Tag Archives: Don Cherry

Edward Blackwell, WKCR, May 4, 1986

Six or seven months after I began broadcasting on WKCR,  Eustis  Guillemet, a bass player from New Orleans, asked if  I’d be interested in interviewing the iconic drummer Ed Blackwell (October 10, 1929 – October 7, 1992) on the Sunday afternoon Jazz Profiles show, a six-hour slot that affords an opportunity for in-depth investigation of an artist’s work. I’d done a program with Eustis not long before — I have to find the cassette, and I hope it’s still workable — in which he spoke at length about the musical culture of New Orleans in the ’40s and ’50s, and he was interested in finding an outlet to propagate this history to the NYC radio audience.  Needless to say, I was more than enthusiastic at the opportunity to talk with Blackwell, then extremely active and visible with Old and New Dreams, various projects with David Murray and Mal Waldron, and the occasional leader project of his own.  Eustis  facilitated the proceedings; the appearance midway through the show of the English journalist Valerie Wilmer — an old friend of Blackwell’s and author of the seminal book As Serious As Your Life, which contains an eloquent chapter on the maestro — was also a wonderful surprise.

What follows is the transcribed proceedings of our conversation, presented publicly for the first time.

* * *

Eustis, how far back do you and Blackwell go?

EG:    Well, I remember around 1954, when I was in school, that’s when I was working at Xavier University, in the Music Department, and they came back and introduced themselves…

Who came back?

EG:    Well, Edward Blackwell, Ellis Marsalis and Nat Perillat.  And I’ve been a part of them ever since.  Actually, they kidnapped me really.

They kidnapped you.

EG:    Edward said, “You’re the bass player…”

EB:    Yeah, he was the bass drummer in the band.

The bass drummer?

EB:    Yeah, the bass drum in the marching band.  So we thought that we had to get that drum off his neck and put a fiddle in his hand.

Let’s start from first sources with Mister Blackwell.  Now, I have two conflicting birthdates for you, not the date, but the year—1927 and 1929.

EB:    It’s 10-10-29.

10-10-29.  And from New Orleans from the start?

EB:    New Orleans, that’s right.  Born and raised.

Tell us how you came to the drums.

EB:    Well, that’s a funny thing.  I just came to the drums naturally because of the fact that I had musicians in my family.  My brother and sister were tap dancers, and they traveled with a show that they used to call the Brown’s Mannequins, which was a Black vaudeville act.  And as a result, I would always be tapping around with pots and pans, and always trying to play some type of rhythm, because of the way they practiced tapping.  So just as a natural thing, I was influenced by the drums.

And when did you get your first set of traps?

EB:    My first set of traps were bought by my sister’s husband.  It was an old 26-inch bass drum, a set that was  used by a chick who played with a group called the Sweethearts of Rhythm.  And he bought this set for me, and I converted it into a Jazz set as best as I could…

Did you play on the Second Line at all?  Were you active in that…?

EB:    Well, I was active in that only in the fact of traveling behind the musicians, which was called the Second Line.  But I never played any of that Second Line music.

Let me ask you this.  The type of music that you were listening to, was that the big bands off the radio, or stuff that was happening vocally…?

EB:    Right.  Well, I had… My older brother used to go to a lot of dances that the bands would come through, like Cab Calloway or Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.  He was a big fan of those bands, and he would buy the records and bring them back and play them — and I would listen to them.

I’d like to know who were some of the drummers in the 1930′s and early Forties who turned you on, who gave you some sense of the approach you wanted to take to the drums.

EB:    Well, the main drummer I remember was the drummer called Wilbur Hogan.  He was one of our biggest influences.  Wilbur was about three grades ahead of me in school.  And when I went to high school, he had been there for three years — and I wanted to play in the band, but I couldn’t read.  But he volunteered to teach me to read the music.  So the teacher accepted me as a drummer in the high school band.  That’s how I was able to make the high school band.  But Wilbur was the one that first taught me about the rudiments and the paradiddles and all of the basics of the drums.

He did a hell of a job.

EB:    Heh-heh, yes he did.

Tell me the name of the high school that you went to.

EB:    Booker T. Washington.

EG:    You know, in New Orleans, all the gifted players and the ones who really are saying something musically, be it drums or horns in high school, you hear about it — the word gets out.  So Booker T. Washington had a very good band, and especially the drumming section.  And you would hear about Wilbur Hogan and you would hear about Edward Blackwell.  So I heard about Blackwell before I saw him; you know, much longer before I saw him.  But they had a certain rhythm.  And during football games, everybody was as much attracted to the band and the rhythm sections as they were to the football team.  So they had a good football team, but they had an excellent marching band.

Good brass players also in that band?

EG:    They had good brass players.  I don’t recall who the brass players were, because the drummers were really the ones who set the rhythm at halftime, and Blackwell was one that they said he had a lot of rhythm, you know.

EB:    And there was another school that we used to be in competition with called Gilbert Academy, which was more or less a private school that used to compete with our band.  When we played them at the football games, it was always this big competitive thing with the groups.  Gilbert Academy used to come out on top of us because they had a very hip drum major they used to call Pounds…

EG:    Yeah, that was his nickname, now.  We can’t place nicknames.  But we just know it’s there.

EB:    He was such a beautiful marcher!

EG:    Now, when Ed Blackwell stated that I was playing a bass drum, I was at Xavier University as a bass major.  But during the football season, I played the bass drum in the band — and this is where he saw me.  And also, I got a shot at being the drum major, but Pounds was too much.  [BLACKWELL LAUGHS]

When did you start to gig with groups, and what types of things were you playing?

EB:    Well, the first group I gigged with was a group called the Johnson Brothers. I got this gig because of the fact that the original drummer had been drafted into the Navy, and they needed a drummer.  And there was a girlfriend I was going with, her stepfather was their uncle, and she told him about me playing the drums, and he introduced me to these brothers.  They auditioned me for the job, and I got the job.  And that was my first gig with the group.

What type of music was it?  A rhythm-and-blues band?

EB:    Rhythm-and-blues, right.

And your name got around?

EB:    Well, yeah, somewhat, because of the group… We got very popular, that group, the Johnson Brothers.  But my name individually didn’t get around very much until after I left them.

EG:    Well, you might recognize one of the names of the Johnson Brothers as Plas Johnson.  Is that correct?

EB:    Right.  Plas, and the other was Raymond…

EG:    Raymond, right.  But they had, like, the most popular group.  They’d play before all the big shows that come in town, and around the area.  Drums in New Orleans always was like number one.  You always had a good rhythm section.  Whether in a street parade or marching bands funerals, or anything, drums always gave the basic rhythms and feeling.

And the approach to the drums is passed down, more or less?

EG:    Yeah.

EB:    Yes.  It’s always… It’s just like in the culture.  It’s a cultural thing.

Let me ask you something.  For instance,  I listen to your music and I listen to the Baby Dodds solo record or Baby Dodds on this or that, and I hear lots of affinities between you and Baby Dodds.  Had you ever been able to listen to Baby Dodds, or is that simply coincidental, through the culture?

EB:    That’s really coincidental.  Because I haven’t really… I only heard one record by Baby Dodds in my life, and I don’t think he did very much recordings.  But I have a record now that one of my friends made for me… But I think it’s very coincidental.  But like I say, the drums are…the culture is so strong, it just comes down naturally.

EG:    It’s like it’s in the air, you know.  Like, the message is sent through the drums.  Like, you had Paul Barbarin and all… And we listened to all these guys, man.  They played well.  I had an opportunity to play with Paul Barbarin on Bourbon Street, which was a real gift — because I’d heard of him.  But the feeling and the rhythm and the direction is there, you know.  Whoever is in tune, they sort of fit right into the mold of things.

After the Johnson Brothers… I’m sorry, what years are we talking about?

EB:    This is 1949.

1949.  Isn’t that the time Ornette Coleman came through New Orleans?

EB:    Right.  Ornette Coleman came through New Orleans with a  rhythm-and-blues band, Clarence Samuels…

Where he got stranded.

EB:    Well, it was a friend of ours that he lived with named Melvin Lastie.  He was a good friend of Ornette.  And he decided to leave the band and stay in New Orleans for a couple of days.  He wasn’t really stranded.  He just left the band.

I see.  That’s Melvin Lastie, the cornet player.

EB:    Yeah, the late Melvin Lastie.

Tell us something about him.  I know he was a very well-known figure around New Orleans.

EB:    Right.  See, Melvin and I were in the same band together in Booker T. Washington.  In fact, Melvin graduated one year before I did.  After that, we got to play quite a bit together in jam sessions around New Orleans with different people like Harold Battiste and people like that.  Melvin was trying to establish himself as a feature player, too, and he had little different groups playing around New Orleans, with this drummer named Honeyboy and other players like that.

EG:    Melvin had a basic New Orleans feeling.  Like, he played street parades, and… He was known as partly like the soul man, if you had a band, to really lay down the rhythm and the feelings.  Like, I worked with him… We did a tour with Shirley and Lee, and Jo Jones, who maybe talked too much…you know, we did a tour.  Usually Melvin directed the whole situation.  Then later, when he moved to New York, he joined King Curtis, and he was like the backbone into that.  And then he made “I Know,” I think, made a famous solo that’s still history.

EB:    Right.  In fact, Harold Battiste wrote that solo note-for-note.

EG:    That piece was by Barbara…I’ve forgotten her name.  It was a hit on the AFM label that was made… Was that for the AFM label… AFO or AFM in New Orleans.

Let me ask you about a few of the other people you were associated with in New Orleans — or, I should say, whether or not you were associated with them.  Alvin Batiste, the great clarinetist.

EB:    Well, Alvin and I practically grew up together.  We lived about two blocks from one another as a kid, and we went to the same grammar schools, and then to the same… I don’t know if Alvin went to Booker T. or to Gilbert, but I know we were always playing together, especially after he got in… He went to Southern University.  And he and I and Ellis and Harold Battiste, we were all, like, from kids; even before we were established as musicians, we played together, you know.

EG:    I’d like to make the statement that the time that Alvin Batiste, Marsalis, Blackwell and myself… It was like everybody else had seemingly come from the streets, but this next set or group were either coming from high school or colleges.  It was the new approach from that level.  We all knew of each other, because each school had some player, either horn player or rhythm player.  And we all knew each other, and that’s how the word got around, and eventually that’s how we got together.


EG:    Right before the tape ended, we were talking about the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and I stated that it was one of the most popular street sort of marching bands that came “commercial.”  I spoke to the drummer about a week ago, and I found out that they all… Like, Edward has kids, I have kids; they were the kids from that section.  And they came from the section around the Caledonia, which was really a soulful area; I mean, real nightlife street people.  But it always produced some strong rhythms and feelings.   Each section of New Orleans produced a different feeling.  Like, if you were on the Ninth Ward, you had a certain thing going on there, or from the Sixth Ward… Each produced groups or players.  The overall feeling was New Orleans, but everybody had their section of town that they played with.

What was the section of town did you came out of, Mister Blackwell?

EB:    Well, I was from the section that you called the Garden District.  New Orleans was separated into different sections like front-of-town, back-of-town, Downtown and Uptown, instead of North, South, East and West.  And my section was called the Garden District.

But meanwhile, the most popular nightclub at that time was called the Dew-Drop Inn.  And we used to play there quite a bit, but we also played for we called, like, vaudeville acts.  In fact, the drummer… We would have to play for tap dancers, belly dancers, fire dancers, vocalists, shake dancers — and that was my schooling of experience.

Quite a schooling, because you have to be very flexible for all the different individuals.

EB:    Exactly.  Right.  I remember reading an article where Max was saying that was one of his greatest experiences, playing with these kind of activities for dancers, you know, different dancers like shake dancers and tap dancers and fire dancers and all these type of… Because you have to really adapt your experience to what they were doing.  And it was a real learning experience.

Were a lot of groups coming in from out of town at this time?  Were you able to hear the famous Jazz musicians of the day?

EB:    Well, there were quite a few groups coming at this time.  But at that time, they were mostly like rhythm-and-blues groups, like B.B. King and Muddy Waters and Ray Charles and those type of groups.  Later on during our experience, Eustis and I with Nat Perillat and Ellis were all working more with our own type of music, the contemporary thing; we began to see more and more Jazz type musicians coming through New Orleans, and we would engage them in deliberate jam sessions, you know.

But in 1950, say, or 1951, would you have had a chance to see Charlie Parker in person, or Max Roach?

EB:    No, no, not at that time.  Not down in that area.  The only time I got to hear Charlie Parker in person was in ‘54, in Los Angeles, California.

EG:    The university started bringing some of the Jazz players down. I remember a tour, but this was the late Fifties, when Stan Kenton had a tour, and that was the first time…

1954, that was.

EG:    ‘54, right.  Well, that was a good time.  ‘54, that period began a whole new era.  Charlie Parker came down with a tour with Stan Kenton and Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck, and they were out at Loyola University.  Earlier, like, you were playing for the different acts and groups; you had the Palace Theatre, you had the Lincoln Theatre, you had these places where all the different acts would come.

But the Dew Drop incorporated all of this.  Like, if you were playing for the house band there, within a month you were going through a shake dance, a fire-eater, Big Joe Turner. Sam Cooke…

EB:    Yeah.

EG:    You know, a variety.

Were you able to play Modern Jazz, so-called?

EB:    Not really.

EG:    Not per se.

EB:    No, not per se.  Because see, that’s what made us such rebels, Eustis, myself and Ellis.  Because after we began to play strictly Modern Jazz, we started refusing all rhythm-and-blues gigs…

EG:    And then we found out there was a separation of the musicians.

EB:    Right.

EG:    Like there was a battleground.  During this time we used to have matinee Jazz concerts at a club called Mason’s, or even the Dew Drop.

EB:    Right.  But we had to sponsor ourselves.  We would produce ourselves, and play for…play the music, you know.  Because that was the only… Nobody else wanted to sponsor this type of music.  So in order to get it to the audience, what we’d do, we would produce these concerts on our own.

Now, Blackwell was known as a great technician and as a devotee of Max Roach.  Is that correct?

EB:    Yes.

So you got that off of the records, then.

Mostly, yeah.  That was my schooling, listening to the early Charlie Parker records.  “Dewey Square,” all these records on Dial, I used to hear.  I went to this music…a drum shop.  The owner of this drum shop, he had a… He used to order these records directly from New York for me whenever they would come out.  Even before they got to New Orleans on the radio, I would get them privately.

Now, there are other things that you incorporate in your music that are very African-influenced.  Again, was this something that was out of the culture or something that you studied after learning your rudiments…?

EB:    That came… That was out of the culture.  And the reason I… When I began to realize it was when I made the trip to Africa in ‘66 with Randy Weston, and I began to notice the similarities of the culture that had been in New Orleans, how they had preserved, kept so much of this African culture.  And when I got to Africa, I would see all these scenes that reminded me of childhood scenes in New Orleans.  It was something… It was phenomenal!  I just couldn’t get over it.  And after coming back… We’d made a three-month trip.  But after coming back, you know, I began to try to retain some of the different rhythms that I’d heard, but there were so many, it was difficult to retain.   So I just had some, you know.  And I began to incorporate them as much as I could in my… Then I went back to Africa for a second time, which helped very much, because I was able to really understand more of the…

A more formal study, was that?

EB:    A more formal study, yeah.

Where was that?

EB:    This was all through Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Ouagoudougou, Upper Volta, Lower Volta.  Then we spent… We lived in Morocco for three years.  We played for a hotel chain called Diafa, that had hotels all over Morocco, and up in the mountains, in the Berber countries.  So we had a chance to really hear the different cultures like the Gnawans and the Berbers, all up in ….(?)…. And it was a gratifying experience.

During those years, were you performing on stage with local musicians?

EB:    We did.  We did quite a bit.  In fact, they would have sessions, what they would call jam sessions.  They would play all night.  Oh, man!  I mean, they have so much energy, these musicians; it was phenomenal.

Of course, a lot of people know about Ornette Coleman’s playing with the Joujoukan musicians there in 1972.

EB:    Right.

Did he get hip to them through you?

EB:    No.  I think he got to those musicians after he went to Nigeria.  I think he got hip to those from some of the musicians he met in Nigeria.

Next we’ll hear music that was coming from Alvin Batiste and Ellis Marsalis in 1956. Now, you say that you were turning down all rhythm-and-blues gigs.  This was a very fertile time for rhythm-and-blues in New Orleans.  It was almost a seminal sound, a sound of the future that was happening in New Orleans, the Dave Bartholomew contracted groups and so forth.  So you must have made some significant sacrifices if you were…

EG:    Believe it.

EB:    Well, it was… See, Ellis and Harold and Eustis, they were all in college and living with their parents anyway, and I was living with my parents, so it wasn’t necessary for us to really have a job to survive.  So we could really sit down and be choicy about the type of music we wanted to engage in.

EG:    And just concentrate on, you know, particular… Because we used to go out to Ellis Marsalis’s house.  I think the last time I was here, we spoke about Marsalis Mansion, which was one of the first real Jazz clubs, but it was in Jefferson Parish, and all the big-time acts used to  stay out there and they used to play.  Ellis had a piano, and we used to come to his house in the morning and come back at night, and during the day we’d be practicing and jamming and eating.  You know, we were protected.

This recording was made after Ed Blackwell had been in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and then returned to New Orleans.

EB:    Right.

Why did you decide to go out to L.A., and when was it?

EB:    I went to L.A. in ‘51 with an aunt of mine.  My aunt was a postal clerk, and she went… I think what she really wanted me out there for was to get a job and help her buy a house.  But when I got out there, all I wanted to do was play music.  So she was very disappointed.  But I stayed out there for about five years.  And Ornette had been there before then, and he came back in ‘53, and we hooked up together again and started… Finally, we got a job.  We started living together.  In order to survive, we worked at two different department stores.  I was the stock clerk and Ornette was the elevator operator.  So that’s the way we would survive in order to pay the rent and just play every day. It was May’s and Bullock’s, two different department stores.

By the way, I know that a lot of musicians from New Orleans traditionally had a trade — you know, a cigar-maker, tailor…

EB:    Right.

Was this the case with you?  Were you trained for something other…

EB:    Well, when I was in school, I was supposed to be trained to be a bricklayer, but I couldn’t get with that.

[ MUSIC: American Jazz Quintet"  "Capetown,"  "Morocco,"  “Chatterbox": Harold Battiste, tenor sax; Alvin Batiste,  clarinet; Ellis Marsalis, piano; William Swanson, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums]

Let’s take “Chatterbox,” that last piece, as a springboard for the next segment of conversation.

EB:    Yes.  The Chatterbox was the name of the place where Alvin, Ellis, Nat and myself and I think it was Chuck Beatty… Were you on this?

EG:    No, I was in the Army during that time

EB:    It was Chuck Beatty.  Chuck Beatty was playing bass then.  That’s why Alvin gave it this title, “Chatterbox,” because this was one of the few places where we could work and play our music.

What kind of joint was it?

EB:    It was nice.  Very open. It was a little club, a small club, you know.  And the owner, I think he was a real music enthusiast, because he put up with us for almost about a month.  And we hardly drew any crowd, but we played a lot of music.

So you and Ellis Marsalis and Alvin Batiste really go back a good thirty-five years?  How often have you been able to play together since you left New Orleans?

The first time since I left New Orleans that I played with Ellis was when I went back in ‘76.  We had a job together for a weekend in a joint called Lu and Charlie’s, and it was Alvin Batiste, Ellis, and one of Ellis’s students on bass, and Wynton Marsalis, who was 16 at the time.  I went back again in ‘81 for the Heritage Festival, and I played again with Ellis and Alvin.  Then the last time I played with them was here in the Public Theatre in 1982.

We’ll hear now a selection from the aforementioned concert at the Public Theatre from August 21, 1982.  There were two nights at the Public, two sets each night, and the group was Alvin Batiste on clarinet, Ellis Marsalis on piano, Branford Marsalis on tenor saxophone, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, Mark Helias on bass, Edward Blackwell on drums.  This did get professionally taped, and courtesy of Mr. Blackwell, we are going to hear an original by Alvin Batiste, a very involved one with many different rhythms and modulations, “Ayala Suite.”


While researching for the show, I read that you had built your own set of drums.  Is that right?

Well, I didn’t really build them.  What I did was, I converted some… I had a 16-inch military snare that I converted to a bass drum, and put some wooden hoops on, and then I used a tenor drum and I put legs on it to convert it to a floor tom-tom, and a regular snare out of a 9″-by-13″ tom-tom.

How long did you have that set of drums?

Oh, man, I took it to California with me, in fact.  I had it up until I went back to New Orleans in ‘56.  And when I left in ‘60, I left it with my uncle and them, but they got rid of it, heh-heh.

What were the skins made out of?

EB:    Calfskin.  Regular calfskin, yes..

Now we’ll discuss  the events leading up to the time when Ornette Coleman called and Ed Blackwell left for New York City.  Just to recap, you had met Ornette Coleman for the first time in 1949, when came through New Orleans, was staying at the house of cornetist Melvin Lastie.  You had been out to Los Angeles in the mid-1950′s, and both worked in department stores to sustain yourselves while you were working on the music.  Tell me something about your approach to the drums before and after Ornette in just the most general way.

EB:    Well, in a general way, my approach to the drums before Ornette was the regular way of playing, the 32 bars or 12 bars or 16 bars, and make the turnaround, and then you start over again.  But when Ornette and I started playing together, there was a difference, because Ornette didn’t play with that type of mode.  Ornette would play more or less phrases.  He wouldn’t play 8, AABA, that type of thing; he would just play.  And he would use phrases.  And his turnaround sometimes would extend for maybe 11-1/2 bars or whatever, and I had to listen for that in order to make turnaround with him.  So I developed a new way of listening to Ornette play…

But it wasn’t any problem for you to adapt the forms that you had been working with before to that style.

EB:    No, it wasn’t any problem at all.  In fact, it was quite a learning experience, because it was something different… I had never been able to approach the drums, and I had never conceived of approaching the drums in that manner, as far as playing the music.  But with Ornette’s style of music, it was a different approach to the drums completely.

So this was happening as early as 1950 and ‘51?

EB:    This was happening from ‘53.   From ‘53 up until ‘56 when I went back to New Orleans.  Well, first I went back in ‘55, and I came back again from New Orleans to L.A. with Ellis and Harold  in late ‘55.  And then Ellis’ father got ill, so he had to leave, and I stayed over with Ornette up until ‘56, the early part of ‘56.  Then I left and went back to New Orleans.  Then he got a contract with Contemporary to make his first album, Something Else! He sent me a ticket to come and make this album with him, but I was having so much fun with Ellis and them that I sent the ticket back, because I didn’t want to leave then!  He used Billy Higgins.

So things were really popping, then, in New Orleans.

EB:    Yes, very much so.  We were building up a great following, because we were working at a place called… What was this place upstairs?

EG:    Foster’s.

EB:    There was a Foster’s Hotel, and we had a little club upstairs that we would play every weekend.  Then we had to be at another job that started at 6 o’clock in the morning, an after-hour jam session down in the French Quarter.  So there was quite a lot of playing going on.   I didn’t want to leave that.

Didn’t you also spend some time with Ray Charles?

EB:    Yes.  I left… I went with Ray Charles for year in ‘57. That happened because of the trumpet player that was a cousin of the Johnson Brothers, he had been the straw boss in Ray’s band, and Ray needed a drummer.  So he knew of my capabilities, so he hit on me about playing with Ray.   I gave it quite a lot of thought.  I didn’t think I would enjoy it.  But he said, whatever conditions you want, you know, he would agree with.  So I said, “Okay, if he’ll buy me a new set of drums, I’ll play with him.”  So he bought me a new set of drums, so I played with him for a year.

But playing with Ray, he had the same program every night.  Wherever we played, it was always this program.  The pieces would be played in the same order, the same places every night.  And after a month of that, you know, after working with Nat and playing such exciting music, this began to be boring.  So I was able to stretch it out for a year, then I left.  He was very disappointed.  He called me quite a lot, but I didn’t want to go back to that.

Was it ever open so that you could in a set play something that satisfied you?

EB:    Not really, no.  The only time that would happen is, like, before he would come on the stand, the band would have a little freedom for about 15 minutes before his showcase would start.  Then we were able to play maybe one or two, you know, three tunes.  Sometimes he would come up and play with the band… Because he played alto also, and he would come up and join in the tune.  But once he started singing, we would go into his program.

Eustis, how would you compare Blackwell with the other great New Orleans drummers who were contemporaries, like Earl Palmer, people who went into the Rhythm-and-Blues direction?

EG:    Well, most of the drummers, you know, if they had just let themselves go, could play almost anything.  But Blackwell sort of personified the Free movement.  And I recall we were working a job at the Dew Drop, and we were playing a ballad, you know, “How Deep Is The Ocean” or whatever it was, and Blackwell took a solo on the ballad — and that turned everything around, because it hadn’t been known during that time.  Earl Palmer sort of set a precedent so far as swinging and playing, and also going out to California and breaking into the studios.  That was one of his big contributions.  But Blackwell was about experimenting and bringing the drums more freedom in playing.  The drummers in New Orleans have a good beat, a good feeling, but a lot of times they’re locked in.  They even used to call Blackwell to play some of the Rhythm-and-Blues sessions.  He’d make one or two, and they knew…that was it.  Just ilke with Ray Charles, everybody thought he was crazy to refuse…

EB:    Heh-heh…

EG:    You know, it wasn’t about really work.  Because the concentration, you know, when Blackwell would be practicing and rehearsing, going through things, and his mind was really 100 percent.  And that’s what really amazed…

How many hours a day would you practice?

EB:    Usually, I… Let me see.  I was living with my parents, and they would leave at 8 o’clock.  I lived with my father, my uncle and my sister, and they would all work.  They would leave the house at 8 in the morning and would not return… The earliest one would return at about 5:30 that evening.  Up until…all that time I had the time to practice.

Was that by yourself?

EB:    By myself, usually until… Because Eustis and them were in school all day.  As soon as they got home at evening, we’d be together.  But during the day, the early part of the day, it was strictly solo.

Did you practice to records?

EB:    Yeah.  I practiced to Charlie Parker all the time.  Charlie Parker.

Also, you’re renowned as a master of drum timbre, of tuning the drums.  Is this also the time when you developed your methods of getting different sounds out of the drums?

EB:    Well, I guess so.  But that came about just as a natural result of wanting to get a certain sound with the  drums.  And those drums I told you I converted, I was able to get the real sound that I wanted.  And as a result, it carried over to other sets, you know.  And people began to notice that I…for some reason or another, my drums would always be in tune with one another, with whatever I was playing.  So that’s how that repetition became…

On your first LP with Ornette Coleman, he wrote the liner notes, and here is what he said about Edward Blackwell:  “Ed Blackwell, the drummer, has to my ears, one of the most musical ears of playing rhythm of anyone I have heard.  This man can play rhythm so close to the tempered notes that one seems to hear them take each other’s places.”  That’s what Ornette Coleman said about Edward Blackwell, and we’re going to hear a couple of pieces from the first sessions that they made together in July of 1960.  We’ll hear a piece called “Humpty-Dumpty” from This Is Our Music and then from a collection that came out subsequently in the late Sixties of unissued material, we’ll hear “A Fifth Of Beethoven.”  Then we’ll talk about Blackwell and the Ornette Coleman Quartet.  


You had a terrific situation in New Orleans.  What happened?  What made you finally decide to cut the cord and go?

EB:    Well, what happened was a very personal problem that went down, a very negative thing in my life that caused me to readily accept Ornette’s offer at this time to come to New York.  Especially since he had called, and he was in such dire straits, because he was already working and Billy Higgins was unable to get a secure cabaret card, which meant that he could no longer continue to work, and he was without a drummer.  So he really needed a drummer.  So I was very happy to accommodate him.

By the way, had you known Billy Higgins in Los Angeles when he was a young, nascent drummer?

EB:    Well, Ornette and I met Billy Higgins and Don Cherry… We met them at the same time.  Because they were living up in a place called Watts up in…Compton; not Watts, in Compton.  And they had a friend of theirs, George Newman, that had this big garage, with a piano…set up like a studio.  And I was always looking for somewhere to play.  So we went up there, and we started going up there every day to play together.  Billy and Cherry and George would sit around and listen at us play.  That’s how we really met Billy Higgins.

I think I’ve read (and this could be wrong or apocryphal) that he was studying with you somewhat, or that you were giving him tips or whatever.

EB:    Well, yes, we did.  He used to sit in… Naturally, I let him sit in, and there were some things about the music that he didn’t really understand, so I had to really explain it to him, about ways of listening to Ornette, to play with him, ways of playing… See, Billy had come out of the same school that I did, that old school of AB, AABA, you know, and Ornette didn’t play in that school.  So he had to adjust as much as I did.  So it was easier for me to explain it to him since I had been through that already.

Was he a basketball player in high school or something?

EB:    Billy?  Well, what I hear from Don Cherry… See, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins met in what was like a boys home, where they put wayward teenagers.  Because Billy, obviously, and Don Cherry were what they call delinquents.  So they met together in this school.  But I don’t think he was a basketball player.

Well, that’s just something I heard, and when I hear these things I ask people who know.

EB:    Right.

So when you got to New York, you found yourself in the midst of the scene that was shaking New York’s art community to the core.

EB:    Right.  Well, I’ll tell you.  The day I got a taxi to the front of the Five Spot.  We went into the Five Spot, and Ornette pulled out his horn, and Don Cherry, we ran over our  tunes, and he said, “Fine.”  We went home and changed clothes and came back to work that night.  And we worked there steadily for seven months, six nights a week straight.

Six nights a week will sure make a band tight.

EB:    That’s right! We were doing quite a lot of recordings, you know.  And he was writing quite frequently; he was writing a lot of the tunes.

Describe the way sets went down at the Five Spot.  Were the pieces similar length to the records?  Did you stretch out more?

EB:    During this time most of the clubs were featuring two bands a night.   There would be four sets.  Ornette would play two sets and the visiting band would play two sets.  This was going on for like six nights a week.  We had a chance really to stretch out during our sets.  Sometimes Ornette would stretch out our set, and sometimes he would just cut them a little shorter, depending on what mood he was in.  But it was always intense.  A lot of times we would rehearse all day and then come to work that night, and everybody was always geared up to play.  The energy that flowed through that band was phenomenal.

Did people ever sit in?

EB:    No.  No, not too many people were sitting in with the band. [LAUGHS]

When did Bobby Bradford come to town?  Didn’t he come to town briefly and take his place with the group?

EB:    Well, Bobby and Moffett came to town together.  That was the time after Don Cherry and I decided to leave the group for a while.  And Bobby Bradford and Moffett came to town to work with Ornette.  Then I went with Eric and Booker Little to play…

And that famous session, Live at the Five Spot came about.

EB:    Right, right.

Eustis, were you in New York at that time?  Were you hearing that band?

EG:    Yes.

What impression did it make on you?  Especially since you knew Blackwell.

EG:    Well, it sort of put everything in place.  Seriously.  You know, when Blackwell was in New Orleans, we knew that he had new music in him.  So when I came to New York and saw him performing with Don Cherry and Ornette, there it was.  What we felt before was really right in front.  Now, the  Five Spot used to bring all the new groups.  It was the newest group, and it was one of the hippest clubs for the new music and for, you know, not only lay people, but a lot of writers… Artists who were trying to free themselves.  Because music is always the front-runner. You know Leroi Jones was always down there.  The other group that was popular at the Five Spot was Thelonious Monk, which had quite a few good recordings.  And it was the place for the people with new ideas.  I was there every night.  You know, after Blackwell left, about six months later, here I came up.  And a lot of the people who were fighting the free form, you know, they’d come in and try to listen and try to find their place in the new musical history, you know.  It was fun for me, because having some prior knowledge of Ed Blackwell, I would just sit on the side and laugh.  Because I knew all they had to do was throw the ego away and say, “Well, what is this?”  That’s what I liked about John Coltrane.  He did approach Ornette.  He wanted Ornette’s tapes, he wanted to find out as much as he could about the new music.  That’s why he was a great player.

EB:    A funny thing, I used to have people come to me and tell me, “Man, I like the way you play, but I don’t know how you can play with that cat.  He’s crazy.  He don’t know what he’s doing.”  And really, they were serious!  They couldn’t understand why I could enjoy playing with Ornette so much.  I’d say, “Well, if you like what I’m playing, you should like what he’s playing, because that’s what I’m playing — what he’s playing.  And they couldn’t understand.  They’d look at me like I was strange, heh-heh, and he’d say, “No, that’s not the same!”

EG:    I think they were a little brainwashed, in thinking in forms

EB:    Yeah.

In 1965 and 1966 you made several recordings with Donald Cherry for Blue Note.

EB:    Right.

Talk about your activities in the mid-Sixties.  I know you were traveling in Europe and Africa…

EB:    Right.  I went to Africa in ‘66 with Randy Weston.  That was my first trip out of America.  But before that, Don Cherry…in ‘65 we recorded a lot of these albums for Blue Note — Complete Communion and  Symphony For Improvisers and Where Is Brooklyn, and all those…

Those were in 1965 and ‘66.

EB:    ‘65 and the early part of ‘66, right.  Then after being with Randy and coming back in ‘67, I rejoined Ornette at the Village Gate.  Then we began working, traveling to Europe every year after that.  Every year we’d go to Europe, and we’d make this tour of Italy, Paris and Germany and all around for about a month.  Most of my European traveling… In fact, there’s only a number of people I ever went to Europe with.  Ornette Coleman was one, and Old and New Dreams was another, and David Murray.  Because you know, there’s not very many people I enjoy going to Europe with.  I want to be sure the money’s going to be right!

The piece we’ll hear, “Buddah Blues,” features two bassists who were seminal in Ornette’s music, David Izenson and Charlie Haden. It’s from a concert in Rome, in 1967, issued without authorization, on an Italian label.  It was recorded in Rome in 1967. 

EB:    There’s also a couple of Bologna that were illegally recorded that he didn’t get paid for.  But the music should be heard, since it’s there.

[MUSIC: "Buddah Blues," followed by "Reminiscence," Paris, 1971, Ornette Coleman, violin; Charlie Haden, bass; Blackwell, drums; Kenny Clarke, m.c.]

What’s the genesis of Old and New Dreams, and how did that get started?  Obviously everybody had been associated with each other for many, many years.  What was the specific motivating thing behind that?

EB:    Money.  Well, the most motivating thing was that we wanted to extend the music of Ornette Coleman.  And since Ornette was not active with the group any more, we decided that maybe we should get together and extend the music, because it was music that we thought should be heard more prolifically.  And the fact that while Ornette was doing it, it was not accepted as when we started doing it.  The audience seemed to accept it more, even though it was the same music… But we had a better acceptance from the audience as a result.  That’s when the group got together to do it.

When did you last perform with Ornette?

EB:    The last time I performed with Ornette was in ‘72.

And that’s the year you recorded Science Fiction and Skies of America the sides for Columbia…

EB:    Yes.  And the tour through Europe.

Old and Dreams fuinctions as a collaborative, fully collective group?

EB:    Yes.

I know that you can’t get into the head of an audience.  But why do you think that audiences would accept what you do without Ornette Coleman?

EB:    Well, that’s strange to this day, too.  But I don’t know… It seems that because we have a younger listening audience now than when Ornette was playing the music… The audience that we perform for now is a more knowledgeable audience.  Like, a lot of kids in universities and everything, who have heard of the music before, and they never heard it live.  So when we began playing it, that was their only chance to really hear it done in the live atmosphere.  They wanted to hear it and they accepted it.

It hasn’t only been Old and New Dreams.  There have been many duet situations, and you have appeared with Mal Waldron and David Murray in the last five or six years.  You’re also situated at Wesleyan College…


EB:    …gamelan orchestra.  We also have the Indian Mrdingam drumming, and all type of Indian drumming.  It’s a vast program. A lot of very good music.  It’s very active.We have what we call the faculty of the Afro-American… See, I’m affiliated with the Afro-American Jazz Department of the music.  And that department consists of Bill Barron, an Associate Professor, and Bill Lowe and Fred Simmons, the pianist, myself, and we also have a bassist, one of the graduate students that’s been around, Wes Brown, who plays quite frequently.  I usually perform two faculty concert a year, one each semester.

[Music: Old and New Dreams. “Togo” (Blackwell’s arrangement of a Ghanaian traditional song) and  “Handwoven,” an Ornette Coleman composition]

About half-an-hour ago Valerie Wilmer, the British journalist and author, arrived in the studio.  She’s written about Blackwell on several occasions.  Those of you who have her book As Serious As Your Life will remember her chapter on Edward Blackwell.  [ETC.]

You have some very interesting stories on how you met.

VW:    We first met in London, I think it was in ‘66 or ‘67; there seems to be some debate on when it was.   I knew about Blackwell, and he was like sort of legendary figure.  So I was very much into tracking down legendary figures, especially drummers, because I had always liked drumming, and Blackwell was one of the greats.  Even then I knew about him.  So I called him up, and asked him if I could come and interview him.  And I think he was a bit surprised that anybody wanted to interview him in those days.  Is that right?

EB:   Yes.  Yes, especially Valerie Wilmer!

VW:    Oh, well…

EB:    Because I had been reading contributions to DownBeat, and I never expected that Valerie Wilmer would call me to do an interview.

VW:    You want to watch that, Blackwell.  You’re making it sound like I’m older than you.  But I remember that when we were doing the interview, you were shy and modest, as usual.

EB:    Yes…

VW:    And you drummed on your thigh with your mallets all through the interview.

EB:    Yes.  That was my way of relaxing, to be able to… That’s why I carry these little mallets around with me, because whenever I get uptight, I just pull them out and start drumming it on my knee, and that will release the stress.

VW:    Well, and a man full of music and full of rhythms all the time.  There was another occasion, I don’t think it was that first time but it was also in London, when we went off to have a meal together.  We went to eat in an Indian restaurant.  And at this time I had sort of decided that I might want to play drums, so I was talking to Blackwell about some drum patterns.  So we finished eating, and he said, “Let me show you something.”  And he took out a felt-tipped pen, and he started drawing these drum patterns all over the tablecloth.  It was a beautiful linen tablecloth in a very nice Indian restaurant, and the waiters were looking on aghast as sort of paradiddles and whatever was drawn all over the tablecloth.  We should have saved that and framed it for posterity and given it to the New Orleans Jazz Museum or something.

Incidentally, that particular anecdote appears in  Valerie Wilmer’s book,  As Serious As Your Life

VW:    There’s another one, too.  This is my favorite story about Blackwell, and it’s not in that book, but it may be in a forthcoming one — and I don’t know if he even remembers it himself.  We were in Morocco together at one stage, when Randy Weston was there, and Blackwell, you were there with Frances, your wife, and your family.   We were all staying  in the same house.  And the day I arrived in Rabat, you had a motorcycle accident.

EB:    Right.

VW:    Remember that?

EB:    Right.  I had a broken shoulder-blade.

VW:    Right.  And all your chest was encased in a cast, wasn’t it.

EB:    Right.  A body cast.

VW:    It was hot, and ants got down inside it, and he was scratching inside the cast with a drumstick… It was something else, wasn’t it.

EB:    Yeah.  And then I had to play this concert.

VW:    Well, I’m going to tell this story about that.  Let me tell this story.  The story was that Randy’s son, Azzedin, was going to play because you couldn’t play.  Right?

EB:    Right.

VW:    But you put your tuxedo on and went to the concert anyway, and when it got to the last minute you said, “I’m going to play anyway.”  Right?  So he got up, and in front of an audience of Moroccans and I think a few Americans and other visiting people, he played this amazing solo, this really incredible drum solo, one hand and two feet.  And I was sitting next to Frances, Blackwell’s wife, and at the end of it I looked at her, and she had tears in her eyes because of the applause.  Everybody stood up and applauded.  I said, “Oh, that was something.”  She said to me, “Man, Blackwell normally sounds like four men; tonight it just sounded like three.”

Edward Blackwell has brought a tape of a performance of him and Don Cherry in Verona, Italy, February 11, 1982, that he says is smoking. [ETC.]  He told me on the telephone, “This is better than any of those records!”

EB:    Right.  It is.


Edward Blackwell and Donald Cherry go back about thirty years.  And it seems that on almost every record I’ve pulled to do this show, Donald Cherry is there, whether it’s the Ornette Coleman records or the duets or Old and New Dreams.  He’s ubiquitous in the recorded musical career of Ed Blackwell.  So you met in Los Angeles at the time you went out in ‘56, is what you were saying.

EB:    Well, when I met Donald, he was about 17 or 18 years old.  This is when Ornette and I were going to the jam sessions together, and he was hanging out with some of the local musicians playing.  But we didn’t have any friendship with him until we started going to this garage in Compton and played with him.  He was still very young.

What was his sound like at the time?

EB:    He was very active and very energetic and searching; he was very searching for his sound.  He was playing the regular-sized trumpet at the time.

Q:    [ETC.] Next up is a selection from Rhythm X, an LP in Strata East, by Charles Brackeen, who has been a colleague of Blackwell’s over the years.  He appears on an aborted LP of Blackwell’s, by a group that I heard a few times at the Tin Palace around 1980, which had Ahmed Abdullah, trumpet, Charles Brackeen and Mark Helias.  You specifically requested we play this.

EB:    Yes.  I think this particular record was one of Charles’ greatest efforts.  He had just arrived here from California, and he was a big devotee of Ornette Coleman.  In fact, he came to New York especially to be near Ornette Coleman, with his own family.  And we got together, he and I, and we got these tunes…he was writing these tunes — and we got a chance to put them on Strata East.

[MUSIC: “Rhythm X,” then "Bemsha Swing" from Coltrane, The Avant Garde, 1961]

That was “Bemsha Swing,” interpreted by John Coltrane, Donald Cherry, Percy Heath and Edward Blackwell from The Avant Garde.  A couple of things came to light during the break.  First of all, Blackwell did play once with Thelonious Monk in 1972.

EB:    I’ll tell you what happened with Monk.  During the course of the gig, after about a week… He used to give me a lot of solos.  Then one night we were playing, and he gave me a solo, and I played, you know, and after he came off the stand he come over to me and he said, “You know, you ain’t no Max Roach.” [LAUGHS] And I don’t know why he told me that!  He just danced away. Wilbur Ware was in that group also.

I remember a story Art Taylor told me about Monk.  He was playing with Monk in Chicago, and Monk had stopped letting him solo.  So during the course of intermission, he came over, and A.T. said, “You know, you cut off my solos, man.  You used to give me little solos.  Why don’t you let me play?”  So he said when they went back up to the set, Monk went to the mike and said, “We will now hear a solo by our drummer.”  And that was it!

You played with Wilbur Ware  quite often during the ’70s.

EB:    Playing with Wilbur was a real learning experience playing with Wilbur, because Wilbur had such an acute sense of time, and it was fantastic to behold and listen to it.  And he also played a lot of little drums.  He used to sit down on the drums, too…

He actually worked as a drummer in Chicago in the late Forties…

EB:    Right.

And he was a tap dancer as well..

EB:    A tap dancer as well.  That’s right.  It was a real pleasure to work with Wilbur, I’m gonna tell you.  He had a unique sense of timing.

Charlie Rouse was the tenor player, and you’ve been working with Rouse lately in Mal Waldron’s group in various gigs at the Vanguard.

EB:    That’s right.

Some among our radio audience may have heard the Nu Quintet play at SOB’s this past winter.  It’s Donald Cherry, Carlos Ward, Nana Vasconcelos, Mark Helias and Blackwell.  How long have you known Nana Vasconcelos?

EB:    I’ve known about Nana for a number of years now.  In fact, the first time I played with him was at the Public Theatre with Don Cherry in about ‘76, ‘77, something like that.  I never worked with him again until we got together in this group, the Nu Quintet.  It’s been a real pleasure with Nana, because I’ve always admired his sounds. I’ve always been fascinated by the Brazilian rhythms, and Nana epitomizes that.

You’ve appeared with David Murray quite a bit over the last four or five years and recorded with the quartet, and I can recall hearing you play with the octet at Sweet Basil once or twice…

EB:    Right.  And also with the string group, a couple of concerts with the string group. I was at the old Five Spot on St. Mark’s Place with Don Cherry when David first came into town from California.  He used to come over and sit in and play with us quite a bit.  So we were aware of each other.  Then he drifted off into his thing, beginning building a career.  And when he decided to get a group together, he called me and wanted to find out if I was interested in working with him.  And yeah, I was, because he was playing the type of music, the new music that I enjoy playing.  So we’ve been working together, that’s been five or six years, and we’ve been playing together off and on.  I went to Europe with him twice, and we’re getting ready to do a tour around the States in June.  Then we’ll be playing together at a festival in July.

[MUSIC: Ornette Coleman, "Law Years" and "The Jungle Is A Skyscraper"]

EB:    Eustis is helping me recall quite a bit of the history that I’ve forgotten.  He’s been reminding me of quite a lot of things, bringing to mind those days that we played together.  Because Eustis and I used to play together as a duo quite a bit in New Orleans during the time we were residing in New Orleans.  In fact, it was always either Eustis and I, or maybe Ellis and I, Nat and I; there was always two of us, or just a whole group.  We were always just playing every day.  That was the main thing.  We were obsessed with playing and perfecting our instruments.


Filed under Drummer, Ed Blackwell, Interview, New Orleans, WKCR

Karl Berger and Ingrid Berger: Interviews

Until April 18, Monday nights were usually dark at The Stone, John Zorn’s exemplary and invaluable performance venue at Avenue C and 2nd Street. That changed when Zorn invited Karl Berger, the founder of the Creative Music Studio, who has lately been overseeing a 12-CD subscription release culled from  approximately 400 hours of tapes documenting the musical production that transpired at C.M.S. during its dozen-year run, to run a weekly CMS Workshop Big Band.  I haven’t attended yet, but last night’s listed performers [(Ingrid Sertso (vocals, poetry) Art Bailey (accordion) Skye Steele, Frederika Krier, Eloisa Manera (violin) Sylvain Leroux (flutes) Miguel Malla (clarinet) Jorge Sylvester, David Schnug (alto sax) Stephen Gauci, Yoni Kretzmer (tenor sax) Catherine Sikora (soprano sax) Thomas Heberer, Herb Robertson, Brian Groder (trumpet) Steve Swell (trombone) Bill Wright, Adam Caine, Harvey Valdes (guitar) Dominic Lash, David Perrott, Adam Lane (bass) Lou Grassi, Harris Eisenstadt (drums) Philip Foster (odds and ends)] denotes the high caliber of musicianship being brought to bear on Berger’s concepts. The project is scheduled to run through the remainder of 2011.

I had an opportunity to speak with Berger and Sertso (his wife) at some length in late 2008, when they received a $25,000 grant from a German university that enabled Berger and engineer Ted Orr to digitize and remaster the first hundred reel-to-reel tapes, cherrypicked both for artistic quality and condition, and produced several  benefit concerts at Manhattan’s Symphony Space towards the realization of this goal.  The first conversation transpired at WKCR on October 24, 2008, towards the end of my run at the station; the second, for a DownBeat article that was originally intended to be a comprehensive feature on the history of CMS and the Bergers, took place in a diner opposite Symphony Space on December 12, 2008.  As it turned out, the piece never got off the ground, and in 2010 DB ran a shorter “News” piece on the CMS digitization project for which the great preponderance of the raw transcript could not be used. The two interviews appear below in their entirety.

* * * *

Karl Berger (WKCR, Oct. 24, 2008):

[After playing march piece from Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra Music recording from 1976 on Arista]

KB:   This work was basically developed at the Creative Music Studio. Braxton had the opportunity at the Creative Music Studio to always have a large group with which to rehearse pieces, so a lot of the concepts of his orchestra music developed right at CMS.

TP:   I have several questions to ask about that. But before, let’s paint the picture. Tomorrow, Friday, at Symphony Space, at 7:30, there will be a concert featuring Karl Berger, Ingrid Sertso, Anthony Braxton, and Steven Bernstein’s Millennium Territory Orchestra. The proceeds will go towards the digitization and release of your capacious archive of tapes of concerts given on Saturday nights at Creative Music Studio between 1972 and 1984, featuring many of the seminal figures of jazz progression and creative music progression during that time. We’ll hear some selections from the 16 CDs they’ve done so far.

KB:   We just started, basically. It’s a three-year project.

TP:   How did the project begin? Did you get funding?

KB:   Yes. We apply for funding in various places, for grants, and we received one grant from a German foundation and we received membership contributions towards it. So we are about one-fourth into the $120,000 we need. That gives us the first 9 months to work with right now.

TP:   Was documentation always an intention?

KB:   No. I never thought of that actually. We did tape everything, but we weren’t really into history. We were into Now at the time very much. The reason why I think these tapes need to be heard, or at least digitized and preserved, is that in the ‘70s, as you all know, the record industry started to shift gears and started to produce records from the producers’ point of view rather than from the artists’ point of view, and a lot of stuff that started being…except maybe for Anthony’s and a few other fortunate ones… The artists didn’t get an opportunity to record their music the way they felt it should be. CMS was all about that. Like, people would come up and work on their newest works, and they would have the opportunity to work with larger groups and to develop ideas that they could not develop in recording situations. Therefore, what you’re hearing there has a lot of stuff that you don’t even know existed in the ‘70s and ‘80s…

TP:   Unless you were on the scene in New York or had an opportunity to hear…

KB:   True. But also, we were in Woodstock, not in New York where the scenes were quite separate. Up there, people started to blend more. People would get together. Let’s say Lee Konitz would meet Leroy Jenkins, or David Izenson would play with Harvey Sollberger—stuff that would never happen in New York, because the scenes were much more separate. People were more relaxed up there. They didn’t think in terms of the PR quality or the career situation or whatever it was.

TP:   So through this archive we can find different angles or approaches or nooks and crannies of the musical production of even artists with substantial discographies which might not otherwise be visible.

KB:   Yes, exactly. For example, Cecil Taylor could develop orchestra music. He never did that before. He spent ten days working with a 20-piece group and recording two evenings with that. This sort of stuff that just wouldn’t have happened.

TP:  Before we talk about some specifics of CMS, what do you recall about the gestation of Braxton’s Creative Orchestra Music project? You were there. You played glockenspiel and vibraphone on it.

KB:   There’s a funny story, which is typical for Anthony and his way of teaching. I looked at the part, and some of the notes were not on the vibraphone. So I said to Anthony, “How do you want me, “How do you want me to play that?” He said, “Play as written.” So what do you do with that? “Play as written.” Ok, so I played as written. Some of these notes were outside of the instrument.

Or Fred Rzewski playing the bass drum. What other record do you know where… [LAUGHS] So a couple of things like that were going on. Actually, I was already a little bit familiar with that music, because it had been happening among the participants at CMS before. But he was using professional musicians at the time of the recording.

TP:   Perhaps I can use your performance on glockenspiel on Braxton’s piece as a door for some remarks on your own personal history. Did you play in marching bands as a…

KB:   No. I never played glockenspiel before this recording.

TP:   I’m no expert on glockenspiel, but it sounded fairly accomplished… But you came to the States in 1966, was it…

KB:   Yes.

TP:   You’d met Don Cherry in Europe and came here as part of his working group.

KB:   Yes. We had a working group, a quintet for two years prior to that in Europe, and we played pretty much every day except Mondays. It was a real tight group. Then we got the invitation to record Symphony for Improvisers and to do a Five Spot series, and to play at Town Hall, which Ornette had organized. So we came on that premise. So we came in August 1966 for the first time.

TP:   I realize that you’ve related these events publicly on many occasions, but would you talk a bit about the path that brought you to Don Cherry?

KB:   It’s quite a simple story. In the late ‘50s or beginning ‘60s, I was a member of the Hans Koller Quartet in Germany. Hans Koller was a top European saxophonist who was one of the few Europeans who played on international festivals. So we opened for Miles, or we opened for Mingus, and we would play in Antibes, and so on. We sort of got around internationally a little bit. I started to listen to Ornette’s quartet albums, This is Our Music and The Shape of Jazz to Come, and these things. It really hit me that this is the kind of music I want to play. The free music was so slowly developing, but it wasn’t rhythmical, and this had the powerful rhythm and it was free. It really hit me, like, this the music I want to play.

Then the opportunity arose in ‘65, in March… We used to play in Paris a lot at the Chat Qui Peche with people like Chet Baker and Steve Lacy and other people, and in March 1965 Don Cherry came to Paris, and I met him at the Buttercup Club, which Bud Powell’s wife ran. I saw him sitting there, and I just walked up to him and said, “I want to play with you.” Don was a very intuitive cat. He looked at me and said, “Come to the rehearsal tomorrow at 4.” Then the same night, after the rehearsal, I played with the band, and from there on, the next three years, I played with that band. So this is how simple it was.

TP:   Now, you had also an academic background in philosophy. So you were dual-tracking as a student and a musician in post-war Germany.

KB:   Yes, exactly.

TP:   In any way, did the philosophical teachings, your studies…how did it intersect with your musical production?

KB:   I think studying particularly in the area of philosophy and aesthetics…when you study there and you go through the history of everything that’s been going on, it opens your mind to new concepts. It really does. It’s not so easy to get stuck in patterns. It’s a mind-opening experience. That’s the only relationship that I can see.

TP:   So in other words, it allowed you to accept what was happening perhaps on its own terms.

KB:   Yes, exactly. Particularly studying people like Schopenhauer or aesthetics by Kierkegaard or things like that, it gives you a real powerful intro into the philosophy of music and art.

TP:   How did vibraphone become your instrument of choice?

KB:   That’s also very accidental. I am a classical piano player, and as I was playing in a little club in Heidelberg called the Car-54, which was frequented by a lot of American players from the Air Force and Army bases around there… That’s where I met Carlos Ward, Cedar Walton, Lex Humphries, Don Ellis, and all these people. The piano was always in bad shape and out of tune, and there was a vibraphone player who came in sometimes, but then he left his instrument there. So I basically started playing it because the piano was so bad! The other reason was I could get up and move around. Because music makes me think of dancing always—and there I could do that, I could move around. But purposely, I never took a lesson on the vibraphone. So it’s my toy. Like, I played a vibraphone probably, because of that, like nobody else, just because I never learned how to play it classically.

So piano is really the instrument I know everything about. Vibraphone I only use for my own compositional and improvisational purpose.

TP:   Was there a real separation for you between… Had you given up classical music during those years, and was there perhaps some desire to bring forth those ideas?

KB:   When I played with Don’s band, often there wasn’t even a piano, or, if there was a piano, it was so bad that I would just play the vibes. Like, at Chat Qui Peche, the piano was terrible. Also, purposely, I didn’t play piano for two years during that period in order to get away from the licks, the classical licks, the way you learn to play classically. I wanted to re-translate back the vibraphone to the piano, which I now do. Now I understand the piano a lot more as a percussion instrument, which is what it is, and really go note-for-note.

TP:   So you arrive in the States in ‘66, straight into the fray at the Five Spot. Not the same location where history had been made years before…

KB:   The one on 8th Street.

TP:   Can you describe your first impressions of New York?

KB:   The first impression was that I wanted to go back home. It was a shock, in many ways. The living situations that I saw…all these famous musicians that I knew from records, how they lived and what they did and how they operated. It was horrible. I thought, “My God, these people should be respected more.” It was a hard one.

I would say that the man that got me to stay was Ornette Coleman. I started to have almost weekly conversations with Ornette. Ingrid and I went to Ornette’s loft all the time, and we discussed matters. He was the only one who made sense to me in terms of how he talked about music. But he also insisted that we should say. He said, “You’ve got something to say. New York is like a radio station for the world. You’ve got to do it.” So we did, and we sort of got used to it, slowly but surely.

TP:   Did you intersect during those years, 1966 to 1972, with other artistic communities in New York? With filmmakers, with writers, with visual artists?

KB:   Tthere were a bunch of scenes that we oscillated between. We were always in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, where there was a scene… There was a loft building with musicians like Rashied Ali and Roger Blank and Archie Shepp, and everybody living in there, and there were sessions every day. Rashied must have a host of tapes, because he recorded everything. There was like 12 lofts, all musicians. Then a bunch of musicians who came there all the time. I was a lot in that scene. I went there all the time to play. Then, I was around Roswell Rudd’s scene.  He had a band with Robin Kenyatta and Beaver Harris, so I played with that. Then with Marion Brown. Then there was another scene around Dave Liebman, who started out at that time. Dave Holland and Dave Liebman lived in the same loft building in the Photo District. While Dave was playing with Miles, he started playing with our quartet, with Carlos Ward and Eddie Blackwell. That was an ongoing project, and we recorded that a few times—and then trio music also.

So there were these different, disconnected scenes that were not overlapping. As a matter of fact, I asked many questions about that, and I never got the right answers.

TP:   What would the right answers have been?

KB:   The right answer would have been, “Oh, gee, why not?” In Williamsburg, for example, one day, after like 6 weeks of going there and playing there all the time, I said to everybody in a break, “So what do you guys all think? I am the only white man here.” It was all black guys playing. They said to me, “You’re not white; you’re European.” So that was a distinction. Stuff like that was going on.

TP:   Such ideas were also part of the zeitgeist (forgive my throwing a German philosophical term at you) in the late ‘60s. So those were musical scenes. Were you also intersecting with people in different disciplines?

KB:   That happened actually later. What happened was, we were there in ‘66, ‘67, and then in ‘68, I went back with my own group, with Alan Blairman. We went to Europe and toured there; for about a year-and-a-half we stayed over there. We only came back then in ‘72, to Woodstock directly. I was here in ‘70 and ‘71, in order to start the Creative Music Foundation. I had discussions with Ornette. He introduced me to John Cage, Gil Evans, Gunther Schuller, a few other people, and we started an advisory board for the Creative Music Studio. I started to talk with Carla Bley and Mike Mantler, who had office space on Broadway with the Jazz Composers Orchestra. So we started to form the process of setting up the Creative Music Foundation. Then I went back to Europe, and a year later I moved to Woodstock.

TP:   Why at the turn of the ‘70s did it seem important to set up the Creative Music Foundation?

KB:   I had very egotistical reasons. I wanted to know what I was doing. We were all playing, playing, playing every night, and my academic training told me I needed to know something more about this. Everything was fine and perfect, and it sounded great, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to find out what it would be. So I wanted to meet more people. I wanted to get groups of artists together, have them talk about their music. If you have to teach it, then you have to know what you’re saying, so to speak. Also, what are methods I could use in order to tell the next generation how to loosen up their conceptual ideas. That was all in the back of my mind, to do that.

TP:   For how long before doing this had you felt this way? I’m curious about how your academic background and cultural background as a German led to some of the pedagogical concepts at CMS.

KB:   What really got me going on this, I started teaching at the New School. John Cage had a course there, and he left, and I applied, and funny enough, I got the job, and I started an improvisation class there. I realized everybody had timing problems, so I started to get into time, beat-for-beat attention and all that. One of our mainstays at that time was a job with Young Audiences. There was a group led by the drummer Horacee Arnold, and there was Reggie Workman, Sam Rivers, myself, and Mike Lawrence was the trumpet player—and we would go to all the schools, playing for sixth-graders. This was all about what is improvisation; sing us a song, we’ll play over your song; we’ll just experiment with your music—and the kids got involved. That’s when I realized that people are not compartmentalized like we see them all the time, like somebody just likes this and the other one likes that. They liked everything. They were open. So I realized that the capacity of every person is really to be open, and to really get involved in all kinds of concepts and ideas. That really helped me to say, “you know, we can probably create a situation where we can help people to develop their own music.”

TP:   When you arrived in the States in ‘66, it was maybe a year or so after the incorporation of the AACM in Chicago. That, of course, was on its own parallel track during the years you’re speaking of, and musicians from there started moving to New York right around the time you started CMS. Were you aware of the AACM in those years? Or did you encounter some of them when you returned to Europe? I think 1969-1970 coincides with the time those musicians were staying in Europe.

KB:   Well, first I heard about it from Anthony, of course. Anthony lived in Woodstock… A lot of people moved to Woodstock during that time—Anthony, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Carla was already there. More and more people were following. So first I heard of it through Anthony. Then we started to bring AACM musicians in to teach at CMS. When CMS got bigger and it became a year-round institution, then we did whole summer sessions, whole so-called “New Year’s intensives” with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or with Roscoe Mitchell and so on.

TP:   But in the ‘60s, you weren’t so aware.

KB:   No, I wasn’t aware at all. No. I’m not the type of person who is always keeping themself informed. I’m more focused on the stuff I need to do.

The music to follow was a project of mine that was realized in ‘95 in Germany at the Donaueschingen festival. It has a mixture of American and European musicians on it. I wanted to start the session by introducing my own work, and then go to CMS. I’m not just an administrator. I want to show what I do. Here I’ll play piano. One of the reasons I’m playing this is that I like people to start off understanding that I’m a piano player.

[MUSIC: “No Man Is An Island: Movement 2”; “Remembrance”]

TP:   “Remembrance” is a tune you played with Don Cherry during the ‘60s, with a working group. That’s from a radio broadcast, with Karl Berger on piano, Carlos Ward, alto sax, Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone, Graham Haynes, cornet; Ingrid Berger, vocals; Bob Stewart, tuba; Mark Helias, bass; Tani Tabbal, drums…

    How many of these concerts did you record?

KB:   We recorded approximately 400 over the 12 year period, and the digitization process generates about 10 per month.

TP:   During a given year, did CMS run on a semester system, or a trimester…

KB:   In its heyday, it was year-round—two 8-week semesters in the fall and spring, and two 5-week semesters in the summer. Then there were intensives, a New Year’s intensive and another intensive around Easter-time.

TP:   So about 30 weeks a year.

KB:   Yeah. It was pretty intense. It was just ongoing. From 1976 to 1984, we had a campus that was a former motel with five buildings, so about 50 people could stay there all the time. There was also a soccer field where you could have festivals and so on. So it was a pretty ideal setup.

TP:   So using infrastructure from the former Borscht Belt… Woodstock and the Catskills has a preexisting infrastructure that could easily be used for this sort of thing.

KB:   Exactly.

TP:   What was your first facility? You come directly to Woodstock after a year-and-a-half in Europe. So presumably the gears were previously set in motion.

KB:   We rented a big barn, and the upstairs of the barn was set up so we could live upstairs, and downstairs was one big room with a fireplace, and that’s where the workshop started. This is where we started. Then a couple of years later, we sort of grew out of that, and it was not big enough. We rented a Lutheran camp, where now is a Zen mountain center, all the way out in Mount Trempa, which was a big space. The only drawback was that the camp was on in the summer, so we could only use it in the fall and spring. That’s when we started looking for this motel, and we found that in ‘75, and so from ‘76 on we had a year-round program.

TP:   Who was the faculty at first? You…

KB:   At first, all the people who lived up there, which was Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, myself, and Ingrid. That’s how it started.

TP:   How did you organize the curriculum and the pedagogy? Was it that Braxton wanted to teach in such-and-such a way, and Dave Holland would teach in a different, and Jack DeJohnette the same, or was there some organizing principle?

KB:   It was pretty loosely organized. In other words, we gave the guiding artists the afternoons for as long as they wanted. Most people started at 2 and went til 6 or 7 or so, and just worked with all the people that were there.

TP:   Was it on technique, on workshopping their music…

KB:   No. It was always about composition and improvisation. It was not about the instruments. We actually everybody that wanted to come, “You are not going to have training in your instrument.” It’s all about concepts. It was a conceptual situation. So in the morning I would do what I call “basic practice,” which was a rigorous rhythmic training, then a training in overtone awareness, like getting really into sound, so that you would get away from the idea of a tone and get into harmonics. Then the rhythmic training would be about beat-for-beat dynamics, so dynamics was a big issue. And I would do all of these non-stylistic, I’ll call them, exercises in the morning. There would be also body practice, body awareness before, at 9 o’clock. Some people wouldn’t make that! Then the afternoon was open to the guiding artists until dinner-time, and they could structure that any which way they wanted, whether they wanted to have a small group and people, or they wanted to have the whole group, or whatever they wanted to do. Then after-hours, the room was there for the students to develop their own works.

TP:   What was the age range of the students early on?

KB:   Early on, the first people that came, like Donnie Davis and these guys, they were probably around 21, 22…

TP:   Just graduated from college or having attended college.

KB:   Exactly, yes. Usually, we wanted to make sure people knew how to play their instrument well enough not to worry about that. So that was sort of our prerequisite. They had to send a tape or some kind of way of auditioning.

[The next selection was a 1979 duo by Berger and  Nana Vasconcelos]

TP:   You spoke before about the rhythmic exercises that you gave to students, and you told me off-mike were saying that the information you garnered and transmitted to students you learned during your years from Don Cherry, who himself was distilling these lessons—through his own prism, I guess—from Ornette Coleman.

KB:   Yes, in a way you could say that. I received through Don Cherry invaluable impressions and information about music. He used to walk around with a shortwave radio on his head 24 hours a day—probably even in his sleep! I saw him sitting in the movies having this on. Anyway, we would not only play every evening in these clubs, because at that time you could play for months in one club (it’s not like today), but you’d also have a rehearsal every afternoon. In these afternoon rehearsals he would come and play on the piano the most recent stuff that he had heard on the shortwave radio. He had this amazing what Ornette calls “elephant memory,” where he could remember every note. He would bring in pieces and play them. He wouldn’t even know where they were from, whether they were from India or Egypt or wherever. We used some of those melodies in the concerts, and he would just like use them, not thinking about any stylistic considerations or anything. So that was startling for me. It was new for me that you can just go and take any music coming from anywhere, and look at it as if it was all the same.

TP:   I guess he was beginning to incorporate these principles right around the time you started playing with him, around 1965-66.

KB:   Exactly.

TP:   Then he really developed them at much greater length in the ‘60s, culminating with pieces like Relativity Suite and other…

KB:   Exactly.

TP:   You were associated with him all through this time, or sporadically…

KB:   Off and on. I recorded the Art Deco album with him, and a few other places. But I wasn’t playing consistently with Don Cherry any more after ‘68. I started doing my own projects. But we kept in touch all the time. He was one of the major people at CMS. He was there every term, in each semester.

TP:   Now, you were just mentioning that he would grab themes from everywhere that he heard on the shortwave radio, without knowing where they were from, in a decontextualized way, out of the function in which the music was created. How important did it then become to recontextualize this within the framework of CMS… In other words, to do full justice to the actual music. Was it a kind of balancing act?

KB:   I basically didn’t go there. What I did is, I used some of this information, particularly all the additive rhythmic stuff that comes from Turkey, Egypt…the Middle East…from India… All this additive rhythmic stuff intrigued to a point to create a practice system called the “gamala taki.” Those two words came from Don Cherry, but he wasn’t thinking of them it a rhythmic system. He just had heard them on the shortwave radio. They are part of the tabla language in Pakistan, for example. So I would take it out of that context altogether, and just create an additive rhythmic training. Because you go into that kind of place where you’re no longer thinking bars or forms of that kind, but you are just adding odd and even, and you use language as a tool rather than counting, you’re going into a new world of…you create a sense of freedom for yourself, for beat-for-beat attention, as I call it. That led me also to the fact that we not only could study something for the reason of learning new material, but also to train our mind. Like, to train our mind to listen for each beat

TP:   But on the other hand, for instance, on the prior track with Nana Vasconcelos, or the piece we’re about to hear with Trilok Gurtu, these are musicians who are deeply trained within the folkloric music of their own cultures. How did they respond to moving outside the notion of idiom? Of course, Nana Vasconcelos was involved in many transcultural projects with Don Cherry and other people.

KB:   Trilok and particularly Nana and others that came there, these percussionists were there because they wanted to go beyond their traditional culture. They wanted to move beyond that. So therefore, we had people who were eager to absorb information like that. I just met Nana at a festival in Sardinia that we were playing on about a month ago, Sant’anna Arresi, which was dedicated all to Don Cherry. Nana sang all these gamela taki practices to me. He still has them in his head, and this is still fascinating material for him, because that’s not what you do in Brazil—additive rhythm of that nature. So he actually enjoyed that to a point, because it sort of opened him up in his playing. Trilok is the same way.

TP:   So you found one system that would enable musicians to look for that universal language that seems so appealing to musicians, because it’s a language of notes and tones.

KB:   Exactly. There you go. So that you go there, and then from there you can go back to any style in which you play, and you will be a lot more open around it. You can go back and play tones and play forms of any kind, but you will have another beat-for-beat attention in your mind, and also a sense of harmonics about every note you play. Don Cherry would tell me things like, “there’s no such thing as A. There’s A in the context of whatever harmonics there are.” Once you go there and practice that, you open up a whole territory of precision in your tuning. For example, like, a trumpet player who plays a G, he can basically, with that one note, determine whether it’s in C or in G or in A or E-minor

TP:   Now we’re hearing the Ornette Coleman root.

KB:   There you go!

TP:   Next is a CD of Trilok Gurtu, a sextet with Nana Vasconcelos, Ismet Siral, Steve Gorn, Ted Orr and Karl Berger, from 1980.

KB:   That was a Turkish folk melody called [tk], and Ismet Siral is a saxophonist from Istanbul who is very revered over there, and came to CMS to teach a week of Turkish music, and ended up staying for two years. He was just insistent. He just didn’t want to leave. I realized very quickly that particularly Turkish music is ideal for studying additive odd meter. It is such simple structured, melodic work that is actually perfectly structured in the gamela taki fashion. So these are all actually exercise pieces for students to learn Turkish music pieces, and it was an eye-opener for everybody and a real practice. He just kept one house, put a fire in front of his house, and taught in the evening after hours when everybody else was finished. He would just stay and continue to teach.  Then something tragic happened. He went back to Turkey, and he was so influenced by the American way of life and the style of playing that his Turkish colleagues would not accept him any more, and he actually committed suicide. But the Turkish energy is such a fervent energy. I don’t know how to describe it. But there is now a group in Turkey, if you go to a site that’s called IS-CMS, that’s Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio—there is actually a page on the Internet. They created a summer session two years ago, and brought Trilok, myself, Steve Gorn, all these people there to do a summer… They want to continue in the honor and memory of Ismet Siral.

TP:   In 1972, I guess the notion of field recordings had been undertaken since the ‘30s and ‘40s, and more systematically in the ‘50s and ‘60s with the UNESCO series and so forth, but in American jazz, these influences were considered somewhat exotic. Of course, Dizzy Gillespie incorporated Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and Max Roach as well. But it seems that beginning in the ‘70s, and perhaps in some part through developments in CMS, and perhaps other reasons, the assimilation of rhythms, melodies, and scales from around the world began to be incorporated more into the mainstream vocabulary of jazz and creative music. Do you have any observations about these developments?

KB:   Strangely enough, we were not really in the middle of that. We were less concerned with how materially jazz as a style was developing, for example. I was more interested for people to open their minds for their own music, so there would be influences but not material influences in the sense of stylistic influence, but more to get more flexible, to be more attuned to differentiations that you might bring into your music, and not being hesitant about expressing yourself just because you’re not sounding like everybody else. As you know, when we hear our own voice for the first time, we think the tape recording is wrong. This is how different we are in terms of sound and rhythm, in terms of timing and all that. To get there, to go there, and to do that by way of studying all these different things, not so much by taking in Turkish music or taking in Indian music and incorporating it into your art… I wasn’t really that interested in that. It happened, of course, automatically, and a lot of that is going on now, and has been since then. But that was never really our focus. Our focus was to see the music as one, and to begin to learn to get more specific about your own music. What is it that you like?

TP:   It’s been 24 years since CMS dissolved. In your own musical production now are you following pretty much the same path? Is it more a process of consolidation? Talk about the impact of CMS on you, Karl Berger?

KB:   Oh, of course, I’m the lucky one. I was there all the time, and I got to meet all these musicians and to play with all of them, and it opened up my way of playing like never before. Actually, I took myself out of the scene, so to speak. I didn’t record as much as most of my colleagues. I am actually happy about that, because now I know every note to play. So when I go into my studio, now things are beautiful. I am not worried about anything any more. It’s not almost. It’s not any of that. So that’s the great thing about it. We’re even playing some of these pieces. “Zenibim(?),” this piece that you just heard, we’re still playing that today. I’m using that with the orchestra. I have the Creative Music Studio Orchestra, of which a lot of the members used to be at CMS, some of whom still live in Woodstock, too. The orchestra is about 15 players,  and we’re playing a lot of these materials. We’re playing Don Cherry’s pieces. We’re playing Ismet’s pieces. We’re playing Ismet’s pieces. We’re playing Nana’s pieces. But in our own way, of course.

Karl Berger & Ingrid Berger (Dec. 12, 2008):

TP:   I want to discuss a few things. I’ve previously spoken to Karl about his personal history before you came here, but not to Ingrid about hers. I’m interested in the way your ideas gestated, how you evolved into the notion of an institution like the Creative Music Studio, and the sort of music you were playing in the ‘60s. I also have some things to ask, more philosophical than specifically about the CMS, more large-picture than micro. Also about the digitization project, what you’ve both been doing since 1984, and also how you see the legacy of CMS in a broader sense. That’s a rough picture…

KB:   It’s a whole book.

TP:  It’s an article. You’re both improvisers. Ingrid, let me ask what you were doing at the time you met Karl.

IB:   Singing in Heidelberg. I worked with different groups. I’m coming kind of out of an artist family. My older brother was a fantastic painter, and he brought me to music. He took me to the first jazz concerts in Germany. So for me, it was clear. I always wanted to be a dancer, but it didn’t work out. My mother didn’t get the money together. I had three brothers, and they had to study…

TP:   Was it a family where the boys went to college, and you had to…

IB:   Wait for the beautiful man, a millionaire, aristocrat… So for me, it was clear, singing always. So I started very early, when I was 17…

TP:   You were born in Munich, your family were artists and they made it through the war.

IB:   Yeah, they did. I left them, and then I started working with different groups—a Dutch group, an English group. When I met Karl, I was working with a group that needed a piano player. We met in a Special Service bus where they brought the musicians to the clubs to play, and Karl backed me up.

TP:   what year was that?

IB:   I can’t remember. What year was that?

KB:   ‘59 maybe. Yeah, it could be.

TP:   You were singing the standards, the American Songbook in English?

IB:   Oh, yes. I had English in school. In Europe, we don’t have a choice.

TP:   Were you listening to American singers? Were you under stylistic influences?

IB:   My first singer was June Christy; she was the singer for Stan Kenton. My second singer was Louis Armstrong. Then the last one was Billie Holiday, of course. But then I immediately stopped listening to singers, and listened more to music, because I felt I learned much more from it, and I didn’t want to copy styles from singers.

TP:   Were you formally trained in music?

IB:   The piano. My mother was a classical pianist. She played concerts, but then she had family, so she couldn’t keep up.

TP:   Did she teach you piano?

IB:   No, I studied with somebody else.

TP:   So it’s around 1959, and you’re singing in these combos. Were you the leader?

IB:   No, never. I went with a jazz quartet to the Frankfurt Festival. That was before I met Karl. Then we met, and then we formed this friendship and partnership, and we wanted to stay together, and we started playing regularly together.

TP:   What was your first impression of Karl?

IB:   Hey! [LAUGHS] My first impression of Karl? Well, that he was a fantastic musician, and very kind of mysterious, because he was always very quiet.

TP:   Karl, you were born in Heidelberg during the ‘30s, and you studied classical piano, and studied philosophy in the university. Did you get a doctorate in philosophy?

KB:   Yes.

TP:   So you were a student until your mid or late twenties.

KB:   At the time, studying in universities in Europe was a bit different from what you think about now. You could basically be part of a program, but you didn’t necessarily have to be there all the time. So the only exam I ever took was the actual Ph.D. You didn’t have to go through…you know, and write a book… You had to be inscribed in this program for a minimum of five years. I was just in and out of the school in Heidelberg and in Berlin.

TP:   Heidelberg was a famous university.

KB:   Yes. But I really finished in Berlin, at…Berlin West, the university there. But I was already playing during that time professionally, traveling and all that. So it was kind of strange. We lived in Paris, and I had a real small hotel room, and my books would be in the car that I needed to write my dissertation.

TP:   So you moved to Paris after you got married, and became…

IB:   I have to tell you this. We worked together, we didn’t work together, we worked together—whatever jobs came up. One day Karl came… We lived together. We got married. Karl came and said, “You’ve never heard this music; you’ve got to listen to this music.” I said, “What is it?” “Ornette Coleman.” It was This is Our Music. He put it on, and we both almost fainted. We decided we want to be where these musicians live.

TP:   That was the eureka moment.

IB:   That was the first time that the wish came up. Then we moved to Paris, and the second week we were there, we went to Buttercup Club. Buttercup was the wife of Bud Powell. We were sitting there, and then Karl says, “Look over there—this is the trumpet player that is on the record This is Our Music.”

TP:  They made that record in 1959, so it was some years later.

IB:   So this was later. We moved to Paris in 1965. Karl walked over, and Karl immediately invited him.

TP:   Looking back, what was it about your backgrounds in music and your development that made you respond to that music? Was it a gradual thing? An immediate thing?

IB:   For me, it was immediate.

TP:   Well, you were singing in a closed-form, harmonic medium. That was your orientation.

IB:   It was unusual. It was different. It was very expressive. It was very emotional. The tunes were so beautiful in terms of being artistic. It was something else. It was not the usual.  Incredible.  A very high artistic level to me.

TP:   How about for you, Karl? What you said on the radio…I asked if there was any connection between your training in philosophy and your musical orientation, and you said the only connection you could discern might have to do with being open to different things, not accepting received wisdom, as it were.

KB:   One area that… I specialized in ideology critique. I was working with Theodor Adorno and those people.

TP:   You studied with Adorno?

KB:   Yes. I actually worked with him.

TP: One of the great jazz lovers!

KB:   Yeah. I worked with him later, and he basically told me he didn’t understand anything about jazz, and I said to him, “Why are you writing about it?”

TP:   How did he respond to that?

KB:   He said, “Why don’t you write about it?” But he said, “Just don’t ever call it ‘art.’”

IB:   That’s amazing.

KB:   I said, “Listen, I don’t have any problem with that. The ‘art’ definition that you have in mind is obviously a strictly European one, and we don’t need it—we don’t need to use it. So we’ll just leave that outside.” Then he sort of said, ‘ok.’

TP:   Do you remember when you had that conversation?

KB:   Yeah. That was probably around 1964.

TP:   By then you were almost 30 years old and working a lot.

KB:  Right.  I basically started a project under his guidance, because I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to just do music or wanted to also be dealing with philosophy, particularly with this field. But that soon faded, as soon as I met Don Cherry, because then there was strictly no more time.

TP:  So you did meet Cherry in 1965, five-six years after it came out. Another broad question, which I feel I can ask you because of your academic background. I’m no authority on German cultural history, but I’ve studied it a bit. Do you see yourself as the heir to any particular streams in German cultural thinking?

KB:   No.

TP:  Not at all? You don’t see yourself positioned… I’m not even talking about consciously. Just retrospecting on your own cultural production, do you see it as related in any way to that legacy?

KB:   Well, of course, I knew and met all the people who developed free jazz in Europe, and particularly in Germany. But they took a radical approach towards everything. I liked the freedom that Ornette started by opening up the form, but really deal strongly with rhythm. That’s what I was interested in. In that, I was pretty much… I didn’t have a lot of peers. In France, yes. In Germany, no.

TP:   So you’re referring to people like Brotzmann and Peter Kowald and the Wuppertal crowd…

KB: Yes. We worked with all these people. But it was not satisfactory to me, because I didn’t feel… I needed to feel grounded in the beat. I needed to feel connected to…yeah, a groove.

TP: It’s interesting you married someone who was going to be a dancer. But in asking that question, I wasn’t thinking so much of your contemporaries. I was thinking of German history. I was thinking of streams of German thought and aesthetic philosophy. I was wondering if you see yourself as heir to any of those traditions or streams?

KB:   Not really, no.

TP:   Not even unconsciously.

KB:   Well, I would have to think about that.

TP:   Would you mind doing that? I think it’s important, because it seems to me that Creative Music Studio is as much the result of your personal philosophy, and this doesn’t emerge from a vacuum, but out of the context of a life lived.

KB:   Well, ideology critique… I don’t know if this expression exists in English. That’s what it’s called in German—“Ideologiekritik,” which was my main area. It really has a lot to do with crossing borders, getting borders out of the way. Because ideologies create boundaries and borders, and CMS was really about going past that, but not by going through the borders, but going behind it, by seeing what is the common element of the different kinds of music. Ideologiekritik works exactly the same way. You go behind the ideologies, and see what is the common ground of all these.

TP:   It’s interesting, because German academics invented anthropology and ethnography in the 19th century in many ways, so perhaps there’s some trail…

KB:   Yes, you could probably trace that.

TP:   I’m not equipped to do that, but it’s an interesting notion. Ingrid, can I ask you a similar question? Do you see yourself as heir to any particular streams of German culture in the way you think about music or art?

IB:   Yes. For classical music, absolutely. Bach, Beethoven, Handel… Absolutely. I listen more to classical music, to those people, than to jazz actually. I never felt completely German, because my family is kind of from everywhere. Moroccan forefathers. Moorish. Then there’s French people in the family. Most of my family lives in Italy now. But I’m very fond… I love the German language. Not the one that got distorted by Nazi movies, but a real beautiful, soft-spoken…

TP:   Southern Germany. The soft accent…

IB:   Yes. And I love the European classical music. The Italian music. Absolutely.

TP:   When you heard jazz, did you see a relation?

IB:   Yes. Ornette said that to me. Ornette and Abdullah Ibrahim. The first thing Ornette said to me was, “You’re coming from Germany; you’re coming from a country with fantastic musicians”—classical musicians. Ornette used…what’s his last record called… Sound Grammar. He uses a Stravinsky thing. Well, Stravinsky is from Russia. But he’s an admirer. Marilyn Crispell, a friend of ours, said she heard him weave some Bach things into his music in concerts in Europe. So that definitely I am very fond of.

TP: You were speaking about your earlier singing influences. Before Ornette, who were the instrumentalists you admired?

IB:   Charlie Parker. I didn’t know too much about him, but Thelonious Monk. It was mainly Charlie Parker, because I could relate to the way I feel with my voice.

TP:   You liked the intervals they use…

IB:   Yes.

TP:   Karl, you were originally a pianist and studied classical piano. When you started playing jazz, were there any pianists whose influence you were under?

KB:   I always was intrigued by Monk’s playing. I always liked that a lot. Actually, I found myself pretty alone in that. In Europe, the traditionalists didn’t understand what Monk was all about.

IB:   They didn’t understand what Monk was about either.

KB:   Right.  So Monk was really one from the beginning; I was interested in his stuff. But then I went, of course, through trying to copy Bud Powell and all the people from there. Also, Cedar Walton was a guy who came to Heidelberg a lot, so I met him. I was just trying to play like these guys. Actually, I taped some of it. When you listen to these tapes now, you can tell from the mistakes I’m making, that I’m not quite hitting what they were doing, that’s the beginning of my music. I can hear my phrases in my mistakes.

TP:   A common jazz nostrum, to develop vocabulary from your mistakes. During the early ‘60s, you’re together… There’s a five-year span between when you meet and when you meet Don Cherry. You’re both professional musicians, and Karl is getting your Ph.D. What was your Ph.D?

KB:   My thesis was “Definition of the Function of Music in the Soviet System Between Stalin and Khruschev.” That period. Through the example of Shostakovich.

TP:   Would it be a mistake to say that you’re not a particularly political person. I’m thinking of Brotzmann and Kowald—a lot of their musical choices emerged from their politics. I get the sense that your politics were a little different…

KB:   No. I was pretty radical at the time.

TP:   Still are.

KB: [LAUGHS] We were very arrogant in a lot of ways.  I was working in an institute in Berlin that specialized in studies about the East. There was a lot of politics there. I basically brought the musicologists and the sociologists together so that I could write in this area. It was interesting, because at the time, at least, in the Russian system, the Soviet system, ideology was, of course, prescribed. It was talked about, it was written about, and it was formulated in all these magazines, which all got translated into East German magazines. So I needed to learn enough Russians to know which titles are which…and get the literature from East Berlin. There was no wall yet at the time. I could go to East Berlin and get those materials. So it was all on the example of Shostakovich, who was one of my favorite composers—even now.

TP:   So you meet Don Cherry at the club and you tell him you want to play with him, and he tells you to go to a rehearsal. What was that first rehearsal like?

IB:   Big love. No problems. Big love. I didn’t… The work was done. Of course, not nearly as much as Karl did, because his gigs were just for instruments. But the few times I sang with him… I sang a lot with him when he came up to Woodstock, and I sang with him in Paris for two nights, and I did the Multikulti record with him, A&M Records—I did all the voice parts. Big love. Sensitive, intelligent, spirited person with lots of humor and an incredible musician.

TP:   In the book by Robert (?), there’s some very good descriptions of him, and there’s a great picture of him with your daughters and another kid. So Karl, you played the next night with Don Cherry and became a member of the group. I’ve heard a number of things by the band. Speak about the musical ideas Don Cherry was working with, and how they related to your aspirations at the time, and retrospectively how they foreshadowed your future production. I know that’s a book, too, but…

KB:   Don used a real eclectic mix of materials. From the very beginning when we played there, he would play pieces by Ornette, he would play pieces of his own, but then he would all of a sudden start a bossa nova, or he would start something he had just heard on the radio, or he would play some Asian or Indian scales. He would just come up with anything. He was Mr. Surprise. You basically had to stay on your toes to keep up. He had what Ornette called an “elephant memory,’ and he probably, unconsciously or not, expected the same from us, that we hear a melody once and we can play. Of course, we couldn’t, but we tried our bes

TP:   The band was Gato Barbieri, Aldo Romano, and Jenny Clark.

KB:   Yes.  Gato was very quick. He was very good at picking up stuff. The great thing about that band was that it actually played every time. We had 5 hours of playing time every day except Monday. Then we had a couple of hours of rehearsal every day also. So it was 7 hours of playing every day. And there was no talking, because we didn’t talk. We didn’t have the same language. Gato only spoke Spanish, Aldo only French and Italian, Cherry only English, and I only German and English, and Jenny Clark only French and English—so there was no common language. So it was just, ‘Ok, yes, let’s go.’ That’s what was said, and everything else was Cherry pounding out the melodies on the piano in the rehearsals, and we would perform.

TP:   Was that a deliberate aesthetic decision by Cherry, to incorporate all this material, or was it his nature to be a spontaneous improviser and bring forth what he was hearing? You were talking about the shortwave radio…

KB:   He just was impressed by all kinds of music. Not only was he impressed; he wanted to use it. That was his decision. He was very naive, in the best sense of the word, about it. He would use any material that he heard, and start using it. Suddenly in the middle of the thing, you’d hear him play Charlie Parker’s solo and make a song out of that. I mean, anything could happen. It was amazing. So I think that was his nature. He was probably the first guy who completely disregarded all boundaries of music.

TP:   Had you been thinking about that approach before, when you were leading groups?

KB:   No.

TP:   had I heard you leading a group in 1965, what would the tone of it have been?

KB:   Well, there’s one from 1966 that you probably know—an ESP album.

IB:   The world approach that Don had, including world music, it had something that’s in us, or in me, and it just needed Don to …(?—30:18)… It’s nothing… I believe that everybody is a singer and everybody is very musical. People just cover it up, and for some people it’s too late to dig it out, or too much work to dig it out. But everybody has it. That’s what the Creative Music Studio was about, to wake up the talents that are in people. Not to teach them something, but to wake up, to get it out. With Don, that was one of the first impressions about the music.

TP:   So meeting him brought forth the overriding CMS concept.

IB:   That we are a huge family—musical family.

TP:   So for you, it was through his personality, and for Karl, more the different musical information…

IB:   For me, both—music and personality.

TP:   I guess your kids were born during these years, so I guess you were being a mom, but were you also working musically?

IB:   Yes. While I was pregnant, I tried to do a gig with Steve Lacy, but that didn’t work out that night because of some circumstances with Steve Lacy. I don’t want to get into it, because I don’t want to put Steve down. It had to do with drugs. So, no, I just really…

KB:   But to answer your question, my approach to music was more abstract. I wouldn’t think of styles, or I wouldn’t think of using raw materials from another culture or whatever, but I was interested in the phraseology of it all, and just use a tiny segment, and create tones that are very short and pregnant with ideas. So you wouldn’t need more than 4 bars or 5 bars to get going. So my first recordings were like that. There is one on Milestone. [SINGS OPENING THEME] That’s it, that’s the whole thing. That was enough for me to work for an hour. My idea was to have a concentrated focus on certain elements. I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of listening to other cultures or other ideas. But I’m sure that all came out of the experience of playing for 2 or 3 years like that.

TP:   You impress as being a combination of an extreme idealist-utopian, but also very pragmatic about getting things done. I used to see a lot of German cinema, and I used to see a lot of Werner Herzog films, though I don’t think you approach his level of insanity—though I don’t know what you were like 40 years ago. But there’s the sense that you like to place yourself in extreme situations and make them work.

KB:   Well, that’s true.

TP:   I don’t know if there’s anything there for you to respond to. But I’m thinking of the way you described your activity once you moved to New York—going to the various lofts, getting involved with the most intensely political black musicians… Were you like that in Europe as well? Is that a component of your personality?

KB:   I don’t know.

TP:   I’ll ask your wife.

IB:   I don’t understand the question. These craziness issues, is that part of his personality?

TP:   No, that’s not the question. He came here fresh from Europe, and people seemed to immediately see him as an organizer, began to see his qualities. So he came and involved himself deeply in the radical New York scene, and then came back and set up Creative Music Studio. These things are not easy logistically to do, not easy psychologically to do, and it takes a certain sort of personality and certain venturesomeness…

IB:   Right.

TP:   I’m wondering if those qualities had manifested in Europe.

IB:   Yes. It’s part of Karl’s character, too.

KB:   It’s actually fairly simple. I want to know… I like to play and I teach people to play with a more or less what I call music mind, which is basically not a fully conscious state of mind. It’s more like getting into the feel of things, and not having your mind interfere with that. But then at the same time, I like to know what it is that we’re doing. So the Creative Music Studio was a lot about that. One part of it was, we played all this music in the ‘60s, and then I was sitting back and said, “So what is it that we’re doing?” Now, the only way to find out what you’re doing is if you teach it to somebody else. If you have to explain what you’re doing to somebody else, then it will come out—or it won’t, of course. So that was a big part of it, that I wanted to really do some practical research in formal workshops.

TP:   How are you different as teachers? It seems like the CMS is a…

IB:   I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe Karl can. You didn’t ask me yet how I felt when I came over here.

TP:   I was going to, but I got distracted. How did you feel when you came over here?

IB:   Awful. It was the shock of my life. I looked so forward to get into the musicians here,. The shock of my life. I hated the food. I loved the people here. We met the most beautiful people here. But I hated the food, and I found out that coming from Europe, the musicians that you adore in Europe are superstars, but when you come here… The first person I approached on the Lower East Side was a famous saxophone player, whose name I don’t want to mention, who asked us for some money to buy a mouthpiece. The other one was Anita O’Day, who was the only white singer I really loved. She sang at Copacabana, and I looked forward to it, and I walked in, and she cried… She was sitting at the bar. I said to the waiter, “is she not singing more?” “She’s fired. She came late.” So I felt this disrespect, which is probably here not a disrespect, but for a European coming from over there it was a shock. Then we met Ornette right away…when it got really hard for us to stay, he talked us into staying. He said, “You’ll play some music that should be heard; don’t leave.”

TP:   So you stayed for a couple of years, before you went back…

IB: Yes, because of pregnancy I went back there. Then we came back.

TP:   At the time you returned the first time, did you feel at peace with being here?

IB:   No. Only then, when we came the second time and we settled in Woodstock—because I didn’t want to be with the kids in New York. I think that was part of Karl’s idea—so his family is away from the city. So one little part of the journey is the studio in Woodstock…not the Creative Music Studio, but the studio in Woodstock so we could be in the countryside.

TP:   Please ruin down for me again the gestation of CMS. Did you have the idea before you came to the States of something like that?

KB:   What happened was, when I came here in ‘66, I started a gig with Reggie Workman and Horacee Arnold and Sam Rivers. We played in schools for young audiences. The experience with those kids really gave me the idea that people (it was sixth graders at the time; today it would probably be fourth-graders) are completely open, just like Don Cherry.

TP: You had small children then yourself.

KB: Well, they were only 2 years old, or 3… We’d just started to have kids. The way they were dealing with music, coming up with melodies or recognizing melodies, or the kinds of answers they gave us, it really showed me that there is this amazing potential in everybody to just go anywhere with music or other things—whatever it is. Then later, it gets closed off in these stylistic patterns, which are socialization, some other processes that are going on.

So one part was that I was curious about doing some research before I kept being on the road. It would have been easier for us to go back to Europe and just stay on the road. But over here, there was no road. So we created our own road by having the Creative Music Studio.

TP:   By that do you mean that through CMS you were able to bring to yourselves the diversity of experience that you would have through being on the road in Europe?

KB:   Exactly. But actually better.

TP:   Very practical again.

IB:   Yes.

KB:   Better, because some of the best people in the world would come to us, come right to our house. Also, all these musicians who lived in the Woodstock area at the time, like Anthony and Dave Holland, Jack, Stu Martin, or Carla, all these people, they all were actually looking to do some work at home that was creative, and not have to be on the road all the time.

TP:   Had you met Carla in Europe in the ‘60s?

KB:   No, we met her here. She was the first one to move to the Woodstock area. The Creative Music Foundation, the actual founding of the foundation in 1971, happened actually at the Jazz Composers Orchestra office at 500 Broadway. We had a little room in the back there, and that’s where we started the foundation. Mike Mantler and Carla… They helped us write the first grants and to get things rolling. They told me all about the non-profit thing. The non-profit thing is something that’s European, in a way. There’s a lot more non-profit activity there than there is here. People don’t think like that here.

TP:   Well, it started to be more au courant in the ‘70s.

KB:   Then finally, I got very interested in the question of how can we play all this kind of music at the same time. Don’s way must be based on something that’s common to all music. So rather than emphasizing what’s different about different kinds of music is to emphasize what’s common to all the music. So what kinds of studies could we do dealing with the common ways of music. So dealing with basic ideas of time and basic ideas of space. We just started there. Then every day there would be exercises in these areas that did not deal with any style of music. That’s what really opened up all the people to find sort of their own ways of interpreting different styles of music. I didn’t expect everybody to just go and play a completely new music, but they needed to find out how they could open up within given styles.

TP:   When I had Stephen and Peter on the air, one or the other of them said that gamalataki comes from a pattern in Pakistani tabla music…

KB:   It doesn’t matter where it comes from.

TP:  But one thing I asked you on the radio which I’d like to explore a bit more: In a certain sense, you set up a system for people to use the rhythms and scales and melodies of the world towards further elaborating their own ideas…

KB:   Yes. First of all, we use the system of odd and even, regardless of any musical ideas. It’s just odd and it’s even. One melody is odd, the other one is even. We use language rhythm, so instead of “gamela” you could say something else. It doesn’t have to be those syllables… As a matter of fact, there was some old age home where some students were doing that, and people said, “Oh, we don’t want to do gamela taki, so they came up with some comic names. It doesn’t matter. The point is, what I’ve discovered was that in any music, you look at three levels of rhythm that are going on—in any piece. That’s pulse, that’s language rhythm, and that’s form. Any form. It’s rhythmically also. Form has repetitions and so on. Larger forms and so on. Language rhythm is always asymmetrical. Pulse is non-descriptive. You don’t count actually. It’s just 1-1-1-1-1. So basically, just out of that alone, we could study, first of all, openness of meter. Any kind of meter could come from there. Any additive rhythms could be realized that way. So you really did world musical studies in the broader sense of the world, because you coudl then go to a Turkish piece and say, “Oh, yes, this has this-and-this gamela taki element, and also on that…” But then also, I realized that, doing that, we could also not only go wider, but we could also go deeper—which means watch your mind of what you’re doing, beat-for-beat attention.  So you’re really going into focus training—what I call music mind training now. So you did like both of those things at the same time. And if you do it every morning, it really changes people’s habits around their music after a few weeks.

TP:   I have two questions. Did you specifically ever immerse yourself in any area of music from whatever part of Africa, or South Africa, or Turkey? Have you studied any of those musics systematically?

KB:   No.

IB:   I studied Indian music for two years. I studied with Pranath, the North Indian singer who died. [here] Then I took some lessons with …(?—50:47)…., who rented our house up at Woodstock. I had gone to the conservatory in Europe to study voice, and they wanted to turn me into an opera singer—and I love opera, but that’s not what I wanted to do. Then I took acting classes in France and in Germany, and I worked with voice much better because actors don’t work with microphones, so they have to project right, they have to breathe right. Then, finally, I found the Indian training, and I really liked that. Because I worked with the natural voice. I just worked with the voice the way it is, but make it clean and make it stronger.

TP:   So like an instrument.

IB:   Like an instrument.

TP: Superficially, when you read about it, it sounds like chanting, or perhaps a religious ritual sort of thing.

IB:   Yes, it’s kind of chanting. But you’re singing the ragas and you’re singing… it can get very complex. It’s always about the purity, the cleanness, the tuning. The way you tune is the most important thing in Indian music. Your tuning, the wayyou hit the note and you stay with it, and then around this tuning you form your vibrato and the originality of your voice. It’s a very beautiful tuning.

TP:   Were you teaching this way before CMS, or did you begin once…

IB:   No. I never liked teaching. I wanted to sing, but I never liked teaching it. I always felt like rnette. Do I know enough to teach? We asked Ornette, “Come up and teach; it will be so fantastic,” and he said, “I can’t do that; if I go up there, then they think I know something.” But that’s Ornette, because he knows a lot more than I do. He’s kind of a guru for me, so I admire him a lot.

TP:   So Ornette and Don are gurus for you.

IB:   Yes.

TP: Maybe Karl, too. But once you marry him, not…

IB: No, he wasn’t before either. We were pretty compatible. I’m doing music longer than Karl.

TP:   So you returned to Europe, came here to set up the foundation, went back to Europe, came back here, and you had a barn, and you set up the barn…

IB:   Yes. That’s where we started the workshop. Anthony Braxton was the first teacher.

TP:   What was his methodology?

IB:   [MERRY LAUGH] Everything was good about it! [LAUGHS] Fantastic. His musical level is very high. The energy… You should not put that in the article, but I’ve not been at his workshop ever. I tried to get everything together. So I was very busy. I wish I could have gone. Braxton now…we met him in Switzerland. He came to our concert with the octet…

TP:   I also saw him perform with the two of you.

IB:   Yes. He came up and he said, “Ingrid, we’ve got to do something together. Where’s Karl?” That’s where we organized this. He felt like he never had time when he came to CMS to even hang out with us. So he really wanted…

TP:   That concert was magnificent.

IB:   We recorded together at the studio before the concert. That’s going to be a CD. He demanded that. He said, “We have to do a CD, then the concert.” After the concert, people walked up to me and said, “Where’s Braxton?” I said, “He’s leaving; he has four hours to go home.” they said, “No, get him back. We want you three to do this all night, what you just did.”

TP:   So was the teaching more a thing that came out of you?

IB:   Yeah, that’s because of Karl. His father was a teacher; my father was a teacher. He was a professor of Latin and English, but mainly Latin.

TP:   so he comes from a family of professors.

IB:   Yes. So he turned me on. The concept of the Creative Music Studio was unbelievable. It’s not like you go to a music school or conservatory and then you find these nasty, cranky teachers that have a job until they retire, but they don’t want to do it every day. CMS was the opposite. It was about performing musicians, that when they had time came up, and passed on the music to the students, but not only their music to the students but also their lifestyle. They showed the students, we are out there, we’re performing, we’re doing concerts. It was incredible.

TP:   I know what the ‘70s were like, and I know what Woodstock was like, and I know how wild people were—it was a wild time.

IB:   A very wild time.

TP:   Very wild, in a lot of ways. It sounds like you may have been the person who centered it.

IB:   I hope we did a little bit. We loved them.

TP:   Talk a bit about establishing social order at CMS? Were there house rules? Were there things that were verboten?

IB:   You mean not drinking, no smoking?

TP:  That and going to classes. Keep a protocol so that people would…

IB:   Oh, yeah. We had a regular schedule. In the morning we would always do the gamela taki sessions. That’s for everybody, non-musicians or musicians.  Karl would do the gamela-taki, the rhythmical thing with them, and I would form melodies over all these numbers—sing a melody over 5, sing a melody over 7, over 9. Actually, I started out doing phrasing exercises with them. Since I have some dancing experience, I did some exercises with them. Then we did some holding notes and singing, and then Karl came, and then we combined that. Then there was lunch, and then in the afternoon it started again sometimes at 2. Then at 5 o’clock we had a Buddhist teacher come in, and there was a half-hour meditation. Nobody had to do Buddhism, but there was no talking, and people were just supposed to be quiet.

TP:   Are you Buddhist?

IB:   We came to Buddhism in America.  Don Cherry took a refuge with Trungpa Rempeche. Don Cherry was deeply devoted to Buddhism.

TP:   Are you sill practicing?

IB:   Yes, we have a big monastery in… Because it relates totally to music. It’s about emptying out, taking in again, and being creative.

TP:   I can see exactly how it works. Do you think CMS would have happened had you not started studying and practicing Buddhism?

IB:   No. We started the studio, and pretty much at the same time it happened.

TP:   So it’s part of your practice, in a sense.

IB:   Yes. It happened in a funny way, because my father died. My mother said, “Don’t come back to Europe; by the time you come, he’s dead—save the airplane ticket.” I picked up a book, because I suffered so much and I loved my parents, and the book helped me get over this suffering, and it was by Trungpa Rempeche who had the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Naively, we did the Peace Church album with Dave Holland, Bobby Moses, all these people, and I used texts by Chögyam Trungpa Rempeche. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble. I had no idea who he was. I just loved his texts. You can get into a lot of trouble if the author is still living and you don’t ask permission. But the office of Naropa Institute called us and said, “We love the record (it had just come out then), and we’ll invite you out.” We did concerts out there (Dave Holland went with us) and workshops at Naropa Institute.

But the Studio was first. Then pretty soon after one year, two years, we got introduced to Buddhism.

TP:   In a broad retrospective sense, I see the CMS has taking in and crystallizing a lot of streams  of artistic thought, so I see a sort of prehistory of the politics…and I was wondering if you had gone into the personal…

IB:   Yes, absolutely.

TP:   You know, the transmutation of the collective attitude of political radicalism into self-actualization that happened a lot in the ‘70s.

IB:   Oh, absolutely. I remember the first concert I did with Don in Paris. He laid down before, and he just meditated. He was actually the first one that introduced me to it, but I didn’t take it more serious for myself until we came to the States. He had the same teacher like we did, Chögyam Trungpa Rempeche, and we had other teachers.

TP:   Jumping to the present: what do you see as the impact of CMS? I don’t know how much you’re able to stay current with what’s going on in creative music and jazz, among musicians who are 40, 35…

IB:   Well, it happens once you’ve chosen a music you love, you don’t listen so much to other things.

TP:   How do you see the nature of the impact of CMS on the course of music since 1984, when you closed? Some things that were core principles of the pedagogy have come to pass. Rhythms of the world are part of the jazz mainstream now. For example, Dafnis Prieto is playing on the concert tonight…

IB:   first of all, the musicians who taught at the Creative Music Studio, most of them that we spoke to loved it and really wanted us to do it again. One was Don and Nana Vasconelos, of course. Many students stayed in Woodstock, and went on going in this direction of opening up to this world music thing, taking in from everywhere. But that’s a question for Karl.


TP:   The impact of the pedagogy of CMS on the sound of today’s music, the way creative music has evolved in the 24 years since it closed.

KB:   Every comment that we get from students…we’re getting some every week actually, still. They’re really talking about something like it really changed their attitude towards music. A lot of them will not be able to explain to you what happened. But really what that process did, not just our basic practice, music mind training, but having to deal with 5-6-8 different artists of completely different directions, and it really sort of blew their minds in a lot of ways. Which means that the mindset that they came with was not the mindset with which they left. That’s really all I can say. How do you want to define it? It’s basically a sense of openness, that you understand that it’s not about the notes, it’s not about the material. We kept explaining to them something that Don Cherry and Ornette explained to me at first, which is there’s no such thing as notes. There’s no such thing as a C. There’s no such thing as an A. You have to put it all in context. Everything is in a context. In a harmonic context, for example, or in a rhythmic context. Once you see that it’s all interrelated, then all of a sudden you begin to see the uniqueness of each note. There is no note that you can’t even repeat, really. There is no repetition, really. So once you start to get into the freshness of the sound, the experience of the sound, then something happens to your music, regardless what you do, whether you end up being a rock-and-roll player or anything. You’ll just be different.

TP:   Would it be a mistake, then, to say that there is a school that comes out of CMS, or schools that come out of it, or streams of musical thinking that come from the people who experienced it?

IB:   I would say that there is.

TP:   Can you describe what that school is?

IB:   No.

TP:   Can you try?

IB:   No, I think Karl is better at it.

TP: I think you’re pretty good.

IB:   Well, the main philosophy is really an open mind. Openness. Openness to the world. But study music. Doing your training and doing your music, but open. Well, if you have that approach, then I would say the same thing that Ornette says. It saves you a psychiatrist. Because you express yourself. Ornette said once to me, and I agreed totally with him, because I always felt like that. He said to me, “You would understand what I say, because you sing.” He said it’s a self-expression, and if you combine that with the family of the world and with an open mind, you will find… Through opening up to the world, you find your own style.

TP:   It’s more about process than vocabulary.

IB   Kind of.

KB: Your question aims at how could something like that be defined on a material plane.

TP:   I’m not sure. That’s why I’m asking the question.

KB:   Exactly. The whole point was that all music education is hampered by the fact that it has to do deal with musical material, and it has to evaluate that, and in the process of evaluation in schools, where you get a certain amount of points and all that, keeps you from considering what’s really important in music, aside from the material. The material is very important. But once you get stuck there, and your whole evaluation process goes around the material, then you cannot have that kind of thinking. So I’ve been in the traditional school situation, the university system, for almost ten years. I was chair of the U-Mass-Dartmouth; I was Dean of the Music Department in jazz in Frankfurt Conservatory. I was like ten years in the system. And I could see how little I could do to incorporate the music-mind thinking in their curriculum.

TP: What years were you in the system?

KB:   From ‘90 to 2000.

TP:   Did you feel that the aspirations of the students you were encountering during those years were different than when you were that age, or of young musicians of the ‘60s? If so, what was the nature of that difference?

KB:   The difference was that the kids of the ‘90s particularly were very goal-oriented in the sense of having a profession, being music teachers, getting a diploma so that they could teach, that they would have a job. so there was a lot of thinking of that nature. Then you found a bunch of people in there that I couldn’t reach with any of the ideas that I would have to teach them. I would introduce… In all these situations, I introduced a new…one loop out of the curriculum, which was voluntary, and I called it “conceptual studies.” That could mean anything from them wanting to play with me in duets, or bringing compositions, or bringing arrangements, or bringing their own trio, or playing some solo, or asking theoretical questions, or anything. Somebody would come in and sit down and want to be served. I would say, “so what do you want to know?” If they said, “I don’t know,” then I’d say, “So come back next week.” I would give them the initiative. They were not used to that. There is very little initiative among the students in the universities, because the universities are set up to run you through a mill, and yo sort of reluctantly do it. So it’s not set up for you to raise questions. So there is a real problem there. I thought when we ended CMS in ‘84…or ‘86 actually…I thought there is now 600-700 people who came through here who will go into the schools and they will be taking care of that information. But it didn’t happen.

TP:   Well, some did.  Braxton did. Leo Smith did…

KB:   No, I  mean the students. I mean, Leo Smith is a very good example, because he really did something inside the schools. But he did it by way of political power. He just pushed politically until he had his own free space. Very few people can do something like that.

TP:   It’s very interesting how so many people from the AACM have developed these institutional positions. A question on the digitization project. You’ve now listened back to most of these concerts.

KB:   A lot of them.

TP: You’ve probably listened to 300 or so concerts from the ‘70s. Now, I’ve noticed that you have a systematic mind. You established a teaching curriculum, you studied philosophy in a German university, your father was a teacher of Latin—there’s a component of this in your personality. So could you describe your overall, macro impression of that body of music, where it’s positioned in regard to the music of its time, to the music it evolved from, to the music it foreshadows.

KB:   Well, when you listen to it, a lot of it, there’s very different things going on. First of all, the audience were in an exuberant state by having these orchestras and working with them. So there’s a lot of overflowing energy in these tapes, something you hardly hear on recordings from then or now. So this is going to be very new for a lot of listeners to hear. Also, soloists playing together who usually wouldn’t play together, and also playing in a way that they would not play otherwise. It’s mindboggling to hear all of that.

IB:   Plus material that wasn’t made anywhere else. Like Cecil Taylor. He put the band together up there, and did music he did nowhere else at that time.

KB:   Then in the later part, you have all these world musical concerts that start out with Brazilian or Turkish ideas, or Indian, whatever, and then all this improvising takes place. It’s very interesting, what happened with all of that. But it’s very raw, and there’s a lot of…

IB:   Yes, very raw.

TP:  Does that come through in a non-three-dimensional context, just listening to it without the visual?

KB:   Oh, absolutely. We have a great engineer. He really brings out the stuff. We really didn’t have the greatest of equipment at the time.

IB:   That has to do with the concept of the studio, was the openness that people all of a sudden… I wouldn’t say spontaneous, but they opened up. So it was a very open approach to freedom, a kind of freedom of what they wanted to do.

TP:   It’s interesting how diverse the streams of musical thinking were that were representing. You had the Art Ensemble of Chicago guys and Braxton, and people like Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette who were mainstream stars, and older experimentalists like Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre…

IB:   Yes. David Holland did a beautiful workshop over there.

TP:   Then Blackwell, of course, and all the drummers. It seemed drummers just gravitated to this place.

IB:   We had the people from Africa. We had Amadou, who is Neneh Cherry’s father… Neneh Cherry is the adopted daughter of Don Cherry. Then Foday Musa, who worked with Mandingos and Adam Rudolph. We had people from India… Karl probably talked about Ismet, the guy from Turkey.



Filed under Creative Music Studio, DownBeat, Ingrid Sertso, Interview, Karl Berger

Blindfold Test: Paul Motian About Ten Years Ago

It’s been a thrill to get to know Paul Motian — who ends his MJQ Tribute week at the Village Vanguard tonight –  a little bit over the last 12-13 years.  He joined me on numerous occasions while I was at WKCR, and I’ve written three pieces about him — a long DownBeat feature in 2001,  a verbatim WKCR interview on  the now-defunct jazz.com website, and the blindfold test that I’ll paste below. We did this in the Carmine Street apartment of a friend of Paul’s (I could kill myself for not remembering his name right now, as he’s a nice, extremely knowledgeable guy and facilitated the encounter). This is the raw, unexpurgated pre-edit copy.

* * * * *

Paul Motian Blindfold Test:

1.    Keith Jarrett-Peacock-deJohnette, “Hallucinations”,  Whisper Not, (ECM, 2000) – (5 stars)

I’m familiar with all the players.  I don’t know who it is.  It’s not Bud Powell, obviously. …For a minute, I thought it was Keith Jarrett. [JARRETT GRUNTS] Okay, it’s Keith.  I know who the drummer is, but I can’t… I could guess and say it’s Keith’s current trio, with Jack DeJohnette and Peacock.  Five stars.  They sounded nice, man.  Good players.  Taking care of business.  I haven’t heard Keith play in that style since I don’t know when.  So for a minute I was thinking that maybe it’s a really early Keith Jarrett record from when he was going to Berklee in Boston or something.  I did think that.  I met him when he was playing… Tony Scott called me up.  He said, “Hey, man, I’ve got a gig for you at the Dom,” which was on 8th Street.  I went down there with him and Keith was playing piano.  That’s when I met him.  I said, “Wow, the piano player is great.  Who’s that?”  He said, “Keith Jarrett.  I just discovered him.” [LAUGHS] Henry Grimes was playing bass.  And I played with him that night.  That’s when I met him.  But I thought that might be early because… Well, it took me a minute to recognize DeJohnette. [What didn't you recognize?] Sort of his style of playing and not the sound.  From what I heard from the sound, I didn’t know who it was.  It sounded familiar, but I didn’t know who it was. [Maybe he wasn't playing his drums.] Could have been.  I’m pretty much going to give five stars to everybody.  I think everybody sounds great.  Why not? [But if you don't think something sounds great, it would devalue the stuff to which you give five stars.] Okay, that’s all right.  If I don’t give something 5 stars, does that mean I have go and buy the record?

2.    Paul Bley, “Ida Lupino”, Plays Carla Bley (Steeplechase, 1991) [Bley, piano; Marc Johnson, bass; Jeff Williams, drums] – (5 stars)

[AFTER A FEW NOTES OF IMPROV]  That’s Paul Bley.  I wish I knew who the bass player was.  That’s “Ida Lupino.”  Paul Bley, five stars, man.  Why not?  He sounds great.  I don’t think it’s me on drums, but it could be!  I don’t know if I can get the bassist.  Charlie Haden and I played with Paul Bley in  Montreal.  I’m wondering if this is that!  Those ain’t my cymbals. [You played with the bass player.] [AFTER] Wow.  Man, I left Bill Evans to play with Paul Bley.  And when he heard about that, he was very happy.  At that time, there was a lot happening.  I’m talking about 1964.  There was a lot going on in New York.  The music was changing, there was some interesting stuff, and things were heading out into the future.  And I felt like I was stuck with Bill and that it wasn’t happening with Bill out in California.  So I just quit.  I left the poor guy out there.  What a drag I was.  I left the guy on the road like that.  My friend, my closest friend and companion and musician. [But you had to go.] Yeah, I wasn’t happy.  I came back and got into stuff with Paul Bley. [Can you  say what it is about Paul Bley that makes you recognize him quickly?  Is it his touch?]  Well, it’s everything.  It’s the sound.  Mostly sound, I guess.  Style, touch, everything.  [So you knew it was Jack DeJohnette because of his style, but with Paul here you knew...] No, I was more sure about it being Paul than I was sure about it being Jack.

3.    Scott Colley, “Segment”, …subliminal (Criss-Cross 1997) [Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; Chris Potter, tenor sax; Bill Carrothers, piano) -  (5 stars)

[ON DRUM SOLO] Nice drums, whoever it is.  I like it.  I like it a lot.  It’s 5 stars.  But I don’t know who it is. [You have no idea who the tenor player is?] No.  The first two or three notes I said, “Gee, maybe it’s Joe Lovano, but it’s not.  I feel like I should know who they all are.  But I don’t. [LAUGHS] I like the tune.  What’s that tune called? ["Segment."] Oh.  I think I played that tune. [LAUGHS] [Yes, with Geri Allen and Charlie Haden.] No wonder.  Wow.  Nice. Nice sound, the drums and everything. [AFTER] Potter?  No kidding.  That sounded really good.  Very together.  Nice sound.  I liked the sound on the drums, the way they’re tuned.  I liked it.

4.    Joey Baron, “Slow Charleston”, We’ll Soon Find Out (Intuition, 1999) [Baron, drums, composer; Arthur Blythe, alto sax; Bill Frisell, guitar; Ron Carter, bass] – (5 stars)

I have no idea who this is, but I still want to give this five stars.  They’re all playing, they’re good musicians, and it’s great! [LAUGHS]  Nice groove. [Any idea who the guitar player is?] No.  I like it, though. [AFTER] I didn’t know Frisell could do that.  He played with me for twenty years.  I didn’t know he could do that.  See, I don’t know if I would ever recognize Joey anyway.  It’s good for me to find out stuff about these guys.  I can put it to good use!  I haven’t heard Arthur Blythe much at all.

5.    Warne Marsh, “Victory Ball”, Star Highs (Criss Cross, 1982) [Marsh, tenor saxophone; Mel Lewis, drums; Hank Jones, piano; George Mraz, bass] – (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Warne Marsh.  There was one particular night at the Half Note playing with Lennie Tristano, with Warne playing… He played some shit that night that was incredible!  I’ll never forget it.  That record came out a few years ago.  Tuesday night was Lennie’s night off, and we played with no piano player or a substitute piano player, and that night it was Bill. [Any idea who the piano player is?] The way the piano player was comping, for a minute I said, “maybe it’s Lennie Tristano,” but it’s not.  Everybody sounds so good!  It’s great.  I have a feeling the piano player is going to surprise me.  Five stars.  I should know who the drummer is, but I don’t. [AFTER] Wow.  I am surprised at Hank Jones.  He usually plays with more space.  It was a great experience playing with Lennie Tristano.  I had a great time.  It was a period in my life when I was playing with a lot of people, and that was a little different than what I was used to doing, and it was very enjoyable, man.  I was playing almost every night.

6.    Satoko Fujii, “Then I Met You” , Toward, “To West” (Enja, 2000) [Fujii, piano, composer; Jim Black, drums; Mark Dresser, bass] – (5 stars)

It’s worth five stars just because of all the study the bass player had to do.  There are more players playing now than when I got to New York, and at a good level.  What I’m trying to say is that the music I listened to in the ’50s and stuff came from that time, and you listened to Prez and Bird and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday and Max and Clifford Brown and Bud Powell.  I could recognize any of that in a second.  Now there are so many players and so many good ones.  One thing that’s… I heard a few things in the piano sound that I know it’s a digital recording, which kind of bugs me.  I still hear that kind of tingy thing… I’m almost 99% sure I can tell when it’s a digital recording or whether it’s a CD, or whether it’s an analog recording from an old LP.  I mean, there’s a solo Monk record I bought when CDs first came out.  I played it once and threw it away, man.  It sounded like an electric piano.  Five stars.  One time I was playing at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, and we were playing opposite Stiller and Meara.  Stiller came up to me afterwards and said, “You guys are really brave with the music you’re playing, that you would get out in front of an audience and play that music.  There’s a lot of heart in that, and you’re really brave to be doing that.  I feel that’s five stars for these guys, with what they’re doing and where they want to take the music. [AFTER] I’ve never heard of her.  I love what they’re trying to do.

7.    Ornette Coleman, “Word For Bird”,  In All Languages (Harmolodic-Verve, 1987) [Coleman, alto sax, composer; Billy Higgins, drums; Charlie Haden, bass; Don Cherry, tp.] – (5 stars)

Ornette.  Sounds like Charlie on bass.  Blackwell on drums.  Oh.  Higgins, I guess.  Well, Charlie for sure!  Couldn’t miss that.  That’s not Cherry either, is it?  It sounds like he’s playing the trumpet!  It’s not that tiny pocket trumpet sound.   It sounds like a regular trumpet.  Now that I’ve stopped and thought about it and listened, it’s Cherry, all right.  Five stars.  More if there are any.

8.    Lee Konitz, “Movin’ Around” , Very Cool (Verve 1957) [Shadow Wilson, drums, Konitz, as, Don Ferrara, tp, composer;  Sal Mosca, piano; Peter Ind, bass]  – (5 stars)

[I want you to get the drummer on this.] [LAUGHS] I recognize the beat. [SHRUGS] Lee Konitz.  It’s got to have 5 stars right there.  It’s always great when a drummer can play the cymbal and just from the feel of the beat make music out of it.   With the trumpeter, I hear something like that, I hear a specific note, and I see a person’s face that I recognize, but I don’t know who it is! [LAUGHS] That means that I know who it is…but I don’t. [LAUGHS] The style is recognizable.  It’s beautiful.  I KNOW that drummer.  Can I guess?  how about the piano player being Sal Mosca?   Oh, Jesus.  Is the drummer Nick Stabulas, by any chance? [AFTER] Wow!  I hung out with Shadow, but… [LAUGHS] No wonder there was so much music in just playing the cymbal!  You dig? [LAUGHS] That’s great.  That means the trumpet player might be Tony Fruscella, someone like that.  Someone like Don…what was his name… [It's Don Ferrara.] Yeah, so there you go.  I don’t think I ever played with Don Ferrara.  Is the bass player Peter Ind?  So it’s an older record.  Shadow was one of my favorite drummers, and to hear him play now after so many years and to see all the music that he played, just playing a cymbal!  Shadow was a motherfucker.  20 stars.  Shadow Wilson.  Shit.  That’s Shadow Wilson on that Count Basie record, “Queer Street,” where he plays that 4-bar introduction.

9.    Billy Hart, “Mindreader”, Oceans of Time (Arabesque, 1996) – (5 stars) [Hart, drums; Santi DeBriano, bass, composer; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; John Stubblefield, tenor saxophone; Mark Feldman, violin; David Fiuczynski, guitar; Dave Kikoski, piano]

The piano and drums sound like they’re in tune with each other.  I’ll try to take a guess and say that bass player is Mraz. [It's the drummer's record.] Yeah, I figured that out.  I didn’t say anything, but… He’s the one who’s out front.  Whoever did the composition and arrangement, it’s great.  It reminds me of back in the ’60s when we were doing stuff with Jazz Composers Orchestra.  This sounds like it could be something that came out of that.  But this is more complicated somehow, more written stuff.  There’s a lot of people involved, and it’s very good.  So who’s the drummer?  Nice drum sound.  Nice tunings.  Very melodic.  Nice ideas.  He deserves some credit, man, a big organization like that.  There are a lot of good drummers out there now.  I don’t know who it is. [This drummer is close to your generation.] He sounds like he’s been around the block a few times! [LAUGHS] [AFTER] I would never recognize any of that.  The vibe is great.  The record is great.  Good for Billy.  Five stars for sure.  Look at all the work that went into that.  That was great.

10.    Danilo Perez, “Panama Libre”, Motherland (Verve 2000) [Perez, piano; Brian Blade, drums, Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar; John Patitucci, bass] – (5 stars)

If the drummer isn’t Max Roach, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, I’m not going to know them.  Five stars just because of the way they’re fucking with the time.  It’s not Pat Metheny, is it?  He sounds familiar, too! [Well, there's 2 degrees of separation of everybody in jazz with you.] I like people who play with dynamics.  You don’t hear it very much!  Another reason for five stars.  I think I’ve played with this guitar player too.  Are you sure I hired them?  Another thing about drums… I don’t know who the drummer is, but on recordings, did you notice how Billy Hart was so much in front, and now this guy is mixed so far back?  I guess I’m not going to get this either.  It sounds so familiar, man! [AFTER] Kurt Rosenwinkel keeps improving.  He started with me ten years ago, and now he’s out there on his own, he’s got his own band and everything.  He’s writing nice stuff and playing better.  I recorded with Danilo Perez way back, but I wouldn’t recognize him.  But that’s why the guitar player sounded so familiar.  I should have known that sound.  I said that sound was so familiar!

11.    Joe Lovano-Gonzalo Rubalcaba, “Ugly Beauty”, Flying Colors (Blue Note, 1997) -  (5 stars) [Lovano, tenor saxophone; Rubalcaba, piano; Monk, composer]

Someone said that this was the only waltz that Monk ever wrote.  Okay, let’s figure out who this is.  Okay, Lovano. [But you've also played and recorded with the pianist.] Oh, Gonzalo.  I recognized Lovano.  But when I was in England recently on tour with an English band, and I walked into the club to set up, and they were playing a CD, and I heard the saxophone and I heard it for two or three notes, and I said, “That’s Lovano.”  The engineer said, “No, it’s not.”  I said, “Oh yes, it is.”  “No, it’s not.”  “Oh, yes, it is.”  And it wasn’t.  I don’t know if I would have recognized Gonzalo except for the fact that I knew Joe had done a duo record with him.  Man, five stars.  Are you kidding?  Everything’s going to be five stars.  I can’t renege now.  Joe’s great, man.  So’s Gonzalo.  They sound nice together.

12.    Joanne Brackeen, “Tico, Tico”, Pink Elephant Magic (Arkadia, 1998) [Brackeen, piano; Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez, drums; John Patitucci, bass] – (5 stars)

“Tico, Tico” in 5/4 time.  Five-four, five stars!  No idea who the drummer is.  Maybe I should listen a little bit! [AFTER] That was interesting.  They deserve five stars for sure.  Was it Al Foster?  I’m just guessing. [Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.] I’ve never heard of him.

13.    Ralph Peterson, “Skippy”, Fotet Plays Monk (Evidence, 1997) [Peterson, drums; Steve Wilson, soprano sax; Brian Carrott, vibes; Belden Bullock, bass] – (5 stars)

“Skippy” by Thelonious Monk.  I was going to say Steve Lacy, but no, it’s not his sound.  Five stars just for playing a Monk tune! [AFTER] I would never have known them.  The treatment was okay.  It seemed like they just went straight-ahead and played the tune.  That’s a hard tune, man.  Even anybody to attempt that tune deserves five stars, for Chrissake.  Steve Lacy says all you have to do is know how to play “Tea For Two” and you can play “Skippy,” but I don’t believe him.  I said, “Man, ‘Skippy,’ that’s a hard tune.”  He said, ‘Well, it’s ‘Tea for Two.’”  I tried to sing “Tea For Two” along with it, but… [LAUGHS]

14.    Bud Powell-Oscar Pettiford-Kenny Clarke, “Salt Peanuts”, The Complete Essen Jazz Festival Concert (Black Lion, 1960) [start with 3:46 left] – (5 stars)

That’s “Salt Peanuts” and it was a nice drum solo, but I don’t know who the players are. [You played with one of them.] You keep saying that!  I guess it wasn’t the drummer.  It probably was the bass player.  I don’t know the piano player.  I guess because of the live recording, the sound wasn’t as great as it could have been. [Play "Blues In The Closet."] This is the same piano player?  Almost sounds like Oscar Pettiford.  I played with him in 1957 at Small’s Paradise for a couple of weeks.  I went down south with him with his big band to Florida and Virginia.  1957, man!  Wow, that was something else.  Mostly black cats; Dick Katz was playing piano and Dave Amram was in the band.  Jesus, maybe it is Bud Powell.  Is it?  So it’s a later Bud Powell.  The drummer is Kenny Clarke.  That’s the same people as on “Salt Peanuts”?  That’s not really Kenny Clarke’s drum sound. [Maybe it wasn't his drums] It didn’t sound like it.  It sounded kind of dead.  Max Roach got a lot from Kenny Clarke.  All those cats got shit from Sid Catlett, too.  He was a motherfucker, Sid Catlett.  Five stars.  Oscar Pettiford, man!  After I was playing with Oscar, he split and went to Europe and was playing there, and I got a telegram from his wife saying “Oscar sent me a telegram and said I should call you and get in touch with you, and you should go right away to Baden-Baden, Germany, and play with Oscar.”  I was playing with Lennie Tristano at the Half Note.  I couldn’t get up and leave.  There was no plane ticket!  But he liked me.  I was quite honored.  People said, “You played with OP?  Man, he’s death on drummers.  How are you doing that?”  I had at the time 7A drumsticks.  After one set one time, Oscar came over and looked at my drumstick and started bending it.  He said, “Man, what the fuck kind of stick is that?  Go get you some sticks!”

I think it’s great that there’s really quite a few good young players on the scene now.  It’s quite encouraging.  I think it’s good for jazz.  There may be a lot of them around.  It’s great.


Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Drummer, Paul Motian, Vibraphone