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  • richardmitnick 2:01 PM on October 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Claude Debussy, The New Yorker   

    From The Rest is Noise: “The Velvet Revolution of Claude Debussy” 

    From The Rest is Noise

    Alex Ross, by E.H Jan 17th 2013

    October 29, 2018
    Alex Ross

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    Debussy’s music was startling but not shocking. He led a velvet revolution, overturning the extant order without upheaval.
    Illustration by Carla Berrocal

    Claude Debussy died a century ago, but his music has not grown old. Bound only lightly to the past, it floats in time. As it coalesces, bar by bar, it appears to be improvising itself into being—which is the effect Debussy wanted. After a rehearsal of his orchestral suite “Images,” he said, with satisfaction, “This has the air of not having been written down.” In a conversation with one of his former teachers, he declared, “There is no theory. You merely have to listen. Pleasure is the law.”

    To mark the centenary of Debussy’s death, which fell in March, two handsome boxed sets of his complete works have been issued. They befit a man who treasured pretty things. One, from the Deutsche Grammophon label, is decorated with Jacques-Émile Blanche’s portrait of the composer, in which he assumes an aristocratic, lapel-grasping pose.

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    The other, from Warner Classics, displays Hokusai’s woodblock print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” which, at Debussy’s request, was reproduced on the cover of one of his most celebrated scores, “La Mer.”

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    Physical recordings are no longer a fashionable way of listening to music, but you will probably get closer to Debussy if you shut down the Internet and give yourself wholly to his world. The D.G. set has the libretto of his only finished opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande,” and the texts of his large output of songs—necessary resources in approaching an acutely literary composer whom Stéphane Mallarmé and Marcel Proust recognized as an equal.

    It is best to start where Pierre Boulez said modern music was born: with the ethereal first notes of the orchestral tone poem “Prelude to ‘The Afternoon of a Faun.’ ” Debussy wrote it between 1892 and 1894, in response to the famous poem by Mallarmé. The score begins with what looks like an uncertain doodle on the part of the composer. A solo flute slithers down from C-sharp to G-natural, then slithers back up; the same figure recurs; then there is a songful turn around the notes of the E-major triad. Yet, in the fourth bar, when more instruments enter—two oboes, two clarinets, a horn, and a rippling harp—they ignore the flute’s offering of E. Instead, they recline into a lovely chord of nowhere, a half-diminished seventh of the type that Wagner placed at the outset of “Tristan und Isolde.” This leads to a lush dominant seventh on B-flat, which ought to resolve to F, but doesn’t. Harmonies distant from one another intermingle in an open space. Most striking is the presence of silence. The B-flat harmonies are framed by bar-long voids. This is sound in repose, listening to its own echo.

    Debussy accomplished something that happens very rarely, and not in every lifetime: he brought a new kind of beauty into the world. In 1894, when “Faun” was first performed, its language was startling but not shocking: it caused no scandal, and was accepted by the public almost at once. Debussy engineered a velvet revolution, overturning the extant order without upheaval. His influence proved to be vast, not only for successive waves of twentieth-century modernists but also in jazz, in popular song, and in Hollywood. When both the severe Boulez and the suave Duke Ellington cite you as a precursor, you have done something singular.

    The music is easy to love but hard to explain. The shelf of books about Debussy is not large, and every scholar who addresses him faces the challenge of analyzing an artist to whom analysis was abhorrent. The latest addition to that shelf is Stephen Walsh’s “Debussy: A Painter in Sound” (Knopf), which places proper emphasis on Debussy’s myriad links to other art forms.

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    The composer may have been the first in history to become a fully modern-minded artist, joining a community of writers and painters, borrowing ideas and lending them in turn. Admittedly, before Debussy there was Wagner, whose impact was sufficiently seismic that the term “Wagnerism” had to be coined to describe it. With Wagner, though, the influence tended to go in one direction: outward. Debussy was receptive. He saw, he read, he pondered, and he transformed the ineffable into sound.

    “He was a very, very strange man,” the soprano Mary Garden said. With his piercing eyes and jutting forehead, he could make a rough first impression—like “a proud Calabrian bandit,” according to the pianist Ricardo Viñes. François Lesure, the author of the definitive French-language biography of Debussy, portrays him as “withdrawn, unsociable, taciturn, skittish, susceptible, distant, shy.” He was said to be “catlike and solitary.” He “lived in a kind of haughty misanthropy, behind a rampart of irony.” He had a tendency toward mendacity in his professional and personal relationships. He was conscious enough of his limitations: “Those around me persist in not understanding that I have never been able to live in a real world of people and things.”

    Debussy was born in the Paris suburbs in 1862, to an impoverished family. His father, Manuel, held a string of jobs, including china-shop owner, travelling salesman, and print worker. His mother, Victorine, was a seamstress. In the period of the Paris Commune, in 1871, Manuel served in the revolutionary forces, as a captain, and when the Commune was defeated he spent more than a year in prison. Fortuitously, when Manuel told Charles de Sivry, another inmate, about his son’s musical interests, Sivry mentioned that his mother, Antoinette Mauté, was a pianist. Mauté, a well-connected woman who was said to have studied with Chopin, began teaching the boy, and helped to arrange his admission to the Paris Conservatory, in 1872. Another notable thing about Mauté is that her daughter Mathilde had the misfortune of being married to Paul Verlaine. At the time, that ill-fated couple was living with Mauté, and Arthur Rimbaud, soon to become Verlaine’s lover, was an increasing source of tension. Although Debussy never spoke of meeting either Verlaine or Rimbaud, he must have been at least vaguely aware of the chaos in the household.

    At the conservatory, Debussy was a restless student, exasperating his teachers and fascinating his schoolmates. When confronted with the fundamentals of harmony and form, he asked why any systems were needed. He had little trouble mastering academic exercises, and, after two attempts, he won the Prix de Rome, a traditional stepping stone to a successful compositional career. But in his early vocal pieces, and in his legendarily mesmerizing improvisations at the piano, he jettisoned rules that had been in place for hundreds of years. Familiar chords appeared in unfamiliar sequences. Melodies followed the contours of ancient or exotic scales. Forms dissolved into textures and moods. An academic evaluation accused him of indulging in Impressionism—a label that stuck.

    Perhaps Debussy’s central insight was about the constricting effect of the standard major and minor scales. Why not use the old modes of medieval church music? Or the differently arrayed and tuned scales found in non-Western traditions? Or the whole-tone scale, which divided the octave into equal intervals? Debussy had a particular fondness for the natural harmonic series—the spectrum of overtones that arise from a vibrating string. If you pinch a taut string in the middle, its pitch goes up an octave. If you pinch it at successively smaller fractions, the basic intervals of conventional Western harmony emerge. So far, so good: but what about the notes further out in the series? These are more difficult to assimilate. In the chain of intervals derived from a C, you encounter a tone somewhere near B-flat and another in the vicinity of F-sharp. Debussy favored a mode that has become known as the acoustic scale, which mimics the overtone series by raising the fourth degree (F-sharp) and lowering the seventh (B-flat). That those notes correspond to blue notes helps to explain Debussy’s appeal to jazz musicians.

    Debussy had the prejudices typical of his time, and never thought too deeply about the cultures that he sampled. Nevertheless, he knew to look outside the classical sphere for nourishment. At the Paris Exposition of 1889, he heard a gamelan ensemble, which made Western harmonies sound to him like “empty phantoms of use to clever little children.” Those first measures of “Afternoon of a Faun” capture Debussy’s breadth of vision: first the call of the faun, which feels primal and uncomposed, and then that sumptuous chord on B-flat, which has no need to resolve, because it is complete in itself, a chord of overtones resting on its fundamental.

    Debussy’s rejection of the musical status quo was fuelled by his jealous love of poetry and painting. The most revelatory experience I’ve had with the composer in recent years was not in the concert hall but in a museum: an exhibition entitled “Debussy, Music, and the Arts,” which was mounted at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, in 2012. To turn from the manuscript of “Faun” to a copy of Mallarmé’s poem, and then to see on the walls a Whistler seascape and Hokusai’s “Great Wave,” was to feel Debussy’s synesthetic kick. For him, music had fallen behind: it had nothing that rivalled free verse in poetry, the drift toward abstraction in painting, and the investigation of mystical spheres that was happening across the arts.

    Poetry spurred Debussy’s earliest breakthroughs. His individual voice materializes in settings of Paul Bourget, Théodore de Banville, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Mallarmé—poets who ranged from Parnassian classicism to Symbolist esotericism. Like a hunter chasing an elusive quarry, Debussy repeatedly tried to capture the eerie stillness of Verlaine’s “En Sourdine”: “Calm in the half-light / Made by the tall branches, / Let our love be imbued / With deep silence.” As Walsh observes, Debussy’s first attempts, from 1882, are thick with Wagnerian harmony. A version from a decade later is spare and piercing, all excess expunged. Debussy is ready to compose “Afternoon of a Faun,” which arose when Mallarmé asked him to contribute to a theatrical version of his poem. (No production resulted.) “Inert, all burns in this savage hour,” the poem reads, making oblique mention of “him who searches for the la”—the note A. This is the atmosphere of Debussy’s opening, with its charged stasis and its chords of resonance.

    The visual arts proved an equally important fund of inspiration, although the Impressionist label has perpetuated the erroneous notion that Debussy tried to do in music what Monet, Renoir, and Degas did in painting. Those artists were in his field of vision, but the rush of brushwork that defines Impressionist painting—the erasure of the clean line in pursuit of a hazier reality—is alien to Debussy’s crystalline technique. Elusive but never vague, he is closer in spirit to the Symbolist movement, with its vivid evocations of unreal realms, and to the fable-bright world of Les Nabis. He also looked to the Pre-Raphaelites—“La Damoiselle Élue,” a pivotal early cantata, is based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “The Blessed Damozel”—and to the semi-abstract seascapes of J. M. W. Turner, which forecast the tumult of “La Mer.”

    The culmination of this first phase of Debussy’s revolution is “Pelléas et Mélisande,” an opera so unlike its predecessors that it effectively inaugurated a new genre of modernist music theatre. A tale of two half-brothers who fall in love with the same mysterious maiden, it is based on the eponymous play by the Belgian Symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck, who had a fin-de-siècle vogue before largely falling out of sight. Maeterlinck is worth revisiting—his elliptical dialogue looks ahead to the work of Samuel Beckett. Debussy, facing the gnomic text of “Pelléas,” made the radical decision to set it line by line, without recourse to a versifying librettist. This had been done before, notably in Russian opera, but Debussy achieved an unprecedented merger of music with an advanced literary aesthetic. In the wake of “Pelléas” came Strauss’s “Salome” and “Elektra,” Berg’s “Wozzeck” and “Lulu,” and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s “Die Soldaten.”

    “Pelléas” engenders its own world on the first page of the score. In an essay in the new scholarly anthology “Debussy’s Resonance” (University of Rochester Press), Katherine Bergeron indicates how this happens. In the first four bars, bassoons, cellos, and double basses make a stark, columnar sound that conjures the forest in which the drama begins. It is, Bergeron writes, an evocation of “dim antiquity, carving out a fragment of plainsong in stolid half notes.” She continues, “The figure suggests an immense murmur, or an ancient cosmic sigh, whose sheer weight draws it to the bottom of the orchestra. Then it vanishes. A different music takes its place, sounding high in the winds, its bass voice a tritone away. With its more articulate rhythm and brighter timbre, the melody sounds a sort of anxious trill: indecisive, edgy, almost dissonant.” This second motif is associated with Golaud, who ends up killing his half-brother, Pelléas. Golaud, Bergeron observes, seems strikingly disconnected from the forest around him. We hear not only two distinct textures but the gap between them. This defining gesture is painterly at heart: a single stroke of the brush turns the remainder of the canvas into resonant space.

    The première of “Pelléas,” in 1902, established Debussy as the dominant French composer of his time. He became a trend, a “school”: critics spoke of “Debussystes” and “Debussysme.” For a man accustomed to thinking of himself as a loner, the fame was disconcerting. His life was further complicated by personal chaos, largely of his own making. His first marriage, to the fashion model Lilly Texier, fell apart when he began an affair with the singer Emma Bardac. In 1904, Texier attempted suicide; the affair became public, and Debussy lost many friends. He subsequently married Bardac. That relationship, too, was troubled, although it lasted until his death. “An artist is, all in all, a detestable, inward-facing man,” Debussy wrote to Texier in 1904, as if brutal candor somehow excused his behavior.

    In this period, Debussy took up a second career, as a music critic, delivering a stream of prickly, contrarian opinions that seemed almost designed to increase his isolation. Beethoven wrote badly for the piano, he proclaimed: “With a few exceptions, his works should have been allowed to rest.” Wagner was a literary genius but no musician. Gluck was pompous and artificial. There was a method to this crankiness: Debussy was attacking the tendency to worship the past at the expense of the present. In a later interview, he said that he actually admired Beethoven and Wagner, but refused to “admire them uncritically, just because people have told me that they are masters.”

    Debussy struggled to come up with a successor to “Pelléas.” His list of contemplated operas included a setting of Pierre Louÿs’s “Aphrodite”; an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”; and works on topics as various as Siddhartha, Orpheus, the Oresteia, Don Juan, Romeo and Juliet, and Tristan and Yseult (“a subject which has not as yet been treated,” Debussy said, impishly). Not all these ideas were serious; Debussy had a bad habit of seeking advances for projects that he had little intention of completing. He did, however, expend considerable energy on a pair of operas inspired by Edgar Allan Poe: a comedy, based on “The Devil in the Belfry,” and a tragedy, based on “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Enough sketches for the latter exist that the scholar Robert Orledge has been able to make a stylish and often convincing reconstruction, which the Pan Classics label recorded in 2016, alongside a less persuasive version of the “Belfry” material.

    If Debussy’s operatic path remained largely blocked, he found new fluency in the production of instrumental scores: the three sets of “Images” for piano and for orchestra, the two books of Preludes for solo piano, “La Mer,” and the dance score “Jeux.” In this pervasively dazzling body of music, Symbolist gloom gives way to glowing new colors and a fresh rhythmic punch. Popular influences come to the fore: vaudeville tunes, circus marches, cabaret, Iberian dances, ragtime.

    While exploring the D.G. Debussy box, the richer of the two collections, I found myself fixated on Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s casually immaculate rendering of “Reflets dans l’Eau,” from the first book of “Images.” Michelangeli’s recording of “Images,” made in 1971, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest piano records ever made. “Reflets” begins with eight bars confined to the key of D-flat major, or, more precisely, to the scale associated with that key. Chords drawn from those seven notes lounge indolently across the keyboard. In the ninth bar, though, the work goes gorgeously haywire. Extraneous notes invade the inner voices, even as a D-flattish upper line is maintained. Pinprick dissonances disrupt the sense of a tonal center, and the music collapses into harmonic limbo, in the form of a rolled chord of fourths. This is Debussyan atonality, which predates Schoenberg’s and is very different in spirit: not a lunge into the unknown but a walk on the wild side. We stroll back home with a descending string of chords that defy brief description: sevenths of various kinds, diminished sevenths, dominant sevenths, and what, in jazz, is called the minor major seventh. Michelangeli, who admired the jazz pianist Bill Evans and was admired by Evans in turn, plays this whole stretch of music as if he were hunched over a piano in a smoke-filled club, at one in the morning, sometime during the Eisenhower Administration. Two bars later, we are back in D-flat—an even more restricted version of it, on the ancient pentatonic scale. Some kind of bending of the musical space-time continuum has occurred, and we are only sixteen bars in.

    Debussy is often stereotyped as an artist of motionless atmospheres, but he was a radical in rhythm as well as in harmony. I’ve also become mildly obsessed by a few bars in the propulsive final movement of “La Mer,” entitled “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea,” which is structured around successive iterations of a simple theme of narrow falling intervals: A to G-sharp, A-sharp to G-sharp. As in “Afternoon of a Faun,” an idea remains largely fixed while the context around it undergoes kaleidoscopic changes. First the theme sounds in the winds, over rapidly pulsing lower strings; then it hovers in an ambience of luminous calm; then it takes on an impassioned, quasi-Romantic character in the violins.

    The fourth iteration never fails to make me want to leap from my chair. The downward-sighing theme is back in the winds, but it floats above a multilayered texture in which rhythms and accents are landing every which way: scurrying triplets in the strings, horns sounding on the fourth beat of the bar, piercing grace notes in the piccolo, and a curious oompah section comprised of timpani, cymbals, and bass drum. Most of the instruments are dancing to the side of the beat. The net result of all this layering is an irresistible sense of buoyancy. Particularly striking is a galloping pattern in the strings—four rapid hoofbeats endlessly recurring. Debussy liked the work of the British painter and illustrator Walter Crane, and I wonder whether “La Mer” might have something to do with Crane’s 1892 painting “Neptune’s Horses,” in which phantom beasts materialize from a cresting wave.

    The D.G. box includes two performances of “La Mer”: one with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, under Leonard Bernstein, and one with the Berlin Philharmonic, under Herbert von Karajan. Both make an impressive noise at the climaxes, although they fall prey to an aggrandizing tendency noted by the scholar Simon Trezise, in a book-length study of “La Mer.” Since Toscanini, Trezise argues, conductors have made “La Mer” an “orchestral showpiece of the first order,” rather than a complexly layered conception in which foreground and background merge. Trezise rightly draws attention to pioneering recordings by the Italian conductor Piero Coppola, in which the strings are restrained in favor of pungent winds. That leanness and a vibrancy of color reëmerge in a 2012 rendition of “La Mer” by Jos van Immerseel and the ensemble Anima Eterna Brugge, which uses instruments from Debussy’s era.

    Still, I cherish most the various recordings made by Boulez, who dedicated himself to banishing all sentimental mists from Debussy’s music, thereby exposing its modernity. Regrettably, Boulez’s 1995 reading with the Cleveland Orchestra is missing from the D.G. box, but the set does include his staggeringly precise account of “Jeux.” In the finale of “La Mer,” Boulez’s meticulous attention to rhythmic subtleties redoubles the music’s kinetic energy. When he led the New York Philharmonic in “La Mer” in 1992—his final appearance with that ensemble—the waves broke on the ears with cold, lashing force.

    In 1913, Debussy arrived at the inevitable moment when he no longer occupied the vanguard. That year, the Ballets Russes unleashed Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Debussy marvelled at Stravinsky’s invention, but felt uneasy about his younger colleague’s ruthless brilliance. “Primitive music with all modern conveniences” was his wry comment on the “Rite.” The advent of full-on atonality in the music of Schoenberg and his pupils left Debussy cold. He loved the strange but not the harsh.

    As Europe devolved into barbarism in the early years of the First World War, Debussy adopted a decorous, formally controlled style that looked back to the aristocratic poise of the French Baroque. With this unexpected swerve, he was following the advice he gave to his stepson, to “distrust the path that your ideas make you take.” As Walsh points out, Debussy’s self-distrust considerably slowed his productivity, as he tested “every chord and chord sequence, every rhythm, every colour for their precise effect.”

    In the summer of 1915, Debussy embarked on a cycle of six sonatas for different groups of instruments—a telling gesture, since up to this point he had largely ignored the received forms of classical tradition. In a burst of creativity, he completed two of them in a matter of weeks: the Cello Sonata and the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. A Violin Sonata followed. He considered these works a “secret homage” to French soldiers fallen in battle. In a patriotic mood, he signed them “Claude Debussy, French musician.” They forecast the West’s turn toward neoclassicism in the postwar period, not least in Stravinsky’s ever-evolving, fashion-setting œuvre. Yet Debussy avoided intellectual irony or self-consciousness. He saw himself as restoring the beauty that had been destroyed in the war.

    The Harmonia Mundi label has added to the welcome flood of Debussy on disk with its own Centenary Edition, and one of its finest offerings is a survey of those three sonatas.

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    Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov play the Violin Sonata; Jean-Guihen Queyras and Javier Perianes undertake the Cello Sonata; and the flutist Magali Mosnier, the violist Antoine Tamestit, and the harpist Xavier de Maistre give a pristine performance of the sonata dedicated to their instruments. That piece is sometimes so sparing in its application of notes to the page that it hardly seems to exist. The score contains such indications as “dying away” and “as delicately as possible.” This is music suffused with pale light; each terse, tender phrase seems aware of its own impermanence.

    Debussy had found a new path—beyond Symbolism, beyond modernism. One can only wonder what might have followed, for his life came to a grim end. In 1915, he was given a diagnosis of rectal cancer and underwent an operation that had limited success. His final years were horrible. He suffered from incontinence and stopped leaving the house. He died as German forces were shelling Paris. Afterward, his twelve-year-old daughter, called Chouchou, wrote a heartbreaking letter to her half-brother: “I saw him again one last time in that horrible box—He looked happy, oh so happy.” Chouchou died the following year, of diphtheria—a fate of which Debussy, blessedly, had no inkling. She may have been the only person he ever loved without reserve.

    See the full article here .

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    The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is a voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, which remains an obscure world for most people. While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, its influence can be felt everywhere. Atonal chords crop up in jazz. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalism has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward.

    The Rest Is Noise shows why twentieth-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with sweet sounds or battered them with dissonance, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art. The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

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  • richardmitnick 1:44 PM on October 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Happy hundredth birthday Thelonious Monk, , The New Yorker   

    From Ethan Iverson via The New Yorker: “Think of Thelonious Monk” 

    From Ethan Iverson

    Ethan Iverson 2016 photo by Jimmy Katz at http://www.jimmykatz.com, with permission

    via

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    October 10, 2017
    Ethan Iverson

    Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb

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    There are sixty-odd Thelonious Monk pieces still in the active repertoire, something that cannot be said of any other composer’s work.
    Photograph by Gai Terrell / Redferns / Getty

    There was always something to talk about. The avant-garde music that verged on conceptual art but was delivered at a relaxed and buoyant foxtrot. The memorable melodies that sat atop a virtuosic harmonic conception, emphasizing unexpected dissonances. The blues that were an unchanging constant. For those who couldn’t tell he was an unusual musician simply from listening, the visuals were a helpful guide: outrageously idiosyncratic percussive piano techniques and long, spastic dances, not to mention a wardrobe of impeccable flash and taste.

    At the beginning, Thelonious Monk was a shadowy figure known only to fellow-innovators. To help generate publicity, the Blue Note label dubbed him “the high priest” for his first records, as a bandleader, in the late nineteen-forties. After Monk spent a few more years in penniless obscurity, suddenly, most of New York City went to the Five Spot, where he was in residence for multiple months in 1957. From there he became a household name and one of the biggest draws on the European circuit. In 1964, he even appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and was profiled by Lewis Lapham, in the Saturday Evening Post, although most of the mainstream press during Monk’s lifetime made unhappy allusions to craziness, infantilism, and negroid primitivism. Eventually, the record companies decided that he wasn’t a religious icon (“the high priest”) but a warrior instead, and his last significant major-label release, “Underground,” depicted him on the cover with guns, grenades, and a captured Nazi.

    During Monk’s ascendency, his style was so different from that of any other bebop or modern-jazz pianist. It was stubborn, incantatory, utterly African. Occasionally, when his left hand opened up and gave an accurate quotation of glorious Harlem stride, it became downright anachronistic. Some of the cognoscenti were bewildered, at least at first. Most of the skeptics ended up admiring his compositions, although certain great musicians, like Miles Davis, Lennie Tristano, and Oscar Peterson, would continue to dislike aspects of his playing. Ironically, Davis began his ascendency with a performance of Monk’s “ ’Round Midnight.” The ironies are compounded when you remember that Monk would always be irritated about how Davis used incorrect chord changes, not just on “ ’Round Midnight” but on “Well, You Needn’t,” as well.

    After his death, in 1982, scholars and fans settled down and began doing the serious work of parsing the complexities and clearing away the controversies. In 1983, the boutique label Mosaic Records launched with “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk.” The quietly stunning cinéma-vérité documentary “Straight, No Chaser,” directed by Charlotte Zwerin, was released, in 1989. In 2002, “The Thelonious Monk Fake Book” collected accurate lead sheets, edited by Steve Cardenas and Don Sickler. In 2009, Robin D. G. Kelley published “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original,” a hefty, family-authorized, and definitive factual biography, which declared that Monk was bipolar and offered clues, if not final answers, about why Monk spent his last years withdrawn and silent.

    There are sixty-odd Monk pieces still in the active repertoire, something that cannot be said of any other composer’s work. Monk has varied musical tributes from Charles Mingus (“Jump Monk”), Sonny Rollins (“Disco Monk”), Eric Dolphy (“Hat and Beard”), Andrew Hill (“Monastery”), McCoy Tyner (“The High Priest”), and hundreds of others. Many of the remaining jazz celebrities are on the board of the Thelonious Monk Institute, which, for almost three decades, has sponsored the world’s biggest jazz contest.

    Monk’s perfect package of accessible surrealism has proved to be catnip to a long line of painters, critics, modern dancers, novelists, and, especially, poets. A collected set of the complete poems written about Monk would fill a small library, most on a theme similar to Abbey Lincoln’s lyric to “Blue Monk”:

    Going alone
    life is your own
    but the cost sometimes is dear.
    Being complete
    knowing defeat
    keeping on from year to year.

    The poets are correct. Monk will always challenge conventional jazz. In “Straight, No Chaser,” Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris offer duo performances of “Well, You Needn’t” and “Misterioso.” Flanagan and Harris are swinging, but both are far from their magical best, and the result (intentionally or unintentionally—only Zwerin knows) shows how tame and unexciting “normal” bebop piano can be when compared to Monk.

    He is a smooth object that spins out of one’s grasp, as easily as a ball bearing shaped like his middle name, Sphere. The minute you pin him down, he’s dancing in another corner. A child can march to his 4/4 time, yet so many of his internal minimal rhythms are fantastically complex Afro-Cuban derivatives, confusing to all but the initiated. He’s one of the original Afro-futurists—a noble lineage that includes Sun Ra (“Space Is the Place”) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (“Black Music: Ancient to the Future”)—yet he also programmed campy and sentimental parlor piano songs from the days of yesteryear.

    Jazz musicians began playing “standards” from the American popular songbook to generate a specific feeling, neither a blues nor a musical but some mysterious intersection of the two. After Louis Armstrong, the artist who gave the most early energetic life to this essential chiaroscuro was Billie Holiday. As a young man, Monk would lie in bed and stare at a photo of Holiday taped to his ceiling, illuminated by a single red light bulb.

    In his maturity, Monk would always play a standard redone in harmonic and melodic terms just as specific as an original Monk composition. The most absurd of those standards might be “Just a Gigolo,” a song about being a male escort, which was originally written as an Austrian tango, by the Italian composer Leonello Casucci, before being popularized in America with lyrics by the Romanian-Jewish Broadway great Irving Caesar. Monk is all the way inside the tune while simultaneously impossibly distant. His reading of the original melody is relentlessly accurate, so it must be the manipulation of tone and accompaniment that produces such a complex final product.

    The composer James Newton says that “Timbre is the least investigated and most misunderstood element of African music.” In “Just a Gigolo,” the sonority is as un-European as a piano can possibly be (and perhaps a good reminder that Picasso and his fellow-Cubists were deeply influenced by African art). But the rules and regulations concerning voice-leading in European music are not discarded. Indeed, Monk understands the pure harmonic potential of “Gigolo” better than Cascucci or Caesar, offering a sweet-and-sour palette that heightens the song’s solemn ambivalence. In the end, while Monk’s “Just a Gigolo” remains absurd, it can also reduce one to tears.

    Video footage can help when assessing the performing arts, but not always. There is nothing more boring than decent jazz on a flawed video. However, in the case of Monk, videos are always a true bonus, especially the videos of the working quartet with Charlie Rouse, in the nineteen-sixties. Rouse is a stoic gladiator, the bands swing so hard, and Monk’s pianistic physicality and interpretive dance explode through the screen. One date in particular is glorious: in Tokyo, on May 23, 1963, a crew of smart visual and audio technicians placed one of Monk’s greatest bands, with Rouse, Butch Warren, and the incandescent Frankie Dunlop, against a simple modernist backdrop and let them blow. The version of “Just a Gigolo” from that performance is in “Straight, No Chaser,” and the rest of the songs are available on YouTube.

    Although nobody was more laconic than Monk, none of the twentieth-century jazz greats were especially verbose when an outsider asked them about their music. They didn’t say much, because how could they start? Where to begin? Either you get the perfect balance of references and realities contained in that May 23, 1963, video—race, blues, swing, melody, harmony, time, fashion, clave, avant, folklore, academy, mystic, complex, simple—or you don’t. If you do get it, then, as Monk himself said, “Always know.” In case “Always know” isn’t clear, there’s another line of Monk’s that was copied down by his student Steve Lacy: “You’ve got to dig it to dig, you dig?”

    The dozens of cryptic Monk aphorisms are key. Here’s one that isn’t yet in print. My friend Dean Estes hung out with him in Minneapolis in the sixties, and Monk spent the week saying, “White is right. Two is one.” Years later, Dean realized that Monk was talking about the civil-rights images dominating the television news. Two isn’t one, so white wasn’t right.

    His wife, Nellie, called him Melodious Thunk. Happy hundredth birthday, Thelonious Monk.

    See the full article here .

    Ethan Iverson is a pianist, composer, and critic best known for his work in the avant-garde jazz trio The Bad Plus with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King.

    The original Bad Plus Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King https//www.aladdin-theater.com

    Iverson was born in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Before The Bad Plus, he was musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Group and a student of both Fred Hersch and Sophia Rosoff. He has worked with artists such as Billy Hart, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Berne, Mark Turner, Ben Street, Lee Konitz, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Paul Motian, Larry Grenadier, Charlie Haden and Ron Carter.

    He currently studies with John Bloomfield and serves on the faculty at New England Conservatory.

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 2:31 PM on October 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , The New Yorker   

    From The New Yorker: “The Metropolitan Opera and The New York Philharmonic” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    From The New Yorker

    October 4, 2018
    Alex Ross

    1
    Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Verdi’s “Aida.” Not all the sounds she made in her magisterial performance were beautiful, but all had dramatic point.
    Photograph by Marty Sohl / Met Opera

    October 4, 2018
    Alex Ross

    The opening of the Metropolitan Opera House on Monday evening seemed rather a social than a musical event,” a critic wrote in 1883, after the company’s inaugural performance. The same words apply to the Met’s hundred-and-thirty-fourth opening night, on September 24th. The gilded world of the Morgans, the Roosevelts, the Vanderbilts, and the Whitneys has largely vanished, but the tradition of a Monday opening lingers, together with whatever remains of high New York society. Christine Baranski was there. Don Lemon was there. Ariana Rockefeller wore a blush-tone gown by Bibhu Mohapatra, according to Vogue. The occasion seldom lends itself to statements of artistic ambition, and the Met took no risks in that direction. Saint-Saëns’s “Samson et Dalila,” the opera on offer, packs Biblical romance, bacchanalia, rousing choruses, and sumptuous arias into a relatively tight span of three hours.

    Even by the lowered standards of a gala opening, though, this “Samson” was dim and inert. Once again, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has hired a Broadway-oriented production team that seems stymied by opera’s internal dynamics. The director is Darko Tresnjak, who won a Tony Award for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”; the sets are by his regular collaborator Alexander Dodge. They conjure an ornate Middle Eastern fantasy that aspires to the aesthetic of Cecil B. DeMille. The vast Met stage usually responds well to this kind of thing, but Dodge’s sets have a hulking quality that restricts singers’ movements. The color scheme was vibrant but jumbled. I thought back fondly to the glowing desert hues of Elijah Moshinsky’s “Samson,” which opened the Met season twenty years ago. When you replace a successful old production, you shouldn’t offer something that looks like a chintzy knockoff.

    The singing, too, marked a decline from the Met’s last “Samson.” In the fall of 1998, we had Plácido Domingo as the long-haired hero and Olga Borodina as his sultry seducer—voices of real power and distinction. This time, we had Roberto Alagna and Elīna Garanča: the one a stylish but increasingly uneven veteran, who lost his top notes in the final act; the other a coolly bewitching presence who issued gleaming tones in her upper range but failed to hit the gut on the lower end. There was no real heat between the leads. In the pit, the orchestra made a luxurious sound for Mark Elder, but electricity was missing there, too.

    The Met would have been better off dropping the pretense of saying something new and opening the season with “Aida,” which rumbled onstage two nights later. This is the colossal Sonja Frisell show that has been drawing a steady traffic of horses, chariots, and bare-chested soldiers to Lincoln Center since 1988. It makes DeMille look like a subtle miniaturist, but it serves as a handsome foil for singers of stature. Anna Netrebko proved equal to the title role, emitting full-bodied, rich-hued tone from the top to the bottom of her capacious voice. More than that, she fashioned a rounded, affecting portrayal of the Ethiopian princess, transcending the array of bravura gestures that have characterized much of her past work. Aleksandrs Antonenko, as Radamès, lagged far behind in artistry but held his own on the decibel meter.

    What made this “Aida” indelible, however, was Anita Rachvelishvili’s magisterially hell-raising performance as Amneris. The young Georgian mezzo-soprano, noted for her Carmen, has a huge, piercing voice, and she isn’t afraid to sacrifice purity of technique for the sake of intensity of expression. Not all the sounds she made were beautiful, but all had a dramatic point. A sign of her charisma is that during the final tableau, as Aida and Radamès are expiring in the tomb, Amneris continues to transfix the attention: even when she isn’t singing, she dominates the stage. The Met should let her do whatever she wants: artists of this calibre are the reason opera exists.

    If the Met began its season in an atmosphere of retrenchment, the New York Philharmonic took a bolder tack, kicking things off with Ashley Fure’s “Filament,” as experimental a work as the Philharmonic has attempted since Karlheinz Stockhausen invaded the premises in the early seventies.

    Ashley Fure by Robert Gill

    Fure, a blazingly inventive young American composer, transformed Geffen Hall into an open-ended experimental soundscape, in which the orchestra trades timbres with a trio of soloists—the double-bassist Brandon Lopez, the trumpeter Nate Wooley, and the bassoonist Rebekah Heller—and fifteen singers who are dispersed around the hall. Stretches of charged near-silence alternate with sudden storms of white noise. From time to time, the musicians converge on a single burning tone, only to spiral back into primordial chaos. All of this went over surprisingly well with the crowd. A subscriber offered a review on the subway afterward: “There was a totally modern piece—by a woman! And I loved it!”

    The inclusion of a female composer on the first concert of the season—including the opening-night gala, where the usual rule is to avoid surprises—made one reflect on the gender imbalance that continues to reign elsewhere on Lincoln Center Plaza. The current Met season, like the last, has no female composers, no female conductors, and no female directors in charge of new productions. Just before the season began, Gelb and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the company’s incoming music director, announced that they would take belated steps to address some of that imbalance, commissioning operas from Jeanine Tesori and Missy Mazzoli. A production of Mazzoli’s gritty, fraught chamber opera “Proving Up,” at Miller Theatre, last week, confirmed that she is a major new dramatic talent.

    From 2009 to 2017, under the enlightened leadership of Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic made considerable strides in modernizing its repertory. Jaap van Zweden, the stubby, spirited Dutch conductor, has now taken over as music director.

    Jaap van Zweden Director of the New York Philharmonic by Marco Borggreve

    Whether he will be an equally insistent champion of new and twentieth-century fare remains to be seen, but he threw himself energetically into the Fure, and was even more visibly engaged in Conrad Tao’s “Everything Must Go,” which appeared on the following week’s program.

    Conrad Tao–Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

    Tao is only twenty-four, and also has a flourishing career as a pianist. Van Zweden commissioned him to write a prelude to Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, which occupied the remainder of the concert. Tao supplied a flickering nebula of material from which Bruckner’s stately forms seamlessly emerge. This week, van Zweden presents the world première of Louis Andriessen’s “Agamemnon,” a variously propulsive and meditative evocation of the House of Atreus.

    Although the Philharmonic has cancelled two of Gilbert’s initiatives—the “Contact!” new-music series and the NY Phil Biennial—it is instituting two new series, “Sound ON” and “Nightcap,” both oriented toward living composers. The first “Nightcap” took place after one of the Bruckner concerts, in the Kaplan Penthouse, above the Lincoln Center complex. The setup inevitably recalls Mostly Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” series, which takes place in the same time slot and in the same venue, with the audience seated club-style, at tables. Tao presented a diffuse but diverting hour of electronica, piano solos, free-form tap dancing (by Caleb Teicher), and avant-garde vocalism (by Charmaine Lee), all of it intermittently related to Bruckner’s choral works. The evening was long on stage patter and short on musical focus.

    In the standard repertory, van Zweden is an assertive presence, not always to satisfying effect. He has a habit of overmilking fortissimos: this happened last season, in Mahler’s Fifth, and it happened again last week, in “The Rite of Spring.” The Bruckner, though, showed an impressive control of slow-building processes. I especially liked the differentiation of instrumental voices: this was a living, moving Bruckner, not a faceless monument. David Cooper, who played French horn under van Zweden at the Dallas Symphony, sat in as principal horn, and sounded splendid. The orchestra was generally at or near its best. There is no way of knowing how conductor-orchestra relationships will turn out—an orchestra, too, can be “rather a social than a musical event”—but van Zweden has made a buoyant start.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 10:23 AM on June 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Charlie Puth, , , The New Yorker   

    From The New Yorker: Charlie Puth, ‘Voicenotes'” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    From The New Yorker

    1
    Charlie Puth, courtesy Atlantic Records

    Charlie Puth, Voicenotes

    June 5, 2018
    Doreen St. Félix

    The strange trinity of YouTube, Ellen DeGeneres, and the Fast and the Furious franchise shuttled the twenty-six-year-old Charlie Puth to fame. In the early twenty-tens, his channel Charlies Vlogs, which featured videos of him performing covers and original songs, gained hundreds of thousands of followers; in 2012, DeGeneres brought him on her talk show and signed him to her record label; in 2015, right out of Berklee College of Music, he wrote—“in, like, ten minutes,” he has said—one of the most commercially successful singles of the decade, the pop-rap dirge See You Again, for the Furious 7 soundtrack. The song, a tribute to the franchise’s late star, Paul Walker, is almost impressive in its lethargy.

    So was Puth’s début album. Full of bland doo-wop ballads, Nine Track Mind was, according to Metacritic, one of the worst-reviewed albums of all time. Puth seemed a genuine talent strained by nostalgia-baiting and the exigencies of social media. So you could imagine my surprise when Voicenotes, his follow-up, turned out to be a pleasure. Puth, who produces his own songs, prods the caverns of R. & B. and pop with a slinky confidence. He’s reverent but audacious: when he has Boyz II Men provide the backing vocals to If You Leave Me Now, the listener doesn’t balk. The opener, The Way I Am, includes a riff that shadows the iconic notes of Beat It; the next track, Attention, uses the bass to build a cocky groove. Unlike many of his peers, Puth remains committed to the joys of a well-wrought chorus, and his nimble refrains deserve comparison to the heyday of Taylor Swift. The loose narrative of Voicenotes winds around Puth’s West Coast malaise. (He grew up in New Jersey.) A song called LA Girls produces the memorable lyrics: “There was Nikki, Nicole, Tiffany, and Heather . . . . But you say I change like the East Coast weather.” Such lines bottle the absurdist fizz of Instagram, the shrugs of the Snapchat nouveau riche, and a pouting male insecurity. What keeps it from collapsing into schlock is the pure charisma of Puth’s songwriting.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 6:20 PM on May 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Sir Simon Rattle, The New Yorker   

    From The New Yorker: “The Conductor Intensifying Mahler Through Restraint” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    May 28, 2018
    Alex Ross

    Sir Simon Rattle by Urs Flueeler-AP

    On June 20th, Simon Rattle will end a sixteen-year tenure as the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic—a post of quasi-papal authority in the classical-music world.

    How Rattle should be judged against predecessors on the order of Hans von Bülow, Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, and Claudio Abbado is for the musical sages of Berlin to decide. From a distance, Rattle appears to have left a distinctive stamp on the institution. He has promoted contemporary music with unprecedented vigor; he has given new prominence to French, British, and American fare; he has presided over such staggering spectacles as Stockhausen’s “Gruppen,” presented at Tempelhof Airport, and the Bach Passions, as staged by Peter Sellars. If any question mark hovers over his legacy, it has to do with his handling of mainstream nineteenth-century repertory, where his quest for fresh-scrubbed renditions has sometimes worked wonders—a darkly radiant “Parsifal can be seen at the Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall—and sometimes had inconclusive results. Kirill Petrenko, Rattle’s successor, is a conductor of more traditional cast: that turn will please some and disappoint others.

    Berlin Philharmonic©Stefan Hoederath

    Now sixty-three, Rattle is still a young gazelle in conductor years—the Swedish maestro Herbert Blomstedt is giving revelatory performances at the age of ninety—and the close of Rattle’s Berlin tenure will almost certainly not mark the end of the major phase of his career. Indeed, a series of Mahler concerts that Rattle gave with the London Symphony in early May made me wonder whether he is arriving at a new level of mastery.

    London Symphony Orchestra ©-Gautier-Deblonde

    He became the music director of the L.S.O. last September, and the orchestra is playing sensationally well for him. You have the sense of a conductor and an ensemble in near-perfect alignment. The Berlin Philharmonic would undoubtedly prefer not to be considered a stepping stone to greater things, but this may turn out to be its role in the arc of Rattle’s career—as was true for Abbado, who hit his peak in his final decade, when he was based at the Lucerne Festival.

    Each of the L.S.O. concerts consisted of a single late-period Mahler work: the Ninth Symphony, Das Lied von der Erde, and the unfinished Tenth Symphony, in the realization by Deryck Cooke. (I heard the Ninth at MJPAC, in Newark, the others at David Geffen Hall.) Rattle, a veteran Mahlerian, has offered this trio of colossal valedictions before, in concerts with the Berliners at Carnegie, in 2007. His ideas about Mahler have not changed dramatically in the interim. He avoids the sweaty transfigurations that Leonard Bernstein established as common practice for Mahler. Where other conductors emphasize voluptuous, post-Wagnerian sonorities, Rattle prefers a leaner, tighter sound; where others indulge in flamboyant ritardandos, he keeps to a steadier tempo.

    Rattle’s aversion to cliché can lead to performances that seem like arrays of contrarian insights rather than fully integrated interpretations. The 2007 Mahler concerts never quite rose above the level of the impressive. Eleven years on, Rattle has found an ideal balance of precision and intensity. The opening section of the first movement of the Ninth unfolded in one great Proustian paragraph, lucid yet impassioned. The music wasn’t smoothed over or rendered inert: isolated details—stray harp notes, scuttling low-wind figures, a repeated two-note signal in the horns—pierced the murk with unsettling potency. (A horn-playing friend who joined me at NJPAC marvelled at the musicians’ tonal control.) Adam Walker, the co-principal flute, brought an otherworldly sound to his meandering solo at the end of the first movement; Gareth Davies, the other principal flutist and the orchestra’s chairman, was equally transfixing in the Tenth.

    Not all of Rattle’s interventions were successful. In the savage Rondo-Burleske of the Ninth Symphony, he refused to linger over the aching phrases in the movement’s contrasting lyric episode. (He did the same in 2007.) As a result, the return of the slashing main theme didn’t induce a shiver of terror, as the score all but requires. Wildness is not Rattle’s way, though. His strategy of intensification through restraint paid off in the final pages, when the string section achieved an uncanny, hovering stillness. The strings played at times with little or no vibrato, producing an eerie “white” sound. Usually, the piece ends with a feeling of agonized farewell; here, the music seemed to emanate from the other side of the line between life and death.

    Rattle is the world’s leading proponent of the Mahler Tenth, having first recorded the Cooke edition of the work back in 1980, when he was twenty-five. That version, with the Bournemouth Symphony, is more vivid than a subsequent account with the Berliners. Let’s hope that the L.S.O. rendition appears on disk in due course: the performance at Geffen combined a monumental architectural shape—no other work by Mahler comes as close to Bruckner—with moments of unchecked emotional ferocity. The final bars radiated an almost shocking sweetness, as if to suggest that Mahler, at the end of his life, were reliving scenes from childhood.

    The vocalists in Das Lied were the robust Wagner tenor Stuart Skelton and the wizardly baritone Christian Gerhaher. In the opening movement, Skelton battled an overbearing orchestra, as the tenor invariably must in this piece, yet he nobly held his ground. Gerhaher, a singer-poet out of Caspar David Friedrich, shone through the far more transparent textures of Der Abschied, the half-hour finale. Listeners accustomed to the autumnal warmth of a mezzo-soprano in Der Abschied might have found Gerhaher too cool and reserved, but for me the inward, confiding quality of his vocalism gave human focus to Mahler’s sprawling landscape. His closing repetitions of ewigforever—were like distant figures disappearing into mist.


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    stem

    Stem Education Coalition

    See the full article here .

     
  • richardmitnick 8:41 AM on May 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Carla Bley, , , The New Yorker   

    From Ethan Iverson in The New Yorker: “A Lifetime of Carla Bley” 

    From From Ethan Iverson

    Ethan Iverson 2016 photo by Jimmy Katz at http://www.jimmykatz.com, with permission

    May 13, 2018

    1
    Carla Bley. No album by the legendary composer, pianist, and bandleader sounds like anyone else could have created it. Photograph by Lauren Lancaster / NYT / Redux

    2
    Carla Bley. 28 August 2007 User:Ericd/Photos from Nice

    Every Jazz fan knows the name of Carla Bley, but her relentless productivity and constant reinvention can make it difficult to grasp her contribution to music. I began listening to her in high school when I was enamored with the pianist Paul Bley, whose seminal nineteen-sixties LPs were filled with Carla Bley compositions. (The two were married.) My small home-town library also had a copy of “The Carla Bley Band: European Tour 1977,” a superb disk of rowdy horn soloists carousing through instantly memorable Bley compositions and arrangements. Some pieces change you forever. The deadly serious yet hilarious Spangled Banner Minor and Other Patriotic Songs, from that 1977 recording, celebrates and defaces several nationalistic themes, beginning with the American national anthem recast as Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. From the first notes onward, I was never quite the same again.

    See the full article here.

    Ethan Iverson is a pianist, composer, and critic best known for his work in the avant-garde jazz trio The Bad Plus with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King.

    Iverson was born in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Before The Bad Plus, he was musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Group and a student of both Fred Hersch and Sophia Rosoff. He has worked with artists such as Billy Hart, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Berne, Mark Turner, Ben Street, Lee Konitz, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Paul Motian, Larry Grenadier, Charlie Haden and Ron Carter.

    He currently studies with John Bloomfield and serves on the faculty at New England Conservatory.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    stem

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM

    Dan Buskirk Spinning Jazz Mondays 11:00AM-1:00PM
    Will Constantine Jr, Blues Bop and Beyond Thursdays 11:00-2:00 featuring Latin Jazz
    Jerry Gordon Serenade to a Cookoo Frdays 11:00AM-2:00PM with Jerry’s Room at 1:00Pm
    Jeannie Becker Sunday Jazz 10:00AM-1:00Pm


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 12:25 PM on April 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: “Bird Flight”, David Remnick, , , Phil Schaap, The New Yorker   

    From The New Yorker via Mosaic: “Bird-Watcher Thinking about Charlie Parker, every day.” Phil Schaap “Bird Flight” An Appreciation 

    Mosaic is a truly important resource


    Visit The Jazz Gazette

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    May 19, 2008
    David Remnick

    “Thinking about Charlie Parker, every day.”

    1
    Phil Schaap with, clockwise from bottom, Dizzy Gillespie, Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.
    Illustration by Robert Risko

    Every weekday for the past twenty-seven years, a long-in-the-tooth history major named Phil Schaap has hosted a morning program on WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station, called “Bird Flight,” which places a degree of attention on the music of the bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker that is so obsessive, so ardent and detailed, that Schaap frequently sounds like a mad Talmudic scholar who has decided that the laws of humankind reside not in the ancient Babylonian tractates but in alternate takes of “Moose the Mooche” and “Swedish Schnapps.”

    2
    Phil Schaap. (c) Abby Ronner, 2012

    3
    Charlie Parker Photo: BBC/Herman Leonard

    For Schaap, Bird not only lives; he is the singular genius of mid-century American music, a dynamo of virtuosity, improvisation, harmony, velocity, and feeling, and no aspect of his brief career is beneath consideration. Schaap’s discursive monologues on a single home recording—say, “the Bob Redcross acetate” of Parker playing in the early nineteen-forties over the Benny Goodman Quartet’s 1937 hit “Avalon”—can go on for an entire program or more, blurring the line between exhaustive and exhausting. There is no getting to the end of Charlie Parker, and sometimes there is no getting to the end of “Bird Flight.” The program is the anchor of WKCR’s daily schedule and begins at eight-twenty. It is supposed to conclude at nine-forty. In the many years that I’ve been listening, I’ve rarely heard it end precisely as scheduled. Generations of Columbia d.j.s whose programs followed Schaap’s have learned to stand clutching an album of the early Baroque or nineteenth-century Austrian yodelling and wait patiently for the final chorus of “I’ll Always Love You Just the Same.”

    Schaap’s unapologetic passion for a form of music half a century out of the mainstream is, at least for his listeners, a precious sign of the city’s vitality; here is one obstinate holdout against the encroaching homogeneity of Clear Channel and all the other culprits of American sameness. There is no exaggerating the relentlessness of Schaap’s approach. Not long ago, I listened to him play a recording of “Okiedoke,” a tune that Parker recorded in 1949 with Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra. Schaap, in his pontifical baritone, first provided routine detail on the session and Parker’s interest (via Dizzy Gillespie) in Latin jazz, and then, like a car hitting a patch of black ice, he veered off into a riff of many minutes’ duration on the pronunciation and meaning of the title—of “Okiedoke.” Was it “okey-doke” or was it, rather, “ ‘okey-dokey,’ as it is sometimes articulated”? What meaning did this innocent-seeming entry in the American lexicon have for Bird? And how precisely was the phrase used and understood in the black precincts of Kansas City, where Parker grew up? Declaring a “great interest in this issue,” Schaap then informed us that Arthur Taylor, a drummer of distinction “and a Bird associate,” had “stated that Parker used ‘okeydokey’ as an affirmative and ‘okeydoke’ as a negative.” And yet one of Parker’s ex-wives had averred otherwise, saying that Parker used “okeydoke” and “okeydokey” interchangeably. (At this point, I wondered, not for the first time, where, if anywhere, Schaap was going with this.) Then Schaap introduced into evidence a “rare recording of Bird’s voice,” in which Parker is captured joshing around onstage with a disk jockey of the forties and fifties named Sid Torin, better known as Symphony Sid. After a bit of chatter, Sid instructs Parker to play another number: “Blow, dad, go!”

    “Okeydoke”, says Bird.

    Like an assassination buff looping the Zapruder film, Schaap repeated the snippet several times and then concluded that Charlie Parker did not use “okeydoke” as a negative. “This,” Schaap said solemnly, “tends to revise our understanding of the matter.” The matter was evidently unexhausted, however, as he launched a rumination on the cowboy origins of the phrase and the Hopalong Cassidy movies that Parker might well have seen, and perhaps it was at this point that listeners all over the metropolitan area, what few remained, either shut off their radios, grew weirdly fascinated, or called an ambulance on Schaap’s behalf. At last, Schaap moved on to other issues of the Parker discography, which begins in 1940, with an unaccompanied home recording of Honeysuckle Rose and Body and Soul, and ends with two Cole Porter tunes, Love for Sale and I Love Paris, played three months before his death, in 1955.

    Schaap is not a musician, a critic, or, properly speaking, an academic, though he has held teaching positions at Columbia, Princeton, and Juilliard. And yet through Bird Flight and a Saturday-evening program he hosts called Traditions in Swing, through his live soliloquies and his illustrative recordings, commercial and bootlegged, he has provided an invaluable service to a dwindling art form: in the capital of jazz, he is its most passionate and voluble fan. He is the Bill James of his field, a master of history, hierarchies, personalities, anecdote, relics, dates, and events; but he is also a guardian, for, unlike baseball, jazz and the musicians who play it are endangered. Jazz today is responsible for only around three per cent of music sales in the United States, and what even that small slice contains is highly questionable. Among the current top sellers on Amazon in the jazz category are easy-listening acts like Kenny G and Michael Bublé.

    For decades, jazz musicians have joked about Schaap’s adhesive memory, but countless performers have known the feeling that Schaap remembered more about their musical pasts than they did and was always willing to let them in on the forgotten secrets. “Phil is a walking history book about jazz,” Frank Foster, a tenor-sax player for the Basie Orchestra, told me. Wynton Marsalis says that Schaap is “an American classic.”

    In the eyes of his critics, Schaap’s attention to detail and authenticity is irritating and extreme. He has won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes and producing efforts, but his encyclopedic sensibility is a matter of taste. When Schaap was put in charge of reissuing Benny Goodman’s landmark 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall for Columbia, he not only included lost cuts and Goodman’s long-winded introductions but also provided prolonged original applause tracks, and even the sounds of the stage crew dragging chairs and music stands across the Carnegie stage to set up for the larger band. His production work on a ten-disk set of Billie Holiday for Verve was similarly inclusive. Schaap wants us to know and hear everything. He seems to believe that the singer’s in-studio musings about what key to sing Nice Work If You Can Get It in are as worthy of preservation as a bootleg of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Reviewing the Holiday set for the Village Voice, Gary Giddins called Schaap “that most obsessive of anal obsessives.”

    That’s one way of looking at the matter. Another is that Schaap puts his frenzied memory and his obsessive attention to the arcane in the service of something important: the struggle of memory against forgetting—not just the forgetting of a sublime music but forgetting in general. Schaap is always apologizing, acknowledging his long-windedness, his nudnik tendencies. “The examination may be tedium to you,” he said on the air recently as he ran through the days, between 1940 and 1944, when Parker might have overdubbed Goodman’s Chinaboy in Bob Redcross’s room at the Savoy Hotel in Chicago. (“His home was Room 305.”) Nevertheless, he said, “my bent here is that I want to know when it happened because I believe in listening to the music of a genius chronologically where possible, particularly an improvising artist.” The stringing together of facts is the Schaapian process, a monologuist’s way of painting a picture of “events of the past” happening “in real time.”

    “I just hope the concept speaks to some,” he said as his soliloquy unspooled. “It’s two before nine. I’m speaking to you at length. I’m Phil Schaap.”

    On a recent Sunday morning, I met Schaap at the WKCR studios, at Broadway and 114th Street. (The station is at 89.9 on the FM dial; it also streams live online at wkcr.org.) Schaap is tall and lumbering and has a thick shock of reddish hair. It was March 9th, Ornette Coleman’s seventy-eighth birthday. Schaap, his meaty arms loaded up with highlights and rarities in the Coleman discography, had come prepared for celebration. Nearly everything in his grasp was from his home collection. He does not consider collecting to be at the center of his life, but allowed that he does own five thousand 78s, ten thousand LPs, five thousand tapes, a few thousand hours of his own interviews with jazz musicians, “and, well, countless CDs.” Schaap, who was married once, and briefly, in the nineties, lives alone in Hollis, Queens, in the house where he grew up. He admits that his collection, and his living quarters, could use some straightening.

    “I’ve got to get things in order,” he said. “I’m determined to do it. This is the year. If I didn’t have a memory, I wouldn’t know where anything is.”

    The WKCR studios are a couple of blocks south of the main entrance to the Columbia campus, and they tend to look as though there’d been a post-exam party the previous night and someone tried, but not hard, to clean up. The carpets are unvacuumed, the garbage cans stuffed with pizza boxes and crushed cans. Taped to the wall are some long-forgotten schedules and posters of John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. The visitor’s perch—a red Naugahyde armchair—was long ago dubbed the “Dizzy Gillespie chair,” after Gillespie, Parker’s closest collaborator, sat there for hours of conversation with Schaap. Usually, the only person around at WKCR is the student host on the air. Schaap is Class of ’73. He is fifty-seven. “Financially, I live, at best, like a twenty-five-year-old,” he said. He has been broadcasting on WKCR, pro bono, since he was a freshman. The Parker-Tiny Grimes collaboration “Romance Without Finance” could be the theme for his income-tax form.

    “Take a seat,” he said, plopping his records down near his microphone. “I gotta get busy.”

    Conversation with Schaap in the studio, especially when the program features the breakneck tunes of early jazz or swing music—the soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet playing The Sheik of Araby followed by Benny Carter and His Orchestra on Babalu—does not allow for Schaapian reflection. “Deadlines every three minutes!” he’ll shout, throwing up his hands. “So many records!”

    When he’s working, Schaap concentrates hard, and not merely on his own solos. He takes pride in the art of the segue, paying particular attention to the “sizzling sonic decay” of a last cymbal stroke. (“You won’t hear that again in your lifetime!” he boasted after one particularly felicitous transition.) But with Ornette Coleman, an avatar of extended improvisation, Schaap had more time. The first number he broadcast was Free Jazz, Coleman’s 1960 breakthrough, played with two quartets; Free Jazz is the Action painting of American music and lasts thirty-seven minutes and three seconds. The sound started to build, the quartets began their dissonant duel. Schaap smiled off into the distance. “Eddie Blackwell’s right foot, man!” he said, then he remembered himself and turned the volume down. “So?” he said.

    When I asked Schaap about his childhood, he turned morose, saying, “I may have gotten all my blessings in life up front.” His parents, and nearly all his teachers and the scores of musicians he befriended from school age, were dead. “Everyone that raised me is gone.”

    Schaap was born to jazz. His mother, Marjorie, was a librarian, a classically trained pianist, and an insistent bohemian. At Radcliffe, she listened to Louis Armstrong records and smoked a corncob pipe. His father, Walter, was one of a group of jazz-obsessed Columbia undergraduates in the thirties who became professional critics and producers. In 1937, he went to France to study at the Sorbonne and work on an encyclopedia of the French Revolution. While he was there, he collaborated with the leading jazz critics of Paris, Hugues Panassié and Charles Delaunay, on a bilingual edition of their pioneering magazine, Jazz Hot. He helped Django Reinhardt with his English and Dizzy Gillespie with his French. Back in New York, he earned his living making educational filmstrips, in partnership with the jazz photographer William P. Gottlieb.*

    “They lived for music, and the rest was making a check,” Phil said. “Jazz was always playing in the house.” By the time he was five, Schaap could sing Lester Young’s tenor solo on the Count Basie standard Taxi War Dance. When he was six, his babysitter rewarded him for doing her geometry homework by taking him to Triboro Records, in Jamaica, to buy his first 45s: Ruth Brown’s Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean and Ray Charles’s (Night Time Is) The Right Time. Phil soon started buying discarded jazz 78s by the pound.

    In his parents’ living room and then on his own pushy initiative, Schaap met many first-rank jazz musicians and came to consider them his “grandfathers.” Some, like the bassist Milt Hinton and the trumpet player Buck Clayton, lived around Hollis, which had become a bedroom community for musicians. Others came into his life, he said, “as if by magic.”

    “In August, 1956, I went to the Randall’s Island Jazz Festival with my mother, and we saw Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, and a lot of others,” he said. “At one point, we went backstage after the Basie band played. Remember, this is through the hazy recollections of a five-year-old, but I do recall someone trying to hit on my mother, and he asked her about Joe Williams, who was singing then for Basie. To brush the guy off, she said she preferred the earlier singer for the Basie band, Jimmy Rushing, and at that point another man, who turned out to be Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, said, ‘Madame, I heard that—that was wonderful.’ The two of them got to talking, and Jo asked me if I knew who Prince Robinson was. I said that he was a tenor player for McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. I’d heard a Bluebird 78 that my father owned. Jo Jones was impressed. So he said, ‘Madame, you’ve got yourself a new babysitter.’ ”

    Jo Jones was arguably the greatest drummer of the swing era. When Jones was in New York, Walter Schaap would drop off his son at Jones’s apartment and Phil and “Papa Jo” watched cartoons and played records. Inevitably, other musicians came over and took an interest in the kid with the unusual immersion in jazz. “That was when Jo was living at 401 East Sixty-fourth Street,” Schaap said. “Later, he lived at 333 East Fifty-fourth Street and also at the Hotel Markwell, on Forty-ninth Street—lots of musicians lived there. He played a Basie record for me once in order to teach me about Herschel Evans, the great tenor player. It must have been Blue and Sentimental. Jo called me ‘Mister.’ ‘Mister, what does that sound like to you?’ I blurted out, ‘It sounds friendly to me.’ And Jo said, ‘That’s right. The first thing to know is, Herschel Evans is your friend.’ ”

    In first grade, Schaap pestered his schoolmate Carole Eldridge (and, when that failed, her mother) until he got an introduction to her father, the trumpeter Roy Eldridge. When he was fourteen, he hitched a ride into Manhattan with Basie during the 1966 subway strike. “When I started hearing that Phil was going around meeting all the jazz greats at the age of six, I wondered if it was all fantasy,” his father told the Times not long before he died, two years ago.

    The family became accustomed to their son’s range of friendships. Phil once brought home the saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was known for his ability to play three horns at once and for his heroic capacities at the dinner table. Schaap challenged Kirk to an eating contest. The event came to a halt when they had eaten, in Schaap’s recollection, “one mince pie each baked by Herbie Hall’s wife. You know Herbie? A major clarinet player.”

    Schaap’s memory was almost immediately evident. He claims that at the age of two he recited the names of the American Presidents, in order, “while standing on a rocking chair.” He was the kind of kid who knew the names and numbers of all the New York Rangers of the nineteen-sixties and, whether you liked it or not, recited them. He was the kind of kid, too, who wrote to the manager of the Baltimore Orioles to give him advice backed up by statistical evidence. He routinely beat all comers, including his older cousin the late sportswriter Dick Schaap, in the board game Concentration. At school, this was not a quality universally admired. “I guess some kids may have found it annoying,” he allows. But musicians were generally fascinated by young Schaap. Count Basie was one of many who discovered that Schaap knew the facts of his life almost better than he did. “I think that kind of freaked Basie out,” Schaap said. “I’d talk to him about a record date he did in the thirties, and he looked at me, like, ‘Who . . . is . . . this . . . child?’ ”

    By the time Schaap was established on the radio, nearly every musician who passed through New York was aware of his mental tape recorder. Twenty-five years ago, the bandleader, pianist, and self-styled space cadet Herman (Sonny) Poole Blount, better known as Sun Ra, swept by a night club and, before having to give a speech at Harvard, “kidnapped” Schaap. Sun Ra claimed that as a young man he had been “transmolecularized” to Saturn, and thereafter he expounded a cosmic philosophy influenced by ancient Egyptian cosmology, Afro-American folklore, and Madame Blavatsky. In order to prepare for his audience in Cambridge, Sun Ra insisted that Schaap fill him in on the details of his existence on Earth. Schaap obliged, telling Sun Ra that, according to his musicians’ union forms, he was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914. “I could tell him things like what 78s by Fletcher Henderson he was listening to in the thirties and about his time playing piano for the Henderson Orchestra later on,” Schaap said. “He was vague about it all, but what I said made sense to him. I also knew that his favorite flavor of ice cream was the Bananas ’n Strawberry at Baskin-Robbins. It was a hot summer night, so I went up the block and bought him a quart, and we ate sitting in the car.”

    he urge to preserve, to collect, to keep time at bay, to hold on to the past is a common one. In this Schaap is kin to Henri Langlois, who tried to find and preserve every known film for the French Cinémathèque, kin to the classical-music fanatics who drift through thrift shops looking for rereleases of Mengelberg and Furtwängler acetates, kin even to Felix Mendelssohn, who helped revive the music of Bach for Germans. He is one with all the bibliophiles, cinephiles, audiophiles, oenophiles, butterfly hunters, fern and flower pressers, stamp and coin collectors, concert tapers, and opera buffs who put an obsession at the center of their lives. “There is no person in America more dedicated to any art form than Phil is to jazz,” his friend Stanley Crouch, who is writing a biography of Charlie Parker, said. “He is the Mr. Memory of jazz, and, as with the Mr. Memory character in The Thirty-Nine Steps, the Hitchcock movie, there are those who think he ought to be shot. He can get on your nerves, but, then, you can get on his.”

    The day after Ornette Coleman’s birthday was the birthday—the hundred and fifth—of the cornet player Bix Beiderbecke, and Schaap returned to the studios for another marathon of close attention. Along with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Beiderbecke was a pioneer of jazz as it moved from the all-in polyphony of the earliest bands to a form of ensemble playing that allowed for solo improvisation. The broadcast was a strange time-tunnel transition, from Ornette’s self-invented “harmolodic” experiments to Bix’s short solo flights on Goose Pimples and Three Blind Mice, but Schaap’s taste is broad. As he queued up his records, he said to me, “I remember March 10, 1985. I did 5 A.M. to 5 P.M. It was some birthday for Bix.” Schaap was unshaved, sleepy, complaining, as usual, of overwork. He felt as if he, too, were a hundred and five.

    Schaap is perpetually weary. He works hard: there are the radio shows, the classes he’s teaching now at Juilliard and at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and various producing projects. But it’s not the work, exactly. Schaap carries with him a burden of loss and a disinterest in the contemporary world. He is theatrically, adamantly, old: “I haven’t seen more than six movies since 1972. Three baseball games, maybe five. I think the last novel I read was Invisible Man, when I was at Columbia. I haven’t seen any television after the first husband in Bewitched.” He never bothered to see Bird, Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker bio-pic. He does not own an iPod. And unless you have a spare afternoon it is best not to ask him what he thinks of digital downloads.

    Before long, he was off on a Schaapian riff sparked by the playing of Wringin’ an’ Twistin’, recorded, as Schaap said, “eighty-one years ago by OKeh records with Frankie Trumbauer on C-melody saxophone and Eddie Lang on guitar.” Eventually, through the surface scratches, one could hear a voice say, “Yeah, that’s it!” Schaap assured his listeners that there was “no doubt of the voice’s identity.” It was Trumbauer. But that was not enough to cool his curiosity. “Someone is also humming the passage,” he went on. “Is it Eddie Lang or is it Trumbauer? I wonder about it. It’s a test cut on the metal part before the passage begins. And then there’s another voice that you can hear say, ‘Yeah.’ That ‘yeah’ is not Eddie Lang. It could be unidentified. Or it could be Bix’s voice.”

    Schaap played the sequence again.

    Yeah.

    And again.

    Yeah.

    One more time.

    Yeah.

    Meanwhile, the earth warmed imperceptibly; glaciers plunged into the sea.

    Yeah.

    “There,” Schaap said. “There! That’s it! September 17, 1927. Not that it’s the most important thing that ever happened to you. But, still. I’d like to know, if possible, what Bix’s speaking voice was like.”

    These questions were of no less moment to Schaap than the Confederate maneuvers at Shiloh were to Shelby Foote. Such is the flypaper of his mind and the didactic turn of his personality. When, finally, Schaap played another Beiderbecke record—a twenty-minute string of tunes, to be fair—I asked him what possible interest he could have in the provenance of the ghostly “yeah”s of yesteryear.

    “What can I say? I make no apologies. I’m interested,” he said. “Did Bix have a Southern accent? A German accent? A Midwestern accent? Did he sound shy or did he speak with authority? I really do think it’s him, that it’s Bix who says, ‘Yeah.’ ”

    Schaap paused and listened to a passage in Goose Pimples.

    “O.K.,” he said, “it may not be a great mystery. But it’s a mystery, all the same. I do these things that are a turnoff, but it’s my dime. I try very hard to make sure that everyone gets something out of all this. I guess for the first twenty years I was on the radio I was concerned about telling you absolutely everything about every tune. Then, in the nineties, I started concentrating on small issues, one at a time. Like that Okiedoke thing. These days, I’m going for a little balance.”

    As a broadcaster, Schaap is unpoetic. He does not have the evocative middle-of-the-night gifts of a radio forebear like Jean Shepherd. Or take Jonathan Schwartz, whose specialty for both XM satellite radio and WNYC, in New York, is American singers. Schwartz is as obsessed with Frank Sinatra as Schaap is with Parker, but Schwartz, a brilliant storyteller with a café-society voice as smooth as hot buttered rum, conjures Sinatra’s world: the stage of the Paramount, the bar at Jilly Rizzo’s. Schaap is an empiricist, an old-fashioned historicist. Facts are what he has. His capacity to evoke Charlie Parker’s world—Kansas City in the Pendergast era; the Savoy Ballroom scene uptown; Minton’s, the Three Deuces, and Birdland; Bird’s dissolution and early death—is limited to the accumulation of dates, bare anecdotes, obscure names. The emotional side of his broadcasts comes from his relationships with the musicians. His mental life can be spooky even to him. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think I know more about what Dizzy Gillespie was thinking in 1945 than I do what I was thinking in 1967 or last week.”

    The precocious obsessive is a familiar high-school type, particularly among boys, but the object of Schaap’s obsession was a peculiar one among his classmates. “The lonely days were adolescence,” he admitted. “My peer group thought I was out of my mind. But, even then, kids knew basic things about jazz. Teddy Goldstein knew Take the A Train. But he kept telling me, ‘Don’t you know what the Beatles are doing? Your world is doomed!’ ”

    When he was in his teens, Schaap played the trumpet. He took theory classes at Columbia. “I even got a lesson in high notes from Roy Eldridge,” he said. But his playing, especially his intonation, was mediocre. “I put my trumpet in its case and that was it,” he said. “March 11, 1974.”

    Schaap learned to serve the music anyway. In the wake of the Columbia campus strikes in 1968, a group of students set out to get rid of WKCR’s “classroom of the air” gentility. “All of us were listening to the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, but we knew that all of that stuff was available elsewhere,” Schaap told me over a burger near Lincoln Center. “Jimi Hendrix didn’t need WKCR.” And so the station began broadcasting jazz, including multi-day festivals on Albert Ayler (1970), John Coltrane (1971), Charles Mingus (1972), Archie Shepp (1972), and Charlie Parker (1973). During the 1973 Parker festival, Schaap did two forty-eight-hour work shifts, splitting his time between WKCR and his paying job, at the university’s identification-card office. “On Friday, August 31, 1973, I had to get to the I.D.-card office,” he recalled. “The last record I played was Scrapple from the Apple. Recorded November 4, 1947. The C take. On Dial. But I think I played the English Spotlite label. Anyway, I entered the back stairwell and the record was still playing in my head”—Schaap interrupted himself to hum Parker’s solo—“and then I was out on a Hundred and Fourteenth Street and I could hear it playing from the buildings, from the open windows. That was a turning point in the station’s history. The insight was that Charlie Parker was at least tolerable to all people who liked jazz. If you idolized King Oliver, you could tolerate Charlie Parker, and if you think jazz begins with John Coltrane playing Ascension you can still listen to Bird, too.”

    Musicians were beginning to tune in. During a Thelonious Monk festival, one of the d.j.s went on about how Monk created art out of “wrong notes.” Monk, who rarely spoke to anyone, much less a college student, called the station and, on the air, declared, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.” In 1979, Schaap was at the center of a Miles Davis festival at a time when Davis was a near-recluse living off Riverside Drive. Davis started calling the station, dozens and dozens of calls—“mad, foul, strange calls,” Schaap recalled. Davis’s inimitable voice, low and sandpapery, was unnerving for Schaap. But then one day—“Friday, July 6, 1979”—his tone changed, and for nearly three hours the two men went over the details of Agharta, one of his later albums. Finally, after Schaap had clarified every spelling, every detail, Davis said, “You got it? Good. Now forget it. Play Sketches of Spain! Right now!”

    Just after starting as a d.j., Schaap began organizing musical programs, mainly at the West End, on Broadway at 113th Street. He managed the Countsmen—former sidemen for Count Basie—along with other groups made up of refugees from other big bands, and got them work. Older musicians, such as Jo Jones, Sonny Greer, Sammy Price, Russell Procope, and Earle Warren, who had known Schaap as an eccentric teen-ager now welcomed him as a meal ticket.

    “When I was a child, I lived under the illusion that these performers, who put on such an excellent front, dressed to the nines and acting like kings, made real money,” Schaap said. He lost that innocence about forty years ago, when he happened to glance at a check made out to Benny Morton, a trombonist who had been with the Fletcher Henderson and Basie bands. “It was for fifty-eight dollars, and it was for a gig at Carnegie Hall,” Schaap recalled. Jazz reached its commercial peak in the mid-nineteen-forties, but by 1950 the ballrooms had closed down. The postwar middle class no longer went out dancing; they were watching television and listening to records at home. The clubs on Fifty-second Street—the Onyx, the Famous Door, the Three Deuces—disappeared. Eventually, rock and roll displaced jazz as America’s popular music. World-class musicians were scrounging for work. Performers who had enjoyed steady employment took second jobs as messengers on Wall Street, bus drivers, and bank guards. For comradeship, they were hanging out at the Chock Full o’ Nuts at Fiftieth and Broadway and at a few bars around town.

    “Phil took these guys out of the Chock Full o’ Nuts and put them on the stage of the West End,” Loren Schoenberg, the executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, told me. “So for the young people who idolized them, and guys who’d never heard of them, Phil brought them to us.” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, an early rhythm-and-blues star, used to call Phil Schaap’s mother at home and beg her to get her son to do for him what he’d done for the horn players of the Basie band.

    As “Bird Flight” became a fixture of the jazz world, Schaap began to get jobs teaching, but, even with the rise of academic jazz programs, no one has offered him a professorship. Some of his students—including Ben Ratliff, who is now the main jazz critic for the Times, and Jerome Jennings, a drummer for, among others, Sonny Rollins—swear by Schaap as a teacher, but some complain that his displays of memory can be tiresome and aimed at underscoring his students’ cluelessness. This spring, I took Schaap’s Charlie Parker course at Swing University, the educational wing of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and could see both sides. In four two-hour evening sessions, he provided an incisive, moving narrative of Parker’s incandescent career, but he could also be oppressive, not least with his pointless occasional class “surveys.” “Who knows ‘Yardbird Suite’?” he’d ask. Then, moving from desk to desk, he’d poll the students, embarrassing those honest enough to confess their ignorance.

    As a teacher, Schaap is less concerned about the tender sensibilities of his students than with developing knowledgeable and passionate listeners. “The school system is creating six thousand unemployable musicians a year—from the Berklee College of Music, Rutgers, Mannes, Manhattan, Juilliard, plus all the high schools,” he said. “There are more and more musicians, and no gigs, no one to listen. So what happens to these kids? They work their way back to the educational system and help create more unemployable musicians. My rant is this: I’m not trying to teach you to play the alto sax. No. I’m trying to get you to learn how to listen to Charlie Parker. Louis Armstrong is the greatest musician of the twentieth century. But name twenty musicians today who really listen to Louis Armstrong. Go ahead: I’ll give you a week.”

    There are many excellent young (and youngish) jazz musicians around, including the pianist Jason Moran and the sax player Joshua Redman, to say nothing of the extended family of players around Wynton Marsalis. In February, Herbie Hancock won an Album of the Year Grammy for his arrangements of Joni Mitchell songs. But, generally, a hit album in jazz means sales of ten thousand. Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and a few other giants of an earlier time still roam the earth, but even they cannot reliably sell out a major hall. Coleman’s concert at Town Hall in March was as thrilling a musical event as has taken place this year in New York. The theatre was at least a quarter empty.

    “In the fall of 1976, when Woody Herman was rehearsing for a forty-year-anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, I was invited to watch,” Schaap told me. “A saxophonist wasn’t paying attention, and at one point Woody Herman crept up on him, put his face next to the musician’s, and said, ‘Son, what do you want to be?’ And the guy said, ‘I want to be the next Stan Getz.’ And Woody Herman said, ‘Son, there’s not gonna be another Stan Getz!’ In other words, people like Stan Getz and Woody Herman were pop stars! That’s not going to happen again.”

    In the spring of 1947, around the same time that Charlie Parker was playing the Hi-De-Ho club, in Los Angeles, a young Bedouin herding goats along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea discovered several tall clay jars that contained manuscripts written in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. Wrapped in linen, the manuscripts were part of a much larger cache of ancient texts, which came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    “For decades, there were rumors that jazz had its own Dead Sea Scrolls,” Schaap told me more than once. “One was a cylinder recording of Buddy Bolden”—the New Orleans cornettist and early jazz pioneer who was committed to a mental institution before the rise of 78s. “But this will probably never be found. The second, of course, is called the Benedetti recordings.”

    All of Schaap’s listeners have grown accustomed to his close attention to the “crucial” obscurities of the Parker discography: “the unaccompanied 1940 alto recording in Kansas City,” “the paper disk of Cherokee,” “the Wichita transcriptions,” and “the little-known Clyde Bernhardt glass-based acetate demo disks.” These recordings can be revelatory, but they also try the patience. Recently on Bird Flight, Schaap showcased a home recording of Parker in February, 1943—important because he was playing tenor saxophone, not his customary alto—and the sound was so bad that you couldn’t quite tell if you were hearing Sweet Georgia Brown or radio waves from the surface of the planet Uranus.

    The Benedetti recordings, however, occupy a privileged place not only in Schaap’s mental Bird cage but also in musical history. And Schaap helped bring them out of their urns.

    For decades, stories circulated in the jazz world that Dean Benedetti, a saxophonist of modest distinction, upon hearing Parker play in the mid-forties, threw his own horn into the sea and pledged himself to follow Parker everywhere he went, recording his hero’s performances. Benedetti was said to have obtained, through Army connections, a Nazi-era German wire recorder, and he carried out his mission at clubs, concert halls, and private apartments all over the world. In the meantime, he was rumored to be a drug dealer who supplied Bird, a longtime addict, with heroin. Many of the legends of Benedetti’s devotions came from Bird Lives!, an entertaining but iffy biography published in 1973 by a Los Angeles-based record producer, Ross Russell. Through the decades, no recordings surfaced. Ornithologists could not help but wonder: Had they been lost? Had they sunk, as rumored, along with a freighter in the Atlantic? Eventually, only the most committed, with their collections of 78s and back issues of Down Beat, spoke much of the matter. Like the Bolden cylinder, the Benedetti recordings seemed to have taken their eternal rest in the watery grave of jazz legend.

    But then, in 1988, Benedetti’s surviving brother, Rigoletto (Rick), got in touch with Mosaic, a small jazz outfit in Stamford, Connecticut, that specializes in reissues from the vaults of the major labels. It was true, Rick Benedetti informed the owner, Michael Cuscuna: there really were recordings. Was Mosaic interested?

    “The real backstory was incredible,” Cuscuna told me.

    On July 29, 1946, Parker was in desperate shape: depressed, drinking, strung out, broke, and lonely in Los Angeles, he had struggled through an afternoon recording session with the trumpeter Howard McGhee. His recording that day of Lover Man was a technical mess—Parker was barely able to make it through the song—but it is a painful howl, as devastating to hear as Billie Holiday’s last sessions. That night, at the Civic Hotel, Parker twice wandered into the lobby naked. Later on, he fell asleep while smoking, setting his mattress on fire. The police arrested him and a judge had him committed to the Camarillo State Hospital, a psychiatric facility. When he was released, six months later, he was off heroin for the first time since he was a teen-ager in Kansas City. His musician friends threw a jam-session party for him on February 1, 1947, at the home of a trumpet player named Chuck Copely. One of the guests was a handsome young man—pencil mustache, dark eyes, hipster clothes—named Dean Benedetti.

    Benedetti went out and bought a Wells-Gardner 78-r.p.m. portable disk-cutter at Sears, Roebuck and, in March, recorded Parker playing with Howard McGhee’s band at the Hi-De-Ho. (The historical bonus here is that Parker plays tunes from McGhee’s repertory, and so we hear him soloing, for the first and last time, on Gus Arnheim’s Sweet and Lovely and Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s September in the Rain.) Later that year, in New York, Parker was back on drugs but still at the height of his musical powers. He formed what is now considered his “golden-era” quintet: Parker on alto sax, the twenty-one-year-old Miles Davis on trumpet, Max Roach on drums, Duke Jordan on piano, and Tommy Potter on bass. Benedetti recorded the quintet on March 31, 1948, at the Three Deuces, on Fifty-second Street, Parker’s primary base of operations. By this time, Benedetti was using heroin and had no means of support; when the management realized that he didn’t plan to spend any money, it provided him with what Schaap would call “the ultimate New York discourtesy”—it threw him out. In Schaap’s terms, it is a “tragedy” that Benedetti was unable to record the rest of Parker’s nights at the Three Deuces. And it is true that, of all the Benedetti recordings, these are the most significant. On “Dizzy Atmosphere,” Parker plays with dangerous abandon, a runaway truck speeding down the highway into oncoming traffic, never crashing; and even the twenty-six-second passage from the ballad “My Old Flame” is memorable, a glimpse of human longing in sound.

    Finally, in July, 1948, Benedetti recorded the Parker quintet for six nights at the Onyx, a rival club on Fifty-second Street. The sound from the Onyx sessions is the worst of all, mainly because Benedetti was forced by the club’s management to place his microphone near Max Roach’s drum kit. The effect is often like trying to hear a lullaby in a thunderstorm.

    The recordings are not for casual listeners. Disks and tape were expensive commodities, and to save money Benedetti usually turned on the machine only when Parker was soloing. Many recordings are no more than a minute long. One morsel lasts precisely three seconds. There are no fewer than nineteen versions of 52nd St. Theme. But to the aficionado this is like complaining that the Dead Sea Scrolls were torn and discolored. One hears Parker on Coleman Hawkins tunes like Bean Soup and quoting everything from In a Country Garden to a bit from H. Klosé’s 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone.

    Cuscuna said that, faced with stacks of cracking forty-year-old tapes and ten-inch acetate disks, he realized that “only Phil Schaap was brilliant enough—and insane enough—to do the job.”

    Schaap took the materials to the apartment where he was living at the time—a record-and-disk-strewn place in Chelsea—and “just stared” at them for “many, many hours.” He felt an enormous sense of responsibility. “This increased the volume of live improvisations of a great artist by a third,” he told me one morning after signing off from Bird Flight. “Imagine if someone were to find a third more Bach, a third more Shakespeare plays, a third more prime Picasso.”

    When Schaap first tried to play a tape, it snapped. He tried hand-spinning the tape. It broke again. He realized that the tapes were backed with paper, not plastic. The paper had dried out, making the tape extremely fragile. The solution, Schaap decided, was to secure the most delicate spots with Wite-Out. And so he went through every inch of the Benedetti tapes—all eight miles—and did the job, the tape in his left hand, a tiny Wite-Out brush in his right.

    “I guess the only thing I’ve ever done in jazz that was harder was when we did an eleven-day Louis Armstrong festival on WKCR, in July, 1980,” he said. Schaap worked for more than two years on the Benedetti project. He and Cuscuna once figured out his remuneration. “I think it was approximately .0003 cents an hour,” Schaap said. “But who’s complaining?”

    Mosaic has so far sold five thousand copies of The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker.

    “That’s triple platinum for us,” Cuscuna said.

    For Schaap, the fascinations and mysteries of the discography are unending, even though Parker’s career lasted less than fifteen years. Parker died on March 12, 1955, at the Stanhope Hotel, while watching jugglers on Tommy Dorsey’s television variety show. A doctor who examined the body estimated that Parker was in his mid-fifties. He was thirty-four.

    On Easter Sunday, I met Schaap in the lobby of the Kateri Residence, a nursing home on Riverside Drive. He was there to visit one of the last of “the grandfathers who helped raise him.”

    We went to the twelfth floor and headed for a small room at the end of the hall. From the doorway, we could see a round old man slumped in a wheelchair, sleeping, a woollen scarf over his shoulders and a blanket on his lap. It was Lawrence Lucie. “I met Larry fifty-one years ago,” Schaap said. He was six. Lucie played guitar for almost anyone worth playing for: from Jelly Roll Morton to Joe Turner. He played in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Lucky Millinder, Duke Ellington, and Benny Carter. When Coleman Hawkins recorded Body and Soul, Lucie was in the band. Lucie not only played with Louis Armstrong; he was the best man at Armstrong’s wedding. He is the last person alive to have played with Ellington at the Cotton Club. Lucie’s father was a barber in Emporia, Virginia; he was also a musician, and Lawrence joined his father’s band as a banjo player when he was eight. Now he is a hundred years old. No one alive is as intimately connected to the origins of jazz music as Lucie. His last gig, which he quit only a couple of years ago, was playing standards at Arturo’s, a coal-oven-pizza joint on Houston Street in the Village.

    “Larry, it’s me, Phil.”

    Schaap gently shook the old man’s shoulder.

    Lucie opened his eyes and, very slowly, looked up at his visitor. As he brought Schaap into focus, he smiled and his eyes brightened.

    “Phil! How nice!”

    Not many people are still around to visit. A grandnephew is the closest relative that Schaap knows of, and he lives in California. Schaap and Lucie were clearly thrilled to see each other. Nearly all of Schaap’s jazz grandfathers—Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton, Doc Cheatham, Max Roach—are gone. Lucie had not lost his elegance. Although he had no reason to expect a visit, he was wearing a tie, a smart silk one with an abstract blue-and-red pattern. On the other side of his bed was a guitar in a battered case and, above it, a poster of the Lucy Luciennaires, a quartet that featured his wife, the singer Nora Lee King, who died eleven years ago. In the seventies and eighties, Lucie and King used to perform weekly on a Manhattan public-access cable channel.

    Lucie, who celebrated his centennial in December, was glad to hear Schaap talk about his days with Fletcher Henderson. And when Schaap asked him if he remembered the name of the song that Benny Carter opened with at the Apollo seventy-four years ago, Lucie said, “I know, Phil, but do you?”

    “Sure, it was I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful).”

    “That’s right.” Both men laughed.

    “And you played the first notes,” Schaap said. Indeed, they were the first notes played in the Apollo when, in 1934, the theatre opened under that name and began admitting African-American audiences.

    Schaap wheeled Lucie to the elevator and up to a solarium on the penthouse floor, where they could look out over the Hudson River and reminisce, a conversation that was more a matter of Schaap recalling highlights of Lucie’s career and Lucie saying, over and over, “Phil Schaap knows me better than I know me. Phil Schaap knows his jazz.”

    Finally, Lucie asked to go down to the fifteenth floor, where a volunteer was playing piano and singing show tunes.

    You coax the blues right out of my heart.”

    Arrayed in front of the piano were fifty or sixty residents, some of them nearly as old as Lucie and many a great deal less healthy. A nurse passed out Easter cookies. Lawrence Lucie had heard better music in his time, but he was happy to stay and listen. “There’s always something going on here,” he said dryly. “The action never stops.”

    Schaap bent over and told his friend that he was off.

    “What a delight,” Lucie said. “It’s always so good to see you.”

    “I’ll be back soon,” Schaap said. “You know I will.” ♦

    *Correction, May 15, 2008: The name is William P. Gottlieb, not Walter, as originally stated.

    See the full New Yorker article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    See the full article here .

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM

    Dan Buskirk Spinning Jazz Mondays 11:00AM-1:00PM
    Will Constantine Jr, Blues Bop and Beyond Thursdays 11:00-2:00 featuring Latin Jazz
    Jerry Gordon Serenade to a Cookoo Frdays 11:00AM-2:00PM with Jerry’s Room at 1:00Pm
    Jeannie Becker Sunday Jazz 10:00AM-1:00Pm


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 8:51 AM on April 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , The New Yorker   

    From The New Yorker: “Cecil Taylor and the Art of Noise” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    April 10, 2018
    Alex Ross

    Cecil Taylor

    In 1993, I briefly met the composer György Ligeti, one of the towering figures of the past hundred years of music. As often happens when one is in the company of greats, I seized the opportunity to ask an idiotic question: “What do you think of Cecil Taylor?” Ligeti possessed a comprehensive knowledge of the world’s musical traditions, including jazz. But he had little more than a vaguely positive impression of Taylor. I failed to hit whatever interpretive jackpot I had been expecting.

    Ligeti died in 2006, at the age of eighty-three. Taylor died last week, at eighty-nine. In truth, the two had little in common, other than a propensity for seething, maximalist textures. What united them in my mind was how they guided me as brilliant beacons at a time when I was discovering the full extent of twentieth-century musical possibility. We tend to think of genres as distinct land masses, with oceans of taste separating them. Yet, as I observed when I wrote about Taylor and Sonic Youth, in 1998, there exist polar regions where the distinctions tend to blur—namely, the zone that is often labelled “avant” or “experimental” in used-record stores. When dissonance and complexity build to a sufficient degree, works of classical, jazz, or rock descent can sound more like one another than like their parent genres.

    I grew up with classical music and came late to rock, pop, and jazz. I took the northern passage between genres, and Taylor was, somewhat perversely, the first jazz figure who caught my ear—perversely because he had only one foot in jazz, as conventionally defined. The pianist and composer Ethan Iverson, commenting on a 1973 trio recording, writes that Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille, Taylor’s partners on this occasion, “sound like jazz musicians.” Taylor, however, “didn’t sound like that. He had another kind of poetry, some other kind of sheer strength of will.” The New Yorker’s Richard Brody observes that, even on the début album Jazz Advance, from 1956, Taylor had “left chordal jazz behind and spun musical material of his own choosing (whether harmonic, motivic, melodic, or rhythmic) into kaleidoscopic cascades of sound.” The question of whether Taylor was “really jazz” was once a hot topic in the jazz world, and he elicited a few sharp putdowns from fellow-musicians. “Total self-indulgent bullshit” was Branford Marsalis’s notorious judgment on Taylor’s modernist philosophy in the Ken Burns documentary “Jazz.” Miles Davis said, of a Taylor record, “Take it off! That’s some sad shit, man.” Such is the fate of the outsider in any genre.

    For me, Taylor was the untouchable emperor of the art of noise. I first saw him in 1989, at the Western Front, a club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Also on the bill was the David Gilmore Trio; Marvin Gilmore, Jr., David Gilmore’s father, owned the club, which was best known for its reggae nights. Several shaggy-haired patrons audibly expressed their bewilderment as the performance unfolded; it turned out that they had come expecting to hear David Gilmour, of Pink Floyd. I don’t remember much in detail about Taylor’s set, in which he was joined by William Parker, on bass, and Gregg Bendian, on drums. I do recall that for the first five or ten minutes the music was dense, intense, driving, ferocious—and then it started. Some frenzy of figuration under Taylor’s hummingbird hands set off a collective pandemonium that became purely physical in effect: I felt at once pressed backward and pulled in. It remains one of the most visceral listening experiences of my life.

    Taylor always shunned labels. He often used “jazz” in virtual quotation marks, even though he recognized it as his home tradition. He was also wary of the word “composer.” A graduate of the New England Conservatory, he was rigorously trained in classical composition and performance, and could fire off precise references to Webern, Xenakis, and, yes, Ligeti. But he disliked the idea of the composer as a mastermind controlling every aspect of music behind the scenes. In 1989, Steve Lake wrote, of Taylor: “In a dismissive tone, he can make ‘composer’ sound like ‘dictator’ or ‘megalomaniac.’ ‘I don’t think I’d ever want to be considered a composer’ (accompanying the word with an expression of acute distaste).” In this Taylor was akin to his idol, Duke Ellington, who resisted European archetypes of composition and sought to create his own jazz-based African-American version of it. Ellington and Taylor were vastly different: the one suave, aristocratic, buoyant, popular; the other irregular, anarchic, confrontational, anti-commercial. But Taylor emulated Ellington’s way of composing with and through his groups. Taylor would give his collaborators notated material, yet they had the freedom to express themselves through the written notes or abandon them altogether.

    Taylor could indeed create atonal music on the fly, as if he were improvising a Charles Ives sonata or a Stockhausen Klavierstück. At his most diabolical, he sounds like several of Conlon Nancarrow’s hyperkinetic player-piano rolls playing simultaneously. Those splatters of notes are hardly random, however. He pummels the piano in different registers and then repeats the gesture with startling precision. His hands always go where his brain directs them to go. And he would return to tonal groundings after long spells in a gravity-free environment. Something I particularly loved about his recordings and performances—I saw him a handful of times in the nineties and the aughts—were the grand, mournful, minor-mode themes that would periodically loom out of the harmonic fog. They struck me as fundamentally Romantic in contour—perhaps a bit Brahmsian, for lack of a better point of reference. I have stitched together a few of them, from 3 Phasis, Winged Serpent, and Alms / Tiergarten (Spree), which you can listen to here.

    The last example comes from a set of eleven CDs released by the Free Music Production label, documenting Taylor’s residency in Berlin in the summer of 1988. Alms, a two-hour marathon featuring a seventeen-piece group called the Cecil Taylor European Orchestra, included such avant-jazz luminaries as Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, and Han Bennink. The music moves in like a weather system, a slow-gathering, all-engulfing storm of sound. On the FMP recording, the orchestra is plainly working from a score and periodically settles on a particular figure, though crisp unisons are not the point. (Taylor himself often ignores the big patterns he has set in motion and dances deliriously against the grain.) I witnessed the same mighty convergence at a live show at Iridium, in 2005, with a fifteen-piece band. As the music swayed between quasi-symphonic utterances and every-which-way melees, it presented a totality, a sprawling structure built in real time.

    As Iverson says, no one else played like Taylor, and no one will. Nonetheless, he leaves a potent legacy for the ever-growing body of music that unfolds in the spaces between jazz and classical traditions, between European and African-American cultures, between composition and improvisation. With Taylor, the refusal of category, the resistance to description, was rooted in an attitude of defiance that seemed variously personal, cultural, and political. At a famously contentious discussion at Bennington College in 1964, Taylor said: “The jazz musician has taken Western music and made of it what he wanted to make of it.” As a queer black man—he rejected the label “gay”—he experienced racism in the wider world and homophobia within jazz. As the purveyor of music that most people found incomprehensible, he encountered a disdain that frequently boiled over into irrational hatred. His imperious indifference followed the example of the European masters who looked nothing like him, and whose company he joins.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM

    Dan Buskirk Spinning Jazz Mondays 11:00AM-1:00PM
    Will Constantine Jr, Blues Bop and Beyond Thursdays 11:00-2:00 featuring Latin Jazz
    Jerry Gordon Serenade to a Cookoo Frdays 11:00AM-2:00PM with Jerry’s Room at 1:00Pm
    Jeannie Becker Sunday Jazz 10:00AM-1:00Pm


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 7:47 PM on March 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Snoop Dog, , The New Yorker, , ,   

    From The New Yorker: “The Genuine Vulnerability of Snoop Dogg’s Gospel Album” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    March 22, 2018
    Amanda Petrusich

    1
    It makes sense, on a narrative level, that a man who has spent much of his life deviating and inventing would, at forty-six, become interested in expressions of redemption and forgiveness. Photograph by Kevin Winter / BET / Getty.

    In Southern California, in the early nineteen-nineties, hip-hop was mutating in heavy and thrilling ways. When the Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg, then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, released Doggystyle, his major-label début, in 1993, he was plainly positioned to become the next great American m.c. He had just turned twenty-two. In 2013, on the occasion of the record’s twentieth anniversary, he admitted to Vibe, “No one expected me to be good.” He came by his virtuosity honestly. “I was just a young, dusty rapper,” he said. “I didn’t know how to talk in front of cameras, I didn’t know how to articulate. I just was dope at making music.”

    Snoop was a key progenitor of G-funk, a subset of gangster rap that leans heavily on funk samples, and features a slinking, almost lackadaisical vocal. In 1992, he was a guest on Deep Cover, Dr. Dre’s first single after the dissolution of N.W.A. It’s hard to describe his presence on the chorus: “Cause it’s one-eight-seven on the undercover cop,” he pipes up, as if offering some irrefutable explanation. His delivery is sing-songy and nearly furtive, which makes the lyric sound more like a taunt than a threat. (Per California’s penal code, a one-eight-seven is a murder.) Dr. Dre has a deep and abundant voice; when he raps, it’s like getting artfully walloped with a large, blunt instrument. Snoop’s approach is softer—steady, eternally unbothered—but no less menacing.

    n the intervening decades, Snoop has built a multitudinous and unprecedented career. He invented a lexicon, mostly by adding the suffix –izzle to ordinary words, rendering them more delightful (“Is Dr. Drizzay, so lizzay and plizzay / With D-O-double-Gizzay?” he asks on The Shiznit, from Doggystyle), and indulged in flagrant, grinning marijuana use long before weed was recognized (in some places) as benign. In 2001, he wrote a pornographic film, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, which was directed by Larry Flynt. Though his early work could be dark (in 1993, while recording Doggystyle, he was arrested in connection with the death of Philip Woldemariam, a member of a rival gang; he was defended by Johnnie Cochran, and later acquitted), Snoop quickly revealed a joking, more impish side, as evidenced by the various television programs (Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, Dogg After Dark, and, most notably, Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood) he hosted or starred in throughout the aughts. Without exception, he played the genial and mischievous goof.

    In 2005, he founded the Snoop Youth Football League, which is now the largest youth football organization in Southern California. The idea was to give disenfranchised or disadvantaged kids a path to something else: “We went on a mission to try to stop the violence by going to the roughest neighborhoods and grabbing these kids, coaches and ex-gang members and throwing them in the fire and saying, ‘This is what we want to do,’ ” he told Billboard. By 2010, Snoop was a mainstream mogul. He performed at the Kennedy Center, honoring the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock; he appeared in an Old Navy commercial; he narrated Planet Earth-style nature footage on Jimmy Kimmel Live (Snakes are straight assholes); hosted a VH1 show with Martha Stewart, in which they chummily prepared healthful meals for celebrity guests.

    Yet he also kept making records, many of them groundbreaking. Earlier this month, he released his sixteenth solo LP, Bible of Love. Though Snoop was once affiliated with the Nation of Islam, and, in 2012, announced his conversion to Rastafarianism (he briefly changed his name to Snoop Lion, and released a reggae record, Reincarnation), Bible of Love is a searching gospel album. It makes sense, on a narrative level, that a man who has spent much of his life deviating and inventing would, at forty-six, become interested in expressions of redemption and forgiveness.

    Bible of Love feels more like a début than anything else Snoop has done. Doggystyle was his first album by chronological measures, but Snoop was such an instinctive and studied rapper that he never sounded green or shaky. What I like about Bible of Love is how flummoxed Snoop appears. He produced the record with Lonny Bereal, and there are some expert jams on it (particularly You, featuring the gospel singer Tye Tribbett, who has also worked with Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Sting), but its wobblier moments are its most interesting. On the seven-and-a-half-minute single Words Are Few, which features a guest vocal by the gospel singer B. Slade (who previously performed as Tonex), Snoop mostly recuses himself to observe. The song begins with a confession: “There are times when I don’t wanna speak / Grab a pen, scratch your chin, make a beat. Though he’s not disavowing his previous work, a kind of submission is implied; for a rapper to release a track with a chorus that goes When my words are few is, itself, a kind of prostration. By two minutes in, he’s offering only periodic interjections. He is stepping aside, I think, to learn.

    It’s possible gospel has never been this integrated into mainstream hip-hop and pop before. Three of this decade’s most high-profile hip-hop records (Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City) all incorporate elements of contemporary black gospel; the forty-seven-year-old gospel singer Kirk Franklin has sold many millions of records, in an era in which selling records is extraordinarily difficult. Yet Bible of Love doesn’t feel imitative or mercenary. Snoop is certainly a savvy performer and businessman, but his trajectory has always felt honest, a product of his time, place, and stature. That he is now looking for new ways to be grateful feels both decent and real.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio

    For great Jazz


    WPRB

    Dan Buskirk Spinning Jazz Mondays 11:00AM-1:00PM
    Will Constantine Jr, Blues Bop and Beyond Thursdays 11:00-2:00 featuring Latin Jazz
    Jerry Gordon Serenade to a Cookoo Frdays 11:00AM-2:00PM with Jerry’s Room at 1:00Pm
    Jeannie Becker Sunday Jazz 10:00AM-1:00Pm

     
  • richardmitnick 1:57 PM on March 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , Miles Davis and John Coltrane—The Final Tour, , , , , The New Yorker, ,   

    From The New Yorker: “Listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s Final Tour” 

    new-yorker-bloc-rea-irvin
    Rea Irvin

    The New Yorker

    1
    Miles Davis and John Coltrane onstage in 1960, in Chicago.
    Photograph by Ted Williams / Iconic Images / Getty

    Miles Davis January 1955 Express Newspapers Getty Image

    John Coltrane .Charles VlenCorbis

    There’s a great story behind Miles Davis and John Coltrane—The Final Tour, the sixth volume in Sony’s Bootleg Series of live recordings by Davis (it comes out March 23rd), and that story makes itself heard in the music.

    2

    In 1960, the trumpeter Miles Davis, along with his regular band, was booked to go on a concert tour in Western Europe as part of the ongoing, and internationally famous, Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series. However, at exactly that time, Coltrane, who played tenor saxophone, was preparing to leave Davis’s quintet and form his own working group. Coltrane had been a sideman with Davis on and off since 1955; they were both born in 1926, but their careers took drastically different paths. Davis was already a minor star in 1945, at the age of nineteen, when he recorded with Charlie Parker. Three years later, at twenty-two, he led a nonet, featuring intricate arrangements, that proved vastly influential. (They’re gathered under the title Birth of the Cool.)

    3
    No image credit

    Davis had a huge and significant discography as a leader by the time he hired Coltrane, an unheralded musician best known as a rarely soloing sideman, who’d never yet led a record date. With Davis, Coltrane quickly found his voice, and expanded it during a stint in 1957 with Thelonious Monk. Coltrane had led dates on several labels; recorded the influential Giant Steps, in 1959; and was ready to go out on his own.

    4
    Atlantic Records

    Davis’s group, featuring the pianist Wynton Kelly, the bassist Paul Chambers, and the drummer Jimmy Cobb—which had been a sextet for several years, featuring Cannonball Adderley’s alto sax alongside Coltrane’s tenor—was now depleted.

    6
    Miles Davis Sextet. No image credit

    Adderley left in the fall of 1959, and Coltrane was feeling his oats. On club dates, Cobb said, Coltrane “would play an hour solo himself, and we were only supposed to be on the stand for forty minutes or something.” Prior to the European tour, Coltrane told Davis that he wouldn’t join him there, and even recommended another tenor saxophonist to Davis, Wayne Shorter, who was only twenty-six. (Davis actually hired him—in 1964.) But, because Coltrane was familiar with the band’s material, Davis prevailed upon Coltrane to join him one last time for the European tour. Coltrane agreed, grudgingly; according to Cobb, Coltrane displayed his discontent throughout the tour: “He sat next to me on the bus, looking like he was ready to split at any time. He spent most of the time looking out the window and playing Oriental-sounding scales on soprano.”

    In fact, Coltrane made exemplary use of his time on that tour, working out his musical ideas more fully, audaciously, and radically than he had ever done in his previous studio recordings. Davis is in fine fettle throughout the tour; Coltrane plays with fury. As he did in American clubs, he plays longer solos (often much longer) than Davis does (not hour-long, though) and often gets much more applause than Davis does. By bringing Coltrane back into the group for this European tour, one of the band’s most prestigious showcases, Davis in effect relegated himself to the role of a sideman in his own band.

    Coltrane’s solos range from the overwhelming to the astonishing to the devastating to the outrageously playful. He developed ideas that he had been working on throughout the late fifties, ideas that took the harmonic complexities of bebop to a new level. What he had been doing in the late fifties was, essentially, playing every note of the chords that provided the tune’s harmonic structure—and when he substituted (in the classic bebop form) new chords for familiar ones he played all of those notes, too. It made for lots of notes that he played very fast, in long breaths, with a vibrato-free, hard-steely tone that led one critic of the era, Ira Gitler, to immortalize Coltrane’s style at that time as “sheets of sound.” In The Final Tour, the sound is of Coltrane ripping the sheets to shreds. He played plenty of high-velocity rushes of notes here, too, but also broke off and fragmented those long lines. He wrenched them apart with low-end blasts, mid-range cries, and high-pitched shrieks, moving away from the musical sense of notes and chords toward pure sound—a dramatic tendency that he took to ecstatic extremes with his own groups.

    Before this release, the music from the quintet’s European tour was available—exactly as the Bootleg Series suggests—through unauthorized releases. (Several of these concert recordings, including the ones in the Sony set, were officially made for radio broadcast.) They’re already familiar—mainly to fanatics trawling used-CD shops. (I’ve collected bootlegs of the tour for decades; there are about eight disks full of them, and they’re among my favorite jazz recordings.) The Final Tour offers three of the group’s concerts, including the two crucial ones from the tour. In their Paris performance, on March 21, 1960, the first night of the tour, Davis starts playing full-throated and elbows-out, and Coltrane responds by going wild, throwing down a gantlet, not to Davis or even to his audience but to himself. His performances were received as a succès de scandale. During and after several long and furious solos, members of the audience can be heard whistling (the local equivalent of booing). But there are also plenty of boisterous cheers. (I heard, anecdotally, from a friend who attended the concert, as a teen-ager, that even the passionate cognoscenti—meaning he and his friends—were Davis aficionados who came in knowing little about Coltrane but took him up as a new hero that night.)

    The next night, in Stockholm, Davis seems somewhat guarded, not struggling to keep up but wary, as if he were defending some border of musical order. By contrast, Coltrane followed his Paris outburst with some lofty philosophical playfulness, picking a pair of notes from the melody and repeating them, rocking back and forth between them as if examining their gleam in the light, working them out bit by bit, line by line, until they build to an outrageous complexity that seems to astonish even him as it rushes by.

    For that matter, the entire band is a delight. Kelly’s solos, following Coltrane’s, have a ripplingly songful, easygoing but intriguingly varied lyricism; Chambers offers a firm melodic and percussive counterpoint, and Cobb displays a rhythmic foundation that’s as foot-tappingly strong as it is polyrhythmically supple. Yet, as great and essential as The Final Tour is, its four disks tell only part of the story. I wouldn’t want to be without Coltrane’s furious outbursts from Frankfurt, Germany, the following week, or the concerts from later in the tour, in early April, when Davis seems to come out from Coltrane’s shadow, as in three tracks believed to have been recorded in Munich. By the end of the tour, Coltrane seems somewhat transfigured—his playing seems at times not appeased or tamped down but burned away to a spiritual essence, foreshadowing the mood and the content of much of his music from his own classic quartet, which finally began to coalesce in the summer of that year. As for Davis, he sought bold new musical directions as well; it took a new quintet, which he assembled in 1963-64, for him to find them.

    See the full article here .

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