Kidd Jordan: Messin' with the Kidd

Rex  Butters By

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I guess I've always been hard headed, because around New Orleans, people been telling me I'm the last free man for the last twenty years. It's not a popular road.
kidd jordan Like many local legends around the country, Kidd Jordan is an immensely talented musician who resisted the urge to move to New York or LA. Based in Baton Rouge/New Orleans, Jordan became a renowned jazz educator with a long tenure at Southern University. So renowned, that his teaching has been documented by 60 Minutes and acknowledged by the French with Knighthood. His resume name checks an embarrassment of greats including Stevie Wonder, Professor Longhair, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Martha and the Vandellas, Ray Charles, Ed Blackwell, Ornette Coleman and Cannonball Adderly.

1999's 2 Days in April documented the unbridled intensity of his playing with old friend Fred Anderson, and new friends William Parker and Hamid Drake, possibly obliterating his lingering anonymity in the process. With the breathtaking Palm of Soul, released on the always essential Aum Fidelity label, Jordan journeys with Parker and Drake as an improvisational trio, six hands, three hearts, sculpting/shaping light. In late 2006, Jordan took a break from salvaging his Katrina ravaged home to talk about the new CD and life in the spontaneous lane.

AAJ: How's the reclamation project going?

KJ: I worked all day today and yesterday, too.

AAJ: How hot is it down there?

KJ: It's very hot. I came away like I could wring the water out of my shirt. That's the nature of the beast, so I just have to deal with it.

AAJ: What's left of the house?

KJ: We're getting all the stuff out of it. They're getting ready to gut it out. They had about four or five feet of water. Cut out the portal, rewire it, but I had so much stuff in my house, I'm just in the process of trying to get all the stuff out that was damaged. I was working a lot, teaching, what have you. My wife had some things in there she didn't want nobody to deal with other than the family, at first. So now that she's got her stuff out, we're going to let other people help us out along with it. There's so many different things that may not look valuable to somebody—keepsakes and things. So that's the process.

AAJ: A year later, huh?

KJ: Yeah, and there isn't but two people on my block that's really done stuff. I was really waiting to see two things: the hurricane season, how it was going to be, and to see if the community was coming back. There isn't but two people come back as yet. Hopefully after this hurricane season, some of them will try to come back. We're going to wait and see what happens this year. The levees really aren't what they say they're supposed to be.

kidd jordan

AAJ: Is Southern University up and running again?

KJ: Yeah, they have portable buildings. I worked last semester, but I retired this summer. I gave it up, because we lost the music department, and the only thing I had to do was teach music appreciation. The people who take music appreciation won't even come to those kind of classes. I did it long enough, so I decided to retire.

AAJ: You were born in New Orleans?

KJ: No, I wasn't. I was born in Crowley, Louisiana. That's in Cajun country, southwest Louisiana. At one time it was the rice capital of the world, about two and a half hours from New Orleans. I came up listening to zydeco music—zydeco and blues, when I was a kid.

AAJ: How did you start in music?

KJ: I started in high school. They had a high school band. I started playing saxophone. It got under my skin, so I just kept on dealing with it. I went to Southern University in Baton Rouge. Got my undergraduate degree there.

AAJ: What did you hear at home?

KJ: I used to listen to big band on the radio, and blues people. In high school I heard Charlie Parker, so that was it after I heard him. I guess I was in tenth or eleventh grade when I heard Charlie Parker. And then my brother came home from the war, World War II. He was turned on to some music being in the army, so they were talking about Charlie Parker too. So I finally got to listen a lot to him and Lester Young and some of those people. I really loved their music. They had some terrific blues bands that I would hear. They'd come to your little town, and you could listen to the horn players or whatever. I was just interested in that kind of music.

AAJ: Tell me about college.

KJ: Believe it or not, we were at an all black school, and they didn't want jazz at the school! But we had a swing band, and we would practice on our own. We had charts. We practiced playing some Dizzy Gillespie Big Band things like "Thanks for Coming. A lot of them ooh-bop-shebam things. We'd play for different places, occasionally on the campus. I got tied up with some bands around Baton Rouge. I started making gigs with a dude they called Georgia Williams. His daddy was Clayborn Williams; he had a famous big band at that time. He had a reed section, three or four saxophones, two or three trumpets, trombones. He was one of the better bands around town, and he would use the college students. I got to be a permanent fixture in his band, too. It was a means of me earning some extra money. We had two regular gigs with him—I think a Wednesday and a Saturday night—so there were two sure gigs a week. The rest of them, we could be with other people around town if we wanted to.

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Joel Futterman with Kidd Jordan at Vision XI in New York City, June 2006

AAJ: You made the transition to professional musician very quickly.

KJ: Yeah, I guess you could say that. When I came up as a freshman, I started playing with the fellows. In fact when I came up for orientation, I made a gig with some of the fellows there, because they had some charts and they were looking for somebody, and I could read the music. So they gave me a gig the first week. One of those kinds of things.

AAJ: Your resume lists a lot of interesting people.

KJ: I played a lot of shows. When shows would come to town, they put bands together. I was on contract at one time. I used to play with show bands—play Broadway plays and all that. You get a chance to play with a whole lot of people when they need somebody. A lot of times people would come to New Orleans and make up bands. If they couldn't get someone to leave with them, we could play with them when they were in town. Sometimes they'd go to another town and get someone else, and so on and so on. Just fill the need, you know? I liked playing with all them different kinds of people. It gives you a different outlook on what it is.

I saw early in the game where so many people got tied up dealing with one kind of thing. I know fellows now who were playing like Charlie Parker when I came to college—majority of them not even playing no more. I mean, could play exactly like Charlie Parker. They got fed up with what they were doing. So I'm just trying to deal with all kinds of music. In fact I'm one of them that could just practice scales all day. I don't need to be playing music; all I need to do is be pushing buttons, like people say. I always wanted to be an improviser too. I contend the majority of people don't improvise because they practice the majority of stuff they play. They get it down in order to play it, and I really want to improvise. That's one reason I didn't buy into that whole thing, like cats would be learning all them tunes. I'd just say, "Man, I want to go and play. And then a lot of cats don't want to sound bad, but you got to sound bad if you're going to improvise. You're in some unknown territories, just playing what you hear.

kidd jordan

Like, for instance, I was in Chicago last weekend. Somebody said, "Man, when you were here the other day, I heard you playing this, and I said, "Well, teach it to me. I don't know what I played. He said, "The other night you played it different. I said, "Tonight I've got a different set of circumstances. I'm feeling it a different way. I've got to play what I hear. If I don't hear nothing, I don't hear it.

AAJ: It's like that old story about someone handing Coltrane a transcription of one of his solos and asking him to play it. Of course, he said, "I can't play this.

KJ: That's right. I know I couldn't play my stuff if they transcribed it. When you play this kind of music, maybe you have a good night. It's very seldom I feel like I played anything. Like Palm of Soul, when I left the studio, man, I thought, "Goddam, I'm sorry I took them people's money for this record. I thought it was going to be another kind of thing. I thought it was going to be one of those knock-down-drag-out things. When they pulled out the gongs and the bells and all the whistles and the African things, I said, uh-oh, this is another thing. I suppose I had been ready, but I thought it was going to be one of them kind of sessions.

You just got to play on what you hear. When you improvise, you may sound good today, and you may not sound good in another month. My thing is, if you sound good once, you may in your life sound good again. Improvising is chance music, but who wants to take that chance? Majority of the time I'm trying to practice, I'm trying to find a reed to deal with. Like Palm of Soul, I'd just bought that mouthpiece. I said, "I'm just going to bulldog it through. I'm going to make this reed work. Since then, I've been going through all kinds of reeds, but I'm determined not to give up on this mouthpiece. It sounds good sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. The majority of the time, I make it do what I want it to do. Then I'll come away saying, "Goddam, it didn't sound good tonight.

AAJ: Did you hear Eloping With The Sun?

KJ: I don't listen to too many records. We was in Paris on the same gig, and they had Joe Morris and [William Parker] and Hamid. I saw them do it. But I didn't think this was going to be that kind of thing. Some serious energy. You got to listen when you play with them because there ain't no such thing as keys. One thing I felt good about when I left that session was that I played in key with the gongs. I thought, at least anybody who hears this knows I can hear. A lot of times, cats be playing, especially with this music, and people who can hear sometimes say, "Man, you're playing like you're playing changes. Closer than playing changes, because sometimes cats can play changes and play all around them. They've got a new system the young cats play, where they play the changes, but they don't play the sound of the tune. I knew I was playing within the scope of what was there, but on the spur of the moment.

We played a gig in Brooklyn the night after that, and we really came together too. We stretched it a little more; we were more volatile. I really liked that one, much more at the time than what we did in the studio. But now that I've been listening to this, I've grown accustomed to liking this a little bit more.
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