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ELVIN JONES MONTH
I took part this last month in two gigs that celebrated the music of Elvin Jones. It just happened to be that these gigs happened in the same period, which from a musical and spiritual standpoint was great. Celebrating the life of the greatest of all jazz drummers and one of my main mentors was very special and these two gigs were wonderful in their own right.
The second gig was with several musicians who were part of Elvin's groups in his last years: Delfeayo Marsalis(trombone); Jason Marsalis(drums); Nicholas Payton(trumpet); Anthony Wonsey(piano) and Delbert Felix(bass). We had a great time playing some of Elvin's later material and a few originals by Delfeayo. I was very impressed with Jason Marsalis who really took the role seriously and came up with the kind of energy one would hope for in calling up the spirit of Elvin.
Concerning the other gig, if you go to my site that the complete transcription of the "Live at the Lighthouse" recording that I participated in with fellow saxophonist Steve Grossman, Gene Perla in 1972 is available. This recording has become classic among saxophonists in the ensuing years since we were among the first of the post Coltrane generation to be using techniques like multiphonics, pentatonic scales, chromatic side-slipping and so on. A wonderful saxophonist who has attended a few of my master classes and with whom I have toured with in his native Norway, Petter Wettre, did the transcription of everything that Steve and I played. We got a chance to play some of the music (Petter playing a few of the solos exactly as we did) in New York last year at a few universities. These recent gigs were in Norway with Petter, Gene and on drums Scott Neumann. It was a lot of fun to play these tunes for the first time in 35 years and of course they morphed into something different than the originals. (A very good DVD of our New York appearances is available as well.) This little tour led me to thinking about Gene Perla, who has been a friend and associate of mine since those early years. He is a great example of a person who has taken his abilities to the nth degree, beyond the music itself.
Herb Pomeroy, the great Berklee teacher gave Gene the nickname of "Gates "(shortened down from "Pearly Gates"). When I met him he had already put time in with Willie Bobo, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and others in the New York area. I got to know Gates as a result of the interaction a lot of us had during the so-called "loft scene" taking place in that period in the Apple. These lofts were large industrial spaces that were "rennovated" to live in by artists who needed the space and in our case the chance to play at all hours after workers would vacate the area. Gene had a loft near the old Fulton Fish market on the East Side, while mine was in Chelsea on West 19 Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Those days were full of music and hanging out with people like Don Alias, Jan Hammer, Lenny White, Bob Moses, Mike and Randy Brecker, Richie Beirach and many more. When Gates got the gig playing bass with Elvin, it was big news in the small jazz community of ours. Here was one of us with a master. He told me that in time the Elvin Group would include myself and Steve, which is exactly what occurred. During our time with Elvin's group I mentioned to Gene that I had a live recording of a trio I was playing in with Bob Moses and bassist Frank Tusa which we were looking for a label to release. His reply was to the extent of: "Hell, I'll start a record company!" Hence my first two recordings are with the Open Sky Trio on Gene's P.M Records.
Since that time Gates has sustained the original record company which featured a lot of recordings of the trio he became involved with called "Stone Alliance" (with Don Alias and Steve Grossman). He produced all the Elvin Jones recordings that I was part of during that period, but even more impressively since then he has expanded into a variety of different areas. Gene became an expert in the audio and technological field, teaching for awhile at a professional school in New York; running a recording studio and a business that equipped Broadway shows with sound systems; directing an internet service business; teaching the business of music at universities and of course still plays his behind off when he is on the bandstand. He is the most well rounded artist I have known in the business, a man who has taken his intellectual and organizational strengths to another level. He is at the same time a great musician, who can compose (contributing more than a few tunes to the Elvin repertoire) and plays in the true bass tradition of accompaniment and support. We have done a variety of projects together beginning with the Open Sky recordings and most notably producing (along with my wife Caris) three teaching DVDs on saxophone, transcription and rhythm, doing a beauiful job in the filing and editing process. As well, Gates is a gentleman of the first order, knowledgeable and ethical in all matters and a pleasure to be with on the road. My hats off to one of the most diverse and well rounded guys in the business.
As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, I was part of a project celebrating the release of Ashley Khan's book on the story of Impulse Records ("The House That Trane Built") doing several gigs with McCoy Tyner in the early summer and a recent one at the Caramoor Festival near New York City. The band consisting of McCoy's regular trio of Charnett Moffett and Eric Gravatt, trumpeter Wallace Roney, trombonist Steve Turre and on altoist Donald Harrison had just finished a long European tour. It was fun playing again with these guys and hitting some of those great tunes from that era. There was a little barbecue before the performance with some time to hang in an informal setting. McCoy is one of the nicest people you can imagine with absolutely no pretense or attitude. It is so uplifting that the heaviest pianist of his time retains such an aura of peace and contentment around him. (Photo is McCoy with my wife Caris and daughter Lydia.)Most notably, there was a pre-concert discussion on stage hosted by Ashley Khan with McCoy, myself and pianist Steve Kuhn who had performed earlier at the festival. Steve was the first pianist who worked with Trane when John left Miles Davis' group and began his career as a bandleader. After a few months of mostly rehearsals and a few performances, McCoy took over for the next historic six years. To be onstage with Trane's pianists was interesting to say the least; both men commenting on the fact that Coltrane was among the one or two most serious musicians they had ever known in this music.
DANCE MEETS WATER
Earlier this year I was contacted by a Dr. Sanjiv Doddamani who besides being a cardiologist at Montefiore Hospital in New York is an expert Indian dancer. He was working on a project dedicated to the memory of Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami in Southeast Asia concerned with the element of water. Somehow he found my recording that I did in the late 90's with Pat Metheny, Billy Hart and Cecil McBee titled "Water:Giver of Life" and asked for my involvement in a ballet that would combine dancers from India and New Orleans. We did some recording with several Indian musicians and the drummer in my group, Marko Marcinko, resulting in a sound track combining parts of my original recording with new music. I had a chance to see the ballet presented at the Asia Society in New York and was very impressed with how Sanjiv combined the very disparate elements of Indian and Western dance and music which are so different. The presentation was incredibly vivid and revealing to see one's improvisations used in such a different artistic context. You could feel the anguish of these tragedies through the dance-an amazing experience which definitely moved the audience. The troupe went on to perform several times during this period at the end of August. The whole effort was a beautiful contribution to the memory of those horrible events.
QUEST IN MARCIAC
After our successful reunion tour last year, "Quest" (Richie Beirach, Billy Hart, Ron McClure) was invited to one of the big European festivals in Marciac, France, a remote area in the southwest. Completely manned by volunteers, this is very typical of the great service that the Europeans provide jazz by giving us venues to play at a decent wage. We had a great set recorded by Radio France playing with old friends for a large and VERY receptive public. To be cliched-it could never happen here (U.S of A!!)
STATE OF THE WORLD:AIR TRAVEL
I don't have to tell anyone who travels what is happening now with the planes. The security thing has been turned up a lot with no consistency from country to country. Musicians are particularly affected because of having to carry instruments. I know for the near future I am asking for a soprano and tenor to be provided because I can't take a chance on having to check the horn for obvious reasons. No one knows where this is going, but the picture is not optimistic.
THE DIAMOND CUTTER by Geshe Michael Roach
Recommended to me by saxophonist Ric Margitza, this is a wonderful book that deals with how to be successful in business using Buddhist principles. The one concept that permeates the text is that actions which take place in of themselves do not have a value judgment attached to them. It is how we look at something that decides on its subjective value. As I always say to my students, music also has no emotion per say-it does not know hate, loneliness or for that matter, love. These values are not within the notes themselves. It is humankind which places values and feelings on the art, for better or worse.Artists are conduits of the material, obviously reflecting their own emotional or personal viewpoint, but in the final result, the art stands by itself. Art is what it is in the eyes (ears, mind) of the beholder. And by the way, the book has incredible descriptions of exactly what the diamond business is all about, something that New Yorkers know when they walk down 47th Street in Manhattan-the Diamond District. I highly recommend this book.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK