jazz


There’s a lot of lore around famous jazz figures. From Sonny Rollins woodshedding on the Brooklyn Bridge to Keith Jarrett admonishing his audience members for coughing, certain oft-repeated stories come to represent specific individual musicians’ traits and, collectively, come together to form a commonly accepted history of jazz. But it’s always fun to come across lesser-known stories that add some color to these better-known narratives.

For example, Bob Gluck, a pianist and music professor whose forthcoming book (You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, which University of Chicago Press will publish later this summer) I’m greatly looking forward to, tells a great, little-known story about Herbie Hancock in a recent blog post. Herbie is of course famous for his pioneering synthesizer work beginning with the Headhunters in 1973, through the Rockit period, and continuing to today. Here he is dropping some science on Quincy Jones with a Fairlight synth in 1984:


But, as Gluck reports, it turns out that when, in 1969, Herbie was invited by Herb Deutsch, an associate of Bob Moog, to participate in one of the first public performances featuring Moog synthesizers as a live performance keyboard instrument, Herbie declined because he felt he didn’t know enough about synthesizers and electronic music to take part. There’s something I like about this picture of Herbie Hancock, one of the most brilliant jazz musicians of all time, a bit intimidated, walking away from an early opportunity to give a new Moog keyboard-operated synthesizer a spin only to then immerse himself in the world of synthesizers and, within a handful of years, become one of the best known synth players on Earth. Plenty of descriptions of Herbie Hancock suggest that he’s by nature studious and meticulous, but this little non-event paints such a great, real-life picture of those traits in action.

Similarly, it’s no secret that Miles Davis was, at least for most of his career, a very well-dressed man. I mean Esquire magazine publicly recognized this indisputable fact at least as early as 1960, when it placed him on its list of “Some of the Best-Dressed Men in the United States.” The article identified the tailor responsible for Miles’s look as “Emsley (New York).” As a man who has had a suit or two custom-made in the past and who also can’t help but seek out NYC spots with secret jazz histories, naturally the first thing I did after reading this blurb was google “Miles Davis Emsley New York.”

While it seems that Joe Emsley’s shop is long gone, it turns out that at least some of his creations for Miles live on, having been bought by artist and self-proclaimed “Thrift-Shop Diva” Grace Kirkwood. She happens to have bought several articles of his clothing from the owner of a thrift shop in the early 80s and has posted her story and pictures of the duds–from classic, slim-cut, Plugged Nickel-era suits to later, Prince-of-Darkness-era sheepskin and full-length leather coats–on her website. The kicker: neither she nor the thrift shop owner knew who Miles Davis was at the time, so she passed on several large moving boxes full of his clothes, which are now assumed lost to the ages. Even so, the pieces she did take are pretty awesome, as is the idea of owning even just a few of the everyday items that contributed to Miles’s larger-than-life persona.

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Okay, not true. In fact, I was not yet born. But it turns out that the building where I chose to take the leap and buy my first (and current) apartment used to be an art gallery (which I knew) and used to host loft shows in the 70s (which I did not). Apparently Sam Rivers, who had his own famed loft/frequent show venue, Studio Rivbea (see some awesome pics here), played here, as did Suicide. I knew I had a good feeling about this place. This is the sort of thing that was going on:


I just got back from former fave live music venue Le Poisson Rouge. Why “former”? Well, as I previously posted, just about a year ago in fact, one can buy a membership to LPR for a reasonable price. When I bought said membership last year, the main benefit was free admission for the member plus one to a wide range of shows by acts both established (Glenn Branca–free) and up and coming (many random out jazz and modern composition acts–free). But not too long after I joined, they dropped the plus one part of the benefit. That was disappointing, but seemed fair enough–it was probably not sustainable to allow so many free admissions for the $45 or $50 cost of the membership. But it didn’t take long for the number of “free for members” events to start dwindling. There were several months in there where I felt like the only thing that was free for members were freakin’ DJ nights, and that ain’t what I signed up for. There are more free shows again now, but they’re not quite of the caliber as last year’s free shows. So I think you’ve lost me as a member, LPR. I know, I know, I’m sad too. Give me a free ticket or two and I assure you, I’ll drink like a poisson. That’s just win-win, people! But alas, I think those days are gone.

Anywho, onto the show. Billed as “an evening of trio treats,” the night did not disappoint. First up was Weasel Walter playing drums/percussion in a trio with Mary Halverson on guitar and Peter Evans on piccolo trumpet and, er, normale trumpet. The last time I saw Weasel Walter play, his hair was much shorter and I was frequently spending weekends in Pittsburgh, where, at some point (2002ish, I’d say) I saw The Flying Luttenbachers play a show with Arab On Radar at the apparently now (or at least for-now) defunct Mr. Roboto Project. Tonight, WW (him, not me) brought the spastic beats and silly faces I remembered from that show years ago and I dug it as much tonight as I did then. Mary Halvorson’s guitar was particularly awesome–she weaved in and out of long vaguely bop-ish runs, almost folk-rocky chord progressions made all woozy with some sort of whammy bar-type foot pedal, and Derek Bailey-esque skronks. I couldn’t help but feel that the set would have been perfect if it had just been Walter and Halvorson up there–I liked Evans’s playing but it just didn’t gel with the other parts for me–but in any event then it would have been an evening of one trio and one duo treats, which just isn’t nearly as catchy. Luckily for me, I picked up a copy of Walter and Halvorson’s duo release from a couple of years ago on the way out.

Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, and Peter Evans


Then it was on to trio number two, with Matthew Shipp on piano, Mike Bisio on bass, and Whit Dickey on drums. Somehow this was the first time I’ve seen Shipp live. And it definitely grabbed me way more than any of the recordings I’ve heard. I recently wrote about seeing Paul Bley for the first time and, while I wouldn’t say the two pianists sound particularly similar, I definitely got a similar vibe from the two shows–both of them take the material way, way out without sacrificing melody or, I think it’s fair to say, a “traditional” jazz flavor. And what do you know, just as I was mulling that point over during the show, the trio unexpectedly broke into an almost straight (well, for the head at least) statement of What Is This Thing Called Love. Long story short, I suspect I’ll be re-examining some of those Matthew Shipp recordings soon. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bisio’s practically violent, string-bending, bow-breaking bass solo about halfway through the set. It was a thing to behold–blurry picture below.

Matthew Shipp


Matthew Shipp Trio


Mike Bisio Bass Solo


Finally, as my friend and I settled our tab (WTF, why doesn’t the paypal app bump function ever seem to work anymore?) I thought back to the Wayne Shorter show I wrote about recently and how Brian Blade kicked the shit out of his drums in a way not unlike Shipp kicking the shit out of the LPR piano at a couple of points. Gotta wonder what a trio with those two would sound like. At the very least, they could have some kind of skinny, bespectacled jazz dude duel.

Matthew Shipp


Brian Blade


So, although there are a couple of other good shows coming up at the old Poisson Rouge, I think the love affair is officially fini. Much like my blog post, as I start falling asleep at my keyboard. And much like Shipp’s set after his unexpected rendition of Frère Jacques. Dormez vous? Pas encore, mais bientôt…

Oh, coked-up mid-/late-70s Sly, I’ve got to say…you’re kind of underrated.

Yes, it’s been a while, poor, neglected readers. A lot happened in WW-land after my last post. A new job, a busy summer, a bunch of traveling, another new job, an even busier winter. Tornadoes, hailstorms, blizzards. Quite a first year of Brooklyn-dwelling.

Happily, some stuff has been happening musically too. Luxe Pop is almost done recording our full-length. NNHRN continues to write songs and is starting to put together a live set. I’ve been doing some solo noodling and may start making some punkish noise with former Family Fun bandmate Alexander.

In other words, it’s time to reactivate WW. You can expect some of the fruits of these various projects to be posted here from time to time, as well as other musings on all things musical. And to kick off WW’s 2011 edition, here are some 10 (as in 2010?) word reviews of some of the shows I’ve seen since I last posted (with, in some cases, blurry iPhone pic evidence of same), reverse chronological-like:

Wayne Shorter Quartet (Town Hall, Feb. 9, 2011): Fiery potential, heard on YouTube / live CDs, largely unfulfilled tonight.

Universal Order of Armageddon and Trophy Wife (Cake Shop, Jan. 21, 2011): Hardcore like a kick in the teeth. Ah, the 90s!

Tom Harrell Quintet (Village Vanguard, NYC, Nov. 26, 2010): Forgot how much I dig his lyrical tone. So underrated!

Tom Harrell

Joanna Newsom (Carnegie Hall, NYC, Nov. 23, 2010): Yes, I will see her every time she’s in NYC.

Paul Bley and Charlie Haden (Blue Note, NYC, Nov. 20, 2010): Standards stretched to extremes overcome late-middle-aged couple groping nearby

Tame Impala (Bowery Ballroom, NYC, Nov. 18, 2010): More psych revival. I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse.

Tyshawn Sorey (The Stone, NYC, Nov. 11, 2010): Solo drummer, cymbal-scraping, plucked piano strings, etc. Works for me.

Van Dyke Parks (Bell House, Brooklyn, Oct. 2, 2010): Odd ensemble, very odd songs, very, very odd old man.

Van Dyke Parks

Chick Corea w/ Christian McBride and Brian Blade (Highline Ballroom, NYC, Oct. 1, 2010): What Wayne’s group should have been. Abstract, searching, practically telepathic.

Belle and Sebastian (Williamsburg Waterfront, Brooklyn, Sept. 30, 2010): Balmy summer’s end breeze perfect compliment to beloved songsters’ classics.

The Very Best, Warpaint, Zola Jesus (Holocene, Portland, Sept. 24, 2010): Second fix of Warpaint and Zola, then killer dance party.

The Very Best

Of Montreal, Janelle Monae (Terminal 5, NYC, Sept. 18, 2010): Reliably fun oM show. Don’t get the Monae hype though.

of Montreal

Dirty Projectors (Terminal 5, NYC, Sept. 11, 2010): One question: how the fuck do they do that live?

Oneida (Monster Island Block Party, Brooklyn, Sept. 4, 2010): Gorgeous biking day, happen upon kickass noise rock show. Sweeeeeet.

Oneida

Javelin and Warpaint (Whitney Museum, NYC, Aug. 13, 2010): Dreamy high end meets funky low. Plus local hip-hop(ish) faves.

Whitney Crowd/Tops of Warpaint’s Heads

Javelin

Hard NYC w/ M.I.A., Die Antwoord, Skream, Sleigh Bells (Governor’s Island, NYC, July 24, 2010): Invasive security, irritating rappers, torrential rain. Want my $50 back.

Blevin Blectum (Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, July 23, 2010): More abstract than expected, but definitely glad I caught her.

Blevin Blectum

Pitchfork Festival w/ (acts that I saw) Modest Mouse, Robyn, LCD Soundsystem, Panda Bear, Wolf Parade, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Raekwon, Titus Andronicus, Pavement, Sleigh Bells, Neon Indian, Major Lazer, Here We Go Magic, St. Vincent, Lightning Bolt, Beach House, Washed Out, Girls, Best Coast (Union Park, Chicago, July 16-18, 2010): Super well run festival. 90s noise punk duo steals show.

Lightning Bolt Crowd

Pitchfork Fest Bike Parking

Caribou (Millennium Park, Chicago, July 12, 2010): Favorite 2010 live act (ok, except tUnE-yArDs). And for free?!?

Unrest/Tuscadero (Bell House, Brooklyn, July 5, 2010): See above re the 90s. Some great indie pop too.

Caribou, Toro Y Moi (Bowery Ballroom, NYC, Bowery Ballroom, May 8, 2010): Live show really doesn’t capture opener’s production chops on record.

Caribou

Chick Corea w/ Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian (Bill Evans Tribute) (Blue Note, NYC, May 6, 2010): Possibly my second favorite pianist’s homage to possibly my first.

Washed Out (Bell House, Brooklyn, May 5, 2010): Another contemporary band whose awesome record just doesn’t translate live.

Gang Gang Dance (Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, April 22, 2010): Great sound, but some songs drag. Others seem absolutely endless.

The lady is fond of telling me that I’d make a terrible detective. And, despite said limitation, even I can recognize that there’s some truth to this characterization. In this particular instance, the thing I’ve been busy not noticing, despite being a music fan and music maker in this city for several years, not to mention having represented many NYC nonprofits as an attorney, is the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Indeed I knew nothing about it until I happened to walk by.

The Conservatory, housed in a striking Victorian mansion in Park Slope, offers a wide variety of classes and lessons–classical, jazz, and contemporary; theory, ear training, vocal, instrumental; etc.–for, as its site says, “students ranging in age from 18 months to adult.” And as if taking the lead in training today’s musically precocious toddlers weren’t enough, it also runs several outreach programs and hosts concerts; one tip: if you go in for the trad jazz thing and live in the NYC area, you should check out Kenny Barron on March 27.

Basically, after doing some research and stopping by to check the place out, I’m left wondering how I failed to notice such an amazing resource until now. So to make up for lost time, I’ve already enrolled in a Music Technology class, where I’m learning lots of sequencing and recording tips and tricks. I guess that what I lack in sleuthing skills I hope to make up for in audio engineering ability.

I recently came across some sad music news. Charlie Banacos, one of the preeminent jazz instructors of the last several decades, died on December 8, 2009. As the obit notes, Charlie’s students included Danilo Perez, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Michael Brecker, Jerry Bergonzi, and scores of others.

He also taught me for a while in 1998. I remember when my first piano teacher, Gary Ford, was taking lessons from Charlie back in the 80s. Gary, despite suffering from repetitive stress issues brought on by the 6 or more hours a day of practice it took him to work through Charlie’s exercises, could not say enough amazing things about Charlie’s teaching. Later, when I was studying in Paris in 1994, Gary recommended that I look up Katy Roberts, another former Banacos student, who also sang Charlie’s praises and continued my two-steps-of-separation Banacos-influenced training. Finally, that same year, I was rooming with Aaron Goldberg, who was also taking lessons with Charlie at that time. One day, Charlie called looking for Aaron and I decided to take the plunge, signing up for his waiting list myself.

Weeks went by, then months, then years. I moved several times and figured that Charlie either had had no way to contact me or, because of the informal way I “signed up” for the waiting list, had never put me in the queue. Silly me. In early ’98, I got a call from Charlie asking when I could come in for my first lesson. He seemed to remember our conversation well, including our chatting about my other teachers, Paris, etc.–in fact, in all respects it was as if four days, not four years, had gone by since we had last spoken. Thinking back on it, I’m still not sure how he managed to get my then-current number.

So I ended up studying with Charlie in the spring and summer of ’98, practicing to the point where the exercises tormented me even in my sleep, until I left for Philadelphia and law school. Charlie gave me some exercises for the road and told me to give him a call when I was back in Boston and ready for more lessons. But little did I know it was a fork-in-the-road kind of moment. I never went back to Boston. In fact, I barely played piano at all for several years and since I started playing again it’s been pretty much all rock (of one sort or another) all the time. I can comfortably say that law is much more my calling than jazz ever was, but I would have loved to study with Charlie again. I particularly regret not pursuing his “distance learning” program when I read about it a few years ago. This was no internet-based lesson plan–as I understand it, it involved Charlie creating and mailing tapes and written materials by snail mail. A pretty unique method for a one-of-a kind sort of guy.

It seems that a lot of people who knew Charlie a lot better than I have written about him elsewhere on the internets–Warren Senders at Daily Kos has a nice piece up with some links. But I particularly liked this one passage, taken from a post by Charlie’s family on the Charlie Banacos students Facebook page–it just seems so consistent with the bit that I came to know about him in my own experience and through my teachers and friends:

You should know that Charlie was of strong mind and in good spirits throughout his ordeal, and kept an unwavering positive attitude during the past few weeks. More than a few of the doctors and nurses commented on how much they enjoyed treating Charlie, for he was always quick with a joke and was determined to live each moment in a positive way.

[….]

The most negative thing he said over the last few weeks was ‘What a drag!’ When the doctor told him his diagnosis he said “Good job with your diagnosis. Looks like I’m headed for the last round-up!” The doctor looked at him, after seeing Charlie in pain for a week already without it ever affecting his emotional strength, and said “Charlie, you’re a very strange man.”

I wrote my last post, about my rediscovery of Henry Threadgill, on Friday. Later that afternoon I sat down to look up some music listings for the weekend and, lo and behold, who was playing just two days later? Henry Threadgill and his current group, Zooid. That sort of thing never gets old to me.

So Sunday, after a day of apartment hunting and a tasty dinner at No.7 in Fort Greene, the lady and I headed to Roulette in Soho. Roulette is a pretty awesome, if surprisingly tiny (and, at least the other night, hot!), art and performance space that has been around for about thirty years putting on shows of, as they put it, “Experimental and Adventurous Music.” For the first set, the group played what I assume were largely songs from their new CD, This Brings Us To, Vol. 1. The second set was a longer-form piece commissioned specifically by Roulette, where Zooid, normally a drums-bass-guitar-tuba-reeds combo, was supplemented by a cellist.

The music is “free” in the sense that it’s hard to discern many static harmonic patterns in any give tune, and there’s a good amount of collective improvisation going on. But for the most part the feel is more hypnotic and angular than it is intense or chaotic. There’s a common rhythmic theme that runs throughout the tunes. Basically, the songs often have a strong groove, almost even a funk feel, to them, but the beats are disjointed and jerky–it’s as if one musician is playing a 4/4 groove, the next is playing the same beat but his 1 is on the other guy’s 2, another is playing a similar groove but in 5/4, etc. Everything matches up to create a loopy, head-bobbing feel, but trying to count out the rhythm is essentially a futile exercise. You could probably dance to it, but anyone watching might question your neurological well-being.

The show was recorded for Roulette TV, which already has probably a few dozen performances from Roulette’s archives available for viewing online. Check ’em out.

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