Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ed Reed: From San Quentin to Jazz at Lincoln Center By Steve Siegel

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

With previous features on pianist Wade Legge, the Great Day in Harlem Photograph “Mystery Man” - William J. Crump, drummer Frankie Dunlop, vocalist Jimmy Rushing, critic and author Nat Hentoff, and Jazz Party: A Great Night In Manhattan featuring the Miles Davis Sextet, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the September 9, 1958 fest that Columbia Records put on at the Plaza Hotel for its executives and guests and trumpeter Dupree Bolton, Steve Siegel has assumed the role of “unofficial” staff writer for JazzProfiles.

His latest effort is about the obscure trumpet player Dupree Bolton [1929-1993], who appeared, seemingly from nowhere in California in 1959 and set the West Coast jazz world abuzz with his performance as a sideman. He then disappeared just as quickly and reappeared a few years later, again as a sideman, displaying mind-blowing chops. He was then gone again, never to officially record again for the remainder of his life.

© -Steve Siegel copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

Ed Reed: From San Quentin to Jazz at Lincoln Center

By Steve Siegel

“Ed Reed is the Phoenix of jazz. In his 92 years, he seems to have navigated as many rises and falls as the legendary mythological bird. He has, at various times in his life, due to almost 40 years of heroin addiction, endured as much grief and heartbreak (most of it self-directed) as any man should have to endure. He freely admits he has been the cause of a similar amount of the same within his family and the friends that have supported him through it all. 

As I was posting a link on Organissimo to my recent Jazz Profiles article on trumpeter Dupree Bolton (https://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/2021/07/dupree-bolton-uneven-life-by-steve.html?m=0), I noticed a posting about a new book entitled Double Helix – A Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, and Jazz in Two Voices, written by Ed and Diane Reed. It piqued my interest because within my Bolton article, I had used an on-line quote from Reed about his old friend, Dupree Bolton.”

I contacted the Reeds and they were very gracious to grant me an interview. What follows is a synopsis of Ed Reed's life accompanied by excerpts of the interview. The topics address the book, Reed's musical career and his relationship with his friend, the enigmatic Dupree Bolton.

“It's a summer afternoon in Los Angeles in 1950. Ed Reed, an aspiring vocalist and his close neighborhood friend and professional trumpeter, Dupree Bolton are sitting at the kitchen table of Reed's mother Ruth, as she prepares lunch for them. Reed and Bolton were both 21 years old—born one month apart in 1929. Bolton had just returned to Los Angeles after serving a 4-year incarceration for marijuana possession at the United States Narcotics Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Reed had recently been discharged from the army where he had acquired his own heroin addiction.

Ruth was well aware that her son and his friend had fallen under the spell of jazz. But what she didn't know was that jazz was only the second most important thing in both of their lives … the first, as she was about to learn, was heroin.

As she was making lunch, Ruth asked Bolton why he always seemed hungry. He casually replied that he never had enough money, after buying heroin, to waste on food. 

By 1951, the heroin habit of the two young men would land both of them in San Quentin, the first of many periods of incarcerations in various California prisons that they both would endure over the next few decades.

In addition to his incarcerations, Reed would also spend the next 40 years as an addict. Sadly, Bolton would spend the rest of his life as a heroin addict – a total of 50 years. The time off the scene for drugs and prison was responsible for Bolton appearing on only two major albums – a meager output for such a spectacularly talented musician – before passing away as a homeless street musician in 1993.

Reed’s future appeared to be headed in a similar direction as Bolton's but without even the meager musical output that Bolton had managed. A quick tally of Reed's missteps:

  • 40 years of shooting heroin, resulting in numerous overdoses as well as multiple convictions for drug possession and forgery and theft in order to acquire the drugs, resulting in…

  • The better part of 16 years incarcerated in San Quentin and Folsom Prisons.

  • Enrollment in 25 drug treatment programs.

  • Betrayal of many of those who stood by him and tried to help him.

  • When homeless, a steady stream of fleabag hotels.

  • Occasional suicidal thoughts.

During much of the time when he wasn't incarcerated but still a practicing drug addict, he managed to find work in both private and public drug treatment programs writing, consulting and advocating for drug treatment programs in California. In most cases, he managed to hide his addiction from his employers. 

One constant: Through all of these hard times he continued to sing. He sang for his own pleasure, he sang to whoever would listen to him, he sang at open mike sessions and at jam sessions with backing musicians and occasionally for money.

Flash forward from 1950 to 2014…

Downbeat Magazine’s annual Critics’ Jazz Poll for 2014 had just been released. A very curious name emerges in the Rising Star/Male Vocalist category – Ed Reed. Perhaps even more amazing is that within the next two years this Ed Reed would appear at Dizzy's Club at Lincoln Center, performing before a full-house that included Aretha Franklin and Bette Midler, who rushed over to see him upon the conclusion of their own performances in Lincoln Center.  

Could this Ed Reed be the same Ed Reed who, 64 years earlier, was sitting at his mother's kitchen table with Dupree Bolton? Maybe this was the son of Ed Reed or more likely even his grandson. After all, if it was THAT Ed Reed, he would have to be 85 years old!

Downbeat’s “Rising Stars” nominees are usually rather young and very talented. But for this year's vocalist category winner, only the term “very talented” applies – the very talented 85-year-old vocalist, Ed Reed.

To put this achievement in perspective I opened the August 2,1962 issue of Downbeat which contained the critics' poll and discovered that all the male vocalists who were listed under what was then known as the “New Star" category are now deceased – some for decades. Ed Reed was then 33 years-old.

So, where had Reed been since 1950 and how did he get from San Quentin in 1951 to having 94 jazz critics casting votes for him in the 2014 Downbeat poll?  

This was by no means a rediscovery of a well known jazz figure from the past such as the rediscovery of Jimmy Scott or Andy Bey. Ed Reed was a guy who had never even been discovered once! For more than half of those 64 years Reed was more well known to his parole officers and drug connections than to any fan of jazz.

Any reasonable person looking at Reed's rap sheet for the period 1946-1986, could conclude with a degree of reasonable certainty, that if the past is prologue for the future, then Reed would continue with his pattern of personal turmoil and continue to cause heartache for the few loyal friends and family members who supported him through all the bad times during his four decades of addiction. 

But during 1986, an amazing metamorphosis occurred in how Reed viewed himself and his relationship to others and allowed him to finally find the strength to permanently emerge from drug addiction. This resultant new-found inner peace also freed him to pursue his musical dreams.

The usual path for musicians who are fortunate enough to reach the exalted pinnacle of an appearance at Jazz at Lincoln Center is to successfully accomplish many small musical steps on the way there - perhaps play a jazz festival in Sheboygan, followed by a club date in Pittsburgh, maybe a hotel lounge appearance in Philadelphia and, finally, make some waves on the club circuit in New York City. These steps, if negotiated successfully, might get you a shot at the big time – playing a week at the Village Vanguard or an exclusive deal with Blue Note Records. Or perhaps a night at Dizzy's Club.

Unfortunately for Ed Reed, his “missteps” during the dark period of his life usually brought him farther away from any semblance of a normal life, much less the musical success that he had hoped for. 

Among the few successful musical steps that Reed took during these difficult years, ironically occurred during his final period of incarceration at San Quentin from 1964 to 1966.

In jazz lore, it is claimed that what was known as the Warden's Band in the early to mid 1960s - a band made up of a revolving door of great jazz musicians/inmates, most of whom were swept up in the “war on drugs” and deposited at San Quentin - was the greatest jazz big band of its time. No doubt a bit of hyperbole, but not that far from the truth.  At various times musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Frank Morgan, Dupree Bolton and Frank Butler held down chairs in the band.

In late 1964 Reed was asked to become one of three singers in that 17-member aggregation. He and alto saxophonist Art Pepper hit it off musically and after two years of playing with and receiving encouragement from Pepper, Reed finally gained the self-confidence to consider himself a jazz singer.

Unfortunately, though Reed never returned to prison after his final release in 1966, it was to be another 20 years until he kicked his heroin habit and, subsequent to finally getting clean, another 20 years until his musical discovery, at the age of 77, at a jazz camp in 2006.

During the years 2006-2016, Reed would record 4 well received CDs, travel the world as a performer and appear at Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center. He also became an inspiration for others not just because he kicked a long-term drug habit and found success doing what he had wanted to do all his life, but also because of his hands-on skill in helping others out of the drug wilderness through his continued work in drug counseling.

The interview with Ed and Diane Reed -

About the Book: 

Steve Siegel: I'm reading your book and I'm well through it and I'm still reading about what appears to be a hopeless drug addict doing harm to himself and others; a pattern that had existed for the previous 40 years.

Then you write about the day that you are walking through a drug treatment center, hear someone playing a guitar and you have a chance encounter with drug counselor and guitarist Alex Markels. You start singing with him. Twenty pages later you're singing in public. Another ten pages and you're making your first CD. Flip forward ten more pages and there you and your band are, singing on a European tour. Finally, another twenty-five pages and you're performing at Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Aretha Franklin and Bette Midler in the audience.

Ed, are you sure that you didn't just dream all this?

Ed: It wasn't a dream; it was reality and I was blown away by it.

SS: What motivated you and Diane to write the book?

Ed: I wanted to own it all (his mistakes in life) I wanted to let go of it. I had been through a lot of shame, a lot of fear, a lot of anger and I just wanted to let go of it. And I didn’t care who saw it and wasn’t going to sit here and be ashamed. I just needed to tell the story.

Diane: When Ed started singing, journalists who interviewed him encouraged us to write a book; that it would be a great story. Actually, it was not a bad idea. We had a story to tell that might help other people who had suffered like we had suffered and give them hope and strength in the process that they were going through.   

SS: Did rehashing all of these things take you back to a time that perhaps you didn't wish to visit? Was writing the book cathartic?

Diane: Of course. At some point Ed said to me “are you going to write about this or are you going to write about that?'' My response was “oh no never.”  Ed said to me that we're both writing this and you really have to address those unpleasant things. But I soon realized that given the way we're writing this book, I had to get serious about my side of the story, even though I was not sure of where my story would take me. Eventually, I realized that taking a deep dive into the past is a very precarious thing to do. We would get lost in the past and actually have a hard time coming back to the present. You eventually feel that all you want to do is curl up in a fetal position.

It is very raw and there are things in it that we would have never dreamed of sharing with anyone. It is a very honest book and, in addition, a very healing one that allowed us to just leave things behind us. Writing the book was a huge benefit to both of us in dealing with the past.

The Music:

SS: So, it's the late 1950s and you, Dupree Bolton and pianist George Lewis are in a Hollywood jazz club named the “Trophy Dash '' at an open mic session being run by pianist Hampton Hawes. You mention that in addition to Hawes, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, Teddy Edwards and other great musicians were present. You got up on the stage and started to sing with Hawes accompanying you. You were a bit high from smoking some marijuana and were off-key. Hawes stopped playing and interrupted you. Addressing the audience, he remarked: “Are there any singers in the house?”

No doubt a humiliating experience for you, yet despite this humiliation, you never gave up pursuing your dream. Why? 

Ed: Dupree and George simply would not allow me to stop trying to make it as a singer. They always said to me to get back up on that stage man, you're a good singer. I had to keep going because I had been singing all my life. My mother was a great singer and I wanted to be just like my mother.

Also, hanging out with Dupree and George, who was a great pianist, I wanted to be cool. By cool I mean fitting in with them. Being only able to sing and not play an instrument, I had to continue singing and then I felt that I would fit in with them.

SS: It's often been said of jazz instrumentalists that the hardest thing to play is a slow ballad. You tend to favor ballads. Can the tempo of a ballad be challenging to a singer?

Ed: It doesn't matter to me. If I love the song, I'm putting something in it that I never put in before, ever. I’m always trying to figure out how it would be the best way to do the song. Regardless of tempo, I make it really fit in the way that people want to hear it.

SS: Do you sometimes make those decisions in the middle of the song and hope that your band is good enough to follow you?

Ed: (laughing) Yes! If I'm really fortunate and I've got a good band and it's my own band then oh boy, magic! It could be a real miracle.

SS: Staying on the topic of music, let's discuss a little bit about your four recordings. How did you put them together as far as song selection? They cover an interesting mix of standards as well as rather obscure songs from the Great American Songbook. How did you go about choosing? 

 Diane:  The songs selected for the first three albums were a joint effort. For the first one, “Love Stories,” it was producer, Bud Spangler, band leader Peck Allmond and Ed. For the second, “The Song is You,” it was Peck and Ed. For the third one, “Born to Be Blue,” it was mostly Ed, with input from Bud who also produced that CD. For the fourth album, “I’m a Shy Guy,” it was Ed after listening to around 300 tunes recorded by the King Cole Trio and then picking his favorites; many of which are wonderfully obscure.  

Diane: Because Ed had been listening to Nat King Cole since he was a teenager, when we did that recording session everything went so smoothly. It came out effortlessly with mostly first takes and very little fixing necessary at the end.

SS:  Is there any vocal jazz album or artist whose records you wear out from playing them so often?

Ed: If I had to have one album to listen to all the time, it would be a Bud Powell album.  I actually didn't listen to singers very much. Those that I did listen to I would pick up a little piece here and a little piece there. There were very few singers that I really focused on. All those great singers that I heard growing up, they influence me, but I didn't want to simply imitate them.

Diane: I remember you listening to Shirley Horn, Nat Cole, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrea, Abbey Lincoln and Bill Henderson.  

Ed: We definitely did a lot of songs that were connected to Bill Henderson!

SS: If you could pick an All-Star trio with a guitarist to sing with, who would be in it?

Ed: George Cables – piano, Ron Carter – bass, Akira Tana –drums and Ralph Bravo – guitar.

Note: Ralph Bravo was a guitarist who Ed met in San Quentin whose style of playing Ed loved, Ralph encouraged Ed to sing in the prison band.  After Bravo's release from San Quentin, he apparently disappeared. Neither Ed nor Bravo’s family ever discovered his whereabouts.  

Ed Reed on Dupree Bolton:

SS:  I think that it's quite possible that you are the only person still on this Earth who knew Bolton as a friend, a fellow addict and as a musician. Tell us a little about Dupree and your relationship with him. 

Ed: I first met Dupree after he came home from the drug hospital in Kentucky (1950). His parents lived around the corner from my parents. I met him on the sidewalk and the next thing I know he’s in my parents' house. Dupree endeared himself to my mother who really took a liking to him and the stories he would tell. He and I started hanging together daily and shooting dope and hanging out at George Lewis' house where he had his piano and we played music. The two of them made me sing and oh man it was crazy but a really special time.

Dupree always did me a big favor. He would continually point out to me what I could have done differently musically. Remembering that piece of advice led me to other places that I could explore.

SS: Why was Dupree using drugs?

Ed: It took you out of misery; it took you out of the moment. Heroin would take all the pain away, the pain of the culture that existed at that time of being black and living in Watts. Watts was insane at that time with so many people just lying, cheating, stealing and doing all kinds of things just to get by.

Despite Dupree's drug habit my mother loved him. Every time he came by, she would give him a plate of food and then ask him what he was doing and he would tell her about his music.

Dupree was a loving and caring human being. He was about the music and having a good time. 

As I was writing my previous article on Dupree Bolton, I kept coming back to the question of why might someone choose a life of 50 years of heroin over a potentially great career in jazz. Then I read something Ed wrote in the book which perhaps might help to explain it… 

I welcomed the numbness that heroin brought and the illusion that everything would be all right. The need to escape what was chasing me, all the wreckage, shame, guilt, and fear I had accumulated was so powerful that even a couple of years in prison without heroin, the first thing I would do when I got out was cop some dope and shoot it.

I took this to mean that there is a cycle of drug use followed by more shame, guilt and the only way to escape this accumulation is to use more heroin and the cycle repeats itself until one is so buried in negative emotions that being sober and having to face them all at once was terrifying to the addict.

In Ed's own words, this statement is a rather cogent explanation for the depth as well as the length of Ed Reed's addiction and might well apply to Bolton's unsuccessful battle that ultimately cost him his career and caused the demeanor of sadness that those who encountered him on the streets towards the end of his life described.”

The Reeds' book can be purchased through the following links:

On Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Double-Helix-Memoir-Addiction-Recovery

On Bookbaby:

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/double-helix





Friday, September 17, 2021

Jon Gordon - Stranger Than Fiction

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“Jon Gordon is one of these amazing young musicians I'm speaking of. We first met in 1988 when Jon called me for a lesson. I was doing quite a bit of teaching at the time on the faculties of William Paterson College as well as New York University. I had the chance to have some very intimate musical exchanges with some very inspiring young saxophonists. I'll never forget when Jon came to my loft. He played with such a strong sound and direction. It didn't feel like a lesson at all! We played music together!”

- Joe Lovano, insert notes Jon Gordon Ask Me Now [Criss Cross 1099] 


“In addition to Phil Woods, his first inspiration, Jon believes he "really learned to play Jazz by sitting in at Sweet Basil with Eddie Chamblee. I used to go down there every Saturday for almost seven years. That was important to me.


I also got to play with Roy Eldridge one time, which was a real honor." "One thing that's important to me is that I've often been in situations with a lot of older musicians, many of whom were very traditional and I feel really honored about that.  People like Roy Eldridge, Eddie Locke, Red Holloway, Barney Kessel, Doc Cheatham, Jay McShann and others.  I try to be as forward looking as I can be but I don't want to ever lose the central qualities that those guys had and I got to be around."

- Bret Primack, insert notes to Jon Gordon Witness [Criss Cross 1121] 


"Right around the time I hit 16, though, I fell in love with Jazz. I heard two Phil Woods records, Musique Du Bois and Song of Sisyphus, and they totally flipped me out. That started a one-year odyssey where I followed Phil around to all the clubs and haggled him for a year.  Finally one day, he looked at me and said, 'Well, can you play?' Before I could respond, he said, 'Well, it doesn't matter because you've got to pay me anyway.  Here's my card. Call my wife.' That began a wonderful two-year association where I studied with him maybe 10 or 11 times over a two-year period. After the second lesson, he never accepted a cent!  I think there's something very magical about being able to stand next to one of your heroes, and something happens to you when you hear music live as opposed to hearing records.  I was able to play duets with Phil at a point where he was like my hero, the one guy in the world I would choose to study with.”

As told to Ted Panken, insert notes to Jon Gordon Along the Way [Criss Cross 1138]


"Jon Gordon is a master. His compositions, improvisation, tone, and technical virtuosity set him apart as an elite musician for our time."

 - Brandon Bernstein, Jazz Improv NY


"Gordon has embraced the history of his instrument, carrying with it the ability to extend music as a universal language."

- Wayne Shorter


I wanted to get this feature up on this date to coincide with the September 17, 2021 release date of saxophonist-composer Jon Gordon's new recording - Stranger Than Fiction -  on ArtistShare AS 0190.


Figuratively-speaking, I’ve known Jon since the mid-1990s through the release of three recordings under his leadership on Gerry Teekens’ Criss Cross label.


His version of Chick’s Tune flashed across my car’s FM radio on the way to work one foggy San Francisco morning, and on the way home [in still more fog] that afternoon I stopped off at the Tower Records Store in North Beach and picked up the source of the recording - Jon Gordon Ask Me Now [Criss Cross 1099 - 1994]] that also featured trumpeter Tim Hagans [whom I remembered from his stint with the Stan Kenton band in the late 1970s]. Jon and Tim were “surrounded” by a powerful rhythm section made up of Bill Charlap [piano], Larry Grenadier [b] and Billy Drummond [d].


Chick’s Tune is based on You Stepped Out of a Dream, and the familiar strains of both melodies coupled with workouts on What Is This Thing Called Love, Giant Steps, Gaslight and Ask Me Now, also all familiar tunes, gave me a chance to set my ears, so to speak, and checkout what Jon was laying down. [I still hold my breath every time I hear Tim solo as his improvisations are the Jazz equivalent of roller coaster rides. If you’ve ever heard Conte Candoli solo on trumpet, then you know what I mean.]


Although Jon did contribute an original composition to Jon Gordon Ask Me Now [Joe Said So], it wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Jon Gordon Witness, his next CD for Criss Cross [1121] which followed in 1995 that I was introduced to the compositional side of Jon Gordon as the recording features seven of his originals. He was an interesting composer then and continues to be one now.


As you would imagine, a lot has changed over the past 25 years and the principal change that I’ve discerned in Jon’s music is that his original music and saxophone playing have become more integrated. His earlier music, while thematically interesting, was essentially vehicles to solo over; now the compositions are structured in such a way that Jon’s improvisations are extensions of his themes, that is to say, they are almost inseparable.


Enter Jon Gordon Stranger Than Fiction -  on ArtistShare AS 0190. After searching for ways to describe Jon’s latest effort, I re-read the following media release by Ann Braithwaite of Braithwaite & Katz and decided to share it with you “as is” because it does such an excellent job of describing the background to and the music on the recording.


“Saxophonist/composer Jon Gordon confronts our bizarre reality with true beauty on his stunning new nonet recording Jon Gordon Stranger Than Fiction, due out September 17, 2021 via ArtistShare, features a stellar band with Derrick Gardner, Alan Ferber, John Ellis and others, with special guests including Orrin Evans and Jocelyn Gould


Truth has become a bizarrely contentious issue in this divisive era of fake news and alternative facts. Still, as alto saxophonist and composer Jon Gordon points out on his latest album, one oft-repeated maxim may be more true now than ever: that truth itself is indeed Jon Gordon Stranger Than Fiction. Over the course of ten original compositions arranged for a stellar nonet, Gordon explores the warped modern existence that we've all grappled with during the past several months and years.


The music on Jon Gordon Stranger Than Fiction, due out September 17, 2021 through ArtistShare, reflects Gordon's realization that reality takes twists and turns far more unpredictable than any author would dare write. In both his personal and professional life as well as the topsy-turvy world of politics, the composer has been forced to pinch himself repeatedly to confirm that what he was living was cold, hard truth rather than some strange dream (or, quite often, nightmare).


Fortunately that awareness has resulted in a great deal of stunning new music, brought to very real life by a top-notch band of peers and former students and fellow faculty from the University of Manitoba, where Gordon has taught for nearly a decade. On Jon Gordon Stranger Than Fiction he's joined by trumpeter Derrick Gardner, trombonist and arranger Alan Ferber, saxophonists Reginald Lewis and Tristan Martinuson, bass clarinetists John Ellis and Anna Blackmore, guitarist and vocalist Jocelyn Gould, guitarist Larry Roy, pianists Orrin Evans and Will Bonness, bassist Julian Bradford and drummer Fabio Ragnelli.


"Around 2000, I began to be aware that things were not as I'd hoped in our country", Gordon said. "For all the troubles of our past, I had hope that the country was headed in a better direction. But I became disillusioned and angered by so many people seeming to cede to a kind of non-reality. And in the last few years that's only gotten more apparent."


The album's title track was written at the time of that initial revelation, though like the reality it reflects has only grown in scale and complexity with Alan Ferber's nonet arrangement. The trombonist, who served as assistant producer for the project, also contributed the bold arrangement for "Havens," which Gordon originally recorded in quintet form on 2008's Within Worlds. Gordon himself arranged the remainder of the pieces.


"Pointillism" opens the album with gradually accruing fragments of sound from the horns, which finally give way to a tense duel between Gordon and drummer Ragnelli as the ensemble surges behind them. "Havens" settles into a taut groove that belies the fact that the band did not record together thanks to geography and the pandemic. Gordon recorded initially with the core quintet, then added horns and guests who recorded in their own homes. The inquisitive title track follows, leading into the deceptively simple, graceful "Dance." Referring to a wandering mendicant in the Hindu tradition, the brief, through-composed "Sunyasin" reflects the temptation of renouncing the trappings of modern life while realizing the challenges it presents. Jocelyn Gould, a former student of Gordon's who won this year's Juno (Canadian Grammy) for "Jazz Album of the Year," adds an air of enticing mystery with her wordless vocals.


"Counterpoint" is a self-explanatory title for the tune's intricately interwoven lines and harmonies, while "Bella" sways alluringly, with one of a pair of guest appearances by pianist Orrin Evans. The massed horns of "Modality" allow a ray of hope to peek through the clouds, leading into the stunning fanfare of "Steps." The album ends with "Waking Dream," a summation of the surreal experience that attempts to shake the listener out of their somnambulant reverie and, hopefully, into some kind of constructive action.


While recording with a larger ensemble has been a long-held desire, the impetus for Stranger Than Fiction came with a series of Leonard Bernstein concerts which Gordon was involved in for the composer's 2018 centennial. He found one famous Bernstein quote continuing to resonate with him: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Gordon's first response to that call to aesthetic arms was 2019's quartet outing Answer, which pushed towards beauty; on Stranger Than Fiction he aimed for something even more lush but also more urgent and confrontational.


"I feel like we're in a crisis on many levels," he says. "And the only way you deal with these crises - the bullying and lies and authoritarian denial of reality - is by calling it out."


Gordon comes to this with first-hand experience, as he documented in his 2012 memoir, For Sue. "I grew up in an alcoholic family," he recalls. "When you're dealing with an alcoholic or an addict, sometimes they'll look at you and say one thing, then 30 seconds later they'll turn around and say the polar opposite. You're trying to argue with somebody that's not in reality. I feel like we're dealing with that as a country and a planet, and it causes the same kind of pain in a family relationship, in a community, in a society and in the world."”


Jon Gordon


A native New Yorker, saxophonist and composer Jon Gordon was born into a musical family and began playing at age ten. Classically trained, Gordon's love for jazz was sparked when a friend played him a Phil Woods record. He began lessons with the legendary altoist while sitting in regularly with saxophonist Eddie Chamblee at Sweet Basil. Since attending Manhattan School of Music, Gordon has worked with the likes of Maria Schneider, Ron McClure, Clark Terry, Benny Carter, Phil Woods, T.S. Monk, Bill Mays, the Vanguard Orchestra, Bill Charlap, Ray Barretto, Mark Turner, George Colligan, Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Cobb, Ben Riley, Harry Connick Jr., Bob Mintzer, Bill Mobley, and the N.Y. Pops Orchestra, among many others. In November of 1996, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, judged by Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Jimmy Heath and Joshua Redman. He has released more than a dozen albums under his own name and is the author of three acclaimed books.


Jon Gordon - Stranger Than Fiction

ArtistShare - AS0190 - Recorded October 2020

Release date September 17, 2021


More about Jon can be found at www.jongordonmusic.com 


Order information is available here.




Thursday, September 16, 2021

Tommy Flanagan - A Bebopper of Gentlemanly Distinction - [From the Archives]

 © -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“One of the piano masters of Detroit, he played on many major recordings in the late '50's but thereafter sought an accompanist's security behind Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett. Emerged as an undimmed creative spirit in the 1970's and 1980's, a bebopper of gentlemanly distinction.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD

Tommy Flanagan's discography falls largely into two categories: [1] those recordings on which he appeared before he became known as one of the finest accompanists in the business, backing Tony Bennett and, more memorably, Ella Fitzgerald in her great 1960s resurgence and [2] those he made after his tenure with Tony and Ella. On all of them, Flanagan's bop vocabulary is uplifted by his beautiful touch.

To put it another way or, the other way,, Tommy’s fabled delicacy is always complemented by a fine, boppish attack that can be very blunt and straightforward.

“Tommy Flanagan” is also the always-surprising answer to one of modern Jazz’s most enduring trivia questions: “Who played piano on John Coltrane’s first LP for Atlantic - Giant Steps?”

Most people assume that the answer is Coltrane longtime associate, pianist McCoy Tyner, and they always seem a bit puzzled to think of Flanagan’s wonderfully lyrical style in association with Coltrane’s piercing, “sheets of sound” approach.

Actually as noted by Richard Cook and Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:

“Throughout the 1970's and early 1980's, Flanagan explored aspects of harmony most closely associated with the late John Coltrane, often stretching his solos very far from the tonal centre but without lapsing into the tuneless abstractions that were such a depressing aspect of Coltrane's legacy.”

I’ve always thought of Tommy as a cross between two other Detroit pianists - the hip, Bud Powell-inspired bop phrasing of Barry Harris and the beautifully crafted melodicism of Hank Jones.

Tommy’s playing strikes me as something that has always been conscious that music is very precisely mediated by time, place and specific contexts.


There may be another reason for its distinctiveness as Gene Lees surmised in this following piece on Tommy which appears in Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz:

“It has often struck me that musicians who learn another instrument first seem to bring the influence of that instrument to the one on which they finally settle as their life's work. It will probably not surprise you that Oscar Peterson played trumpet as a child, or that Bill Evans played flute and violin. Tommy Flanagan began studying clarinet at the age of six, and I do believe I hear its mellow influence in his lovely, flowing, gracefully legato piano work.

Tommy worked in his early days in Detroit with Milt Jackson and with Thad and Elvin Jones. One of his influences was the third of the Jones brothers, Hank. Others were Bud Powell, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. And after he moved to New York in 1956, Tommy sometimes substituted for Bud Powell at Birdland. In the next few years, he worked with just about everybody of stature in the New York jazz world, including Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Sweets Edison, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Coleman Hawkins.

Tommy is a soft-spoken and self-effacing man, and one of the gentle and generous accompanists. Ella Fitzgerald hired him as her pianist and music director for many road tours. He worked for her in 1956, from 1963 to '65, and from 1968 to 1978. For a time, in 1966, Tommy was Tony Bennett's music director.

In recent years, he has been working more with small instrumental groups, where his elegant abilities as a soloist are on more advantageous display.”

In his essay Jazz Pianists of the 1940s and 1950s which graces Bill Kirchner [Ed.], The Oxford Companion to Jazz, the late pianist and Jazz scholar Dick Katz summed it up this way:

“Tommy Flanagan, a fellow Detroiter, is now one of the most esteemed pianists in the world. He played on some of the most historic records ever made, including Sonny Rollins's Saxophone Colossus (Prestige) and John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic). Tommy was definitely a Powell disciple, but he also listened closely to Nat Cole, Hank Jones, Al Haig, Art Tatum, and Teddy Wilson to forge his own wonderful musical personality. As with the other Detroit talents, this type of lyricism — "playing the pretty notes," as Charlie Parker was quoted as saying — is a salient feature of his playing.”

You can hear Tommy playing those “pretty notes” on the following video tribute to him. The tune is More Than You Know which is from his 1986 CD Tommy Flanagan: Nights At The Vanguard [Uptown UPCD27.29]. George Mraz is the bassist and Al Foster is on drums.