Cecil Taylor, Pianist Who Defied Jazz Orthodoxy, Is Dead at 89

 

At a concert during the the last European tour of the Miles Davis / John Coltrane Quintet in 1960 a lady in one audience stood up during a John Coltrane solo and pleaded “please make him stop”. I am sure that would be the reaction of most audiences to the music of Cecil Taylor. Even in Jazz circles Cecil Percival Taylor (March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018) is not exactly a household name. He was a classically trained American pianist and poet and is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the Free Jazz movement. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, resulting in complex improvised sounds that frequently involve tone clusters and polyrhythms. His piano technique has been likened to percussion – referring to the number of keys on a standard piano as “eighty eight tuned drums”. He has also been described as like “Art Tatum with contemporary classical leaning”. The Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould has been reported as saying “Cecil Taylor is the future of piano music”. It is an interesting comment from a musician who is famous for his precise interpretations of the music of Bach. Taylor is from the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Gould’s interpretations are architectual musical masterpieces while Taylor’s musical musings are more like splashes of molten lava.

Taylor is outside the orderly progression of jazz piano styles of the past century. The normal historical flow of American piano music goes back to the almost classical formalism of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and then onto the improvisational styles of James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, “Fats” Waller, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Nat ‘King” Cole and then the moderns – Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett etc. Taylor stands way outside that tradition. The only pianist that might claim some connection is the Thelonious Monk and he is better known and appreciated as a composer. Like Monk Taylor’s public appearances were performances in the true meaning of the word – music, poetry, dance. At the center of his art was the dazzling physicality and the percussiveness of his playing — his deep, serene, Ellingtonian chords and hummingbird attacks above middle C — which held true well into his 80s. Classically trained, he valued European music for what he called its qualities of “construction” — form, timbre, tone color — and incorporated them into his own aesthetic. “I am not afraid of European influences,” he told the critic Nat Hentoff. “The point is to use them, as Ellington did, as part of my life as an American Negro.”  In a long assessment of Mr. Taylor’s work — one of the first — from “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” a collection of essays on jazz musicians published in 1966, the poet and critic A. B. Spellman wrote: “There is only one musician who has, by general agreement even among those who have disliked his music, been able to incorporate all that he wants to take from classical and modern Western composition into his own distinctly individual kind of blues without in the least compromising those blues, and that is Cecil Taylor, a kind of Bartok in reverse.” Because his fully formed work was not folkish or pop-oriented, did not swing consistently (often it did not swing at all) and never entered the consensual jazz repertoire, Mr. Taylor could be understood to occupy an isolated place. Even after he was rewarded and lionized  his music has not been easy to quantify. If improvisation means using intuition and risk in the present moment, there have been few musicians who took that challenge more seriously than Mr. Taylor. If one of his phrases seemed of paramount importance, another such phrase generally arrived right behind it. The range of expression in his keyboard touch encompassed caresses, rumbles and crashes.   –     (excepts from Wikipedia).

Taylor may not have had a big following but he was not without honors during his lifetime. Even after he was rewarded and lionized — he was given a Guggenheim fellowship in 1973, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1990, a MacArthur fellowship in 1991 and the Kyoto Prize in 2014 — his music was not easy to quantify nor did it have a great following. There was no academy for what Cecil Taylor did, and partly for that reason he became one himself, teaching for stretches in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at Antioch College in Ohio. (He was given an honorary doctorate by the New England Conservatory in 1977.) Not until the mid-1970s, Mr. Lyons told the writer John Litweiler, did The Cecil Taylor Unit have enough work so that member musicians could make a living from it — mostly in Europe. Although classically trained his comment on written music bears repeating  –  “When you think about musicians who are reading music,” he said in “All the Notes,” a 1993 documentary directed by Chris Felver, “my contention has always been: The energy that you’re using deciphering what the symbol is, is taking away from the maximum creative energy that you might have had if you understood that it’s but a symbol.” (excepts from Wikipedia). I agree with the comment but most of us mere mortals have to start somewhere and once the music is under your belt then perhaps the written symbols should be discarded.

In some ways he reminds me of Frank Zappa. Frank was a “rock” musician who was very distinctly outside the traditions of Rock and Roll. Just try and jam along with a Frank Zappa recording and I think you will get my meaning.

@@@@@@@@@@@@

Amos Garrett and Julian Kerr at Studio 64

Amos Garrett and Julian Kerr at Studio 64; March 24, 2018 8pm: This is the first concert of the Spring 2018 concert Series

Amos Garrett is an “in between sort of guy”. He has been on the Canadian and American music scene for “a million years”. He not a Classic Rocker in the strutting long- hair mode, nor a true blue down home country blues player. Although he cites the trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke and pianists Jerry Roll Morton, Fats Waller and the elegant Teddy Wilson as musical influences he isn’t really a classic Jazz player either. As I said he is an “in between guy”. He is a musician who cements all these varied influences into a personal style that can only be Amos Garrett. Apart from his solo ventures he has performed and recorded with over 150 major artists including Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Martin Hull, Paul Butterfield and Pearls Before Swine. He was on Anne Murray’s classic recording Snowbird and performed as a founding member of Ian Tyson’s band The Great Speckled Bird He currently resides in Calgary where he performs with a number of outfits including gigs with keyboard playing neighbor Julian Kerr.  At 77 years of age he no longer does “the big tours”. The last big tour of Japan he recalls with great affection for the country and the people of that nation. After touring there he wondered about who actually won the last war. Japan has prospered with peaceful cites and an admirable life style while the North American landscape is littered with crime and violence and inner cities in decline.

Julian Kerr is a professional Calgary musician and is one of Amos’ favorite keyboard players. Julian plays and teaches, bass, and guitar and for over 30 years he has played with many notable musicians including Bo Diddley .

The concert kicked off with Otis Rush’s  My Baby is Such a Good One followed by a Curtis Mayfield classic tune, Boz Scaggs Running Blue, and the 1966 soul-jazz classic Mercy Mercy by the Adderley Brothers (Nat and Julian).  They then slipped back in time to the early part of the last century for Jelly Roll Morton’s Michigan Waters Blues (“Michigan water tastes like Sherry Wine and the Mississippi water tastes turpentine”). Now Jelly Roll Morton was a schooled Creole musician from New Orleans who claimed to have invented Jazz. Not true of course, but he was a pivotal musician in the transition of ragtime to what we now know as jazz. From the repertoire of Toronto’s Whitely Brothers we were introduced to their jug band style tune Perfume and Tobacco.

Although I lived through the era I pretty well missed out on hearing the Texas band  The  Jazz Crusaders in the 1970s. I only discovered them last year in a box set of CDs published by Mosiac Records. To hear Amos working on the Larry Carlton guitar parts was a treat. It must have also been a treat for Julian Kerr to dip into the music of pianist/keyboard player Joe Sample who was a co-leader of the band. The Jazz Crusaders eventually dropped Jazz from their name and went onto an even longer career as The Crusaders. Julian dropped some rocking piano into Bob Dylan’s Takes a Train to Cry. Amos performed his signature version of Sleepwalk and entertained us with lots of anecdotal  stories  from his long career. My favorite was the tale of the Mounties Breakfast – Steak and Beer. For the encore Julian took us home with Booker T and the MGs  Green Onions and some lovely “fluffy organ tones” that probably outshone those present on the original recording. As always this was another highly enjoyable concert in the ongoing Blues and Jazz concert series at Studio 64. Thanks must go to the organizers, volunteers and sponsors that make this series such a joy.

Here are some more images from the evening:

         

@@@@@@@@@@@

YouTube Pick (#24) – A Clawhammer Banjo Tune

I am not so sure about banjos. I don’t care too much for the mechanical five string Bluegrass styles. To my ear they don’t sound very musical, and yet, in the hands of a master like Bela Fleck I am forced to re-evaluate that statement. When he steps outside the Bluegrass box his music is sublime. On another note (pun intended) the Irish adopted the banjo and, being Irish, they changed it by getting rid of the fifth string, tuning it like a mandolin and playing it with a pick. The Irish Tenor Banjo sounds great in Celtic ensembles where it adds punch and drive to the melody line but to hear it practiced solo in one’s basement it sounds frightful. Then there is the the open backed Clawhammer Banjo with the melody floating atop of nice chunking rhythms. It is capable of producing the very best in banjo music. Despite the subversive activities of the Irish the banjo is still the most American of musical instruments. It’s origins may be African but in practice it is absolutely American with a solidly American repertoire. I am so attracted to the sound of the Clawhammer Banjo that I own two and I always have the hope and ambition to one day actually play a tune in the appropriate style.  The only thing that puts me off is that I have no real desire to play American tunes. The world does not need another stumbling musician trying to play Old Joe Clark, Cripple Creek or any of the many other standard banjo tunes. So it was nice to come across a video of an Irish tune played on the Clawhammer Banjo. It is a tune composed by Thurlough O’Carolan .  For those who don’t  know of O’Carolan or his music he was a blind traditional Irish Harper living way back in the late 1600’s. He was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and he left us with a legacy of many wonderful tunes. They may not have the contrapuntal complexities of a Bach composition but they have a melodic strength that has kept them very much in circulation right up to present times. Acoustic guitar players love O’Carolan tunes and with the introduction of the DADGAD tuning system on the guitar they have adopted O’Carolan tunes with a vengeance. So here it is, Thurlough O’Carolan’s  tune Morgan Magan (Morgan Megan) played on the Clawhammer Banjo.

For those who maybe interested here is the melody for the tune.

I haven’t yet managed to get to grips with playing the tune on the Clawhammer banjo but I suspect it will sit well on a banjo tuned ADADE. It’s another one of those things on my ever lengthening wish list. It just might be that one elusive tune that I am destined to play on the banjo.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

YouTube Picks (#23) – The Cavaquinho

The Cavaquinho – It looks like a Ukulele and so it should. The Cavaquinho is a Portuguese instrument that has, in one form or another spread around the world. In the hands of Portuguese immigrants it traveled to Hawaii in the nineteenth century and under went some changes. With the adoption of gut (nylon) strings and tuning systems peculiar to the islands it became part of a whole new genre of music – Hawaiian music.  The sound of the Ukulele instantly conjures up images of the islands – trade winds, surf, palm trees, grass shirts and hula girls. Of course since that time the instrument has traveled back across the world and, in recent years, has undergone a resurgence in popular interest. In the meantime the original Cavaquinho has remained popular in Portugal, Brazil and the Cape Verde islands. Although Portugal had colonies in Angola and Mozambique the Cavaquinho doesn’t seem to have become part of their folkloric traditions. But it is in Brazilian Choro  that the instrument has it’s most noticeable impact. Choro is the most Brazilian of all musical styles and it grew out of the European Salon music tradition imported into Brazil and spiced up with local samba style rhythms. In one form or other the style has been around for a hundred or more years. In that genre of music the Cavaquinho, the Pandiero (Brazilian tambourine), the Seven String Guitar and the Bandolin (5 course mandolin) create music that is very melodic, rhythmic and harmonically sophisticated and somewhat uniquely Brazilian.

Although the instrument is not in common use in Canada, Godin Guitars in Quebec manufactures a unique version of the instrument that can hold its own in the company of the more traditional instruments. It is a hybrid steel strung instrument tuned Brazilian style D G B D. Basically, that is an an open G tuning,  a octave higher but almost identical, to the top four strings of the acoustic guitar. The difference is that the top  string on the Cavaquinho is tuned down  to D. Speaking from experience it was tempting to just tune the guitar like a Cavaquinho and play it as such. It was good idea at the time but basically it doesn’t work.  The Cavaquinho has a very short scale length and the normal Cavaquinho Choro stretches from the 1st  and 2nd to  seventh fret are dam near impossible on the guitar. Beside it does not have the nice high traditional Cavaquinho sound. D’Addario manufactures stainless steel ball end strings (EJ93, gauges 11-13-23w-28w) specifically for the Cavaquinho and are available from a number of on line sites. It is unlikely you will find them in your local music store.  The Godin instrument is equipped with their signature on-board electronics that is virtually free of feed back. In that regard, and in  other manufacturing details, the Godin Cavaquinho is similar to their acoustic and semi-acoustic  Nylon Classical, Multi Oud  and Seven String Guitars.

So, that’s the background so now for the sounds. The first three videos below demonstrate, for me, the attraction of the Cavaquinho and Brazilian music in general. These young musicians look like they are having fun. The guitar in the first and third videos are obviously Godins. In the third video the guitarist is throwing in some very interesting chord progressions. All three tunes are pretty well classics in the Brazilian Choro repertoire.

There a lots of Cavaquinho tutorials on YouTube and the approach they use to teach the tunes has, for me, a lot of appeal. The first tutorial, Garota de Ipanema is better known as the The Girl from Ipanema, by the well known Brazilian composer Tom Jobim. The tune is probably the most recorded composition on the planet. I have lost count of the number of Cavaquinho and Brazilian Guitar tutorials that are available on YouTube so there is plenty out there to explore.

I know local musicians aren’t likely to stumble on or acquire a Cavaquinho but the above videos might just attract some interest in the instrument  or also in that very rich and varied world of Brazilian music. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Open Mic Session at the Bean Tree

Sunday January 28, 2018 12:30 – 3:30 pm: OPEN MIC AT THE BEAN TREE IN THE KIMBERLEY  PLATZL hosted by Bill St Amand

This is a throw back to the good ole’ days when the Bean Tree was pretty well the only venue offering live music on a regular basis in Kimberley. Sound wise and audience wise this is probably one of the best, if not the best music room in the area. For musicians it is a joy to perform in a great room for quiet attentive audiences. This second session lived up to those expectations with performances by Bill St.Amand (guitar and vocals);  Alphonse Joseph (“Fonzie”) on his new Taylor guitar with vocals; Rod Wilson on 12-string guitar, vocals  and percussion; Wally Smith on Irish Whistles, button accordion and percussion; Lane on guitar and vocals and Jordan Vanderwerf on guitar and vocals. Here are some images from this relaxing, family style afternoon of acoustic music.

 

Once again, this was so successful that Bill will be hosting another open mic next Sunday February 4, 2018, 1-4 pm. All patrons and musicians are welcome.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

YouTube Picks (#21) – Another way to play Mandolin (4): The Near East

In lots of ways Israel is the center of everything. It is a hot bed of violence and political conflict; a place of monumental religious clashes; a cultural cross road for thousands of years; a place where east meets west. It also the birthplace and incubator of some phenomenal musical talents and one in particular is the Israeli mandolinist Avi Avitar (born 19 October 1978). He is expanding the boundaries of the mandolin. He is best known for his renditions of well-known Baroque and folk music, much of which was originally written for other instruments. He has been nominated for a Grammy award (Best Instrumental Soloist with Ensemble). Here are a couple YouTube performances where East meets West.They are a  couple of Turkish and Bulgarian tunes that are guaranteed to clean the wax out of your ears and free up you mind for musical possibilities outside the ordinary.The music is performed by Avi Avital on mandolin and Itamar Doari on percussion.

Now I have to come clean. The mandolin playing is outstanding but my real reason for sharing the videos is the out standing hand percussion.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Dean Smith Quartet at Frank’s Restaurant

A fine and mellow Christmas at Frank’s Restaurant in Cranbrook with the Dean (Dino) Smith Quartet featuring Dean Smith on Guitar,Trombone and Vocals; Zach Smith on Alto Sax;  Ben Smith on Bass and Guitar and Jared Zimmer on Drums. The favorite Christmas carols, pop songs and show tunes of past eras were all there – We Three Kings, Let it Snow, Frosty the Snowman, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Dreaming of a White Christmas, Joy to the World, Jingle Bells and Greensleeves and many, many more. 

  

Saturday, December 23, 2017 may have been very frosty outside (minus 20 degrees centigrade) but inside Frank’s it was was warm, cosy and very “Christmassy”.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Deja Vu all over again

From the get go, it was a full night of rock and roll and reggae. Even the poster had a 1968 vibe. The first band up was The Choice,  featuring James Neve – guitars and lead vocals; Rick Parsons – back up vocals and multiple keyboards and Brian Hamilton – drums and back up vocals. They served up a full platter of rock and roll favorites and in the process punched a lot of nostalgia buttons in the audience. James Neve is probably better known as a singer / song writer and was a key member of the band 60 Hertz. He also masquerades as a wayward solo performer known as Lonesome Jim. I get the impression that for this night James was living the dream of a 1968 rock and roll musician. He looked so happy………  Rick is also a well known local musician who just loves to hammer away at the keyboards. That gutsy, funky organ sound is no longer a feature of modern rock and roll and the scene is the poorer for it. It’s nice to have it back in the sonic arena and hear it bouncing off a dance hall wall. Who needs a bass player when you can have a full throttle organ doing the job?  Brian Hamilton is just back in the area and rounds out the band with his “in your face drumming”. For just a trio this band generates a lot of music and a lot of excitement.

  

The Choice traded off one hour sets with the Reggae band The Meditations. The band featured the young Moroccan musician Mehdi Makraz on lead guitar and vocals. Mehdi has been in the area for a while and at a recent Summer Sounds concert in Cranbrook he played electric bass with The Dark Fire Cloud and Lightning Band. The back up vocalist Syama Mama was also featured with that band. The drummer with the mandatory dreadlocks was Morgan and along with the well known local musician Peter Warland on electric bass locked down the rhythm section. Randy Tapp is a local musician and dance instructor and he played Alto and Tenor Saxes. Normally the band has a keyboard player (Landon) but he was not available for this performance.

  

At the intermission, if that’s the right word, the catering crew from the Green Door dished out Tacos for the dance patrons. After that it was back to the music. More vintage rock and reggae spiced up with some original compositions from Mehdi and his band mates. Here are some more images from the evening.

            

The only thing missing from the evening was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune, but as James Neve explained, there were so many great tunes and so little time that with much regret the CCR tune had to fall on the cutting floor. Better luck next time.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

YouTube Picks (#20) – Another way to play Mandolin (3): Back to Bach

It really doesn’t matter whether you are into classic rock, jazz, blues, pop, bluegrass, whatever, eventually every serious musician or music patron has to come to terms with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is one of, if not the most significant  composer, in the history of western music. It really doesn’t matter what instrument you play because Bach didn’t really care to much about instrumental specifics. He frequently moved his music around from instrument to instrument or onto any one of the many configuration or ensembles at his disposal. Obviously, string and keyboard players have the edge with the shear volume of Bach’s music that is available for their instruments. Mandolin players are luckier than most. Although, to my knowledge Bach didn’t compose specific mandolin music, players have access to the huge quantity of Bach’s violin, cello, viola, etc music that is out there. They also have the advantage in that the tuning of the mandolin is the same as the violin (G D A E – low to high). Admittedly the Mandolin doesn’t have the ability to sustain long notes like a violin but there are ways around that (the tremolo).

Over the years mandolin players have not been slow to pick up on the Bach Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas. It is not only great music but it’s a great way to build up your mandolin technique.  Even Bluegrass players have taken a turn at those compositions.  One of note is an American mandolinist,  singer, songwriter, and radio personality named  Colin Thile  (born February 20, 1981). He is best known for his work in the progressive acoustic trio  Nickel Creek and the acoustic folk and progressive bluegrass quintet  Punch Brothers. He also has a passion for Bach. Check the video below of Colin playing Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G Minor, BWV 1001. This is a Suite of  four pieces:  Adagio / Fuga / Siciliano / Presto.

Although the Bluegrass mandolin, to my ears, sounds a little thin for this style of music this is a great performance and should inspire us all.

The first time I took a look at the manuscript for the Sonata it threw me for a loop. I am more used to reading simple melody lines or chord diagrams so on first glance it was, and still is, pretty daunting. Take a look at the first page ………

Mike Marshall and Darroll Anger are two other North American performers who have dipped more than a toe in Bach’s deep musical waters.

Mandolin players can go even further afield in the huge Bach inventory. For example here  the Israeli Madolinist Avi Avital and Harpist  Bridget Kibbey playing a rearrangement of the Eb Major Sonata for Flute and Clavier, BWV 1031. This is the first movement the Allegro Moderato. Avi is a well known, award winning performer and Bridget is a much in demand solo and ensemble performer.  The physical contrast between the tiny mandolin and the giant harp is eye catching and yet the sound balance between the instruments is spot on.

There are many, many more examples on YouTube so feel free to explore and, if you are a mandolin player, maybe work on a few pieces.

@@@@@@@@@@@

SWEET ALIBI – House Concert

SWEET ALIBI HOUSE CONCERT Wednesday November 15, 2017, 7:30pm at 5768 Haha Creek Road, Wardner.

With the possible exception of Classical Chamber Music, small group truly acoustic performances are pretty rare these days. Even “folk” musicians “plug in”. The expectation of audiences, regardless of the music genre  or the performance venue is for the music to be amplified. The Sweet Alibi  house concert at Van and Shelagh Redecop’s place on Wednesday night is about as close as one can get to an acoustic performance.

The opening act, Mismatched Socks,  was 100% acoustic. No one plugged in and none of the vocalists were “miked”. This local family band  of related siblings and cousins have been performing around the area for a couple of years now and features Grace Cleland on mandolin; Rachel Cleland  on upright bass; Jason Cleland  on violin;  cousins and fellow siblings Rachel and Meaghan Gaudet on percussion and guitar. All musicians double up on vocals. This was the perfect venue to hear the sweet harmonies of the vocalists against the soft musical back drop of the accompanying instruments. They did a short set that included Rip Tide, Muddy Waters, Phillip Phillips  Home,  and the Lumineers  Hey Ho.

        

On the other hand Sweet Alibi did “plug in” their guitars but the vocals were 100% acoustic and the balance between the instruments and the vocals was absolutely perfect. The vocal harmonies were to die for. Having performed in the area last April this is their second concert at Van and Shelagh’s place. The band of Amber Rose – guitar, vocals and percussion; Michelle Anderson – banjo, vocals and guitar; Jess Rae Ayre  – guitar, vocals, percussion and harmonica were joined by bass guitarist Alistair Dunlop (It is rumored that Alistair first met the ladies in a Winnipeg North prison). The band performed  selections from their numerous recordings and it included their wonderful version of Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody and their tribute to the undefeated rodeo bull  Bodacious.

Here are some more images from the evening.

            

Thanks should go to the musicians of Sweet Alibi who spend so much time on the road touring to entertain such small, but welcoming audiences. Thanks to the “Cleland Clan” for coming out on a school night to perform  and thanks also to Shelagh and Van for hosting the concert, housing the musicians and providing the wine and delicious snacks.

We should do this again some time……..

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@