Friday, October 02, 2015

Phil Woods 1931-2015

By Nate Chinen/ The New York Times
Phil Woods, an alto saxophonist revered in jazz circles for his bright, clean sound and his sterling technique — and widely heard on songs by Billy Joel, Paul Simon and others — died on Tuesday in East Stroudsburg, Pa. He was 83.
The cause was complications of emphysema, Joel Chriss, his longtime booking agent, said.
Mr. Woods was one of the leading alto saxophonists in the generation that followed Charlie Parker, who had set an imposing new bar for the instrument while defining the terms of bebop. Rigorous, complex and brisk, bebop’s stylistic language would be a constant for Mr. Woods throughout his prolific career, as both a leader and a sideman.
For much of that career, he was a sought-after section player in big bands because of his ability, unusual at the time, to read sheet music with as much breezy authority as he brought to his solos. He recorded with the composer-arrangers Oliver Nelson, Michel Legrand and George Russell, among many others, and helped the trumpeter Clark Terry establish his Big Bad Band.
One of Mr. Woods’s early supporters was Quincy Jones, who in 1956 brought him on a State Department-sponsored tour with the trumpeter and bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie. Mr. Woods quickly became a Gillespie protégé, and in some respects a surrogate for Parker, Gillespie’s former front-line partner, who had died in 1955.
Parker’s nickname was Bird, and for a while Mr. Woods was known to some, admiringly if a little back-handedly, as “the new Bird.” The association was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957. (That marriage ended in divorce.)
On the recommendation of the producer Phil Ramone, an old classmate at the Juilliard School, Mr. Woods was featured on Mr. Simon’s 1975 album, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” playing a quicksilver bebop cadenza on the song “Have a Good Time.” That same year he played a solo on the Steely Dan tune “Doctor Wu.” And in 1977 Mr. Woods was prominently featured on Mr. Joel’s ballad “Just the Way You Are,” which became a Top 10 hit and won two Grammy Awards.
Philip Wells Woods was born on Nov. 2, 1931, in Springfield, Mass. After inheriting a saxophone at age 12, he began taking lessons at a local music shop and discovered that he was a quick study with a gifted ear. His first hero on the alto saxophone was Benny Carter, followed soon thereafter by Johnny Hodges, a star soloist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and then Parker.
While still in high school, Mr. Woods often took the bus to New York City, haunting jazz clubs and studying with the pianist-composer Lennie Tristano. He also studied classical music at Juilliard for four years.
He moved to France in 1968, frustrated with a working life dominated by commercial jingles and other work for hire. He found success almost immediately, touring with a band he called the European Rhythm Machine.
After five years, Mr. Woods returned to the United States an accomplished solo artist. From 1974 on, he led a band with the bassist Steve Gilmore and the drummer Bill Goodwin; in recent years the group has also included Brian Lynch on trumpet and either Bill Charlap or Bill Mays on piano. Mr. Woods also became a mentor to young musicians like the alto saxophonist Grace Kelly, with whom he released an album, “The Man With the Hat,” in 2011.
Mr. Woods won four Grammy Awards, beginning in 1975 with “Images,” an orchestral album he made with Mr. Legrand. In 2007 he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and received a Living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center.
Mr. Woods, who lived in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., is survived by his wife, Jill Goodwin; a son, Garth; three stepdaughters, Kim Parker and Allisen and Tracy Trotter; and a grandson.
Mr. Woods often declared, with a touch of self-deprecation, that he was more a stylist than an innovator. While he wrote dozens of compositions, they often pointed in the direction of his influences; they include “Charles Christopher” (Parker’s given name) and “All Bird’s Children.”
His final concert, early this month in Pittsburgh, was a tribute to the album “Charlie Parker With Strings.” Backed by a local rhythm section and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he brought his oxygen tank with him onstage.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

John Taylor 1942 - 2015

By TheTelegraphUK
John Taylor, who has died aged 72, who has died aged 72, was one of the finest, though often underrated, British jazz pianists and composers of his generation.
Taylor’s playing was virtuosic but never overwrought, combining a melodic lyricism with rhythmic originality and drawing influences from classical music. He was regarded by connoisseurs as one of the most creative and technically brilliant pianists in jazz.
Taylor first came to the attention of jazz audiences in 1969 when he partnered the saxophonists Alan Skidmore and John Surman. In the early 1970s he was accompanist to Cleo Laine and began composing for his own sextet. He worked with many visiting artists at Ronnie Scott’s Club, eventually becoming a member of Scott’s quintet. In 1977 he formed the trio Azimuth with the singer (and his first wife) Norma Winstone and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, performing with them intermittently until the early 1990s and also establishing his credentials as a composer.
But even though he recorded more than 80 albums , the fact that for much of his career he provided the self-deprecating harmonic foil for others meant that Taylor did not become a household name. He was probably less well known in his native Britain than he was in mainland Europe, where he taught at the Music Academy in Cologne and recorded (with Azimuth) for the Munich-based ECM label. His compositions were performed by Hanover’s radio symphony orchestra and he appeared with many of the Continent’s leading jazz musicians, from the bassists Arild Andersen and Miroslav Vitous to the trumpeter Enrico Rava and saxophonist Jan Garbarek.
In later life, however, Taylor’s reputation in Britain saw something of a revival after the Contemporary Music Network decided to mark his 60th birthday in 2002 with a UK tour. Leading a new trio (including virtuoso bassist and band leader Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron), and teaming up with the Creative Jazz Orchestra, he won a BBC Jazz award for for “Best New Work” for his Green Man Suite, inspired by the romantic and archaeological landscape of Britain.
Taylor was born in Manchester on September 25 1942 and taught himself to play the piano, beginning his career with Manchester dance bands before moving to London in 1964. Over his career he worked with, among others, groups led by Gil Evans, Lee Konitz and Charlie Mariano and performed in duos with Tony Coe and Steve Arguelles .
From 2006, Taylor was a member of Kenny Wheeler’s quartet, and larger ensemble, and throughout his career he continued to work with the saxophonist John Surman, playing the organ on his choral work Proverbs and Songs from Salisbury Cathedral (1996).
In 2003 his solo piano album Insight was hailed by critics as one of his best recordings. The following year Taylor formed a new trio with Palle Danielsson and Martin France, performing at the Vancouver Jazz Festival and realeasing their recording Angel of the Presence in 2006 to coincide with a UK tour.
Taylor became a professor of jazz piano at the Cologne Music Academy in 1993 and taught jazz at York University from 2005.
In 2012 he marked his 70th birthday with a commission for BBC Radio 3 that included a suite inspired by Kurt Vonnegut. A new album, Duets – featuring Taylor and Richard Fairhurst, one of his former students, is due to be released in August.
Taylor was performing at the Saveurs Jazz Festival in Segré, France, on July 17 when he suffered a heart attack. He died later in hospital.
Taylor’s first marriage to Norma Winstone was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, Carol, and by two sons of his first marriage.
John Taylor, born September 25 1942, died July 17 2015 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Eddy Louiss 1941 - 2015

By Billboard
French jazz organist Eddy Louiss, who played in the Stan Getz quartet in the early 1970s, died Tuesday in a hospital in central western France. He was 74.
In 1971, Louiss and his Hammond organ to join René Thomas and Bernard Lubat in the Stan Getz quartet to record the celebrated album Dynasty. His discography extends to duet recordings with pianist Michel Petrucciani, accordionist Richard Galliano and French musician Claude Nougaro. In 1977, Louiss made the decision to go solo.
The Paris-born Louiss first got his start in his father's orchestra in the 1950s and then went on to join the French vocal group the Double Six.
The Paris-born musician had undergone two surgeries recently for a cataract, but did not survive a third surgery following a fall. His son Pierre Louiss told AFP, he passed away "peacefully, surrounded by family."
In the early 1990s, Eddy Louiss had his left leg amputated as a result of artery problems and made in recent years seldom made public appearances, his son said, though he continued to work on music.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gunther Schuller 1925 - 2015

By TheGuardian
Gunther Schuller, horn player, educator and Pulitzer prize-winning composer who was the leading proponent of the Third Stream movement fusing jazz and classical music, died on Sunday at age 89.

His son, Ed Schuller, said his father died on Sunday morning at a hospital in Boston. He said his father had several medical conditions.
“He was a great musician. I loved him and we will miss him,” Schuller, a bassist, said. “He had a great life, he lived his dream.”
As a composer, Schuller wrote more than 200 compositions, including solo and orchestral works, chamber music, opera and jazz. His orchestral work, Of Reminiscences and Reflections, dedicated to his wife Marjorie Black, won the 1994 Pulitzer prize for music.
Schuller, who was born on 22 November, 1925, in New York, came from a family of classical musicians. His grandfather was a conductor in Germany and his father was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic.
Schuller developed into a virtuoso on French horn. As a teenager, he began playing with the American Ballet Theatre and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the forties, and then joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where he remained until 1959.
Schuller discovered a whole new musical world when he heard Duke Ellington on the radio one night while doing his high-school homework.
“I said to my father, ‘You know, Pop, I heard some music – Duke Ellington – last night and that music is as great as Beethoven’s and Mozart’s,’” Schuller said in a 2009 NPR interview. “And he almost had a heart attack because that was a heretical thing to say.”
Schuller’s newfound passion led him to frequent New York jazz clubs, where he became involved in the burgeoning bebop scene in the late 1940s. Although French horn was rarely used in jazz ensembles, Schuller began his jazz career as part of trumpeter Miles Davis’s group which recorded the seminal 1949-50 Birth of the Cool sessions, which fused jazz and classical techniques.
He would go on to perform and record with such jazz greats as J.J. Johnson, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.
In the mid-1950s, he teamed up with the classically trained jazz pianist John Lewis, musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, to form the Modern Jazz Society in an effort to bring jazz and classical music together. Schuller felt musicians from both genres could learn from each other.
During a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University, Schuller coined the term Third Stream to describe his vision of what would result if the two main streams of music in the US got married and begat a child. Schuller and Lewis introduced their Third Stream compositions on two Columbia albums, Music for Brass and Modern Jazz Concert in 1957-58.
“When I started the whole thing in 1957 with the Third Stream ... it was extremely controversial,” Schuller said in a 2010 interview with jazz writer Mark Myers.
“I was vilified on both sides. Classical musicians, composers and critics all thought that classical would be contaminated by this lowly jazz music, this black music. And jazz musicians and critics said, ‘My God, classical music is going to stultify our great, spontaneous music.’ It was all nonsense and ignorance, of course. Eventually the two came together anyway.”
Schuller and Lewis also founded the Lenox School of Jazz in western Massachusetts, which brought over Coleman from the west coast for its summer program in 1959 shortly before the free-jazz pioneer made his history-making New York debut.
By the 1960s, Schuller had largely given up performing to focus on composing, teaching and writing. He served as president of the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1967-77, where he established the first degree-granting jazz program at a major classical conservatory and instituted the Third Stream department with pianist Ran Blake as its chair.
He also founded the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, which earned a Grammy award for best chamber music performance in 1973 for the album Joplin: The Red Back Book, and helped spur a ragtime revival. Schuller won two more Grammys for writing liner notes.
In 1990, Schuller and David Baker founded and conducted the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, DC, dedicated to performing and preserving American jazz masterpieces. He also helped put together an all-star orchestra and conducted a 1989 performance of the late jazz bassist Charles Mingus’s epic work Epitaph, which was also released on record. He regularly appeared as a guest conductor with orchestras.
As writer, Schuller authored both educational works and jazz histories, including Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968) and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. In 2011, he published the first volume of his autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty.
Schuller’s major orchestral works include Symphony (1965), Seven Studies of Paul Klee (1959) and An Arc Ascending (1996). He composed two operas: The Visitation (1966), based on a Franz Kafka story; and the children’s opera The Fisherman and his Wife with text by John Updike, derived from the Grimm fairytale.
His noted Third Stream-style compositions include Transformation for Jazz Ensemble (1957), Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra (1959) and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960).
In 2008, Schuller was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest jazz honor. Earlier this year, the MacDowell Colony, a prestigious artists’ residence program, awarded him its lifetime achievement award “for setting an example of discovery and experimentation” as a composer and teacher.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ralph Sharon 1923 - 2015

By TheTelegraph/UK
Ralph Sharon, who has died aged 91, acted as accompanist and musical director to the singer Tony Bennett over a period of almost half a century. He arranged and directed all 10 of Bennett’s Grammy Award-winning records and guided his choice of material. “Ralph is my idea of the perfect accompanist,” Bennett wrote in his autobiography. “No one understands me more than he does, and we’ve become as close as brothers.”
Ralph Simon Sharon was a Londoner, born in Bethnal Green on September 14 1923. His father was English and his mother American. She had been a professional pianist, accompanying silent films. On leaving school, Sharon worked in a factory before joining a series of professional dance bands, including those of Ted Heath and Frank Weir. He led his own recording and broadcasting sextet before emigrating to the US in 1953. He took American citizenship in 1958.
It was his devotion to jazz which prompted the move and, for the first few years, he was entirely immersed in the New York jazz world. Sharon had never even heard of Tony Bennett when the singer invited him to audition as his accompanist in 1957. He recalled: “I thought, 'This guy sounds pretty good.’ At the end, he said, 'How’d you like to come with me?’ I said, 'Come with you where?’ He said, 'Everywhere!’ ”
In 1961, Sharon was responsible for introducing Bennett to I Left My Heart in San Francisco, the song which made him an undisputed star. He had been given the sheet music some time before, but had put it in a drawer and forgotten it. He came across it while looking for a shirt.
They tried it out in a hotel bar one night and the bartender called out: “If you guys record that song, I’ll buy the first copy.” If it hadn’t been for Ralph, Bennett observed: “I wouldn’t have that song, which has made me welcome all over the world.” It’s success was so unexpected that it was originally a B-side of a single.
They parted amicably in 1966, when Sharon decided to move to Los Angeles, where he again found himself accompanying singers, among them Nancy Wilson and Rosemary Clooney. This was not a good period for Tony Bennett. He was involved in constant tussles with Columbia records over his choice of material.
By the end of the decade he was without a recording contract and increasingly out of the public eye. Eventually, with his son Danny as his manager, Bennett’s fortunes recovered and he and Sharon were reunited in 1979.
The next two decades saw one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of popular music. By sticking to what had now become recognised as the classic style of American song, with a strong jazz influence, Tony Bennett attracted a new audience among all age groups. Albums such as The Art Of Excellence (1986), a collection of songs accompanied solely by Sharon’s piano, and MTV Unplugged (1994), which won that year’s Grammy of the Year award, stood out in a long line of successful recordings.
“I got Tony into jazz – he’d say that himself,” Sharon told an interviewer in 1988. “He found a whole new audience and a whole new way to phrase and present himself. Now, he couldn’t be without it.”
Ralph Sharon retired from touring in 2002 and settled in Boulder, Colorado. Retirement did not, however, keep him away from the piano or from the bandstand. The already lively local jazz scene received him with open arms and he was soon leading his own trio, commuting regularly between Boulder and Denver.
In addition, he continued recording on his own account for some years. Between 1995 and 2007, for instance, he made 10 albums devoted to work of the great American songwriters. He was still performing until three months before his death.
He is survived by his wife and son.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) - Mosaic Records

Louis Armstrong
The Complete Decca Sessions 1935-1946 (07 cd´s) 

By AAJ Staff
Presumably everyone knows that Louis Armstrong's greatest and most important work was done in the '20s with and around the time of the incredible Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions. During the Swing Era he led a big band and after the war returned to the small group format for the most of the rest of his career with his All-Star bands.
Somehow, by the mid '50s, the idea had taken hold that Armstrong's Swing Era stuff was second-rate, a notion that has persisted until the present day, despite the efforts of writers like Dan Morgenstern to put things in their proper perspective. Now Mosaic Records has taken up the cause with their latest box set, The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-46) and have done their usual superlative work. The remastering allows us to hear the music better than we ever could before and Morgenstern has been given the job of writing the liners, which he has done with aplomb and obvious relish. So well does he express his views that it sometimes requires effort for this writer to remember that he doesn't always quite agree ("wait a minute, I don't think Lillie Delk Christian was all that bad" being a typically trivial example).
One of the first points to be made about the music here is that many important musicians of the generation that followed Armstrong have named solos from this period as personal favorites. To some extent this may have to do with which things they heard first, but there is no denying that there are many absolute jewels, from the celebrated remake of "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" to the triumphant version of Jelly Roll Morton's "The Wolverines" or the unforgettable "Swing That Music." He also reaches heights nearly as lofty on a score of other songs that aren't as obviously arranged to build towards a climactic solo. In fact, as far as Armstrong's trumpet playing is concerned, the news is all good. His sound is so richly beautiful and phrasing so breathtakingly perfect, it's no wonder the connoisseurs have always held this vintage in such high esteem. There's scarcely a track that doesn't include at least one memorable turn of phrase. He is also in great form as a vocalist, turning in definitive versions of several classics and working alchemical wonders to turn banal material into gold.
To be sure, not even Morgenstern can pretend that there isn't a fair amount of dross here and there are a couple of other things that potential buyers need to know before taking the plunge. One is, even if we agree that some of Armstrong's greatest playing and singing is featured, that doesn't mean ipso facto that it's the equal of his best earlier work; even if a mere mortal had played cornet on the Hot Fives and Sevens sides, they'd still be highly regarded because of the contributions of Johnny Dodds and Earl Hines and even more for the wonderful group interplay. By contrast, the big bands Louis fronted were usually designed only to show off the leader's abilities, with limited solo space allotted to sidemen. The arrangements were frequently uninteresting and not always played well (especially during the earlier sessions) and a few of the songs were beyond redemption, even by Armstrong.
There were also a number of sessions that presented our protagonist with other popular performers of the day (Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers among them) with decidedly mixed results. Of greater interest are the smaller group sessions of 1940, especially the reunion with Sidney Bechet, with whom Armstrong had played in 1923. It's a real pity that these two Crescent City masters didn't team up much more often; unfortunately it seems Bechet had issues with Armstrong's greater success.
Many of the things that jazz diehards would count as failings were the very things that helped Armstrong break through with the general public and in that regard we should note that a real appreciation of Armstrong's art at this time has to take into account his effectiveness as a pop performer, apart from his greatness as a jazz artist. Viewed that way, we can understand why some fans have been dismissive, while more discerning listeners have always considered this a period of great fertility.

Sound Quality by Mosaic Records:
It’s always a crap shoot to see if the original metal parts or lacquer discs will exist in the vaults of any given project. For the Armstrong we were lucky to obtain 1/3 of the music on pristine metal parts. The other 2/3 we were able to transfer mint condition 78s from serious collectors and the Institute of Jazz Studies. Many of these 78s came from Australian, British and French Decca pressings which offered a smoother shellac surface than the American Decca issues of the time. Another caveat of having access to the metal is that we came up with seven previously unissued titles.

CD1: I'm In The Mood For Love; You Are My Lucky Star; La Cucaracha; Got A Bran' New Suit; I've Got My Fingers Crossed; Old Man Mose; I'm Shooting High; Was I To Blame For Falling In Love With You; Red Sails In The Sunset; On Treasure Island; Thanks A Million; Shoe Shine Boy; Solitude; I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music; The Music Goes 'Round And Around; Rhythm Saved The World; Got A Bran' New Suit (alt tk.-A); I've Got My Fingers Crossed (alt tk.-A); Old Man Mose (alt tk.-A); Old Man Mose (alt tk.-D); Thanks A Million (alt tk.-B); Solitude (alt tk.-C); Solitude (alt tk.-B); I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music (alt tk.-C); Rhythm Saved The World.

CD2: I'm Puttin' All My Eggs In One Basket; Yes-Yes! My-My! (She's Mine); Somebody Stole My Break; I Come From A Musical Family; If We Never Meet Again; Lyin' To Myself; Ev'ntide; Swing That Music; Thankful; Red Nose; Mahogany Hall Stomp; The Skeleton In The Closet; When Ruben Swings The Cuban; Hurdy Gurdy Man; Dipper Mouth; Swing That Music; "Pennies From Heaven" Medley: Let's Call A Heart A Heart-So Do I-The Skeleton In The Closet; Pennies From Heaven; To You, Sweetheart Aloha; On A Cocoanut Island; On A Little Bamboo Bridge; Hawaiian Hospitality; When Ruben Swings The Cuban (alt tk.-B); Hurdy Gurdy Man (alt tk.-B); "Pennies From Heaven" Medley: Let's Call A Heart A Heart-So Do I-The Skeleton In The Closet (alt tk.-B).

CD3: Carry Me Back To Old Virginny; Darling Nelly Gray; In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree; The Old Folks At Home; Public Melody Number One; Yours And Mine; Red Cap; She's The Daughter Of A Planter From Havana; Alexander's Ragtime Band; Cuban Pete; I've Got A Heart Full Of Rhythm; Sun Showers; Once In A While; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Satchel Mouth Swing; Jubilee; Struttin' With Some Barbecue; The Trumpet Player's Lament; Darling Nelly Gray (alt tk.-B); In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree (alt tk.-B); The Old Folks At Home (alt tk.-B?); Struttin' With Some Barbecue (alt tk.-B); The Trumpet Player's Lament (alt tk.-C).

CD4: I Double Dare You; True Confession; Let That Be A Lesson To You; Sweet As A Song; So Little Time (So Much To Do); Mexican Swing; As Long As You Live You'll Be Dead If You Die; When The Saints Go Marching In; On The Sentimental Side; It's Wonderful; Something Tells Me; Love Walked In; The Flat Foot Floogee; The Song Is Ended; My Walking Stick; Shadrack; Going To Shout All Over God's Heaven; Nobody Knows De Trouble I've Seen; Jonah And The Whale; I Double Dare You (alt tk.-B); True Confession (alt tk.-B); Let That Be A Lesson To You (alt tk.-B); Going To Shout All Over God's Heaven (alt tk.-B).

CD5: Naturally; I've Got A Pocketful Of Dreams; I Can't Give You Anything But Love (w/ pre-groove chatter); Ain't Misbehavin'; Elder Eatmore's Sermon On Throwing Stones; Elder Eatmore's Sermon On Generosity (AA); Jeepers Creepers; What Is This Thing Called Swing?; Rockin' Chair; Lazybones; Hear Me Talkin' To Ya; Save It Pretty Mama; West End Blues; Savoy Blues; Confessin, That I Love You; Our Monday Date; If It's Good (Than I Want It); Me And Brother Bill; Happy Birthday; Baby Won't You Please Come Home; Poor Old Joe; Shanty Boat On The Mississippi.

CD6: Poor Old Joe; You're A Lucky Guy; You're Just A No Account; Bye And Bye; Hep Cats' Ball; You've Got Me Voodoo'd; Harlem Stomp; Wolverine Blues; Lazy 'Sippi Steamer; W.P.A.; Boog-It; Cherry; Marie; Sweethearts On Parade; You Run Your Mouth, I'll Run My Business; Cut Off My Legs And Call Me Shorty; Cain And Abel; Perdido Street Blues; Blues (Mamie's Blues); Down In Honky Tonk Town; Coal Cart Blues; Ev'rything's Been Done Before; I Cover The Waterfront; In The Gloaming; Long, Long Ago; Down In Honky Tonk Town (alt tk.-B).

CD7: Hey Lawdy Mama; I'll Get Mine Bye And Bye; New Do You Call That A Buddy; Yes Suh!; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Leap Frog; I Used To Love You (But It's All Over Now); (I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You; (Get Some) Cash For Your Trash; Among My Souvenirs; Coquette; I Never Knew; Groovin'; Baby Don't You Cry; Whatcha Say; Jodie Man; I Wonder; You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart); The Frim Fram Sauce; I Used To Love You (But It's All Over Now) (alt tk.-B); Among My Souvenirs (alt tk.-B); Coquette (alt tk.-B); Whatcha Say (alt tk.-A?); You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart); The Frim Fram Sauce.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman 1930 - 2015

By John Fordham/TheGuardian
The appearance of Ornette Coleman, who has died aged 85, at the Barbican in London in 2001, with a supporting cast of rappers, dancers, video artists, sufi vocalists, opera singers and Chinese traditional musicians, spectacularly symbolised this self-taught musician’s lifelong conviction that all good music is one. Back in London eight years later as the curator of the Meltdown festival, the dynamic Coleman did it again (this time with the singer-poet Patti Smith, the Senegalese griot Baaba Maal, guitarist Bill Frisell and a Moroccan drum choir), and found himself mobbed by fans crowding down the aisles of the Royal Festival Hall to shake his hand, long after the concert’s last chord had faded. It was a spontaneous display of gratitude for a gently indomitable vision that had radically changed the music of the previous half-century not just by revolutionising the intonation, phrasing and shared languages of jazz bands and soloists, but also by offering new ways for contemporary musicians in all genres to communicate with each other.
The groundbreaking and sometimes controversial avant garde saxophonist, pioneer of free jazz, suffered a cardiac arrest.
These triumphant performances were a long way from the world he knew in the early 1960s, when Coleman is reputed to have sat for long stretches in his New York apartment by a silent telephone. His radical ideas had stirred furious controversy and made him a risky proposition for promoters – some critics and musicians, offended by his pitch-bending tone and cavalier attitude to harmony, went as far as to call him a charlatan. Coleman was incensed by the racial and cultural inequalities that sidelined African Americans from classical music at the time, and often made black jazz artists the economic victims of a white-run music industry. He took to demanding that either he was paid the same fees as a classical concert artist or he would not show up. Time proved Coleman right, and from the 1980s onwards his music began to be performed in the world’s great concert halls. Lou Reed said of him: “When you talk about someone speaking through their instrument, that’s Ornette. He changed everything.”
Ornette was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to Randolph, a construction worker and cook, who died when Ornette was seven, and Rosa, a clerk for a funeral director’s. The variety of his music obscured the fact that, at root, he was one of the greatest geniuses of a simple song, the song of the blues. Coleman stripped down and simplified the conventional harmonic framework of jazz, remoulding the raw materials of improvisation and casting off the formal and technical bonds of the bebop style dominating jazz during his childhood. But his saxophone sound was steeped in the slurred notes and rough-hewn intonation of 19th-century singers and saloon-front guitarists at work before jazz was even born. His affecting tone swelled with the eloquence of the human voice.
His most enduring ambition was to imagine shared frameworks within which an impulsive and spontaneous music could emerge with the minimum of formality. From collaborations with symphony orchestras to dialogues with musicians and cultures far removed from jazz, his instantly recognisable themes retained that songlike forthrightness, and a childlike frankness and grace.
Coleman was given an alto saxophone by his mother at the age of 14, but there was no money for lessons. It did not occur to the boy that this might matter. As Coleman once put it: “I thought music was just something human beings done naturally, like eating. I thought [the saxophone] was a toy and I just played it. Didn’t know you have to learn something to find out what the toy does.”
The young Coleman responded to the quicksilver lyricism of the 1940s bop sax idol Charlie Parker, but his early adaptations of Parker’s harmonically complex ideas to the simpler structures of R&B and country blues were derided by fellow musicians and local audiences. His early sound was a mix of Parker phrases, a blues shouter’s rawness and a sax-beginner’s assortment of honks, squeaks and split notes, played in an apparently random relationship to the chords of the underlying tune.
When Coleman, playing the heavier tenor sax at this point, delivered his findings at a Gulf Coast dance in the late 1940s, he was beaten up, and the sax destroyed. He returned to the alto, supported himself with menial jobs, and worked obsessively on radically rethinking the relationship between melody, harmony and rhythm in jazz to set improvisation free. In New Orleans in 1949, he met a young traditional jazz and R&B drummer, Ed Blackwell, whose enthusiasms – like Coleman’s, based on collective rather than soloist-and-backing improvisation – seemed to make him more open to the young saxophonist’s intuitiveness than most of the theoretically advanced bop generation.
Some dismissed Coleman as an untutored fraud and others hailed him an untutored genius.
Moving to Los Angeles to play R&B, periodically working as an elevator operator, Coleman immersed himself in musical theory. What emerged was the basis of a completely new approach to improvising. In 1951 he got together with Blackwell in Los Angeles, and drew in New Orleans musicians including the pianist Ellis Marsalis. Another young drummer, Billy Higgins, appeared on Coleman’s horizon as a Blackwell-like player mixing passionate, unembroidered directness and intense swing. Higgins’s trumpet-playing former school-mate Don Cherry also entered the circle.
Like Coleman, Cherry favoured expressiveness of tone over technical gymnastics. The partners began to fold the saxophonist’s ideas into new bop-related but startlingly fresh-sounding compositions, and as the Jazz Messiahs, with James Clay on tenor sax, Coleman’s revelations began to be displayed to the public.
In 1958, a group including Cherry and the pianist Walter Norris made Coleman’s recording debut, Something Else!!!!, for the Los Angeles jazz label Contemporary Records. Later that year, the Canadian piano virtuoso Paul Bley, then in residence at the Hillcrest Club, LA, hired Coleman and Cherry to join the bassist Charlie Haden and Higgins in his own group.
Their journeys into uncharted musical waters quickly got them all fired from the Hillcrest, though not before they had made what became a cult live recording there. Coleman’s music in this breakthrough year suggested bebop’s quick, twisting, somewhat baroque melodies, but it was looser, wilder and bluesier. These exploits were also the last occasions Coleman would perform with a pianist for 30 years – he found fixed-note harmony instruments too rigid for the improvising flexibility he sought.
Early in 1959, Coleman made his second album for Contemporary. Tomorrow Is the Question! was bursting with exquisite originals – one of which, the lament-like Tears Inside, became a classic. His playing was by now a partly planned, partly serendipitous mingling of tonal, atonal and microtonal music (the exact pitch of Coleman’s notes defy the tuning fork), infused with the blues.
Prestigious musicians began to take an interest – notably the composer, brass player and musicologist Gunther Schuller, and John Lewis, the pianist-leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis arranged for Coleman’s group to record for the high-profile Atlantic label. That move led to the albums The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and Change of the Century (1960). Through Lewis, Coleman and Cherry attended the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts in 1959, alongside Dave Brubeck and George Russell. Russell, working on radical theories himself, acknowledged that hearing Coleman’s ideas brought a rethink in his own efforts to loosen improvisation from the dictatorship of chord-patterns.Coleman groups, variously featuring Higgins or Blackwell on drums, began to appear on the conventional jazz circuit, and controversy followed. Some dismissed the saxophonist as an untutored fraud and others hailed him as an untutored genius. Coleman’s adoption of a plastic alto sax (at first for economic reasons, and later because he preferred the sound) increased his reputation for eccentricity. The 1961 album Free Jazz – with its famous, and symbolic, Jackson Pollock painting on the cover – was an unbroken collective improvisation for two quartets playing simultaneously, and it was to be a formative influence on younger free-improvisers all over the world in the 1960s and early 70s. Coleman was also experimenting with modern classical music and serialism, and played on the album Jazz Abstractions (1961), which included a Schuller work for jazz band and string quartet.
Coleman took a sabbatical from 1962 to explore the trumpet and violin, which he took to playing with a colourful but approximate, broad-brush waywardness that suited the ends of his music very well. However, these casually adopted additions to his sound palette brought yet more criticism, and the formidably affronted saxophonist and broadcaster Benny Green wrote that “like a stopped clock, Coleman is at least right twice a day”. But when he returned to touring in 1965, a following was growing with Coleman, notably in Europe. With a great trio featuring the former classical bassist David Izenzon and the direct and crisply swinging drummer Charles Moffett, he remained in Europe through 1965, recording a superb pair of live albums for Blue Note (At the Golden Circle Stockholm, volumes 1 and 2).
Jazz giants including Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis publicly dismissed the newcomer’s work – though the latter’s 1960s bands undoubtedly represented selective use of free-jazz methods – but Coleman began to be perceived as a catalyst for change in contemporary classical music too.
Between the mid-1960s and the early 70s his forays into this field included Inventions of Symphonic Poems, Sun Suite of San Francisco and the symphonic work Skies of America. The last, a logistically troubled session recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road in 1972, reflected Coleman’s unfamiliarity with the potential of such a large ensemble and the compromises needed to make the segments fit jazz-radio airplay slots. But the sax improvisations over the orchestra retained their old fire, and the symphony contained the original idea for his famous, hypnotically looping theme Dancing in Your Head.
Coleman’s small jazz ensembles began to include a second saxophonist – the tenorist Dewey Redman – at the end of the 60s, and Haden, Higgins and Blackwell returned. But the next decade saw adventurous jazz being increasingly displaced by progressive rock, with a younger public more likely to be interested in the jazz-aware Frank Zappa’s multi-genre experiments than Coleman’s. John Coltrane’s more overtly spiritual music, inspired by Indian classical forms and religious thinking, had also become a popular manifestation of jazz for the hippie generation.
But Coleman’s broad interests – from the earthiest of dance and blues styles to 20th-century classical music – offered him alternatives to acoustic jazz without compromising his beliefs. By 1975, after explorations with drummers in Morocco and a typically oblique reappraisal of funk, Coleman reappeared with a powerful electric band, Prime Time. A minimalist-melody ensemble that played in a kind of noisy trance, it developed to include two electric guitarists – playing brittle counter-melodies rather than chords – alongside two bass guitarists and two drummers.
The group sound spliced the rhythmic intricacy of African drum-choirs, the directness of funk and the unpredictability of free improvisation. Coleman invented a name for the band’s approach – harmolodics, a conflation of harmony, movement and melody – facilitating the simultaneous playing of a given melody line by different instruments at different pitches. Coleman’s son, Denardo, from his 10-year marriage to the poet Jayne Cortez, was a drummer and sometimes a Prime Time member, and in his father’s later years became a constant accompanist and source of support.
By the late 1980s, Coleman’s enfant terrible status had been displaced by a kind of respectability. Younger players, including the fusion guitarist Pat Metheny, loved his music. Metheny recorded with him on the superb album Song X (1985). The film-maker Shirley Clarke celebrated the saxophonist’s career in Ornette: Made in America (1985) and recitals of Coleman’s contemporary classical music were given at Carnegie Hall. Prime Time continued to perform, but evolved to include keyboards, as well as Indian classical percussionists. A double album, In All Languages (1987), was made for both the electric band and the re-formed classic 1960s acoustic quartet, each interpreting the same pieces.
In 1991, Coleman and the Master Musicians of Jajouka performed on the score for the David Cronenberg film The Naked Lunch, and in 1994 the pianist Geri Allen joined Coleman’s New Quartet, with Moffett’s son Charnett on double bass, and Denardo on drums. In a characteristically contrary move, he made his two back-to-back Sound Museum albums with this group – the sessions featuring the same band on almost exactly the same material, in a challenge to listeners to detect and savour minuscule differences.
Coleman was now unreservedly welcomed into the mainstream. The MacArthur Foundation gave him five-year funding from 1994 and Lincoln Center’s Coleman showcase in 1997 featured Skies of America with an orchestra and Prime Time combined; trio, quartet and quintet recitals; and a theatrical event surrounding Prime Time with acrobats and fire-eaters. After a decade-long hiatus from recording, Coleman returned to the studio in 2005 to record the album Sound Grammar, for a new quartet featuring two double-bassists (one bowing and the other playing pizzicato), with Denardo on drums, and the leader playing alto saxophone, trumpet and violin. As ever, Coleman was seeking maximum fluidity between his players, the blues wail from his saxophone was as moving as ever, and the album received a Pulitzer prize. Coleman also put in a vibrant guest appearance on the former Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s For the Love of Ornette five years later.
His music confronted people so directly that he was once beaten up by concert goers – but Ornette came to be one of jazz’s torch bearers.
Original Coleman anthems, including Lonely Woman, Peace, Focus on Sanity and Congeniality, have now become jazz standards, reinterpreted all over the world. After the 1960s, new generations of improvisers were liberated by Coleman’s determination that improvised jazz phrasing should stop struggling to squeeze into the same recurring four- or eight-bar slots offered by the Broadway showtune or the 12 bars of the blues. Coleman’s unique sound on a saxophone, as modern as the moment yet reflecting the vocal sounds of the earliest African-American blues and church singers, remains an inimitable balance of the worldly and the transparently pure. As he once put it: “I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. I just want to be as human as I can get.”
Ralph Denard Ornette Coleman is survived by his son Denardo.