Lee Konitz (October 13, 1927 – April 15, 2020)

Every generation has its “Classic Jazz Era” with its distinctive style of performance and musicians. In the 1920s it was the original “Jazz Age” with master musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Oliver, Edie Lang, etc. In the 1930s it was a transition into the “Swing Era” with the Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie Orchestras and the emergence of the Saxophone as a major solo instrument. In the 1940s it was “The Swing Era” with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and of course Duke Ellington and Count Basie. By the 1950s Jazz as a popular musical form had faded but the ” The Bebop Era” was probably the most vibrant musical style to ever grace the Jazz scene. It still has a major impact on the way Jazz is being played today. Charlie Parker on Alto Saxophone was the major Bebop innovator and a giant influence on all jazz performers of that era and all jazz performers since. In the 1960s the musical jazz styles of what could be called the “Blue Note Years” became diversified across a number of styles that included Cool Jazz, Hard Bop and Soul and featured the likes of Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and of course Miles Davis and  Lee Konitz.

In the years since then Jazz has continued to evolve into a plethora of styles and a number of musicians who came to fame in Blue Note years have continued to perform well into their sunset years with major contributions to the art form. This obituary in the New York Times, April 16, 2020 by

Lee Konitz, Jazz Saxophonist Who Blazed His Own Trail, Dies at 92

He was a pioneer of the cool school, but he resisted pigeonholing and focused on “making a personal statement.” He died of complications of the coronavirus.

Lee Konitz, a prolific and idiosyncratic saxophonist who was one of the earliest and most admired exponents of the style known as cool jazz, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 92.His niece Linda Konitz said the cause was complications of the coronavirus. She said he also had pneumonia.

Mr. Konitz initially attracted attention as much for the way he didn’t play as for the way he did. Like most of his jazz contemporaries, he adopted the expanded harmonic vocabulary of his fellow alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the leading figure in modern jazz. But his approach departed from Parker’s in significant ways, and he quickly emerged as a role model for musicians seeking an alternative to Parker’s pervasive influence.

Where modern jazz in the Parker mold, better known as bebop, tended to be passionate and virtuosic, Mr. Konitz’s improvisations were measured and understated, more thoughtful than heated. “I knew and loved Charlie Parker and copied his bebop solos like everyone else,” Mr. Konitz told the Wall Street Journal in 2013. “But I didn’t want to sound like him. So I used almost no vibrato and played mostly in the higher register. That’s the heart of my sound.”

Although some musicians and critics dismissed Mr. Konitz’s style as overly cerebral and lacking in emotion, it proved influential in the development of the so-called cool school. But while cool jazz, essentially a less heated variation on bebop, was popular for several years — and some of its exponents, notably the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and the trumpeter and singer Chet Baker, both of whom he sometimes worked with, became stars — Mr. Konitz for most of his career was a musician’s musician, admired by his peers and jazz aficionados but little known to the general public.

This was in part because of his personality: An introvert by nature, he was never entirely comfortable in the spotlight. And it was in part because of his musical philosophy, which valued spontaneity above all else and often led him to pursue daring improvisational tangents that could leave his less adventurous listeners feeling a little lost. (His way of preparing for a performance, he once said, was “to not be prepared.”)  “My playing was about making a personal statement — getting audiences to pay attention to what I was saying musically rather than giving them what they wanted to hear, which is entertainment,” he said in the 2013 interview, referring to his early struggles to find an audience. “I wanted to play original music.” His willingness to take chances was admired by advocates of so-called free jazz, which, beginning in the late 1950s, defied established rules of harmony and rhythm. But ultimately no label, not even “cool,” really fit Mr. Konitz; he was best characterized as sui generis. Reviewing a performance in 2000 for The New York Times, Ben Ratliff called Mr Konitz “as original a player as there is in jazz” and praised the “boiled-down wisdom” of his playing, noting that “even when he is in the heat of improvisation, it sounds like someone whistling a tune he has known all his life.”

Leon Konitz was born in Chicago on Oct. 13, 1927, the youngest of three sons of Jewish immigrants. His father, Abraham, who owned a laundry, was from Austria; his mother, Anna (Getlin) Konitz, was from Russia.Inspired by Benny Goodman, he persuaded his parents to buy him a clarinet when he was 11. He later switched to saxophone, and in 1945, with the ranks of the nation’s dance bands depleted by the draft and opportunities for young musicians plentiful, he began his professional career with the Chicago-based band of Jerry Wald. His first big break came in 1947 when he joined The Claude Thornhill Orchestra, whose soft sound and pastel colors meshed well with his playing style. A subsequent stint with the more dynamic and aggressive Stan Kenton ensemble proved an uneasy musical mix but helped spread his name in the jazz world. The recordings that did the most to establish Mr. Konitz’s reputation were made in the late 1940s and early ’50s, after he had moved to New York, under the leadership of two of the most distinctive artists in modern jazz: the pianist and composer Lennie Tristano, with whom he studied for several years and whose unorthodox approach to improvisation helped shape his own; and the trumpeter Miles Davis, whose short-lived but influential nine-piece band sought to adapt the ethereal Thornhill sound to a bebop context.Those recordings, and others Mr. Konitz made as a leader in the 1950s, were widely admired by other musicians. But that admiration did not translate into work, and he struggled to find bookings; for a brief period in the ’60s he stopped performing altogether. He did not find steady employment as a musician again until the mid-’70s, when New York City experienced a small jazz renaissance. He attracted a loyal audience for his work both with small groups and with a nonet that, despite its ambitious repertoire and arrangements, ultimately did not last much longer than the Miles Davis ensemble on which it was partly modeled. He had a bigger following in Europe, where for the last several decades of his life he spent much of his time and did most of his recording. His European discography ranged in style and format from “Lone-Lee” (1974), on which he played unaccompanied, to “Saxophone Dreams” (1997), on which he was supported by a 61-piece orchestra. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2009.

While Mr. Konitz rarely maintained a working group for more than a few months, he performed and recorded as both leader and sideman with an impressive array of top-rank musicians, ranging from the pianist Dave Brubeck (on Mr. Brubeck’s 1976 album “All the Things We Are”, which also featured the avant-garde saxophonist Anthony Braxton and the drummer Elvin Jones (on Mr. Konitz’s influential 1961 album “Motion” an experiment in spontaneity recorded without planning or rehearsal) to, in more recent years, the pianist Brad Mehldau and the guitarist Bill Frisell. In 2003, in a rare foray outside the jazz world, he played on Elvis Costello’s album “North”. Despite health problems, Mr. Konitz continued to perform into his 90s. In recent years he would often stop playing in mid-solo and continue improvising vocally.

Mr. Konitz was married three times. He is survived by two sons, Josh and Paul; three daughters, Rebecca Pita, Stephanie Stonefifer and Karen Kaley; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Like many jazz musicians, Mr. Konitz often found himself plying his trade in bars and nightclubs where the audiences were less than completely attentive. He professed not to mind.“Wherever I’m at, I’m happy to have a chance to play,” he told the British jazz writer Les Tompkins in 1976. “People come in and say, ‘How can you work in this noisy little joint?’ I say: ‘Very easy. I take the horn out of the bag, and I put it in my mouth.’ I appreciate the opportunity.”

I came to the music of Lee Konitz by a round about route. My all time favorite Alto Sax player is Paul Desmond. Konitz and Desmond had the same light airy sound. Paul Desmond’s  contrapuntal improvisations with The Dave Brubeck Quartet led me to the Mosaic box set of “The Complete Recordings of the Paul Desmond Quartet with Jim Hall” (MDV-120). This set featured a number of delightful Bossa Nova explorations so when I stumbled on a Danish recording of Bossa Nova music featuring Lee Konitz it was a natural route to follow in exploring the music of a musician who did not have a large presence in my Jazz collection. That led me on to other Lee Konitz recordings, including the classic “Birth of the Cool” sessions with Gil Evans, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan and the Mosaic Box Set “The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Wayne Marsh” (MDV-174).

In a musical career spanning around 70 years Lee has recorded masses of material that is just waiting to be explored by anybody who is interested. On YouTube alone there are heaps of his video performances.

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POSTSCRIPT :

Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art (Jazz Perspectives) Kindle Edition

The preeminent altoist associated with the “cool” school of jazz, Lee Konitz was one of the few saxophonists of his generation to forge a unique sound independent of the influence of Charlie Parker. In the late 1940s, Konitz began his career with the Claude Thornhill band, during which time he came into contact with Miles Davis, with whom he would later work on the legendary Birth of the Cool sessions. Konitz is perhaps best known through his association with Lennie Tristano, under whose influence much of his sound evolved, and for his work with Stan Kenton and Warne Marsh. His recordings have ranged from cool bop to experimental improvisation and have appeared on such labels as Prestige, Atlantic, Verve, and Polydor.

This book is available from Amazon and the sample I have read is interesting. However at this particular time the cost, for me is just too high. Even the Kindle version is around $40. Here are some comments on the book…….

“Meticulously researched, detailed and documented, this long awaited overview justly establishes Konitz as one of the most consistently brilliant, adventurous and original improvisers in the jazz tradition—a genius as rare as Bird himself.” —John Zorn (a major saxophonist in his own right).

“Hamilton’s work may well mark the inception of a format new to writing on Western music, one which avoids both the self-aggrandizing of autobiography and the stylized subjectification of biography.” —The Wire

“An extraordinary approach to a biography, with the man himself speaking for extended sessions. The main vibration I felt from Lee’s words was total honesty, almost to a fault. Konitz shows himself to be an acute observer of the scene, full of wisdom and deep musical insights, relevant to any historical period regardless of style. The asides by noted musicians are beautifully woven throughout the pages. I couldn’t put the book down—it is the definition of a living history.” — David Liebman (another major saxophonist)

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Out of Nowhere: The Musical Life of Warne Marsh Kindle Edition

To study the life, times and music of Lee Konitz then one has to pay attention to Lee’s connections to music of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano. This book is a way into that world. The writing style is a little odd, almost a literary jazz solo on the subject matter, but worth the effort. The jazz world of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s was a very different musical environment .

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John Prine (1946-2020)

By the the mid sixties singer/song writers had replaced most instrumental music and had even nudged crooners off center stage. It seems like every high school musician had became intent on trying his or her hand at the genre. Not many of them were successful. In fact most of their efforts are gone and forgotten. To this day when a young performer gets up on stage and introduces their latest effort as a song they wrote I go into a mental cringe. Most juvenile efforts are just not up to the mark. However, in the post Gordon Lightfoot / Bob Dylan era there are standouts. In Canada there was Stan Rogers and David Francy; In Australia there was Eric Bogle and probably the most successful in North America was John Prine. Stan Rogers is dead off course, David Francy and Eric Bogle are retired and now, unfortunately, John Prine has passed away. What all these writers had in common was a deep attachment to their cultural roots and abilities to make the ordinary extraordinary. In doing so they painted mental images that are immediate and tell a story. There maybe sub-texts in and behind the songs but on first listening their songs are immediately decipherable. In fact there is no need to search for the meaning of their songs. They are clear and immediate portrayals of the human conditions. There is no Psychoanalysis  required. There is nothing else that needs to be added. The songs speak for themselves. Listen to John Prine’s Souvenirs……

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Celebrated Singer-Songwriter John Prine dies at 73 – New York Times Obituary, April 7, 2020

John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There” and scores of other indelible tunes, died Tuesday at the age of 73. Prine died of complications from the coronavirus at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, his wife said Wednesday. Despite “the incredible skill and care of his medical team,” she said, “he could not overcome the damage this virus inflicted on his body.” Fiona Whelan Prine said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she has since recovered, but her husband was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms and had to be put on a ventilator before he died.

Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice so rough that even he didn’t like the sound all that much, until it was softened by the throat cancer surgery that disfigured his jaw late in life. He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humor brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.

In 2017, Rolling Stone proclaimed him “The Mark Twain of American songwriting.”

Prine began playing as a young Army veteran who invented songs to fight boredom while delivering the U.S. mail in Maywood, Illinois. He and his friend, folk singer Steve Goodman, were still polishing their skills at the Old Town School of Folk Music when Kristofferson, a rising star at the time, heard them sing one night in Chicago, and invited them to share his stage in New York City. The late film critic Roger Ebert, then with the Chicago Sun-Times, also saw one of his shows and declared him an “extraordinary new composer.” Suddenly noticed by America’s most popular folk, rock and country singers, Prine signed with Atlantic Records and released his first album in 1971. “I was really into writing about characters, givin’ ‘em names,” Prine said, reminiscing about his long career in a January 2016 public television interview that was posted on his website.

“You just sit and look around you. You don’t have to make up stuff. If you just try to take down the bare description of what’s going on, and not try to over-describe something, then it leaves space for the reader or the listener to fill in their experience with it, and they become part of it.”

He was among the many promoted as a “New Dylan” and among the few to survive it and find his own way. Few songwriters could equal his wordplay, his empathy or his imagination. “I try to look through someone else’s eyes,” he told Ebert in 1970. His characters were common people and confirmed eccentrics, facing the frustrations and pleasures anyone could relate to. “Sam Stone” traces the decline of a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran through the eyes of his little girl. “Donald and Lydia” tells of a tryst between a shy Army private and small-town girl, both vainly searching for “love hidden deep in your heart:”

They made love in the mountains, they made love in the streams / they made love in the valleys, they made love in their dreams / But when they were finished, there was nothing to say, / ‘cause mostly they made love from ten miles away.

“He writes beautiful songs,” Dylan once told MTV producer Bill Flanagan. “I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier-junkie-daddy, and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from ten miles away — nobody but Prine could write like that.” Prine’s mischief shined in songs like “Illegal Smile,” which he swore wasn’t about marijuana; “Spanish Pipedream,” about a topless waitress with “something up her sleeve;” and “Dear Abby,” in which Prine imagines the advice columnist getting fed up with whiners and hypochondriacs.

You have no complaint,” his Abby writes back / You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t / so listen up Buster, and listen up good / stop wishin’ for bad luck and knocking on wood!”

Prine was never a major commercial success, but performed for more than four decades, often selling his records at club appearances where he mentored rising country and bluegrass musicians. “I felt like I was going door to door meeting the people and cleaning their carpets and selling them a record,” he joked in a 1995 Associated Press interview. Many others adopted his songs. Bonnie Raitt made a signature tune out of “Angel from Montgomery,” about the stifled dreams of a lonely housewife, and performed it at the 2020 Grammys ceremony. Bette Midler recorded “Hello in There,” Prine’s poignant take on old age. Prine wrote “Unwed Fathers” for Tammy Wynette, and “Love Is on a Roll” for Don Williams.

Others who covered Prine’s music included Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, John Denver, the Everly Brothers, Carly Simon, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Norah Jones and Old Crow Medicine Show. Prine himself regarded Dylan and Cash as key influences, bridges between folk and country whose duet on Dylan’s country rock album “Nashville Skyline” made Prine feel there was a place for him in contemporary music. Though mostly raised in Maywood, he spent summers in Paradise, Kentucky, and felt so great an affinity to his family’s roots there he would call himself “pure Kentuckian.”

Prine was married three times, and appreciated a relationship that lasted. In 1999, he and Iris DeMent shared vocals on the classic title track of his album “In Spite of Ourselves,” a ribald tribute to an old married couple.

In spite of ourselves we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow / Against all odds, honey we’re the big door-prize / We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces / There won’t be nothin’ but big ol’ hearts dancin’ in our eyes

Prine preferred songs about feelings to topical music, but he did respond at times to the day’s headlines. Prine’s parents had moved to suburban Chicago from Paradise, a coal town ravaged by strip mining that inspired one of his most cutting protest songs, “Paradise.” It appeared on his first album, along with “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” which criticized what he saw as false patriotism surrounding the Vietnam War. Many years later, as President George W. Bush sent soldiers to war, Prine had a song for that, too. In “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” he wrote: “You’re feeling your freedom, and the world’s off your back, some cowboy from Texas, starts his own war in Iraq.”

Prine’s off-hand charisma made him a natural for movies. He appeared in the John Mellencamp film “Falling From Grace,” and in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Daddy and Them.” His other Grammy Awards include Best Contemporary Folk Recording for his 1991 album “The Missing Years,” with guest vocalists including Raitt, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Everly. He won Best Traditional Folk Album in 2004 for “Beautiful Dreamer.” Prine didn’t let illness stop him from performing or recording. In 2013, long after surviving throat cancer, he was diagnosed with an unrelated and operable form of lung cancer, but he bounced back from that, too, often sharing the stage with DeMent and other younger artists. On the playful talking blues “When I Get to Heaven,” from the 2018 album “The Tree of Forgiveness,” he vowed to have the last laugh for all eternity.

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand / Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand / Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band / Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?

His survived by his wife, Fiona, two sons Jack and Tommy, his stepson Jody and three grandchildren.

Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch, via Associated Press

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Rick Parsons – In Memory

Obituary of Richard “Rick” Douglas Parsons

May 5, 1947 – March 16, 2020

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Richard Douglas Parsons on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Cranbrook, BC.

Rick was born on Salt Spring Island on May 5, 1947. After graduation, he went to Vancouver to work for BC Tel. He worked for BC Tel/Telus for 35 years. He transferred to Cranbrook (his favourite hunting grounds) in the fall of 1993. He loved the fall when he would try to get that elk. “Deer Camp” was formed in 2010, when good friends from Chilliwack would come and experience Kootenay hunting and in turn Rick would go out there and share in the Fraser River fishing.

As a young boy, Rick took piano lessons and got as far as Grade Two with the Royal Conservatory, but then came “Rock and Roll” and he ditched the piano and taught himself to play the drums. At the age of 14, he was playing at school, local dances and off island gigs. He even played for his graduation! In his 20’s he started playing organ again but then took off about 10 years to get married and raise his daughters. In 1985, after his marriage ended, he got back into playing again.

After moving to Cranbrook, Rick joined bands such as the Home Brew, Eragone, Loose Change, Diamond Forever, Little Sand Creek, East West Connections, The Choice and Resisting A Rest. He had recently debuted with Brass Monkey, just after finding out his liver was in failure.

Rick has been diagnosed with a rare form of PNET cancer 3 years ago. In 2018/2019. Rick took part in a trial treatment in Quebec. The treatment had shrunk the tumors for 6 ½ months but then the cancer rapidly took over.

Rick is predeceased by Doug Parsons and Barb Parsons.

He leaves behind his partner and soulmate; Paula Bedford, 2 daughters; Stacy, Kelly (Sean), stepdaughter; Lynn (Clint), stepson; Jason (Livi), 7 grandchildren; Mason, Callie, Micheal & Jordy, Declan & Soraya, and the newest addition Tyler.

We are going to miss his keyboards.

In lieu of flowers, Rick and his family ask that donations be made to the BC Cancer Society (PNET)

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A note from fellow musician James Neve:

Friends,

Before his passing, Rick Parsons asked me to assist Paula in parting with his musical gear, and as a long time performer and collector, there is quite a bit of gear. So, Rather than advertise directly I thought I would pull together a list, and send it out to those performers and players I know to see if you might be interested in some of the items. I did an internet search to try and find fair prices – now some of the gear is Vintage and other stuff newer and like new. So I did my best to try and set these prices. Even if you are not interested perhaps you know someone who might be so by all means pass on the attached list with my contact information.
A few items that have sold were cleaned/disinfected by me or have been stored for many weeks without human contact.
Thank you for your interest and help.
Jamie Neve
familyneve@gmail.com
250-427-4882
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McCoy Tyner – Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81

New York Time Obituary, March 7, 2020 – McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81

With his rich, percussive playing, he gained notice with John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, then went on to influence virtually every pianist in jazz.

Credit…Dominic Favre/European Pressphoto Agency

McCoy Tyner, a cornerstone of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking 1960s quartet and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history, died on Friday at his home in northern New Jersey. He was 81. His nephew Colby Tyner confirmed the death. No other details were provided.

Along with Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and only a few others, Mr. Tyner was one of the main expressways of modern jazz piano. Nearly every jazz pianist since Mr. Tyner’s years with Coltrane has had to learn his lessons, whether they ultimately discarded them or not. Mr. Tyner’s manner was modest, but his sound was rich, percussive and serious, his lyrical improvisations centered by powerful left-hand chords marking the first beat of the bar and the tonal center of the music.

That sound helped create the atmosphere of Coltrane’s music and, to some extent, all jazz in the 1960s. (When you are thinking of Coltrane’s playing of “My Favourite Things” or “A Love Supreme”, you may be thinking of the sound of Mr. Tyner almost as much as that of Coltrane’s saxophone). To a great extent he was a grounding force for Coltrane. In a 1961 interview, about a year and a half after hiring Mr. Tyner, Coltrane said: “My current pianist, McCoy Tyner, holds down the harmonies, and that allows me to forget them. He’s sort of the one who gives me wings and lets me take off from the ground from time to time.”

Mr. Tyner did not find immediate success after leaving Coltrane in 1965. But within a decade his fame had caught up with his influence, and he remained one of the leading bandleaders in jazz as well as one of the most revered pianists for the rest of his life.

Alfred McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 11, 1938, to Jarvis and Beatrice (Stephenson) Tyner, both natives of North Carolina. His father sang in a church quartet and worked for a company that made medicated cream; his mother was a beautician. Mr. Tyner started taking piano lessons at 13, and a year later his mother bought him his first piano, setting it up in her beauty shop

Credit…Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He grew up during a spectacular period for jazz in Philadelphia. Among the local musicians who would go on to national prominence were the organist Jimmy Smith, the trumpeter Lee Morgan and the pianists Red Garland, Kenny Barron, Ray Bryant and Richie Powell who lived in an apartment around the corner from the Tyner family house, and whose brother was the pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Tyner’s idol. (Mr. Tyner recalled that once, as a teenager, while practicing in the beauty shop, he looked out the window and saw Powell listening; he eventually invited the master inside to play.)While still in high school Mr. Tyner began taking music theory lessons at the Granoff School of Music. At 16 he was playing professionally, with a rhythm-and-blues band, at house parties around Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Mr. Tyner was in a band led by the trumpeter Cal Massey in 1957 when he met Coltrane at a Philadelphia club called the Red Rooster. At the time, Coltrane, who gre up in Philadelphia but had left in 1955 to join Miles Davis’s quintet, was back in town, between tenures with the Davis band.The two musicians struck up a friendship. Coltrane was living at his mother’s house, and Mr. Tyner would visit him there to sit on the porch and talk. He would later say that Coltrane was something of an older brother to him. Like Coltrane, Mr. Tyner was a religious seeker: Raised Christian, he became a Muslim at 18. “My faith,” he said to the journalist Nat Hentoff, “teaches peacefulness, love of God and the unity of mankind.” He added, “This message of unity has been the most important thing in my life, and naturally, it’s affected my music.”In 1958, Coltrane recorded one of Mr. Tyner’s compositions, “The Believer”. There was an understanding between them that when Coltrane was ready to lead his own group, he would hire Mr. Tyner as his pianist.

For a while Mr. Tyner worked with the Jazztet, a hard-bop sextet led by the saxophonist Benny Golson and the trumpeter Art Farmer. He made his recording debut with the group on the album “Meet the Jazztet” in 1960. Coltrane did eventually form his own quartet, which opened a long engagement at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan in May 1960, but with Steve Kuhn as the pianist. A month later, halfway through the engagement, Coltrane made good on his promise, replacing Mr. Kuhn with Mr. Tyner. That October, Mr. Tyner made its first recordings with Coltrane, participating in sessions for Atlantic Records that produced much of the material for the albums “My Favorite Things,” “Coltrane Jazz,” “Coltrane’s Sound” and “Coltrane Plays the Blues.”

Credit…Joe Alper/Morrison Hotel Gallery

Mr. Tyner was 21 when he joined the Coltrane quartet. He would remain — along with the drummer Elvin Jones and, beginning in 1962, the bassist Jimmy Garrison — for the next five years. Through his work with the group, which came to be known as the “classic” Coltrane quartet, he became one of the most widely imitated pianists in jazz. The percussiveness of his playing may have had to do with the fact that Mr. Tyner took conga lessons as a teenager from the percussionist Garvin Masseaux, and learned informally from the Ghanaian visual artist, singer and instrumentalist Saka Acquaye who was studying at the time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Harmonically, his sound was strongly defined by his use of modes — the old scales that governed a fair amount of the music Mr. Tyner played during his time with Coltrane — and by his chord voicings. He often used intervals of fourths, creating open-sounding chords that created more space for improvisers.“What you don’t play is sometimes as important as what you do play,” he told his fellow pianist Marian McPartland in an NPR interview. “I would leave space, which wouldn’t identify the chord so definitely to the point that it inhibited your other voicings.”

The Coltrane quartet worked constantly through 1965, reaching one high-water mark for jazz after another on albums like “A Love Supreme,” “Crescent,” “Coltrane Live at Birdland,” “Ballads” and “Impressions,” all recorded for the Impulse label. Between tours, Mr. Tyner stayed busy in the recording studios. He made his own records, for Impulse, including the acclaimed “Reaching Fourth.” He also recorded as a sideman, particularly after 1963; among the albums he recorded with other leaders’ bands were minor classics of the era like Joe Henderson’s “Page One,” Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” Grant Green’s “Matador” and Bobby Hutcherson’s “Stick-Up!,” all for Blue Note. When Coltrane began to expand his musical vision to include extra horns and percussionists, Mr. Tyner quit the group, at the end of 1965, complaining that the music had grown so loud and unwieldy that he could not hear the piano anymore. He was a member of the drummer Art Blakey’s touring band in 1966 and 1967; otherwise he was a freelancer, living with his wife and three children in Queens. Mr. Tyner’s survivors include his wife, Aisha Tyner; his son, Nurudeen, who is known as Deen; his brother, Jarvis; his sister, Gwendolyn-Yvette Tyner; and three grandchildren.

Just before Coltrane’s death in 1967, Mr. Tyner signed to Blue Note. He quickly delivered “The Real McCoy,” one of his strongest albums, which included his compositions “Passion Dance,” “Search for Peace” and “Blues on the Corner,” all of which he later revisited on record and kept in his live repertoire. He stayed with Blue Note for five years, starting with a fairly familiar quartet sound and progressing to larger ensembles, but these were temporary bands assembled for recording sessions, not working groups. It was a lean time for jazz, and for Mr. Tyner. He was not performing much and, he later said, had considered applying for a license to drive a cab.

He moved to the Milestone label in 1972, an association that continued until 1981 and that brought him a higher profile and much more success. In those years he worked steadily with his own band, including at various times the saxophonists Azar Lawrence and Sonny Fortune and the drummers Alphonse Mouzon and Eric Gravatt. His Milestone albums with his working group included “Enlightenment” (1973), recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which introduced one of his signature compositions, the majestic “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” He also recorded for the label with strings, voices, a big band and guest sidemen including the drummers Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette.

Mr. Tyner did not use electric piano or synthesizers, or play with rock and disco backbeats, as many of the best jazz musicians did at the time; owning one of the strongest and most recognizable keyboard sounds in jazz, he was committed to acoustic instrumentation. His experiments outside the piano ran toward the koto, as heard on the 1972 album “Sahara,” and harpsichord and celeste, on “Trident” (1975).

In 1984, he formed two new working bands: a trio, with the bassist Avery Sharpe and the drummer Aaron Scott, and the McCoy Tyner Big band. His recordings with the big band included “The Turning Point” (1991) and “Journey” (1993), which earned him two of his five Grammy Awards. He also toured and made one album with the nine-piece McCoy Tyner Latin All-Stars. He was signed in 1995 to the reactivated Impulse label, and in 1999 to Telarc. From the mid-’90s on he tended to concentrate on small-band and solo recordings.

Credit…Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

In 2002, Mr. Tyner was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, one of the highest honors for a jazz musician in the United States. He resisted analyzing or theorizing about his own work. He tended to talk more in terms of learning and life experience. “To me,” he told Mr. Hentoff, “living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live. Therefore, just as I can’t predict what kinds of experiences I’m going to have, I can’t predict the directions in which my music will go. I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel.”

Julia Carmel contributed reporting.

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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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