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.

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Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip dies.

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Of course we all knew it was coming but it still seems so sudden. It’s 12 months since that last nation wide televised concert. There have been a lot of tributes on the news last night (Wednesday, 2017/10/18) including a very tearful farewell from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. Perhaps among the tributes this one below will rank high on the list.

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Alan Holdsworth August 6, 1946 – April 16, 2017

I have to admit that although I was aware of the name Allan Holdsworth I had not paid any attention to his music. It was only the article Remembering Allan Holdsworth in July 2017 edition of DownBeat that prompted me to do a little research. Here is part of an entry in Wikipedia:

Allan Holdsworth (6 August 1946 – 15 April 2017) was a British guitarist and composer. He released twelve studio albums as a solo artist and played a variety of musical styles in a career spanning more than four decades, but is best known for his work in jazz fusion. Holdsworth was known for his advanced knowledge of music, through which he incorporated a vast array of complex  chord progressions and intricate solos; the latter comprising myriad scale forms often derived from those such as the diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales, among others, resulting in an unpredictable and “outside” sound. His unique legato soloing technique stemmed from his original desire to play the saxophone. Having been unable to afford one, he strove to use the guitar to create similarly smooth lines of notes. He also become associated with playing an early form of  guitar synthesizer called the   SynthAxe, a company he endorsed in the 1980s.

Holdsworth was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satrriani, Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Ritchie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson, Kurt Rosenwinkel,  Yngwie Malmsteen , Michael Romeo, Ty Tabor and Tom Morello . Frank Zappa once lauded him as “one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet”, while  Robben Ford has said: “I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don’t think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can.”

Check the full Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Holdsworth   for more info.

Well, he obviously has a bucket full of credentials so I went to YouTube  to get a taste of what he is about. There are lots and lots of clips. This is not relaxing music. It offers very significant challenges for  a potential audience and I for one am not sure I am up to the challenge. The one I have selected is interesting because it was recorded April 3, 2017. He died on April 15, 2017.

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In memory of Leonard Cohen – Paul Zollo

Leonard Cohen-1September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016

Leonard was 82 years old when he died

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was ten and learning how to play guitar. In front of me were the lyrics and chords for his song “Suzanne.” I remember thinking, “How does someone write something this beautiful?” It seemed like a miracle to me.

Still does.

So when I got the supreme privilege of sitting down with him myself to talk about songwriting, I told him exactly that. That since I was just a kid, I have been pondering the mystery of “Suzanne” and other miracle songs he wrote. He smiled that warm, gentle Leonard smile when I said this, and did not demur.

“It is a miracle,” he answered. “If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.”

And in that one answer is the crystallization of this man’s greatness. With just a few words, he gives us humility, humor, reverence, mystery and dedication. Dedication to the mystery itself, to the realm into which all songwriters reach to find their songs.

He spoke in parables. Unlike most humans who rarely finish entire sentences, he spoke in perfect paragraphs, with language at once beat and biblical, ancient and modern. Never was this more evident than when I asked him what he thought about the current quality of popular song, and the widespread conviction of many from previous generations that meaningful songs are no longer written.

“There are always meaningful songs for somebody,” he said. “People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.”

One time I interviewed Anjali, the singer-musician who loved and lived with him for years, and did a whole album of his words with her music. We met at a café in mid-L.A. and the great man himself, Leonard, accompanied her. Of course, being him he knew right away I would be unable to conduct a meaningful interview with him sitting there. So he immediately assured us that he would sit elsewhere while we spoke.

We did the interview, and afterwards I made an admission to Anjali. Which was that it was hard to fathom actually living a regular life with Leonard. I did know he was a man, after all, as I told her. But to songwriters, I said, he is a God.

She laughed heartily when I said that, and answered, “Oh trust me, he’s a man! He is definitely a man.”

Now with his mortal life complete, it seems she must have been right. But there are very few men I have ever known who did what he did. Even when the industry as he knew it essentially collapsed, never did he waver from the thing that mattered most: the work. If it took him seven years to perfect a song, even to the extent of writing forty or more verse, he would take seven years. There was no rush. Nothing mattered more. When he would be up at Mt. Baldy, serving time as a Buddhist monk, he would be working on songs in his head. During his last year, when he was in severe pain and immobilized, he worked on songs. The work never stopped. Songwriting was for him, as miracle songs like “Hallelujah” made so clear, more than a job. It was a calling. His highest calling. And he built a beautiful and indestructible tower of song, brick by brick, day by day, year by year. Like all of his songs, it has been built to last.

“It begins with an appetite,” he said, describing the way he started a song, “to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt.“

Songwriting, he explained, did not come easy. It was work, and he felt artists were wrong to ever consider otherwise. “But why shouldn’t my work be hard?” he asked. “One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. Some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work hard as any stiff, to come up with the payload.”

Asked to explain just what this work entails, he basically answered anything. Whatever is required. “Anything that I can bring to it, he said. “Thought, meditation, drinking, disillusion, insomnia, vacations. Because once the song enters the mill, it’s worked on by everything that I can summon. And I need everything. I try everything. I try to ignore it, try to repress it, try to get high, try to get intoxicated, try to get sober, all the versions of myself that I can summon are summoned to participate in this project, this work force. I try everything. I’ll do anything. By any means possible.”

So, I asked, do any of these things work better than others?

“No,” he said with a smile. “Nothing works. Nothing works.”

Nothing but pure dedication to this art and craft so impacted by his own work. “Dylan blew everyone’s mind when he started,” said the poet Allen Ginsberg. “Everyone except Leonard Cohen.” It’s true. Leonard was on his own path from the start. Never did he sway from the conviction that the only true mission was finding a way to get there, to reach that realm from which the great songs come. It’s where he is now.

“It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun,” he said. “You’re married to a mystery.”

In Memory of Leonard Cohen – Written By   Paul Zollo –  November 11, 2016

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PAUL ZOLLO is the author of eight books, including several on the craft of   song writing. His book Songwriters On Songwriting has been expanded three times and features in-depth interviews with many of the world’s greatest songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Frank Zappa. It has been called “the ultimate book about songwriting” and “the songwriter’s bible,” and is used as a textbook in songwriting courses in many universities.

On October 18, 2016, the sequel to Songwriters On Songwriting was published, More Songwriters On Songwriting featuring all new interviews with a vast range of legendary songwriters, including Leiber & Stoller, James Taylor, Loretta Lynn, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Matisyahu, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and many more.

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Special thanks to Doug Mitchell for sending this to me.

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TWO MORE JAZZ LEGENDS PASS AWAY

VIBRAPHONE  PLAYER BOBBY HUTCHINSON AND CHROMATIC HARMONICA PLAYER “TOOTS” THIELMANS

 In jazz, history counts for a lot. Every current performer of note stands on the shoulders of all those who came before. In the case of vibraphone players the early jazz giant on the instrument was Lionel Hampton. Lionel first popularized the instrument while playing with Benny Goodman during the swing era. He was a two mallet player (one in each hand) with a rapid aggressive splashy style suited to the music of the day. He never really modernized his style when the likes of Charlie Parker invented Be-bop. That was left to the next generation of performers who immersed themselves in the new style. Milt Jackson, while still a two mallet player, had a style strongly influenced by the blues and Be-bop. He was not a show man in the Hampton tradition but rather made his name as a band member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The MJQ had a career that spanned over forty years and Jackson was an integral component in their reflective style of jazz.  bobby-hutcherson-image-2Bobby Hutchinson and Gary Burton careers’ both somewhat overlapped Jackson’s and they both rose to fame in the 60’s and 70’s. They were the new generation who favored the use of four mallets (two in each hand) that allowed for a more complex pianistic style of performance. Although somewhat now retired Gary Burton is still around and is probably still performing in a semi-professional capacity. Bobby Hutchinson passed away on August 15, 2016 surrounded by his family in the living room of his long time home in Montara, California. He was 75 years old.

Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidore Thielemans was born in Belgium and began studying the harmonica at age 3, and by age 17 he was also proficient on guitar. He became Jean 'Toots' Thielemansknown as “Toots”. The Chromatic Harmonica does not have the same historical traditions of other jazz instruments so he is literally the first of his kind. Although he has played with all the great jazz soloists, including Charlie Parker, he is best known for his composition Bluesette. He died in Brussels on August 22, 2016. He was 94 years old.

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RECORDING ENGINEER RUDY VAN GELDER DIES AT THE AGE OF 92.

Rudy van Gelder- in 1988

Only a non-jazz fan would ask “Rudy who?”. Rudy was a renowned recording engineer and the principle sonic architect of the “Blue Note Sound”. A specific sound that is associated with the classic recordings of the golden jazz era of the last 50 years. He worked with many recording companies but is best known for his work with Alfred Lyon’s Blue Note Recording company. He recorded  all the jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and just about every other major jazz artist of the past 50 years.

He wasn’t always a sound engineer. He trained as an optometrist and that was his “day job”. He went off to work in the morning to his optometry practice to earn his “daily bread” and after hours he spent his time recording jazz. At first in his parent’s living room, then in the iconic studio he designed and built at Engelwood Cliffs in Hackensack, New Jersey. He eventually ditched his day job and became a full time recording engineer.

Here is a Wikipedia quote: “When I first started, I was interested in improving the quality of the playback equipment I had,” Van Gelder commented in 2005; “I never was really happy with what I heard. I always assumed the records made by the big companies sounded better than what I could reproduce. So that’s how I got interested in the process. I acquired everything I could to play back audio: speakers, turntables, amplifiers”. One of Van Gelder’s friends, the baritone saxophonist Gil Melle introduced him to Alfred Lyon, a producer for Blue Note Records, in 1953. Within a few years Van Gelder was in demand by many other independent labels based around New York,  such as Prestige Records, Impulse and Savoy. Bob Weinstock, owner of Prestige, recalled in 1999, “Rudy was very much an asset. His rates were fair and he didn’t waste time. When you arrived at his studio he was prepared. His equipment was always ahead of its time and he was a genius when it came to recording”. According to a JazzTimes  article in August 2016, “jazz lore has formed the brands into a yin and yang of sorts: The Blue Note albums involved more original music, with rehearsal and the stringent, consistent oversight of Alfred Lion; Weinstock was more nonchalant, organizing what were essentially blowing sessions for some of the best musicians in jazz history”. Van Gelder said in 2012, “Alfred was rigid about how he wanted Blue Note records to sound. But Bob Weinstock of Prestige was more easygoing, so I’d experiment on his dates and use what I learned on the Blue Note sessions”. He also worked for Savoy Records in this period, among others. “To accommodate everyone, I assigned different days of the week to different labels”. Rudy was also a  pioneer in the development of live “on site” jazz recordings. In the 1950s Van Gelder also performed engineering and mastering for the classical label Vox Records. Thelonious Monk composed and recorded a tribute to Van Gelder entitled “Hackensack”.

Here is quote that I am  sure will raise the ire of fans of vinyl recordings. From 1999 on, he re-mastered the analog Blue Note recordings, that he had made several decades earlier, into 24-bit digital recordings for the Blue Note’s RVG Edition series and also a similar series of re-masters for the current owners, Concord Records, of some of the Prestige albums he had previously recorded.  He was positive about the switch from analog to digital technology. He told Audio magazine in 1995: “The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I’ve made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I’m glad to see the LP go. As far as I’m concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don’t like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That’s why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I’m not denying that they do, but don’t blame the medium.”

Van Gelder resided in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey where he died at his home on August 25, 2016.

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Three more music legends pass away……….

Ralph Stanley

“Ralph Edmund Stanley (February 25, 1927 – June 23, 2016), also known as Dr. Ralph Stanley, was an American   bluegrass artist, known for his distinctive singing and banjo playing. Stanley began playing music in 1946, originally with his brother Carter as part of  The Stanley Brothers,  and most often as the leader of his band, The Clinch Mountain Boys. He was part of the first generation of bluegrass and was inducted into both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honour and The Grande Ole Opry.” – Wikipedia. To the general public he was probably best known for the sound track of the film O Brother Where Art Thou  in which he sings the Appalachian dirge O Death. At the age of 88, following a musical career that spanned 70 year Stanley died on June 13, 2016  as a result of skin cancer.

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Guy-Clark

Guy Charles Clark (November 6, 1941 – May 17, 2016) was an American Texas country and folk singer, musician, songwriter, recording artist, and performer. He released more than twenty albums, and his songs have been recorded by other artists including Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, Lyle Lovett, Ricky Scaggs, Steve Wariner and Rodney Crowell. He won the 2004 Grammy Award for the Best Folk Album My Favorite Picture of you. Clark was born in Monahans, Texas, and eventually settled in Nashville  where he helped create the progressive country and outlaw country genres. His songs L.A. Freeway and Desparados Waiting for  a Train that helped launch his career were covered by numerous performers. The New York Times described him as “a king of the Texas troubadours”, declaring his body of work “was as indelible as that of anyone working in the Americana idiom in the last decades of the 20th century”  … Wikipedia

At the age of 74  Clark died in Nashville on May 17, 2016, following a lengthy battle with lymphoma.

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Alirio Díaz - fotos (1)

Alirio Díaz (12 November 1923 – 5 July 2016) was a Venezuelan classical guitarist and composer and one of the most prominent composer-guitarists of his country. A guitar competition named Concurso Internacional de Guitarra Alirio Díaz has been held in his honor in Caracas and other cities in Venezuela (the April 2006 contest was held in Carora). Many compositions have been dedicated to Díaz including Spanish composer  Joaquin Rodrigo’s  Invocación y Danza…. Wikipedia.

That short paragraph hardly does justice to the magnitude of his status in the classical guitar world. Prior to him emerging on the scene Andre Segovia was “the man”. Alirio Diaz, John Williams, Julian Bream  and others that followed Segovia and were part of the changing of guard in the classical guitar world. Segovia was the bench mark of an “old world” approach to the music. His recordings and performances exhibited a mellow, stately approach that demonstrated that guitar music deserved to be taken seriously. Segovia toured and recorded relentlessly throughout the 20th century and that certainly opened doors for the guitarists that followed. He invented the genre of classical guitar and paved the way for guitarists like Alirio Diaz that allowed them to gain an audience and, ultimately, perform in a different way with an expanded repertoire. Diaz’s sound and technique were way more dramatic than the Segovia school and on the standard pieces like Fernando Sor’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart (“The Magic Flute”) he virtually reinvented the music. I was most fortunate in my youth to attend concert performances by Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams and Alirio Diaz and the one that left the most lasting impression was Alirio Diaz. At about that same time I acquired a LP called Guitarra De Venezuela that included the following tracks:  Recuerdos de la Alhambra /  Dos Valses Venezolanos / Guaso / Canción /  Quirpa / Asturias / Dos Canciones Populares Catalanas / Minuet / Pavana y Folia / Sonata / Gavota / Fuga / Variaciones Sobre un Tema de Mozart. Here we are a half century later, the recording is still in the catalogue (complete with the original cheesy cover) and is still probably the finest recording of classical guitar music out there. One of his most notable achievements was the introduction of the music of Antonio Lauro (a fellow countryman) to a wider audience. The Valses Venezolanos are part of the modern day standard repertoire. You may have a perception of waltzes as being some what stately affairs, that will change once you hear the Venezuelan waltzes of Antonio Laurio.

Alirio Diaz at the age of 92 died on July 5, 2016

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Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez – not really famous but …….

There are entertainers who are just that – entertainers. There are entertainers who are musicians and musicians who are entertainers. Sometimes it is hard to tell exactly which is which. Then there there are musicians who are just that – musicians. Then again  there are those musicians who go beyond the accepted artistic norms of their era and create their own categories. Two such musicians are the Canadian Jazz Pianist Paul Bley and the French modern classical composer Pierre Boulez. Both of these exemplary musicians passed away this month (January 2016).

Paul Bley, born November 10 1932, died January 3 2016

Paul Bley North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague in 1990

Paul Bley is a Canadian Jazz Pianist born and raised in Montreal. He was essentially a child of the Be-bop era who performed with some of the jazz greats of the era (including Charlie Parker). He started studying violin at 5 and piano at 8, and as a teenager began playing piano professionally as Buzzy Bley. In 1949, as a senior in high school, he briefly took over Oscar Peterson’s job at the Alberta Lounge in downtown Montreal. Mr. Bley left for New York in 1950 to attend the Juilliard School of Music. During his early years there, he played with the saxophonists Lester Young and Ben Webster. Keeping a hand in his hometown jazz scene, he helped organize the Jazz Workshop, a musician-run organization in Montreal that set up out-of-town soloists with local rhythm sections; in February 1953 he booked Charlie Parker for a concert and accompanied him. That concert was recorded, one of his first extant recordings before his first album as a leader, made nine months later with a trio that included Charles Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Through the mid-’50s, he was an adept bebop player with a spare style.

As he matured he went further afield in his musical explorations to become involved in what became known as “free form jazz”. In my opinion, what set him apart from the frenzy and frantic performances of other “free form” artists was a more melodic and measured approach. During his time in New York playing with the saxophonists Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, he defined as well as anyone the blurry line between the scratchiness of free improvisation and the virtuosity of the jazz tradition. His solo performances are said to have had a significant impact on the extended solo performances of Keith Jarrett.

He often talked about being eager to get outside his own habits. In  the 1981 documentary “Imagine the Sound” he professed not to practice or rehearse, out of what he called “a disdain for the known.” He did not stake his work on traditional notions of acceptability, or the approval of the listener. With that particular musical philosophy it is easy to see why he is not a household name even in his own country.

Paul Bley was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2008.

Although I don’t have an extensive collection of his music I do treasure and enjoy the recordings he made in 1961 (Fusion and Thesis) with the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (Jimmy Giuffre on Clarinet, Paul Bley on Piano and Steve Swallow on Double Bass). The albums were re-released as a double CD by ECM records in 1992. For that I am forever thankful. Another CD of interest is the 1993 duo recording he did with fellow Canadian, saxophonist Jane Bunnet called Double Time (released by Justin Time). Although  Jane is better known for her extensive explorations of Cuban music the album shares some of the “spacey” textures of the Jimmy Giuffre 3. I am sure these albums are only the tip of the iceberg.

Here is an audio clip from the Jimmy Giuffre recordings and a clip of Paul Bley in an interview.

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 Pierre Boulez,  born 26 March 1925 , died 5 January 2016

Pierre Boulez

“Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor whose career spanned from the avant-garde post-World War II era to the computer age, has died, according to the French culture ministry. He was 90. Boulez famously challenged his peers and his audience to rethink their ideas of sound and harmony. In his music, Boulez often created rich and contrasting layers that were built on musical traditions from Asia and Africa, and on the 12-tone technique pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg — as in his 1955 work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer Without a Master).”

To be honest I am more familiar with his reputation than with his music. Classical music of the 20th century was mostly overshadowed by the music of the Romantic Era and that made it extremely difficult for musicians and composers who tried to create a new vocabulary. Pierre Boulez was one of a number of musicians trying to create a “new music”. Among concert goers “the new music” tends to alienate audiences and it is only though the dedicated efforts of musicians like Pierre Boulez  that the music moves forward and, possibly in time, develop a dedicated audience.

This short YouTube video of his most famous composition LE MARTEAU SANS MAITRE  will give listeners some idea of the challenges they face when exploring the music of Pierre Boulez. This is not your typical symphonic fare.

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These two musicians may not be well known and they played music that, by and large, most audience would chose to ignore. However, they have demonstrated that there is more to music than three guitars and a back beat.

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Remembering Phil Woods – DownBeat 2015/10/02

Remembering Phil Woods – DownBeat Posted 2015/10/02

Phil Woods, a trail blazing bebop saxophonist and an NEA Jazz Master, died Sept. 29 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He was 83.

The cause of death was complications from emphysema. Woods, who had battled respiratory problems for years, announced his retirement from music on Sept. 4 after a concert at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. That Sept. 4 concert was a tribute to Charlie Parker’s album Bird With Strings. It was, perhaps, a fitting conclusion to the career of an alto saxophonist who was deeply influenced by Parker. But Woods developed his own voice and subsequently became one of the most revered alto players of his generation. Over the course of his illustrious career, Woods toured with jazz icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry and Benny Goodman.

Born Philip Wells Woods in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1931, he began playing saxophone during childhood. As a young man, Woods studied improvisation with pianist Lennie Tristano, and he studied classical music at The Juilliard School in New York City. In 1968 Woods moved to France, where he formed the European Rhythm Machine and composed music for Danish and Belgian radio. Upon his return to the United States in 1972, he recorded the seminal albums Images (1975, with Michel Legrand) and Live From The Showboat (1976), both of which won Grammy Awards. One of Woods’ most well-known solos was on Billy Joel’s 1977 hit single “Just The Way You Are,” which earned Joel two Grammy Awards. Woods also played on recordings by Paul Simon and Steely Dan.

Other albums in Woods’ discography include Dizzy Gillespie Meets Phil Woods Quintet (1987), All Bird’s Children (1990), The Rev & I (a 1998 Blue Note date featuring Johnny Griffin) and Man With The Hat (a 2011 collaboration with saxophonist Grace Kelly, to whom he was a mentor). Woods topped the Alto Saxophone category in the DownBeat Critics Poll seven times between 1970 and 1980.

In a January 1982 cover story for DownBeat, Woods reflected on his career and the origin of his style: “Jazz has been good to me, it really has, but I would hate to think that any young man would feel that by copying the Phil Woods sound he could have the same life and career. I never began by imitating. I began by trying to become a musician and an alto sax player. I never thought I sounded like Charlie Parker, though he was an inescapable shadow in the ’40s or in the ’50s, if you were a sax player. You couldn’t be a musician without having his licks pop up. And without Louis Armstrong, we wouldn’t have any jazz licks at all; Bird would be the first guy to tell you that’s the truth.”

In addition to his contributions to jazz as an artist and bandleader, Woods was also a jazz educator who frequently worked with college students at institutions such as DePaul University. Woods was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2007. In a 2006 interview with the NEA, Woods described his first saxophone lessons: “I got a teacher by the name of Harvey LaRose and that’s where my life changed because I was going for lessons and I was faking it. I wasn’t practicing, but I’d go back the following week and I could play the lesson. Now if I’d had one of those more or less straitlaced teachers, he might have said, ‘OK, kid, you’re faking it.’ Mr. LaRose said, ‘You’re using your ear to play music. This ear thing is your most important gift.’ He realized that immediately. Mr. LaRose played alto clarinet, violin, guitar, piano—taught all of those instruments, repaired all of those instruments—and arranged with the local big bands. He … recognized that I had something to say on the saxophone because he drew me in. Within three, four months I was hooked. I loved it.”

(Note: DownBeat will publish a tribute to Phil Woods in our December 2015 issue. To read a DownBeat 2007 interview with Woods, click here. To read a review of Woods’ performance at the 2013 Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, click here. )

This is Phil Woods in mid-career before his chronic lung disease forced him to use canned oxygen on stage just so that he could play.  He literally performed right up to the end. He announced his retirement September 4 and died September 29th. Remarkable eh!

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Ornette Coleman – “He changed everything” (Lou Reed)

1959 was a pivotal year in the history of Jazz. It was the year that Miles Davis recorded the ground breaking modal jazz master piece Kind of Blue; It was the year that Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond launched their experimental album Time Out that explored the potential of unusual time signatures in Jazz; It was also the year that Charles Mingus wrote his anthems for the civil rights movement that was immortalized in the album Mingus Ah Hum;

Last, but not least it was the year that Ornette Coleman exploded onto the scene with his album The Shape of Jazz to Come. It wouldn’t be too hard to arrive at a majority consensus on the first three albums but Ornette Coleman’s contribution to the jazz lexicon and the innovations of The Free Jazz Movement was controversial in 1959 and here over fifty years later the dust has not yet settled.

Ornette Coleman

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015) was an American  jazz saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer. He was one of the major innovators of the  free jazz movement movement of the 1960s, a term he invented with the name of an album. Coleman’s timbre was easily recognized: his keening, crying sound drew heavily on blues music. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1994. His album Sound Grammar received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Music …….. From the beginning of his career, Coleman’s music and playing were in many ways unorthodox. His approach to harmony and chord progression was far less rigid than that of bebop performers; he was increasingly interested in playing what he heard rather than fitting it into predetermined chorus-structures and harmonies. His raw, highly vocalized sound and penchant for playing “in the cracks” of the scale led many Los Angeles jazz musicians to regard Coleman’s playing as out-of-tune. He sometimes had difficulty finding like-minded musicians with whom to perform. Nevertheless, Canadian pianist Paul Bley was an early supporter and musical collaborator. In 1958, Coleman led his first recording session for Contemporary, Something Else!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman….. Wikipedia.  In 1959 he followed that up with a series of albums and engagements in New York that literally hit the jazz world like a tornado.

Coleman was never really accepted by the mainstream jazz world. Most patrons and a significant percentage of musicians shied away from his music. There were exceptions of course. John Coltrane, John Lewis, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Lou Reed, The Grateful Dead and Don Cherry were among his champions. However, they were the exceptions. However his influence and statue continued to grow throughout his career.

Coleman died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 85 in New York City on June 11, 2015. His funeral was a three-hour event with performances and speeches by several of his collaborators and contemporaries.

Here is probably his most famous composition Lonely Woman

and now played by Pat Metheny

and here is what all the fuss was about….  FREE JAZZ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swJ-BZyCIh8

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