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Ethan Iverson: Roll Call

By Published: September 3, 2005
Not every concert with musicians I knew from records was satisfying. Steve Lacy at the Vanguard with Mal Waldron was a bizarre experience: I know every note of their duo album Sempre Amore, but that night they seemed distant and casual. My favorite Don Pullen album is New Beginnings, but the one time I saw him it was not a good gig (wasn't his fault). Were my ears foggy listening to the underrated Sir Roland Hanna at Knickerbocker's with Paul West? His left hand seemed crippled and the music barely penetrated the smoke and noise at the bar. My early love for his solo album Swing Me No Waltzes was recently rekindled and I now feel that it was presumptuous of me to walk out of the Knickerbocker that night without planning to go back. Hanna melded jazz and classical music in an unpretentious way and swung like a demon.

Other significant players I heard live included the soulful Clifford Jordan together with the quiet Johnny Coles on a Hank Jones quintet gig...Art Farmer who played ballads so beautifully...John Stubblefield who was the furnace in the Mingus Band. Michel Petrucciani was a tiny gladiator, Vernell Fournier was reserved fire, Jimmy Lovelace was a dark knight in bright white.

There are musicians who passed on since my '91 arrival in New York that I regretfully did not manage to see. How could I have missed Jaki Byard? I love his playing. I also missed Art Taylor, Milt Jackson, Fred Hopkins and Ray Brown. The full regalia of Sun Ra, the fabulous madness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago with Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors and the blistering World Saxophone Quartet with Julius Hemphill were all theatrical experiences I'm sure the records do no justice to, but none of those groups played NYC after '91. I did see Dizzy Gillespie while still in high school, but after I got my ticket for Art Blakey he was too sick to perform.

A recording can reproduce the pitches but not the vibrations of a master musician. I am blessed to have been in the presence of many of these masters who are now gone.

Since moving to NYC in the early '90s from Wisconsin, pianist Ethan Iverson has recorded with Dewey Redman and Billy Hart, become Musical Director of the Mark Morris Dance Group and is one-third of The Bad Plus group (as billed - "The loudest piano trio ever ) with Reid Anderson (bass) and David King (drums). Together they jazzily deconstruct works ranging from Abba and Aphex Twin, to Neil Young and Nirvana and Rodgers & Hart.

Photo Credit
Juan-Carlos Hernández



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