AAJ: Please talk about your first meeting then subsequent recordings (and gigs?) with the late, great Jaki Byard. Two sessions, of course, came out from your collaborations Involution with The Jaki Byard Trio and This Happening. Is there anything else in the can?
MM: Jaki Byard!
A sweet man, who could make anyone cry when he played his "Family Suite." I was so honored and jubilant when Jaki agreed to work/record/perform and tour with me. How this all happened was, when I was to do my second recording for Justin Time, saxman Tim Price and I were running ideas around for what concept I should record. Tim suggested to me that I should consider doing a recording with a pianist who had the entire spectrum or history of jazz music under their hands! So we came up with Jaki Byardwho else?
Jaki was a synthesis of the many styles that evolved through the history of jazz music, like Eubie Blakethrough Erroll Garnerthrough Earl "Fatha" HinesMonkCecil Taylor etc., yet Jaki was extremely original and definitely one of the greatest pianists in modern improvised music to ever grace this planet. Ask Mingus. Check Jaki out on Eric Kloss' '68 Prestige recording Sky Shadowsa masterpiece.
I got Jaki's phone number and called him up and introduced myself. He said, "Look, I do not just agree to record with someone without hearing some music from the artist and seeing the artist's written charts of the music to be recorded." So I granted his request and sent both some music from my past recordings and charts of the new originals that I wanted to record with him. A few days later, Jaki called me and said, "I will agree to the recording." He said, "You're not trying to copy anyone and your originals are fresh." I was excited, but not nervous, so I started to go weekly out to Jaki's house and we would rehearse regularly until we did the Michael Marcus meets Jaki Byard This Happening recording date for Justin Time.
Jaki and I had an instant rapport and our chemistry was great. Subsequently, we became good friends. I still have the Christmas cards he would send me. Jaki was a lovely man with high spiritual conceptions and had an undeniable presence. I learned a lot from Jaki about dynamics when performing music. I'm very indebted to him for this.
We started touring all the Canadian festivals and also performed as a duet in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Erie, PA., and NYC. Traveling with Jaki was a blast and we were quite the couple as far as visuals on stage. So much beauty. He had so many stories to tell me of his years with Dizzy and Monk and of course, Mingus. I remember two important stories. He said one time at his house, Eric Dolphy, Roy Haynes, Richard Davis and John Coltrane on harp (not saxophoneTrane and Alice must have shared a lot of ideas in regard to the string harp), recorded a master...where is it?
Also, he told me that he invented free music. He said in the late forties in Boston, Cecil Taylor's dad would bring young Cecil to listen to Jaki and his trio and at the time Jaki was orchestrating in his playing some "Charles Ives meets Boogie Woogie" and came up with free jazz. Then he would laugh with me when he thought about it because he knew how important Cecil and his contributions were. By the way, he played duets one night in a jam session with Bird in Boston in '54, and Bird asked him about his approach to the bridge from "Body & Soul," because allegedly Bird was blown away by what Jaki was playing in his solo when it came to the bridge, and so Jaki responded to Bird and said, "You're not the only genius." That was the only time Charlie Parker and Jaki Byard played or jammed together. Sam Rivers and his brother, who was a bassist, were also there that night.
Jaki Byard (l) and Michael Marcus (r)
Later the next year in '98, we did the second recording for Justin Time, InvolutionMichael Marcus and The Jaki Byard Trio. Jaki loved my approach when we performed the slow blues and so I had respect from him. Remember, he backed just about every great reedman of the dayEric Dolphy, Clifford Jordon, Johnny Coles, Booker Ervin, Eric Kloss, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, to name a few. We were to do a tour of Europe, but the inexplicable tragedy occurred a few months before we were to go. I spoke to him on the phone a couple of nights before he died and told him how much I loved him.
When I look back in retrospect, my collaborations with Jaki were some of the peak highlights in my musical life. Many people all over the world still request those recordings that we did about ten years ago on Justin Time. He touched so many lives around the globe with the joy that comes from his music and recordings. He was a monumental inspiration to numerous students and fellow musicians like me.
Jaki ranks in the highest echelons in jazz, forever. Pianist/composer magnifique! Wow..."The Cry for Peace!"
AAJ: Do you have any notion of what kinds of things you are looking to do during the next few years ahead?
MM: I just want to keep practicing, composing, growing as a person and as a creative artist, improve my craft, developing my mind and heart while seeing another beautiful day. Hopefully there will be more important gigs and tours to experience. I would love to do a recording project with tenor great Antoine Roney...work with bassist Rashaan Carter again...maybe record a Monk project with the MM3....maybe a string synthesizer recording with Rosie Shakarian...more Cosmosamatics...Duology...work more with Zane Massey and Jemeel Moondoc...who knows, as long as the spiritual thang is there. But I will always send a message of peace and keep playing the music true!
Michael Marcus, The Magic Door (Not Two, 2007)
Michael Marcus and Ted Daniel, Duology (Boxholder, 2007)
Michael Marcus, Soulifications (Soul Note, 2006)
The Cosmosamatics, Zetrons (Not Two, 2005)
The Cosmosamatics, Reeds & Birds (Not Two, 2004)
Michael Marcus, Ithem (rec.1993, released 2004)
The Cosmosamatics, Magnitudes (Soul Note, 2003)
Michael Marcus, Blue Reality (Soul Note, 2002)
The Cosmosamatics, II (Boxholder, 2001)
Jemeel Moondoc Tentet, Jus Grew Orchestra (Ayler, 2001)
Michael Marcus, Sunwheels (Justin Time, 2001)
Michael Marcus, Live In N.Y. (Soul Note, 2000)
Michael Marcus, In The Center Of It All (Justin Time, 1999)
Songs Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Haunted Melodies (Metropolitan, 1999)
Michael Marcus and the Jaki Byard Trio, Involution (Justin Time, 1998)
Michael Marcus and Jaki Byard, This Happening (Justin Time, 1997)
Sonny Simmons, Transcendence (CIMP 113, 1996)
Michael Marcus, Reachin' (Justin Time, 1996)
Michael Marcus, Here At! (Soul Note, 1994)
Michael Marcus, Under The Wire (Enja, 1990)
Top Photo: Nuno Martins, courtesy of TomasJazz
All other photos courtesy of Michael Marcus