"Oh yes, I lost compositions, all my music, my instruments... pretty much everything," smiles Kidd Jordan. He hasn't actually mentioned Hurricane Katrina by name, nor does his voice betray the bitterness he must still feel, even two-and-a-half years after the disaster that nearly cost him members of his family. There is gentleness in his delivery, but it's underpinned by steel, by a determination to press on in the face of unbelievable tragedy and to do so with an unpretentiously positive demeanor. "I even lost my Bird autograph," his voice rises as he remembers.
Matter-of-fact, spontaneous and brimming with emotion, Jordan's voice mirrors the way he approaches music. Freedom and tradition do not vie for prominence in his playing; they spur each other on as he reaches ever-increasing heights over varying trajectories, the notes pouring from him as the long bittersweet truth he's lived bursts from the personal to the general. In live situations and recordings, of which there are simply too few and even fewer still available, Jordan testifies to the varied nature of life and to the surging joy of continued growth and creativity born of liberation.
Jordan's bluesy, earthy, powerful freedom is to be honored shortly at Vision Festival 2008 where, as with Bill Dixon last year, he is to be given en evening-long tribute. "Yup," Kidd grins. "You live long enough, you get recognized." It's clear, however, that the Vision Festival is special to him. "One of the best things in America for me has been to play on that festival," he states with verve and conviction. He will play in four of the five groups involved in the tribute; the fifth will include his sons Kent and Marlon. Other performers will include Fred Anderson, Dave Burrell, Alvin Fielder and William Parker, all of whom have worked with the 73 year-old saxophonist and teacher throughout his career. Several of the groups on the bill this year have been documented on recordings, most notably his quartet with Anderson, Parker and Hamid Drake. This group is featured on the landmark 2 Days in April, released by Eremite Records in 1999. Both Jordan and Anderson are influential teachers in addition to being veteran performers of powerful improvised music and the reunion should be a highlight of the festival.
While this year's activities promise to be special, they constitute one chapter in a long-standing tradition. Jordan is a regular participant in the Vision Festival and no one attending last year's edition could forget the final performance, a reprise of the quartet featuring Jordan, Louis Moholo, Dave Burrell and Parker that powered Vision in 2001. It was incendiary, staggering and overwhelmingly beautiful as the four musicians filled the space with controlled fire. Jordan's ability to manipulate every last detail of dynamics and timbre speaks to his complete integration of traditional technique as he travels the improvisational space ways with equal certainty.
Such technical prowess should be no surprise to long-time followers of Jordan's career. "I thought I was going to be a classical saxophonist," he explains. His studies eventually took him to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he became a student of the world-renowned saxophone teacher Fred Hemke. However, one of Jordan's primary attributes is self-motivation: "I taught myself all those high notes. By the time all those books came out, I had all that down!" In fact, technique continues to be at the heart of Jordan's work and when he practices, it's his main concern. "Even in college, all them cats would be playing like Bird, trying to imitate Bird. I loved Bird, loved the heads and some of those licks, but I wanted to get my technique together." He makes a strong differentiation between practicing and strict imitation. "Oh yes, you can come up through school and get degrees playing like Trane, but that's not improvising, saying something in your own voice!"
Jordan's associations are as numerous as they are diverse. Artists as disparate as James Brown and Tony Bennett have benefited from his contributions, but this does not mean that Jordan is absolutely open to any situation. "It's really a vibe. Players have to be laying something down that I can get into. If it's just too chaotic, I just don't play muchtry to get in on things, but it usually doesn't work." When asked about several appearances on Kali Z. Fasteau's albums, including a new release recorded at the Kerava Jazz Festival with Jordan and Newman Taylor Baker, he responds with a question: "Well see there?" he queries excitedly, "We don't talk about anything before we go on. I never heard any of that before we stepped onto the stage, but that's what I'm talking about." Indeed, his work on Fasteau's new album is superb, alternating modality with freedom and suffused with energy. When asked about having to deal with musical situations he does not relish, he says only, "You know the Christian saying, about being in the world but not of the world? That's what it's about," and he lets loose with his infectious laugh.
While Jordan often functions in what might be called a post-New Thing aesthetic, he is not limited. His contributions to the Palm of Soul album, released by AUM Fidelity in 2006 and featuring Hamid Drake and William Parker, juxtapose delicacy with unpredictability as soul bubbles just beneath.
"It's just a way of life," says Jordan of improvisation and there really seems no better way to explain the ease and dexterity of his playing. He continues to try new things, including an arrangement of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" by his daughter Rachel for saxophone and string quartet. "Yeah, I'll play the melody and then go out," Jordan says with glee and another hearty laugh. Whatever he does, his energy level is stunning, let alone for a man in his mid 70s. "You got to keep on keepin,'" he says, dismissing the years of neglect and hardship with a single stroke. His Vision tribute will undoubtedly entail an evening of celebration and fine music and the festivities could not be centered on a more deserving performer.
Kali Z. Fasteau/Kidd Jordan, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival (Flying Note, 2007)
Jordan/Drake/Parker, Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity, 2005)
Jordan/Futterman/Fielder, Live at the Tempere Jazz Happening 2000 (Charles Lester Music, 2000)
Anderson/Drake/Jordan/Parker, 2 Days in April (Eremite, 1999)
Futterman/Jordan Trio, Southern Extreme (Drimala, 1997)
Joel Futterman/Kidd Jordan, Relativity, Revelation & Authenticity Kali, 1995)