At the end of the summer, Steve Tintweiss, best known as bassist for Albert Ayler and Patty Waters, performed at the renovated bandshell in Forest Park in Queens. The performances, which featured a group including clarinetist Perry Robinson and drummer Lou Grassi, marked five decades in which Tintweiss had been producing grant-funded concerts in New York area parks. "I wanted to take the opportunity to bring the new jazz to Queens," said Tintweiss, in a recent conversation in downtown Manhattan.
Tintweiss, a lifelong New York resident, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. After starting on the baritone horn, he switched to bass. He played at several youth matinee concerts at the original Birdland, also spending numerous evenings there hearing players such as Coltrane, Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders.
After hearing bassist Steve Swallow playing in duo with singer Sheila Jordan at Take 3, a Greenwich Village coffee shop, Tintweiss began taking lessons with him. That then led to tutelage under Gary Peacock, then playing with Miles Davis. Tintweiss recalled "I actually took a couple of lessons during the day with him where he had his bass at the Vanguard." After Peacock left to tour with Albert Ayler in Europe in 1964, Tintweiss studied with Ornette Coleman bassist David Izenzon, a "very good experience, especially in the arco bowing techniques."
As a teenager and in his early 20s, Tintweiss was part of the nascent free jazz movement that had come out of the October Revolution in Jazz. In December of 1965, as part of pianist Burton Greene's trio, he recorded on the album Patty Waters Sings (ESP). "That was a landmark recording, " said Tintweiss. "When Patty was singing her version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" she was in a sound isolation booth on the other side of the studio and it had this pink window, it looked like a phone booth...she got so emotional, so carried away...as she was yelling and screaming, she was knocking against the booth and it started swaying, I thought it was going to fall over...that's a very vivid memory."
Tintweiss would go on to be closely associated with ESP and its founder Bernard Stollman. The bassist participated in the 10-day tour of upstate New York colleges which led to a couple of recordings and appeared on tenor saxophonist Frank Wright's second album for the label Your Prayer. He had met Wright through vocalist Judy Stewart, who would later introduce him to Ayler, and was invited to play the session, by his recollection a wacky one. "All of us, except for Jacques Coursil the trumpet player, were all on acid for that record... we had learned to use LSD in a disciplined way, as a tool. We were able to discipline ourselves to be able to play and fulfill our obligations."
Though Tintweiss was one of the many musicians to record for ESP and never receive commensurate payment, these days he has put aside his earlier resentment. "I want to balance the view with ESP a little bit. In addition to recording all this great music, and being so unique as a label to do that, one thing that Bernard Stollman did that was revolutionary... he gave every sideman who recorded for ESP some ownership rights. I think I own one sixth of that Patty Waters record... of course the bottom line was there was no money after that... if this was a commercial music enterprise where there was a lot of money floating around, we all would have done very well."
During the period, Tintweiss would make what would be his most famous connection, a meeting with the mythical Ayler. He would have the opportunity to play with Ayler briefly. "I got to sit in with him on Burton Greene's gig at Slug's. On the last tune that night, I sat in on Henry Grimes' bass and broke his G string," remembered Tintweiss. "Rashied Ali was on drums, Frank Smith, who was an Albert Ayler protégé, was on the gig... but Albert was in the audience... came up and sat in. And it turned into a pretty well known avant-garde tenor battle."
Fast forward five years to 1970, when Ayler called on Tintweiss to accompany him for a couple of European concerts. Tintweiss played with Ayler at the now-famous Maeght Foundation concerts in the south of France that would produce Ayler's last recordings. "We made network news... it was a regular news item, this concert we did. The people had reacted to spontaneously and so positively. You can hear a lot of that in the wild applause in between the selections. We went on and on and on. Actually what was released was probably a third of the amount we played at that second concert."
Jazz is for me the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century and I'm proud to
play this kind of music. For me, jazz is more than a kind of music, it's the best way of playing
any musical material.