Tag Archives: Gary Bartz

For Gary Bartz’ 76th Birthday, the Uncut Proceedings of a 2006 DownBeat Blindfold Test

For alto saxophone master Gary Bartz’ 76th birthday, here’s the raw copy of a DownBeat Blindfold Test he did with me in the fall of 2006.  For those interested, several extensive interviews that we did during the ’90s can be found at this link.

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1. Greg Osby, “Mob Job” (from CHANNEL THREE, Blue Note, 2005) (Osby, alto saxophone; Matt Brewer, bass; Jeff Watts, drums)

Sounds like Ornette Coleman. Whoever it is loves the hell out of Ornette!! As I do. It wouldn’t be Sonny Simmons, would it? It’s an Ornette Coleman lover. They’ve got Ornette down. I can’t think of his name… Is this guy dead? Oh, okay. I like it. But if I want to hear Ornette, I’ll listen to Ornette. I’d like to hear what he does rather than hear his version of what he does. [You don’t think he differentiated himself enough from Ornette…] No, I don’t. He’s got Ornette’s inflections, he’s got his whole style… See how he does those bends and stuff. That’s Ornette. I’d have to hear something different. Maybe he does an Ornette style, and maybe his next cut would be somebody else’s style. But I want to hear his style. Does he have a style? 2 stars because I don’t hear originality, and that’s what this music is, above anything else. [AFTER] I love Greg! I’ve heard him when I knew it was him. But that sounded like Ornette. You should have played me some of his originals. You wanted to trick me.

2. Antonio Hart, “Like A Son” (from Jimmy Heath, TURN UP THE HEATH, Planet Arts, 2006) (Hart, alto saxophone; Terrell Stafford, trumpet; Jeb Patton, piano; Heath, composer, arranger)

The player sounds like young. I don’t hear a voice. I hear an alto, I hear trumpet, but I don’t hear a voice as if it was a human voices… Like, you know people’s voices. If somebody calls me up, I know immediately. I don’t hear that. I hear a generic voice. I love the arrangement. I don’t think the arranger is young; I don’t have a clue who he is. The alto player reminds me a little bit of Kenny Garrett, though I know it isn’t him. Trumpet I couldn’t tell either. I’m enjoying it. But once again, I don’t hear… It sounds like a recreation of something that has gone before. I just don’t hear the originality. 3 stars, because of the arrangement. [AFTER] That was Antonio! I love Antonio, of course, and I’ve always loved Jimmy Heath. So that’s putting the generations together. That’s a good thing. Because in this music, you have to have old and young. That’s the way the music grows. [Is it complex for a young guy like Antonio to try to find an individual…] That depends. If he was trying to recreate that era or that particular style, then that’s where he would go. If you’re trying to be original, that’s a whole other thing. Of course, he was playing within that context.

3. Bruce Williams, “Gallop’s Gallop” (from Ben Riley, MEMORIES OF T, Concord, 2006) (Williams, alto saxophone; Riley, drums; Don Sickler, trumpet, arranger; Wayne Escoffery, tenor saxophone; Jay Brandford, baritone sax; Freddie Bryant, guitar; Kiyoshi Kitagawa, bass)

This sounds like an older guy. See, it’s a big difference. I can always tell. As John Hicks always used to say, “it’s grown-up music.” It’s more than just the sound. It’s an essence. I don’t know how to say it, but you can just tell. I guess it’s a difference between learning something generations later and being in on the ground floor when it’s actually being created. The arrangement also sounds like an older musician’s arrangement. At first, I thought it was Lee Konitz, but I can’t tell who. Sounds like a Monk tune! I like it. I don’t know this tune, though. Oh, yeah. I never learned that. [AFTER] Bruce! He sounded like an old guy. I hadn’t heard this record, but I know the band and I know about the record.

4. Benny Carter & Phil Woods, “Just A Mood” (from MY MAN, BENNY/MY MAN, PHIL, MusicMasters, 1989) Woods alto saxophone (first solo); (Carter, composer, alto saxophone (second solo); Chris Neville, piano; George Mraz, bass; Kenny Washington, drums)

It’s not Benny Carter? The first guy sounded like Johnny Hodges, but I don’t think they did a record like this. He’s got his style, I guess. This is the maestro here. Benny was the beacon for musicians, period; not just alto players, but musicians, period. Because Benny was out there so long, almost as long as Coleman Hawkins. They were like the first stars of the saxophone. So you have to go through Benny. It sounded like a Benny Carter song.

Oh, Phil Woods!? That threw me off, because I didn’t know they made a record together. I love Phil. He’s one of my favorites. I think, though, he was bowing to Benny Carter there and not sounding as much like Phil. He was more playing in the context of that music. I played with Phil many times, and he didn’t sound like that. He’s very flexible.

5. Miguel Zenon, “Mariendá” (from JIBARO, Marsalis Music, 2005) (Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums)

Now, this sounds like Greg Osby! It sounded like the first song you played me. But the alto player sounds like Greg Osby, like Greg sounded like Ornette on that particular cut. Technically, I heard this saxophone player do things Greg did on the first cut. Even this sound and approach… Even though this is not an Ornette type groove, it is a little more free, and it sounds like younger musicians. He’s a good musician. Everybody I’ve heard is a good musician. Now, that’s not Dewey on alto? But this piece doesn’t have enough energy for me. I guess it’s a ballad, but it’s not a ballad that you would necessarily hum. I love the sound of the alto; he has a beautiful sound. 2½ stars. I thought it was boring.

6. Bobby Watson, “Eeeyyess” (from HORIZON REASSEMBLED, Palmetto, 2004) (Watson, alto saxophone; Terrell Stafford, trumpet; Edward Simon, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; Victor Lewis, drums, composer)

Another young guy, right? Sounds like it to me. It’s hard to say why. I can’t hear the history. I hear trying to sound like what they think it’s supposed to sound like, rather than trying to push forward and trying to find your own style. I understand you have to go back and get the foundation, but you don’t want to sound like that. You want to sound forward. I hear that in a lot of younger musicians, they’re going back and sounding like older musicians, where the older musicians wouldn’t be playing like that now. So I don’t get it. They’re good musicians. I love what they’re doing. It’s been done. I want to hear something that hasn’t been done. That’s what this music is supposed to be about. I mean, it’s not a museum piece. Is that Lewis Nash? I can’t tell the drummer from the sound of the drums. That was Bobby!? Young guy. I’m 66. I like the song and everything. I just want to hear more original… I guess if you’re playing older music, you will tend to… But even then I don’t think you should go that way, unless that’s what it’s about.

7. Loren Stillman, “Evil Olive” (from IT COULD BE ANYTHING, Fresh Sound, New Talent, 2005) (Stillman, alto saxophone; Gary Versace, piano; Scott Lee, bass; Jeff Hirshfield, drums)

It’s funny. Everything you’re playing sounds the same to me. There are things that older musicians… They have worked with so many different masters and have picked up different things from different masters, that… In a way, it’s not fair even to judge it by that. But it’s noticeable. It’s noticeable, some things that older musicians wouldn’t do that younger musicians do. I hear that here. The concepts… In a way, it almost sounds like “this is what I think jazz should sound like.” Which is a problem, because if you’re trying to sound like a word, then you’ve got a problem, rather than just play some music. Don’t get caught up in “this is jazz, this is rock, this is country.” Play music. You pigeonhole yourself when you’re trying to play a style. Jazz is a style. Music is infinite. I’d like to hear music rather than hear a style. [You play jazz.] I don’t think so. I don’t consider myself that. I consider myself as a musician. Now, if you want to call it something, you can call it that, but I don’t call it that. Never have. [AFTER] Everybody I’ve heard are excellent musicians. It’s funny. I saw a show not too long ago, and there was just no energy. So it started me thinking, “What happened to the energy in this music.” I think it’s because people say, “I’m a jazz musician.” What is that? I’m a musician. I don’t want to get pigeonholed into a style, because that limits you. I don’t want to be limited. I want to be able to play anything. I felt like this is their idea of what that style is. 3 stars. These musicians get caught up in words, and you can’t get caught up in words. You play music. If it comes out like that, that’s what it is. If it comes out in some other way…

8. Arthur Blythe, “Come Sunday” (from EXHALE, Savant, 2002) (Blythe, alto saxophone; John Hicks, piano; Duke Ellington, composer)

It sounds like Frank Morgan and George Cables. It’s not John, is it? It’s Hicks! I can’t place the alto player. I like him. He’s mostly just playing the melody, so I can’t hear how he would compose a solo. But I like his sound. I like the way he’s reading the song. Because he’s playing the melody. He’s singing it. He’s not improvising on the melody. You get a chance to do that when you solo, but when you read the melody, you should play the melody as it’s written. I liked it. 4 stars. [AFTER] I’ve loved Arthur for many, many years. First time I heard him, I thought he had a very unique alto sound, and that endeared him to me. He wasn’t trying to sound like… That’s what I mean.

An older musician understands that you have to have a voice. You can’t sound like somebody. If you’re going to even have a career, if you’re going to sound like somebody, then you’ll end up with people calling, “Get me somebody who sounds like so-and-so.” [Is that a generational thing?] No, I don’t think so. That’s a THING. It’s funny. When I was coming up, that was foremost. That’s what we were all trying to do, was to find our own voice. Yeah, we could imitate people, you could mimic, but you wouldn’t do that on your gig. You might do it for fun sometimes, but ultimately you’re trying to find your own voice. I don’t hear that so much nowadays. A lot of guys sound similar. I guess every generation has its different ways of doing things, but lately I hear musicians going back, and rather than to go back and take something that they like and add it to their thing, they just take something that they like and that’s what they go with. As an example, Archie Shepp went back and he was more like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. But the music he was playing had nothing to do with what he was playing in those days. Therefore, he ended up with a style of his own. But nowadays, I hear younger musicians going back and they’re just sounding like what the older musicians sounded like. Like, I hear a lot of the trumpet players sounding like Louis Armstrong. Well, Louis Armstrong wouldn’t be sounding like that nowadays, because he was going forward. I don’t hear so many younger musicians going forward; I hear them going backwards. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

9. David Binney/Chris Potter, “Bastion of Sanity” (from BASTION OF SANITY, Criss-Cross, 2004) (Binney, alto saxophone; Potter, tenor saxophone; Jacob Sacks, piano; Thomas Morgan, bass; Dan Weiss, drums)

Almost everybody you’re picking for me sounds similar, in a way. A similar approach. He’s more on the bottom of the horn, which I really love. Even from the first one you played, except for the Benny Carter, which was totally different, everything is similar. Just the approach mainly. It’s a pretty diverse selection. Some I’ve heard. Some I know and love, and some I’ve never heard. I don’t hear originality. That’s the main thing I don’t hear. That bothers me. See, when I listen to music, I want to listen to someone I can learn something from. I’m not hearing that. That’s first and foremost. I like to enjoy it, too. But I want to hear something that I haven’t heard before. I don’t know how to say this; I’ve heard it before. The thing about it, I think the musicians of today are better musicians. But they’re not doing anything with it. They’re just recreating… I don’t know what they need to do! I think a lot of it has to do with not having any bands around. Bands are laboratories to learn to experiment. Nowadays, most of the younger guys, there’s nowhere for them to experiment. In order for them to learn and to keep that energy, it has to be a combination of older musicians and younger musicians. Music has always been innovative in that way, older and younger. The older musicians bring their knowledge, the younger musicians bring their energy, and between them they create something. Nowadays, most of the groups are either older or younger, and you don’t see that combination. When I came up, there were so many bands to play in, and each one was a master, from Mingus to Max Roach to Art Blakey to Horace Silver—you could go on and on. They were schools to learn things. Nowadays they just have to come out and play, and there’s no direction in certain respects. I don’t hear it anyway.

When I worked with Mingus, I was with Eric Dolphy, I was with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, I was with great… So you’re learning from each other. I was young then. But I watched the way Mingus did it, I watched the way each one of those musicians did and approached… Each one of them was definitely individual. I like this musician. I’ve liked every musician you’ve played. You have to have an identity… This sounds like what a group of musicians, if you said, “Play me some jazz,” and this is their concept of what jazz is. Which is why I hate that word. Because the word pigeonholes you. I’d rather hear, “Play me some music.” That’s a whole different ballgame.

To me, there’s no such thing as jazz. This is my personal opinion. There is music. We’ve all got 12 notes. I don’t care what kind of music it is. You either like it or you don’t. I mean, if I like it… [Human beings need something…] To guide them? There was a wonderful article that Ornette wrote, and he was saying the same thing. From Duke Ellington to Miles Davis to Max Roach to most of the great musicians I’ve been around, they don’t accept that word. And I am one of them. I won’t accept that word because it doesn’t mean anything. “Jazz it up.” What does that mean? [I’m not talking about jazz as a verb. I’m talking about jazz as a noun.] But jazz is not a noun. Music is a noun. Jazz is an adjective. [Does classical music mean something to you?] No. Classical music means nothing to me either. [Does music out of a certain tradition mean something?] Maybe. Yeah. That makes more sense than to lump everything into one style of music, because within that particular style there are thousands of different concepts. If you stopped someone on a corner and said, “who is your favorite jazz musician?” one person would say John Coltrane, one would say Charlie Parker, another would say Kenny G, another would say Al Hirt, another would say Louis Armstrong. To me, that doesn’t make sense. No one knows what it even is. But what it is, is music. That’s ultimately what it is. If I listen to Beethoven, if I listen to Mozart, if I listen to John Coltrane, I’m listening with the same ear. I’m not listening to hear a style. I call this composing. Because at the high end, we compose music on the spot that will live on into the future. So I think we’ve raised the bar from Beethoven’s time, even though Beethoven’s concerts, which would last sometimes for 8 hours… Most people went to his shows to hear him improvise. That was always the highlight, to hear him compose off the top of his head. That’s what we do. [They used to call that section ‘concertizing,’ in jazz.] Yeah. But we compose music on the spot rather than sit down and write it out. So each time out, it’s different. That in itself takes it away from trying to play a style. If you want to call it something… It’s got to swing. To me, Beethoven swings. He has his own way of swinging. Then I hear some things which have no elements of swing—to me. [It’s a different pulse.] A different pulse, yes.

10. Steve Slagle, “Self-Portrait in Three Colors” (from LATEST OUTLOOK, Zoho, 2006) (Slagle, alto saxophone; Lovano, tenor saxophone; Dave Stryker, guitar, composer; Jay Anderson, bass; Billy Hart, drums)

It’s a tune by Mingus. It’s beautiful! See, this sounds like somebody I heard earlier, one of the records. It’s not Bobby Watson, because you played him for me. But it sounds like that. 5 for the composition and 3½ for the performance. It’s a beautiful performance. I really like this. See, I wouldn’t call this jazz. He’s playing a beautiful song, a beautiful piece of music. [the drums to me make it jazz. There’s no other music where you have the drums being part of the beauty, part of the inventive flow in real time.] Well, it’s got that swing, it’s got that pulse to it. [AFTER] I thought about Steve, too.

11. Ornette Coleman, “Turnaround” (from SOUND GRAMMAR, Phrase Text, 2006) (Coleman, alto saxophone, composer; Greg Cohen, Tony Falanga, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums)

Of course, that’s Ornette’s tune. That’s Ornette!? It is? I’ve never heard this version. See, he’s not even playing it like he played it the first time. You’ve got to move forward. I guess he could have gone back and play it the same way. But why? He’s King Ornette! With the two basses. This has to get 5. It’s original, it swings, it’s what music should be. Energy, exciting… He’s played this song probably many times, but it’s still like it’s new.

You can’t get the context of the full album, because to me, an album is like a book. So it’s like reading the first chapter, and trying to say this is a certain writer or player or whatever, but you can’t see where it’s going.

If you’re playing a sad song, it should be sad. If you’re playing a happy song, it should be happy. I take the way I’m going to approach a song a lot of times from the title of the song. So if it’s “Lester Left Town,” I’m going to try to give you the flavor of Lester. I might play some quotes from Lester. I want you to hear that it’s Lester.

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It’s Gary Bartz’s 71st Birthday: Three WKCR Interviews From the ’90s

Below are the proceedings of several interviews I conducted with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz — who turns 71 today — on WKCR on different occasions during the ’90s.  The first, from February 1997, captures his remarks during a 5-hour restrospective of his musical production; following it is a composite interview drawn from encounters in 1990  and 1995 (one of them—can’t remember which—was a Musician’s Show). There’s some repetition of anecdotes and analyses, but they’re different enough that it seems worth it to offer both.

Gary Bartz Profile (2-9-97):

[MUSIC: “Tico-Tico” (1994), “Impressions”]

The conjunction of hearing you perform music by Charlie Parker and the ever-present influence of John Coltrane in your sound gives me a good starting point for the interview — to talk about your initial exposure to their music, the impact of that music on you. I know you had contact with Coltrane.  Did you ever see Charlie Parker in the flesh as a youngster?

Actually, one of his last performances in ’55, he came to a club in Baltimore called the Club Tijuana, which happened to be right around the corner from where I grew up.  Unfortunately, I was around 14 years old and couldn’t get in there, and nobody could take me, so I sneaked out of the house every night — even though I was going to school — and went around, and tried to wait outside, hoping he would come out.  I met a lot of the musicians when they came out on a break.  I met Johnny Hodges, I met Lockjaw Davis, I met a lot of people like that.  I could hear him because there was a french fry place right next door attached to the club which had swinging doors whenever the waitress would come in, but the bandstand was situated so I couldn’t see him.  So I never really saw him, but I heard him live.

Well, you’d assimilated a lot of his recordings and studied them as an aspiring saxophonist.  Do you remember your first consciousness of his music and where you were in your development?

The first time I heard Bird I was 6 years old, and I didn’t even know what a saxophone was.  I didn’t know that’s what he was doing.  If someone had told me, “That’s a piano,” I would have thought that’s what it was.  But I knew right then that I wanted to do that.  Whatever it was he was doing, it just caught me.  So it was at an early age, at 6.  I didn’t get a saxophone until I was 11.  But in retrospect, I realize that I listened through those five years before I got the horn.  So I was actually studying the music before I got the instrument.  Which is why I always say a lot of people who say, “Well, I used to play” or “I don’t play an instrument”…a lot of people are musicians who just don’t play an instrument.  I mean, their ears are just as keen as a musician’s, and sometimes even better than a lot of musicians’ ears.  They just never worked on learning an instrument.  So when you’re playing music for a lot of people, especially the more knowledgeable fans, I consider them as musicians also.

Your having the opportunity to hear the Charlie Parker record so young implies that your parents were aware of him and playing the music around the house, and I gather your mother was a pianist as well.

Well, she played in church.  But actually, yes, they did have a lot of the music around the house.  We had almost everything Nat King Cole did, and a lot of things like that. My uncle, who was my father’s youngest brother, he was the real Bebop fan.  He had the Charlie Parker records and the Dizzy Gillespie records.  He used to come to New York and shop for clothes.  He had a nickname.  He was so sharp, they called him Sharp Bartz, because he would always come back from New York with the slickest stuff, the latest records and stories about musicians.

Baltimore was part of what was known as the around-the-world circuit on the Eastern Seaboard for Black performers.  It would be Boston-Washington-Baltimore-New York.  Would you go to hear a lot of the acts that came through?

Yes.  The first time I can remember really seeing live music was at the Royal Theater.  To this day, that for me is where music should be presented, is in a theater.  Nightclubs are close to the public, but you don’t really have people’s undivided attention.  There are other things that are really more important when you’re working in a nightclub.

You were coming up at sort of the tail end of the big band period.  What’s a sampling of who you’d see?

Louis Jordan.  I was a big Louis Jordan fan.  I actually think I may have heard Louis Jordan before I heard Charlie Parker.  His humor attracted me, and the alto  playing and the swing attracted me also.  So I remember definitely seeing Louis Jordan.  He had a revue.  He had a chorus of beautiful women dancing — a big show.  I saw Duke Ellington there.  The house was also a good band.  That’s the first time I ever saw Albert Dailey.  He was in that band.  I remember sitting there watching a show, and I saw this young kid come in and ease the older guy off of the piano bench, and he took over.  I said, “Wow.  My hero.” [LAUGHS] Then I met Albert and we struck up a great friendship, musically and otherwise.

Does this imply that as a teenager, let’s say, when I’m assuming this happened, you started playing with various like-minded peers, or even for small-change type of gigs around Baltimore?

Yeah.  Actually, my first solo was in church.  I played “I Believe.”  That was actually the real beginning.  Then I played a few solos in school, the same “I Believe.”  That became my signature tune, so to speak.  Then we formed a dance band from the high school band I was in (City College High School), and from that dance band there were various factions who would play dances and parties and different functions.  So that’s how it started.  Then I started meeting other people.  I started going out to the clubs.  My father used to take me out to the jam sessions.  That’s how I met John Coltrane and Benny Golson.  I met them both together.  They were in town with Earl Bostic, and I met them at a jam session.  Benny said he and John went back to New York saying, “Man, there’s this young kid in Baltimore” — unbeknownst to me, because I didn’t think I was doing anything.  But I started meeting musicians by going out to clubs like that.

You were able to sit in, even, at a certain point?

My father, he was pushy… One time we went down to see Sonny Stitt, of all people (because I love Sonny Stitt), so my father went back and spoke to him and that I played and that my horn was out in the trunk.  So of course, Sonny Stitt made me get up… I really didn’t want to get up there, but he made me get up and play a Blues.  I’m just about 14 years old.  He took me through all the keys on a Blues.  Fortunately, I didn’t know one chord from the other, they were all the same to me, so I was just going strictly by ear — so I played all of the keys. [LAUGHS] He liked that.  So we struck up a friendship which lasted also.

Any other sitting-in experiences that come to mind as memorable?

Well, that’s actually how I met Max.  I went down and sat in with Max.  Again, my father — “Yeah, he’s good.”  So Max said, “I want to hear this kid.”  They’re trying to show you’re not that good.  So I went up and Max played “Cherokee”.

A classic strategy to defeat a neophyte.

Yeah.  But Bird was my man, and I knew “Cherokee.”  That’s when I met Clifford Jordan, who became a lifelong friend.  I think Julian Priester was in that band.  And Max also said when and if I came to New York to look him up, gave me his number, and when I came about three years later I did look him up, and he and Abbey looked after me and helped to raise me, really, in my formative years in New York, and finally asked me to join the band.  That was the first professional band I was ever in.

You came up in a time when the boundaries were less strictly defined or stratified between the Art aspect of Jazz and the popular function of jazz.  It seems to me that’s had a big impact on the way you’ve approached music through your career as a musician.

I don’t know if you mean during the early years, when things were more segregated.  And Baltimore was a segregated city right straight down the line.  We had Black high schools, we had White high schools.  In the public park we had a Black swimming pool, we had a White swimming pool.  Everything was totally divided.  My mother couldn’t try on clothes in the department store.  I didn’t realize what this was a kid; that’s just the way things are, you know.  But I know I used to wonder, “I wonder why she’s not trying that on.”  Later I found that out.

But when I started coming out into the club scene, it seemed like it was the end of an era where… The theater brought people together.  You would have on the same bill a jazz group, an R&B group, a comedian, a dancer, a singer –you would have a complete thing.

And at a pretty high level.

For sure.  Consequently, they had to travel together going from town to town.  They’d spend six months out of the year together traveling sometimes.  So there was a community, is what I’m trying to say.  There was a definite community.  Because it was segregated, we couldn’t stay in certain hotels.  You had to always stay in the Black hotels.  When you went to Chicago you stayed in the Hotel Evans, at the Dunbar when you went to Washington, uptown at the Theresa in New York, in Philly.  So there was a good sense of community.  That has eroded.  We don’t even know each other now.  The actors don’t know the dancers; they don’t know the musicians.  The rappers don’t know the singers.

It’s very segmented.

Very segmented.  And I think that’s to our detriment, to everyone’s detriment.

In asking the question (and I think your answer was very thought-provoking) I was also thinking more in terms of the pure aesthetics of the music.  The jukeboxes would mix let’s say Nat Cole and Louis Jordan and Charlie Parker and Wayne Shorter’s “Wrinkles” or something like this.  Styles were more mixed.  Can you address it from that end?

Well, I think that still goes on, the deeper you get into the Black community.  That still happens.  There are certain clubs in different cities that I go into, and you’ll have Billy Eckstine with maybe Babyface.  You’ll have a Charlie Parker, you’ll have a Dinah Washington, you’ll have Aretha Franklin, you’ll have Michael Jackson.  See, we don’t think like that, as segmented…to segment things out.  I’m sure a lot of people are like that.  But if you look through my record collection, you’ll see everything.  I don’t know whether I’m a good example.  But if you look through a lot of people’s record collection or CD collection, I think it’s varied.  They might not tell you that they listen to some of that stuff! [LAUGHS]

Your record album, The Blues Chronicles on Atlantic, brings to mind a lot of the work you did in the 1970’s with the NTU Troop and the various recordings that many of your fans are quite familiar with, and which they’re probably waiting to hear us play.  Part of what I was leading to with that question was your interest in narratives and using music to present a broader picture than just a purely musical experience in a very conscious way.

Early on also, in studying musicians and composers, I ran across something about Beethoven, who happened to be one of my heroes.  Talking about his symphonies, he said he would write a light symphony and then he would write a heavy symphony.  He would mix it up.  He wouldn’t do everything heavy-heavy-heavy or everything light-light-light.  He would write the Eroica and follow that with the Pastorale.  I thought that was a good way to go.  So I’ve tried to do that with my recording career.  I started out with Libra, which was to introduce me to the record-buying public.  Then my second album was very heavy (for me anyway), called Another Earth, about Life — Life everywhere to Infinity.  If it’s about Life, it’s about Death, so it’s about everything.  Then I followed that with a lighter album, then a heavy album, then back and forth, back and forth.

What has happened, though, even the light albums now are more or less concept albums.  Because when I think of an album, I no longer think of just putting some songs together.  There has to be a reason to do that.  So the songs have to connect in some kind of a way.  So I guess every album that I do lately has been a concept album.

[Bartz, “The Five Dollar Theory” (1996); “Rise” (1969); “Parted”; “Celestial Blues”]

There are so many questions raised listening to the music in a set like that.  I’d like to get more into biography, talk to you about your coming to New York, the connections you made here, and your emergence as a professional musician in the jazz community.  I gather you came to New York to go to school.

Yes.  I came to New York in 1958, and went to Juilliard for about two years, and met a lot of musicians — Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard.

You didn’t meet them at Juilliard, I take it.  Or did you?

No, I didn’t meet Freddie.  I met Lee at Juilliard, though.  Addison Farmer, Andrew Cyrille, Grachan Moncur, Bobby Thomas, Roland Hanna — all were going to Juilliard at the time.

What was the curriculum like at that time?

I was actually an extension student, so I wasn’t going full time.  But full-time, they were taking English classes, History, all that.  All I wanted to work on was music, so that’s what I opted for.  But it was a full curriculum.  They also had the dance wing.  It was extensive.

What was climate like, say, in 1958 in an institution like Juilliard for someone who was interested in playing Jazz?

[LAUGHS] Jazz was like… We talked about in the corners.  You didn’t talk about it in class.  But that’s really where I learned chords, harmony and theory, was from the musicians.  Grachan Moncur in particular kind of guided me as far as that’s concerned.  Then we’d go out and night and play.  There were a lot of jam sessions going on.  Count Basie’s.  You could go up to Branker’s up where the 155th Street Bridge is.  Babs Gonzales had a room over top of Branker’s in Harlem called Babs’ Insane Asylum, which lasted for a few years, and we worked up there and had jam sessions.  The Bronx.  You could go to Brooklyn, the Blue Coronet, the Baby Grand.  There were so many places to go.  So whatever neighborhood you lived in, there was someplace to go.  You had the Continental in Brooklyn, and the Turbo Village.

Speaking of sitting in, things that come to mind:  One night at Turbo Village, I noticed this man… We were sitting, waiting for the next set to go up and play, to jam, and I noticed this man was staring at me, this very intense stare.  I got up and moved, and I realized he was still staring at the same spot; he wasn’t really staring at me.  But when we went up to perform, I realized that was Bud Powell.  So I actually played two songs with Bud Powell in my life [LAUGHS], which was something — I’m telling you.  I still remember it.  I know we played “Bud’s Bubble” and I can’t remember what the other song was, probably a blues.  But that was a unique experience.

It sounds like an incredibly exciting time to be a young musician in New York City.

Yeah, I think it was.  It was the end of an era, the tail end of the Bebop Era.  Bird had passed three years previous, and things were just beginning to change.  Rock-and-Roll was beginning to take over a lot of venues.  But still there were many more clubs open and many more places to play.  Being the end of the era, it was still happening.  So I feel fortunate that I did come at that time.

Some of the things that happened around then were the emergence of Ornette Coleman during his Five Spot gig, John Coltrane recorded “Giant Steps” and those discoveries, Max Roach was doing things like the Freedom Now Suite and Percussion Bitter Sweet, Mingus was really extending his music.  Were you apprised of all these developments and the new things that were happening in Jazz at that time?

Oh, yes.  Actually, I met Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk performing with Charlie Mingus down at the Village Gate.  He had this big band jazz workshop, an improvised big band, so we’d go down.  The sax section was being led by Eric, but Rahsaan… I don’t remember who else was in the band, but I remember that.  This was ’58 or ’59.  Charles would just come over to each section leader and hum what he wanted you to play, and then cue you, and then we’d play it.  It was a totally improvised big band setting, and that was exciting.

I remember when Ornette came to town.  That was the talk of the town.  I mean, everybody… I think I was in there almost every night, whether I was in there or outside.  Miles came in one night, Dizzy came and sat in with him, Philly Joe sat in one night.  Just everybody was coming down and wanted to see, “What is this new music?”  So that was just a very exciting period.

Then you could go up to Count Basie’s and jam up there.  Anybody might come up there.  I remember many a night coming home on the subway with Freddie Hubbard and Andrew.  They lived in Brooklyn.  I lived uptown, in Washington Heights, but I would spend a lot of time in Brooklyn.  So I eventually moved to Brooklyn. [LAUGHS] All my friends were in Brooklyn.  Just everywhere you went.

How about as far as beginning to work with other people’s bands or starting to formulate your own sound and aesthetic?  You’ve mentioned some of your earlier associations.  How does that start coalescing into a career?

I remember my first gigs in New York were out at Far Rockaway with just an R&B band.  That’s a long ride on the subway.  I’d go out to Far Rockaway, and we’d do these gigs every weekend.  So that was really my first gigs.  Then a few gigs here and there, and things happened.  Turbo Village, I did that one week, with Andrew Cyrille and Grachan Moncur.  Then Max called me in 1964, and that was my first really being in a professional band.

So you’re 23 years old, and joining Max Roach.  Since your experience at 15 or 16 playing at presumably some supersonic tempo by Max Roach, you had kept in touch with him, you mentioned before.

Right.  We never lost touch from that time period.

On the next segment, we’ll hear earlier recordings, beginning with Gary Bartz with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — an uncredited composition, nor is Gary credited on the back of the jacket.

That was actually my first recording.

How did you come to join the Messengers?

Oh, that’s a good story.  Actually, they were working at my father’s club in Baltimore.  My mother and father had a nightclub for about five years, from 1960 to 1965, called the North End Lounge, primarily so that I’d have a place to play.  I mean, that was a big sacrifice, even though my father liked doing that.

So were you commuting back and forth from New York to Baltimore?

Yes, I’d do the reverse commute from New York to Baltimore on the weekends, and come back to New York during the week.  John Hicks was in the band, and Charles Tolliver, who was not in the band…Lee Morgan was actually in the band, but Lee wouldn’t show up a lot of nights.  So Charles would follow the band around sometimes, and in case Lee wouldn’t show up then Charles would make the gig.  They knew John Gilmore was about to leave, so we all being friends, Charles and John and I (and we had groups together around that period), they encouraged Art, “Call this guy, Gary Bartz.”  My father said, “Yeah, you’ve got to…”  There he goes again!  My agent.  He would have been a good agent.  So my father called me and said, “Well, look, Art is going to need a saxophone player, so why don’t you come down here and sit in with the band, let him hear you” — which I did.  As John says, Lee cosigned it, because Art would have never hired someone without Lee’s okay.  But they liked what they heard, and I joined the band right there in my father’s club.

The track we’ll hear is “Freedom Monday” which is credited to Art Blakey, but it’s Gary’s composition!  This is from Soulfinger on Limelight…

It has Freddie and Lee.  Like I say, Lee might not show up, so Art, to cover all bases, asked Freddie to come down just in case Lee didn’t show up.  Lee showed up, so we have Lee and Freddie both on this record.

[MUSIC: GB w/Blakey, “Freedom Monday” (1964); GB w/Max, “Libra” (1965); GB w/McCoy, “Smitty’s Place” (1969); Bartz, “Disjunction” (1968)]

[SECTION MISSING]

…Jack de Johnette, who was on drums, that wasn’t electric.  Miles was electric, Keith was electric.  Dave Holland was playing bass when I joined the band, and he was playing acoustic and electric both, at different points.  It was so loud sometimes that I’d get so frustrated.  I would feel like “nobody can hear me, what am I doing here?”  I had never really been in a group with that much electricity associated with it.  The speakers would sometimes be 12 feet tall!  They’d put two 6-foot speakers on each side of the stage.  It was loud.

You were playing arenas and even stadiums occasionally.

Sure.  Most of the time we were playing big, big venues.  So like I said, I didn’t think I would last too long.  But I guess he liked what he heard.  So finally I said, “Miles, I can’t hear.  It’s too loud.”  He said, “Well, tell the sound man!” [LAUGHS] So I told the sound man, and I never had a problem.  He made sure I could hear myself.  So I began to learn how to deal with sound and being loud or being heard, or how to play, or how to deal with different contexts.  If I’m playing in a loud group, you can’t play the same way as you would play in a more acoustic group.  So you begin to learn how to play in different settings.  That was very helpful to me.

What had been your interaction with Miles Davis before joining the band?

Well, I used to see him all the time.  I used to see him at Birdland.  We would speak, say hello, just from seeing each other so much.  And I guess he knew who I was, because he would go out a lot to listen to music.  In the early days he would never hire a musician unless he had heard him in different circumstances, and unless that musician had served apprenticeships in other groups.  You were well-seasoned by the time you got to Miles.

But one memorable occasion was the Count Basie engagement, which was the famous… I was working with Max.  We did ten days at Count Basie’s in Harlem.  The bill was Max Roach and Miles Davis.  You couldn’t get near the place.  I mean, literally, you could not get near that place.  Cars, people crowded right on that corner.  So that was the first time that I really knew that Miles knew who I was.  One night he came in to see me with McCoy, and that next week he called me to join the band.  I don’t think he came in to see me with McCoy, but he came to see somebody with McCoy.  I won’t mention who it was, but he was thinking about using them in the band.  He came in and heard me in the band, and he ended up calling me.  When he called me, I didn’t think it was really him.  Because friends tease each other, so we would call each other up and, [MILES WHISPER] “how you doin’?  This is Miles.”  “No, this isn’t Miles; I know who this is.”  So when it really happened, I thought it was a friend just teasing me.  And it took a couple of minutes to realize, “Unh-oh, this is the real thing.”

Joining the band did you just come in cold?  Did you go in and hit and had to find your way as you went along?  Was there any orientation?

Well, there was a little orientation.  We rehearsed.  Miles rehearsed the band.

What was the band when you came in?

Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea both.  Chick hadn’t left the band when I first joined.  So when I joined it was Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Airto Moreira, and Dave Holland.

Now, you were a very well-seasoned player by this time and had covered a lot of different types of music, but as far as I know you hadn’t played in any situation quite like this before.

No.

What did you have to do to function in that ensemble?

Actually, just solo was the main thing.  If I remember, the first few concerts we hadn’t really rehearsed.  We just went in and Miles would tell me when to play, and I would play.  Later we rehearsed, especially when he was hiring Michael Henderson, because Michael needed to learn the music — he knew nothing about that music.  So we had a lot of rehearsing around that time.  But other than that, all I had to do was just play solos, play the Blues. [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC:  GB w/Miles, “Sanctuary” (1970-Vienna); GB, “Black Maybe”; GB/Miles, “What I Say?” (1971)]

We’ll move now to more NTU Troop material from the early ’70. These bands had quite a contemporaneous, but haven’t been in print for many years.  Talk a bit about how you conceptualized NTU Troop after leaving Miles Davis.

As you probably heard on the “Black Maybe” cut, I was using a wah-wah pedal on the saxophone, which was a direct result of having worked with Miles Davis and watched him use that wah-wah pedal.  But it’s funny, because the whole time I was with Miles I never used any electronic equipment, other than the microphones.  But after I left the band, I started experimenting on my own time and everything, and I used the wah-wah pedal for about five years in various settings.  Originally, the idea of NTU Troop was to synthesize all of the musics from Africa, whether it be R&B, Rock-and-Roll, whether it be Jazz, whether it be Blues, Latin, Afro-Cuban…

The continuum of Transafrican music, as it were.

Yes.  Most people seemed to either…it was a Bebop band, it was a swing band, it was this kind of band.  I loved all of the musics, and still do love all types of music, and don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing one certain thing.  Because this is what I hear.  And when you listen to a jazz musician, you should be hearing the music from that man’s or that woman’s mind.  I don’t really consider a true Jazz musician who only performs or records what a producer hears for him.  That’s not Jazz.  That’s Pop.  That’s what the record industry wants.  But Jazz has never… You would never go to Duke Ellington and say, “I don’t want to record the Sacred Concert, but why don’t you just do some Gospel tunes?”  I mean, you can’t do that to a Jazz musician!  But I’ve been seeing it more and more in these days, which is unfortunate.  But a true jazz musician has to go his or her own way, and whether it be bad or whether it be good, you have to follow that path and see where it leads.

One of the things that distinguished NTU Troop was your use of spoken word and poetry, blending black narratives with black music.

I’ve always loved poetry.  Poetry and songs are the same for me.  Poetry might not have the music setting, even though you can hear it.  So I started adapting a lot of poems of some of my favorite poets.  “I’ve Known Rivers” is an adaption of “A Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which Langston Hughes wrote.  I did a Countee Cullen poem called “Incident.”  Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  I still read a lot of poetry, and have ideas to adapt different writers.  So that was one thing, the poetry.

Then also, I realized that music without words is the purest form of language.  But it can be misunderstood by a lot of people who are maybe not following it or don’t understand music so well.  So I felt a need to use more words to explain some things and directions that we were going in.

This is a time when jazz clubs were disappearing in Black communities around the country, much fewer than a decade before.  I’d imagine the idea of wanting to reach people with this music was very much on your mind at this point.

Yes, that played a part, for sure.

[MUSIC: GB, “I’ve Known Rivers” (1973); GB/JMac, “Ode To Super” (1974)]

We’ll stay in the ’70s with music by the Norman Connors group with whom you recorded numerous times.

Eight or nine albums we did.  That was a very good relationship.  One of Norman’s good qualities is that he knows how to put a band together and knows how to put musicians together.  He’s a good producer.  Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, all good people.  I don’t think he ever had a bad record.  So it was always a good occasion.  We didn’t have a copy of that You Are My Starship album, which actually was a gold album, but that’s when I met Phyllis Hyman.  That was Phyllis’ debut on records, and she went on to be big in the industry, and of course we all miss her.  Norman brought out a lot of people.

The date with Jackie McLean brings me back into personal anecdote and recollection.  I gather he was one of the musicians who you admired for many years going back to teenage years.

Oh, sure.  I had met Jackie early on, when I first moved to New York.  At least by 1960 I know I had met Jackie, and had loved him always before I even moved from Baltimore, before I came to New York, had all of his records, listened to him, followed him.  While I was going to Juilliard, Grachan Moncur started working with Jackie and started doing recordings, so I used to go hang out with him and sat in with Jackie a few times.  We became friends and have maintained that friendship.

He’s a musician who shares your interest in narratives and adding to the purely instrumental context words and dramatic situations.  Some words about other saxophonists who were influential on you.  You’ve made no bones about your allegiance to Sonny Rollins, the great tenor player.

Yes, indeed.  That’s one of my favorite musicians of all time, and one of my favorite people.  A lot of people say, “Oh, you look like Sonny,” and I started wearing a goatee and trying to look like Sonny for a while.  This was when I was a teenager, of course.  But I go back with Sonny from the beginning.

You mentioned once in an interview that you used to go hear him, and one thing you liked was that from night to night you never knew what sound you were going to hear.

You never knew which Sonny.  I know when he was at the Vanguard I was down there every night, and he was there for like two weeks.  One night you might hear him play all Lester Young songs all night, “Three Little Words,” “Tickletoe,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” all songs associated with Prez, and he would actually a lot of times play note-for-note Prez’ solos, which was very impressive to me, because I realized that he knew all of these solos.  I  didn’t know a lot of those solos, but after hearing him play them it made me really want to go listen to Prez even more.  Another night he would play all songs associated with Coleman Hawkins — “Stuffy,” “Cottontail,” “Body and Soul.”  He would again play Coleman’s solos note-for-note before he would play his solo.  I mean, he would play maybe a chorus or two of the recorded solos that they made famous.  Then another night he’d be Sonny.  Another night he’d be in a Calypso bag.  So I’m paying attention to everything.  He wasn’t limited.  You don’t come in and play the same thing every night, or even play in the same way every night.

So that impressed me, and when I formed a group… Actually, the first band… This is even going back further.  But the first band I ever led was in 1958.  I’ve been a bandleader since 1958!  Grachan Moncur and I took a band on the road.  We took a band to Pittsburgh, to Crawford’s Grill.  So that was my initiation.  Jeff Jefferson was on bass.  Arthur Stanley Trotman, a young drum whiz who would have been one of the great drummers had he lived, he died at a very early age, very tragic.  He OD’ed in a doorway in Brooklyn.  They found him.  He was no more than 17 or 18 at the time.  We had become real good friends, and he’d stayed at my house in Baltimore.  But we went on the road, and he was in that band. Grachan, Arthur, Jeff Jefferson, the bass player from Baltimore, and the pianist was a friend of Grachan’s from Newark, New Jersey, and I can’t remember his full name, but his nickname was Hip (we called him Hip) — so Hip played piano.  Hip was like a Monkish-Randy Weston-Herbie Nichols kind of player.  He was really hip.  The stuff he did for musicians was hip.  The layman might not have thought he was too hip because they might not have understood what he was doing.  I don’t know whatever happened to him.

You mentioned meeting John Coltrane around 1954, but I gather you knew him and stayed in touch with him throughout your time in New York City.

Sure.  If he was somewhere close by, I was there.  I never really got too close to John because I was in such awe of him.  It was like whenever I was around him, I felt stupid. [LAUGHS] Some people affect you like that.  Two people in my life have affected me like that, Malcolm X and John Coltrane.  There was nothing I could say that could make me sound like I was really saying something to them.  So I didn’t say anything much.

When would you be in proximity to Malcolm X?

I used to see Malcolm every day because I used to eat in the Shabazz Restaurant off of 116th and Lenox, and he would come in every day about that time from the Muhammad Speaks office where he would work doing the newspaper.  He would come in and have dinner and shoot the breeze.  Sometimes I’d follow him.  He would walk through the neighborhoods and talk to the brothers and sisters.  He would see the prostitutes and see the drug addicts, and he wouldn’t reprimand them; he would just give a warm greeting and say, “Brother, you know that’s not the way; you could do better,” or tell the sisters, “You can do better than that; don’t let this happen to you.”  And they loved him.  So that was good.  I would also see him in Louis Michaux’s bookstore across from the Theresa Hotel near that diamond store there (I forget what that store was).  He would be in the back sometimes, debating or discussing things with Mr. Michaux, Black history or politics or something.  And where we weren’t privy to go back in the back unless we were invited, we could still hear the conversation, so we would stand around and listen.  Sometimes we were even invited back there and he’d say, “What do you think about this?”  He wanted to know the young person’s opinion.  Also in Michaux’s bookstore, whenever you went in there, you didn’t have to buy anything, which is my idea of a real bookstore.  He would have certain books open each day or each week, and things highlighted and things for you to read and just see.  It was a very interesting bookstore.  If I ever had a bookstore, that’s the way I’d run it.

Those are all part of the dynamics of what made the music of that time what it was in many ways as well.

I think so.

The quality of hearing Sonny Rollins over a week in a club playing in a different way all the time, is that… How do you approach a week in a club?  How do you set yourself up to play something dynamic and fresh and different every night, when you might be playing the same material for the four thousandth time or whatever?

Well, there’s lots of ways.  For instance, when I worked with Miles, for two years we played the same show every night, without too much variation — changing a song here, maybe “Sanctuary” a little earlier.  But basically it was that same order every night.  And most bands end up doing that, because you go with what is working.  If it worked the first few nights, it’s going to work most nights.  It would get to the point I’d say, “Oh, man, I hope we do something different tonight,” and we never would.  But what would happen every so often, Miles would play the songs differently, and take them into an altogether different area or different direction which opened it up for everybody else, which  made me realize, “Okay, we’re playing the same thing every night, but I don’t have to play the same thing. I’m a soloist.  I can take it in any direction I want to.”  So that freed me as far as playing the same music.

Also in acting and comedy, which are two of my pet loves.  I like to do comedy, and I like people like Redd Foxx and Henny Youngman and Bob Hope and people like that, who come out and tell jokes, and they tell them the same way every night.  That is not me.  I’m an improviser.  Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, people like that, Eddie Murphy even (who comes from Bruce and Richard) showed me how to deal with that.  And in acting, where you have to say the same lines every night is parallel to playing the same songs every night.  But I’ve done a few plays.  I even played a lead in one play.  I found out that if you read the lines different, you get different reactions.  So there are different ways of reading the same lines which will give a whole new meaning.

So there is no end to… You should never get bored doing the same thing, because it’s not the same thing.  First of all, it’s a different audience.  Secondly, you’re different each night.  I might be in a different kind of mood, so I’m not going to play the same way I did the night before.  And listening to Sonny and listening to the different musicians, listening to Trane… Now, Trane approached it in another way.  Trane worked hard.  Every night… He had practiced all day long during the day, so when he came to work each night he had something new and fresh to play.  Even if it was the same song, he could take in a whole new direction on something that he had worked on earlier that day.

So I try to use all of these things.

To me, when I hear Gary Bartz play in 1997, or the last decade, you seem to have arrived at a style (I’m going to speak in gross layman terms) that kind of blends the language of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in a very distinctive way.  I wonder if you have any comments about the way of improvising you’ve arrived at.  It’s been many years now, and you’re playing in different situations than you did 20-25 years ago.

To me, it’s just a synthesis of everything that has led up to this particular time.  I’ve been influenced by many people outside of music, which if you know those people you could hear me play the influence that they had given me, even though they never thought about being a musician or whatever.  It might be a little phrase that someone says that catches me, and I incorporate it into the music.  Just like a writer or just like any artist, you’re influenced by life, not just music and not just by musicians.  Life is the big influence.

[MUSIC: GB w/N. Connors, “Butterfly Dreams”; GB, “Music Is My Sanctuary”; GB, “Singerella”]

We’ll hear music from The Blues Chronicles, which dovetails quite well… I think the last three hours of programming is a good introduction to anyone who wants to hear what life and career experiences of Gary Bartz buttress The Blues Chronicles.

Actually it just grew.  It was not originally going to be such a big project.  It was going to be an album — you know?  As I started formulating it I thought, “I’m going to do a blues album,” and as I started putting the songs together for the Blues album I thought, “Do I really want to do an album like a Blues player?  If you want to hear that, you can go listen to B.B. King or Albert King or Bobby Blue Bland or any of the great Blues singers.”  I said, “I think I want to give my interpretation of what I think the Blues are.”  And I do hear the Blues in many places that a lot of people might not hear them.  For instance, some people thought it was a stretch for me to include “Miss Otis Regrets,” which is a Cole Porter tune and not a 12-bar blues by any stretch of the imagination.  But the sentiments involved are Blues, where the woman, who happens to be a rich lady, so this can go to all social strata…

That’s what the Blues is supposed to do.

That’s what it’s supposed to do.  And she finds out that her boyfriend, her lover is messing around, and she goes down and shoots him.  They put her in jail.  The line keeps going when her friend comes to see her…she has a tea appointment, a lunch appointment; the butler opens the door and says, “Sorry, Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today; see, she shot her husband.”  To me, you can’t get any more bluesy than that.  Blues is not, as most people think, just a 12-bar form.  There’s a 5-bar blues on the album, “Makes Me Want To Moan,” there’s a 20-bar Blues; they’re in all different contexts.  A lot of people don’t realize also that the original blues singers and players, you probably never really heard them, because they never felt a need to conform to a 12-bar form.  They might do a 12½-bar form one chorus, the next chorus maybe 14 bars.  And because that began to be a problem… If you were going to have a band, you have to have some kind of criteria.  So if you’re doing a 12-bar blues form, each time it’s going to be 12 bars, so everybody will know where they are.  But the early guys, they might do an 8-bar chorus one time, in the same song the next chorus might be 11 bars or 14½.  In researching a lot of Blues players and listening to them, I realized that a 12-bar blues form is just the most popular form.  So I was trying to show the different areas.  And also the Bob Marley; that to me is Blues.  Flamenco music in Spain is very Blues oriented. Ceseria Evora from St. Verde Islands, that’s Blues to me.  I hear it everywhere.  I hear the Blues in Ravi Shankar.  I heard it in a recording of some Pygmies from deep in the bush.  They had never been out of the bush, out of their forest.  They sang a line which I have heard B.B. King, I have heard Blind Lemon Jefferson, I have heard many musicians over the years do the same phrase that I heard these pygmies do.  Therefore, you know where it comes from.  But I’m sure B.B. never heard those pygmies.  Well, I don’t know; he may have heard them.  But a lot of people who have never heard those recordings of the pygmies or Africans singing in the bush still do it because it’s part of you.  So that’s basically what the album is about.

[MUSIC: GB: “Hustler’s Holler 1-3”; “Passage: Song of The Street””]

Those were the segues that hold the album together.  “Hustler’s Holler” was basically from my childhood in Baltimore.  We had a tradition called Arabbing, where people, young men usually (or older men, too; I’ve seen them in all ages), rent or buy or own a wagon, and they rent or buy or own a horse, and they attach the horse to the wagon, and they’d go around the streets of Baltimore selling products — vegetables, fish, whatever they can get and sell.  They each had a cry, and you could hear them from blocks away coming down the street so you’d know which person it was.  If it was the one that you’d bought from, then you’d go out and buy the goods.  So that’s kind of where that came from.

In thinking about it, everybody’s got a hustle.  Everybody is hustling something, whether it be church, you’re hustling souls, you’re trying to get people to go to church, or whether you’re selling records! [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC: GB, “Song Of Loving Kindness”]

My band has    been together for about two years, so it’s a real band.  Greg Bandy and I go back to the ’70s when he first came to New York, and he worked with Roy Ayres, with Pharaoh Sanders, with Betty Carter, Arthur Prysock and many other people.  We’ve always been friends and band-mates through the years.

George Colligan is a young pianist who is going to make a big name for himself, I think.  Every time I’d go to Baltimore and I’d need a rhythm section and would hire George, every time I’d hear him I’d see so much growth… That’s one thing that really impresses musicians, when you can actually hear and see the growth from one gig to the next.  So I when I had a chance to form a band, I definitely had him in mind.  So he’s been with me for a couple of years.  The same thing applies to James King, who is originally from Houston, Texas, but resides now in Maryland.  Like I say, we’ve been together for quite a while.  We’ve traveled all over the world, and hope to continue to be a band.

[MUSIC: GB w/R. Drummond, “Poor Butterfly”]

* * * *

Gary Bartz (WKCR, 10-24-90/1-18-95):

[MUSIC: “Uncle Bubba”] [With George Cables and Ira Coleman at Bradley’s.]

You’ve been thoroughly grounded in Jazz from the beginning.

My mother played piano, and my parents had a lot of records, but my uncle, my father’s youngest brother, the youngest one of all, actually had the records that really got my ear.  They called my uncle Sharp Bartz, because he liked to dress.  He would come up to New York and buy the slickest clothes, and come back, so he’d really be slick in Baltimore — because Baltimore was kind of country, you know.  But he was into the music.  My uncle had the Louis Jordan records; he had the Charlie Parker records.  The first time I heard Louis Jordan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and you name it, was at my uncle’s.  My uncle was friends with Dizzy Gillespie, and he was very good friends with Dinah Washington and a lot of the musicians.  So I would hear him telling stories, and I would always ask.  So it was in my background, I guess.  I used to go by my grandmother’s house, and that was the one thing I looked forward to.  Not even the food or the company.  I wanted to hear the records!  And that’s what got me started.

Were you listening to a lot of radio, too, as a child?

Oh, yes.  I’m a product of radio, really, because TV’s were not in households when I was small.  I can remember our first TV was… I mean, it stood on the floor, and the speaker part was, like, probably up to your waist, and then there was the cabinet with the screen, but the screen was like 12 inches or 10 inches!   It was this big box and this little TV screen.  Now it’s the other way around.  You have big TV screens… Well, big boxes, too, but it’s all the screen.  But yeah, I listened to a lot of radio.

Now, you came up in Baltimore?

Baltimore, Maryland, yes.

Now, your parents actually were in the Jazz business, as club owners?

Well, they got into it.  They weren’t into it until the Sixties.  My father more or less bought the club for me to have some way to work, which is unbelievable! It lasted for about five years, and it was called the North End Lounge.  A lot of people worked there.  Max Roach.  I worked there with Max.  I joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from there.  They were working at my father’s club.

Were there musicians in your family?

No.  Not that I know of.

So listening to this music inspired you to pick up the  horn, or were you doing it…

No.  When I was 6 years old I heard Charlie Parker, and I didn’t know what this was.  I didn’t know what instrument, I didn’t know anything.  At six years old you can’t know that much.  It could have been an organ for all I knew.  But I liked the sound of it, and I knew that I wanted to do that.  Whatever this was, I said “I have got to do that,” which is weird, because at six… That just shows you how open a mind is at that age, and if the mind is subjected to something as positive as that, there’s no telling what might happen.

Well, did they put you on the alto saxophone right away?

No. It took me five years to really convince them that I really wanted to do this. [LAUGHS] So I didn’t really get a horn until I was 11.

Was it an alto?

It was an alto, yes.

So you’ve been playing the alto sax for a very long time.

Quite a while.  Are you trying to get my age?

No, that’s a matter of public record.

It sure is!

Anyway, we’re about to start off the music segment of the show with Lester Young’s “Tickletoe.”  I’d like to know when you first became aware of Prez.

Actually, I had always been aware of Prez.  But when I was younger, because I was into Bird so much, you know, Prez was kind of old-time to me.  As I studied Bird more and more, I heard Bird loved Prez and that’s where Bird came through, so I said, “Well, as much as I love Bird, I’ve got to go back and see where he came from.”  And that’s when I really got into Prez.  It really wasn’t until after he had died, too, which was a shame — because I never saw Prez play live.

Early on I heard a story that Prez, whenever he played a song, before he’d count it off, or rather than count it off, he’d hum the whole first chorus, or sing the whole first chorus, you know — and then you went into the song.  Art Blakey knew the lyrics to all the songs.  Miles, Dizzy, they all knew the lyrics.  Sonny, Coleman Hawkins.  So I realized that’s important.  I started learning the lyrics to the songs, and by learning the lyrics, then I could sing the song.  Because that’s actually what we are.  We are singers in the purest sense of the word, because we don’t even use a language.  We use the language of music — pitch.   So it’s very important.

[MUSIC: Lester Young, “Tickletoe” (1939); “Let’s Fall In Love” (1951); “All Of Me” (1956); “Sometimes I’m Happy” (1943)]

Next up are some songs by Louis Jordan.

Every Sunday, like I said, when I went by my grandmother’s, I had to hear “Saturday Night Fish Fry.”  I know it by heart.  And I’m not alone.  A lot of my contemporaries know that, and also “Beware.”  I used to go to the Royal Theater in Baltimore, which was part of the circuit (you know, with the Apollo and the Howard in Washington), and hear him sing these songs.

Was the Royal Theater the place where all of the big bands would go through?

Yes. I heard everybody from Louis Jordan to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — because I saw them…they were there, too.  Because I was so young, my father would take me, and that’s the first place I ever saw live music, was in a theater.  To this day I think it’s best presented in a theater.

You probably don’t have quite as much opportunity as you’d like…

No.  But more so in Europe.  There are nice theaters over there.

[MUSIC: Louis Jordan, “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, “Beware”]

“Saturday Night Fish Fry” contains philosophical lessons that I’m sure you’ve put to good use.

Oh yes.  I mean, what did he say?   He said, “You don’t have to pay the usual admission if you is a cook, a waiter, or a good musician.”  I liked Louis Jordan because he was funny.  As a kid, like, 5-6 years, I’d hear “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and I liked because it was such a funny thing.  It was almost Rap, what he was doing.  I’m highly influenced by Louis Jordan, too, because I love comedy.

We’ve been listening to Lester Young and Louis Jordan.  Now it’s time for Bird.

I had the 78’s of “In The Still of The Night” and “Old Folks.”  Every time Bird came out with a record, I was the first one at the store, or among the first anyway.  This particular record was a 78 of “In The Still Of The Night” backed with “Old Folks” — and I wore several of them out.   Then, “Repetition” and “Just Friends” with the strings.  I love to hear Bird play with strings in the big band situations.  I mean, I loved all the situations, but these were more off of the norm, so they kind of stuck out.

[MUSIC:  Bird, “In The Still Of The Night”, “Old Folks”, “Just Friends,” “Repetition,”]

This material, and indeed just about everything we’ve heard in this first hour of tonight’s program is material that was on the jukeboxes throughout black communities at the time it was released. It was the popular music of the time.

Of the day, yes.  It sure was.  It got to a point at my folks’ club, that they were beginning to phase those records out when Pop Music was beginning to come in, and it got harder and harder to find the Jazz records to put on the jukebox.  So that’s a part of Americana that’s disappeared.

While were playing “In The Still of The Night,” you mentioned you had the 78 of it, and you could see a spot on  it, where you practicing the phrase, that you had worn it out.  I take it that as a young saxophonist, you were avidly studying Charlie Parker and trying to play all his… Is that how it went?

Yes.  I tried to play him note for note…if possible.

Did you have any teachers in this regard, who were giving you tips, instruction…?

No, not at that time.  It was mostly the records.  I learned from the records, until I got into senior high school, in ninth, tenth through the twelfth grade.  Then I had teachers.  I started taking private lessons, which did help.  My first teacher was a man by the name of Mr. Albert Holloway.  I credit him with starting me in the right direction as far as technique is concerned.  He concentrated on solely technique and reading.  From him I learned that you don’t learn everything from any one person.  You have to have many teachers along the way.  And each one, if they can give you something, then they’ve done their job.

What kinds of things did he start you off with?  Was it always an alto?

It was always alto, yes.  Well, he taught me how to read, first of all, which was important.  Then he would jot down songs.  I would say, “Well, write this out for me,” when I would hear a song that I wanted to learn, and he would write it out, and I would learn it and phrase it, and we would go over it.  Nothing involving chords, because I don’t even know whether he was into that.  But as far as learning how to read and playing, getting over the entire board of the horn, he taught me that.

When did actual playing come into your world, playing with little combos, playing jazz or whatever with other musicians?

Probably when I was about 13 or 14. I would say about ’52 or ’53.  See, I had been listening to the music since I was  5 or 6, so it was in my head.  I knew the chords, I knew what I wanted to do from listening for so long, so that when I got the horn, as soon as I could make sounds, I would start to… Like, I would play along with Charlie Parker.  I would play along with Earl Bostic.  I would play along with Tiny Bradshaw, because Red Prysock was  in the Tiny Bradshaw band.  They had a lot of hits.  One I remember is “Heavy Juice.”  It was an instrumental, but it was hot, man.  So I learned the whole thing, Red Prysock’s solo, and tried to sound like him.  So I was initially trying to sound like a tenor.  I always heard tenor, even though I loved Bird.

Does the tenor concept lay naturally on the alto sound?

For me, because the alto is a very funny instrument.  I think it’s the hardest of all the saxophones.

Why is that?

Because of the sound.  It’s such an individual sound; the alto is more of an individual sound.  Most people can pick up a tenor and immediately have a decent sound.  But you can’t do that with the alto.  You can do it with a soprano, if you can get a sound — it’s a decent sound.  But on the alto, it just takes many years to get a sound, and it’s more of an individual type thing, you know.  So that’s why I think it’s the hardest.  I’m sure that’s debatable, but that’s how…

I’ve heard other alto players say that as well!

Well, I’ve heard tenor players say it, too.  And there are a lot of tenor players who started out on alto, and I guess were not satisfied with their sound, and the sound they got playing tenor was more pleasing to them.  But it just takes so long to get a sound on the alto, many years.  And it’s always developing.

When you were 12, 13, 14, were you seeing musicians who came through Baltimore from out of town?

GB:    Oh yeah. Because I was into the music, me and my partner in high school… There were two of us who were into Jazz in elementary school, he was an artist (he’s a painter)…and myself.  So we would go downtown, buy the records and buy the albums, and buy the concerts.  And my father would take me to the major concerts and to the clubs, you know, whenever they came to New York — which they came to New York a lot.  I used to go down to Birdland…

Oh, by this time you’d moved to New York?

No, I hadn’t moved… I didn’t move to New York until 1958.  But they would come up periodically, especially in  the summertime, and take me to Birdland, because that’s the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else, is come to  Birdland.

And they had a balcony where kids…

The Peanut Gallery, they called it, where they had no drinking.  They should have that in every club.  If they can have a non-smoking section… They need to have that, too, but that’s another story.

But I was just around the music.  I saw Art Tatum in Baltimore.  I saw Sonny Rollins, who was one of my idols, and went up there and got his autograph, petrified… Just a little kid!  I stood outside of a club around the corner from where I grew up, waiting for Charlie Parker every night, because he was in there.  I heard him, you know, but I was too young to go in.  Most of the musicians would come outside the club for a smoke, or to get some fresh air — and he never came out.  But I peeped in there every night.  That was a few months before he passed.

You also mentioned that in your teens, musicians sometimes would invite you to come on the bandstand.

Oh yeah.

You mentioned one such experience with Sonny Stitt.

[LAUGHS] Well, again, my father was always taking me around, because I couldn’t get in the clubs by myself, being so young.  When I was 14, I went to see Sonny Stitt at a club in Baltimore called the Comedy Club.  I happened to have my saxophone with me.  I must have been somewhere else, you know, because I used to go to the jam sessions, too, and sometimes they’d let me play!  But this particular time, my father goes up to Sonny Stitt and says, “Yes, my son plays,” and so on.  And if you know Stitt, that’s like, “We’ve got to get him up here.”  He got me up, dragged me up on the stage, and had the nerve, at 14, to take me through the keys on the Blues!  At that age, I knew nothing about chords, but I could hear.  It didn’t make no difference.  C-Sharp was the same as C to me, because I didn’t know what it was.  I didn’t know it was supposed to be hard.  So I did it.  And I’ve known him ever since; we were friends ever since then.

By the way, a man named Mickey Fields, who lived in Baltimore, was one of my heroes.  He was just a natural musician.  He could play whatever he heard.  And that influenced me, because I started out, as most musicians do, or as most musicians did, as an ear musician.  I don’t know whether they still do, because they have schools nowadays.  But we had to start out by ear, as ear musicians.  I think that is a thing that a lot of musicians have lost, or lose as they get older.  The more that you know, the less you begin to rely on your ear.  You stop trusting your ear because you trust the notes.  You know, if the chords are written and you’ve memorized them, then you know they are right.  If you’re going by your ear, maybe you might hear something that might not be there — but that’s okay.  So I stress that: Don’t lose your ears.

Is that something you have to constantly remind yourself of?

No, I always work on that.  But there was a time when I had gotten away from it a little bit, and yeah, then I had to remind myself.

In a conversation we had off-mike you said to me that you’re writing a lot of music now so that you can work on things that give you difficulty, that you don’t know so well.

Yes.  Well, actually that’s what Trane was doing when  he wrote a lot of his songs.  If he was having trouble with something, he’d write a song, and that enabled him to work on it.   So that gave me the idea, and I’ve been doing that on a lot of things that I have done.  I mean, why play things that you know?  I mean, that’s for me.  Some people, that’s okay, you know, if that’s what you want to do.  But for me, I need to push myself.  I like to work on things.  I’m always working on something.  So that’s the way my compositions are going nowadays.

How so?  Which way is that?

Towards there should be a reason, you know, for it.  Even if I write a Blues, I’m looking for a key that I don’t play it in often, so then I can work on that key.  But I mean, I’ve played in B-Flat so many times that… It’s so comfortable, you know, sometimes you could get lazy.  I’m not saying that you do, but it’s a possibility.  But if you play a Blues in B, you don’t have time to be lazy.

Back to your teenage days in Baltimore, I take it that the Jazz scene was strong enough that everybody would come through at one time or another.

Yes.

So you must have had a taste of everything that was going on in the 1950’s.

Yeah, I saw everybody.  Oscar Pettiford.  I saw Art Tatum.  I saw Miles with Trane, Philly Joe, Red Garland and Paul Chambers, saw that band.  Max Roach.  I didn’t see Clifford [Brown], but I understand he was around Baltimore a lot. But you know, I wasn’t out on the scene so much.  You know, I could only go out like once every so often.  Bird spent time in Baltimore.  A lot of people.  It was really a  fertile music town..

We’ve been talking about how Jazz could be heard readily on jukeboxes when you were coming up, and the next track is a particular favorite of yours.

GB:    This track was Part 1 and Part 2.  I hope it’s the full version. I think it was Wayne Shorter’s second record date, but I think it was the first one that came out.  The album is called Kelly Great; it’s Wynton Kelly’s album.  This was a big hit in the Black neighborhoods.  It’s called “Wrinkles,” and if you know what wrinkles are… They’re chitlins.  That’s the slang word for chitlins, “wrinkles.”

[MUSIC: W. Kelly/L. Morgan/Shorter, “Wrinkles” (1960)]

The great Lee Morgan on trumpet.  Lee Morgan was only 21 when he did this record! And did you hear that?

It seems like you could make a great four-hour show on the things Lee Morgan did before the age of 22.

Right?!   You know?  I mean, it’s unbelievable.  This is around the time that I met Lee.  He was working with Dizzy Gillespie when I met him.  Of course, he was a hero, because he was about my age; I think Lee was about two years older than I was.  I was like 18, 19, you know, and here he was, like, the same age and doing, you know, what I wanted to do.  So I followed him around.  That’s how I met Wayne, too, because he took me to New Jersey one night and said, “I want you to hear a saxophone player.”  And I’ve been a Wayne Shorter fan ever since, too.

That track also was with, of course, Wynton Kelly (it’s Wynton Kelly’s album), Philly Joe Jones, who is another one of my heroes, and Paul Chambers, who is the same thing, another hero.

[MUSIC: Miles Davis, “Tadd’s Delight” (1958); Messengers with Bartz, “Soulfinger” (1964)]

That was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers doing a composition called “Soulfinger.”  That happened to be my recording debut.  It featured, of course,  Art Blakey, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, Victor Sproles, John Hicks and myself.  This was a collaboration of everybody, because we needed one more song to finish out the record — so we came up with this.  And Lee was a big James Bond fan…

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.

No?  [LAUGHS] So he was a big James Bond fan.  So Goldfinger the movie was out, so we called this “Soulfinger.”  I remember around this time we were in San Francisco, and he took me to a… He said, “Come on, Bartz, I want to show you something.”  We walked downtown somewhere, and we go in this store, and he’s looking around, and he says, “There it is, there it is!”  It’s a case of guns.  I said, “What?”  He said, “That’s the P.K. Walter.  That’s the gun that James Bond uses.”  That’s how I got into James Bond.

You also mentioned that you have a fascination with soundtrack music.

Yeah, I do.  I love soundtracks.  That’s why I moved to Los Angeles.  I was going to break into the movie industry!  But little did I know!

Anyway, this Jazz Messengers session was your first recording date.  How did you come to join the Jazz Messengers?  What was the process?

Well, as I said earlier, Art was working in my father’s club, the Jazz Messengers, and John Gilmore was in the band, but John Gilmore was leaving.  John Hicks and I had been friends for, you know, years, and Charles Tolliver was also on the gig, because he was taking Lee’s place whenever Lee didn’t show up.  So they called me.  They said, “Gary, come on down.”  I was living in New York at the time, because I’d moved to New York in ’58 — but this was in ’65.  So they said, “Come on down, because Art’s going to need a horn player, a saxophone player.”  So I came down and played, and I joined the band from there.

Actually, the next gig was with John Gilmore and myself.  We came up and did the Half-Note.  And Lee Morgan.  Lee rejoined the band.

John Hicks was then the piano player?

Yes.

Was he the music director?  Or was there one at that time?

It was between Lee and John.  Lee wasn’t on all the gigs, because he wasn’t showing up a lot…you know, sometimes… So whoever was there.  But it was between those two.

Just briefly, your comments on your experience with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

Oh, that’s a university there.  That’s really a university.  Go get your Masters.  When you leave Art, you really know how to build a solo.  I mean, Art builds the solo for you.  He shows you how to contour a solo.  That’s how I learned dynamics.  Art teaches you dynamics.  He teaches you so many things.  I learned how to speak on a microphone working with Art.  One night he just gave me the mike, and said, “Now make the announcements.”  I couldn’t even think of anybody’s name!  I couldn’t think of Art Blakey.  It’s endless, the things I learned with Art.

How long was your tenure with the Messengers?

GB:    Well, the first time was a year, and then I went back and was in other bands of his, of the Messengers.

You mentioned in another conversation, “Once a Messenger, always a Messenger.”

Always a Messenger.  That’s right.  I think I was talking to one of the younger Messengers about this, telling them how Hicks and I found out we’d lost the gig one time.  We heard them advertising on the radio, “Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on the Jazzmobile today.”  So we called each other and I said, “Have you heard from Art?”  He said, “No.”  He said, “We’re working tonight, right?”  He said, “Yeah.”  I said, “Well, let’s go together.”  So we went uptown to the gig, and there was a whole new group on the stage!  That’s how we lost the gig.  But later on he called us back, and we came back and did other stints with the band.  So it just dawned on me, you know?  I was always a Messenger.

[MUSIC: Messengers, “A La Mode”, Mobley/Blakey, “Remember”]

Soul Station is my favorite Hank Mobley album.  He once gave me an ultimate compliment, because he wrote a song for me — which I never heard.

We’ll move now to another of your favorites, who you met after moving to New York in 1958.  That must have been a big step for you musically and I guess in many other ways.

Well, I think that’s why musicians and other artists come to New York.  I think in the last century, Vienna was where you had to go, if you were a musician, to learn and to prove yourself.  In this century, you come to New York.  So I couldn’t wait to come out of high school so I could come to New York and learn.

And in ’58, September, to be exact, of ’58, I moved to New York.  I met a lot of people.  Freddie Hubbard had moved to New York in August of ’58.  So there was a lot of people around.  I met Andrew Cyrille, I met Grachan Moncur at Juilliard.  Lee Morgan was in and out of there.  Addison Farmer, Art Farmer’s twin brother.  Roland Hanna was going there.  Bobby Thomas.  A lot of people were going there.  A lot of great dancers who went on to Broadway fame and to win Tony’s and stuff, they were going to Juilliard.  Juilliard was up on 120th and Claremont then, where Manhattan School of Music is now.  They were just in the talking stages of moving down to Lincoln Center then.  So that’s where I was.

So you were combining the academic experience, I assume, with the fairly vigorous nightlife available in New York…

I think you’ve got it backwards.  The academic part was the nightlife.

Actually, I went there with the intention… I said, “Well, I’m going to learn my chords.”  Because I was playing totally by ear.  They didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked them to explain chords to me.  So I ended up learning chords from the musicians that I met there, and from hanging out at night.  That was my real learning experience.

Later on, I was better able to use the things that I learned at school.  But at the time, I was not into Mozart and Beethoven and people like that.  I was into Bird and Diz and Miles!  And Juilliard was a strictly Classical-oriented school.  So I had a bit of a problem adjusting to it.

Well, talk about the academics of the nightlife, then, and some of your professors, as it were.   What were some of the spots you would go to?

Count Basie’s.  I know we used to jam at Count Basie’s with Freddie Hubbard and Andrew Cyrille.  I used to go to a place called the Speakeasy down on Bleecker Street.  That’s where I met Pharaoh Sanders, and we started hanging out.  They had a lot of people down there.  Trane used to come in there all the time.

We used to go to George Braith’s place, his loft, which was over on Spring Street down in the basement.  He had the most beautiful loft.  You’d go down there, and instead of… There was no alcohol, you know; it was whatever you’d bring.  And he had chairs hanging from the ceiling, beautiful hard-wood floors, sofas… I mean, the most comfortable chairs!   And what would happen, people would come down there, listen to the music and fall asleep, heh-heh; they’d wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning.  And it was cool.  We’d still be playing.

We used to go to Kiane Zawadi’s loft and play, you know, for days on end.  We’d go up there and buy food, chip in and buy food, sleep there, and play whenever we got up, and just have marathon sessions… It was always a learning experience.  I remember one time Grachan Moncur found all of these lead sheets of Monk’s music, all of his music.  So we went down to Kiane’s loft down on Allen Street, and we stayed there for about three or four days until we’d played every song he found — every Monk song.  Different rhythm sections would come in, and spell each other.  That was fun.

Self-generated education.  Talk about the vibration in New York 30-35 years ago vis-a-vis today. Can a young musician replicate that kind of experience now?

Oh, I think so.  Yeah.  I mean, I think that the need to learn and the urge to learn does that.  I mean, we wanted to learn this music so bad, we would do anything to learn it.  Actors are the same way.  Artists are like that, painters, and writers — if you want to learn something, you will find a way.  And we found it however we could, and we just worked hard, and then we took what we learned from each other home, and worked on that.

I’d also like to talk about the spiritual dimension of  music at this time.  This was a period when just cataclysmic upheavals were happening in society, and they were certainly reflected in the way the music presented itself.

Yes.

You came to New York as, I’m assuming, a young guy really into Bird, within ten years you were involved with the Ntu Troop projects, extended structures and so forth… Talk a little bit about how your attitudes towards music changed in that time, if they did change.

I don’t think they have changed.  What happened was, you know, you start meeting other people, and exchanging philosophies, exchanging outlooks on life, and talking… For instance, I used to go up to Micheaux’s Bookstore on Seventh Avenue and 125th Street, and I used to see this tall guy, red-headed guy in there; he would be in the back sometimes talking to Mr. Micheaux, and they would be debating about Black history.  It turned out that was Malcolm X.  So I was around him a lot, and listening to what he said, and listening to Micheaux talk about African-American history, and buying the books.  Because when you went in his store, he would have books open to certain pages every day and things underlined that were important, and you’d come in and you’d read them, you know.  So I took that back to Baltimore with me when I would go back, and exchange ideas… It was just a growing thing.  I would talk about things with people that I would meet from everywhere here in New York.  Then I started working with Max Roach, who was very socially conscious and was a friend of Malcolm’s.  And I met Adam Clayton Powell, and a lot of people like that.

So that had a lot to do with me starting the Ntu Troop, because the Ntu Troop was a social commentary group.  I mean, we could have fun, we could party, too; like, “People Dance,” that was a party song.  But also we did things like “Uhuru Sasa,” you know.  So it was just like everything… It’s the whole gamut, and it goes the whole way.

The next set of music features another one of my buddies.  This is Jackie McLean.  When I met Jackie, Grachan Moncur was working with him, Grachan introduced me to Jackie, and we have been friends ever since.  Now, I’d loved Jackie’s playing for years, ever since “Dig.”  So that’s back to the beginning. Thjis one is called “Bluesnik.”

[MUSIC: JayMac, “Bluesnik” (1961); Sonny Rollins, “Blues For Philly Joe:” (1958), with Max, “Gertrude’s Bounce” (1956)]

Sonny Rollins I know has been a major person for you throughout your musical career.

Yes, he has.  I had a chance to meet him… Like I said, my father had a club, and he also used to promote concerts.  He promoted a concert with Sonny at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore, and I was the opening act, so that’s when I met Sonny.  So I have known Sonny since the early Sixties.

Did he use a local band for that?

No, he brought his own band, but I don’t remember who was in the band.

Did you?

Did I use a local band?  Yeah, I did.  It might have been John Hicks, Mickey Bass, Joe Chambers. That’s who was working at the club with me down there.  Joe Chambers….

Are there any existing documents of what you were doing at that time?  Tapes?

Probably some tapes somewhere.  I don’t know where they are, though.

At any rate, you were familiar with Sonny’s records, as you said before, going back to “Dig.”

Oh yeah. I can’t remember the first time I heard Sonny.  I think it was… It probably was the Dig album.  And I fell in love with him, and I used to see him all the time here in New York.  What impressed me and helped me was, if he was working at the Vanguard, say, I would see him one night, and that night would be like Prez night; Sonny would play like Prez all night, and would play Prez’s songs, “Three Little Words” and things that were associated with Prez, and play Prez’s solos sometimes note-for-note before he would go off into his solo.  The next night, maybe Coleman Hawkins, and he would do the same thing.  Then the next night would be Sonny.  So I used to go every night, as you see!

We have cued up music by John Coltrane.

I met John and Benny Golson together when I was about 14 years old, at a session in Baltimore. They were actually working with an R&B band with Bull Moose Jackson.  Some of you might be familiar them.  “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well?” which was his big hit.  I met them, and so I had been following both of them, Benny and John, through the years.

But you know, the first time I heard Trane on record, I didn’t care too much for him.  The first record I heard was the one on the Transition label, out of Detroit, wasn’t it…?  And he was a little different.  I mean, I’ve since, of course, made up for that, because I have everything he ever did, and would be up under him as much as I could.

John Coltrane was known to be very encouraging and supportive to young musicians…

Oh, he was.

…and would have people come up sometimes to play.

Yes.  I could have, but I wouldn’t dare.  I was learning enough just listening.  After he finished, what was I going to do?  I wasn’t a masochist.  John was so intense.  I mean, his need to learn and his will to get the music out impressed me.  And for me, that’s the way I wanted to be, was to  be such a hard worker like that.  Because really, this music is a lonely thing.  You see us out in the clubs, you know, and that’s like party time when we’re playing, when we’re performing — or you know, at concerts.  But our work is really done at home, and no one sees that.  You know the legends of how hard John worked.  He would practice sometimes 23 hours a day, you know.  So that impressed me.

In researching things, you find out that Bird did the same thing… There’s no other way.  You just don’t play this music or do anything at that level without putting the time in.  And it might have looked like Bird didn’t work that hard, but believe me, he worked just as hard.  He might had other things that made it easier for him, like photographic memory.  I mean, that’s a big help!  Perfect pitch.  Those things are big helps if you’re a musician, or if you’re an actor or something.

So you just have to put in the time, and that’s what John showed me.

[MUSIC: Coltrane/Pharaoh, “The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost (1966),” “Nancy With The Laughing Face” (1963)]

By the time Meditations came out, Gary, you had already begun recording.  You had worked with Max Roach, and about a year after Meditations you did your first record for Milestone. You recorded several records for Milestone up to around 1970.  Then you began working with Miles Davis, and the music started to change.  The choices many musicians were making began to differ around that time, and there were many reasons for it.

Yes.  I remember when I joined Miles, I was really not into electronic music at that time, and I was the only one in the band who was not electrified.  And I had many problems, you know, those first gigs, because everything was so loud! — and here I am with just a saxophone.  They had amps and speakers and pedals and fuzz-boxes and everything, and I’m just trying to deal with it.  But I did grow to understand electronics.  I mean, a microphone is really the beginning of electronics!  I mean, if you’re using the mike, you’re already electrified.  So I guess there wasn’t a big step.

I think Jimi Hendrix probably was a transitional figure for a lot of musicians.  I guess Jimi was really a Jazz musician playing Rock.  I know Miles loved Jimi, and that made me listen to him — because I was not listening to him before that.  I always loved, as you heard earlier, the R&B with Louis Jordan, and I loved James Brown, I love…

When you asked me who did I see at the Royal, I was thinking more of Jazz, but who I really saw more were people like James Brown, Little Richard many times, I saw Clyde McPhatter, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino — you can name them in that idiom.  I saw everybody.  And I always loved that music, because it’s the same music!  I mean, it’s the same experience.  Had they been the same age and in the same city at the same time, John Coltrane could have gone to school and graduated with James Brown, but yet they both would have played the same thing, knowing each other, being friends, but yet one playing one kind of music, or what we think is one kind of music… It’s really all the same music to me.  Like Duke Ellington said, “There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad,” and that’s the way I… That’s my philosophy.

So making the jump…it wasn’t really making a jump.  It was making a jump to people in the business or maybe critics or people like that, but it wasn’t making a jump to me.

Now I just love this song.  I think this is a funky song.  And it is.  And it i-yiz.  This is Bootsy, and this is a song they called “Hollywood Squares.”

[MUSIC: Bootsy, “Hollywood Squares,” Parliament, “P-Funk Wants To Get Funked Up”]

Well, all right!  Ha-ha, make my… Okay.  That was George Clinton doing “P-Funk Wants To Get Funked Up.”  I just saw, that was Tiki Fulwood on drums, who has passed away.  He worked with Miles for about a month; we worked together.  That’s how I ended up meeting all of the Merry Funksters.  Before that you heard “Hollywood Squares” by Bootsy Collins, and that was also produced by George Clinton. What an innovator he is  I mean, he started a lot of things.  Actually these were all the same bands, but they were different record labels and different names and different monies.  But it was the same band.  You know, he started that.  Prince is a big fan of George Clinton.

George, if you go to see his concerts, you’re going to really hear some music.  And you won’t hear tapes… When  I say you’ll really hear some music, you’ll really hear musicians playing.   Which is kind of rare nowadays, because most of the Pop artists bring tapes, because they can’t emulate what they do on the records.

They’re so produced also, those records.

Yeah, it’s so produced, but even the ones that are not produced, they can’t… I mean, it takes them a long time.  They do, like, take after take until they get it right.   That’s one thing about Jazz which makes the initial investment kind of low, because we can go in and give it to them in one or two takes.  These guys go in, and they’ll work on a song for like a month.  One song! But George can go do it in one take, too.  I mean, they sound better… A lot of times in person it sounds better than the records.

Well, turning to your recordings, Gary, you always seem to approach sessions as kind of an extended drama or narrative within the music.

Yes.

The music sort of bears codes within it that tell a larger story.

To me, albums are a musician’s version of books.  They are books for musicians.  So just like you have mystery novels, you have fiction, you have biographical novels, autobiographical, comedy… It runs the gamut.  From probably my first album, I have been into concept albums.  Why am I doing the album?  What’s the purpose of the album?  Is it just to do some originals?  Is it to show what your arrangements are on standards.  Or it goes deeper than that, like Another Earth, which was an album dedicated to Life, you know, and the Universe.  So it goes everywhere.

I read something where Beethoven, when he would write his symphonies or when he would write music, each one… He went from a light symphony, like Pastorale, to a heavy symphony like Eroica.  So he would go back and forth, from light to heavy, light to heavy.   So I’ve kind of kept that in mind, and tried to do that sometimes.

This sort of raises a question of extra-musical influence, as it were, the other phenomena of life that impact upon your concept of music-making.  Your albums are full of references.  Have movies, books, inspired your ideas about music from your beginnings as a musician?

Oh, sure.  Artists, I think, are inspired by everything and everyone they come in contact with.  Just like you may have a certain inflection on a little thing that you do that I may interpret into the music.  So that means you influenced me.  So I can be influenced by… I walk down the street and see somebody, and I say, “I like that,” and I may end up interpreting…you know, putting that in the music.

Well, you’ve been in the music really from…

GB:    Day One!  [LAUGHS] Seems like it.

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Filed under Gary Bartz, Interview, Uncategorized, WKCR

“The Bradley’s Hang” (DownBeat 2006): For the 86th Birthday Anniversary of Bradley Cunningham

In observation of the 86th birthday anniversary of Bradley Cunningham, the founder and animating spirit of Bradley’s, New York’s premier piano saloon from 1969, when he launched it, until October 20, 1996, when his widow, Wendy Cunningham, closed its doors, I’m posting a piece I wrote about the room—where I spent many memorable late-nights, including the one cited in the first paragraph—in 2006 for DownBeat.

The Bradley’s Hang
……
By Ted Panken

On a sleety Wednesday in February 1992, there wasn’t a large turnout for the 2 a.m. set at Bradley’s. The room’s soft amber lighting revealed perhaps 20 patrons on the barstools and in the armchairs surrounding the tables in the dining area at the rear. Halfway down the rectangular room, a Baldwin grand piano stood in an alcove along the wood-paneled south wall, positioned directly underneath a photo-realist painting of Charles Mingus and a caricature by pianist Jimmy Rowles of a devilish Bradley Cunningham, the room’s late proprietor.

Pianist Stephen Scott, then 22, could not have asked for more seasoned partners to help him navigate his first Bradley’s leader week than bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley. Nor could he have hoped for more discerning—or demanding—listeners, who on this evening numbered fellow pianists Tommy Flanagan, Kirk Lightsey, Ronnie Matthews, Don Pullen and Cecil Taylor.

Fourteen years later, Scott “vaguely” recalls the evening. “Maybe I blanked it out of my memory,” he said. “In 1992 it would have been overwhelming to have all those wonderful people in the audience. But it wasn’t unusual for the older masters to come out and show support. There’s a fundamental understanding of jazz and its history that comes from being in the trenches, and having to come up with the music at 2 a.m. because Tommy Flanagan and Kirk Lightsey are sitting in front of you and want to hear some music.”

For week after week from the early 1970s, when Cunningham, with Cedar Walton as his consultant, purchased the room’s first acoustic piano, a Baldwin spinet, until October 1996, when Cunningham’s widow, Wendy, faced with insurmountable debt, closed Bradley’s for good, “the world’s most elite and classic piano players,” in Larry Willis’ phrase, fulfilled Scott’s prescription. One of them was Lightsey, a regular since 1977, who, joined by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and bassist Cecil McBee, had propelled the festivities during the Monday-to-Saturday previous to Scott’s engagement. Following him on Sunday night was a trio led by John Hicks—who first worked Bradley’s in 1976 in duo with bassist Walter Booker—with Booker and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, then fresh on the scene.

“When you played at Bradley’s, you had to come up to a brilliance or they’d make so much noise you couldn’t be heard,” said Lightsey, whose 2004 release, Nights Of Bradley’s (Sunnyside), culled from three January 1985 duo nights with Rufus Reid, captures the room’s ambiance. “But when you were on, they were on your every note, sound and emotion. It was always a real charge to know that you were accepted by the people who might have been ahead of you in the pecking order of pianists in New York.”

Like all the pianists in the regular Bradley’s rotation, Lightsey thrived on the bacchanalian atmosphere of the 2 a.m. show, when basses were parked in all the corners and anybody—Tony Bennett, Placido Domingo, Joni Mitchell, Phil Spector, Arthur Herzog, Alec Wilder—might come in for a snack and a sip before going home. Writers and media types had Elaine’s, artists had the Odeon, punkers had CBGB, and the pop and fashion bourgeoisie had Studio 54 and Nell’s. For jazzfolk and hipsters, there was Bradley’s.

“Everybody would leave the Vanguard or the Blue Note and gather at Bradley’s,” Lightsey said. “If you’d been out of town, you’d go just to check in, and tell everybody you’re there. This was the meeting place, and somebody might be looking for you for a record date or a rehearsal.”

“It was like business and pleasure at the same time,” said Riley, who sees Bradley’s as a cross between such gray flannel suit East Side supper clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s as the Embers and the Composers, the creative attitude of the Village Vanguard, and such back-in-the-day Harlem musician haunts as Connie’s, the 125 Club, the Hotel Theresa Lounge and Minton’s Playhouse.

“It was an office,” saxophonist Gary Bartz affirmed. “When I first moved to New York, the hang was Beefsteak Charlie’s on 50th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue—although it was more a daytime hang. Everybody came there—I saw Billy Strayhorn. Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Tadd Dameron—and bands would gather there to go on the road. You’d meet there to get paid. Bradley’s became that sort of place night-wise. I’d do a gig somewhere else, and if the money hadn’t come through, I’d say, ‘Just drop it off at Bradley’s; I’ll pick it up one night.’”

Other sorts of business took place as well. “You could buy a house in the men’s room,” Lightsey said, whimsically.

“We took a lot of substances back in those days,” recalled Roger Kellaway, who played Bradley’s on a yearly basis between 1984 and 1992, and hung out there during its early years. “I remember playing with Red Mitchell in 1986, when I was no longer doing drugs, and I called the midnight set the neosenephrin set, because I could feel the vibe. People I knew would come in who I thought were coming to hear me, and they’d walk right by the piano to the back, be there for 10 or 15 minutes, and leave.”

Mostly people came to listen and socialize, and as spirits took effect, animated conversations ensued. “At Bradley’s, everybody drank, sometimes people sat in, sometimes people argued, sometimes people had interesting debates on the right chord change [of] a tune,” said Fred Hersch, a fixture between 1978 and 1989. “It was democratic—you were mixing it up as a young kid with the legends of the business, some of them not on their best behavior, but all of them with something to say.”

Despite an official “quiet policy,” the resulting cacophony challenged performers, as Mulgrew Miller put it, “to test your powers to bring an audience in.”

“The louder they talked, the softer I played,” said Larry Willis. “I learned that from Hank Jones. I would not let the crowd frustrate me. Pretty soon, I’d get everybody’s attention, and the room would get quiet.”

To keep it quiet, pianists played music with which everyone could identify, and tunesmithing was de rigueur. “You wouldn’t play ‘Out To Lunch,’” said George Cables. “You could play originals, but basically it was bebop songs and show tunes—chestnuts, standards, some obscure songs. Repertoire that maybe Art Tatum played, songs you could hear Ella or Sarah sing.”

Veterans were not shy about offering advice on how to address such material. “Sometimes they would give you directions as you played,” Danilo Pérez said. “‘Yeah, go, Danilo. Go there. That’s the way. Right there. No-no, not that chord, the other one.’ On a ballad, ‘Keep it there, keep it there.’ You would come out all bruised, but there was something special about having the older guys tutor you. They did it sometimes directly, sometimes not very nice, but it didn’t matter—you were in a class, but you were not in a classroom. I started picking up unusual standards like ‘I’ll Be Around’ and ‘Time On My Hands.’ Sometimes I didn’t learn the bridge correctly, or played one note that wasn’t part of the melody. Then somebody like Ronnie Matthews would say, ‘That was good, but on the bridge, the melody goes like this.’ On my first gig there, I was 10 minutes late. Kenny Barron was sitting at the table right next to me at the piano. He touched my back and said, ‘Look, man, you were late. You don’t leave the cats waiting here.’”

Young horn players would frequently receive impromptu bandstand tutorials. “Once I played ‘Delilah’ with Junior Cook, and after I played the melody I forgot the bridge, so I started improvising over the chords,” said Roy Hargrove, who played his first New York gigs at Bradley’s in 1989, closed it in 1996 and convened some of his veteran mentors there to play on the 1995 CD Family (Verve). “That’s where the tenor plays the melody, so I was stepping into Junior’s spot. He went off on me: ‘If you don’t know it, then don’t play!’ I usually felt challenged when I played Bradley’s, because I was aware of who was listening. There’s Freddie Hubbard at the bar. ‘OK, what am I going to play?’”

Even seasoned pros might receive admonishment, as Lightsey did from Flanagan for his treatment of Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born. ” “It keeps progressing until you get to the turnaround at the end,” said Lightsey of the form, “which to me stops the song’s forward motion. I’m sure Thad had a reason for doing that, but I had my reason for taking out two bars. Tommy Flanagan came in when I was playing it, and he focused and he listened. When we finished the set, he rushed over to me. I called him ‘Father,’ so he called me ‘Son.’ He said, ‘Son, you owe me two bars.’ I don’t think he ever collected the two bars.”

The late set also encouraged the time-honored function of sitting in. “When Hank Jones played, all the pianists came out, and he’d have everybody come up,” Walton recalled. “It would go past 4 a.m. because 10 or 12 people were sitting in.”

Such occasions could turn competitive. Several witnesses describe an evening when George Coleman, at the end of a Cables gig, asked Cables to play “Body And Soul.” “I told him sure,” Cables recalled.“We usually do it in D-flat, but at the last minute George said, ‘In D-major, Trane changes.’ I said, ‘I’m game.’ But I’d never played it in that key, and I was tripping over these chords and notes, trying to work it out, especially in the bridge. I was ticked off, because it was my set and I’d let him embarrass me, and I was mouthing off.”

A physical altercation ensued.

The spirit of the cutting contest was also rampant on an evening when Dorothy Donegan, in her 70s, came in with an entourage near the end of Miller’s final set. “Out of respect, I called her up,” Miller recalled. “Man, she played the whole history of the piano. She wowed the audience so much that they didn’t want her to get up—on my gig. Finally she went back to her table, and I heard her say to her friends, ‘Did I get him?’”

On other nights, batons were passed, as on Pérez’s first Bradley’s performance. “Barry Harris was playing with Ray Drummond and Billy Higgins, and someone introduced me to Barry,” Pérez remembered. “He said, ‘Tonight we have in the house supposedly a young talent.’ He played ‘Cherokee,’ burned it, and then called me to perform. I was so nervous. Everybody at Bradley’s was like, ‘Da-nilo! Da-nilo!’ But I got up, and guess what he did? He played a tune I didn’t know, a tune of his. I followed. After a while he followed, and said, ‘Yeah, you got some great ears, man; I like that.’ I played a little, then he’d play, and we hung out all night.”

“Bradley’s was like home,” said Barron, whose exalted status in the piano rotation is the point of Live At Bradley’s and The Perfect Set (Sunnyside), which document three nights with Drummond and Riley in April 1996. “If I was working in Boston or Philadelphia, soon as I finished the gig at midnight, I got in the car and I wanted to get to Bradley’s for the last set. I’d only hear maybe a couple of tunes, but I was still there to hang.”

The Bradley’s hang became an institution that outlasted the lifespan of its founder, whose outsized personality and Rabelasian habits matched his 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound frame. Raised in California, as a Marine Cunningham worked in combat intelligence and became sufficiently conversant in Japanese to convince remnant troops on Saipan Island to emerge from their caves at the conclusion of World War II. In the early ’60s he bought the 55 Bar on Christopher Street, and he opened Bradley’s in June 1969. He launched a music policy five months later with an electric Wurlitzer that had belonged to singer Roy Kral.

During his first two years on University Place, Cunningham primarily hired pianist Bobby Timmons and guitarist Joe Beck, interpolating one-shots to such fusionists as Larry Coryell, Jan Hammer, Joe Zawinul, Hermeto Pascoal and Don Preston. The writer Frank Conroy (Stop-Time) played Monday nights. By the middle of 1973, with the Baldwin spinet in place, the booking esthetic moved toward mainstream duos. Walton and Sam Jones, known familiarly as Homes, appeared at regular intervals, Al Haig played Sunday nights, and Flanagan made his Bradley’s debut that Thanksgiving week with bassist Wilbur Little. Two weeks into 1974 Jaki Byard became the regular Sunday pianist. That June, the Los Angeles-based pianist Rowles, who had begun hanging out at Bradley’s while in residence for two months at Barney’s Josephson’s Cookery, moved up the block for a three-week run. A month later he embarked on a four-month residency and inaugurated Bradley’s golden era.

“I came to town in November ’77, and my first job was playing duo for a week with Jimmy Rowles,” Drummond recalled. “Sam Jones called me, and said, ‘I want you to go in.’ ‘Who are you sending me in to work with?’ I had seen Bradley and been introduced, but that was it. He always would give me this scowl; this perpetual scowl that Bradley had. On the first night, I’m unpacking the bass, and Bradley wandered around, looking at me, like, ‘What is this about?’ Didn’t say a word. Then Rowles comes in, and we play. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m playing with Jimmy Rowles.’ He knows all 10 million tunes in the world, tunes that were cut out of previews of shows. He was kind to me; everything he played, I knew.

“It was obvious that Homes hadn’t told Bradley that I was going to sub for him one night, let alone the whole week—but he figured it out. At the end of the second set, he walked by me. He looked me dead in the eye without changing the facial expression. He said, ‘You know, kid? You’re all right.’ Then he walked away. That was my initiation.”

Drummond adds, “Of course, after coming to New York, you determined quickly that Bradley’s was where you want to go, because everyone playing is a guy you want to hear.”

By the end of 1977, “everyone” included pianists Barry Harris (then nearing the end of a two-year run as Sunday night house pianist), Walton, Barron, Walter Bishop, Walter Norris, Roland Hanna, Dave McKenna, Dick Wellstood, Bob Dorough, Cables, Hersch, guitarist Jimmy Raney, and bassists Jones, George Mraz, Michael Moore, Major Holley and Buster Williams. There were several appearances by Hank Jones, who had retired from his New York studio sinecure in 1975, and frequent ones by Flanagan. All were playing on a Baldwin grand piano bequeathed to Bradley by Paul Desmond, who died May 30, 1977.

“It should be on Bradley’s tombstone, ‘He tuned his piano every day of the year,’” says Wendy Cunningham. “The piano tuner would have fits about the condition of the piano he’d seen just 24 hours before. So he who broke too many strings wasn’t usually encouraged to come back. It wasn’t just a piano. It came from his best friend.”

“Bradley didn’t like people who pounded the piano, which is why his two favorite musicians were Jimmy Rowles and Tommy Flanagan.” said Stanley Crouch, a newbie at the Village Voice, whose offices were across the street from Bradley at 11th and University, when older colleague Jack Newfield, the political journalist, brought him there for lunch in 1975. “I saw Mingus’ picture on the wall and all of that, and that was the beginning. Bradley’s was a place where one could be guaranteed to get the feeling that people like in jazz. Not a style, but a certain feeling. Bradley appreciated people who had a wide repertoire of tunes with different harmonic and rhythmic identities.”

“It was extraordinary to meet all those guys, to be playing late at night with whoever was playing a horn, relaxed, sitting on a chair, nothing to prove,” Hersch said. “I remember a Sunday night when Jimmy was playing duo with Bob Cranshaw. He started to play a ballad, and when he got to the end, he segued to the melody of another ballad, then got to the end of the second one and he segued to the melody of a third. I was 21 or whatever, sitting at the front table, and Jimmy could tell that I was waiting for the jazz. He leaned over the table, because I was within earshot, and he said, in that gravel voice, ‘Sometimes I just like to play melodies.’ It was an eye-opener for a young guy that sometimes it’s enough to play a song, and not do anything with it.”

Hersch recalls an after the morning moment, perhaps in 1979, when he, Mraz and Cunningham, relaxing after a gig, heard a knock on the door from Flanagan and Rowles. “They decided that they were going to play Stump the Piano Player with each other,” Hersch said. “For the next hour-and–a-half, maybe two, they called and played these obscure tunes. Jimmy and Tommy had played with every singer known to man and could play them in any key. I can’t remember who stumped who. I wish I’d written down the titles on a napkin.”

Indeed, Bradley Cunningham liked to play “Stump the Pianist” himself. A self-described “sandlot pianist,” he locked the doors after 4 a.m., moved the patrons off the bar, sat at the piano bench and traded songs and conversation while imbibing until daylight and beyond with fellow night-owls like Mingus, who then lived around the corner on West 10th Street.

“Charles and Bradley were two potentially volatile people, and when one volcano is sitting across from another, it tends to keep the other one from erupting, because you know your match is waiting,” Wendy Cunningham said. “Mingus was generous about helping Bradley with his piano playing. I sat with him once when Bradley was playing, and I said, ‘Charles, this is the fourth tune he’s done, and they all sound alike.’ He said, ‘I know, but let’s encourage him.’”

Crouch recalled another after-hours occasion with Flanagan when Cunningham demonstrated that he was no musical dilettante. “Bradley came through with a tall one in one hand, smoking a cigarette,” Crouch recalled. “He looked like one of those comic figures that W.C. Fields played who went out to play golf, with all the alcohol in the golf cart. Flanagan was there, and Bradley sat down and said, ‘Tommy, I always thought that Thelonious Monk could have been an architect whose slogan would have been “we build better bridges.”’ Then he sat down and he started playing a number of Monk’s tunes, and played the bridges on each one.”

Cunningham was also not averse to displaying his inner Paul Bunyon when dealing with obstreperous patrons. Late one night in the early ’70s, Wendy Cunningham, walking towards the club, saw her husband “tussling with somebody” under the club’s canopy. “Suddenly, this figure goes flying across the sidewalk and lands on the hood of a car like a sack of potatoes, and Bradley was wiping his hands as if to say, ‘Well, that dirty work is done,” she said. “He had thrown out Miles Davis. Miles could be serious bad news in those years, and he also felt that he could come in and order anything for himself and his friends and that he should not be obligated to pay for any of it. He fast learned he wasn’t going to do that again.”

On another evening, Elvin Jones,“seriously 86ed” for two to three years for volatile behavior, showed up on the Sept. 9 birthday he shared with Bradley. “Bradley got up, and met him midway at the bar,” Cunningham recounted. “When he wanted to look impressive, somehow he could swell up. Elvin was determined to get past him and Bradley was determined that he wasn’t going to, and it was coming to physical and loud verbal stuff. One of the bartenders got scared, because he knew these two had a history, and he called the cops. Three cops dragged Bradley out. Elvin’s still turning the place over, Bradley’s pleading, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy,’ and meanwhile the cops are trying to put the cuffs on Bradley out on the sidewalk. That took a minute to get straightened out.”

After three stints in rehab for alcohol and substance abuse, Cunningham was diagnosed with cancer in May 1988. He died five months later, on Thanksgiving weekend, at the age of 63, leaving his wife and teenage son with a mountain of business and personal debt.

“His brains were starting to go scrambled, and I was spending way too much time on Tuesday correcting what he’d messed up on Monday,” Wendy Cunningham said. “He would double-book, and then there would be a week blank—starting tomorrow. Even before he died, my lawyer and accountant both told me that I probably was going to have no choice but to sell the place. Bradley never looked at a book; he lost the 55 Bar due to sales tax, and still owed money on it. It was the same at Bradley’s. The interest and penalties compounded hourly, and it became monumental. And it took me until 1993 to finish paying his medical bills. I wanted to keep the place going, but that seemed like a fantasy, so my focus was to be able to stay open, build up the business and take care of the debt to the point where I could sell it and not have to hand all of it over to Uncle Sam or the bank.”

If Bradley’s finances were a shambles, the roster was as strong and diverse as ever when he died. As the ’80s progressed Hank Jones and Flanagan appeared frequently, often with bassist Mitchell. Hicks, Willis, Ray Bryant, Joanne Brackeen, James Williams, Harold Mabern, Richie Beirach, Hilton Ruiz, Walter Davis Jr., Stanley Cowell, Bill Mays and Jack Wilson augmented the roster. In 1987, so did tenor saxophonist George Coleman, who, after three Sunday trios that spring with either Ruiz, Hicks or Willis and Ray Drummond, played the first-ever trio week at Bradley’s on Labor Day, and returned for another three such engagements and several Sunday nights before Bradley’s death. Over that 12-month span, he booked another dozen drummerless horn-led trios.

It was possible for Cunningham to try these experiments because, in 1986, New York’s Musicians Union won a suit intended to strike down the city’s Cabaret Laws, passed in 1926 to clamp down on social dancing in Harlem’s interracial cabarets. These statutes made it illegal for an unlicensed venue serving food and drink to present music by more than three persons—who could not be horn players or drummers—in an area not zoned for that activity, and was amended in 1978 to stipulate the presence of sprinklers and other provisions as a precondition for that license.

Cunningham was eager to take advantage of the new playing field and to bring in horns and drums. “Bradley was a piano-and-bass guy, and he was fearful that the Cabaret Laws might go out the window, and he might be forced to have to deal with trios,” she said. “I wanted to broaden the format. I intended to keep the tradition of quality, and to continue to bring in a lot of musicians who had played there before, but it was unfair for people to assume that things would be the same.”

In truth, things were pretty much the same during 1989. But during the month of June, Cunningham presented the New York debuts of 19-year-old trumpeter Hargrove, on the back end of a week by Hicks and Booker, and 18-year-old Geoffrey Keezer, helming a trio with Booker and Jimmy Cobb. The press paid attention, and over the next few years Cunningham wove Keezer and Hargrove into the regular mix, along with such young talent as Mark Whitfield, Pérez, Jacky Terrasson and Cyrus Chestnut and veterans like Bartz, Donald Brown, Belgrave, Chris Anderson, Andy Bey and Eddie Henderson. She booked a series of piano duos, brought in drummers like Riley, Billy Higgins, Idris Muhammad, Lewis Nash and Billy Drummond on a regular basis and encouraged experimentation beyond the “$50 tunes” favored by her husband.

Reaction was mixed. For one thing, many missed the duo focus. “The drums and horns took the room to a whole other space—not necessarily a bad space, but different,” Miller said. “Bradley’s was a piano duo room where I heard most of the pianists at their best. Something about the duo experience afforded you the opportunity to do all the pianistic things you might not do in another group setting.”

“The introduction of horns and drums changed the character of the performances and the dynamic between the musicians and audience in a subtle way,” said Ray Drummond, whose counsel Cunningham cites as key in helping her through the transition. “We had differences of opinion about it, not artist-specific, but conceptual. I thought young pianists and bassists were missing a certain apprenticeship experience; when they played duo, the drummer was in their mind—but that’s precisely what you didn’t hear back in the day. There’s an understanding about the time and the beat, not just where it is, but the deep groove that doesn’t need a drummer.”

With a woman at the helm, it was inevitable that sexism would rear its ugly head. “Bradley’s tight friends seemed not to like ‘the widow,’ as they called her,” Lightsey said. “When Bradley died and they saw that she was going to run the place, they didn’t help her. They stopped coming. But the musicians owed it to Bradley to help her try to run this place properly, because it was our home. We told her about people who were available, or who could be with other people, and advised her on certain policies. She was amenable, but she learned good, she had her own idea about things, and she was the owner of the place.”

The differences seemed picayune as Bradley’s moved inexorably to insolvency, its fate sealed after a kitchen grease fire forced a four-month closure in the middle of 1995. “I was starting to see my way to sunlight,” Cunningham recalls. “But the building was built in the 1880s, and now it had to accommodate 1995 building codes. There was a domino effect. The reconstruction costs were enormous, I had no cash flow for four months and I had creditors. All I could do was try to get the place in shape to be able to sell it. More than 50 percent of the mortgage payment came from Bradley’s, so we were unable to make mortgage payments when we were closed. But instead of trying to help us find a way out and stick with us, the bank just foreclosed on the property, and I had to find a buyer immediately. I was unable to sell Bradley’s. I had to close it.”

It can be painful for former Bradley’s habitues to walk past 70 University Place, where a pool table sits in the spot of Paul Desmond’s Baldwin, now housed at the Jazz Gallery, and several televisions show sports. Conspiracy theories abound as to why Cunningham did not sell to various purported sugar daddies—a Japanese mega-millionaire recruited by a cocaine dealer; a Swiss tycoon pulled in by James Williams—who would have preserved the room’s character.

“I was talking seriously with two men from England, who were legitimate, which nobody is aware of,” Cunningham said. “The rest is rumor. The truth is not known, and it ain’t nobody’s business but mine. This was my mess.”

Still, a decade after its closing fortnight—which began with an epic week by Chucho Valdés, and ended with a penultimate three-night Hargrove-led extravaganza, and a final tasty quartet evening with Scott, Joe Locke, Ed Howard and Victor Lewis—people not normally prone to sentiment or nostalgia feel a pang when it’s time to leave the Vanguard at half past midnight. The deaths in 2006 of Hicks and Booker compound the feeling that there is no place to go for that last set, that nothing has come along to take the place of Bradley’s.

Which is why under-40 pianists like Scott, Pérez and Keezer all count their blessings for having sat up-close-and-personal with the lineage.

“How can you play jazz piano and not acknowledge Hank Jones and his touch?” Scott says. “How can you play jazz and not acknowledge the subtle fire that Tommy Flanagan played with?”

“Learning first-hand through a teacher-student relationship has incredible value,” Pérez says. “Nothing compares to being in an environment where the people who are listening to you are the masters, who have lived the music, and are passing along that experience first-hand. To learn to listen, not to think that I have the answers to things, to learn to play with humility, because anybody can come and kick your ass on rhythm changes. What a challenge it was to play there. You heard Tommy Flanagan last week playing all these incredible things, and now you’re sitting in that chair. I miss it.”

So does everyone else. Last May, Hicks expressed his sentiments in a poem composed for Cunningham on the occasion of a surprise 60th birthday party that she was not able to attend. Three days later, he was dead.

WENDY:

THERE WAS A PLACE … University
Just Enough Space with … Diversity
THO’ ne’er intended, That song has Ended
FROM HEARTS Through Fingers
The Melody, still Lingers.

J.H.
In Love

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Filed under Article, Bradley's, DownBeat, Piano

Lee Konitz Blindfold Test, 2003, Uncut

The inimitable Lee Konitz is mid-week at the Blue Note with an ad-hoc quartet of Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock, and Joey Baron. He’s played with each of them at various points along his timeline, but I believe this is their first encounter as a group. The booking coincides with the release of Live at Birdland [ECM], a discursive performance by Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian in which the elder altoist and younger pianist engage in high-level harmonic back-and-forth on six good-old-good-ones.

As the recent recording Knowing-Lee [Outnote]—a trio collaboration with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach—bears out, Konitz thrives on these kinds of encounters. An assignment to write the liner notes for this intense, no-roadmap, unfiltered, three-way conversation gave me an opportunity to distill some thoughts on Konitz’ achievement over 65 years as a professional improviser.

“Even before I met Lennie Tristano, and learned more about this music, I thought I would be a professional journeyman musician doing whatever gigs were offered to me,” Lee Konitz told me in 2002, when he was 74 years old. “I am very happy to be able to be a creative journeyman. For some strange reason, I like to go in and play with different guys.”

    This self-description does not do justice to Konitz’ exalted position in the timeline of jazz expression. An avatar in the art of improvising without a preconceived harmonic, melodic or rhythmic framework (he did this in 1949, on a pair of sides with a Tristano-led sextet that included Warne Marsh), he would become the only alto saxophonist of his generation to develop a tonal personality—at once cerebral and melody-centric, rhythmically muscular and behind-the-beat—that addressed the innovations of Charlie Parker without mimicking Bird’s style. Over the years, Konitz noted, he’s focused on “weeding out things that I felt were extraneous and trying to play what I really felt and heard,” towards the notion of “eliminating as much of the mechanical part of playing as possible to play some real notes. Ned Rorem once said that one of the most original things I did was not to try to be original. That rings a bell for me. I was just trying to absorb what was hip at the time as best I could, and when I got alone, try and reinterpret it or interpret it the way I heard it.”    

    During his early career, Konitz developed his language in working bands—Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nonet. But after leaving Stan Kenton in 1954, he switched his m.o. to that of gigging troubadour, free-lancing from one project to the next. Until the latter ‘60s, with several exceptions, he fronted blowing combos of varying size and instrumentation, propelled by swinging bass and drums. He’s expanded his scope over the past four decades, undertaking diverse projects—Daniel Schnyder’s arrangements of French Impressionist music and Billie Holiday songs for string ensemble; Ohad Talmor’s nonet orchestrations of Konitz compositions and transcribed solos; various one-offs with the excellent big bands that populate the European continent; specially convened units on which he improvises freshly on old standbys with several-generations-removed talent like Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson, and Dan Tepfer, and with such generational contemporaries as Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow, and Paul Motian.

In 1993, Lee joined me at WKCR over the course of three five-hour Sunday “Jazz Profile” shows to present and talk about his recordings, from the Thornhills on through  to what was then the present (of course, given his extraordinary productivity, he’s generated dozens and dozens of recordings over the intervening years).  Over the next decade-plus, he’d come to the station at regular intervals (usually walking the mile-and-a-half from his Upper West Side home) to publicize one NYC event or another. He is as uninhibited when speaking as he is  when improvising.

I wrote a DownBeat feature on Lee in 2002. Two years later, he sat with me for a DownBeat Blindfold Test.  Here’s the complete, pre-edit proceedings of the BT.

[Re what things sound like at the Blue Note, read Jim MacNie’s excellent review.

* * * * * *

1.    Clusone 3, “It’s You” (from AN HOUR WITH…, Hatology, 1998) (Michael Moore, alto saxophone; Ernst Reijsiger, cello; Han Bennink, drums) – (5 stars)

Was that applause at the end?  Well, that was really nice.  I appreciate very much that these guys chose my line to play on “It’s You Or No One.”  I think that was Michael Moore and Ernst Reijsiger.  I never heard Ernst play a line like that before, so that was really a pleasant surprise.  I don’t know who the drummer was, but he was right in there.  And Michael sounded beautiful.  I haven’t heard him play with that kind of intensity before either, but I haven’t heard that many of his records.  But that was really nice. I always wonder how you come out of a very eighth-notey kind of line like that.  He did what I frequently do, just leave some space and play little epigrams, and then kind of wind up.  But I always think that you should come out of that line even with a higher intensity.  That’s one of the challenges of playing that line instead of “It’s You Or No One.”  So that was really very nice.  And a little canon at the end when they played the line together; it was very effective.  I must send my compliments to those guys. Five stars!

2.    Jackie McLean, “Star Eyes” (from NATURE BOY, Blue Note, 2000) (Jackie McLean, alto saxophone; Cedar Walton, piano; David Williams, bass; Billy Higgins, drums) – (4 stars)

Well, that was very nice.  I enjoyed that. This is, if I may, bebop playing on a high level.  Very derivative bebop playing.  The alto player sounded a little bit like Jackie McLean. [It was.] The reason I doubted that is because the tendency was a little bit below the pitch, and that’s not Jackie’s wont.  He tends, like me, to go on top of the pitch.  And a lot of times he was holding a long note, which is our way of checking if we’re really in tune with the piano and everything.  I think that’s what he was doing.  The pianist sounded like it could be Barry Harris, but I’m not sure.  The rhythm section was very nice, but I don’t know any of them. [AFTER] Cedar sounded very nice.  And Jackie was playing what he knows very well. 4 stars.

3.    Marty Ehrlich, “Like I Said” (from LINE ON LOVE, Palmetto, 2003) (Marty Ehrlich, alto saxophone; Craig Taborn, piano; Michael Formanek, bass; Billy Drummond, drums) – (5 stars)

That was very nice.  I enjoyed that very much.  I think that’s Arthur Blythe?  No.  A very fine saxophone player.  It sounds kind of familiar, but obviously I’m not sure who it is.  But a fine player.  The piano player was very nice, too; I don’t know who he is.  The bass player played a nice solo and the drums sounded very nice; I don’t know how to call any of the names.  The only thing that is difficult for me is, in this kind of modal playing, when the bass is playing a pretty free kind of line without specific changes, it sounds like a muddle to me.  I don’t know if that’s the recording or the music.  Frequently, when I hear freer music, the bass becomes almost inconsequential, in some way, melodically.  I think to the player it would be more apparent, but as an outsider, I can’t tune in to that.  Now the alto player has a very clear sound with very prominent vibrato, that sometimes can sound to me a little bit schmaltzy.  But this really feels all kind of cohesive in some way that I enjoyed.  And I know that Arthur can do that very well.  But Arthur’s tone is usually, not strident, but a little sharper, not in pitch but in quality.  But I know when you tell me who this is, I’ll know it.  Five stars. [AFTER] Aha!  I thought Marty Ehrlich, but I don’t know his playing that well, and I don’t remember him using a vibrato like that.  But he’s a marvelous player, obviously.

4.    Bud Shank, “Night and Day” (from BY REQUEST: BUD SHANK MEETS THE RHYTHM SECTION, Milestone, 1996) (Bud Shank, alto saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; George Mraz, bass; Lewis Nash, drums) – (4-1/2 stars)

That was very hot.  A very hot player.  I admire what he was doing.  I don’t know who that was, but a very fine player.  Negotiating that tune is not easy.  That’s a difficult tune to not sound kind of hackneyed on, and he was doing some interesting things to it.  The only thing is, sometimes, at that speed, at that breakneck tempo, which is very exciting to listen to up to a point, the dynamic level stays on one place, and after a while you wish it would let up a little bit and relax a little more.  But he did it very well.  The piano player wasn’t as interesting as the alto player to me.  The rhythm section was cooking all through. But I can’t name any names.  When you mention the alto player’s name, I’ll be pretty sure that I’ve heard him before. {Is it a younger or older player, do you think?] Older. He just sounds very certain about what he’s doing, and he’s doing some personal things, I think.  I don’t know if he’s black or white, for example.  That is a consideration that we frequently make in appraising a player.  He sounds black to me because of the emotionality.  I’m not saying this is a characteristic, but he’s wearing it on his sleeve a little bit.  But at that tempo, pshew, what do you do?  You just let it all kind of come through out of life-or-death struggle or something.  But I’d give that at least 4-1/2 stars for the alto player and the rhythm section. [AFTER] No kidding!  Congratulations! I just saw Bud’s name on the popularity poll, and I hadn’t heard him for a while, and I wondered how come he popped up all of a sudden.  Cyrus Chestnut?  Congratulations, Bud.  He really was not the famous Cool player that he was.  Great.  What I liked very much was what I call an emotional vibrato at the end of the phrase.  As compared to Marty Ehrlich’s, which was fixed pretty much…well, that was more in the delivery of the melody, not so much in the improvising.  But I love to hear when the vibration happens as a result of the intensity of the phrase.

5.    Benny Carter, “When Your Lover Has Gone” (from 3,4,5, Verve, 1954/1991) (Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Jo Jones, drums) – (5 stars)

We’re going into Schmaltzville now!  It’s nice to hear this kind of rhythm section, the piano player as a kind of reminder of how it used to be.  Very relaxed and not trying to prove anything somehow.  Oh, it’s very early Benny Carter. [AFTER] Benny Carter was a very special musician, a very special saxophone player whom I loved right from the beginning of my listening experience.  When I said about schmaltzy, he had a tendency to play a melody very sentimentally, but his variations were very musical.  I think this is post-Charlie Parker playing, because I hear some little eighth-note triplet pickups that I think he got from Charlie Parker.  But he never really got into Charlie Parker’s music.  He stayed pretty much to his own conception of playing, and I always loved him for that.  And he was a great saxophone player.  The pianist was very nice, but I don’t know who he is.  5 stars for Benny.  It was beautiful.  Thank you for that.

6.    Gary Bartz, “Tico, Tico” (from EPISODE ONE: CHILDREN OF HARLEM, Challenge, 1994) (Gary Bartz, alto saxophone; Larry Willis, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Ben Riley, drums) – (4 stars)

I’m trying to anticipate how the alto player is going to come out of the theme into his solo.  It sounds like this might be the whole record so far.  But he’s playing it well.  I’m enjoying this. That was well done, I think, for that kind of Latin groove on “Tico, Tico.”  I can’t think of who the alto player is, but he did a much more interesting thing than I anticipated from the melody playing and that kind of Latin groove. He was really playing.  I have a feeling that this is something I might not want to listen to too many times; there’s a little bit of a rough edge in his expression that is effective more the first time, I think, than maybe the second or third time.  But of course, I don’t really know that until I’ve heard it two or three times.  But the rhythm section played well in that groove. The piano solo was not as interesting to me as the saxophone solo. But I’d give it four stars. [AFTER] Gary Bartz!  The rhythm section functioned well in that groove.  I didn’t recognize Larry.  Gary is a fine player.

7.    Julius Hemphill, “Leora” (from JULIUS HEMPHILL BIG BAND, Nonesuch, 1988) (Julius Hemphill, alto saxophone, composer) – (4 stars)

I was sort of relieved when that was over, actually.  But very fine saxophone playing.  I don’t know who it is.  To play against that kind of minimalist, repetitive kind of background, changing harmonically every once in a while, was a pretty good challenge, and I think he did a very interesting job.  But it got a little bit much after a while.  I don’t know who the saxophone player is, but I’d give it 4 stars.  First of all, listening to him, I’m reminded of how flexible the saxophones are, especially the alto and the tenor, in the sound qualities and the possibilities of expressive playing on each of them.  Every one of these saxophone players so far has had a slightly different approach to playing the instrument, and that’s fascinating to me.  I have my favorite kind of sound and playing.  Michael Moore struck home and Bud Shank, because they were playing the more familiar material.  But all these guys are trying these different frameworks for playing, and he was doing some interesting things with the instrument.

8.    Bunky Green, “The Thrill Is Gone” (from HEALING THE PAIN, Delos, 1989) (Bunky Green, alto saxophone; Billy Childs; Art Davis, bass; Ralph Penland, drums) – (4 stars)

That was very interesting playing. I don’t know who the saxophone player is.  Again, I think when you tell me, I’m going to admit that I have heard him, but I’m not sure who it was.  Again, playing the standard, “The Thrill Is Gone,” in a special arrangement which was very interesting, and as I listened to the theme I was wondering how the variations are going to sound.  This alto player has a virtuosic ability to play over the rhythm section, almost independent of what the rhythm section is doing.  He could be doing that by himself, which I think he does in his preparation for this kind of playing, and it’s some very contemporary intervallic rhythmic things, very well done.  Sometimes that kind of virtuosic ability, as impressive as it is to me as a saxophone player, gets in the way of the actual music.  I love to hear when the soloist is really playing with the rhythm section, really reacting to what the rhythm section is doing, rather than using them as a backdrop, as I think is the case here.  That’s frequently the case, I feel.  But it was very well done.  The piano solo was very nice.  The rhythm played the groove very well.  I don’t know who any of the people are. [AFTER] That’s definitely 4 stars.  I never heard Bunky too much.  I remember him as more of a bebop player, and he’s obviously moved to the next step in the process.  Very well done.

9.    Miguel Zenon, “Mega” (from CEREMONIAL, Marsalis Music, 2004) (Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, electric piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums) – (5 stars)

Very nice saxophone player.  I like his feeling and sound very much. He never really over-blew the horn, as I think of it.  A lot of the players I’ve heard so far had a tendency to over-emote in some way, and this guy was really playing very beautiful expression.  Very interesting lines.  The electric piano solo sounded very nice, too.  I wish the drummer wouldn’t have clobbered on that beginning and ending.  That got kind of too much.  But he played right through it.  I don’t know who it is, but I think when you tell me I’ll recognize that I’ve heard him before.  It was an interesting rhythmic configuration that they were playing, except for the clobber on 1 and 3. Five stars. [AFTER] David Sanchez told me about him. Very nice player.  David said that he has really studied the players, me among them, and I hear a little bit of that kind of tone concern.  I appreciate that very much. His playing is beautiful.

10.    Ornette Coleman, “In All Languages” (from IN ALL LANGUAGES, Harmolodic/Verve, 1987) (Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums) – (5 stars)

That’s Ornette with his beautiful sound!  As passionate as he gets in his expression, the sound is never irritating as some of the shouting high register players can be — kind of a grating sound that’s a little bit like fingernails on the blackboard. But Ornette sounds beautiful on this.  It’s a lovely kind of hymn, I guess. I presume that could be Don Cherry on the little harmony thing.  I can’t remember the bass player’s name.  It was Charlie?  [Who did you think it was?] I can’t remember his name. [You thought it was David Izenson?] Yes. [So it sounded older to you.] Yes.  I could hardly hear the drummer. But I’d give that 5 stars.  Ornette is a fascinating player.  He manages to sound like Ornette all the time with whatever level of phrasing he chooses.  Folk tunes or nursery rhymes or bebop slides, a variety of material that he uses very effectively, and it all sounds authentic to him.  I can just remember my first feeling of kind of resentment of Ornette avoiding playing on changes and avoiding all the things that I was trying to develop, and thinking, “Gee, how can you slip from that and get a personal thing going like he’s got?”  Then certainly, over the years, I realized what he was able to do and enjoy it more all the time.  I played with him once, with Charlie and Billy, rest his soul, and it was a very unique experience.  He’s a very nice man and a special poet on the instrument.

11.    Frank Strozier, “The Man Who Got Away” (from LONG NIGHT: QUARTETS & SEXTET, Jazzland/OJC, 1960/2002) (Strozier, alto saxophone; Chris Anderson, piano; Bill Lee, bass; Walter Perkins, drums) – (4 stars)

That was some good saxophone playing, I thought, in that standard piece, “The Man Who Got Away.” I had a little problem with that kind of double-time stuck in.  It was done very well.  It’s very derivative kind of double-time, and playing the melody pretty straight and then suddenly running convulsively a few bars, a few meters or whatever.  It doesn’t ring bells with me too much.  But it was very well done.  I don’t know who the saxophone player is.  The sound he’s making sounds kind of familiar and is a nice sound, I think.  4 stars.

12.    Jimmy Giuffre-Paul Bley-Steve Swallow, “All The Things You Are” (from FLY AWAY LITTLE BIRD, Owl/Universal, 1992/2002) (Giuffre, soprano saxophone; Bley, piano; Swallow, electric bass) – (5 stars)

Sounds like Steve Swallow.  Paul Bley.  I wonder when he’s going to change key.  Ah, there it is.  I love to hear the way Paul Bley reacts to the soloist. It’s a very familiar feeling, having played with him, which I enjoy.  I don’t know who the soprano player is.  That was enjoyable.  It was a case of people playing for each other, reacting to each other. I don’t know who the sopranist was, as I mentioned, but I appreciate that he was really interested in what Paul was doing and reacting to it.  5 stars. [AFTER] Jimmy Giuffre?!  Really.  Wow, I never heard him play soprano. But obviously, there was a real affinity between the three of them.  I enjoyed that.  His sound was a little bit reedy, I would say.  There wasn’t as much real soprano quality as I like.  Thinking of his clarinet playing, and I would have expected it to be a fuller sound.

13.    Charlie Parker, “All of Me” (from MORE UNISSUED, VOL. 1, JEAL Records, 1951/1990) (Charlie Parker, alto saxophone; Lennie Tristano, piano; Kenny Clarke, brushes on phone book) – (5 stars)

That’s Charlie Parker with Lennie Tristano, and maybe Kenny Clarke on the telephone book. Thank you for that.  That was very interesting!  Charlie Parker almost sounds like an imitation of himself, in some way, being so familiar now, over fifty years later, with his playing, and how fixed in many ways that his playing was, with his great phrases that he put together in this very ingenious ways.  But he relied on them.  I would have thought, playing with Lennie, somehow he would have tried to improvise a little more in some way.  When I heard some of this playing before, I was also surprised that Charlie didn’t give Lennie much of a chance to play.  He did most of the playing.  But it was nice to hear that, of course. 5 stars.

[AFTER ANOTHER TUNE] It’s very nice to hear “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me.” Lennie sounded very nice on that couple of choruses, and Bird sounded as if he was improvising a little more.  I haven’t heard a record of Bird’s in a while now, and I’m reminded of what a definitive player he was and how he changed the music so effortlessly.  Tristano was playing very interestingly, and I think somehow he got shortchanged in the whole process. [Were you ever in a club when Bird played with Tristano or at any performances they did?] I was at the studio for that radio show, the Battle of the Bands. [But was it a general dynamic that Tristano got shortchanged when he played with Bird?] Yeah, I think so.  Bud Powell did also. I think Bird heard some things that he didn’t want to hear.  He was used to being the boss all the time, intimidating Miles Davis and things like that.  So when he heard someone playing a little fresher line maybe he didn’t know how to handle that.  He was used to being the Man.  And he was, for the most part.  He was the Man! [LAUGHS]

But I appreciate very much hearing these 13 guys.  I missed Johnny Hodges, I missed Phil Woods, I missed Steve Coleman and Greg Osby, Herb Geller, Charlie Mariano, Art Pepper… There’s a whole array. Eric Dolphy.  There’s a nice tradition of alto players in this music.  I’m happy to be one of them.

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Lee Konitz, Uncategorized