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A Life In Music


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The following is an excerpt from the Chapter "1996," from Wulf Müllers illustrated chronicle A Life In Music (Amazon Direct Publishing, 2022)

Dee Dee Bridgewater performed three sold out nights at the glamorous and legendary Paris venue L'Olympia, with new signing to Verve France, singer Jeffery Smith, opening for her. Dee Dee's show was spectacular and really established her as a star in France. She had young trumpet player Roy Hargrove and saxophonist David Sanchez as guests and finished each night backed up by a wonderful gospel choir. The French press called her "The new Josephine Baker" and everyone was talking about her. Dee Dee was also the main protagonist of another Philips Classics album from that year: Prelude To A Kiss—The Duke Ellington Album, which featured the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri. This Robert Sadin produced album included Dee Dee, who appears on eight of the twelve pieces, and also Bobby Watson, Charles McPherson, Ira Coleman, Jeff Hamilton, Cyro Baptista, Cyrus Chestnut, Steve Turre, Wynton Marsalis and Hassan Hakmoun. A classy tribute to one of the most important composers of our times.

PolyGram Brazil meanwhile had signed and recorded an album with legendary keyboardist Sergio Mendes, his first recording in four years and the first for PolyGram since recording for Philips between 1961 and 1967. The resultant album, Oceano featured a host of great musicians and special guests, including Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Hermeto Pascoal and Zucchero. Sergio was doing promo for us for the album—that's when I met him for the first time and then he came on tour and I saw him again at the airport in Geneva. I was traveling back from a visit to the Montreux Jazz Festival, while he was on the way there to perform, but first he said he would stop at Giradet's for a nice meal. Lucky guy, I thought.

Beside that record we had a bunch of really great and successful albums that year, first of all a new studio recording by the guitar trio of Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin. They had recorded their new album at Real World Studios in England and I went to see them there. These are three band leaders and all of them have big egos; I knew them all from their own projects and liked them individually. But when I came to the studio, it was already clear that there was tension in the air and while we took a photo shot it was becoming a bit silly—we had to take the pictures with each of them on the left, in the middle, and on the right. I wondered if they ever would agree on which photo to use and in the end the cover had only their names on it. The day after I had been there, Paco smashed one of his guitars on Al's head. Police came to the studio and Al left. Our French guys convinced him in the end to finish the album and they made up and went on tour, but each in a separate limo to be picked up and separate dressing rooms backstage. It was crazy, but very successful. A proposed live recording in Latin America unfortunately never happened, as by that time Paco and John finished the tour as a duo. Herbie Hancock's The New Standard was another big record for us that year—his jazzy interpretations of songs by Prince, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Kurt Cobain and others opened up the American songbook to new standards. It helped that he had picked an all-star line-up for the 1997 recording, including Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Dave Holland and Don Alias. On the tour, I met personally Dave and Michael for the first time and it was great to see John again. Ornette Coleman released two albums at the same time—Sound Museum: Three Women and Sound Museum: Hidden Man.

As Ornette explained: "Sound Museum exists in two CD renditions of the same compositions played differently in each rendition. This concept was done to show music harmolodically. In the Harmolodic world the concept of space and time are not past or future but the present." While working on these albums I met Ornette again and he gave me a wonderful silk shirt with musical motives as appreciation for the work I had done for him. That shirt I still have and value it very much.

When in New York I always tried to see him and Denardo, his son and drummer, for a chat over lunch or dinner. Ornette was always interesting to talk to, as he spoke a lot in symbolics or images and I needed to translate these into something more real in my world. Usually, Ornette would say "Yes, exactly" or use different words to make me understand. Once we were sitting in his loft, just the two of us and having a nice bottle of red wine while talking. He tried to explain Harmolodics to me, his philosophical and musical system, but to no avail. I don't read music at all, so what he was trying to tell me was simply beyond my comprehension, but still fascinating in his attempt to liberate music from all structural inequality. We went a few times to his favorite Thai restaurant in Manhattan, usually with Denardo, but one time Denardo didn't make it and the two of us had the most incredible meal and a lot of fun.

Ornette could be really funny when he told stories and I was cracking up a lot. One story was about the time when he had just released the Free Jazz album in 1961 and he had gotten a gig somewhere. So, he called the band together for rehearsal and got ready. Then on the day before the show the promoter called and told Ornette that they hadn't sold one ticket and therefore he unfortunately had to cancel the concert. Ornette was really disappointed as he had to pay the band for the rehearsal without a chance to earn any money. The day after the cancelled show the same promoter called him again. "You can't imagine what happened—there were hundreds of people here yesterday coming for the gig." Ornette interrupted: "But you told me that you hadn't sold one ticket?." "True" the promoter replied, "they all came expecting to get in for free, expecting free jazz."

Another time when in New York I had the afternoon free and went up to see him and Denardo at the studio they had for a time. Ornette was rehearsing a new bassist, as he wanted again to use two in his group. I just sat there and watched and listened for hours and it was truly interesting to hear Ornette explaining what he wanted them to play, rehearse it and then at the end telling them to play whatever they heard. He gave them an idea of what was on his mind, but also gave them the freedom to explore the music from their individual understanding.

Red Hot + Rio, the ninth album for AIDS benefit, paid tribute to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and the rich tradition of Brazilian pop music from the 60's and 70's. The album featured a mixture of Brazilian legends and current pop stars like George Michael, Sting, and Crystal Waters. It charted around the world and MTV did a one-hour special on the record on world AIDS day that year. Singles and remixes drove radio and club play and I enjoyed meeting and working with Beco Dranoff and John Carlin. The other top releases of 1996 came from Van Morrison, who together with Georgie Fame, Mose Allison and Ben Sidran recorded Tell Me Something, a wonderful tribute to the music of Mose Allison and another Billboard Jazz Chart # 1 for Van.

Joe Henderson's Big Band recording, plus new albums by Betty Carter, Shirley Horn, Charlie Haden and Pharoah Sanders complete that list. Amadeo released the new Red Sun SamulNori album Nanjang—A New Horizon, originally recorded and released in South Korea by SamulNori and we licensed it for European release. Perspective was Wolfgang Muthspiel's last album for us before he started his own label (Material Records) to release his music and occasionally other artists. The ECM highlights of the year were the wonderful and percussive Visible World by Jan Garbarek, featuring among others Mari Boine; a Dave Holland Quartet album and the Carla Bley Big Band recording Goes To Church, featuring Wolfgang Puschnig, who would record a total of four Big Band albums with her. This one was partly recorded at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia that same year. The summer of '96 was busy with Verve events at the festivals, especially in Montreux and The Hague.

In Montreux we had both stages in themed events for two day: on July 8th the Verve Star Night and the Verve Blues Night and on July 16th the Verve Rockin' Night and the Verve Jazz Night. At North Sea Jazz we had Herbie Hancock, Mari Boine, Mark Whitfield, Pharoah Sanders and Art Porter in our event and many others throughout the festival. Of course, Roy Hargrove was there again as well. Roy would play North Sea every year with a different project or as a sideman with someone, but he was there for sure. And it was guaranteed that he would come to the sessions at the Bel Air hotel, blowing his horn all night long. More than once, I went to bed in the early hours of the morning after having listened to the jam sessions at the hotel and Roy was always at the center of it—whether other jazz stars or legends were on stage with him or some newcomers, he just played and had fun.

Some amazing musical moments happened there over the years. Roy was like that; he would always hang and talk to other musicians and play with them, regardless of whether it was in New York late at night at the Zinc Bar or in The Hague or in Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain.

There I saw a late-night jam session that ended in the most incredible trumpet battle I have been lucky enough to witness: the Eric Reed trio was playing, Mark Whitfield at the beginning as well, if I remember correctly, but then Nicholas Payton showed up and later Wynton and Roy. There were still about 75 people left at about 3AM and what they got to hear, they will remember forever: Wynton, Nicholas and Roy started a trumpet battle like they must have been in the old days—exchanging choruses and pushing each other to unheard heights. Wynton shone with his unparalleled technique, Nicholas with his tone and improvisational skills, but when Roy played it was all that plus baring his soul with every note. He had it all and on top of it he put all of himself and his emotions into his playing and so touched the audience in a very special way, which the two others couldn't match. This being Spain, shouts of "Olé" were heard when a solo reached its climax and at the end the musicians and the audience left happy, but exhausted. For me that was a moment in musical heaven I will never forget.

At the festival in Vitoria that summer we also had a few acts performing, including the Carla Bley Big Band, the Herbie Hancock Quartet, Kenny Barron and the Wayne Shorter group. After the shows we all usually went with Iñaki and the musicians for a late dinner to the restaurant El Portalón and so we did that day. I was with one of our artists, possibly Herbie and his band, while in one of the other rooms were Wayne and band with Dahlia Ambach, his then tour manager, so I went over there for a minute to say "Hi" and have a chat.

As the concerts were really great, everyone was in a fantastic mood and the amazing food and wine helped as well. Wayne told us that he would meet his wife and niece the next day in Italy and was looking very much forward to it. After the meal we said our goodbyes and wished each other safe trips. When I went to breakfast late the next morning, I heard from some musicians the terrible news that Anna Maria Shorter and her niece Dalila had vanished when TWA flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near New York, about 12 minutes after take-off. Cause of the break-up of the plane was supposedly an explosion of flammable fuel vapors in a fuel tank, most likely ignited by a short circuit. The accident must have happened just around the time we left the restaurant, about 2:30 am our time. Wayne had already left and was on his way back to New York, trying to come to terms with what had happened.

I was promoted to Vice President International Marketing Jazz that year and was made responsible for all local jazz signings around the world. We wanted to make sure that the markets wouldn't sign too many acts and lose focus on the ones from Verve and to look for signed acts that had the potential for international appeal. This led to me working with many outstanding and exciting international jazz and world music acts. My boss wasn't that big on hanging out with artists, which in the jazz world is essential in building relationships, so we made a deal: he would take care of all the internal political issues that a big company like PolyGram has, and I had to hang out with the musicians—seemed like a great deal to me!

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Christopher Hale



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