Saturday, December 4, 2021

Dave Frisberg - 1933-2021 - The Washington Post Obituary

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

“Frisberg isn't much of a singer, but he is an excellent pianist and a very fine songwriter, and one can forgive the quality of the vocals on his own records, where he sometimes sounds like an older and jazzier Randy Newman. 

He studied journalism in college and after military service made his way to New York in 1957, where he worked as an intermission pianist in clubs before accompanying the likes of Ben Webster, Bud Freeman and Bobby Hackett. He arranged a beautiful album for Jimmy Rushing, The You And Me That Used To Be (RCA, 1972), by which time he had moved over to Los Angeles and begun making his own records, which subsequently emerged on Concord and Fantasy. His songs are a long drink of American wry, and beautifully pitched: they include 'My Attorney Bernie', 'Peel Me A Grape', 'Blizzard Of Lies', 'Quality Time', 'Do You Miss New York?' and his lyric for Bob Dorough's tune 'I'm Hip'. 

He has done his best to disprove the contention which a supply sergeant in the air force gave him: 'Jazz is okay, but it ain't got no words.'”

- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia

Steve Larson concludes the brief annotation he wrote on Dave Frishberg for the Barry Kernfeld, ed, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz by noting that “Frisberg’s broad experience is reflected in his eclectic musical style and the wry wit of his lyrics.”

The following obituary by Matt Schudel, which appeared in the November 18, 2021 edition of The Washington Post, does justice to both by way of explanation.

“Dave Frishberg, a jazz pianist and singer-songwriter whose playful lyrics and inventive melodies about romantic languor, annoying hipsters and too-slick lawyers became standards beloved by wry sophisticates and who also gained an unlikely following among the Saturday-morning cartoon crowd with his whimsical look at how legislation is passed, “I’m Just a Bill,” died Nov. 17 at a hospital in Portland, Ore.

The death was confirmed by his wife, April Magnusson, who declined to specify the cause.

Mr. Frishberg began his career as a versatile pianist who wrote advertising jingles on the side. In the early 1960s, while working with such jazz stars as saxophonist Ben Webster, drummer Gene Krupa and singer Carmen McRae, he began to write songs in a distinctive style that set him apart from other composers of the time.

“They are new American songs,” jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote in the New Yorker in 1986, describing the broad musical and emotional terrain covered by Mr. Frishberg. “Some are extremely witty, some are extremely funny. Some are fits of nostalgia. Some are lamentations. Some are cautionary. Some are highly satirical. Some are love songs in disguise.”

Shimmering moonlight and kisses in the rain never show up in Mr. Frishberg’s lyrics. Instead, he was more likely to take a sardonic view of the demands of love. When singer Fran Jeffries asked him to write a slinky song in 1962, Mr. Frishberg came up with his first well-known song, “Peel Me a Grape,” which is suffused with a feeling of haughty allure:

Pop me a cork, French me a fry …

Chill me some wine, keep standing by

Just entertain me, champagne me

Show me you love me, kid glove me

Best way to cheer me, cashmere me

I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape.

The song has been recorded by more than 80 performers, including Anita O’Day, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Horn, and it became a signature tune of cabaret singer Blossom Dearie and, more recently, jazz star Diana Krall.

Mr. Frishberg ignored musical fads and changes in technology, preferring to use pencil and paper to piece the words and music together, while sitting at his piano. “I write songs as if we were in 1936,” he once said.

“In the pop and jazz sphere,” New York Times critic Stephen Holden wrote in 2011, “the level of craftsmanship in Mr. Frishberg’s songs is equaled only by that of Stephen Sondheim. Every phrase is chiseled, each word sealed into place.”

He usually wrote both the music and lyrics, but he sometimes collaborated with other songwriters, including Johnny Mandel. In 1966, Mr. Frishberg added words to a tune by jazz musician Bob Dorough and came up with “I’m Hip,” which remains a timeless put-down of pompous trend chasers:

Like dig, I’m in step

When it was hip to be hep, I was hep

I don’t blow, but I’m a fan

Look at me swing, ring-a-ding-ding

I even call my girlfriend Man, 'cause I’m hip

Mr. Frishberg updated the lyrics over the years, adding a new line near the end — “Better show this to Quincy” — as if the self-congratulatory hipster were tight with music producer Quincy Jones.

In another of his songs, “My Attorney Bernie,” Mr. Frishberg satirized a Hollywood stereotype who’s “got Dodger season boxes and an office full of foxes.” (He also managed to rhyme “ventures” with “counterfeit debentures” in that song.) He strung a series of insincere clichés together for “Blizzard of Lies,” a rueful look at modern life: “You may have won a prize, won’t wrinkle, shrink or peel, your secret’s safe with me, this is a real good deal.”

Few of Mr. Frishberg’s songs were written in the first person or delved into his personal experiences. “Every song you hear today is about the way the songwriter feels … about some great epiphany,” he told the Record newspaper of Bergen County, N.J., in 1994. “Those kind of songs are boring. They really are.”

At times, Mr. Frishberg cultivated a wistful, retrospective mood, as in “The Dear Departed Past,” where he longs for a time “when basketballs had laces” and “when every sky was bluer … when every friend was truer.” He once composed a song, “Van Lingle Mungo,” that consisted entirely of the names of 37 long-retired baseball players, dropped like jewels into a lilting Brazilian rhythm.

After years as a sideman in jazz groups — which inspired his tune “I Want to Be a Sideman” — Mr. Frishberg began to perform as a singer in the 1970s, always accompanying himself on piano. He had a reedy, nasal voice with little resonance or range, but he became an engaging and laconic interpreter of his own songs. He was nominated for four Grammy Awards and often appeared in concerts, clubs and cabarets.

Yet, of the all the songs he wrote, the one probably best known to the public was composed for the children’s educational television series “Schoolhouse Rock!” “I’m Just a Bill,” sung exuberantly by Jack Sheldon, offers a whimsical look at how legislation is passed:

Well, it’s a long, long journey to the capital city,

It’s a long, long wait while you’re waiting in committee.

But I know I’ll be a law someday.

At least I hope and pray that I will,

But today, I am still just a bill.

David Lee Frishberg was born March 23, 1933, in St. Paul, Minn. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, owned a clothing store, where his mother was the bookkeeper.

Mr. Frishberg took an early and eclectic interest in music, listening to an older brother’s boogie-woogie jazz records and to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. He was 8 when he began to study classical piano.

“Then one day I put a Mozart piece into conga rhythm — da da da-dum, da da da-dum,” he recalled to the New Yorker in 1986. “I played it at my lesson, and I was bawled out. I couldn’t believe that doing such a thing was wrong, so I quit practicing and eased out of the lessons.”

He continued to play piano and began working professionally while still in high school. He took music courses at the University of Minnesota, where he majored in journalism. After his graduation in 1955, he spent two years in the Air Force in Utah and began to write advertising jingles for radio. He moved to New York in 1957 and was soon working with notable musicians. During the 1960s, he appeared regularly in jazz clubs and was the pianist for several years in a much-admired group led by saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

In 1971, Mr. Frishberg moved to Los Angeles to write for a short-lived TV comedy sketch show, “The Funny Side,” hosted by Gene Kelly. He wrote for other television productions and spent two years as a pianist with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. By the time he made his first return visit to the East Coast, he had written “Do You Miss New York?,” a widely recorded song with a bittersweet tone of regret: “Do you miss the scene? The frenzy, the faces. And did you trade the whole parade for a pair of parking places?”

To escape the congestion and high prices of Los Angeles, Mr. Frishberg moved with his growing family to Portland in 1986. He stopped performing after a mild stroke in 2014. Three years later, he published an autobiography, “My Dear Departed Past.”

His marriages to Stella Giammasi and Cynthia Wagman ended in divorce. In addition to Magnusson, his wife of 20 years, survivors include two sons from his second marriage.

When Mr. Frishberg began to write songs, he received encouragement from Frank Loesser, the composer and lyricist of the stage musicals “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Loesser and Johnny Mercer were the songwriters he admired most because they “knew that good lyrics should be literate speech that says something in a lyrical way,” Mr. Frishberg told the New Yorker. “They knew that good lyrics come up to the edge of poetry and turn left.”

Friday, December 3, 2021

"John Scofield: It's Magic" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the John Scofield piece in that series. It was published on September 3, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“John Scofield picked up a guitar in 1962 at the age of 11; it was a role waiting to be filled.

Playing electric guitar was about to become a major macho pose, like throwing a touchdown pass or hitting a home run. It was something little boys mimed in the air without a prop. "Look at me, ma, I'm Jimi Hendrix." It proved how masculine you were, that you could distort and feed back and if your father made enough money you could destroy a guitar or two. Burn it. Guitar players took names like Slash.

It was also more than a pose. The guitar would soon overtake the saxophone as the major instrumental voice of our times. Guitar heroes were coming of age, coming out of the woodwork thanks to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and on and on. To say nothing of Elvis. It was the pose of coming of age. Like firing a Kalashnikov.

Except for Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, with Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney on the sidelines, the jazz guitar was still just part of the rhythm section. In the classics, Segovia was something of a curiosity. If you didn't play rock, forget it. You were a 90 pound weakling.

The young Scofield was knocked out by early Beatles and Ricky Nelson. He watched Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio on television and plugged into the folk phase. There were no teachers in tiny Wilton, Connecticut, where he was growing up, so he taught himself. He listened to Delta blues, the so-called "hippy jazz" of Charles Lloyd and early fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. He played with rhythm and blues bands in high school.

At the turn of the decade, Sco's quartet performed for a packed house in the New Morning in Paris after 40 one-nighters in 15 countries in 44 days. At the same time he celebrated - paraphrasing Ronald Reagan - the 10th anniversary of his 29th birthday. It was a good time to take stock.

John Scofield has become arguably the most influential jazz guitarist. Better known, a bigger draw, the guitar megastar Pat Metheny still told me that as far as he's concerned "Sco is the main man." Metheny's main man is a...MAN!

Scofield learned to be at home with difficult articulation in non-guitar key signatures. Expanding Johnny Smith's sweet monotony, he combined John Coltrane's harmonic advances with the textural innovations of Jimi Hendrix.

Not the least of it, he had also learned how to play 40 concerts in 44 days without drugs (he even stopped smoking cigarettes). There's a lot of strength under the surface of this good-natured, soft spoken family man with the high forehead and ready smile. He makes it sound simple:

"Psyching yourself up with dope is dumb. I did that long enough. It doesn't work. Your timing has to be perfect. You want to get a little numb, but not so numb that the music stops flowing out of you. You're always tuning yourself. It's too much work, you find that you think about nothing else and it screws up your body too. It's not practical and you pay too much. So now I just try and keep cool."

If you get stoned too early you come down too fast - too late and it doesn't hit in time. Cool is the operative word here.

Graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music in the early '70s, he played with Chet Baker, Gary Burton and Charles Mingus; with McCoy Tyner and Dr. John. He was basically a bebopper, "something of a purist." But then Miles Davis "turned me around, said I was bluesy and got me into wah-wah pedals, back-beats and heavy electronics."

His reputation took a quantum leap in the early '80s when he became a collaborator more than a sideman for three years with Davis, who admitted to building tunes from Scofield's improvisations. Rather than feeling ripped off, Sco was flattered.

After he left the band, however, the trumpeter began to bad-mouth the guitarist in the press. He said, in effect, the Sco was too cool; he said he played behind the beat. He said it and said it and said it - though implying it was not really Sco's fault, poor boy. He's white.”

Thursday, December 2, 2021

"Dave Holland: The Power Behind the Throne" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Dave Holland piece in that series. It was published on January 28, 1999 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“Bass players hold the secret power behind the throne. They control the one absolutely essential element, a role not exactly obvious to everybody. This pleases them a great deal.

Playing bass requires a peculiar personality. You can generalize about it with less danger than most generalizations. Despite the occasional grandstander, they are team players who flourish in the background. Bassists are less competitive than other instrumentalists.

Listeners go to the bathroom during a bass solo. And there has to be some masochism somewhere in anybody willing to lug that coffin around. They are not looking for glory; they know, if you don't, that they already have it. Constructing their central bridge between melody, harmony and rhythm, they are by necessity involved with totality. They control the music.

Dave Holland controls it with more intelligence, power, variety and modesty than most. If you're absolutely forced to pick a "best," he'd be a prime candidate. He has made a living in all sorts of contexts including Bach, Trad jazz in his native Britain (he now lives in upstate New York), Eurojazz and M-BASE avant-garde music in New York City. Everything, everywhere, with everybody.

He took a great deal of pride in his years with Miles Davis. A few years after Miles died, he went on the road with the Miles Davis Tribute Band - Herbie Hancock, Wallace Roney, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. I asked him what he thought about Miles's "Doo-Bop," an unfinished album completed after the trumpeter's death. It is an example of a new style being called by an unstylistic name - in this case "new jazz swing." It is rap combined with a chord here and there, horns and jazz feeling. Industry spokesmen predicted it would become a "contemporary expression of the jazz idiom" and "give birth to a new generation of progressive jazz musicians." (It did not. Never mind.)

"I'm not a good person to ask about Miles," Holland replied. "Because every time he played his horn, even only one note, magic happened for me. It didn't matter what was under or over it."

Holland's voice resonates like the weathered wood instrument he plays. His verbal cadence swings, punctuated by frequent smiles. He is accustomed to thinking in terms of the bottom of things. So many smart superstructures have rested on his roots: "Whatever you call this music and whatever it is, it's still basically only a variation, a logical extension of the kind of funk James Brown initiated. Music keeps changing. Each generation has to redefine the elements of rhythmic feeling. Things have got to change and we have got to be prepared to recognize those changes."

This reveals a striking capacity for acceptance for someone who once led a band - John Blake, violin, Fareed Haque, guitar, and Mino Cinelu, percussion - which was, on the surface anyway, diametrically opposed to the music we were discussing. They played soft, hypnotic music based on a variety of traditional elements which, Holland says, "stressed the feminine aspect. A certain gentleness, an unaggresive approach which did not go out and punch people in the face and provoke hysteria. I like there to be some calm in the room."

He stopped and then emphasized, a bassist all the way: "It's very important that you do not make me out to be the leader of this group. I put the four people together to begin with, but we were the sum total of our directions. Our strength was diversity, we brought multidimensional diversity to the music. We were all in it together."

Although Miles's "New Jazz Swing" was anything but calm and diverse, Holland considers rap creative when well done and rich and at its best. He tries to "separate the here and now from something that will still be relevant in 50 years." He tends to give optimism the benefit of the doubt:

"Take a Manhattan sidewalk. New York is a concrete city. Yet wherever you find a crack in the concrete, something grows out of it. Maybe it's only weeds, but that sign of nature's urge to create is an expression of life force amidst the barrenness of modern existence."

"Steam also comes out of the cracks in the concrete," I said.

He laughed, and looked at me bemused, as if to say, "if that's the way you choose to look at life," and replied: "That's true. But I think there will always be the need to express nature's positive force. There has never been more or less need, always the same amount. We're battling a lot of negative things at the moment - incredible materialism, for example. There is no lack of obstacles. But we've always had those obstacles.

"I'm an optimist. Because in a way, the more critical things become, the more creativity strives to be expressed. Light can shine brightest in the darkest moments. I don't think we have to worry. A lot of people wish the music was still like it was in the '50s. There's no way that can be. A renewal may not take the form we expect. As artists, we have to be sure to keep an open mind."

Remembering Lord Buckley referring to something "straining the limits of our practiced credulity," I said: "There's a difference between keeping an open mind and liking something just because it's new. People are afraid of being left behind. They feel threatened. If I don't like this music, does that mean I'm losing touch? Does it interest me really, or do I just want to make sure I'm still 'with it?' An 'open' mind can be an empty mind."

"As far as I'm concerned," Holland replied, "an instrument creating sound in a natural unamplified way is going to be more meaningful than a sampled or synthesized sound. But I still play bass-guitar. I played it on a tour with Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. A composition can be structured for an electric instrument. I played it the last year and a half I was with Miles. It was my first instrument, I started on bass guitar.

"But the sound of an acoustic bass hits me very emotionally. My fingers resonating the strings and the wood responding to that is something very special to me. I like nature, and I like natural things. That's a personal point of view. But you have to try and transcend that. I'm not necessarily critical of that other thing. I may just prefer this particular thing. As long as it's done artistically, that's my only criterion. You have to perceive the intention of the music. Music performs many different functions.

"The relevance of any given musical situation means taking the creative flows of the individual musicians and putting them together in a way that makes sense. One thing I learned from Miles is that when a piece is finished it is only the beginning. Every night we would add another chapter. Songs kept evolving to incredible places. These are the kinds of places I'm looking for. I don't really care what they're called."”

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

"KENNY CLARKE: Dropping Bombs on Paris" by Mike Zwerin

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

Kenny Clarke

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Kenny Clarke piece in that series. It was published on July 2, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

"Kenny Clarke, the father of bebop drumming, first came to Europe with the Edgar Hayes Blue Rhythm Band in 1937; about the same time as those other backwards stake-claimers; Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

"We played Brussels and I just came down to see what Paris was like. I liked it right away." Clarke laughed: "I even liked Brussels."

Clarke - or Klook, as he was known - was born in 1914 and had been living in France so long he could even laugh about liking Brussels (the French tell Belgian jokes, which are sort of like Polish jokes).

He settled in Paris in the 1950s because he wanted "a certain quality of life." It was not a matter of money; on the contrary, he had been busy in New York - too busy: "Economically everything was all right, but there was something I had to clear up in my mind. You know people look for different things in life, but all I wanted was peace and quiet" - there was a twinkle in his eye - "and money."

Clarke knew something was seriously wrong when he found himself hiding from Miles Davis, who was offering him work. Miles always wanted only the best, and he knew where to look for it: "Miles knocked on my door, so I told the little girl I was with to tell him I'm out. He just kept knocking, said 'Klook, Klook, I know you're in there.' I just didn't feel like going on that gig. I'd been recording for Savoy Records almost every day. I was tired, man."

One evening in 1955 he turned on his tv to watch a Maurice Chevalier spectacular and recognized the back of the conductor's head: "When he turned around, sure enough it was Michel Legrand. I called up the station and we got together that night at Basin Street East. I was working there with Phineas Newborn.

"I told him how tired I was of New York. He said he could get me on his uncle Jacques Helian's big band, 'a real jazz band' he called it. I was ready. The following September he sent me a first-class ticket on the Liberté and I left with everything I owned."

Klook came back and recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet; their first album. The MJQ's leader John Lewis wanted Klook to play with them. The MJQ turned out to be extremely successful. Asked if he ever regretted leaving that gold mine just before it panned out, Clarke answered without hesitation: "Not for one minute. Well, I've thought about that. Someone said: 'Klook, you should have stayed here and made all that money.' But money's only good when you need it."

Klook had nothing against money. He was in fact known to be a hard negotiator, and he did well in Europe. But he was someone who followed his own inclinations; who wanted to take life, and music, on his own terms.

Back in the late 30s he got tired of playing like Buddy Rich - boom boom boom boom on the bass drum. He took the main beat away from the bass drum and put it up on the ride cymbal. The beat became lighter. The bass drum was then used only for kicking accents. "Dropping bombs" it was called. In 1940, Teddy Hill fired Clarke for dropping bombs with his big band.

One year later Hill called Clarke and asked him to organize a band for Minton's, a club he was managing on 118th street in Harlem. He hired the eccentric and then unknown pianist Thelonious Monk. Dizzy Gillespie ("a saint," said Clarke) sat in regularly; as did Charlie Christian and Charlie Parker ("a prophet"). And that's how bebop was born.

After a three-year spell in the Army, which brought him back to Paris ("I made a lot of friends, real friends"), he returned to New York; "sort of disgusted with everything. I didn't know what to do. I didn't feel like playing. Dizzy talked me into playing again."

Fate continually pushed him to Paris. He was back again in 1948 with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie big band ("One night in Sweden the band was swinging so hard, Dizzy jumped up on the piano").

During the early '50s a lot of African American musicians began taking Moslem names. In the terrible, up-tight Eisenhower 50s, before the Civil Rights Movement, there was a practical as well as a religious reason. On police cards they could be listed as Moslem instead of "colored." As silly as this may seem, some keepers of segregated hotels were persuaded that they were visiting Arab dignitaries. Clarke called himself Liaqat Ali Salaam.

Klook followed his own vision. American musicians who settled in Europe tended to be more open, more interested in life's variety, more interesting than average. These people were non-conformists in a metier known for non-conformism.

Despite their concertizing in major halls by then; playing the White House and teaching in universities, jazz musicians retained their outlaw side. Europe still appealed to it. It was hard for the computers to keep track of people who were working in three countries in a week, some of them behind the Iron Curtain, and getting paid cash-to-boot.

French residence, a Dutch wife, Danish plates on their Swedish car and plenty of work in Germany - it was tailor-made.

In his book "Notes and Tones," the drummer Arthur Taylor quoted Clarke as saying in 1972: "To organize, you must be organized within yourself first. Because otherwise it turns out like the trade unions, in other words gangsterism. The Black Panther, for example, that's all gangsterism."

And commenting on the Afro hairdo craze: "I think it's a whole lot of needless work. The time it takes them to keep their hair in an Afro could be spent reading." These were not terribly politically correct things for a black man to say at that time. But Europe gave Clarke his own perspective.

In the early '70s, when big bands were about as dead as they would ever be, Clarke co-led, with the Belgian arranger-pianist Francy Boland, one of the best of them. This all-star Euro-Americano aggregation created some of the fattest, most swinging big band sounds ever, and almost single-handedly kept the genre in the public's ears - at least the European public. Americans were concentrating on electricity. "Fusion," they called it.

With electronic jazz, form beat content. How music was reproduced or amplified, the quality of the sound reproduction, tended to be considered more important than its stuff. While Herbie Hancock traveled with a big pile of computer magazines, and George Duke's table talk was more like an engineer's than a musician's, Klook said: "You shouldn't become wrapped up in technical things as far as music is concerned, because music comes from the heart."

In other words, lifestyle comes first: "That's it. If music can help me along the road, so much the better. There's a difference in the mentality here. People are not afraid to walk around their neighborhood, to become friends; socially you feel adjusted. As a black man, as a musician - as a person, I've been lucky to be able to live here.

"I found a little house in Montreuil [a Paris suburb] about four years after I got here. Things were going good, so I just bought it. And when I bought the house I said, "Well, here I am. This is home.""

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"JACKIE McLEAN: Sugar Free Saxophone" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Gerry Mulligan piece in that series. It was published on September 24, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“PARIS - Jackie McLean was looking for the common tone, to be able to move between all 12 tonal centers with total freedom and under complete control. The listener should know nothing about this. In order for this to work, the force must be emotional not technical.

One night, during his two weeks at the Magnetic Terrace here in Paris, he felt he got pretty close to something he's been searching for for a long time. But those breakthroughs come and go and maybe don't really come at all and after a few days had passed he was no longer so sure. Anyway he's still playing and trying.

McLean is among the few remaining evergreens with enough will and force to motivate themselves night after night despite age, a demanding métier, prejudice, tangents and contrary trends. His alto-saxophone style combines the solid texture of Sonny Rollins's tenor and the fluidity of Bud Powell's piano - shorthand, but true enough as far as it goes. His angular-phrased tough, seductive, sound is as unmistakably recognizable as anybody active today. He calls it "sugar free."

Which may or may not have Freudian implications because he grew up on Sugar Hill, once a noble corner in Harlem which then soured into drugs and shoot-outs. "The streets were clean when I was a kid there," he said, at once proud and sour about it.

"Duke Ellington, Nat Cole and Don Redman lived in the neighborhood. People cared about our neighborhood."

McLean, who was born in 1932, heard Charlie Parker at the age of 14 and "the first time that name came out of my mouth I knew at that moment I was going to be a musician." Five years later, he joined Miles Davis.

Looking back, he wondered: "How did I do it that fast?" He was fast and furious in his early 20s. "When I was strung out on dope my horn was in the pawn shop most of the time and I was a most confused and troublesome young man. I was constantly on the street, in jail, or in a hospital kicking a habit.

"The New York police had snatched my cabaret card and I couldn't work the clubs any more except with [Charles] Mingus who used to hire me under an assumed name. [He can be heard already moving between tonal centers on Mingus's record 'Pithecanthropus Erectus' in the '50s.] The thing that saved my life was a Jackie McLean Fan Club started in 1958 by a guy named Jim Harrison. I didn't have a big name or anything but he collected dues and he'd rent a hall once a month and present me in concert."

McLean played the saxophonist - four years at $95 a week - in the first Living Theater production of the "The Connection," an off-Broadway milestone which cast a new perspective on the nature of make-believe.

The junkie hustling the audience in the lobby turned out to be an actor, the hostile woman in the mezzanine was part of the cast. Some of the actors were addicts, but you weren't sure who. Actors playing characters on stage never looked the same again. "I fell in love with theater then and there," McLean said. "Even my saxophone playing became a lot more theatrical after that."

Remembering how lean and mean he looked in those days, like an early James Dean, and seeing him turn 60 with a girth approaching the late Sydney Greenstreet, it was astonishing how the lust to take risks can be, if anything, greater 35 years later. There has never been and there certainly was not now anything approaching fat or phlegmatic about this man's head.

The following is a story about the old days told without punctuation during a run to a pharmacy to buy a cornucopia of homeopathic medicines (similar runs were once made for cough syrup or a lot worse):

"Sonny Rollins and me were sitting in this club and suddenly the door opened and it's Sonny Stitt and he said 'okay I've been waiting for this,' and he had an alto under one arm and a tenor under another and it was like 'High Noon' or something and he said 'you're both hot stuff from New York and you both think you can play well I'll take on both of you up on the killing stand come on get up there on the killing post both of you.'"

Those were tough and competitive times and survival was day-to-day. Stitt did not survive, while McLean and Rollins were still picking up steam, combining honed intelligence with renewed energy at an age when most men are well into retirement.

It may or may not be coincidence, but both had strong wives who managed their careers. McLean said his wife Dolly "stood up when other women would have crumpled, or killed me. For years, she was the one who worked day jobs to keep us and our three kids together. I really owe her."

Both McLean and Rollins also paced themselves by retiring from full-time playing for years during their middle age. Rollins periodically left for such places as India, upstate New York and the Brooklyn Bridge [sic, it was the Williamsburg Bridge] which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn] to meditate. McLean joined the faculty of the highly rated Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 1970, and he became chairman of its African-American music department.

The department was established, he had a National Endowment for the Arts grant for his chair and he could afford to bring in guest lecturers when he was away. So he "came back on the scene for real. My original mission is still the same. I intend to try and continue to be significant on the instrument.

Not just 'Jackie McLean, oh I remember him.' But to be at the forefront of the horn. I'm ready to kick the doors down."”

Monday, November 29, 2021

"Gerry Mulligan: When the Past, Present and Future of Jazz Met" by Mike Zwerin

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

Gerry Mulligan

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Gerry Mulligan piece in that series. It was published on March 4, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article. 

“The lead of the full-page article in the Feb. 2, 1953, issue of Time magazine went: "The hot music topic in Los Angeles last week was the cool jazz of a gaunt, hungry-looking young (25) fellow named Gerry Mulligan . . ."

The accompanying photo of the baritone saxophone player with the bristling crew cut and the jaw jutting defiantly behind the crook of his horn was captioned: "From Bach and tailgate, polyphony."

The fact that such courtly, swinging, rootsy, contrapuntal music being played in a modest temple to honest music called the Haig - described as "a beachcomber's shack on a used-car lot" - could become a Time magazine feature was hot news indeed.

The quartet put together by the late Gerald Joseph Mulligan featured Chet Baker, trumpet, Bob Whitlock, bass, and Chico Hamilton, drums; and it illustrated what he meant when he said: "Jazz is an art of many emotions; ours is to relax and build from a comfortable position."

The comfort was only skin deep. It was stretched over an exciting, revolutionary premise - four horizontal lines with no cluttering chords. Not only was the imagination of the players stretched, but also, to quote the critic Nat Hentoff, the music "stimulated listeners to hear more sensitively, more sophisticatedly. . . . It was exhilarating to realize how far you, the listener, could stretch your own ears."

The jazz fraternity at the time equated popularity with artistic compromise. But Mulligan's fresh compositions like "Walkin' Shoes" and "Nights at the Turntable," Baker's soulful interpretations of ballads like "My Old Flame," plus the quartet's distinctive ensemble sound and improvisational proficiency reaped popular acceptance and critical praise at the same time.

With Mulligan's Jerry Lewis-like crew cut complimenting Baker's Elvisesque pompadour, the quartet was photogenic as well as communicative. Writing in The Wire, Richard Cook called the group's counterpoint "grave but athletic . . . played by very young men; and their taste for a calmly burning music is one of those persistent sparks that keeps jazz from growing old."

Very different sorts of people, Mulligan and Baker had one of those improbably magic relationships improvising music can produce. Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond is another example. Although Baker was replaced by the excellent Art Farmer, by Bob Brookmeyer (on valve trombone) and by the comfortable trumpeter Jon Eardley (perhaps closest in spirit to the original), Mulligan was somehow incomplete without him.

He had many other major credits as composer, arranger, leader, player and showbiz personality. He was a close friend of the actresses Judy Holliday and Sandy Dennis, and he appeared in movies like "I Want to Live," but the collaboration with Baker would remain his definitive frame of reference.

After Serge Chaloff (with Woody Herman) died young, Mulligan became the dominant figure on the baritone saxophone for four decades. His friend Brubeck described his playing: "You feel as if you're listening to the past, present and future of jazz all at one time."

Growing up in the New York borough of Queens, he composed a song titled "You and Me and Love" at the age of 7. When he was 19, he wrote the hit "Disc Jockey Jump" for Gene Krupa. He wrote for and played with the Elliot Lawrence and Claude Thornhill pioneering dance bands.

Along with Miles Davis, John Lewis and others, he was a "student" in the Gil Evans "school" of music, with "classes" in Evans's basement apartment behind a laundry on West 55th Street. The place was alive with jam sessions and copyists meeting dawn deadlines. Evans, who wrote "Sketches of Spain" and "Miles Ahead," taught Mulligan how to write flowing lines that sounded as though they were improvised and that hornmen loved to play.

He composed and arranged classics like "Jeru" (his nickname), "Boplicity'' and "Godchild" for Davis's groundbreaking nonet later named "Birth of the Cool." Between the nonet and his pianoless quartet, Mulligan was credited with having been a midwife for "West Coast Jazz," a term he detested.

After hitchhiking to Los Angeles in 1950, he hooked up with the big band of that prototypical West Coast jazzer Stan Kenton, called Kant Standem on the East Coast. When it turned out that Kenton did not much like Mulligan's work, the latter's stock went up in New York.

In the '70s and '80s, he and his Italian wife Carla split their time between an apartment near La Scala in Milan and suburban Connecticut. He preferred Europe - "In America they sell music as though it were a can of peas." He knew how to live well. One of his peers called him a "dilettante," implying too many beautiful summer days with beautiful people in the Italian countryside and not enough time listening and learning.

Mulligan hated nightclubs: "I'd probably never have set foot in one if jazz hadn't dragged me in." And festivals: "I've never liked the carnival atmosphere."

As he grew older, he framed his striking, angular face with long white hair and a beard. He wore custom-made Italian suits. He was described as "a stretched, natty leprechaun."

He continued to lead a combo. He directed his acclaimed little-big Concert Jazz Band, he gave master classes, and the chairman of a respected university music department called him "the dean of American jazz composition." In 1992, he revived Miles's nonet as "Re-Birth of the Cool." And he was earning a reputation for being difficult.

In The Wire, Richard Cook described him as "one of life's tougher customers . . . lean and unsmiling and implacable." Mulligan scolded audiences for talking, berated agents for not taking care of business; he fired musicians on flimsy pretexts and screamed at reporters for their "yellow journalism." In January 1994, on the occasion of being elected to the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, he explained to the journalist Mitchell Seidel:

"I've got a short fuse. In recent years I discovered I had hypoglycemia. It's like the opposite to diabetes. If you ingest sugar or anything like sugar, the body produces this surge of insulin . . . I finally realized that this caused tremendous mood swings. My blood sugar would go up and down like a yo-yo. It was a wonder I could drag myself round. It's not been easy."”