Was sad to learn that visionary music producer Hal Willner passed today from COVID-19. Willner had worked in television for Saturday Night Live and Night Music. He also worked on soundtracks to Robert Altman films Kansas City and Short Cuts, staged live events for Edgar Allan Poe, Doc Pomus, Neil Young, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs and many other luminaries from the world of music, arts and letters. In jazz circles, he’s best known for various Tribute recordings including his first from 1981 based on the work of Italian composer Nina Rota from films of Frederico Fellini with everyone from Wynton and Branford Marsalis to Steve Lacy and Deborah Harry. Here is Carla Bley’s arrangement of the music from 8 1/2.
from Amarcord Nino Rota (1981)
Retirement during a time of plague might seem like odd timing. But that time has come.
Philadelphia-born trumpeter, composer Wallace Roney died today of complications from COVID-19. I remember seeing him at d.c. space in the late 70s with his brother Antoine on tenor. He was ferocious even then. That was even before he joined Tony Williams and Art Blakey. And though his sound and concept are often linked to Miles Davis, he carved out his own sound and identity, recording more than 20 sessions as leader and more as collaborator. Here are 10 clips to show Wallace in his glory. Continue reading
Drummer Jon Christensen passed away last week at the age of 76. He’s closely associated with ECM records, having recorded 55 sessions for them beginning with Jan Garberek’s Africa Pepperbird in 1970. I wanted to pull together some of my favorite Christensen recorded performances beginning with something from his pre-ECM days, a 1963 session with Norwegian singer Karin Krog with her original lyrics on a standard made popular in the jazz world by John Coltrane.
Thanks to Ukrainian cameraman Vladlen Noll for sending me this interview he shot in Kyiv a decade ago. I’d never seen it before. Thanks also to Anna Cerino for her insightful questions.
Before the celebrated composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn passed in 1967, he asked his nephew Gregory Morris to serve as Executor of his Estate and take care of his music. For 50 years Dr Morris kept the collection intact, first in Pittsburgh and most recently at his home outside of Phoenix, AZ. The collection, including scores, sketches, business papers and photographs is now available to researchers in the Performing Arts Reading Room. A Finding Aid for this collection may be found online here.
[Finding Strayhorn panel discussion in the photo above L-R: Chris Potter, Walter Van de Leur, David Hajdu, Alyce Claerbaut, Gregory Morris, Larry Appelbaum]
I first went out to look at the collection and meet the family in January of 2017. It was obviously a collection of great musical significance for anyone interested in jazz but I needed to assess the contents and condition and report back to my colleagues before we could move forward on acquiring it for the Library’s Music Division.
The collection came to the Library in 2018 and it became a top priority for us to process and catalog it in order to provide access to researchers in the Reading Room. On June 12, 2019 we gathered Strayhorn’s niece Alyce Claerbaut and Dr. Morris for a special event at the Library titled Finding Strayhorn. We were joined by Strayhorn biographer and critic David Hajdu (“Lush Life”) and Dutch musicologist Walter van de Leur (“Something To Live For”) to celebrate and formally announce the acquisition of the Billy Strayhorn Collection. We also invited Chris Potter, this year’s Music Division jazz scholar-in-residence, to talk about how Strayhorn’s music continues to inspire him. He brought his tenor saxophone and played a stirring, virtuosic and deeply moving medley of Strayhorn compositions: Lush Life, Take The A Train and Blood Count. Continue reading
I’ve written before about best-of-the-year summaries. And while I haven’t done much writing about music for commercial publications these past 12 months (still mostly focused on health and recovery), I’ve done enough focused listening to document the new releases in jazz that gave me the most pleasure this year. Here they are, in no particular order: Continue reading
South African pianist, composer and bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim talks about his musical life and philosophy with Larry Appelbaum at the Library of Congress on April 19, 2016.