Click on the song titles to open the song in a new window.
Chris Potter – 2000 by Ted Panken
Branford Marsalis – July 2003 by Ted Panken
Jeff “Tain” Watts – 2004 by Ted Panken
Dave Liebman – 2005ish by Bill Milkowski in JazzTimes
Sonny Rollins – July 2010, by Larry Appelbaum in JazzTimes
Lenny White – 2010 by Ted Panken
Chris Potter – 2000 by Ted Panken
(The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concerts, Jazz Classics, 1952)
Bird! [LAUGHS] Wow. Where is that from?
Ted: The Rockland Palace, a benefit for Paul Robeson in 1952 with dancers.
Chris: Wow. That’s great. Man, that’s some unbelievable Bird. I have to check that out. There’s so much available, you never know what’s going to be what. Bird’s probably the biggest influence that I feel I have. He’s such a big figure in my way of thinking about playing the saxophone, it’s hard to even know how to start. But the thing that always gets me about it, besides just his obviously genius way of figuring out how to incorporate rhythms and harmony and make them all sort of work in harmony with each other, there’s such a joyous kind of vibe about it. That’s something I feel isn’t… You always hear about how much of a genius he was. But just the pure enjoyment of hearing that much joy. It sounded just like he was having so much fun that he was able to do that, just singing out. It’s like a kid playing in the sandbox. It’s got that kind of naive almost kind of quality to it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. 5 stars, if that’s all I can give. I remember when I was first playing the saxophone, I was 11 or 12. Everyone said, “Man, you’ve got to check out Charlie Parker.” At that time I was totally into Johnny Hodges. I just didn’t hear it. He’s sort of out of tune and he’s playing all these notes — what’s going on? Then one day I was ready. One day again someone said, “Bird, that’s it.” So I put it back on, and all of a sudden it was like a light went off.” It was like, “Oh, that’s what they’re talking about.” Then that was it. I’m sure at least a year out of my life almost everything I listened to was Bird.
(Dissonant Characters, hatOLOGY, 1998)
So far I think it’s Johnny Griffin, but we’ll see. Okay, definitely not Johnny Griffin. There’s something about his sound… It’s that Monk tune, Let’s Call This or… Let’s Cool One. I always get them confused. Wow. I really don’t know who it is.
Ted: He’s a little older than you, though he came to town around the same time.
Ted: And he’s not necessarily known for playing tunes in public persona and reputation.
Chris: He sort of sounds like he might play a lot of freer music, to me. I was almost thinking of someone like Jim Pepper, because there’s something about his sound that was similar to Jim Pepper, too. But it’s not him either.
[AFTER] That was very nice. It was interesting to me just to hear him play a tune. That’s tricky. I’ll say 4 stars. The only thing is, I sort of wanted it to go on longer and develop more even. Who was playing drums? Han Bennink? That makes sense. I’ve actually never heard Han play time either. But I know that’s how he started.
[Lennie Tristano, composer.]
Sort of a Lennie vibe. Warne and Lee? It’s a little soon. It’s a great head. Real Warne-ish on the first solo. But it sounds like a newer record; this is obviously not from the ’50s. I’m confused. Mark and Josh? It sounds like Max Bolleman engineered it. I think it’s Lennie’s head; it’s on Out Of Nowhere, but I can’t place it.
[AFTER] That was interesting, because I actually did think it was Warne at first, when it was Mark, and I found myself thinking, “Man, Mark really borrowed some stuff from Warne!” It was actually recorded a few years ago, right? That’s another reason I didn’t think it was Mark. I can tell from hearing him more recently, he’s sort of developed his thing a little more. It was interesting when the second solo came in. It sounded like Josh was doing the Warne kind of thing, too. Then after a couple of choruses his essential Joshness started to come out. These are obviously guys who are the same age as I am, and I can feel a certain sympathy in the fact that they’re being judged by me of all people especially! But I think that’s a good example of some early Mark and Josh. It’s interesting to me after I figured out to think about how they sound now and how they sound then. They’re more themselves now, more developed, surer of themselves, I think. That’s a natural process that hopefully happens as you get older, if you don’t lose your way. That’s just what’s going to happen. 4 stars. It was a good job, guys.
J.J. Johnson, trombone, composer; Wayne Shorter, tenor sax.
Wayne. I’m going to go on a limb and guess this is the J.J. Johnson record, which I haven’t heard, but I know it exists. And it’s a modern record, and it’s Wayne, and it sounds like it’s probably J.J. This might be the solo that meant that I didn’t win a Grammy! Well, that’s not exactly true. But I think this was up in the same category.
Ted: It sounded like it deserved a Grammy.
Chris: It did. I mean, Wayne doesn’t even have to sound good with all the stuff he’s given us.
Ted: You’re only as good as your last solo.
Chris: Well, that was a great solo. He definitely sustained his reputation on that one, I thought. That was great. I’m always looking for new Wayne to check out. He’s up there with Bird as a huge influence on the way I think. There’s something about him that I always totally dug, that he seems totally unafraid to be an individual. I mean, he’ll do just some weird stuff, and somehow it just resonates the right way. He’s obviously telling the truth about what he’s like, and you get that. 5 stars.
Ted: How is Wayne Shorter different now from 10-15 years ago?
Chris: It’s hard to really say. I think as it’s gone on, as he’s done records like Highlife and Atlantis, which I love… His thing has definitely progressed from the beginning of his career, from like a great tenor soloist… It doesn’t seem like he’s thinking in those kind of terms any more. He’s hearing everything. That’s something I always dug about him. He always had that, but I think he keeps bringing that out more and more. It always seemed to me that it almost didn’t matter that he was playing the saxophone, that he was playing jazz — that it was music even. It seems like that’s just his way of communicating what he has to communicate, and he can do it through any medium. There some sort of non-attachment or something that I get from it. It’s just the expression that I get from him. It sounds to me like he might not play as much as he did in those… I mean, he was playing with Blakey every night and with Miles. So I can hear that that level of playing comfort maybe isn’t there. But in its place is some really deep thought that keeps getting deeper for me. He’s a hero of mine, too, in that he hasn’t rested on his laurels. He keeps working on stuff, and I think we’re all richer for it.
Tommy Flanagan, piano
It’s Coleman Hawkins. Let’s see. I’ll take a guess and say it’s Bennie Wallace. But let’s let the record state that he gave me too good of a hint.
[AFTER] At first his sound seriously reminded me of Coleman Hawkins, then when he started blowing he was sort of using those arpeggiated things like Coleman Hawkins would do, but further out. So I thought, I don’t know, maybe Don Byas or someone like that. Then it got further and further out, and I went, “Whoa, this is not of that generation.”
Ted: Are you familiar enough with the way Bennie Wallace plays that you’d have known it was him?
Chris: I might not have known. I sort of have an idea of what he sounds like — and that’s what he sounds like! [LAUGHS] But I’m not that familiar with his work. I liked the song, though I don’t know what the tune is.
Ted: Who is the pianist?
Chris: It sounded like an older guy. It’s often harder for me to tell who’s playing if it’s a pretty inside kind of thing, if it’s sort of sticking to the conventional language. That can make it harder, in a way, because there’s certain conventions everyone uses to make it sound like jazz, but that can make it harder to identify, too.
[AFTER] That would have been my first guess, but it’s too late now! 4 stars. I enjoyed it. This is actually something I’ve found myself working on now that I’m off the road for a few weeks. I’ve actually been trying to investigate ways you can bend the notes, shape every note so it has a character, which the old guys did. And it seems like Bennie has really checked that out. It’s not even totally in tune. It’s like out of tune in a cool way that gives it a vocal kind of quality that… It’s something I’m working on, so it’s nice to hear someone else’s approach to that, which obviously comes from the old-old-old school as far as tenor playing goes.
Kenny Werner, piano.
It’s obviously a younger musician. No? I’m really not sure. I have to confess I didn’t like this as much as the other stuff you’ve had on so far. What I’d say against it is the fact that it’s I’ll Remember April just sort of played without an arrangement, and it was a sort of jam session sounding thing, which is cool if it’s a jam session, but if you have a chance to make a record, try to do something to enliven the arrangement a bit. And there was something about the saxophone player… What I did like about the whole thing is that the energy was really strong. It felt like everyone was sort of going for it and enjoying themselves, which obviously is a huge thing. It can be a great musician, and if it doesn’t have that, it’s not going to have anything that sort of draws you in. But it sounded a little unfocused to me, too, in terms of a conception. It sounded to me there were certain things he was going for that he doesn’t have thought out yet.
Ted: Do you know who the pianist was?
Chris: I’m not sure who the pianist was, but I actually really enjoyed the piano solo. It was a little busy at times, too, but it seemed much more focused to me. Very smart. 3 stars.
[AFTER] I’m surprised. I totally did not get Ken Werner. I would not have thought that.
The only saxophone group like that I’m familiar with is the World Saxophone Quartet, so that would be my guess. I guess that’s Oliver Lake playing soprano?
Ted: That was John Purcell on saxello.
Chris: Playing the melody?
Ted: On this record they each stick to one instrument, and the instrument you heard was saxello.
Chris: Wow, that’s a cool sound. That’s really cool. It sounded a little more in, I guess (I hate to use those kind of terms), than I expected. It had more of a compositional thing. It was like a nice tune, first of all, and nice voicings for all the instruments. I was almost thinking it wasn’t them, because it was so structured, in a way. But it sounded like Hamiet Bluiett’s sound down there. That was sort of the first recognizable thing. Nice. There’s something about the sound of the saxello — obviously it’s the way Purcell is playing it — that’s really cool. Its pitch is funny, and his approach to things is sort of out there, but it sort of hits me the right way. It’s nice. It sounds human. Animal, in a way. It’s cool. 4 stars. I enjoyed it.
Phil Woods, alto sax; Johnny Griffin, tenor sax
I think it’s Phil Woods. I’m assuming this is Phil’s latest record on Blue Note, which has Johnny Griffin. Griffin sounds great. That was a great performance. I’d say that was a 5 star performance there. The way that I first heard Johnny Griffin’s playing, and probably the way a lot of people did was those Monk records at the Five Spot. I heard those all the time. It’s interesting to see how he sort of changed. He always had that thing. He was playing all the bebop stuff; something about his sound, it’s sort of similar to what I was talking about earlier, bending the notes and being a little out of tune here, and a little low here and a little high there…
Ted: He’s a blues guy.
Chris: Right. He has that real vocal thing. And now that he’s older, too, to be able to play a melody and just play that simply on a ballad and have it be that much of a voice is a beautiful thing. Man, saxophone can be a beautiful thing. That’s great.
Albert Ayler? Okay, it’s got to be James Carter. This must be that new record that just came out. The intro was amazing. I sometimes get the feeling that he might be playing music for different reasons than I’m playing music — or not very similar. It’s a different way of thinking about what we think is beautiful. Especially after the band came in, I felt like he… I liked the fact that it’s at least a very strong statement in one direction or another, which I respect, but a lot of it doesn’t seem that beautiful to me. It’s not coming from a place of trying to make a beautiful thing. And I was not expecting that sound to come in after that intro. I actually dug the texture of it. I liked the sound of the tenor with an almost jam band kind of thing. There wasn’t really much of a melody or anything. That I sort of liked about it. But I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to it at home. There’s something about it that makes me feel that’s not what I want to have in my head. I won’t rate it.
Stitt, alto and tenor sax
This is the slowest I Got Rhythm I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m assuming it goes into double time! My first thought was Gene Ammons, but I’m not sure now. Nice sound.
[AFTER] Well, I actually did end up getting it. Sonny Stitt on alto. But I could not tell if it was him on tenor. I really did not think that it was him. Because his sound sounded a lot more full and focused. His sound on the alto was really recognizable, certain things in certain registers — okay, that’s got to be him. But on the tenor he didn’t sound like he usually does. He sounds great! He was always sort of… If you think about walking into a jazz club somewhere and hearing someone burn, that was him. I never got a chance to see him, but that’s always the sense I have, is just like state of the art bebop — flawless.
Ted: Talk about playing on the two horns.
Chris: That’s sort of a tough thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, too. Something about the alto, and switching to the tenor… It’s hard to feel comfortable on both horns at the same time, and it’s hard to feel comfortable on both horns, period. I’m not sure why that is, even, that it’s that similar and that different. You really have to think about it.
Ted: People say the alto needs more control.
Chris: Maybe so. Obviously, the smaller the horn, the smaller the mouthpiece… I think smaller differences in embrochure and all that are going to make bigger changes in the sound and the way that the pitch is. But it’s fairly similar. So to feel comfortable knowing what to do, how to change, how to… I mean, it’s really subtle embrochure change kind of stuff. And also the amount of air that you blow, it’s not that much more on the tenor, but it’s a little bit more. You have to be a little bit looser, but not that much looser. You have to know how to do it. It’s really difficult to feel comfortable doing both. There’s something about the register for me, too, the way that you hear the alto clearer when you play it, I feel it. Because it’s higher, and also because the bell is pointing more towards you. It’s sort of right here, whereas if you’re playing tenor it’s going out that way more and a little further down. So you’re getting a different sonic thing back when you’re playing, too, I find. 4½ stars. I don’t think you could possibly play bebop rhythm changes any better than that. That was like it.
Lovano maybe. The Scene is Clean. I recorded this. Lewis Nash on drums. I guess I started hearing Lovano right around the time I moved to New York, like 1990, which is when he signed with Blue Note and started to be sort of an influence on younger saxophone players. It’s been interesting to see how he has been very influential on sort of the younger generation of saxophonists. There’s someone you can really look at who is very strong about what he wants to do, and he’s put in the work to be able to do it. He’s obviously thought about having an original kind of sound. He had his own approach to things, but totally grounded in history from early infancy, I guess. It’s been a good influence, I think, on younger musicians, because it is someone who is that grounded in the whole history of it. It’s been a positive thing. But I also think it’s interesting now to hear younger players trying to sound like him. As someone in that generation, he’d definitely be one person I don’t want to sound just like. Because he has a lot of influences that I have and I think that’s the way it is for all of the younger saxophonists. So in a way, I don’t end up listening to him all that much any more, because I don’t want to have that in my head too much. I want to have sort of a different thing. 4½ stars.
Well, I guess, that’s Joe Henderson. This is a Billy Strayhorn tune that I can’t remember the name of. Oops! Sorry. It’s a Mingus tune. I think it’s called Portrait. It’s Al Foster on drums, and I’m guessing Mraz on bass.
[AFTER] I have to give that five stars, too, just in terms of how big an influence he’s been on me. I don’t even know how to start. Sound, phrasing, his own language, his approach to rhythm. Hugely influential on me, and I’m not the only one. Just a master. And it was interesting for me to see him the first time. I remember seeing him probably a few years after this was recorded, and I was surprised at how soft he plays. He never seems to have to try and get beyond that. There’s something about people who play really quietly in… My own most personal experience would be similar to the way it feels to play with Jim Hall. It’s like you play that quietly, you bring people in. The fact that he seems so much like such a wise gnome — a short guy kind of hunched over — sort of brings people in, I think. That’s part of his mystique. Which is something beyond just playing the saxophone great, obviously. That’s something all these great musicians share, too. I was talking about Bird sounding just like a genius kid at play in the sandbox. Lovano has a whole different thing. He’s like BIG. He’s this big guy and he’s got this big presence With Joe-Hen it’s almost the opposite kind of thing, very soft, very quiet, and it makes everyone listen in. That’s something worthy of study, along with the way they use notes and that kind of thing, is the kind of vibe that these great musicians give out. It’s like they’re so themselves, and they never stop being themselves. 100 percent of the time you’re seeing exactly what they mean to express. Even if they mess up, it’s still them messing up.
Ralph Moore, sax; Benny Green, piano
Eric Alexander? This is sort of a tough one to figure, which I think is also related to that thing I was talking about earlier. It’s such a standard kind of thing. Which is sort of a criticism I have of it, too…
Ted: Well, it’s not the type of Bird tune that everybody plays.
Chris: No. There was something sort of conservative about it that I didn’t dig, but it was played really-really well. I really don’t know who it was. My next guess would be like Ralph Moore, just because of his sound. But I know his playing more in other contexts. And it could be Benny Green. It’s sort of hard to find grounds to criticize it in terms of what was actually played. It sounded great.
[AFTER] Oh, that’s Ray’s record! Well, then it’s no criticism at all of anyone really, because if anyone has the right to make that kind of record, it’s Ray Brown.
Ted: Why shouldn’t people stand in there with the… It’s an interesting question for a guy who started with Red Rodney. You’ve played a lot of this music. Why do you find it a little objectionable for people to make their own statement on it?
Chris: It’s not that I find it objectionable. It’s more that I’m not interested in hearing it myself. I’d much rather hear someone do something else. Just because it’s so hard to compete with how great those original records were. Unless you’re going to really do something in a different way, have a totally different concept… I mean it’s really enjoyable to listen to. There’s nothing I can object to except to say that I’d rather hear younger players do something else, even if it doesn’t work as well. Because that’s obviously going to work. But there’s something a bit safe about it that I don’t dig. 3½ stars.
Chris Cheek, tenor sax; Brian Blade, drums.
I definitely know this guy’s playing. I’ve played with him. Chris Cheek maybe. I’m not sure who everyone else is. But that was really nice. That was sort of a good thing to play after we were just done talking about I’d rather hear younger players do something else than just play tunes. That was a really good example, a well thought out compositional kind of thing which had a different kind of feel, and wasn’t just simply like swinging. Very, very nice. I know Chris’ sound so well from playing next to him with Paul Motian. I definitely learned a lot from him. He’s someone who I can obviously recognize. He definitely does things that I don’t hear other people do. He has his language which he seems… It seems like he’s not trying to do everything all the time. He’s just trying to do his thing, which is something I have a lot of respect for. And he obviously has a really strong command of the horn, too.
[AFTER] I really liked what Brian did on that. I was wondering if it was him. Because it was very, very nice. He really made the tune in a lot of ways, too, the whole feel of it, changing the textures up — really nice. 4½ stars.
(Sonny Meets Hawk!, RCA, 1963)
Sonny and Coleman Hawkins. That’s an immediate 5 stars. That’s a fascinating record from a psychological angle, too; what was going on in the studio, what… I do have a feeling Sonny was making sure he didn’t sound like Coleman Hawkins, and I’m also fairly sure that Coleman Hawkins was out for blood! [LAUGHS] It’s just amazing to hear that much personality in one record. That just jumps out at you. That’s some living music there. I recently rented a video of Sonny, and I noticed how unafraid he is when he’s playing. It seems to be an unbroken line. Like, he’s not planning his next move at all. It’s sort of interesting that he got so well known for being a thematic improviser, but it always seemed to me he’s one of the most instinctual improvisers that there ever was. He’s really in that moment, and it just works out to being a thematic kind of thing. That’s what he hears to play right at that moment. But that’s sort of how he’s able to keep your interest, is just because he’s on that line. He has no idea really what he’s going to play next. It sounds to me that he’s consciously trying to be out, in a way, on this record. Which could be seen as a criticism, but I actually dig it. It sounds right to me, especially in that context, as we were saying, of that psychological drama that unfolds. That makes perfect sense. It was a smart move. Because you’re not going to out-Coleman Hawkins Coleman Hawkins. He sounds great on that, too. It was sort of a good day for everyone.
Branford Marsalis – July, 2003 by Ted Panken
Moody, tenor saxophone; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Todd Cootman, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.
(piano intro) Thelonious Monk! No, the eighth notes are too even to be Monk. The bass player is using one of those irritating pickups, where you hear the bass sound, but not the instrument’s characteristics. The saxophone player is playing on the chord structures. It’s harmonically correct, but the solo has no shape. I prefer to play a solo that has an arc from beginning to end, on the structure of the chords, where it’s singable. He sets up a motif, and then goes elsewhere. Lew Tabackin? Clifford Jordan? But Clifford never really played that fast. Mulgrew Miller on piano for sure. The bass player walks lines like Peter Washington. Who is the saxophonist?
(after) I don’t remember Moody’s sound being that mellow. 5 stars.
Garland, soprano saxophone; Geoff Keezer, piano; Joe Locke, vibes.
That’s a thin sound. The higher up they go, the thinner it gets, a la Jan Garbarek. It’s a beautiful piece; I started thinking about Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. The chords are changing like crazy, but the melody line is almost more mathematical than melodic. But it’s a popular writing style. The saxophone could be Mark Turner, Chris Potter or Stefano Di Battista – a lot of cats play that way. Everybody’s playing great. Joe Locke is bad! 5 stars.
Coleman, alto saxophone; Shane Endstey, trumpet; David Gilmore, guitar; Anthony Tidd, electric bass; Sean Rickman, drums.
Steve Coleman, one of the great thinkers of jazz. I don’t always agree with his outcomes, but what I love about him is that we can have an earnest dialogue about the history of jazz, and it never gets into, “I’m trying to get my own thing, and not listen to those old cats.” He doesn’t intentionally disregard 60 years of history out of fear. His intellectual curiosity is fantastic. Steve changed his style. When he was doing M-Base, the band was always shifting. The bass lines and drams weren’t constant. Now it’s more like Afro-Cuban, moreso even African, or even Sumatran. I didn’t buy into the whole M-Base thing. Most of the musicians didn’t have the same historical expertise as Steve, and their records don’t withstand the test of time. They seemed to go the path of less homework rather than more. Steve’s never gone the path of less homework, and his music withstands the test. 5 stars
Jerry Bergonzi, tenor saxophone; Michelin, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Steve Langone, drums; Sergio Faluotico, percussion.
A great piece. The entire compositional structure is Wayne Shorter-like, even to the point where he drops off when he hits the low note. But then the solo is real Coltrane-esque. Even when he hits the upper register notes, he growls and makes them lighter the way Coltrane used to. Who is this?
(after) Bergonzi sure did change up his stuff. He has such a fat sound. 5 stars. I don’t know the composer, but I want to check out this record.
Braden, tenor saxophone; Christian McBride, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums.
The saxophone player went with a theme and sat on it through the chord changes. It’s good to hear Sonny Rollins get his due. But I have no idea who he is. The drummer is either Tain or somebody biting off Tain. It’s Tain. The bass player isn’t [Eric] Revis, because he doesn’t play like that. Christian McBride. Nobody else can play that. This is technical prowess. But it’s like having a center who can run a 40 in 4.2 seconds. It’s good, but ultimately his job is to sit in the trenches.
(after) Don’s changed his playing a lot. If you put on one of his early records or the stuff he did with Wynton, he sounds nothing like that. 5 stars.
Lovano, tenor saxophone; Byron Olson, conductor.
They had such a beautiful thing going, and then they mined it with that waltz. Is Gil Goldstein the arranger? It’s Lovano. One of my favorites. I prefer less notes on ballads. Joe is always doubling. 5 stars.
Stitt, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Jones, piano; Roy Haynes, drums.
He’s got the Gene Ammons and the Charlie Parker, which equals Sonny Stitt. Go ahead, Sonny! The vibrato was like that Chicago blues swinging funky-gritty thing, and there’s that Kansas City kickin’ jump blues feeling. My dad played with Sonny in 1975, when I was 15. I was a Louisiana boy, respectful of my elders. He said, “Come here! Let me hear you play. Oh, that’s all right. You’re working on the shit.” I said, “Well, you know what that shit is, Mr. Stitt.” He goes, “No, son. I can curse. You can’t.” I went, “Yes, sir.” Wynton was teasing me: “Trying to be one of the big boys, huh?”
+++++I love this. It’s an amalgam, it’s all one thing, and it eventually codifies into a personality. But you never escape your influences. Unless you make sure you don’t have any, then you don’t have to worry. 5 stars.
Blake, tenor saxophone; Dave Kikoski, piano; Ed Howard, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.
Whoever it is, is talking. This is beautiful. I love restraint. I don’t know the tune. Is it a jazz composer? They’re playing it great, too. Oh, giveaway. Seamus Blake. He’s a bad cat. But I’m not a fan of that echo. That’s how I knew it was him. As soon as that started, it lost its timeless quality. It throws me in another place. It’s all ear candy when you do effects. Band sounds great. The digital delay gets a one star deduction. 4 stars.
Parker, tenor saxophone; John Edwards, bass; Mark Sanders, drums.
Sometimes playing out has a purpose, and sometimes it’s just playing out. To me, this is just playing out. The saxophone player has all this technique at his disposal. It’s formidable. It took a lot of practice to get together. But versus someone like David Ware, who is definitely influenced by what his band does, this band meanders. It seems like they’re not playing what he’s playing, and he’s not playing what they’re playing. They don’t build as a group. The volume gets louder, but the intensity doesn’t change. You know the Coltrane record, the Olatunji Sessions? It hits you immediately. This doesn’t do that for me.
Jeff Watts – 2004 by Ted Panken
Valdes, piano, composer; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, congas; Lazaro Rivero Alarcón, bass; Ramses Rodriguez Baralt, trap drums.
That’s like some quasi-progressive, Latin-based… I guess a lot of stuff that I began to become aware of maybe in the early ‘90s, people utilizing odd time signatures but still retaining clave structure. It comes into some of my writing, some arrangements I do, and of course, on “The Impaler.” It’s stuff I got from talking with various, mostly Cuban musicians, and also stuff that Danilo Perez started to experiment with, maybe in conjunction with but maybe as a reaction to stuff that was going on in Cuba. It’s a logical progression. If you have Latin jazz musicians listening to early jazz… It’s mostly a combination of fusion and what happened with jazz in New York in the ‘80s, stuff that we were experimenting with in Wynton’s group, and also Steve take on permutations of structure and time. So it’s a natural progression with Latin jazz musicians to try to use this to get to something else or whatever. Sometimes it really works and it feels natural; sometimes it can be kind of gimmicky. But I think that the end result of this experimentation will be down the road, probably in the next five or ten years.
+++++But this particular one? It was cool. There’s kind of a problem that exists with…well, even in a lot of jazz tunes. Not enough of the material that’s used for the exposition is actually improvised on. And it’s cool. It’s not etched in stone. Something can be an introduction to something, to take you into a vibe, and then cats can solo on whatever material they choose. I kind of prefer when it actually uses some of the material that’s in the exposition. But it’s fine. I really don’t know who it is, though. Pianistically, it didn’t sound strong enough to be someone like Chucho, but then again, it could be. And I’m not familiar enough with his writing to say that it’s him. It’s definitely not Danilo. It didn’t strike me as being someone like Ed Simon or even Luis Perdomo. Those are the obvious culprits that come to mind. I’m not really sure who it is. It was just coming from a whole lot of places. Then there’s the little swinging kind of section on one chord that comes in, and it’s just kind of there… I’d be interested to know if this is part of a suite or if it’s just a straight-out composition.
+++++The drums were fine. It’s not someone like El Negro, and I don’t think it’s Robbie Ameen, and I’m very sure that it’s not Dafnis. There’s like a couple of different schools of this type of drumming that are around. Those guys I just mentioned, even though they have very different styles, were they want the drumset to come from is more folkloric, as opposed to… From the sound and instrument choices, this feels like someone reinterpreting, for an example, I’ll say Dave Weckl’s contribution to that style or whatever. It’s more of a fusiony style, more somehow American-sounding than folkloric sounding, just from the choices of drums and cymbals and the way that they played. Do I have to give this stars? [LAUGHS] Unfortunately, 2 stars compositionally and 3 for the performance. So 2-1/2 stars.
[AFTER] It was Chucho?!!? Sorry, bro. It’s from his last record? I’ll pick it up. I know there’s some stuff on there somewhere.
Harrison, as, comp.; Ron Carter, b; Billy Cobham, d.
Kind of a little poem. The alto was the antithesis of a Kenny Garrett or someone like that. It’s kind of a folky and open vocal sound kind of thing. The approach reminds me of Miguel Zenon or someone like Myron Walden, but I don’t really think it’s either of them, and I can’t venture a guess on who it is. The drums? There’s more than a handful of guys now who are coming out of a Jack DeJohnette type of thing or whatever. When I hear that sound, I kind of grade it on a different scale. I look at it creatively as opposed to looking for a serious swinging thing. And I can safely say that this was not swinging at all, so I have to throw that out immediately. But it’s cool. Because a lot of stuff that I really, really enjoy by Keith Jarrett is not swinging in the traditional sense. So it doesn’t necessarily not mean a thing! Imagine playing that for Lou Donaldson!!! But anyway, it’s cool. It’s not my flavor. I probably would have played it like a little groovier or put some kind of thing on it. It kind of floats around, and then it starts walking. It never gets to a real THING, which is cool. It could be something from Europe that I haven’t heard, from the ‘70s or something like that, or it could be something from almost anywhere now that I haven’t heard. But it’s loose and open, and sound-wise and melody-wise it felt like it was trying to come from a folky kind of place—an earthy place. But whenever it was time for the drums to do something besides kind of swing, like to actually play some stuff, it felt like he was just trying to see what he could fit into that space as opposed to trying to speak or groove or whatever. But it’s cool. Should I try to be generous? I should be honest. 2-1/2 stars.
[AFTER] Oh, Billy!!! No!!! No!!!! I didn’t say anything bad about Ron Carter. Donald Harrison? Are you serious? I’m glad you didn’t tell me before, because it would have influenced me, because I would have been merciful to Billy in some capacity. That just wasn’t it, man. And everybody knows he can do it. If he keeps doing this for a couple of years, it will be a whole nother thing. I love him so much. He’s so important to me, man. I can’t kiss his ass enough. But damn, Bill! He’s trying to do his thing, man. It’s cool.
Baby Dodds, solo drums.
Nice press roll. Felt pretty good. The character of it sounds like some early jazz stuff. My first thought was of somebody like a Baby Dodds vibe. I don’t think it’s Big Sid. Chick Webb came to mind, but it didn’t seem virtuosic enough for him. He feels a little more aggressive than that. It sounds like an older drummer, but something about the kit sounded like it was maybe something later in their career, because it sounded like there were at least three tom-toms. That’s about it. It was cute. It could easily be somebody I love, but it sounds like it’s later in their career or something like that. Or it could be Cyrille or someone like that, who is more associated with the avant-garde, kind of messing around with an older style. 3-1/2 stars.
[AFTER] Oh, my first thought. Get down, Tainish!! Go ahead!! What year is it? So it’s late in his career. I’m BAD, man!!
Harris, vibraphone; Marc Cary, keyboard; Casey Benjamin, as; Anne Drummond, fl.; Darryl Hall, bass; Terreon Gully, d; Pedro Martinez, percussion.
Lovely. Oh, yes, indeed, a very fine selection. I’m not really sure who it is. The Rhodes kind of puts it in a time space, but then as I listened to the drum sound, with the thicker hi-hats and higher snare, it put it later—like at least late ‘80s to today. The presence of the mallet instrument, the vibes or marimba or whatever, put me in mind of the Caribbean Jazz Project, but it doesn’t have to be that. At first the alto put me…it didn’t put me anywhere. It sounded like a few guys. But when he went to the altisimmo, then it put me in mind of Paquito, obviously. The tune is cool. It’s kind of good for summer festival listening, have a couple of rum drinks and walk around and look at some bikinis and stuff like that. It serves its function. The tune is cool. It’s fine. It’s not trying to be ground-breaking. It’s just an excuse to have a good time. The arrangement was cool. It was pretty much all in clave. And I have no idea who it is. There’s a lot of other Latin Jazz I would purchase first, but it’s fine. But maybe it’s the drummer’s thing. Then I would look at it differently. It’s not? Well, it could be Mark Walker or someone like that. That’s who I thought of.
Ted: You thought it was a Latin band.
Jeff: Didn’t have to be. They had a couple of breaks that… I mean, I know them, so they can’t be that deeply folkloric! But it’s cool. A very hefty 3 stars.
[AFTER] That’s Blackout? Really? Well, with those guys, that’s not bad. I’m sure there’s some funky stuff on the record and other stuff. Pedro Martinez sounded good, and for that to be Terreon, that’s really cool. He just called me right before you came. He’s up the street having some soul food. It was well done, and over the scope of the whole record and what Stefon is trying to do, it’s fine. Terreon took a lesson from me when he was in high school, and his attitude was really cool. He’s staying really open, and he functions pretty decently in a number of contexts. I guess his real strength right now is he can really play some up-to-the-minute hip-hop and funk and stuff like that. He checks out what people program, and also a lot of R&B, so he’s up on some Timbaland and stuff like that, trying to get that effect and those sounds on the drums. So this level of Latin drumming from him, that’s pretty good.
Chestnut, p; Christian McBride, b; Lewis Nash, d.
That was cool. I’m a lot more liberal than in the past. Everybody has to do what they have to do to get to what they’re tryin’a do! Piano trio. Tasty. People that can all play. It was tight. I don’t know what to think about it. There’s something about that that’s cool. It was trying to have that standard of whatever it is that the piano trio has, that sound or whatever. It’s almost like it was trying to break through its traditional gloss and be a little bit modern at the same time. It didn’t really work like that, but I could feel it kind of trying to break out of those confines. Cool tune. Snappy. Peppy. I have no idea who the pianist is. But he sounded good. The bass player sounded good. The drummer’s like a younger person, but somebody that’s heard Philly Joe, knows about that, and has good hands. For some reason, I don’t think… It’s not Lewis Nash. Greg Hutchinson came immediately to mind for some reason. He came to mind, and with some of the stuff that was happening on the cymbals, I thought about Winard Harper, and at the beginning, before I heard the sound of the cymbals and the cymbal beat, I thought of Billy Drummond for just a second, but I don’t think it’s him. I dug the solo more than the actual stuff in the rhythm section. They were playing beboppy things, but once in a while, some of the independence would indicate someone has heard some stuff that’s more modern. But then at the same time, it had a skippy kind of cymbal beat, swinging, but it’s not completely laying it down at that tempo. But I’m sure it’s somebody I really like. I’m stuck in that 3 star zone. It’s cool.
[AFTER] Wow! Nash. Okay. I guess I haven’t listened to Lewis in a long time. I thought it was him, but then I felt like it wasn’t. I knew it was somebody who good, though, professional and cool. There’s kind of a bouncy thing that drummers play whenever the tempo gets reasonably fast, and the challenge of it is to have… Even though you’re skipping in between the primary notes, the challenge is to have that quarter note really laying with the bass and stuff like that. And it didn’t seem like it was quite doing that. The grace notes were bounced out as opposed to being articulated. It makes you have to lean on the bass a little bit. I just didn’t associate that with Lewis. Well done. That makes me see the tune in a different way. It’s a good blowing tune, but the melody is actually almost like some funk or something like that. I guess you could put it in the hardbop zone.
Early ‘50s? I don’t know what it is! The tenor player could be Coleman Hawkins. But I have glaring holes in my knowledge of early jazz. The drummer was great. He’s easily one of the great ones, whoever he is. When this vibe is on… Papa Jo comes to mind, even though a lot of the stuff I have him in, he’s already moved on to the ride cymbal as opposed to the hi-hat, so I don’t have enough examples of him wearing that thing out. But the touch and the wit reminded me of him. It could be some old guy from New Orleans that I haven’t really checked out. But it felt like that. The tune is fine. Just some real swingin’, swingin’ stuff, man. The cats are completely in control. The tune is cool. It could be a riff written on another tune. But that’s what it’s about. That shit was swingin’. I’m sure some people had fun dancing to it, too. The level is pretty obvious. I don’t want to be like because this is some old, bad shit, I’m going to give it 5 stars, but I know it’s on a certain level, so I’m just going to do it.
[AFTER] That’s Big Sid?!! Damn. Well, I said somebody from New Orleans. He’s from Chicago!? Well, you got me. It’s somebody bad. Somebody playing the drums. Big Sid. Ben Webster!? Oh, man, I’m all jacked up. I’m all messed up. I have a good record with these things. I don’t like this. It’s fair game, though. The only recording I have with Big Sid is Pops’ Symphony Hall. I guess I’ve heard too much of Ben Webster playing ballads and not enough of him just all-out swinging. You got me. It’s cool.
Cyrille, d; Marty Ehrlich, as; Mark Dresser, b.
Ah, tricky-tricky! I thought it was good! I thought that was kind of cool. Everybody sounded good, I thought. The obvious thing when you hear an alto and the piano isn’t there, you think of an Ornette vibe. But it had that vibe, in a more tonal kind of way. I liked everybody on there, and I thought the song was cool. It feels like it comes out of the Ornette kind of conception, but it’s more contemporary. But it had that sound. I liked the drummer. He was tasty and light and cool. He was playing some simple stuff that was cool. It reminded me of Higgins, in a way. It almost sounded like it could be him, but later. But something tells me it’s not. I don’t know who it is. 3-1/2 is not terrible, right? It was pretty good. A nice 3-1/2.
[AFTER] Really? Wow, that’s cool. They had a nice vibe on it. The composition was cool. It was cool.
Ameen & Hernandez, drums; Jerry Gonzalez, tp; Takuma Watanabe, arrangement, string direction; Hiroyuki Kolke String Quartet.
That was kind of fresh. The rhythm was interesting. Sounds like two drumsets playing together. The strings were kind of hip. It had an experimental quality to it. It would actually be nice in a film. I don’t know what kind of scene. But there’s a lot of activity. It’s pretty obviously Jerry Gonzalez! [LAUGHS] My teacher, who I love so much. It’s great. It’s finding more vehicles for expession, and it’s cool. Of course, he’s a master conguero and bandleader. But he has a distinctive trumpet tone and style. I’m not sure if this is his record or not, though. I haven’t heard how deep he’s gotten with his flamenco thing. But they were trying to do something. I liked it. There was a lot of stuff going on, but it wasn’t random, and it had a vibe. The two drumsets give it a looseness but also a steadines. I’ll give it 4 stars.
[AFTER] Is it like “Deep Rumba”? Oh, it’s their record. I like those things Kip Hanrahan does with Robbie and Negro. I have a few of those “Deep Rumba” things. Nice piece of music.
Wow. That was very cool. Some more tasty, Latin-based music. He had a lot of stuff going on. I don’t know what to think about that. At the beginning, the horn had an alto type of flavor, but then as the solo went on, it sounded more like a tenor, and just the way he was playing reminded me, for some reason, of Joe Lovano, but I don’t think it was him. Somehow it could be David or someone like that. It sounds like this branch of that music. The drummer definitely reminded me of Antonio Sanchez, for some reason, in the choices that he makes. For that music, these days, he’s kind of like the Tony Williams of that school. He tends to play drums a bit more open-sounding, cymbals that are less dry, and he tries to control their attack with the stick pressure. I liked the stuff at the beginning, with the kalimba and things like that for texture. It was a really good performance, so 4 stars.
[AFTER] Really! Wow, that’s Ballard! There you go. They made some music, it’s cool.
Roberts, p; Thaddeus Exposé, b; Jason Marsalis, Leon Anderson, d.
Stumped once more. Not a clue. But it’s one of those things that’s in two places at the same time. The sound in most of the playing feels like an older guy, who’s pretty proficient on the piano, but the structure of it is kind of different from a time standpoint. It’s like they’respending 12 beats on each chord, which gives it a different feeling. It still has a nice feel to it. The drummer for the most part is functioning like a percussionist, just giving it little accents. He doesn’t really lay down very much functional time until right before the end. But it sounds like some kind of early experimental group. Sounds like early ‘60s, in a way. They were trying to mess around with some stuff. It’s an older vibe with a little twist on it. I enjoyed it. 3-1/2 stars. Who the hell is that?
Vallé, p, comp; Omar Rodriguez-Calvo, b; Liber Torriente
It’s a Latin fiesta here. The writing is kind of modern and cool. The playing is loose. It’s in clave, but it’s kind of loose, like a jazz kind of texture on it. Some of what the piano player is playing reminds me of Danilo, but for some reason I don’t feel it’s him. But the architecture of his solo reminds me of him. I don’t know who anybody is. But I liked it, and I’ll give it my hefty 3-1/2 star rating.
[AFTER] More of them damn Cubans! He sounds like he’s listened to Danilo. Sounds like he checked him out, definitely.
Corea, p, comp; Michael Brecker, ts; Eddie Gomez, b; Steve Gadd, d.
It’s a live recording. Pretty obviously Michael Brecker or someone who loves him deeply. So Mike is there. At first it sounded like a piano improvisation, then everything came in. There were some harmonies that were extracted from Monk, but then it went to a few different places. Other than that, the bass solo was somebody. I couldn’t really place them. At first, I thought it was Patitucci or someone like that, but as it went on… I have no idea who this could be. The only thing I could think of was perhaps a live version of Charlie Haden’s group or someone like that.
Ted: Any idea who the piano player is?
Jeff: No, I don’t. I really have no idea. The drummer sounds like somebody I know and probably like, but as soon as they started swinging, he was playing kind of an open hi-hat on all four beats, and at that tempo, that’s kind of strange. So I’m thinking it’s a younger guy trying to do something to make it different. They were going for it, but something about it makes me want… Michael took a nice solo. The piano player can play. 3-1/2 stars.
[AFTER] I should know that. And that did come to mind. That’s well within Gadd’s style. But it didn’t sound like Chick to me. Cool.
Douglas, tp., comp.; Bill Frisell, g; Chris Potter, ts; Uri Caine, keyboards; James Genus, b; Clarence Penn, d.
The drums were cool. The drums were right in between kind of playing some fusiony rock influenced stuff, but kind of loose. It was never really like locked-in. But I think that’s the effect they were going for. Easily some Miles “Bitches Brew” influenced stuff. Obviously not Miles. The guitar reminded me of Scofield for a second. The tenor player reminded me of someone like Chris Potter, so my off the top of my head guess would be some Dave Douglas type stuff. But I’m not really sure. It could be a lot of people. I don’t have Dave’s records where he experiments with that; I’ve just been reading stuff about that direction being there in one of his many bands. I couldn’t guess as far as the drummer’s identity. It was kind of splashy and loose, and kind of in a groove—not really in a serious, serious groove. 3 stars.
[AFTER] Clarence Penn. That would match my guess. The thing about the drums that made it contemporary, something as simple as hearing a splash cymbal. Clarence is cool. He usually plays the appropriate thing. He can be creative, but then he can play out of bags and stuff like that, and that’s cool. But the bass definitely sounded like James to me. It had that air, that little excitement that was around that period of Miles. It got that color.
Silver, p., comp; Woody Shaw, tp; Joe Henderson, ts; Bob Cranshaw, b; Roger Humphries, d.
Thanks for the gift. That’s got to be Horace Silver with Joe Henderson, and I guess that’s Woody Shaw, and I’d think you’d give me some Roger Humphries. Something about the crispness and the different style of placed me in that direction. I only have Song For My Father, and I’m not sure if this is on that or Cape Verdean Blues or whatever else Roger recorded with him.it was good for me to grow up seeing somebody like Roger Humphries. At the time I grew up, there was a big separation between this mythological world of jazz musicians and what was actually going on at the time. Because a lot of people didn’t come through Pittsburgh then. Prior to my moving to Boston, Roger was the prime evidence of there being virtuosos in the world who played the music. Actually, right after I first found out who Bird was and who Trane was and started to listen to that stuff, my pianist, David Budway, told me, “Well, if you want to learn to play this stuff, there’s a guy who lives on the North Side who will take you as a student.” It was Roger Humphries. His number was in the phone book, and I called him, and I went to his house. Mostly we just talked, and he showed me a few things, and I’d practice and he’d be across the room shooting pool with his friends. Then I’d go to his gigs and watch him. He chose to be in Pittsburgh and deal with his family, and yet still, I can say that there’s no one substantially greater on the drums today. Roy Haynes sounds better than ever in his seventies, and Elvin Jones the same way, but there’s not a significant difference between them and Roger Humphries. He makes me proud to be from Pittsburgh and all that stuff. He’s a beautiful person. Very much involved in education today, making sure that people understand the essence of what the music is about and that they have a good time with it. He gives them a good reason to love it. I gave Sid Catlett 5 stars, right? I’ll give this 5 stars, just because!
You got me, bro. You got me a couple of times. That’s all right. I’ll be ready next time.
Dave Liebman – by Bill Milkowski in JazzTimes
Weiskopf, tenor sax, composer, arranger; Rec. 1995.
Yeah, beautiful chart. Great writing. I have no idea who it is but it’s beautiful writing and a great saxophone player.
AFTER: Oh, it’s Walt! I know Walt. He sounded great soloing. I liked the piece…kind of big band-y, but not. Of course, saxophone heavy, obviously. Nice flow in the writing, melodically switching between the instruments seamlessly. I really liked the ensemble writing in the beginning. I thought the chart went on a little long and maybe you didn’t need all those solos, but that’s just a matter of taste. On a live gig, yes, but for a record I would’ve shortened it up a little bit. Because the writing was the best thing about it, and his playing. His soloing was great. Walt is a well educated musician who knows what he’s doing and you can hear that in his playing. Also his sound very unique. It cuts through, which is very good for this kind of situation because you can really hear it over the section. I enjoyed it very much.
Griffin, tenor sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Lee Morgan, trumpet; Art Blakey, drums. Recorded 1957.
Now, did Trane make a record with a couple horns? I’m not sure if it’s Paul Quinichette, maybe Mobley. Anyway, for sure, Trane is the second sololist here. First cat sounds like Johnny Griffin but the vibrato is a little heavier than normal. But the way he played was definitely coming out of that Lockjaw-Griffin school of burning, tongued-every-note, amazing technical, arpeggiated, killing tenor playing. Very straight ahead note-wise, just right on the chords and very diatonic in that respect, with really great saxophone playing. A little over the top for my tastes as far as aesthetic goes but nonetheless still great playing. And then Trane…it’s just so magical. He does everything here — the killing chops thing plus he does melody plus he hangs on the beat…so behind the beat for such a long period that you’re on the edge all the time, which is part of the thing of playing this music. I mean, when you’re going to play time, to me, if you’re not fooling around with the placement of the beat, you’re losing something that you could gain which is the mystery of where the guy is hanging on the beat. And that’s specially effective with a drummer who is playing in that straight ahead style like this guy. Is it A.T. (Art Taylor)? Trane is really playing great on this. He does a long eighth note thing. The trumpet player I don’t know, nothing special to me. And the last cat sounded like Hank Mobley with a little brighter sound and something a little different…but it does have a lot of Hank in it. Great melodies and very smooth, very creative within the harmony. That’s one of Hank’s great trademarks. I think he was one of the most sophisticated players.
AFTER: There’s another one with Paul Quinichette and Gene Ammons that Trane is on (Groove Blues, Prestige, 1958). At first I thought this could’ve been that.
+++++Well, that didn’t strike me as Lee (Morgan) for some reason. But Trane is obvious here. He was the voice then. What year would this have been? I mean, he’s so sheets-of-sounded out there. This is around the time of Blue Train and this is just when he’s starting to get that aspect of his playing together. He’s really starting to tighten his shit up from ‘55-56, when he was playing with Miles. Now, by ‘57, he’s getting his shit together bigtime. And the sound and the vibe and his choice of melody versus speed was, I think, a very big innovation at that time. What he created harmonically and yet lyrically in the course of a solo was…I mean, outside Sonny (Rollins) who did it in a different way…was really unheard of. And you can hear it on this solo. It’s fantastic. This tune being an old warhorse, it’s a great thing to hear. I mean, what do you do after Johnny plays like that…the cat devastates the horn and tongues every note…you can only do your thing and just imply more than state. And Trane is great at that. Hank too. Hank sounded fantastic here. Nice record. Three very distinctive voices on the tenor sax. I have to remember this in light of what we’re doing with Mike and Joe. This is very much in that respect…three different voices converging on the same tune.
Getz, Sims, Cohn, Eager, Moore, tenor saxes; Walter Bishop, piano; Gene Ramey, bass; Charlie Perry, drums. Recorded 1948.
Well, that was very different in a lot of ways. First of all, I couldn’t tell you the difference between who was playing. I don’t even know if it was three guys or four guys. There was such a similarity of approach and sound, such a sameness about it that I couldn’t tell who was who. It’s so Pres-ed out. I’m sure these guys, whoever they are, would just kiss the feet of Lester Young. It’s so influenced by him in every way — all their sounds have that veiled almost misty quality, like a blanket put over the tenor sound. It’s a beautiful sound in that respect and they all articulate similarly, which is not a very hard articulation, it’s very legato. And most of all their rhythm and choice of notes is so diatonic and lyrical, meaning melody above all. And their choice of pitches are the same…all the good, pretty notes. Not too many passing tones, which is very different from what we heard before. Right there is the summary of what Lester Young’s contribution to jazz was. Maybe that’s the sax section with Woody Herman, I don’t know. It’s one of those put together things…I could not tell you who they were but they all had a very similar approach for sure.
AFTER: It’s those guys! It’s the section. I wouldn’t know who was who but it’s all those cats, definitely, at that time period. I mean, this is like them absorbing the influence of their main guy, and you can really hear it. And one other thing, when you figure that it’s 1949…to have Bird and to have Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano doing Intuition, and then to have these cats…you got three major approaches to the saxophone right there. And this was a great example of that Lester Young tradition. I mean, I was never attracted to this personally as far as my own feeling goes but I have a lot of respect for it and these guys really hit the nail on the head for a certain way of playing, no question about it.
Motian, drums; Bill Frisell, guitar; Joe Lovano, tenor sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Lee Konitz, soprano sax. Recorded 1991.
I’ll betcha it’s Frisell, and it sounds like Joe (Lovano) on tenor. And that means that it’s Paul (Motian) on drums. It’s that group Paul has. Soprano? I don’t know who the hell that is. It’s nice, real nice. He’s got a different sound. The thing that’s interesting about this in light of what we heard…We heard the blowing session with Johnny Griffin, who is coming out of, in a sense, Coleman Hawkins. Then we heard the white brothers playing Pres. And now this approach here, in a certain way, is almost coming out of that Pres thing too. Of course, Joe is a little more sophisticated than the soprano player harmonically, but it’s still coming out of that melody thing and playing very close to the melody, Frisell stays very close to the melody…didn’t play much. In that way, it’s very convincing. I mean, that’s a beautiful tune. There’s nothing you have to do on a tune like that. Just play the damn tune and that’ll take care of itself. But Joe sounds beautiful on it. That’s what Joe does so well.
AFTER: That’s Lee? I’m very impressed. I thought they had done a record together. Lee sounds beautiful on it. You would never really think it was Lee because it doesn’t sound like his alto playing, approach-wise. I gotta tell him when I see him, I was very impressed. It’s great to hear. What a great voice. I never heard him play soprano before. When a cat picks up a horn that he doesn’t play that much it’s very interesting to hear. It’d be like me playing alto. You know, because it’s something you don’t really do and the question is, what would you do on it? Is it an extension of your voice? Is it something completely different? In this case, boy, that sounds different than I would ever associate with Lee. And it’s beautiful playing, really gorgeous.
Marsalis, soprano sax; Kenny Kirkland, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums. Recorded 1998.
Well, this is one of those cases of dressed up and no place to go. Lot of smoke, no fire. What do they do after this, these cats? The soprano player’s got a lot of chops. Everybody’s got a lot to say, they have one arc, which is start here and go there. Day and night shapes. It’s the way we used to play in the late ‘60s. That was the thing, you had life and death, black and white, calm and crazy, air and then dense…extremes in one tune. But what would they do after this or before this? That would depend on the record maybe. The other thing is, this is what I call triadic Appalachian madrigal English folk song…sort of Ornette-ish but not as catchy in a way. In other words, triadic, churchy, harmonically not really too much to do so you fill it with other stuff, which they do very well in that respect. But there’s not much to go on. Long, long head, very extended and then they don’t really play anything from the head. Playing like this is hard in a way because there’s not much to go on. You gotta be very artistic to make a statement that holds water on repeated listening. Now, in a little club or something like this we’d be very happy hearing this. We’d have a nice night, we’d have a beer, we’d feel good and it would be fine. But on a record for it to hold up it has to have a little bit more of a shape, I think…again, depending what else is on the record. But the soprano player is chopped out…some serious technique. I mean, way over the top. He doesn’t need that much to play what he’s playing here, but he sounds very good. I have no idea who it is. Could be anybody. Could be European cats but it’s almost a little too slick for that.
AFTER: That’s Branford? I would never think that was Branford. His chops sound very good but I don’t identify him with playing like this in general. Maybe that’s the reason it’s done in such extreme swaths. In other words, it’s not too subtle a message. Again, it depends on what else is on the record. There’s always room for a track like this. But would they play like this all the time, is this the way they play or is this their one-time shot at playing in this style? Because guys who play in this style usually have some mid-range stuff, which this didn’t have. But his technique is flawless, that’s for sure.
Thompson, soprano sax; Martial Solal, piano; Peter Trunk, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. Recorded 1961.
The soprano’s rough to keep in tune, man. That’s for sure. You know, you’re putting a lot of air in a small space, the mouthpiece is small, every move is critical…a move of an inch is a yard. It’s like the oboe, in a way. When you’re putting that much airstream into that small neck before it gets out of that botttom, everything’s critical. That’s why soprano is so difficult. So you really gotta watch your high notes, no question about it. This guy is slightly out of pitch, but it’s OK. It’s not that bad. He sounds like a guy who plays soprano as a doubler. In other words, Lee (Konitz) had a different voice on the soprano. He didn’t play it like he plays alto. This guy is playing it like he could be playing tenor or alto. Just conceptually he plays those kind of lines, which is fine. I’m not putting a judgment on it. Nothing remarkable about this. Nice interesting tune for this kind of bebop style. It sounds a little more interesting than usual.
AFTER: Oh yeah? See, Lucky was one of the first ones to play soprano. He’s right up there with Lacy, although he didn’t make a big thing out of it that we would know him for that. But Lucky is one of the cats who played soprano and brought it out early on. I wouldn’t be that familiar with him to say that that was Lucky Thompson but it sounded like a cat who was playing soprano as a tenor player, which would’ve been the way in those days. Steve (Lacy) is another story because he played clarinet and he played Dixieland, so he had a voice right away on the soprano. But both Trane and Wayne, you really gotta give it to them for ascerting that this is not just a double instrument, it’s another instrument so therefore another voice and therefore another way of playing. And that was really remarkable in that day and age not to have it just be a duplication of your style on another instrument. That was rare, at that point, in the early ‘60s. Now, of course, you’re expected to do that. But in those days, that was remarkable. Especially Trane. I mean, in ‘61…that’s Trane already.
David Murray, tenor sax, arranger; Oliver Lake, alto sax; Julius Hemphill, alto sax; Hamiet Bluiett, baritone sax. Recorded 1988.
I mean, this band made a contribution, no question about it because who would put a saxophone quartet together like that? I mean, white guys wouldn’t do that, they would get it perfect. These guys have a nice attitude towards it, it’s churchy and stuff…I can go with that. But the performance was just not together. I don’t know if you don’t have enough time to do other takes or not, but the downbeats aren’t together here. Maybe there’s a calculatedness to it that they like. I never really go for this kind of stuff in general because I think it’s a little too obvious what you’re trying to do, voicing-wise and everything. It’s one of those older pop tunes, a nice tune. So in that way the voicings fit for what they’re doing. But there’s just a certain thing that I just look for when I hear somebody play, and it’s beyond style because it doesn’t matter if it’s inside, outside or whatever. It’s a certain amount of control over what you’re doing. And control means…again, notwithstanding stylistic differences, I mean, but if you’re going to play a flurry of notes and you’re going to play up and down and stuff like that, there’s a certain amount of cleanness on the beginning and end of a phrase that, to me, should be apparent somewhere. If it’s not for too long then I start to be a little bit disappointed in the performance. If this was a student I would stop the tape and say, “Where was your beginning, where’s you end, where’s your articulation? Maybe I’m not following your thought. Could you show me where the thought ends and begins? Maybe it’s beyond my hearing, I’ll admit that. But let’s go there and put a frame around it, because everything needs a frame in music.” I mean, you need some kind of frame. It could be long, long breaths and long frames, but you need a frame. This kind of playing sometimes to me feels like he’s turning the engine on and just going full-throttle without a pause. And there’s a place for that and certainly there’s people who love that and respond to that because of the energy level. But I’m not sure how much artisticness there is in it. And to me, after a while, it just gets to sound the same. That’s the way I hear it.
AFTER: Those cats, as much as I like some of them individually sometimes they seem to go there a lot, to me. We played opposite them once and I felt the same way. So that’s my feeling about that. But look, they made a big splash because they did things that other cats wouldn’t have done in a saxophone quartet, because usually it comes out of the classical tradition — it’s very clean, it’s very clear. When I do saxophone quartets it’s accurate and all that stuff. And this is like saying, “OK, let’s go.” On that level I can dig it.
Well, if that’s not Elvin it’s somebody who sure sounds like him. It’s very nice because Elvin’s not playing eight bar cycles, it’s a very open Elvin. This reminds me of the Puttin’ It Together record (Blue Note, 1968) with Joe Farrell, but that’s not Joe, I think. But it reminds me of the original trio when Elvin left Trane that preceeded my time with him. A lot of Joe Farrell influence there, a lot of pattern-type playing. Good soprano playing. I wish he would leave a little more space, especially when you’ve got Elvin. Is that Dave Holland? If you got that under you…especially a guy like Dave who is smart and knows what to do and when to do it…if you leave more space I think you’re gonna get a better effect on your solo. Maybe that’s the moment. It’s hard to hold back sometimes. Is that Joe Lovano on soprano?
AFTER: I’ve heard Joe play soprano but he’s got a lot of Joe Farrell in his playing on this. I’ll have to tell him that when I see him. What’s nice about it is he’s floating through it, keeping the thing going and they’re just circling around without any bar. The other record that’s really great for that is New York Is Now and Love Call. Those two records with Ornette, man…to me, that’s the top of the line for Ornette, along with the Golden Circle Stockholm recordings (with drummer Charles Moffett and bassist David Izenzon, Blue Note, 1965). The way that Ornette plays causes Jimmy and Elvin to circle around. The other Elvin record like that is On the Mountain (PM Records, 1975) with Jan Hammer and Gene Perla. If you got Elvin in the right situation, he didn’t have to mark off eight-bar forms, he could roll through it like no one else could, which would create an undercurrent for you to play over. And this track gets him to do that nicely. I enjoyed that man. It’s great to hear Elvin. Of course, when you give him a riff at the end and let him just go with something like that and just let it happen…that’s what he could do like no one else. That’s his thing, that’s where he comes from. And it was also nice to hear Elvin playing so softly behind Dave’s solo. He’s the greatest example of controlling dynamics from top to bottom that I’ve ever known. That’s one of Elvin’s great contributions, dynamic range.
Lacy, soprano sax; Jean-Jacques Avenel, bass; John Betsch, drums. Recorded in 1997.
Yeah, Elvin and Lacy…the dearly departed. It’s been a bad month, man. Lacy’s contribution will live on forever. I never really directly copped anything from him for myself, musically, except just his honesty and straightforwardness. And one thing about Lacy…no matter what he played, whether it was with a Russian poet or some koto shit or Monk or his quartet or whatever, he always sounded the same. He transcended all styles and he was not adversed to trying them, as we know, everything. And he always sounded like him, which is very slow, methodical, mostly eighth notes. Sound above all. Very thoughtful. And very much like his personality in the respect that he was a master of the one-liner. Like, if you asked Lacy a question or would say something to him, he responded with, “Yes, exactly.” Very economical, no explanation needed. And the way he played was the way he was…very economical, no excess, no fat on the meat, absolute filet mignon only, right down to the medium rare. And for that I’ll always respect him, for his thoughtfulness and his economy and sincerity. Because Lacy was a great example of artiste, period. We did some solo and duo things together in a church in Italy once. He’s a master of the solo horn. I mean, to get up and do that in front of an audience…piano’s one thing, guitar…maybe, but to get up there with a soprano saxophone and play an hour and a half and make it a trance and get you into it…that’s Steve. Braxton too, of course, but Steve moreso in a way because it’s so concentrated. He was like that Japanese painting style…that one-stroke shit. Cats put the black water paint down on parchment in one stroke…boom…one after another. Lacy was like that, very direct communication. What it is is what you got, nothing more. That’s what it was. Yeah, he was something else, man. And he also had a unique setup — big opening with a small reed. 12 opening or a giant F, H, Z opening on Selmer and a #1 reed, which is like an unbelievable combination. Which enabled him to do what he could do. Because you can control the reed but you really have to be at a certain level of intensity. I couldn’t play his setup at all, but you know, guys can’t play mine either. That’s part of what it is. But he had a very unique thing. And then, of course, going to one instrument and staying on it and not switching around, which you know I did for 15 years with the soprano…I think that’s important and he’s an example of that. He just stayed there from 1960 on, and therefore mastered it and became its friend. That’s to be respected.
Sonny Rollins – July 2010, by Larry Appelbaum in JazzTimes
Hawkins, tenor saxophone. Recorded 1948.
Well, I’ll take a wild guess and say that’s my idol Coleman Hawkins. That’s probably that unaccompanied piece he did, Picasso. This performance is typical of his playing and his sound, just who he is. That he was bold enough to do an unaccompanied saxophone piece is remarkable in itself; but the playing is Coleman Hawkins, and that’s exemplary. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard this in its entirety, but I’ve heard about it and I might have heard an excerpt before. That’s why I was listening so intently and enjoying it. He’s got a gorgeous sound, a gorgeous voice. His range is like a cello, and Coleman is speaking, he’s talking. His tone is beautiful. He’s just the father of the tenor saxophone. So many people were able to get their own styles together listening to him. Five-plus stars if you go by that. It’s great.
Larry: You played with him, recorded with him. Did you ever talk to him about what he meant to you, or anything about music?
Sonny: I didn’t have to. When I was 12 or 13, he used to live in my neighborhood [Sugar Hill in Harlem]. I took my 8X10 glossy picture of Coleman Hawkins, made by James J. Kriegsmann, and I went to his house and waited on his doorstep till he came home and had him sign it. He might have remembered me from that time. He knew I was a big admirer of his.
Larry: Do you still have that photograph?
Sonny: Unfortunately I don’t. I wish I did. I remembered the photographer, James J. Kriegsmann, because he also did a portrait of Ben Webster. Hawkins lived at 153rd Street in a very nice apartment building called the King Haven, between St. Nicholas Ave. and Amsterdam Ave. I lived between 150th and 155th on Edgecombe Ave., which overlooked the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.
Larry: You know how much that meant to you, to have your idol sign a photo. Do you know how much it means to a young musician to get you to sign something?
Sonny: If I thought like that I think I would be jeopardizing my own legitimacy by putting myself on the level, which personally I’d prefer not to do. I’d prefer to be a person who is trying to be, rather than a person who acknowledges that I’m there. I know that I sign—sure, I’d be happy to do it. And I hope the young musician is serious and really wants to play and that this would mean something to him, yeah. But as far as me feeling that I’m a great man and all that, no. I’d prefer to eschew those types of conclusions.
Larry: That’s a sign of humility.
Sonny: I think that’s a wonderful quality, myself.
Jordan, alto saxophone, vocal; Leonard Graham, trumpet; Freddie Simon, tenor saxophone; William Austin, piano; Al Morgan, bass; Alex “Razz” Mitchell, drums. Recorded 1945.
[chuckles] That’s Louis Jordan. He’s one of these people who, practically everything he does is OK with me. Somebody told me about John Coltrane one time—they were saying that they didn’t like his later stuff, and did I hear it? I said I didn’t hear what they were talking about. But it didn’t matter because anything he did, it was the same thing. Everything I heard by him was OK with me because I knew where it was coming from. So I would say that about Louis Jordan.
+++++I first heard him when I was a very young boy. I used to hear his records played by my uncle’s girlfriend. She had Lonnie Johnson and Arthur Crudup and Louis Jordan records. I was struck by Louis Jordan and I was enchanted by the saxophone. The format was more of a citified blues than country blues. I became a devotee of Louis Jordan when I was 7 years old. It was coincidental also that I was in elementary school and right coming out of school going home there was his picture there, an 8X10 glossy with his cutaway tails and his beautiful saxophone, a King Zephyr alto. So I really became a big fan of Louis Jordan.
Larry: Did you have any favorite records by him?
Sonny: His group the Tympany Five was the same quintet configuration that Bird and Dizzy used later, so that’s the group I liked. I loved Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Five Guys Named Moe, I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town. That period is the one I like.
Larry: Tell me about his saxophone playing.
Sonny: I’m not sure he was an innovator on the saxophone so much. Somebody told me he reminded them of Chu Berry, and that might have been right. He might have been playing in Chu Berry’s style when he played tenor. For what he did, it was perfect. He was my complete idol, and he was an excellent musician. I used to look at the pictures of him and he always had a different saxophone. I’ve seen him playing the King Zephyr, I’ve seen him with Selmers, and I’ve seen him playing Conns. That attests to the fact that he was such a consummate musician. He probably played whatever he liked at that moment. He was really great.
Larry: Did you ever see him perform?
Sonny: I saw him at Birdland in New York one night when Charlie Parker was playing, and I saw him cheering and hollering and clapping, but I never met him. Spiritually I met him many times, and he was really a big influence on me. When I heard him, I knew I wanted to play. He was also a sort of a comedian in a way, sort of a Fats Waller. Fats Waller was another of my early idols. People said if you’re singing and having fun that you’re not serious; but with Louis Jordan and Fats Waller, it can be both fun and serious. You can’t deny the musical legitimacy of Louis Jordan.
Redman, tenor saxophone; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums. Recorded 2007.
So what is my reaction to that? Well, you put me at a disadvantage because you’re playing something associated with me, right? So I feel handicapped in trying to critique it or praise it or anything like that because it’s a take on something I did a while back. It’s great playing, proficient musicians, tight band. I think it worked. But I sort of feel that if I say, “Wow, it was great,” I’m sort of telling myself, “Wow, Sonny, you’re great.” We’re back to the humility again. What am I supposed to say about myself? Am I supposed to praise myself? I can’t do that. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. This was a nice concept to do it in an updated way, so I liked it.
AFTER: Yeah, I thought it was him. I’ve heard him play a few times. I’ve been told he’s a devotee of mine, so I figured someone doing that might be him. I’m completely flattered to know that someone has gotten something from me. I got something from all my predecessors. I like it a lot. I think it’s great. It’s a nice play on the original one. I hadn’t heard that before and I’m very impressed by the proficiency, by the whole thing. I heard a few things that he did that were reminiscent of something I recognized, so I can hear that he listened to me. I’m very honored by that. And it makes me feel that I’m worthwhile, that I’m passing it on, passing on something that I got from someone else.
Byas, tenor saxophone; Benny Harris, trumpet; Jimmy Jones, piano; John Levy, bass; Fred Radcliffe, drums. Recorded 1945.
[listens with periodic grunts of appreciation] Wow. That’s my idol Don Byas and Little Benny Harris, trumpet. I’m very familiar with that record. By the way, when I got that record Ko Ko by Charlie Parker, I got that record for Don Byas on the other side. I think that’s Jimmy Jones on piano—and if it is, it shows what an advanced musical mind he was. He was playing some very advanced harmonies. It’s a great record. Don Byas had the technical proficiency: He was a bebopper who had roots in the earlier school. You could hear from the way he was moving around that he was into the new way of playing, both rhythmically and harmonically.
I heard a little of Coleman Hawkins there, too. There’s that famous picture of Coleman Hawkins’ band, and he had Don Byas in the band and they were playing on 52nd Street with Denzil Best. I wish I had been there to hear the saxophonics. Don was a bebopper in that sense—a great, great player. Charlie Parker said anything he could play on the saxophone, Don Byas could play it. He was one of a kind. If he had stayed in the U.S. he would have been more recognized. And those records he made with Dizzy Gillespie – I Can’t Get Started, Good Bait – he was there already.
Larry: Did you meet him?
Sonny: He was my hero. I came to Holland in the ’50s and I played at the Concertgebouw, and there was a guy waiting on the steps with his horn. That was Don Byas. So we went in and we started playing, just he and I. We played so much and so hard, because it was Don Byas, you know? [chuckles] I wondered whether he was trying to wear me out for my show. You know, sometimes with saxophonists there’s that competitive edge. It was a great honor to play with him.
Motian, drums; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Bill Frisell, guitar. Recorded 1989.
Is that it? OK, interesting having the drums close out the piece. That’s unusual. I like the unexpected, so that’s nice. Who it is, I don’t know. They’re all proficient musicians.
Larry: What do you like about it, aside from the proficiency?
Sonny: Proficiency is a big thing, man. It’s interesting the way they ended it. That style of drumming, you could feel he was like playing a horn or something, so that’s great. The saxophonist was completely right on. Everything was cool with his improvisation—I admired that. And the guitar player was doing a few things that are not common. It’s interesting to see guys try something beyond the ordinary. It wasn’t straight guitar playing; this chap was a bit more innovative.
AFTER: Oh, OK. I know all those guys, but I’ve never heard them play together. I liked it and I liked what they were doing. They gave an old standard a very personalized treatment.
Stafford, vocal; Paul Weston, arrangement. Recorded 1944.
[sings along with the line, “Chills run up and down my spine” ] Well, of course, when you played that it brought back to my mind something I had observed in my personal life happening to me. I was just thinking about that song two days ago; I was thinking about it so strong. The fact that you came here today and played me that song is sort of a, I mean, I don’t know how to explain it. Everything is involved in everything else: Today is yesterday, yesterday is today, sort of like that. I noticed things like that happening to me at different times and it’s sort of striking.
+++++Wow. This is perfect. The arrangement was gorgeous. Of course, Jerry Kern is one of my favorite composers of standards. I really relate to his songs. The singer was competent. She didn’t mess up Jerome Kern in any way, so I have to think it’s great.
Larry: What do you like about Jerome Kern’s songs?
Sonny: I was introduced to harmonies and melodies when I was a child. I had a very forward-looking mother. I remember when I was really young she took us to see Pirates of Penzance, so I was introduced early on to these kinds of Western melodies, if you want to categorize it that way. And going to the movies a lot as a child, I heard a lot of Jerome Kern in the movies. In those days it was the movies every week—there was no television. So I was exposed to these songs and these composers, but Jerome Kern was one of my favorites of them because he struck a chord some place in me. He was maybe my favorite of all those guys.
AFTER: Very good. Jo Stafford did a very professional job, and Paul Weston, that was a textbook arrangement. I’m not saying that in a negative way. I mean textbook in terms of how it should have been done. It’s a great arrangement. I could hear the song. I used to play that song a lot.
Larry: Do you think about the lyrics when you’re playing?
Sonny: That one I probably know all the lyrics to.
Larry: Do you think it’s a coincidence that you were thinking about this song two days ago?
Sonny: Now that’s the part we haven’t explored, unless you have some way to explain it. That’s the mysterious part. It’s not coincidence—you picked that up. Not just this experience, but the way some of these other incidents have been happening to me leads me to believe that it’s more than chance. It’s something else—fate, maybe. But it makes you realize that there’s something at work besides what is obvious to us. Why should I be thinking of that song so strongly? It was a strong vibration with that song. I was singing it to my guitarist, and then here you come today, Long Ago (and Far Away). Everything is connected. That’s what I get out of it. Everything is connected in maybe a more profound way than we can realize, and that’s what’s been happening to me lately. So that was great. I loved that song. I loved Jo Stafford. I wanted to do one of her songs from a revue in New York, Inside U.S.A., [called] Haunted Heart. And she did a beautiful version.
+++++I’m getting to the point where the music is getting away from these great standards. It’s not that they’re not legitimate, but the trend is to not go that way. I know that my guitar player Russell Malone loves standards. But the music is sort of making a shift. It’s not those songs so much that you can put potency to. I’m saying that without denying anything about them. I love them. You love them. But maybe it’s the people coming up: Now, people who are experiencing music are experiencing different times. So those songs may not have the same relevance or the same strength that they had for us. If the people don’t feel them, then they’re beginning to lose something. The music has to reach people so they can contribute to it with their appreciation. I just feel that now, these beautiful songs are beginning to fade from the imagination of younger audiences.
Ammons, tenor saxophone; Patti Bown, piano; George Duvivier, bass; Ed Shaughnessy, drums. Recorded 1962.
It sounds like Gene Ammons. Yeah. Now this is late Gene Ammons, right? I’ve heard him play this song before. I recognize his beautiful melody, playing and sound. I heard him play it many times in Chicago back in the day. The melody is still strong. He had a beautiful big saxophone sound. Everybody had to admire that. But everybody can’t get a sound like that, and that’s unfortunate [laughs]. Once you hear it you know immediately that that’s Gene Ammons. He’s another guy I would say almost anything he does I would like because it’s him.
Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums. Recorded 2009.
I like it. I like the theme based on fifths, I believe. I like that a lot. That evokes something that I find attractive, something that I can use myself in some way. That’s inspiring to me.
AFTER: I don’t know them, but I think I’ve seen them advertised at one of these festivals I’ve been to. Yeah, I liked that. It’s good.
Holiday, vocal; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Artie Shapiro, bass. Recorded 1955.
[laughter] Billie Holiday. I’ve never heard that before. That’s great. Anything by her is great—you know that. That was made in the ’50s. She’s so evocative; I’ve gotten so much training listening to Billie Holiday. Just listening to Lover Man with Budd Johnson on saxophone, it evokes the song: This is what it is and this is how to play it. Not note for note, but this is the feeling you’re supposed to have when you play it. I recorded Easy Living.
Larry: And you recorded God Bless the Child.
Sonny: Right. Her rendition of that really moved me. It came from her. If someone else sang that song I don’t know if it would have appealed to me to play it. Her range was so narrow, but it’s amazing that she could create so much emotion and so much musicality in that narrow range. She was pure music. She was such an emotional singer. You just felt it right away. That’s something you have or you don’t have. You can’t acquire it. That’s something that was purely hers. That was very special and it moved me. I loved Billie Holiday. I thought she was a beautiful woman, physically as well as her music. We worked opposite one another when I was with Miles. I got to know her in the later part of her life, when she was sort of…
Larry: What were the circumstances?
Sonny: I befriended her. She was sort of down on her luck at that point. She was still addicted and she had lost her cabaret card and all that stuff. I got her into a cab one time and rode with her up to her house, and she inscribed her book to me. But she didn’t really know my music. A lot of the music establishment was down on her at that time. Then we played together at a place in New Jersey. And I met [her husband], Louis McKay, and we were staying at the Walt Whitman Hotel in Camden. He was OK to me, but I saw Billie abused by some of the people she was working for. There was a guy in Philadelphia and he was hollering at her because she was late. It was sad to hear that. So she was at that point in her life when people were sort of kicking her around, and when I met her I got her a cab uptown. I never had a chance to play with her, but I felt her, absolutely, completely. I still have that book, Lady Sings the Blues, that she signed for me.
Larry: When you meet someone who had a great impact on you, do you tell them?
Sonny: You mean Billie? I think she could feel my love for her. She was a very sensitive woman. I didn’t have to tell her. She knew. She just needed kindness.
Larry: Name some recordings that changed your life.
Sonny: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, by Fats Waller. And probably I would say Body & Soul by Coleman Hawkins. And Louis Jordan, It’s a Low Down Dirty Shame. Those things set my life where it is, for better or worse.
Lenny White – 2010 by Ted Panken
Haynes, drums, Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Christian McBride, bass.
This is one of the six masters. This is the history of jazz right here—the living history of jazz. Do I have to say who it is? Roy Haynes. He’s the living history of jazz. He’s played with everybody, done everything, and he’s one of my six heroes. The others are Philly Joe, Max, Elvin, Art Blakey, and Tony. It’s Roy Haynes! That’s all you’ve got to say. All the drummers that I named transcend the instrument. They’re not drummers. They are musicians who happen to play drums. Because they have such a unique approach to playing music, they don’t play just drums—they play music, and the drums are the instrument that they use to interpret the music. 9 stars. I’m not even listening to the other cats. No disrespect, but Roy commands such attention when he plays the instrument… Is that Christian on bass? I wasn’t listening to the piano player, so I didn’t hear his solo. Is this Marcus Strickland on tenor? No? I’ve got to tell you a true story with Roy Haynes that helped shape my musical life. Roy Haynes used to have a group that he called the Hip Ensemble, and every night, the last tune he would play on the set would be the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. At the end, he’d go, BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, and he’d play a drum cadenza. He was playing at Slugs’, and he knew I was there, and said BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, stopped, and called me up on the stage, and had me play the drum cadenza. That’s all I’ve got to say.
Ellis, tenor saxophone, composer; Jason Marsalis, drums; Brian Coogan, organ; Matt Perrine, sousaphone
Is it Dave Holland’s band? No? That’s very interesting, because of the use of the tuba, and they can negotiate their way through 7/4 pretty seamlessly. The drummer is playing within the music, doing an admirable job within the music. I haven’t a clue. It’s cool. He’s not getting in the way. You know what’s interesting with the younger guys? I think they’re very technically proficient, but there’s no particular emphasis on a sound—an identifiable sound, whether it’s choice of cymbals, or how they tune their drums, to the point where I say, “Oh, I know who that is” immediately. It sounds great, though. 3 stars.
Scott, drums, composer; Mike Moreno, guitar; Walter Smith, tenor saxophone; Gerald Clayton, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kenny Dorham, composer
Is it Tain? No. I like it. He’s killing. I like the organic sound of everything. It sounds great. My only problem, sometimes, is how the recordings are today. See, what drives the music is the ride cymbal. A lot of the guys now play more drums than play cymbal. See, I don’t get a sense of the real hard drive with the music with a lot of drums. It got it when they were playing in open 7, but when they started to swing over the changes it didn’t work as well. From that standpoint, I’d like to really hear some hard swinging. 5 stars. Kendrick Scott? A new guy. But when they start to play straight-ahead stuff, it’s a little weird. From another perspective, what music is, is how you break silence.
So when you make a statement, it better be good. If you’re coming back from silence… That’s why it’s a little strange. There’s this flood of music, and then the music has to compete with movies, it has to compete with games. So the emphasis is not on art, like it used to be, or the art has been fragmented.
Brian Blade, drums; John Patitucci, bass, composer; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone
John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, and Brian Blade. I don’t know the record, but I know them. It’s ok. 4 stars. I like Brian’s playing.
Ted: If I run this entry, it would be nice if I had a little more than “I like Brian’s playing.”
Lenny: What is it that you want me to say?
Ted: Just your response…
Lenny: Let me ask you what do you think?
Ted: Of this piece.
Lenny: Yes, and Brian’s playing.
Ted: Open, interactive piece, Brian’s responding on a dime like he always does…
Lenny: Everybody that you’ve played me so far has done exactly the same thing. Everybody’s responded and played, and it’s great. The drums sound great. The sound is great. The thing about it is that conceptually…what defines concept, or helps make up concept, is your choice of cymbals, how you tune your drums, and hopefully that will come out in a recording. This is recorded well. The drums sound fantastic. In conjunction with the music, it still sounds great, and all of that. I think it’s great. 4 stars.
Prieto, drums, composer; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Manuel Valera, piano; Charles Flores, bass
You’re giving me all these weird time changes. I like this, though. Great composition. Is it the drummer’s composition? Tain? It’s great. I love the composition. It shows that drummers can be musicians, too. That’s why I think I know who it is, but I don’t want to say yet. Is it Jack deJohnette? No? Who is it? Dafnis Prieto? Nice, man. You can tell that he wrote this composition. Very musical. It says something when someone comes here who is not from the United States, and they take their culture and adapt it to jazz. He’s not trying to play jazz; he’s playing jazz within his culture, which is cool. Oh, it’s live. I really like it. Who’s the piano player?
Ted: Manuel Valera.
Lenny: Are they all Latin?
Ted: The tenor player isn’t.
Lenny: It’s killer. Very believable, very honest, and they were going for it. It’s not as much as Roy Haynes, but 6 stars. Whoo!
Postma, piano, composer; Geri Allen, Fender Rhodes; Scott Colley, bass; Teri Lynne Carrington, drums
Great-sounding recording. Whoever this is has been influenced by Jack. Unless this is Jack. No? Oh, Teri Lynne Carrington. The statement was accurate. I thought it sounded great. It’s kind of hard for me, because I don’t want to sound cynical or jaded, but I have such… The best way that I can explain it is that jazz is not a style of music to me. It’s my heritage. The reason why I say that is that those six heroes I mentioned all took me aside and told me things about how to interpret and represent the music. I got a lot from listening to their records, but it really made sense when they said what they said, when you sat and listened to somebody and they’d say, “Ok, you see that? This is how you make that turnaround.” Or, “You see this? This is what you need to…” Every one of those guys I mentioned actually did that with me. So they gave me their perspective of how to represent the music the right way. That’s why for me it’s a heritage. Everything you’ve played is a very good representation of where the music is today, or where it’s going. But you haven’t played anything yet that was a true sense of swing from the perspective of all of those guys that I named, and all those guys that I named, maybe with the exception of Philly Joe and Buhaina, they took the music from a straight-ahead swing situation, and amped on it, and made it into something else, to what this is right now. But I still haven’t heard that link back to those guys yet. I’ve heard great representations of what the music is today, but with the exception of what I just heard with Teri Lynne, I can’t say where the influences of the drummers have come from. She sounded great. 4 stars. You haven’t played me anything that I did not like and which sounded bad—and was a bad representation. And I would hope you wouldn’t write about either! It’s just from the standpoint that what keeps a music pure is that there’s a source point, and you can trace the lineage from A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and it goes down the line. But when there’s an offshoot that is something that doesn’t have a point on the chain, it becomes something else. Now, it might be totally valid. I’m not saying that nothing else is valid. That’s not what I’m saying. Just that to this point you haven’t played me anything where I can see a link. The reason I haven’t been able to recognize some of the people is because I don’t hear those influences in their playing. When you played me Roy Haynes, I knew who it was in a second.
Nash, composer; Ali Jackson, drums
Does anybody play in 4 any more? Not a clue. Don’t know who the band is. It could be Gil Evans—I don’t know. There’s not too much the drummer can do, because he’s playing in odd time, and it’s pretty much arranged—so he’s kind of in handcuffs. Is it a ‘50s or ‘60s recording?
Ted: Neither. It’s 2010.
Lenny: Whoa! I was just thinking of how far back the drums are.
Ted: Ali Jackson with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Lenny: That’s really interesting. See how far back the cymbal is? I know Ali, and I like his playing. But this doesn’t represent his sound. They’re probably all great musicians, but there’s no drive. You can’t hear any drive. All you hear is the bass, but the drums have no drive.
Valera, piano; James Genus, bass; Ernesto Simpson, drums; Thelonious Monk, composer
This must be the piano player’s record. That’s all you can hear. You can’t hear any drums. Well, you can hear the drums, but you don’t hear any cymbals. When was this recorded? A year or two ago? The piano is so out in front, you lose perspective. I spent a week playing with Danilo and Avishai Cohen when he was doing the Panamonk stuff in the ‘90s, and I had a ball. It was great.
Ted: Did you play Afro-Caribbean music, salsa, when you were a young guy?
Lenny: I did a lot. I played in a band called Azteca. I actually did a record called Afro-Cubano Chant with Bob James, Gato Barbieri, Andy Gonzalez, Mike Mainieri, and Steve Berrios, and we did all stuff like that. We played Lonnie Hillyer’s Tanya from the Soul Sauce album, Cal Tjader. But I don’t know about this…
Blackman, drums; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Doug Carn, organ; Benny Rietveld, electric bass; Tony Williams, composer
This is Cindy Blackman. This is her Tony record. I don’t like the sound of the recording, but I love what Cindy’s playing. The recording is weird. No clarity. Cindy knows how to tune the drums, she has a great choice of drums and everything, but I don’t really get that. It sounds muddled. It sounds like drums and guitar. You’ve got to be able to HEAR the drums. That’s Mike Stern on guitar and Doug Carn on organ. I knew it exactly because I know the music and I knew they made the record. The guitar is way too loud. I’ve been reluctant to do a tribute album for Tony. His playing comes out so much in me, I didn’t think I had to do that. I’m not saying that Cindy shouldn’t have done that; I’m not saying that at all. But I’ve managed just to be able to trace through him and find what I needed to find. And anybody that listens to me play can hear his influence on me. If there’s any negative about this, it’s the sound of the recording. That’s all. 4 stars. It sounds like the snare drum and bass drum in the mix. There’s a whole bunch of stuff she’s playing that you miss. Cindy’s playing some great stuff, but you don’t hear it. Who’s the bass player?
Ted: Benny Rietveld.
Motian, drums, composer; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Jason Moran, piano
Ringing snare drum. See how far back the bass drum is from the snare drum. These engineers and producers make jazz records try to sound like pop records. Jazz music is ambient music like classical music. You need to hear the air around the instruments, and then you hear it in direct proximity. You don’t hear a first violin louder than the viola. It’s a section. It’s a drumkit; you should always hear the whole kit, not the snare drum louder than something else. Is this a younger guy?
Lenny: I didn’t think so. It’s Paul Motian, but it sounded like Roy Haynes, from some of the things he did. I liked it. 3 stars.
Beasley, piano, composer; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone; James Genus, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums
Finally we have somebody swinging. Same thing, though. The cymbal is not loud enough. The music doesn’t swing if you don’t get… And the guy can be really swinging, but it suffers in the mix. I believe what happens is that guys are set to play, and they’re not content enough to make the band swing just playing the ride cymbal. They want to play a whole bunch of drums, and it overpowers everything. So the producers that make these jazz records bring down the drums because they’re afraid that it’s going to overpower everything. But you miss the ride beat. It doesn’t swing if you don’t hear that. It just sounds like a rolling thing. You hear the bass, but you hear the low end of the bass. You don’t really hear any finger noise. And you hear the soloist way up front. So the rhythm section has this rumbling thing, nondescript. Is this one of them new trumpet players? Now, let me ask you a question. Listening to the drummer, who is his influence?
Ted: This sounds more coming out of Tony with Miles than anything else, at least in intention.
Lenny: No way. Because the stuff Tony played, he played off of a ride cymbal.
Ted: Is that from the recording or the actual vocabulary the drummer’s playing?
Lenny: A little bit of both. I mean, the stuff that Tony played was so intricate, it wasn’t just a rolling thing. There was great coordination between hands and feet, and a ride pattern. It was the cymbal beat which keeps the rhythmic perspective, so that when he played some other stuff, it was really amazing, because he played it against and coordinated with the cymbal beat. This just sounds like it’s a whole bunch of stuff going on, but there’s nothing to keep it focused. I don’t know who it was. 2 stars.
+++++I honestly think that the recording made Tain’s contribution suffer there, because I know he has more of a cymbal ride beat than that, because you couldn’t hear it. That’s what made me say what I say.
Ted: This is illuminating for me. Because so many records sound like this, I’m used to projecting what I hear live onto the record, and it becomes like a ghost sound…
Lenny: See, the problem is it’s as if you went to a jazz club and heard a classical orchestra, and you got used to that sound, so that when you went back and heard a classical orchestra in a correct auditorium, you’d say, “Wow, that’s really interesting, because I’m used to hearing it in….” One of the things that is important in maintaining the history and giving the right perspective about the music is how you record it. When I listen back to the records I came up listening to, the Blue Note records and Columbia records, it had a sound that we all loved and got used to hearing, and it was a quality sound. It didn’t sound bad. That sounded bad.
Ted: Is that because of compression?
Lenny: I think it’s basically attitude from the producer and the engineer. The engineer gets the sound, but the producer says, “This is the sound that I want,” and the artist usually leaves it up to the producer. Or maybe the artist doesn’t know enough to say, “Hey, let’s use this amount of compression on the piano, let’s use ribbon mikes on the cymbals so we can get a sweeter sound.” They don’t take that impetus or study enough to get a great-sounding record. And if the record doesn’t sound good, how are you going to get what it is you want to get across to people? Today we listen to music on phones! It’s like, “Please!” It’s gotten to that point. So I think basically what made Tain’s sound suffer for me was the way it was mixed.
+++++The reason why I became a producer was out of… I was so disgusted playing on someone’s session, and someone sitting behind a glass telling me to do this, and listen to the sound, and the sound sounded horrible. I said, “Man, I’ve got to think and do my homework to find out what it takes to have a good drum sound, and record it.” If I want to make records, then I’m going to need to know how to make my drum sound. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else, to say, “Ok, that sounds good.” No. So I had to take control.
Ted: These aren’t self-produced recordings, but are independent labels, producers who have a point of view, so I’d suspect they think they’re putting some effort into the sound… For example, Paul Motian is on an ECM record; Manfred Eicher puts out a very curated sound…
Lenny: Yes, and that sounded eons better than the last one.
Ted: But you were critical of the sound on that.
Lenny: No-no. The point is… Yes, I have my opinion. But that was much more of a representative sound of what the music was like. It was a live recording. He had a very open bass drum, and I don’t know who decided, but some producer decided, “We don’t want to have ringy drums like that, we don’t want the snare drums to ring, so we’ll put tape on it and do this and do that.” Motian probably took control and said, “No, this is my sound, this is what I want to…” That’s why I said I knew it when I heard it. Roy Haynes plays a big open bass drum like that, too.
+++++See, Ted, I just want to go on record as saying that what I say is not gospel. It’s just my perspective on it. When I am asked about it, I say what my perspective is. It took me a while to decide to record a record again, because I had listened to what the landscape was and thought about it and said, “Well, do I really want to make a statement in this particular landscape?” My statement is a lot different than what I just heard. But it’s my statement, and I take pride in how to make my instrument sound and how to mike it and all of that. I would hope that would come out in my recording. That’s why I’m so critical about the sound, because I don’t want great artists to make statements and for them not to be heard—and I’m talking about not to be heard while listening. It’s one thing that you don’t hear the record, but if you don’t hear the statement that they’re making while the record or CD or MP3 is being played…