The Interpretations series, which long has been responsible for some of the most consistently adventurous programming in the city, marked its 20th anniversary at Roulette on Oct. 2nd with a double bill of Myra Melford and Henry Threadgill, each presenting newly commissioned works. Melford's "Happy Whistlings" was an exciting suite based on the writings of Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano. With a strong new band comprised of three of New York's most talented young playersHarris Eisenstadt, Mary Halvorson and Matana Robertsshe worked through a series of pieces that seemed to morph seamlessly every couple minutes. Threadgill's longstanding Zooid (Stomu Takeishi, Liberty Ellman, Jose Davila and Elliot Kavee) played two new pieces that held few surprises. But "Fate Cues," a new piece for Zooid with the Talujon percussion quartet, worked in complex polyrhythms with the ensemble repeatedly broken into smaller groupings, only coming together in the final minutes for a striking resolve. Holding it all together, of course, was the leader's laser-like sax playing, the animating force of his projects for some 35 years. Between the Zooid and full group sets, Talujon performed the first movement of Steve Reich's Drumming, a brilliant bit of programming that situated Threadgill's experiments between the jazz and new music traditionswhich is arguably where Interpretations has been carving its ground for the last two decades.
Jim Staley/Joe McPhee
Sculptor Alain Kirili's Tribeca loft has become a warm, if occasional, home for free improv and a schedule revision collapsed two solo gigs into an unexpected duet there on Oct. 7th to brilliant results. The first meeting of trombonist Jim Staley and brass and reed player Joe McPhee came off superbly before a small invited audience and a French television crew. McPhee surprisingly arrived without a sax, bringing his pocket trumpet, the rarely seen alto clarinet andeven more surprisinglya valve trombone. They started quickly and quietly, not necessarily playing together but playing with conviction, McPhee creating a percussive breath track through trumpet while Staley deftly worked his mutes (does he play trombone with mutes or mutes with trombone?). But when McPhee picked up his trombone for the second piece, Staley dispensed of the mutes for a surprising duet, both horns occupying the same space with ease. In a word, the two were gentlemanly, complimenting and complementing. Whatever instrument is in his hands, McPhee is a fount of phraseology and on the new trombone his soft tone was almost like a French horn. Where he articulates, Staley is more slippery, as if it's not just his horn but his thoughts that slide; the variety of ideas he can articulate in a few minutes time is dizzying. They only fell together in any obvious way on the final piece, steadying against each other, varying and regrouping and then ending with the single loudest double note of the evening.
NEA Jazz Masters Concert
History was "in the house" Oct. 17th, when the 28th NEA Jazz Masters ceremony was held at Rose Hall. Well attended by alumni from previous years as well as prominent members of the press and recording industry, the room was imbued with a tangible aura of reverence for jazz' heroes. This year's inducteesGeorge Benson, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz, Toots Thielemans, Rudy Van Gelder and Snooky Youngwere all on hand. Each award was preceded by a documentary video and introductory speech by a close colleague from the Jazz Masters roster; the presenters' anecdotes, humorous and heartfelt, added a personal touch to the formalities. And of course there was music: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a paragon of technical precision and stylistic nuance, kicked things off with a rousing version of "Un Poco Loco"; Benson fronted the group on "Stella By Starlight," dashing off bluesy runs and fleet flourishes that showed he hasn't lost his touch; Cobb sat on the drummer's throne for "Can You Read My Mind"; Thielemans rendered "What a Wonderful World" with an expressive body-English that brought the crowd to its feet and Konitz, after a humorously haphazard countoff of "Body and Soul," delivered one of the evening's most tasteful performances. The JALC Orchestra capped it off with a lush "Stolen Moments," a molasses-slow "Lil Darlin'" and a swinging "Splanky" (featuring a cameo by conguero Candido Camero), with fine soloing throughout.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.