Friday, 12 June 2015

Ornette Has Left the Planet

Sad day if somewhat inevitable. Ornette Coleman passed yesterday in New York, aged 85. I can't think of anything profound to say about Ornette that hasn't been said before. He has been praised up and down, called everything from genius to legend, recognized financially with a MacArthur fellowship. Thousands of student musicians will hear him but none can imitate him because he did not play by the numbers; there are no pattern book exercises you can memorize and play at high speed that will teach you harmolodics.

I found seven different articles about Ornette on The Guardian today while searching his obit. Some choice snippets:

"Having bought his first saxophone with money he had earned from shining shoes, Coleman learned to play it as if it were a toy. “I didn't know you had to learn to play,” he told the Guardian. “I didn't know music was a style and that it had rules and stuff, I thought it was just sound. I thought you had to play to play, and I still think that."

"Coleman was given an alto saxophone by his mother at the age of 14, but there was no money for lessons. It did not occur to the boy that this might matter. As Coleman once put it: “I thought music was just something human beings done naturally, like eating. I thought [the saxophone] was a toy and I just played it. Didn't know you have to learn something to find out what the toy does.”"

"His playing was by now a partly planned, partly serendipitous mingling of tonal, atonal and microtonal music (the exact pitch of Coleman’s notes defy the tuning fork), infused with the blues."

How about that? Music as sound? Something human beings done naturally? You mean you don't have to painfully kvetch out years of lessons, exams and competitions to become a player? You have to play to play? Defy the tuning fork? Blasphemous. One of a kind. Irreplaceable. Listen to his records.

Here are links to the full articles:

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Coming to America (Shola Version, 2015)

I just heard from Nigerian saxophonist extraordinaire Shola Emmanuel, who is currently fulfilling a lifelong dream by travelling to the U.S. with horn. He spent a few weeks in Atlanta and is currently jamming away in D.C.

Shola's impression is that "Jazz Musicians work so hard but most time struggle everywhere." The more things change, the more they stay the same. I trust the U.S. meets Shola's expectations musically and he earns some lasting international recognition while there, because many I know define success by the mere act of relocation to a more developed economy.

2014 was musically fruitful for Shola, evidenced by a baker's dozen of links to YouTube videos he's done over the last year. Here is an improvisation on clarinet backed by bass which has a montage of stills in the background (pay particular attention to the photo of Shola with a certain tenorist which shows up at the 1:05 mark):

And here are the other dozen links for your listening enjoyment. Comments are welcomed and will be passed on to the musicians:

I'm told a new song is on the way and will post it as soon as received. Be on the lookout.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Quick Trip to Madagascar

Deux chevaux rounds a corner in 'Tana
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in one of the world’s less-visited backwaters, Madagascar − probably better known for the eponymous cartoons than for anything going on there these days. The Red Island is a quiet throwback to 1962. Antananarivo, the hilly capital, is one of the last remaining outposts of colonial France, evidenced by the ubiquitous presence of bald-headed, board-shorts-wearing 80-year-old Frenchmen sporting desperate local nieces in every hotel lobby. The city has a grungy charm despite obvious deep poverty. The taxis are mostly deux chevaux that have long seen better days, now kept alive with wire and duct tape, usually started with a push. Unfortunately, visitors to ‘Tana have no chance to see Madagascar’s iconic lemurs and baobabs in their natural habitat, as those few that remain on the largely deforested 21st century island are far from the city.

Two popular modes of transport in Madagascar
Happily, Madagascar does have some jazz, unlike much of nearby East Africa; there is even a jazz radio station in ‘Tana (granted, playing mostly tinkling lounge music and doobie-doo vocals). The popular outdoor restaurant Buffet du Jardin in Place de l´Independance posted handbills for an upcoming live “Madajazz” event which featured photos of a local altoist. I can only hope he’s advanced his listening beyond 1980’s David Sanborn since I had to leave before I heard the show. A lively venue, although every time I visited the police stopped me and shook me down for ‘tea money’ upon departure. On the positive side, one beneficial legacy of French colonialism is that great food is everywhere.

The trademark instrument of Madagascar is the valiha, a stringed instrument belonging to the zither family, constructed from a large bamboo tube with strings of various lengths from end-to-end around the circumference. Valihas of various sizes are available in local markets for around $10; I am certain that more are sold to tourists to hang on the wall than are actually played by locals these days. As in most of today’s Africa, rappers with big sunglasses dominate the local music scene, with nary an instrument to be heard beyond guitar, electronic keyboard or drum machine when you turn on the TV or radio. Nonetheless, last summer I picked up bootleg DVDs of Dexter, Hawk and Rahsaan as I strolled through the park near Place de l´Independence. Somebody in Madagascar knows the good stuff.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembering Keystone Korner

Picked up the book Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club yesterday, although I still have trouble calling any e-version a proper book. I was attracted to the book because it reminded me of visiting the famous San Francisco music haunt a few times back in late 1977 or early 1978, when I was newly out of college and hanging out with my engine-nerd brother in the Bay Area. Last laugh is on him, I guess, as he is an early-retired millionaire while I am still down at the steel mill chucking steel like a slave.

I remember it as a relatively small, unremarkable space where I could always manage to get front row seats. Cover must’ve been about 8 bucks then since it was before both jazz and San Francisco became exclusive domains of the upper crust. At that price I was able to see and hear some great acts, usually either going alone or with my long-lost friend Dave, another young jazz-obsessed white guy saxophonist who played some tenor. I played alto in those days. Wonder what ever happened to Dave? I can’t even remember his last name or I could Google him up. What I do remember is the rat on the floor under the bed when I stayed over at his Oakland apartment after one late night performance.

Back at Keystone Korner:

Cecil Taylor on solo piano. Cecil played that piano like he had three hands. I am not a big piano fan but he was amazing. Last I heard of Cecil, now an octogenarian, is that he was 419’d last year out of something like half a million dollars.

Max Roach, the greatest jazz drummer in history, with his second great quintet featuring smokin’ Billy Harper on tenor and Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet. This band is relatively unsung but probably second only to the Clifford Brown-Sonny Rollins group of the mid-50’s (kind of like Miles’ mid-60’s Wayne Shorter band in comparison to his late-50’s group with Trane). Max was professorial. Billy Harper never played a bad note then and still hasn’t, one of the best tenors alive and one of my perennial favorites.

Dewey Redman, at the peak of his creativity. This was Ear of the Behearer-era, all originals before he (like many masters who must get frustrated with their own creativity) regressed to playing standards. At the time he was at the top of my list of active tenor players and I really looked forward to hearing him live. Unfortunately, Dewey was not friendly.

Dave, where are you now? Do you still play tenor?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Jackie Hits the Daily Mail

Not quite music, but Jackie's first month at St. Andrews has been memorialized in the UK tabloid The Daily Mail:

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shola Emmanuel - Paris Recording Session

I awoke in the middle of the night to a rooster call from my fancy new hand phone, a call from an excited Shola Emmanuel announcing that he had just returned from a recording session in Paris. In the fog of sleep I couldn't catch too much detail, but in the morning I found a link to a professionally-produced YouTube video in my email. Here it is, kind of a chamber-jazz thing with a French rhythm section. I am promised that there is more to come; a new album is being mixed.

The musicians in the video are:

Shola Emmanuel : Alto Saxophone
Matteo Pastorino : Clarinet
Jean-Baptiste Pinet : Drums
Rafael Paseiro : Double Bass

Recorded at Bopcity Jazz-Studio, Paris, June 2014.
Other tunes were recorded at the same session with additional musicians and instruments:

Bertrand Beruard - Double Bass
Femi Paul - Alto Sax
Michèle-Anna Artiste - Vocals
Michael Williams - Drums
Johan Blanc - Trombone
Ruairidh - Bagpipe
Shola also played tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, trumpet, and piano.

In this day and age where every music school student has more recordings under his belt than some of the historic saxophone legends, I truly hope that Shola's European adventure gets  him some international exposure and leads to some gigs outside of Nigeria. He is one of the only contemporary Nigerian saxophonists playing original improvised music as well as music in the tradition of the Parker-Coltrane axis, swimming against the tide of crappy hip-hop and African MTV big-sunglass videos. I've known Shola for more than six years now and he was already introduced to me as "the best saxophonist in Abuja" on day one. I will update with more video and sound files as I get them.