is likely that he suffers from a disease peculiar to jazz pianists, even those historically at his level of quality.  Perhaps more than any other type of jazz instrumentalist the pianists are in awe of pure technique.  You can put on a recording of somewhat dull music by Art Tatum (and there are such recordings), and virtually any professional jazz pianist will respond with awe-driven praise.  Not being a pianist, I look for profound substance first.  So, until another mainstream pianist consistently offering truly creative music comes along, make my mainstream piano band the Broadnax-Kontrimas Duo…



Since 2010 scientists have known that Europeans and Asians carry between 1.5 and 4 percent Neanderthal DNA.  More recently researchers at Vanderbilt University examined the DNA of 28,000 people and determined that “genetic variants inherited from Neandertals (sic) are associated with a slightly increased risk of depression,” heart attack, and skin disorders (Science News March 5, 2016, p. 18).  Because most Americans are of European and Asian decent, the risks of affliction affect many of us.  The research did not specify whether the Neanderthal DNA had anything to do with the incompetence of candidates of both political parties in the current Presidential primaries…



Everybody knows about “old home week,” but March seems to be “old home month.”  The Beyond Biology gig 3/3 at the Outpost is a perfect example.  Because of a remarkable sequence of events for band leader Jacob William--some of it wonderful, some of it painful, but all of it profoundly personal--Jacob has delayed his important participation in the Boston Jazz scene for months.  A significant casualty is Beyond Biology, one of the truly outstanding ensembles in the Boston area.  Well, the cancellations and postponements were over as of 3/3.  An appreciative audience finally got a chance to witness Jacob, Jim Hobbs, Jeff Galindo, Steve Lantner, and Luther Gray make the wait more than worthwhile.  It is easy to suggest that the guys picked up exactly where they were at the end of the group’s last gig.  Everyone in the band obviously was enthusiastic about returning to the experience, as demonstrated in body language and ensemble/solo performance.  Because this band can go anywhere musically (and does), the defining characteristic of the ensemble is what it does when it gets there.  Straight time or no time.  It really doesn’t matter, except for ensuring diversity of material.  Full ensemble or unaccompanied solo.  It does not matter because everyone in the quintet is contributing all the time.  It is tempting to go down the list of performance highlights of each musician, but over time I’ve discovered such catalogues of sound--while valid in themselves--tend to understate what is happening within Beyond Biology.  For example, a fine bass solo be Jacob stops in mid-air and the pause between that solo and the start of a typically amazing solo by Luther is a shared brief duo that informs both solos.  In the same way, the front line is an ongoing duo--empowered by a shared presence--no matter whether Jeff or Jim is talking the solo.  And all these relationships go beyond pairs or singles or even ensemble sound specifics.  Consider for example the question, what is the defining line between Steve’s brilliant support work and his brilliant solos?  All these permutations and more are facets of Beyond Biology.  Something very Beyond Biology-ish happened at the end of the extended single set of music.  Out of the ensemble, seemingly out of nowhere came a vocalization, surprising audience members and band members.  The voice was Jeff’s.  He offered a type of sprechstimme as a rant about the plight of Everyman in a world in the grip of Greed.  That description does not do it justice.  He turned his statement into a refrain calling to mind some of the Sun Ra ensemble chants.  Unexpected and powerful.  His statement was an unaccompanied solo, but it unequivocally evolved into an ensemble statement by one person.  When the set ended, Jeff seemed somewhat stunned, surprised at what he had done.  Almost in a daze he said, “I’ve never done that before.”  My feeling at the time was that no one in the band or in the audience had ever done anything quite like that before either.  But all of us did on this evening.  The impact of the moment carried into post-gig chatter and the packing of the instruments.  Perhaps the chatter was a bit more hushed than usual.  Sharing the human connections of the post-set moments was enhanced by the realization of how fine Jim Hobbs looks after the automobile accident.  There is no evidence of trauma after the event (even though his car still was in the repair shop)…




February 2016



Eric Rosenthal’s monthly improvised music series continues to offer superb musical experiences at the Lily Pad.  Each month he tries to put together what he might refer to as a “fantasy lineup,” a group of top-shelf musicians who typically do not play together.  Ensemble selection is one of the strengths of the series so far.  It would be difficult (and maybe impossible) to come up with a truly compatible group of fine Boston area improvising musicians in which no two of the musicians have performed together during the past twelve months.  After all, one of the great strengths of Boston as a major jazz center is that--except for a brief stretch in the 1990s--it is pretty much a clique-free city.  Yes, the Trad musicians and the free players are unlikely to be on stage together.  But there is  no animosity or politics involved in the musical choices.  At the same time, any Boston-based post-Ayler musician who is conscious of the jazz continuum is aware of the onstage Trad roots of such new music pioneers as Peter Brötzmann and Steve Lacy.  In fact, Eric is one of the best examples of a clique-free jazz musician, performing with klezmer folks, composition-driven front runners, and totally free spirits.  So it is not surprising that the monthly series is his dream.  It is of significance that the quartet at the Lily Pad 2/10 consisted of a specific set of people who never had performed together as a group.  But even more important is the quality of the musicians--Eric, Forbes Graham, Steve Lantner, and Bruno Råberg--who came together.  In other words, Eric’s dream is not some kind of “togetherness” gimmick.  It is foremost a commitment to superb music.  The evening began with a “panel discussion” on the Presidential primaries, everything from the remarkable status of campaigns in both parties to the fundamental question of whether there is Presidential competence to be found in any candidate.  It would be difficult to determine whether or not the music that followed was inspired by the discussion or simply an antidote to the subject matter.  But fine it was with spotlights on the solo prowess of each band member and the sensitive but prodding interplay between bass and other “support” personnel as well as interplays coming out front sonically and ensemble wails.  In general it was a marvelous shifting, churning conversation among voices of substance.  Too soon the end of the set arrived.  When that happened verbal conversations continued.  But Steve Lantner departed in a hurry.  He would walk over to the Outpost to fill in for Jim Hobbs who could not make the gig…



People at the 2/10 Outpost gig received word that Jim Hobbs had been in an automobile accident.  Apparently his car had been “totaled,” but fortunately Jim was unharmed.  He was scheduled to be on the gig but would not make it. In addition to concern about Jim’s well being, band leader Luther Gray was faced with the problem of presenting carefully rehearsed music for his two-sax trio without one side of the triangle.  I’m under the impression that he and Allan Chase offered a first set of music as a duo.  Because the gig at the Lily Pad that night had begun a half hour earlier than the Outpost performance, I had gone to the Lily Pad and left there to hear what I could of the Outpost music.  While setting up for the Lily Pad gig Steve Lantner got a distress call from Luther at the Outpost.  When the Outpost gig ended, Steve (who knows much of the Luther Gray book) raced over to the Outpost.  He was quick enough that by the time I got to the Outpost Allan, Steve, and Luther already were making music.  The trio performance was intended to be something of a reprise/extension of Luther’s multi-media performance at MIT on 9/24/15.  Because of the complexity of the presentation (e.g., the projector decided to be cranky) and the last-minute grouping of people for the demanding charts, the event proved something of a nightmare for the band leader.  Not so for the good-sized audience that remained to the last note/image and consistently responded with enthusiastic applause.  Such music is healing.  Let’s hope at least some of it was heard/felt by Jim Hobbs…



For some reason the Steampunk fad does not seem to die.  LPs and even 45s continue to have large numbers of fans.  And now we find that another retro technology is growing in popularity.  According to David Callahan, a librarian at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 16-mm. film is attracting a large following among young people.  As quoted in the New Yorker (“The Magnificent New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,” by Sarah Larson, Feb. 10, 2016), Callahan says, “There’s been something of a renaissance in 16-mm. film.  Younger people are acquiring 16-mm. projectors.  They’ve gotten into it--they know what they’re doing.”  I wonder if anyone would like to buy my VHS tape collection…



Paul Broadnax had his 90th birthday in January but celebrated that event outside Massachusetts.  Therefore, his gig at Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square 2/27 with fellow bandmates Peter Kontrimas and Les Harris, Jr. was something of a combination homecoming and subdued, belated birthday party. There is irony in that, although there was no acknowledgment of Paul’s birthday during the gig, the trio performed and sang “Happy Birthday” to an audience member.  Of course there was nothing subdued about the music coming from the bandstand.  Paul was in fine voice and shows no sign of faltering at the keyboard.  Combine that with his vast knowledge of the literature and its context as well as the fine work of Peter and Les, and once again a Paul Broadnax group brings the Great American Song Book to life in unsurpassed fashion.  The only down side of the evening was insufficient crowd control.  It is unfortunate that the success of the restaurant and the music on these nights results in full seats and tables with far too many people standing near the restaurant entrance and the jazz room.  The result is greater noise levels and blocked passageways.  The situation reminds one of the famous Yogi Berra quote, “No one goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  It is ironic that Thelonious Monkfish needs to solve the problem of perhaps being too successful…



I made the mistake 2/24 of parking my car in the Alewife station parking lot and taking the Red Line into (and later out of) Boston for the sake of simplicity.  The result was that, although I started out with a half hour more than normally needed, I was fifteen minutes late to the open presentation in Williams Hall and (using the same half hour surplus to make it to the Lily Pad coming out of Boston) had to pass on a leisurely one-and-a-half-hour meal and grab a terrible fast food sandwich to barely make the 8:30 gig in Inman Square.  Near the end of the trip back to Alewife Station to get my car to go to Inman Square I kept having nightmare visions of being trapped on Chicago’s CTA rail system (which gets five o’clock commuters home in time to skip dinner and go to bed--no joke)  But I digress.  I did witness wonderful music.  The afternoon demonstration at NEC by Iva Bittová was underway when I arrived.  But what I caught presented a fine overview of her command of incorporating in her performances composed melodies, body language, improvisation, singing, nonsense poetry (closer to Joe Maneri than Jaap Blonk), and violin techniques.  Her theater background is a powerful component of her solo presentations.  She, like all great improvisors, is a story teller, and she uses all her resources to tell those stories.  In some ways she brings to mind opera of today, in which merely having a terrific voice is no longer enough.  The great opera houses feature svelte, beautiful, handsome vocalists who can act.  People no longer wait for the fat lady to sing, but they line up to catch every vocal sound of Renée Fleming.  Or, as the old vaudeville line goes, “Have you ever seen such a voice?”  For the sake of theatrical flexibility (I’m guessing) Iva Bittová tones down her looks, wearing neutral attire, letting her violin, vocal offerings, and body language tell the story.  It should be said that her singing and instrumental work--completely composed or improvised--are solidly rooted in Czech folk traditions.  The resultant eye-grabbing and ear-stretching experience perhaps to some extent helps explain why today the Eastern European nations are among the most welcoming to post-Ayler ensembles from the U.S. and Western Europe.  I did manage to arrive at the Lily Pad before the fine single set of music by Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club began.  I had enough time to chat briefly with drummer Mike Connors, a nice reunion of sorts because our paths have not crossed much during the past five years.  He knows Charlie’s material well, and he fit in as comfortably as an old shoe (but with more fire than said shoe).  The band--Charlie, Mike, Seth Meicht, Aaron Darrell, Josiah Reibstein, and Daniel Rosenthal--gave us familiar charts mostly of Kohlhase and John Tchicai works but performed as if the ink on the charts was still wet.  Brand new but well rehearsed.  One of Aaron’s solos featured the bassist’s right hand beating strings with a stick while his left hand caused string pitches to change.  It was an impressive, very musical one-man effort.  At the conclusion of the piece he received an especially enthusiastic audience reaction.  As the applause died down I shouted to Aaron, “New Noise from Winetka!”--suggesting that his performance was more impressive than the Bob Haggart-Ray Bauduc work on “Big Noise from Winetka.”  Silence.  No reaction anywhere.  The silence helped emphasize just how old I am.  There must be no Bob Crosby Bobcats fans around anymore.  But truly no one needed records to appreciate how fine his performance and those of the rest of the band were.  It is a joy to witness a performance in which the audience and the musicians share the joy of stellar improvisations from all participants.  Not polite.  Really getting it.  Things went so well that Charlie chose to offer an encore.  He had ended the evening with what has become a terrific new tradition closer, “Blues for Alice” (this time in F, if memory serves).  Then came the encore.  To everyone’s apparent pleasure…



The 2/19 issue of The Week includes useful quotes from famous people.  Two of my favorites:

“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person that you always should have been.”  --  David Bowie

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.  If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s  --  Joseph Campbell


I left my home for Cambridge carrying some baggage with me.  We all go through this sort of thing from time to time.  A number of negative events were hitting me simultaneously, most prominently feelings of frustration and anger prompted by one set of events and anxiety/worry initiated by a different source.  On top of that I arrived at the gig 2/23 at the Outpost a few minutes late.  The terrific musicians--Allan Chase, Forbes Graham, Steve Lantner, Junko Fujiwara, and Luther Gray--were performing beautifully for the lucky/smart audience members who preceded me.  Very little of the Steve Lantner Quintet is predictable (except perhaps instrumentation), but there is one extra-musical element that emerges on all the group’s performances--oral history.  Once again the words and music alternated throughout the evening.  Sometimes the oral history was of the moment, as in the case of comments about family, recent/future gigs, or personal economics.  Sometimes the oral history was about music events of the past, as in the case of club gigs requiring 45 minutes vs. one hour of playing between 15-minute breaks or Luther and Forbes’ shared DC jazz experiences in which they never bumped into each other.  All such comments/discussions from the “stage” offer meaningful human verbal context for the brilliant music of the moment.  I’ve raved about these musicians in other contexts and certainly within this quintet.  And when the Quintet performs, the specifics of the event are unpredictable.  Nevertheless, the quality--as high as one can ask for--is predictable.  So, having showed up with my baggage, am I upon my return home whole once again?  No.  But I’m a whole lot better…


January 2016

Although Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square has been open for years, the expanded facility with a jazz room has been open only since September.  As a result, its jazz schedule still is in flux.  Nevertheless, it is worth checking out.  I caught the Paul Broadnax Trio (with Peter Kontrimas and Les Harris, Jr.) at the restaurant 1/2 for two sets of excellent music.  At the end of the evening I talked with the proprietor who identified himself as Jamme (pronounced Jamie).  He is going through the process of weeding audition clips and auditions to find mainstream jazz ensembles that perform at a high level qualitatively and enjoy positive eye contact with the audience.  In other words, the Paul Broadnax Trio is ideal for the room and will be brought back to perform once per month.  The name of the restaurant and the names of some of the dishes on the menu suggest the oversized passion Jamme has for jazz born and nurtured at mid-century.  He has made the jazz room a priority, checking out the piano before the first set and tweaking the sound system from various parts of the room throughout most of the first set.  He’s pretty good at it.  After the first five minutes of the opening set the band sounded fine at my table.  Assessments of the sound at the bar varied from so-so to terrific (apparently depending on where you are sitting at the bar).  The important aspect of the sound system from my table is that, in spite of a fairly noisy audience, the mix was up enough that I could hear detail from each instrument.  The effect made me think of live recordings from the Five Spot.  In other words, the jazz room is something like the classic jazz clubs of the thirties to the fifties.  Large portions of the audience showed up for a good time of talking (and perhaps dancing), but the serious jazz fan still could hear and see the music.  Even in these difficult times for all types of performance art, Boston has bars and restaurants that lay claim to being jazz clubs.  And in some ways all of them are jazz clubs.  However, for a “purist” such as I am, almost all of them fail in one or more significant ways.  The most troubling is the lack of quality mainstream jazz ensembles at those venues.  For example, notice how the Beat Hotel in recent months has settled for anemic (presumably cheaper) “jazz” groups.  In a related way, no doubt for economic reasons, many so-called “jazz clubs” are booking greater numbers of non-jazz bands.  The two other club deficiencies of note are sonic and visual.  Ryles, typical of the majority of clubs sonically, offers pretty good sound for people near the stage; if you are near the back of the room, you’d be better off saving your money at home.  Sight lines range from excellent to terrible in Boston area jazz clubs.  Scullers is among the excellent group.  On the other hand, the Bee Hive is a large restaurant, but only about ten people (OK, I’m exaggerating a little, very little) can see the performing musicians.  So where does all this leave the jazz room of Thelonious Monkfish?  It’s too early to tell.  The sight lines of the room are OK to excellent, mostly in the range of the latter.  The sound system is good enough to beat the crowd noise, and it is likely to get even better.  The room--perhaps more than any other club in town--has the feel and sound of bebop era New York.  The two big question marks for jazz fans have to do with band selection and overall club/restaurant management.  Mainstream ensembles approaching the quality of the Broadnax Trio are rare--in Boston and everywhere else.  There are people who can provide such quality, for example the duos of Phil Grenadier and Bruno Råberg (and their picks to round out the band) or Greg Hopkins and Allan Chase (and their picks).  And so on--but only the best.  Then there is the management factor.  There is no question in my mind that Jamme’s intentions are the best.  But the road to Hell is paved with defunct jazz clubs whose owners had nothing but the best intentions.  The key to the success of Thelonious Monkfish as a profitable jazz venue is the management of the kitchen and the floor.  On those counts, it is a success.  The food is fine, and the staff makes me as a customer believe that all they care about is making my experience terrific.  All of that is fine.  So, assuming that the food and service are symptomatic of a well-run balance sheet, the only question is the finances of the jazz performance operation.  Outside of a small handful of expensive jazz tourist traps (e.g., New York), no one makes money presenting jazz.  In other words, if the restaurant is booming economically, the jazz side of the operation can make it if it comes within a specific (yet to be defined) range of breaking even.  A sustainable jazz room is possible, but clear eyes economically are essential.  I wish Jamme, Ginger, and the rest of the jazz fans working at the restaurant great success.  I’d like to be able to come back again and again to witness good stuff in the right environment…

Sometime last year John Zorn asked former Bostonian Ken Vandermark to curate a week of performances at The Stone in early January.  But it wasn’t a “simple” request to book the club for a week.  He stipulated that the twelve sets of music presented twice each evening during six nights should be a status report on Ken’s music.  The challenge was substantial.  Certainly Ken could have filled the twelve sets of music with twelve combinations of musicians that he has performed with during the past year or two.  The real problem was coming up with twelve representative groups.  To do that, Ken would have to book musicians from New York City, the rest of the U.S., and from outside the U.S., including a couple musicians he had never performed with before (for spice?).  Such a setup would require coming up with the money to pay for performances, lodging (when necessary), and travel (for non-New Yorkers).  The number of seats in the cozy venue is something under sixty.  The income for musicians would be provided exclusively by the door.  Nevertheless, a large number of musicians who did show up to perform were from outside New York City; most of whom were from Europe.  I am not going to try to specify how all the money and immigration nonsense was worked out.  But it may be useful to say that all musicians (including Ken and those who live in the five boroughs) did not get rich on these gigs.  They obviously performed seeking something higher than cash.  Some musicians Ken wanted for the twelve distinct sets of music were unavailable, but the people who were able to make the gig really came to play.  The six evenings of music turned out to be a post-Ayler jazz festival (unusual primarily because Ken Vandermark performed on every set).  The performance level of the musicians was so high so consistently that I would rank the five evenings/ten sets of music I caught to be one of the three most successful post-Ayler festivals qualitatively that I’ve ever witnessed (the other two being the second week of Jazz in August 2000 in Lisbon and the ACME Festival in Athens, GA in 2004).  Although I never heard how the finances worked out, I’m under the impression that all invited musicians received at least the guarantee and Ken (the last time I talked with him about the finances) appeared to be on the verge of breaking even.  More important to Ken, he was quite happy with the performances.  During the several days that I was in New York I had a number of experiences that may be instructive.  So here are six New York take-aways:

1. Visiting Alphabet City several times on this trip, encountering that patchwork of gentrification and ramshackle properties, the thought struck me that in New York the demeanor of the locals is the inverse of their environment.  In other words, people who live in neighborhoods surrounding Central Park are well-dressed but unobtrusive, but people skirting rubble and dumpsters in the East Village are curiously pretentious…

2. Imagine traveling to New York to find out from someone from Chicago about developments in the Boston jazz scene.  Before the second set 1/10 at the The Stone I was chatting with Tim Daisy, and he casually drops the bomb that Jeb Bishop and his wife now reside in the Cambridge area.  That’s a win for everyone.  Can you imagine a front line of Jeb with Jim Hobbs or Jeb with Forbes Graham or Jeb with another of your favorite Boston area horns?  And Jeb has just jumped from a drought of bass players to a cornucopia of acoustic bass monsters.  Welcome to Boston, Jeb

3. If you are a fan of lemon sorbet, ask for it at Barbaresco (843 Lexington Avenue).  It arrives at your table frozen in a hollowed-out real lemon…

4. I was surprised and fascinated to discover that during the ten sets of music I witnessed there were essentially three basic types of audience members.  The first type is the Traveler.  All serious jazz fans know the Traveler.  He’s the guy (yes, the Traveler always seems to be male) who shows up in Chicago, Boston, New York, London, and other cities to catch the post-Ayler “greats.”  How these people get the time and other resources to flutter from one venue/city to the next is beyond me.  But they have a great time catching the music and bumping into other Travelers.  There seldom are more than a handful of these fans at any one event/festival, but they are unmistakable.  The other two types of audience members were more numerous at The Stone, and it is these two types of fans that are so fascinating, at least in part because their natures are so different.  The first of these two are the Been-there-done-that crowd.  One suspects that this type of person really has no feeling for post-Ayler jazz of any kind but has been told that it is hip to be at a certain venue on a certain night.  You may have encountered the type.  To quote a humorist whose name unfortunately escapes me, “He looks like he has just discovered a strange odor and his date looks like she has found the cause.”  If that doesn’t provoke a functional image, just imagine people looking at performing musicians as if the process of creating music is comparable to a horseshoe crab on a table in a biology class laboratory.  Surprisingly these folks knew enough to clap at the end of a musical offering.  The third type (and most encouraging, as far as performance art is concerned) is the Genuine Enthusiast.  This type of audience member shows up hoping to witness great sounds and, when the music is successful, becomes joyous.  Any jazz fan who seeks out the music on a regular basis probably is not surprised to read about the three types of audience members at The Stone.  Fair enough.  But that is not the cause of my surprise.  The surprising aspect of all this is the consistent character of the makeup of  the audience for each set.  Every set included a few Travelers and predominantly the Been-there-done-that type OR predominantly the Genuine Enthusiasts.  And it wasn’t just a matter that the “big draw” musicians brought in all the Been-there-done-that types.  For example, on three occasions during the ten sets that I witnessed, college age females (with a male thrown in in one case) had no seats and took seat cushions to a corner by the door to the basement dressing room (similar to the one at the old 1369 Club in Inman Square but presumably without the drugs) and sat in a group of three or four people to see and hear the music.  In other words, the general circumstances in all three cases (including the sex of most of the group) were the same.  In one case three females sat on the cushions, rested a couple minutes, and spent the rest of the set completely focussed on their cell phones.  For them the music was not even an annoyance.  It did not exist.  The other two cases were completely different.  The young people were completely and joyously focussed on the music.  These folks did use their cell phones, but exclusively to take photos and videos of the performance.  Rapt attention.  And in all three cases the behavior of the cushion people was representative of that of most audience members during the set.  For me it is a puzzle, but the difference in general audience behavior was quite clear, quite distinct…

5. People who performed at The Stone arrived from three geographic regions--New York City, the U.S. outside New York City, and Europe--and yet, in every set of music that I witnessed, when the music started each person played his/her butt off.  No matter who they were, where they were from, or what their aesthetics were they gave everything for the music.  It certainly was not for fame or money…

6. At The Stone the door to the bathroom is immediately behind the performance space.  The sign on the bathroom door offers good advice:

The only flaw in the 1/15 performance of Clear Audience at the Lily Pad was programming.  The pieces were executed well, and the solos (as always) were outstanding.  But all the works presented were in the medium to slow tempo range, sometimes two times in a row with almost identical tempos.  (See? Even repeated words can be taxing.)  The problem really became obvious with the last piece of the evening, a terrific barn burner.  I found myself saying to myself, “Wow.  I almost forgot how well these guys can cook.”  That’s a comment about the need for programming improvement.  But it also is a comment about the stature of these guys--Andy Voelker, Jef Charland, Steve Fell, and Luther Gray--particularly regarding how engaging they are as soloists.  In my experience of catching his music Steve had one of his best nights of improvising.  Jef and Luther were their “normal” monster selves, but their intuitive anticipation as the band’s support-and-kick contingent was worth showing up for all by itself.  And Andy brings it all together (in every sense).  He’s the leader/dry raconteur and clarion horn of the group, coaxing sounds and ideas from the sax for the benefit of band members and the good-sized crowd at the Lily Pad.  In other words, the band is doing wonderful stuff and attracting people to listen.  If they just would mix up the programming a bit more, Clear Audience would be just one more step toward perfection…

In case you haven’t noticed, the weather has been pretty strange during the past few years.  For example, early last year I battled the worst ice dams I’ve ever had on my roof, and a few days ago I was in a t-shirt working in the yard when the temperature went above sixty degrees.  So what is our government doing about all of this change?  I guess Massachusetts has begun to take steps.  States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card is the first national analysis of each state’s preparedness for climate-change-driven, weather-related threats.  You know, are you ready for floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other such things?  Apparently the States at Risk web site has the answer.  Each state is given a grade for preparedness to handle such afflictions as extreme heat, summer drought, wildfires, inland flooding, and coastal flooding.  In addition, each state is given an overall preparedness rating.  The top three A-rated states are California, New York, and Massachusetts.  The worst of the Fs is Arkansas.  But that makes sense.  It is unlikely that people will take steps to prepare for the effects of global warming if they don’t believe in it…

Steve Lantner is a fine band leader.  Some terrific musicians dabble in the challenges of leading a band but never quite succeed.  There are so many challenges involved, and being an exceptional total musician is only one of them.  The hard work (that people who are sidemen exclusively cannot understand) causes many fine musicians to drop the ambitious idea.  The leader particularly in the case of post-Ayler bands is the poorest band member when it comes time to pass around gig income.  The leader has to be a psychologist without showing the shingle.  The leader has to get the best from each band member or the musical vision cannot be realized.  And quality of performance in no way predicts the reliability of the band member.  And then the leader has to book gigs with in-demand musicians who just might be busy on the “best” night for the gig.  I could go on, but maybe you are starting to get the idea.  Steve solves some of these problems by having a pool of top musicians to call upon for trio, quartet, or quintet gigs, no doubt musician availability affecting the numbers and instrumentation.  For example, if Allan Chase is the reed player in the trio or quartet, the Steve Lantner ensemble will sound and offer a sonic personality quite different than if Jim Hobbs is on alto sax.  And, because Allan and Jim are such wonderful musicians, fans love engaging the differences created by the Chase version of the band and the Hobbs version.  I’m talking about the shifting character of the bands, not different bands.  Steve’s ivory finger prints are indelibly all over any of his bands.  For many years we have known Steve’s leadership work primarily through his trios and quartets.  Lately his vision has become instrumentally more extravagant than ever.  He’s been testing the improvisational waters of the quintet.  The quintet that showed up 1/26 at the Outpost—Steve, Forbes Graham, Allan Chase, Junko Fujiwara, and Luther Gray--offered a remarkably spare face during two varied and adventuresome sets of music.  I was a bit surprised by that “simplicity.”   What usually happens (even in the case of completely improvised music) when instrumental numbers increase, the density of the music increases.  Sometimes the effect is greater richness of texture or high-impact chromatics.  None of that took place during either set 1/26.  In fact, instrumentally the music had a greater transparency and lack of density than that of Steve’s trios or quartets.  I think the difference perhaps is the result of ensemble psychology, specifically the psychology of Steve and his band mates.  For example, if you are a musician who sees the significant link between the individual solo and ensemble activity in an improvising trio, you will have a tendency of offer support of some type consistently throughout a performance to help insure that you do not let one of the other musicians hang out to dry.  What I’m referring to is more subtle than what my words here suggest.  For example, in a trio there are times of three musicians performing simultaneously or two or one alone.  Everyone in the audience (and on the stage) expects those instrumental permutations to materialize.  But they don’t just materialize.  The evolution of a great set of improvised music requires (to quote Kasper Guttman) nice judgments.  Perhaps an example from a Steve Lantner group performance from another evening may help illustrate the challenge.  In some sense the example is an inversion of what I’m talking about, but it may clarify things anyway.  During a set of music Forbes Graham took a super solo, and when his solo was over the music stopped.  Dead.  He apologized, explaining that he failed to create a sufficient lead-in cue to cause the rest of the rest of the group to return to the music.  The moment was special in an evening of fine music.  The music leading to Forbes’ solo and the solo itself were wonderful.  For a variety of reasons (one of which was that band members were too busy processing such a fine solo to jump in), the silence that hung in the air was a comment on the quality of the music and the challenges of subtle, nice judgments.  The tendency to offer support more actively in the case of trio improvisation becomes a borderline tendency in a quartet, and--as the 1/26 performance demonstrated--has the potential to “disappear” in a quintet.  I suspect the impulse is something like, “There are so many people on stage with me that I can support other musicians less actively and more judiciously.”  That hypothetical quote is more conceptual than specific.  Decisions about when and how to offer support on the part of the best musicians always are judicious.  In the same way, having more musicians on stage does not automatically imply density.  For example, on 1/26 one of the highlights was Forbes’ presentation of what might be thought of as raucous horn of Gabriel.  At another time there was a fine cello-alto sax duo section in which Allan magically captured the timbre of the violin.  His violin impression was so effective that it immediately brought to mind the transition from violin to alto sax in big bands.  Because of the growing influence of jazz in popular music during the first quarter of the twentieth century, large society/sweet bands such as the one led by Vincent Lopez began requiring their violinists to start doubling on alto saxophone.  But most of the evening 1/26 consisted of one or more band members featured with support from one or more other band members.  The decision to provide support or not became a decision of pure aesthetics rather than conventional musical pragmatism (however intuitive that pragmatism might be).  The decision to support or not support in the quintet context was as important as what to offer in support.  As in the case of conventional composition in which the rests contribute as much as the notes themselves, there was sonic joy in the profound silences.  It was terrific music.  This quintet may be the one Steve is banking on (at least for the near future).  He plans to bring the same gang to the Outpost in February.  Maybe the group is here for the long haul.  Maybe not.  In any case, the wise listeners will be there…