Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lucas van Merwijk - Cubop City Big Band - Que Sensación! Revisited

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

I am revisiting this piece in order to add the video tribute to Arsenio Rodriquez that opens it and to re-size the videos below so that they will fit more comfortably into this new blog format.

Lucas continues to grow and develop as one of the major musical talent of our generation and one of the busiest. One visit to the activities, recordings and concert appearances listed on his website will tell you why.

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

Lucas van Merwijk is one of the great drummers of our time.

He lays down so much good stuff that even the eyes of a trained drummer can't catch it all [thank goodness for the ears, too!].

And he makes it all look so easy.

Lucas is based in Amsterdam, although he travels all over the world as a principal in a number of percussion-oriented groups.  You can locate more information about Lucas' background, his current group affiliations and his recordings by visiting his website.

Lucas' main passion is Latin Jazz; he's a real afficianado when it comes to the many percussion rhythms and elements associated with this music.

Under his leadership, the Cubop City Big Band [CCBB], which is partially supported by an ethnic music grant made possible through the people of The Netherlands, has developed a reputation for performing authentic and excellent quality Latin Jazz.

Therefore, whenever the CCBB puts out a new CD, in this case -  Que Sensación! - it is considered to be "an event" by those who follow the music.

Fortunately, for fans of the Cubop City Big Band, there are also first-rate videos of the band performing two tracks from the new CD that were made from the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO's "Free Sounds" [vrije geluiden] television program.

The first of these has the band performing the title track: Que Sensación! The arrangement is by pianist Marc Bischoff.

The audio track on the next video is also a Marc Bischoff arrangement and is entitled A Puerto Padre.  See if you can pick up on what Lucas is laying down beginning at 4:54 minutes - it's a shame that we can't see his feet in action, too.  By the way, Lucas is holding his drum sticks in the "matched hands" position.

Earlier we featured the best in Latin Jazz by the Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band based in Tokyo, Japan!

And now we follow with a Latin Jazz profile of a band led by a drummer based in Holland!!

The world is becoming such a cosmopolitan place.

Rest assured, wherever the best in Jazz is happening, we'll bring it too you here on JazzProfiles or should we say - JazzProfielens?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Howard Rumsey: 1917-2015 - The Los Angeles Times Obituary 7/25/2015

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

Whether you are a musician, a club owner, recorded producer or concert impresario, Jazz has always been a tough business to be in.

I mean one answer to the question - “How do you make a million dollars playing Jazz?” is to “Start with two million dollars!” - basically says it all.

So when a nice guy comes along and touches the lives of Jazz musicians, fans, record labels, club owners and concert promoters in such a positive way, the least we can do is call attention to him as a way of saying “Thank You.”

Such a person was bassist, bandleader and Jazz entrepreneur Howard Rumsey who passed away on July 15, 2015.

I knew Howard Rumsey for 57 years and every time we met he asked after me, gave me words of encouragement and told me “How nice it is to see you again.”

Here’s Steve Chawkins’ loving tribute to Howard which appeared in the July 25, 2015 of The Los Angeles Times.

"Howard Rumsey, a bass player who turned a down-at-the-heels sailors’ hangout in Hermosa Beach, CA into ground zero for West Coast jazz, has died. He was 97.

Rumsey, whose Lighthouse Cafe provided a hip, popular show-place for established musicians and a proving ground for up-and-coming players, died July 15 in Newport Beach, his friend Ken Poston, director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, said.

"He came along at precisely the right time," Poston said, "and was able to establish what became an iconic place in the history of jazz."

In 1949, the Lighthouse drew a rough crowd of longshoremen and merchant seamen. Rumsey, a tall, self-effacing musician who played dime-a-dance halls along the coast before hitting the road with big bands, wandered in for a beer one afternoon in May. Tired of traveling, he was patching together local gigs and tried to talk owner John Levine into letting him stage Sunday afternoon jazz performances.

"Hey, kid," Levine said, "Sunday is the worst day of the week for the liquor business."

But Rumsey persisted. "I pointed to the empty club and said, 'What can you lose?'" he told The Times in 1989.

"The next week we propped open the two front doors and blasted music out onto the street, and in a couple of hours there were more people in there than he'd seen in six weeks."

Rumsey drew on his old pals from Stan Kenton's big band, and within a couple of years, his Lighthouse All-Stars played hard-driving bebop six nights a week. Big names in jazz — drummer Shelly Manne, composer-trumpeter Shorty Rogers, saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre — were part of the house combo.

In later years, Max Roach, Miles Davis and Lee Morgan swung by to play. Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Wes Montgomery — all eventually took their turns.

One night, reclusive pianist Thelonious Monk came in.

"He was trying to be very incognito, sitting quietly at the end of the bar," Rumsey recalled. "Then his name was announced. He walked to the piano, played 'Round Midnight,' got up, took a bow and walked right out the front door. I never saw him again."

In the early days, African American musicians had a tough time navigating around local police officers, who sometimes tailed them through town. To the chagrin of Levine and Rumsey, many quit coming and didn't resume for several years.
Rumsey "just had to stick with it and overcome it," Poston said.

"He became a trusted member of the community and was able to break down some of that stuff."

At Levine's urging, Rumsey joined the local Chamber of Commerce. He wrote music columns for a local newspaper. The Lighthouse co-sponsored an annual beauty contest and participated in parades.

In addition to acting as the club's frontman, Rumsey booked talent, announced acts, kibitzed with the guests, made people feel at home and, occasionally, picked up his bass. On busy Saturday nights, the Lighthouse turned away hundreds of would-be patrons, many of them students from UCLA and USC.

In 1956, NBC's Dave Garroway, and the Monitor TV program, riding a wave of interest in California's far-out beach scene, gave the Lighthouse national exposure. "We just step out of the ocean and start for the music," Garroway said, as a couple in swimsuits emerged from the surf and walked barefoot down the street.

"Oh, your feet will still leave little wet footprints on Pier Avenue every step of the way to John Levine's Lighthouse Cafe," Garroway said as the camera panned over a sun-baked crowd and the new sounds of California cool played in the background. "This is jazz — modern jazz—not for the cultist or the sectarian, but free-swinging music improvised with enthusiasm."

Critics suggested that East Coast jazz and West Coast jazz were essentially different, but Rumsey didn't completely buy it. In 2009, he offered his own description of the West Coast strain to jazz writer Marc Myers: "It's the music of happy — in a hurry."

Born Nov. 17, 1917, in Brawley, Calif., Rumsey started piano lessons when he was 4. By the time he was 18, he was playing bass in clubs. When Stan Kenton wanted him to play with his band at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, the great jazzman asked permission from Rumsey's mother, who at the time ran a chicken pie shop in San Diego.

Ultimately, Rumsey spent two years on the road with Kenton's band.
"He made a professional musician out of me — which was rather hard to do," Rumsey said in Ken Koenig’s award-winning 2005 documentary, Jazz on the West Coast: The Lighthouse.

At the Lighthouse, Rumsey started annual collegiate jazz competitions, cultivating his audience and his future players at the same time. He took his Lighthouse All-Stars on college tours and, at one of them, met future wife Joyce. They were married for 47 years until her death in 1998.

In 1970, Levine, whom Rumsey said he saw as a second father, died suddenly.
When the club's new owner, Levine's son John, wanted to feature blues more prominently, Rumsey opened another jazz spot — the Concerts by the Sea club in Redondo Beach. After retiring in 1985, Rumsey pursued a quiet life of golfing in Hemet.

Eventually, he moved back to Newport Beach. In his later years, he was an elder statesman of local jazz.

"Whenever Howard showed up, it was a big deal," Poston said. "The musicians loved it, the patrons loved it—it was just a great scene."

And so it was for Rumsey.

"When you have great jazz improvisationalists working together, it's like the aperitif of life," he told The Times in 1999. "There's nothing more elegant and beautiful.""

Friday, July 24, 2015

Denny Zeitlin: "The Two Track Mind" by Grover Sales

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

I’m never certain as to why I get into a listening mode that focuses on the music of one musician, but I often do and lately the center of my undivided attention has been the music of pianist Denny Zeitlin.

What I like best about Denny’s approach to Jazz is that I know he’s always going to give me an honest rendering; his compositions and improvisations are unmistakably his own. Cue Magazine [circa 1965] even went so far as to say that “Denny Zeitlin was the most inventive pianist in at least two decades.”

Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Earl Fatha Hines, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, Nat King Cole, George Shearing Lennie Tristano, Oscar Peterson, as well as, Denny’s contemporaries including Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, all have an instantly recognizable “voice” on an instrument that’s not known for its individuality of expression.

And yet, it doesn’t take long before Denny’s unique style to manifest itself. He’s such an honest player who rarely falls back on licks and tricks and hardly ever repeats himself.

I’ve been listening to Denny’s music for a long time, having first become familiar with his work through three recordings that he recorded for Columbia in the mid-1960s under John Hammond’s supervision: Cathexis, Carnival, and Zeitgeist. Another of my favorite recordings by Denny on Columbia from the same period is Shining Hour: Denny Zeitlin Live at The Trident [a Jazz club that was based in Sausalito, CA just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco]. It was recorded in performance at the club in 1965.

Bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jerry Granelli join Denny on most of these recordings with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Freddie Waits accompanying him on Cathexis.

While researching a lengthier profile on Denny that encompasses  his 50+ year career in the music, I came across the following piece by the eminent Jazz scholar and author Grover Sales which appeared in the May 1986 edition of Gene Lees Jazzletter.

While I continue my research into the ever-evolving music of Denny Zeitlin so as to do it justice from a career perspective, I think you’ll be in good hands with Grover in the meantime.

"The good thing about being famous," quipped the late Howard Gossage [an advertising innovator and iconoclast during the ‘Mad Men’ era who was also sometimes referred to as ‘The Socrates of San Francisco’], "is that you don't have to explain yourself." Though famous in two divergent arenas, jazz pianist-composer and psychiatrist Dr. Denny Zeitlin has been forced to "explain himself since he first pursued his dual career.

"Some musicians I work with," he says, "feel threatened that I'm trying to psych them out; some are envious that I'm making a comfortable living as a psychiatrist while they're scuffling. Some doctors wonder, “What is he doing with this Jazz? — still a dirty word to some people. Some in both music and medicine doubt I can be good at something I'm not doing full time, and even get angry about it. But there are many who can see that the dual career enriches both my medicine and my music — which I know to be true — mainly in Europe where the pursuit of a double career does not seem as bizarre as in America. And it's always been a problem in American that you should be having fun with your work.

"On both sides there's been a tendency to suppose that I do psychiatry primarily for the money and music mainly for the fun. Actually, I get equal pleasure and fulfillment from each, and couldn't imagine not dividing my time this way. Also, music and psychiatry are not as afield as some assume. One of their many similarities is perpetual newness. I know a lot of doctors who become bored and burned out with their three-hundredth appendectomy, and many musicians drugged with recording repetitive jingles and schlock movie scores. Even though many psychological themes are common to many people, each individual's mode of experiencing and expressing is unique; and in music, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pick and choose projects that are challenging and exciting."

Tall, athletic, bearded, and with a rabbinical cast, Zeitlin combines the seeming incompatibles of seething intensity and relaxed grace. Reflecting his diverse trades, his professorial speech is laced with staples of the jazz argot. A radio announcer's voice resonates with untempered enthusiasm for his multiple interests. This associate clinical professor of psychiatry has played the Newport and Monterey jazz festivals and has recorded nearly a dozen albums of his own works, as well as standards, all raptly acclaimed by jazz critics. In the recent Jazzletter poll of forty-two pianists, Zeitlin garnered as many votes as Count Basie, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Rowles.

Zeitlin came by both music and psychiatry honestly. He was born in Chicago in 1938 to a radiologist father who could play any popular tune on the family Steinway by ear and a speech pathologist mother who was a classically trained pianist. "At two and three I started doodling at the piano, climbing on mother's or father's lap and putting my hands on theirs while they were playing. I started studying music at six, but was always more interested in composing and improvising than playing. A comment on my parents' remarkable sensitivity is that when I was nine, they rejected my teacher's advice that I start grooming for a concert career to the exclusion of all other interests. They knew that, as much as I loved Bach and Chopin, my object was not to include them in a concert repertoire but to learn how their music was constructed, and use this knowledge in my own compositions.

"I first heard jazz in the eighth grade when a wonderful piano teacher brought me an early George Shearing album that just knocked me out! Here was a pianist with all the technical chops, playing this marvelous new music. And that rhythm! Then she brought me Art Tatum records, and I was totally blown away by his technique, but even more by his incredible ability to reharmonize pop tunes. In high school I played with Dixieland bands that were popular at that time, but my heart wasn't in it; this music never spoke to me emotionally like Debussy or Ravel. Then I got into Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg and Berg, who knocked me out, man! Galvanized me! And when I first heard Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano I immediately moved over to that. Because I was tall and looked lots older, I started going to jazz clubs in Chicago in the mid-1950s, digging major players, and again, my folks were so sympathetic and so trusting because here I was at fifteen, and often the only white cat in these clubs, sitting in, coming home at five in the morning, and my folks never batted an eye, even though they knew nothing of jazz.

"My medical career also started early, in the fourth and fifth grade. I became a spontaneous playground psychotherapist, interested in the kids, their problems, and they'd ask me, 'Why do the other kids pick on me?' or, 'Why can't I get along with my father?' 'Why does the teacher have it in for me?' And a leader would talk to me about how he felt lonely at the top. From my mother, who was a marvelous listener for me, I seemed to get this intuitive radar about people. I was a member of a peer group, not the neighborhood four-eyes, which I could have been if my folks had let that piano teacher suppress every urge in me but a concert career. My uncle was a psychiatrist and I felt in the playground that I would become one, as well as a musician.

"At the University of Illinois I took four years of pre-med with a major in philosophy, mainly existentialism, and again lucked out running into top jazz players like Wes Montgomery and Joe Farrell, who was a classmate of mine, and played gigs with them. The same thing happened at Johns Hopkins med school from 1960 to 1964 when I ran into the great reedman Gary Bartz, whose dad owned a jazz club in Baltimore.

'Then I got a fellowship in psychiatry at Columbia, a period that shifted my whole life. Paul Winter dragged me kicking and screaming to John Hammond. I grew up believing that to record was to put yourself at the mercy of some soulless megastructure, prostitute your music and give away artistic control. I heard all the horror stories from other musicians, so why should I bother with this? But Hammond was such a marvelous, exuberant, open guy, and so genuinely excited about my music. He said, ‘I’d love to record with you! What do you want to do? Play whatever you want! How would you like to record with Jeremy Steig?' And he played me tapes of Steig's wonderful, wild flute things, and I said, 'Sure!' So 1963 saw my first album with Steig, Ben Riley and Ben Tucker, just a blowing date — we'd never played together before — and in the studio everything clicked. Six months later, with Hammond at Columbia Records, I cut Cathexis, my first record date as a leader, and then Zeitgeist - - they had to come up with something cute for a title, but it was nothing as horrendous as Group Therapy, which is what they were going to call the album until I threw a fit.

"I moved to San Francisco in 1964, having fallen in love with the place, and never applied for an internship anywhere else. I was at S.F. General on a tough one-year rotating internship. One night, I had a woman on the verge of delivery and her baby conveniently came an hour before I was due to play at the Trident in Sausalito. The Trident experience was fortunate because I was part of the woodwork there every Monday night for two and a half years, an incredibly long time for a steady gig, with a chance to develop. And manager Lou Canapoler was such a warm, utterly sympathetic boss. At the Trident I was playing what I call 'acoustic modern jazz piano trio music,' but augmented with unusual time signatures and more extended compositions, which hadn't been done much at that time.

This continued until the mid-'60s when I began to get restless and feel limited. Synthesizers were then at their primitive, unwieldy state, so I dropped out of public performance for several years to do research and development in synthesized and electronic keyboards, integrating jazz, electronic and avant garde classical with some things in rock that many in jazz were too contemptuous of — a lot of rhythm 'n blues, Muddy Waters and Chicago, a dynamite group. I loved Frank Zappa, the Band from Big Pink, and the Stones, which had a fantastic rhythm section, and of course I adored the Beatles. But when I started to expand into this new territory, the record companies said, 'How can we sell it? What is it? We have no established conduits to market this kind of music.' So I put out the record on my own mail-order label, Double Helix records. It sold well enough and got good reviews, so a small, classy label in Berkeley, 1750 Arts, took it over. I did two more albums for them, one of the few labels that truly care about music, but sadly, it looks like they're disbanding.

"Then in 1978 my career took a shift when Philip Kaufman did a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and hired me to write the film score because he dug my records; he wanted a contemporary symphonic acoustic-electric mix, big stuff, and I had never written for a symphony orchestra before. I had to sell producer Bob Solo, and frankly, if I had been him, I never would have hired someone with as few credentials. I only got the gig because Phil Kaufman twisted his arm. I closed my medical office for five weeks to undertake the most exciting and exhaustive experience of my life. The thrill of hearing my music performed by the very best of L.A. musicians was a gas! Overwhelming, man! During a break, the first violinist said, 'I love your music, but of course, you have done many scores.’ When I told him no, this was my first, his eyes widened and he said, 'But you should be doing this all the time!' After Body Snatchers I got a lot of movie offers, but shied away now that the mystery was gone. There are too many extra-musical considerations in sculpting music to fit a producer's and a director's concept of what the film is about, and if you can do this and still please yourself, that's rare. Film composers have told me that I could do a thousand films before lucking into a unique situation where, thanks to Phil. I could hire the best conductor, the best musicians, the best studio, the best sound engineer absolutely unheard of!

"After the tremendous musical congestion of Body Snatchers I had the urge to return to the simplicity of the acoustic piano. and recorded Soundings for 1750 arts, and then a duet with bassist Charlie Haden, Time Remembered One Time Once, live at Keystone Korner for the German label ECM. followed by Tidal Wave for Palo Alto Records, mostly my own compositions. Herb Wong then included me in a potpourri 'twofer/ Bill Evans — A Tribute in the exalted company of John Lewis, Teddy Wilson, George Shearing and Dave McKenna. Almost anyone playing acoustic piano today owes a debt to Bill Evans, but I started early enough so that my first influences were before Bill's time, which I'm glad about because his influence on younger pianists is so formidable that it's hard to get from under. But I'm grateful for the exposure to his early work on Riverside, which I feel is Bill's best, and thankful that I had him for a friend. He was rare in that he was so comfortable with his talent that he never felt the need to be competitive, and took great delight in encouraging other players, like me.

"To get back to medicine, I did a psychiatric residency at Langley Porter [a hospital in San Francisco] from 1965 to 1968 when the human potential movement was burgeoning and studied a broad range of psychiatric disciplines, including many Esalen workshops with Fritz Perls. Later my training and orientation became more psychoanalytic. My feelings about groups like est are mixed; est is a blunt instrument that has proved its unquestionable value for some people, providing them with a genuine breakthrough experience; for others it was a form of adult recreation. But serious studies have found that among est, and most encounter groups of this kind, a disturbing rate of casualty exits, in some cases as high as ten percent.

"During the '60s I worked with the drug study unit at Langley Porter, the first unit to deal with the ravages of the 'flower children.' Drugs have never been part of my life. Apart from the legalities, I don't condemn it for others who seem to function better on judicious amounts of drugs, but I do condemn it when it gets out of control like cocaine, which is the major problem today among middle- and high-income people. Cocaine is totally destructive, far more than LSD, and is incredibly addictive, psychologically; it's worked its murderous way into every sector of society.

"In more recent years I've become increasingly interested in the creative process. Many of my patients are involved in creative pursuits, and not necessarily people labeled by society as 'artists,' but entrepreneurs, business people who are feeling blocks to the flow of their creativity. I conduct workshops and lecture-demonstrations on 'unlocking the creative impulse: the psychology of improvisation.' All creative pursuits share a common task of entering an ecstatic or merger state where the artist can tap into the wellspring of his emotional and unconscious life, while simultaneously, in some subliminal way. bringing to bear everything learned, felt and believed about his or her art. There's a parallel between playing Jazz and doing psychiatry because the deepest kind of creativity and communication is involved in both fields. Ideally. when I'm playing with a group, a state of subconscious merger exists between me and my fellow musicians, just as it ideally exists between me and my patients; a complete immersion and a state of genuine trust allows something special, musically or psychologically, to emerge. When that state is reached, whether in music or in therapy. I give up all sense of my physical body, or the positional sense of self.

"One of the reasons drug use is often prevalent among Jazz musicians is so they can achieve this state despite the distractions of noisy audiences and bad amplifying systems, and also deal with the internal noise which is potentially much more insidious and disruptive. Like. I’m playing a concert in Edmonton. and am going to Japan the next day. and in the middle of a phrase, suddenly I think. "Where did I put my plane tickets?'and get pulled out of the music. Being a professional. I'm still moving my fingers and maybe haven't made an actual mistake, but I'm no longer centered in the music. Another common kind of internal noise is self-doubt, and self-flagellation for making a mistake. My fascination with Bjorn Borg's tennis experience  - I'm a wild tennis nut and an avid player - is that Borg is able to get into a state of total concentration, playing at the moment, that no other player has been able to achieve in quite this way. This is what I try to do at the piano and my medical practice; I try to merge with my patients, their dream and fantasy life, leaving a part of myself free to observe and comment and help the patient understand what they are experiencing. I try to merge in this same way with the other cats on the stand.

"One of my patients, an extremely gifted Jazz musician, had this tremendous block about performing in front of people, so severe that he began to withdraw from playing entirely. What he was consciously aware of was a fear of failure, of humiliation, and on the surface he chronically undervalued his own playing. But alter we worked for a while, what at first seemed a fear of failure slowly emerged as a tremendous guilt over success, which is what he was really afraid of, that he would get up on the stand and blow the other cats away, show them up, knowing himself to be supremely gifted. For him, the act of performing was the recapitulation of an important childhood conflict, wherein he felt he had always outdistanced his younger brother, crippling him, and his brother never had as good a life. And as he became more consciously aware of this dynamic, and could re-live early experiences, he began to feel less guilty, more free to perform, and went on to become extremely successful. Without giving any clues as to his identity, let's just say he was able to actualize his talent. This took many months, there was no sudden Hollywood breakthrough. Certainly there are ‘Ah-Hah' experiences in psychotherapy, but the bulk of change occurs as a result of slowly working these things through."

One night at the Trident in 1967. in mid-performance, Zeitlin experienced "an external distraction of the most delicious kind" when his future (and second) wife, Josephine Shady, entered the room: "The hell with the merger experience …  who is this woman? I couldn't wait for the set to be over. We've been together ever since, and she's the hub of everything in my life. Josephine's one of the most creative people I know, as a professional landscape and garden designer, as a photographer and as a gourmet chef. She can look at a recipe and instinctively sense how much to add and what to leave out. just as she can see a client's disaster-area backyard and get an immediate physical impression of what can be there. When we went on a restaurant safari in France, very few of these three-star outfits came up to her level."

As a guest at the Zeitlin table. I can attest that Denny's enthusiasm goes well beyond routine husbandly pride: Josephine Zeitlin is indeed one of the world's great cooks. Since 1973 the Zeitlins have occupied a captivating house in wooded Kentfield with a rare Egyptian Pharaoh dog and three exotic cats. A gleaming grand piano dominates the living room, but the household centers around the kitchen. Spacious gardens and orchards provide "live" fare for sublime lunches and dinner. Downstairs is Zeitlin's suburban office; he has another across from Langley Porter in the city. Adjoining the home-office is a studio crammed with an array of electronic keyboards, plus a cavernous temperature-controlled wine cellar. Zeitlin approaches wine and food with the same breathless rapture that marks his passion for music, medicine and tennis: "I got interested in wine in high school, not drinking it, but reading about it. Then as an intern I got started collecting great French vintages in those days you could buy Chateau Lafitte for three, four dollars a bottle! Fantastic!

"All of my activities seem organically related, I can't say exactly why. When I run on Mount Tamalpais [Mill Valley, CA], I get the same sense of merger with the mountain that I do with my music and my patients, I find a deep, sensual and aesthetic pleasure in all of these activities, all of which make me appreciate the wonder of humans, what they feel, what they think about."”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Charles Mingus and The Jazz Workshop

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

It’s hard to believe that Charles Mingus conceived the idea for a Jazz Workshop almost 75 years ago, but that was Charles, always so far ahead in his thinking and so anxious about getting there.

The problem was there was no “there,” there. Charles was “it” so wherever he was, he was there.

Charles has to be considered was of the most restless souls in Jazz. He was never satisfied and sometimes he took out his dissatisfaction on the audience or on the musicians in his band, or both.

Passion was Charles’ byword accompanied by a brilliant technique as a bassist and a sui generis approach to composition.

Charles could write and he could play; if he had any faults it was in expecting too much of other musicians. His incredibly high standards and his impatience with others in achieving them made him a very volatile bandleader for most of his career.

In the late 1950s, many of the major Jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk, migrated to Columbia Records [today known as Sony Music]. Producer Teo Macero convinced Charles to be amongst them.

Mingus Ah Um [[Columbia CK 40648 or 65512] one of my all-time favorite recordings is a result of this move. With one or two possible exceptions, it seems as though each of the nine tracks on the recording have become among Charles’ most famous and most often played and interpreted compositions. Richard Cook and Brian Morton have labeled the music on Mingus Ah Um as - “three-quarters of an hour of sheer genius” [The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.].

Another quality about the recording that has always fascinated me is its unusual instrumentation: two trombones [Willie Dennis and Jimmy Knepper] three saxes [John Handy, alto, Shafi Hadi and Booker Ervin, tenor] and a hard-driving rhythm section made-up of Horace Parlan, piano, Charles on bass, and Charles’ favorite drummer, Dannie Richmond.

More information about Charles’ evolution into a major Jazz artist, the Jazz Workshop concept and the manner in which Charles “composes” his music, and the background of each of the musicians on this recording is contained in the following insert notes by DIANE DORR-DORYNEK.

“The idea for a jazz workshop was conceived in 1943 while Charlie Mingus was attending Los Angeles City College. Then it was a classical workshop where musicians could exchange ideas and perform their new compositions. Mingus moved to New York in 1951, and, deciding to try the idea in the more spontaneous medium of jazz, by 1953 had organized a series of jazz workshop concerts at the Putnam Central Club in Brooklyn. Some of the musicians who participated in the early days were Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and the audience, who also had a hand in the working out of new compositions and arrangements.

Because of the success of this workshop, a Composer's Workshop was formed, in collaboration with Bill Coss of Metronome, that included Teddy Charles, John LaPorta, and Teo Macero (who, as an A&R man for Columbia, arranged the date for this album). Mingus believes now that it got too far away from jazz — spontaneity — since almost all of the music was written. He remembers one rehearsal at which Teddy had left several bars open for blowing and everyone jumped on him with "Man, are you lazy? Write it out!"

From this series of concerts Mingus discovered two important things. "First, a jazz composition as I hear it in my mind's ear—although set down in so many notes on score paper and precisely notated — cannot be played by a group of either jazz or classical musicians. A classical musician might read all the notes correctly but play them without the correct jazz feeling or interpretation, and a jazz musician, although he might read all the notes and play them with jazz feeling, inevitably introduces his own individual expression rather than the dynamics the composer intended. Secondly, jazz, by its very definition, cannot be held down to written parts to be played with a feeling that goes only with blowing free.

"My present working methods use very little written material. I 'write' compositions on mental score paper, then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the 'framework' on piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions to be used. Each man's particular style is taken into consideration. They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated. In this way I can keep my own compositional flavor in the pieces and yet allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group lines and solos."

Of the musicians on this album, John Handy, Booker Ervin, Horace Parlan, and Dannie Richmond are currently working with Mingus. Willie Dennis, Jimmy Knepper, and Shafi Hadi have worked with him in the past, and were called especially for this date.

John Handy was born in Dallas on February 3, 1933. While in Dallas he began studying the clarinet, then moved to Oakland, California, where he played alto sax at McClymonds High School. He gigged in rhythm and blues in Oakland for two years and later, when he moved to San Francisco, at Bop City. All of the musicians passing through were sure to show there, and although he wasn't working in jazz, he heard a passing pageant of the greatest names in jazz. He didn't hear Bird until 1952 when Bird was playing at the Say When.

He feels that Bird was probably his greatest influence, but the list of musicians that were important to him musically is long: Louis Jordan, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, early Konitz, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. In 1952 he studied at San Francisco City College, playing clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, alto and tenor. After a stint in Korea, he returned to San Francisco and switched his main instrument from alto to tenor. He studied for a secondary teaching degree at State College, and plans to complete it and eventually teach improvisation at the college level.

Handy came to New York in July 1958. He met Mingus in December at a jam session at the Five Spot. He'd been pacing about anxiously, hoping to blow, but the musicians on the stand thought he looked too square. Mingus asked them to give him a chance to play, and they did. A day later Mingus asked him to join his group.

Booker Ervin was born on October 31, 1930, in Denison, Texas. When he was nine he wanted to learn the saxophone, but his mother bought him a trombone. He played it for five years and then gave it up. He had wanted to be a jazz musician after hearing Count Basic and other bands of the 30s on the radio, but it wasn't until 1950, when in the Air Force, that he finally took up tenor sax and played with a jazz group in Okinawa. He attended the Berklee Music School in Boston in 1954 and then went on the road for a year with Ernie Fields, playing rhythm and blues. For the next few years he traveled. He stopped off in Denver for a year and there played his first jazz gigs—at the Piano Lounge, and as house combo at Sonny's Lounge. In the meantime he had studied clarinet and flute. He'd listened to Lester Young and Dexter Gordon earlier, now he listened to Sonny Stitt, and later, to Rollins and Coltrane.

He quit music to work in the post office but that became unbearable after three months. "There was no place to go but New York." He came east with a drummer who lived in Pittsburgh and stayed there for six months (where he met Horace Parian). He landed in New York in May of 1958. Shafi Hadi, then working with Mingus, told him, "There's a new cat in town cuts everybody, me and Sonny and all those cats. I'm a sax player so I know what he's doing on that instrument." Horace brought Booker to the Half Note where they were then working and he finished the gig with them, but didn't join the group until November.

Horace Parlan was born in Pittsburgh on January 19, 1931. He gigged around Pittsburgh awhile with Tom Turrentine and others, and has played with Sonny Stitt and Dizzy Gillespie. One night Mingus was invited to a jam session in Pittsburgh, and Horace, who was also jamming there, was playing so much and so consistently that Mingus tried to outdo him with his bass. It wasn't until later that he noticed Horace's right hand was paralyzed. He had polio when he was five and can use only two fingers of his right hand. Bassist Wyatt "Bull" Ruther and his teacher, Mary Alston, encouraged him to overcome this, and he has developed a predominantly left hand style — single note solos, left hand chords, or chords with right and left interlocked. He names as his favorite pianists Horace Silver, Bud Powell, John Lewis, and Ahmad Jamal.

After this session in Pittsburgh Mingus lost contact with Horace until a year later when a car drove up to the Alvin Hotel and Horace got out to check in. Mingus, who was passing by, found he had come here looking for work and hired him. Horace's father was a preacher and he, like Mingus, has a strong church music background. On Better Git It In Your Soul, Mingus took a moaning repetitive church-like line from one of Horace's solos and added it to the piece.

Dannie Richmond was born in New York 30 years ago, and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He returned to New York to study tenor sax at the Music Center Conservatory and then went on the road with rhythm-and-blues units like the Clovers, Joe Anderson, and Paul Williams. He left rhythm and blues in 1956 because he felt it was exhibitionism rather than music, and at that time switched to drums. That summer the jazz workshop was at The Pad in Greenwich Village (later called Lower Basin Street). At one intermission, after they had played a fast number on which their present drummer couldn't keep up, Lou Donaldson told Mingus, "I've got my home-town buddy here. I bet he'll make those fast tempos." He introduced Mingus to Dannie, and Mingus, noting his careful grooming and nice clothes, was skeptical. Dannie sat in for several numbers. One the first number, an up-tempoed Cherokee, he had very little trouble. Mingus says he could tell Dannie was a good musician and just needed more work. Dannie joined the workshop later that winter when the regular drummer left. Mingus believes the drummer is the most important member of the group and says he'd rather have no drummer at all if Dannie weren't available. "He's a musician, not just a timekeeper, one of the most versatile and creative drummers I've ever heard."

A shorter word about the non-regulars. Shafi Hadi was born in Philadelphia on September 21, 1929, and raised in Detroit. He served his apprenticeship in rhythm-and-blues bands such as Ivory Joe Hunter, Ruth Brown, Paul Williams, and the Griffin Brothers. He left rhythm and blues late in 1956 and joined Mingus in 1957, with whom he worked regularly until the fall of 1958.

He was among the nine musicians (along with Knepper, Richmond, and Parian) who recorded the score, composed by Mingus, for the experimental film Shadows. The theme song from Shadows, retitled Self-Portrait In Three Colors, is recorded in this album.

Willie Dennis was born in South Philadelphia 33 years ago. He picked up the trombone when he was about 15, learning by ear. He has played in a long list of famous bands; with Percy and Jimmy Heath, Elliott Lawrence, Howard McGee, Claude Thornhill, Sam Donahue, Woody Herman (with whom he went to South America and became very interested in flamenco and concert guitar), and Benny Goodman (touring Europe). He has also worked with the smaller groups of Charlie Ventura, Coleman Hawkins, Lennie Tristano, and Kai Winding. At one of the early jazz workshop concerts in Brooklyn, Mingus brought together Dennis, J. J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and Bennie Green. This concert was billed as the Battle of the Trombones, and marked the beginning of the Jay and Kai team. In 1956 he went to the West Coast with Mingus. He is currently working with Buddy Rich.

Jimmy Knepper, winner of the 1958 down beat International Critics New Star Award, was born in Los Angeles on November 22, 1927. His early musical experience was mainly with big bands, Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, and Ralph Marterie; and he played for awhile with Charlie Parker. He joined the jazz workshop early in 1957 and was one of the musicians playing at the Brandeis Festival that summer, where Mingus' Revelations was performed along with the compositions of five other jazz and classical musicians. In the spring of 1958 Knepper organized his own group, later joined Tony Scott, and more recently toured with Stan Kenton. He is very accomplished technically. Britt Woodman and Duke Ellington's other trombonists listened to him enthusiastically last summer at the Great South Bay Festival, where he played with the jazz workshop. Britt summed up their feelings, saying: “Man, he’s all over that trombone.”

Mingus' biography has been noted quite fully elsewhere, but for the benefit of new members of his audience I'll recapitulate it in brief. He was born in an army camp at Nogales, Arizona, April 22, 1922, and soon thereafter his family moved to Los Angeles. He grew up in Watts, three miles from L.A. The first music he heard was church music. His stepmother took him to the Holiness Church where there were trombone, tambourines, bass, and a bass drum, and the music was filled with blues, moaning, and riffs set by the preacher. One day, listening to his father's crystal set (at the risk of being severely punished if found tampering with it), he heard Duke Ellington's East St. Louis Toodle-Oo. "It was the first time I knew something else was happening besides church music."

He tried the trombone when he was six, later took up the cello, and switched to bass in high school. He studied the bass with Red Callender and then, for five years, with H. Rheinschagen, formerly of the New York Philharmonic.

His early gigs were with Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but under pressure of kidding by his friends, he left the old-timers and gigged with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Art Tatum, finally becoming a leader of his own group in 1952.

I've mentioned in passing his foray into film scoring, and I'd like to add a word about jazz and poets. Mingus played with poets in Frisco ten years or so ago. He feels it hasn't had the proper chance in New York, despite the many efforts to present it, including his own concerts last March with Kenneth Patchen. But music and poetry (or acting) does seem to have a definite future — if his recent experience with actors on television is a reliable forecast.

At this writing [1959], he has just completed work on the first of three plays by Leo Pogostin for the Robert Herridge Theatre. The first play of this trilogy uses bass alone for the score; the other two will employ other members of his group. During the week of rehearsal and the three dress rehearsals, musician and actors worked in close reaction to one another. For the actual taping of the show, however, the music was cut down so low as to be inaudible to the actors, to avoid feedback into their mikes. Two of the actors said they missed it — the bass had seemed to be another actor and had become an integral part of the play.

The acting methods used were peculiarly akin to jazz. The script formed the skeleton around which the actors might change or ad lib lines according to their response to the situation at that moment, so that each performance was slightly different. Martin Balsam, the lead, said, "Sticking too closely to lines is stifling. This method gives an air of the unexpected and keeps us alive to the situation and the other actors." A jazz musician works in this way, using a given musical skeleton and creating out of it, building a musical whole related to that particular moment by listening to and interacting with his fellow musicians. Jazz musicians working with actors could conceivably provide audiences with some of the most moving and alive theater they have ever experienced.

One poet, Jonathan Williams (if we may return to poets for a moment), in noting the rather bare poetic scene writes, "The only solace for a poet in New York is the occasional spirit in painting and jazz—the 'opening out of my countree,' the protective flash that Charles Olson sees inherent in the greatest American art: Ives, Ryder, Sullivan, Melville. In the winter of 1959 this spirit radiates for me from the paintings of de Kooning, which seem like the best landscapes since Oz, and from the sessions of the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. I heard this Quintet more than thirty times in three months, increasingly rapt by the presence of those tired but necessary words 'nobility' and 'love' in the music.

"It is incredible that Mingus can dredge out of the contemporary slough the potency and healing grace of his music. Pieces like the Fables of Faubus, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and others are miracles of a kind. They are there, available, God knows, for anyone of those not so bugged by the crazy barrage of the Communication of Nothing that they can still hear. Poetry and music are for those with straight connections between ears, eyes, head, heart, and gut."”