Snap, Crackle, Pop
There is no doubt that Roy Haynes is the 8th wonder of the world. In his late ‘80s, he looks 40 and sounds 25. He has been a part of hundreds of important moments and stylistic shifts in jazz over the past 65 years. This great conversation with author/educator/pianist Lewis Porter is a real delight.Read More
Wayne Shorter: Getting to the Essence of Innovation
Since Wayne Shorter arrived on the jazz scene in 1959, his composing and playing styles have been marked by originality, sparkling innovation and unpredictable, off-the-wall musical shifts. Those characteristics are part of every aspect of his being, and as he approaches his 80th year on the planet, they show no signs of abating. This month alone, he has released a superb new album on Blue Note and debuted major works at concert halls in New York and Los Angeles. Enjoy this interview with Laura Sullivan of NPR.
-Michael CuscunaRead More
Lester Bowie on Forging His Own Trumpet Sound
Trumpeter Lester Bowie, mainstay of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, was much more than just the guy in the lab coat. He extended the improvisational trumpet tradition with nods to a wide range of storied predecessors, but took the sound and improvisational approach of his trumpet into a realm in which he was the sole occupant. This 1974 interview captures Lester Bowie at the height of his powers.
-Nick MoyRead More
Treasures In The Attic: Finding A Jazz Master’s Lost Orchestral Music
Back in the early 1990s, Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the S\u00e3o Paulo Symphony Orchestra, went on a journey to find lost manuscripts of forgotten James P. Johnson compositions for symphony orchestra. Very few jazz artists, especially before the 1950s, wrote in this hybrid form of jazz and classical music and it is fitting that one of the founding fathers of jazz would create such joyous music in this fashion. NPR’s “Weekend Edition” recalls this amazing discovery with Alsop as guest.
-Scott WenzelRead More
…that stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind. I was three years old.
The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit. It might have been me playing around with the stove. I don’t remember who it was. Anyway, I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue flame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it. That’s as far back as I can remember; any further back than this is just fog, you know, just mystery. But that stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind. I was three years old.
I saw that flame and felt that hotness of it close to my face. I felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life. But I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too. I guess that experience took me someplace in my head I hadn’t been before. To some frontier, the edge, maybe, of everything possible. I don’t know; I never tried to analyze it before. The fear I had was almost like an invitation, a challenge to go forward into something I knew nothing about.
That’s where I think my personal philosophy of life and my commitment to everything I believe in started, with that moment. I don’t know, but I think it might be true. Who knows? What the fuck did I know about anything back then? In my mind I have always believed and thought since then that my motion had to be forward, away from the heat of that flame.
Looking back, I don’t remember much of my first years\u2014I never liked to look back much anyway.
If I was the inspiration and wisdom and the link for this band, Tony was the fire, the creative spark; Wayne was the idea person, the conceptualizer of a whole lot of musical ideas we did; and Ron and Herbie were the anchors.<
…At first Wayne had been known as free-form player, but playing with Art Blakey for those years and being the band’s musical director had brought him back in somewhat. He wanted to play freer than he could in Art’s band, but he didn’t want to be all the way out, either. Wayne has always been someone who experimented with form instead of someone who did it without form. That’s why I thought he was perfect for where I wanted to see the music I played go.
Wayne was the only person that I knew then who wrote something like the way Bird wrote, the only one. It was the way he notated on the beat. Lucky Thompson used to hear us and say, “Goddamn, that boy can write music!” When he came into the band it started to grow a lot more and a whole lot faster, because Wayne is a real composer. He writes scores, writes the parts for everybody just as he wants them to sound. It worked exactly like that except when I changed some things. He doesn’t trust many people’s interpretations of his music, so he would bring out the whole score and everyone would just copy their parts from that, rather than go through the melody and changes and pick our way through the music like that.
Wayne also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with a musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste. Wayne was always out there on his own plane, orbiting around his own planet. Everybody else in the band was walking down here on earth. He couldn’t do in Art Blakey’s band what he did in mine; he just seemed to bloom as a composer when he was in my band. That’s why I say he was the intellectual musical catalyst for the band in his arrangement of his musical compositions that we recorded.
I was learning something new every night with that group. One reason was that Tony Williams was such a progressive drummer. He would listen to a record and memorize the whole record, all the solos, the whole thing. He was the only guy in my band who ever told me, “Man, why don’t you practice!” I was missing notes and shit trying to keep up with his young ass. So he started me to practicing again because I had stopped and didn’t even know it. But man, I can tell you this: there ain’t but one Tony Williams when it comes to playing the drums. There was nobody like him before or since. He’s just a motherfucker. Tony played on top of the beat, just a fraction above, and it gave everything a little edge because it had a little edge. Tony played polyrhythms all the time. He was a cross between Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes and Max Roach. Those were his idols, and he had a little bit of all their shit. But his shit was definitely his own.Read More
emWhich/em Monk Circle?
Good news for jazz lovers: Thelonious Monk has a New York City street named after him. Part of West 63rd Street, where he once lived, is now Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle. Just one problem: the City didn’t spell his name right. To get the facts about Monk’s name, The New York Times did what any mortal with a jazz question would do: they went to Phil Schaap for the answers. Which, no surprise to us, he had.
-Nick MoyRead More
Mosaic Select: Sam Rivers & The Rivbea Orchestra-Trilogy
The thick lines and masses of sound Rivers writes for the orchestra of 14 horns and two rhythm are imposingly complex, and his creative orchestra music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s: not Sun Ra’s, or Braxton’s, or Julius Hemphill’s. But there are some parallels: to Muhal Richard Abrams’s large ensembles that embrace vernaculars from 1920s jazz to atonal concert music, mixing the familiar and novel; to circa-1970 Woody Herman, deploying funk and rock beats on Temptations and Doors tunes; to James Brown’s static-harmony horns-and-rhythm funk.
The RivBea Orchestra transcends notions of the traditional and the avant-garde; it’s bracingly dissonant, but all about forms and variations. For all Rivers’ idiosyncrasies, big band conventions abound: 4 and 8-bar blocks, brass punches, motifs volleyed between horn sections, focused solos, and heart-quickening excitement.” - Kevin Whitehead, liner notesRead More
Nat King Cole: Nat King Cole: ‘The Singer’
Nancy Wilson hosts this NPR Jazz Profile on Nat King Cole. It’s the second part of Cole’s life and begins in 1948 as Nat’s voice and hit sings all but eclipse his magnificent piano playing and his near perfect trio. We’ve all gotten so much joy from his remarkable music and, from my research while creating the Mosaic Complete Capitol Trio box, I came to feel as if I knew this kind, gentle, charming gentleman.
-Michael CuscunaRead More
Brian Blade: Consorting with Geniuses
Drummer Brian Blade, most prominent of late as a key member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet, has been no stranger to collaborations with musical icons, like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and has paved his own directions leading his Fellowship Band. Ted Panken’s interview with Brian Blade provides a good flavor for the influences and skills that make Blade’s work both inside and outside jazz so special.Read More