Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Future Features on Jazz Profiles

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is moving as quickly as it can to bring you more about the future features described in the sidebar and asks you to bear with us in this regard as the holidays are upon us.

Thank you for your patience.

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bob Brookmeyer: A Musician of Humor, Honesty and Humility

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

“Almost the first sounds to be heard on the classic Jazz on a Sum­mer's Day soundtrack are the mellow tones of Bob Brookmeyer's valve trombone interweaving with Jimmy Giuffre's clarinet on The Train And The River. It's a curiously formal sound, almost academic, and initially difficult to place. Valve trombone has a more clipped, drier sound than the slide variety, and Brookmeyer is probably its leading exponent, though Maynard Ferguson, Stu Williamson and Bob Enevoldsen have all made effective use of it.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Getting to the core could well be the Brookmeyer credo. As a jazz soloist and writer, Bob wastes litt­le energy on unnecessary curli­cues and affected sounds for the sake of an artificial eloquence... This is a signpost of basic musi­cal honesty. At the same time, Bob is dedicated to emotion and the investigation of every nuance beneath the surface of a selection. The result of this approach is a forceful personalized trans­mission of the emotional content of the musical material to the listening audience...”
- Burt Korall, Jazz writer and critic

“I've loved Bob's compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard his music in the '70s.  It turned my life around.  Bob became a wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend.  And he was enormously generous to those lucky enough to be his friend.”
- Maria Schneider, Jazz composer-arranger

“Bob has added an amazing amount to Jazz. He was in the thick of the New York scene in the 50s and 60s and even hung out at "The Loft." To the average listener he probably is not that we'll known. But to me he'll remain one of those fundamental sounds [of Jazz].”
- Dr. Ken Koenig, Jazz musician

“Wherever he goes Bob's bound to make further contributions and stir up emotions with his "thinking differently.’”
- Brian Hope, Jazz Fan

“Bob studied at the Kansas City Conservatory and origi­nally played piano; he took up the valve trombone when he was twenty-three, and almost immediately became a major figure in jazz.

Most of Bob's career has been in New York, working with almost every major jazzman there, but most significantly Clark Terry, with whom he co-led a quin­tet. His association with Mulligan contin­ued, and when Mulligan formed his concert band, Brookmeyer played in it along with Zoot Sims, Bill Crow, Mel Lewis, and Clark Terry, and did a great deal of its writing. The band's haunting arrangement of Django Reinhardt's "Manoir de mes reves" is Bob's.

Bob is a classic illustration of the dictum that jazzmen tend to play pretty much as they speak, which is perhaps inevitable in music that is so extensively improvisatory. He is low-key and quietly ironic in speech, and he plays that way.”
- Gene Lees

Bob Brookmeyer was born on December 19, 1929. He died on December 16, 2011, three days before what would have been his 82nd birthday.

I will miss his magnificent musicianship, both as an instrumentalist, he played both valve trombone and piano, and as a composer-arranger.

It seems that Bob has been a part of my Jazz scene ever since I can remember. Although he replaced trumpeter Chet Baker with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet in 1953, I first heard him a few years later on the Emarcy recordings made by Gerry’s sextet.

What a group: Gerry on baritone sax, Bob on valve trombone, joined on the “front line” by trumpeter Jon Eardley and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Dave Bailey cooking along in the rhythm section.

What struck me most about Bob’s playing was its humor. Lighthearted and unexpected phrases just flowed in and out of his solos and he always seemed to swing, effortlessly.

Bob had fun with the music while not taking himself too seriously. I mean, anyone who names an original composition “Jive Hoot” must certainly smile a lot.

Bob knew what he was doing musically, but he never put on any airs about it.

He had great reverence and respect for those who came before him in the Jazz tradition and he even made it a point to “revisit” some of what he referred to as Jazz “traditionalism” in a few of the earliest recordings that he made as a leader.

Another of Bob’s virtues was his honesty and his directness. You never had to guess what he was thinking on subjects that were near-and-dear to his heart. In interview after interview, reading Bob’s stated opinions was akin to being “hit” by both barrels of a shotgun loaded with the truth-according-to-Brookmeyer.

If as Louis Armstrong once said, “Jazz is Who You Are,” then you always knew where Bob stood. Musically, his playing and his compositions radiated with candor and clarity; his big band arrangements, in particular, just sparkled with lucidity and precision. I would imagine that no one performing Bob’s music was ever in doubt as to what he wanted you to play.

Nothing was implied or suggested in his writing; he told you what he wanted you to play. For better or for worse, Bob just put it out there. No wonder he remained such close friends with Gerry Mulligan throughout his life.

As described above in the introductory quotation by Gene Lees, Bob was to work with many of the Jazz greats on the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950’s and both the New York Jazz and studio worlds of the 1960’s. He returned to California in the 1970’s primarily to work in movie and television composing and did some small group gigging at Jazz festivals and concerts in the USA and abroad throughout the 1980’s.

Upon his return to New York in the 1980’s, Bob would also become “the de facto musical director for the orchestra that Mel Lewis led following the death of Thad Jones.”

In an interview he gave to Scott Yanow, Bob said: “Before my stay in California [1968-1978], I considered myself a player first and a writer second. … In addition to Gerry Mulligan’s writing, my big band arranging was inspired by Bill Finegan, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Bill Holman and George Russell.”

From 1991 up until his death, Bob spent much of his time in Northern Europe exploring new approaches to composing, arranging and orchestrating for some of the resident, larger orchestras in Holland and Germany, including his own New Art Orchestra which was based primarily in Cologne, Germany.

We hope this all-too-brief remembrance will serve in some small measure as our celebration of the musical life of Bob Brookmeyer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paul Motian: The Drummer As Musician

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

“When all else fails, play the snare drum. That’s where you learned it all in the first place.”

- Paul Motian

Most of the drummers that I knew, didn’t like the way Paul Motian played drums with the classic Bill Evans Trio during his association with the group from 1959-1962.

The constant stop and starting in his playing drove them nuts: “Why doesn’t he just lay it down?” "What did he do, drop a stick?” “Did his drum kit run out of batteries?” “Why doesn’t he just swing?”

In retrospect, everyone has nothing but praise for the way Paul made the drums “fit in to what Evans and LaFaro were doing,” but, during its short-lived, year-and-a-half existence, such criticisms of Paul’s halting approach to drums in pianist Bill Evans’ now-classic trio were more commonplace than most Jazz fans will admit.

Paul was aware of the criticisms of his work with Bill’s trio and remained very sensitive about the entire topic whenever he was asked about it.

He was quoted as saying: “Listen to my playing on the New Conceptions album” [Bill’s first recording with Riverside Records with Teddy Kotick as the bassist]. We played the music in a straight-ahead manner and I swung my a** off on that record, but no one ever talks about that trio.”

Paul initially played in the style of the pioneering, Bebop drum masters such as Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Art Blakey.

He played drums professionally for over 60 years. During that span of time, he moved away from the aggressive and accented-oriented playing so characteristic of modern Jazz drumming of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

In a conversation that I had with Paul in 1996 when he was appearing at the Village Vanguard in a collaborative trio with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell he said: “I essentially flattened things out and took a lot of the busyness out of my playing.”

Hoping to have it autographed, I had brought along a copy of a “Tribute to the Music of Bill Evans” CD that Paul had done a few years earlier with Joe and Bill along with bassist Marc Johnson, who was in Bill Evans last trio before his death in 1981.

The recording was produced in Germany by Stefan Winter in 1990 and when Paul saw it on my table as he was leaving the bandstand at the Vanguard, he smiled and said: “You must have one of the three copies that thing ever sold.”

After he attended to a few personal matters, he made his way back to my table and we spent some of his break together talking about music.

I mentioned that I was a drummer, too, and the conversation went in that direction, that is to say, we talked about tuning drums, muffling [or not] bass drums, getting hi hat cymbals to be at exactly the right angle so they “bite” and about ride cymbals that produce a “clicking” sound when struck by a drum stick.

We talked about stuff that no one else in the world would be interested in except another drummer.

It was a conversation. I wasn’t interviewing him, just two guys with something in common – drums – hanging out for a few minutes between sets.

Paul said: “I want to be musical when I solo and not play a bunch of drumming exercises.”

I mentioned that I heard a number of pauses in his solos.

“Exactly,” he said. And then he looked at me and said: “It’s scary to.”

When I looked confused about these remarks he continued: “Because I’m trying to be a complete musician. I’m not just keeping the tune in my head while playing drum licks over it, I’m really trying to make up melodies to express on the drums. Sometimes it’s not always easy to hear what I want to say because all that drumming stuff comes into my mind, first”

After a few minutes, Paul excused himself to greet some friends that had arrived for the next set. I gave him my business card and told him to give me a call the next time he was in San Francisco.

When I got back to my hotel room that evening, I realized that I didn’t have the CD that I’d brought along for Paul to autograph.

A few days after I returned to the Left Coast, a small package arrived at my San Francisco office.

In it was the Paul Motian/Bill Evans tribute CD and a hand-written note from Paul which said: “Enjoyed our talk. Don’t forget the pauses. Best, Paul.”

Paul died on November 22, 2011 and we wanted to remember him on these pages with some writings about his career and audio-only Very Early track from the PaulMotian/Bill Evans Tribute CD[JMT 834 445-2] with Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Bill Frisell on bass and Marc Johnson on drums.

© -  T. Bruce Wittet/JazzTimes, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Paul Motion:Has Found Thee Sweet Spot

"Give Paul Motian a break for deciding to cease touring in favor of occasional appearances in New York City. After all, the man has spent his adult life on the road, lending his cascading and earthy tones to the likes of Bill Evans, Paul Bley, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, The Electric Bebop Band, and so many others.

Motian doesn’t keep everyday time. Although he might lunge into the standard jazz ride rhythm, he’s more apt to suggest the pulse in other ways, breaking it up between his ancient Zildjian sizzle and his drumkit. Where others might fill, he’ll let one note linger. Although he’s clearly in no hurry to fill up space, his latest ECM release, Garden Of Eden, reveals that he can solo splendidly. He’s been refining his wizardry since he took up with Bill Evans forty-five years ago. As it turns out, Motian left the famous trio for fear it was becoming a cocktail act. “I felt as if I was playing on pillows,” he quips. “It was becoming that quiet.”

In March of this year, a week before his seventy-fifth birthday, Motian appeared live with pianist Bobo Stensen, with whom he recorded Goodbye (ECM). The lights at Birdland dimmed and Paul began poking at his old Paiste 602 Dark ride, sometimes extending his arm so that he could strike north of the bell. He’d find a sweet spot and caress it. Occasionally he’d let out a wide grin. Maybe he was delighted at discovering an elusive sound. Maybe he was happy at a direction Stensen had taken. He’s not telling.

“A lot of people,” Motian complains, “ask why I do something, as if there was a lot of forethought behind it. No, man, this shit is an accident. Kenny Clarke didn’t plan on being ‘the father of bebop drums.’ It just happened because the tempo was so fast that all he could do was play accents on the bass drum!”

Motian, who rarely works with charts, relishes happy accidents. They keep him young, nimble–and edgy.”

This is the description of Paul on Bernhard Castiglioni’s

© -  Bernhard Castiglioni/Drummerworld, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“A masterfully subtle drummer and a superb colorist, Paul Motian is also an advanced improviser and a bandleader with a taste for challenging post-bop. Born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, he grew up in Providence and began playing the drums at age 12, eventually touring New England in a swing band.

He moved to New York in 1955 and played with numerous musicians - including Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Scott, and George Russell - before settling into a regular role as part of Bill Evans' most famous trio (with bassist Scott LaFaro), appearing on his classics Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.

In 1963, Motian left Evans' group to join up with Paul Bley for a year or so, and began a long association with Keith Jarrett in 1966, appearing with the pianist's American-based quartet through 1977.

In addition, Motian freelanced for artists like Mose Allison, Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble, and turned down the chance to be John Coltrane's second drummer.

In 1972, Motian recorded his first session as a leader, Conception Vessel, for ECM; he followed in 1974 with Tribute.

He formed a regular working group in 1977 (which featured tenor Joe Lovano) and recorded several more dates for ECM, then revamped the ensemble to include guitarist Bill Frisell in 1980. Additional dates for ECM and Soul Note followed, and in 1988 Motian moved to JMT, where he recorded a long string of fine albums beginning with Monk in Motian.

During the '90s, he also led an ensemble called the Electric Bebop Band, which featured Joshua Redman. In 1998, Motian signed on with the Winter & Winter label, where he began recording another steady stream of albums, including 2000 + One in 1999, Europe in 2001, and Holiday for Strings in 2002. In 2005 Motian moved to the ECM label, releasing I Have the Room Above Her that same year, followed by Garden of Eden in 2006 and Time and Time Again in 2007.

Paul Motian died on November 22, 2011 in Manhattan.

The cause was complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disorder.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lambert Hendricks and Ross - "Airegin" [Sonny Rollins]

"The word "amazing" is wildly misused in contemporary conversation and writing, but it really does apply to this performance." - Jim Brown, Audio Engineer

The vocalese solos by Jon and Dave on this video will blow you away.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eli “Lucky” Thompson

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

“Lucky Thompson was a vastly under-acclaimed tenor saxophonist.”
- Doug Ramsey

Eli “Lucky” Thompson was born on June 16, 1924 in Columbia, South Carolina, but grew up in Detroit. From a very young age, Lucky was obsessed by music and long before he owned a horn, he studied instruction books and practiced finger exercises on a broomstick marked with saxophone key patterns. When he acquired his first saxophone at the age of 25, he practiced eight hours a day and within a month he played professionally with neighborhood bands.”
- Joop Visser

“… it seems likely that the cross-pollination of ideas so promi­nent among bebop era saxophonists affected Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.”
- Bob Porter

"Like Don Byas, whom he most resembles in tone and in his development of solos, he has a slightly oblique and uneasy stance on bop, cleaving to a kind of accelerated swing idiom with a distinctive 'snap' to his softly enunciated phrases and an advanced harmonic language that occasionally moves into areas of surprising freedom."
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton,  Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“There is the history of the saxophone in Lucky Thompson’s music.”
- David Himmelstein

“Music is the most interesting thing in the world.”
- Lucky Thompson

“You know I lost my interest in music. I had to run from place to place at the mercy of people who manipulated me. I never rejected music; it constitutes a great part of my soul.”
- Lucky Thompson to Mike Hennessey in MusicItalia interview

“Thompson's disappearance from the jazz scene in the 1970's was only the latest (but apparently the last) of a strangely contoured career. A highly philosophical, almost mystical man, he reacted against the values of the music industry and in the end turned his back on it without seeming regret. The beginning was garlanded with promise.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton,  Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I lived and worked in Seattle, WA for a while.

Given the city’s notorious commuter traffic, fortunately for me, it was easy to access my office at the downtown corner of Fourth and Pike Streets as it was a clear shot into town on the Aurora Highway [Hwy 99] from my home in the Green Lake area of the city.

It was a point in my work-life that often found me toiling late at the office.

Because of the manner in which one-way streets configured downtown traffic, I often exited the city along Second Street which is also the home of Tula’s, a great Jazz club that primarily features the work of local Jazz artists.

One rainy night - now there’s a surprise in Seattle! - I had worked so late that I decided to catch a set at the club and treat myself to a dinner of its excellent dolmathes and souvlaki before going home.

Jay Thomas, who plays both superb trumpet and tenor saxophone, was Tula’s headliner.

Besides the great music and tasty Greek food, I also met up that night with a couple of Jazz buddies who lived in the nearby Belltown part of the city [a downtown waterfront neighborhood that overlooks a portion of Elliott Bay].

We shared a bottle of red plunk while thoroughly enjoying the music on offer by Jay’s quartet.

All of us still smoked during those days and, as a result of the club’s ban on partaking of lit nicotine within the walls of its premises, we found ourselves merrily chatting and puffing away outside the club’s entrance during the first intermission.

Thankfully the rain had abated, or a least scaled down to a soft drizzle. While the three of us were standing and smoking by the curbside, we were approached by a street person who asked if he could bum a smoke.

After we obliged him and he had continued on his way, one of my friends asked me if I’d recognized the damp denizen of the night?

I thought I was making a wisecrack when I answered that “… he looked vaguely familiar.” “He should,” remarked one of my friends: “That was Lucky Thompson!”

Obviously, my Belltown buddies had met him before, under similar circumstances.

All of us became very subdued after Lucky left.

Each quietly puffed their cigarette which gave us time to adjust to the sense of sadness that had come over us following the sight we had just witnessed.

Needless to say, the evening wasn’t the same after that; no more frivolity and jocularity, only a deep and abiding hurt.

When I returned home with that chance meeting still on my mind, it occurred to that while I had heard Lucky’s tenor saxophone sound with Count Basie’s band [my Dad had some V-Discs by the band with Lucky], on Miles Davis’ famous Walkin’ LP and as part of Stan Kenton’s sterling Cuban Fire album [his solo beginning at around the 4:00 minute mark of the opening track – Fuego Cubano - always touches my heart], most of his recorded music had passed-me-by.

For whatever reasons, I had missed much of Lucky’s discography when he was a force on the Jazz scene, primarily from 1945-1965.

The following day, I decided to put that omission right and I began seeking out Lucky’s recordings which, to my surprise were plentiful, and still readily available.

As is often the case with chance meetings, it was the beginning of a love affair as Lucky’s music was engaging, full of marvelous twists and turns, and alive with an almost effortless swing.

Although it is a later recording in the Thompson canon, one of my first purchases of Lucky’s music under his own name was Tricotism [Impulse/GRP GRD-135].

The insert notes to this CD are by Bob Porter and they contained the following overview and commentary of Thompson’s career which was very helpful to me as a guide for further purchases of Lucky’s music.

If you are like me and not a member of the Lucky cognoscenti, perhaps it can serve a similar purpose for you.

“The career of Eli Thompson (6/16/24), musician, is one of the most enigmatic in all jazz. It is an odyssey involving four cities, two instruments, big bands, small bands, popularity, poverty, stylistic changes, associations with major names, (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton), and long peri­ods of inactivity.

Detroit is his home town. A grad­uate of Cass Tech, Lucky was among a number of remarkably talented saxophonists who were active in the Motor City during the early '40s. Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, Yusef Lateef, and Sonny Stitt would lead the list and it seems likely that the cross-pollination of ideas so promi­nent among bebop era saxophonists affected Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.

Lucky entered the ranks of pro­fessional musicians when he left Detroit with the Treniers in 1943. An unhappy six months with Lionel Hampton followed, ending in New York. Shortly thereafter Lucky went into the brand new Billy Eckstine Band. The Eckstine association was brief, and Lucky first began to achieve prominence during his year with Count Basic. The war-time Basic band was a fine organization, and Lucky had considerable solo space. The V-Disc of "High Tide" is especially impressive.

Lucky left Basic in late 1945, set­tling in Los Angeles. One of his first gigs in L. A. was as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Rebop Six. Actually he was the odd man out in a group that featured Milt Jackson, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Stan Levey, and the leader. Lucky was hired because of the erratic habits of the co-star, Charlie Parker. Yet that engagement acted as a springboard for Lucky.

During 1946 and '47 Lucky was the most requested tenorman in the L. A. area. He worked frequently with Boyd Raeburn, but he also made over 100 recordings as a sideman during those years. He had recorded for Excelsior and Down Beat and in 1947 he made four famous sides for RCA, including his masterpiece "Just One More Chance." He won the Esquire New Star award in 1947. In 1948 Lucky migrated across coun­try. New York would be his home for the next eight years.
Lucky worked frequently at the Savoy Ballroom during the early '50s, but the recording slows had set in.

A couple of obscure small label ses­sions were Lucky's only recordings from 1947 to late 1953, when he did a date for Decca. Two dates in 1954 under his own name presaged anoth­er masterpiece: his "Walkin"' solo with Miles Davis.

During the 1950s Lucky was a close associate of light-heavyweight boxing champion, Archie Moore. Moore liked to warm up and work out while Lucky and company pro­vided the music.

Lucky and Milt Jackson have been close associates since their days in Detroit. In 1956, just prior to the recording of the music heard on this CD, Jackson and Thompson record­ed five LPs together, under Milt's name for Savoy and Atlantic.
I suspect that it was no accident that the trio session here included no drummer. If there has been one aspect of Lucky's playing that has been criticized through the years it is his relationship with drummers. The hard swinging sessions of the 1940s and early '50s were giving way to an almost ascetic rhythmic approach. I also suspect that some critics, in writing about the Jimmy Giuffre Three, (which had the iden­tical instrumentation as Lucky's group), may have forgotten these per­formances, which predated Giuffre by 10 months.

Paris in the spring of 1956 was, for Lucky, a period of tremendous activ­ity. He recorded five LPs for various French labels. Also while in France, he sat in with Stan Ken ton. This led to Lucky's participation in one of the most famous Kenton LPs of the' 50s, Cuban Fire. Before returning to France for an extended stay, Lucky worked again with Oscar Pettiford and recorded with him.

Lucky was the first major jazzman since Sidney Bechet to adopt the soprano saxophone. He predated John Coltrane by at least 18 months; but Lucky has never been given any credit for ushering the return to popularity of the straight saxophone. In the mid-'60s Lucky returned to the U.S.A., recording for Prestige and Rivoli. He had been back and forth to Europe several times since and did several interesting LPs for Groove Merchant in the early '70s. He also taught at Dartmouth for a year[1973-74].

When Will Powers interviewed him for Different Drummer, Lucky was completing his academic work and thinking of a new city. This time it might be Toronto or Montreal. Always the drifter, ever the search.

It is not my opinion, but consen­sus, that says the music on these LPs is the finest extended playing that Lucky Thompson has produced on record. As noted earlier, the sessions came at a period where Lucky had been recording frequently. He and Pettiford were a mutual admiration society and the rapport, even inti­macy, they achieve in the trio tracks is nothing short of remarkable.

This is not to take anything away from the quintet sides where Jimmy Cleveland shines so brightly. The presence of Hank Jones reunites a close partnership dating to Detroit days. Yet it is Lucky, with the warmth, the inner feeling, the depth, the mastery that permeates every groove on these LPs.

That this music is able to appear again after years of neglect is cause for celebration. Let's hope that this release is able to shed new light on the talent of Lucky Thompson.”

—Bob Porter, Contributor—Radio Free Jazz1975 (original edited liner notes from Dancing Sunbeam, Imp ASH-9307-2)

A few years after this meeting, I learned that Lucky had passed away in Seattle in 2005.

With everything he had gone through, including apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease during the later years of his life, somehow he had luckily [?] managed to live to be 81-years of age.

And if you are looking for a comprehensive discography of Lucky’s recordings, you can’t do better than the one that Noal Cohen has compiled. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bill Kirchner: Old Friends – New Music

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

Bill Kirchner has been a friend to Jazz in many ways and for many years.

For not only is he a Jazz musician, composer, educator and writer, he is also the editor of the esteemed – The Oxford Companion to Jazz [2000] – one of the best compilations ever assembled of knowledgeable essayists writing on the subject of Jazz.

Bill has two, new recordings out and both are available for purchase as Mp3 downloads though via the following links:

To purchase "Old Friends," click on this link:

To purchase "One Starry Night," click on this link:

Bill has kindly granted us copyright permission to reproduce on these pages Larry Kart’s fine descriptions of the music on both of these recordings.

We have also embedded two Sound Cloud audio tracks into the feature so that you can listen to examples of the music on each of Bill’s new recordings.

© -  Larry Kart/Bill Kirchner, used with permission, copyright protected, all rights reserved.

“At one point Bill Kirchner played a good many of the reed and woodwind instruments with much skill -- sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, and piccolo. But in recent years the soprano saxophone has become his instrument of choice and eventually also of near necessity, and it is on soprano that one will hear him solo on this duo concert that Bill and one of his favorite musical partners, pianist Marc Copland, gave on September 23, 2008, in New York City at The New School, where Bill also teaches.

The setting was a compact, wood-paneled, lecture hall-recital room (l was there), with fine acoustics (or it seemed to me) and a lovely piano for Copland to play. Full of friends, many of them musicians, the audience was attentive to say the least, and there was a great deal for us to pay attention to.

I said above that Bill’s focus on the soprano was a matter both of affinity and “near necessity” because of circumstances that he describes in the liner notes to his 1997 album “Some Enchanted Evening” (A-Records): “In 1993, it was discovered that I had a life-threatening spinal tumor. I underwent two operations to remove it, but as a result was left largely paralyzed on my right side. I learned to walk again, and have gradually regained most of the use of my right hand.... Happily, I have begun playing the soprano saxophone in public, thanks in part to the ingenious Perry
Ritter, who rebuilt my horn so that I can use alternative fingerings.”

That no allowances need be made for Bill’s latter-day soprano playing is obvious from this concert; these are among the most striking recorded improvisations on this tricky instrument, which in the modern era is too often played so as to be thin and piping in tone. There is, by contrast to this unfortunate norm, a top, middle, and bottom to Bill’s sound, and he can vary its breadth and volume for expressive purposes in virtually any register. Is his sheer facility, his ability to place a great many notes in tight places, quite the same as it once was? Probably not, though he always was a lyrical player, not a flashy one. In any case, as I believe I said to him
a few years ago, kidding on the square, “Now you get to play only the good notes.” Further, there are the words of his former teacher Lee Konitz when they were playing together not long ago: “You can always simplify." “One of the profoundest things any improvising musician has ever said, to my knowledge,” Bill adds.

If only, but not only, because of the duo format, Copland is quite prominent here. (The Copland-Kirchner partnership goes back to 1976, when both men were living and working in Washington, D.C. They both moved to New York in the early 1980s and have continued to work together frequently.)

Originally an alto saxophonist, talented enough to be hired by Chico Hamilton, Copland underwent a quite unusual conversion in his mid-20s, from altoist to pianist. As he told Gene Lees in an interview: “When I was coming up as a saxophonist, the ideal was to burn out -- to play really intense. All of a sudden here was this Impressionist-lyrical thing going on inside me that I had known nothing about.... It was so strong that it took me all the way over, not so much because I wanted to play piano -- although I grew to love it -- but because I had to do something with that feeling.”

What Copland has done with that feeling is to become a simply ravishing and quite individual jazz pianist -- technically, harmonically, in terms of both long-range “orchestral” thinking and quick-witted response. He’s in the line of Bill Evans, but speaking as someone who found Evans (and finds many of those he influenced) to be rather formulaic at times, the sheer freshness of Copland’s ideas, the unapologetic emotional openness of his

“Impressionist-lyrical thing” is a delight. Another thing, and far from a little
thing -- he really swings; does so, as does Kirchner here, even when the time feel is more or less rubato. I think, in addition to the usual sources, that this has a lot to do with Copland’s harmonic thinking -- “coloristic” though they may be, his choices there always have clean, lucid rhythmic implications (those bass lines!), and serve to guide the speed and “plane” with which the performance advances through time.

Because there are only two musicians involved, and their thinking is so clear, I won’t try to verbally mirror that much of what I think is happening during these seventy-seven-or-so minutes of music-making. But I do want to focus on some passages that seem to me to be at once representative and remarkable.

On the first piece, Bruno Martino’s “Estate,” note how fluid yet “right there” the time feel is; the virtual outburst of lyricism that comes from Copland at the 7:19 mark and then leaps back to life at 7:52; the delicacy of Bill’s thread-like oscillation between two adjacent notes at about 11:29, and his almost fierce power in the passage that follows.

“Autumn Leaves” is a piece, says Bill, “that Marc and I have played every few years for over thirty years; it's ‘our song.’ Funny story -- in 1981, we did a duo concert at one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. [The late jazz critic] Martin Williams was in the audience, and afterwards he complimented us on our arrangement of ‘Autumn Leaves.’ I thanked him while resisting the temptation to ask, ‘What arrangement?’ We were just playing the tune.”

Well, yes, literally, but also no. An arrangement for saxophone and piano that lasts for more than fourteen minutes and hangs together as this performance does would be difficult to envision. For instance, check out what happens at the 10:24 mark, as Bill enters after Copland’s solo. Holding a single note (a concert G-flat) for what seems an eternity while Copland dances above and below him, highlighting the way that held note alternately clashes and blends with the harmonic framework of the song, this to me is Bill in excelsis, a sterling example of Konitz’s dictum: “You can
always simplify.”

Speaking of Williams, in his book “Where’s the Melody?” he famously answered that common-at-one-time question with something like, good jazz improvisers tend to make up melodies that are better than those of the songs they started out from. And better, longer melodies, too. Unless I’m imagining things, on “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” the improvised melodic line that Bill begins at about the 2:56 mark remains essentially unbroken until 4:31 rolls around -- and that, believe me, is a long time to sustain a meaningful melodic arc at this ballad tempo. And don’t miss the child-like
Ravelian quality of the coda that Bill and Marc devise.

Miles Davis’ “Agitation” is the most overtly swinging performance here – a virtual surf ride -- while the misterioso reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is a particularly fine example of Copland’s aforementioned way of turning harmonic choices into rhythmic ones. And Johnny Mandel's "Keester Parade" is here approached by both players with a delicious, droll slyness--quite unlike the mini-big band fervor, topped off by a hellacious shout chorus, of bass trumpeter Cy Touff's original 1955 octet recording. (I should mention that “Keester Parade” is not Mandel’s only venture into verbal trickery; he also gave us “London Derriere.”)

My favorite performance of this evening, though, if I had to chose one, would be the duo’s version of Victor Young and Ned Washington’s “My Foolish Heart” -- a song that I believe Bill Evans introduced to the jazz repertoire, and bless him for that. From the tender hesitation that Bill introduces into the opening melodic line to the final near unison pianosoprano restatement of the theme, this is, indeed, music of the heart.

Larry Kart, author of “Jazz In Search of Itself” (Yale University Press)

BILL KIRCHNER, soprano saxophone

1) Estate (Bruno Martino/Bruno Brighetti) 13:45
Universal Music Publishing Ricordi SRL, ASCAP
2) Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prévert/Johnny Mercer) 14:33
Morley Music, ASCAP
3) I Fall In Love Too Easily (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) 11:09
EMI Feist Catalog Inc./Music Publishing Co. of America, ASCAP
4) Footprints (Wayne Shorter) 11:19
Miyako Music, BMI
5) My Foolish Heart (Victor Young/Ned Washington) 11:40
Anne Rachel Music Corp./Catharine Hinen/Patti Washington Music, ASCAP
6) Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel) 8:00
Marissa Music, ASCAP
7) Agitation (Miles Davis) 6:16

East St. Louis Music Inc./Jazz Horn Music Corp., BMI
Recorded at The New School Jazz Performance Space,
New York City, September 23, 2008.
Recording Engineer: Christopher Hoffman
Mastering Engineer: Malcolm Addey
Cover Photo: Ed Berger
Graphic Design; Javier Chacin and Judy Kahn

“Something that should become quite apparent as one listens to these performances is the sheer, securely grounded intelligence of Bill Kirchner’s musical thought, his learned though utterly natural and relaxed craftsmanship. Taught directly by such celebrated arrangers as Rayburn Wright and Mike Crotty (who arranged “I Concentrate On You” for the Nonet) and by example and assimilation by such figures as Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer (Bill was a frequent sub with Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra at one time), Ellington, Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Eddie Sauter, Gary McFarland, and Mike Abene, Bill simply (or not so simply) knows a great deal about voicing, instrumental colors and blends, linear logic, long-range form, contrapuntal possibilities, you name it. And he knows these things not only in take-it-apart-and put-it-back-together analytic terms but also in the collective, on-the-stand, “let’s get it done” sense that brings jazz, one of the quintessential performance arts, to life.

Consider, for example, the rather bright tempo chosen for the first piece of the Chicago concert, Sergio Mendes’ “So Many Stars.” Right for the tune itself, it’s also perfect for the first tune of a set. Pushed close to the limit, bass trombonist Douglas Purviance’s solo is truly inspired, as is that of pianist Marc Copland (Cohen at that time); and the from-the-first-note briskness of the performance “sells” the band as a whole immediately, which is of the essence when one is leading a non-big-name ensemble and facing an audience of 60,000.

“The chart,” Bill adds, “is in a quasi-rondo form, and alternates between a vamp and the song form with chord changes. Douglas solos on the vamp, Marc on the changes.”

Also, don’t miss the purity of tone and agility of Bill’s piccolo work in the ensemble toward the beginning of “So Many Stars,” with the flutes of Ralph Lalama and Glenn Wilson. It’s one of those details that distinguishes his arranging, exquisite in concept and execution but always in service of the piece’s storytelling flow.

Bill’s chart on Andy LaVerne’s aptly titled “Maximum Density” is another gem. Dig Copland’s coat-of-many-colors comping behind Lalama’s probing, serpentine solo, Ron Vincent’s intensely propulsive yet transparent drumming, and the way the ensemble at first steals in toward the end of Lalama’s stint and then briefly, kaleidoscopically erupts -- as J.R. Taylor once said of another Kirchner arrangement, “The band seems to swell to twice its actual size.”

Years ago, I mentioned to Bill how much I liked Lalama’s solo on “Brother Brown,” one of the tracks from the Nonet’s 1982 album “What It Is To Be Frank” (Sea Breeze). Agreeing that it was exceptional even by Lalama’s high standards, Bill said something like, “Yes, I set it [the chart] up so Ralph would play that way.” The tone with which this was said is tricky to convey, but in addition to some wry pardonable pride, it basically was an expression of the genuine pleasure Bill took in having showcased so effectively a fellow musician he deeply admired. The bandleader’s genetic makeup at work. And another little, or not so little, point about band-leading: Bill gives his soloists just the right amount of solo room -- when they do play, they get to play.

To Sheila Jordan’s portion of the program. Still quite active today, almost 25 years further on, Jordan was in particularly exuberant form on this night -- stimulated by the size and enthusiasm of the audience (she works it like a show-biz master) and of course by the sounds of the Nonet behind her. Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan’s “Whose Little Angry Man Are You?” from the musical “Raisin” (based on the late Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”) is a seldom-heard song that Jordan has made her own – dig her flowing, saxophone-like phrasing and her unique scat-singing style, which seems akin to the sound of Native American vocal chants, as though there were tuned drums in her chest and throat. Some of Jordan's ancestors, in fact, were members of the Cherokee Nation.

Next is “Quasimodo,” Jordan’s expansive ode to her idol Charlie Parker, with an initial glimpse of Parker’s version of “Embraceable You,” the song on which his “Quasimodo” is based. There’s a remarkable, whip-like snap to Jordan’s phrasing here, and Bill Warfield’s cup-muted trumpet solo is drenched in the bebop ethos. Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You” is a song that Jordan was born to sing, and it features a brilliant trumpet solo by Brian Lynch. Kirchner emphasizes how important it was for the band to get the rhythmic feel of this Mike Crotty chart just right for Sheila. “If it wasn’t ‘in the pocket,’ it wouldn’t have worked for her.”

We finish with another Porter song, “You’d Be So Nice to Come To,” which begins with Jordan's Native American-like scatting -- here almost shocking in its emotional immediacy, with bassist Mike Richmond virtually singing alongside her. Then comes a pleading, preaching solo from baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson, propelled by Vincent’s cooking drums; more of Jordan’s scat-singing (hers is essentially vocal invention, I think, not an attempt to imitate an instrumentalist); and finally a glimpse of the leader’s soprano saxophone, entwined with Jordan’s voice, the only solo spot that Bill affords himself. A magical night -- I was there.”

Larry Kart, author of “Jazz In Search of Itself” (Yale University Press)

BILL KIRCHNER, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, clarinet, piccolo
RALPH LALAMA, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
GLENN WILSON, baritone saxophone, flute
BILL WARFIELD, trumpet, flugelhorn
BRIAN LYNCH, trumpet, flugelhorn
DOUGLAS PURVIANCE, bass trombone

1) Opening Announcements 0:44
2) So Many Stars (Sergio Mendes/Alan & Marilyn Bergman) 7:41
Spirit Two Music Inc./Threesome Music Co./W B Music Corp., ASCAP
3) Maximum Density (Andy LaVerne) 6:23
Kranmars Music, ASCAP
4) Whose Little Angry Man (Judd Woldin/Robert Brittan) 5:47
EMI Blackwood Music, Inc., BMI
5) Quasimodo (Charlie Parker/Sheila Jordan) 10:34
Songs Of Universal Inc., BMI
6) I Concentrate On You (Cole Porter) 8:11
Chappell-Co. Inc., ASCAP
7) You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To (Cole Porter) 12:23
Chappell-Co. Inc., ASCAP
8) Band Credits 0:19

So Many Stars and Maximum Density arranged by Bill Kirchner.
Whose Little Angry Man, Quasimodo, and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
arranged by Bill Kirchner and Sheila Jordan.
I Concentrate On You arranged by Mike Crotty.
Recorded at the Chicago Jazz Festival,
Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, September 4, 1987.
Mastering Engineer: Malcolm Addey
Graphic Design; Javier Chacin and Judy Kahn