Had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Donaldson, Michael Cuscuna and Jason Moran at the Blue Note at 75 panel discussion, May 10, 2014 at the Library of Congress. I was a bit under the weather that day, but the conversation lifted my spirit. Special note of thanks to Bruce Lundvall for his contributions to jazz and American music.
I recently found a handwritten transcript of my unpublished interview with saxophonist, composer and educator Archie Shepp. The first part of the conversation was taped on Feb. 8, 1982 in a College Park motel room the morning after Shepp’s concert at the University of Maryland. The conclusion was recorded immediately after in my car on the way to National Airport. Shepp, at the time an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, began by discussing the flaws in our educational system.
…I don’t think much of degrees anyway. I think the educational system is pretty shoddy. There’s a great deal of hypocrisy. It’s inefficient, irrelevant. It’s outmoded.
So what do you advise your students when they come talk to you?
To completely rehaul and overhaul the educational system when they get out of school. Sure, because I’m part of the system doesn’t mean that I subscribe to every aspect of it. Just like being an American or being a Russian or anything else; you can love your country without having to accept everything that people do as absolutely correct. I feel that way about the educational system. It has a lot of flaws. It’s racist and it’s a system that unfortunately perpetuates racism at the school where I teach. I think they’ve done very little to encourage certainly the participation of other, shall we say, musical cultures in their program. In fact, they seem to feel that the only “classical” music per se is Western classical music, which is a total lie and an oversight. After all, there are many, many people who have musical cultures that are much older that those we find in Europe and the U.S. The Chinese and the Africans and the Indians, for example. Go ahead, man; what did you want to ask me? Continue reading →
Juggling schedules and a last minute window of opportunity, we caught up with saxophonist, composer and road warrior Chris Potter at a hotel in Bethesda, MD just after the start of an extensive touring season with Pat Metheny’s Quintet. When he returns home in the fall, he’ll focus on his next ECM CD, the follow-up to his Odyssey-inspired 2013 release The Sirens. For this B&A, Chris preferred to listen to each song in its entirety before commenting.
1. Joe Henderson
“Mamacita” (from The Kicker, Milestone). Henderson, tenor saxophone; Mike Lawrence, trumpet; Grachan Moncur III, trombone; Kenny Barron, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded in 1967.
Maybe it’s Joe? That’s some classic, down the middle, mid-60s Blue Note even-8ths blues. It’s a very good example of a certain kind of jazz. Everybody sounds good, within a style but also creative. For a minute I thought it might be Junior Cook, who had a similar sound to Joe, but then he did some little rhythmic thing that was so hip and intelligent and musical that I knew it wasn’t somebody who sounds like Joe. That’s Joe. It feels good. There’s a lot of music I like to listen to, all sorts of stuff. And they all put me in a different space. But hearing this takes me back to home base, which is really nice. It’s not hard to understand and it’s not shallow. It’s the real thing.
After living in New York for the past 18 years, pianist Jacky Terrasson is puzzled and somewhat frustrated that the jazz world thinks he’s still based in Paris. Terrasson spent his formative years studying at Berklee and working with Art Taylor and Betty Carter. He gained international attention by winning the 1993 Monk Piano Competition and signing with Blue Note records. Since then he’s traveled the world, usually working with his highly regarded trio.
1. Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani
“All The Things You Are” (from Conference de Presse, Dreyfus Jazz). Louiss, organ; Petrucciani, piano. Recorded in 1994.
Before: Piano and organ? I’m thinking about Eddy Louiss and Michel Petrucciani. There are not many duos like this. Yeah, this is Michel. He really likes that style out of bebop, the Oscar Peterson influence with very volatile right hand. He plays those long phrases. The challenge with playing two keyboards is that both players need to be strong rhythmically and make sure that the tempo doesn’t slip away. At the same time you don’t want to always play bass lines with the left hand. It’s got to be implied sometime. In the beginning, I thought they had a little difficulty getting into it, but now they’re on track. I like this.
After: I think they made two records together. I remember their version of “Autumn Leaves.” Eddy Louiss is a great player but totally unknown here. He had a good trio with J.F. Jenny-Clark and Daniel Humair. I like his lines but I don’t really look out for organ players. Maybe it’s because I had to play the organ at one point. In Boston it was my main gig, at Wally’s. I came to like it though, playing the Hammond B-3. Continue reading →
Jamaican-born pianist and bandleader Monty Alexander is an old-school road warrior who still loves to rock the house with hard swing and deep island grooves. Though he has good ears and strong opinions, Alexander avoids theoretical analysis when listening to music, concentrating instead on feelings, emotions and experiences. While setting up, we talked about his growing up with mento music and American popular song in Kingston, his love for Louis Armstrong, Lord Kitchener and New Orleans R&B, and his big break in Miami, where he was discovered by Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo. In recent years, Alexander has led his well-traveled jazz trio, as well as a reggae band. His latest release is Calypso Blues: The Songs of Nat King Cole (Chesky).
1. Nat “King” Cole
“Calypso Blues” (from The Nat King Cole Story, Capitol). Cole, vocal; Jack Costanzo, conga. Recorded in 1949.
[chuckles]. Nat. I’ve heard this so many times, and I knew Jack Costanzo very well. The timing of that recording came close to the time that Harry Belafonte did his calypso album. Nat was not a stranger to seeking popularity. He was somebody who could do anything he wanted. He was a natural. He loved music and he loved rhythms from the island. Who on earth would record a song with just a man beating on a conga, especially someone like Nat who was such a swinging musician? And he played so much piano, so that tells you about Nat’s daring, as well as his talent. I knew all these songs, what we called mento songs, and he was a beloved voice in our home. When I was 10 years old I walked down the street and imitated him because of the girl I had a crush on [sings Too Young]. Louis Armstrong also recorded a calypso around that time called “High Society.” So they were my ultimate heroes, Louis Armstrong and Nat Cole. I saw them in Kingston when I was about 11 years old. Incredible. They were artists as well as entertainers. They had that thing, that show biz thing. So you just played a man who’s everything to me. He went for the brass ring, and he got it because everybody loved him.
Pianist, composer Uri Caine talks about coming up in the Philadelphia jazz scene and his approach to composition, improvisation and creativity with Larry Appelbaum at the Atlas Performing Arts Theater in Washington DC.
I interviewed composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill on Oct. 28, 2013, the morning after his triumphant Zooid concert at the Library of Congress. We discussed his musical upbringing in Chicago, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the story of his life-changing experience in Vietnam, his groups Air and Zooid, and his approach to composition and improvisation.