The Independent Ear

Matthew Garrison: ShapeShifter in motion

Last July, as chronicled in these pages (check the Archives section for August ’14) this writer had the pleasure of spending a weekend at the New Mexico Jazz Festival for a NEA Jazz Masters site visit on drummer Jack DeJohnette‘s Santa Fe residency. Jack’s visit culminated in a Saturday evening concert featuring his bracing trio, with Ravi Coltrane on saxophones and Matthew Garrison on bass. As many of you likely know Matt Garrison is the son of the late bassist Jimmy Garrison, of John Coltrane Quartet fame. A few hours prior to the evening concert I sat down on the exceedingly pleasant veranda of his Santa Fe hotel for a conversation with Garrison for a feature. Below is the complete Matt Garrison conversation, which ranged broadly from the DeJohnette and Ravi Coltrane connection to Matt’s bass guitar conception, to his burgeoning ShapeShifter Lab enterprise in Brooklyn.

Willard Jenkins: You have a long and deep history with Jack DeJohnette.

Matt Garrison
Matt Garrison: Absolutely. It started pretty much when I was born, or thereabouts. Jack knew my dad and they performed together on a few occasions. I grew up on the Upper West Side for a little bit and I think Jack was close by, he and his wife were good friends with my mother and my dad.

Eventually what happened, when my father died Jack basically said to my mother “if you ever need help with the kids, [he’d] be willing to help out.” After my dad died we moved to Italy for ten years – in ’77 (I was 7 years old). By the time I hit the age of 17 I actually was given the choice by the Italian government to become an Italian citizen. But in order to do that I would have had to do one year of military service. So I said ‘ya know what, I think it’s time to get the hell out of here…’ [laughs]. So we were trying to think of places to go and we called Jack up and said ‘Jack, remember that thing you said?’ And he said “cool.” So I had one more year of high school to finish and I finished it up in Woodstock and I lived with Jack’s family for a year and it was amazing.

As far as playing with Jack, is this the first tour that you’ve ever done with Jack?
Yeah. It started this year. We did this one event at the Brooklyn Museum, it was fantastic. Anytime I came to Jack’s house after I’d lived there – because I went to Berklee – but every time I came back to Jack’s place we would jam and he would show me some new stuff, he mostly played piano, but he’d play bass too and I’d try to play some drums and piano… it was amazing. That particular [’97 Brooklyn] event, he basically put it together and then he asked me and Ravi to come to his house and we spent two or three days just going through all this music, and that’s another one of the greatest moments of my life. First of all because I had never played with Ravi, so that was our first opportunity to play together.

Did you know Ravi before?
I think I had met him once before.

So the music that you played in Brooklyn that first time, how has it evolved to what it is now?
I guess now I can play it a little better [chuckles]. From what I can remember we played things like “Countdown”, “Giant Steps,” “ Central Park West,” “Spiral,” and some other really critical compositions of John’s. I think I was like 22 or something, so I knew how to play, I was somewhat versatile, but that was some hard shit to play! And at the time, speaking from my perspective as this has evolved, at the time I was playing more just bass function, meaning mostly playing roots and spelling out the chord changes, but I could also solo over the stuff which I guess was kind of important so that we had opportunities for soloing and going through the form and that kind of thing. It was a lot more basic from my perspective.

Now, over the years I’ve developed certain things where I play a lot of chordal information and I also play a lot of melodic information and the bass stuff, so I’m playing a quite specific role. We made a joke about this – Jack was like ‘hey man, you’re covering a lot of territory there, we don’t really need a piano player, sometimes we don’t need a melodic player… just don’t start asking me for more money.’

In this essentially bass-drums-saxophone setting it’s a challenge because there’s no chording instrument.
Yeah, but that’s where I come in. Another component that I bring to this current version is I use a lot of computer based software to enhance the sound or the textures that we use that I can use onstage. It’s a lot of open textural things that can really fill up – it creates a very dramatic texture off of which we can then create more dramatic textures. Its very, very different from what we initially did 20+ years ago from that standpoint. And of course the music – what’s interesting is that we’re not playing so much original material right now, that might just be because we’re just having too much fun playing these compositions by all these great master musicians. We’ve been playing stuff from Monk, Ornette Coleman, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington… we’re covering a lot of ground. I’m glad that I took the time to learn that material over the years.

Has this unit recorded yet?
We’ve recorded a whole bunch of stuff, but this seems to be one of those projects that kind of needs to be recorded in a live setting. I mean it could work in the studio too.

Jack's trio
Jack DeJohnette Trio at their New Mexico Jazz Festival performance

So why do you feel it’s better live than it would be recorded in the studio? I ask that also because considering the computer technology you’ve brought into the picture it would seem that might be better served in a studio environment.
Yeah, but I’m using it very differently because I’m using it in a way that its fully integrated into the idea of improvisation. So all the tools that I’m using are part of what can happen right now, there’s a lot of flexibility in that sense. Of course the computer stuff can be used in a very structured, thematic way, but that doesn’t work for this project. I’m taking advantage of another side of it and that’s great for me because I get to explore a whole bunch of other things. But the other thing about how this project works better as a live situation is that it tends to be an arc of information, in terms of drama there is a whole story that needs to be told and it undulates, it moves, it comes in and out with dynamics, and then there’s a lot of wide open improvisation in that whatever happens happens and then we go back into some information that people can relate to and when you get feedback from the audience then you start doing things differently.

The audience presence makes a real difference in this trio’s performance?
Absolutely! When we first started we decided very specifically that we open the show with some really out to lunch shit. So you can already tell the audience is like ‘aw shit…’ [laughs], they start looking at their watches, they’re getting a little bit uncomfortable, and then it slowly gets to something that they like, then we take it out to lunch a little bit more, and then they’re like ‘OK, so maybe that’s not so bad.’ There’s a whole series of things happening and we’re observing this, its fun for us to watch. We did a sound check somewhere in France and there was this old couple sitting in front watching us and we were playing like a Monk tune and then a Miles tune and they were happy checking out the sound check. And then I put on one of my weird computer things and they jumped up [laughs] and Jack started laughing, ‘did you see what you just did.’ But then they came back for the show, we saw that specific couple, and they loved it.

So there’s going to be a record from this trio?
I’m sure of it at some point. It should be a compiled set of recordings.

What is your sense of the irony of being on this tour with Ravi Coltrane in terms of both your ancestral lineage?
Well, I think its been long overdue and I don’t think there’s a better situation for it to happen because Jack is kind of like the unifying energy. If I really consider my musical beginnings, he’s it, he’s my sensei. I don’t know if he and Ravi have had the same sense of development but I’m sure they’ve had their moments to work over the years; Ravi has played in Jack’s groups and they’ve done other projects for other folks, and Ravi and I have done other projects, little things here and there.

I was asked to come play with McCoy [Tyner] at some point and I think Ravi was on that, but McCoy wanted me to play acoustic bass and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to sound like an idiot because that’s not my instrument. Maybe to some degree I should have studied it a little bit more but I put a lot of energy into [bass guitar] and I want that to be the focus. So when you’re playing with those masters and those historical figures, If I would have been allowed to play my instrument I’m sure Ravi and I would have been very comfortable to play some of the music that his father put together, or McCoy’s music. We’ve been invited to play other projects where they want us to play John Coltrane’s music and they want very specific types of things and we’ve both refused because its too sensitive.
Matthew Garrison
Not only is it too sensitive, but here it is the 21st century and you guys have evolved your own way of playing, so I don’t imagine a kind of repertory project appeals to you.
Right, and that’s very much part of why we’ve both avoided those situations. But in this [DeJohnette Trio] context… think about the fact that Jack did play with both of our dads and Jack definitely pushed me to learn that music over the years. When I first got up to his house he said ‘hey man, check this record out, see you later… come back and I’ll give you another one.’

I opened a venue in Brooklyn called ShapeShifter Lab and Ravi has been instrumental in helping the place do well. There was a period where we had this real rinky-dink piano and that’s a problem in New York because if you want some serious cats to play there you’ve gotta have a good piano, so he donated a piano to the space, and he helps in different ways. Now we’re opening up a non-profit side of the business and he’s going to help, he’s already on the board of directors – Jack is going to be involved in that as well.

You mentioned McCoy and your decision to stick with the bass guitar, at what point did you determine to specialize in the bass guitar?
Probably around then [chuckles]. It was much sooner than that. Actually when I was in Italy I did start studying bass. I got my first bass, which was an electric bass, at 14 or 15 and then it was recommended by various Italian musicians that I really had to get some kind of foundation in classical music which could then help me out in my jazz education as well. So then I went and studied a little bit of classical acoustic bass. The main problem that I had with that is that the school was quite far from where I lived and I had to take a train out there and I was this young black man with an afro with an acoustic bass in a big red case and I was on this train in Italy going to the school and you know how Italians are, they like to just stare at people. So I was on this train and people were just staring at me, so when I was 15 I was already getting quite irked by the acoustic bass thing. So that’s one of the first things that kinda got to me, so I said let me stick with [bass guitar], it’s smaller and easier to get around with. And then of course I started listening to cats like Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Jaco and thinking ‘oh my gosh, this thing is like wide open’, and I didn’t necessarily see that opportunity with an acoustic instrument. My tendency has actually been a little bit more towards electricity in general and it just gives you more options.

Now as technology has moved, especially from a software standpoint, its basically a golden age that unfortunately a lot of musicians that deal with improvisations still don’t know. There’s so much that can be done it’s scary. I bought my first computer in 1996 and I’ve never stopped; I’ve been recording and experimenting and trying things out. As technology gets better there’s more things you can do onstage now and it’s much smaller. I have a laptop, a little audio interface, a little pedal, one other pedal, some cables and the bass… and it’s done. The things you can do with just that set-up is sick; and this is just a stereo presentation because I also do surround sound presentations with that, which is a completely different world; I hope we can do that with Jack one day.

Is it your sense that specializing in the bass guitar has opened up more diverse opportunities for you?
Absolutely. If I had studied acoustic bass I think I would have had maybe two or three types of recording and performing options – one in the classical world, one in the more experimental jazz/improvisational world… not many other places to go with that instrument. And also now consider what’s happening with the airlines and how cats like Dave Holland, John Pattitucci, Ron Carter… and what they have to go through. With the electric bass I have a wide array of genres I could tackle which gives me the opportunity to have more financial potential and if you have finances now you have more opportunities to try some more things – going from pop to funk to jazz, and to be able to do them all is an important thing.

Aren’t they making advances in more portable acoustic basses, like Dave Holland’s instrument?
Yes and Dave’s bass sounds incredible.

Talk about Garrison Jazz Productions and your various business enterprises.
Garrison Jazz Productions is slowly being absorbed. Me and my business partner Fortuna Sung, an old high school friend of mine from when I was living in Italy, we met again after many years when I was on tour with Whitney Houston and she was in Tokyo at the same time we talked about this vision that we both had and we decided to just go for it. The first thing we did was we opened a new production company called ShapeShifter Productions and the second one which is called SSP Holdings – which is related to everything involved with music production, management, we have a whole set of items that we take care of there.

ShapeShifter… sounds like there’s some philosophical aspect to that name itself.
Yeah, the idea is definitely why be limited to one thing when you can do many things, and I think maybe in a way my particular history as a human being kind of reflects that – I’ve got parents from two very specific backgrounds, if you want to talk about race that’s part of the equation, if you want to talk about hierarchy and societal positioning of things… my mother is also Jewish, so that adds another component to this thing. I grew up in Italy and I started playing classical, I play jazz, I play funk, I play pop… and so why not?

I made a record which is called “Shapeshifter” and I said look, I’m not going to be stopped by anything or anybody, why should I? You only live once, if you have some ideas put them out. That was the original intention of Garrison Jazz Productions, to just basically create any music I want to, without limitations, I own everything. And that’s how it still stands – I own all publishing, all copyright, and any future options.

Describe ShapeShifter Lab.
ShapeShifter Lab
ShapeShifter Lab 1
Altogether it’s a 4200 square foot location, so it’s quite big. The main space where all the performances take place and all the events is 3600 square feet, which by Brooklyn standards is quite large for the type of music we’re putting on there. Its in Gowanus, near the canal about two blocks up – between Carroll and First, at the bottom of Park Slope. First of all I don’t want to stop musicians from performing at our space because they don’t fit a certain criteria of musical expression. So we pretty much let everyone play there. If you’re really at the beginning of your career we have other things they can do, certain events that are not like an actual professional situation because of course what’s gonna happen if people aren’t known and if they’re not very well informed on their instruments there’s not going to be anybody there, unless they have a party. I curate the space but we do have people that we give them carte blanche to do whatever they want and that’s also been quite incredible because I can’t really have that many ideas and the ones that I do have aren’t necessarily the most successful ones so its also important to bring in some other folks that are basically putting together whatever vision they have. Its been incredible for all of us.

How many nights a week are you open?
Seven, we’re going to try to back that down a bit through the use of the non-profit because its getting a little hard on the staff, which depending upon the events could be up to eight.

Who are some of the people who’ve played there regularly?
Aaron Parks, Andy Milne plays there a lot, Gene Lake with his various projects, David Gilmore – he had his 50th birthday celebration there and we had to send people away there were so many! Ravi plays there pretty frequently; a lot of folks from the avant garde community, Glasper has played there more as a guest but he just recently had his kid’s birthday celebration there, Jason Moran came down… that’s the thing that happens in the space, it feels like a family kind of thing, and it is because its all of us and we’re just doing it. And then when Jack shows up everybody comes down and it’s this big party. In a way it’s this hidden revolution that’s happening. We’re getting press and the folks that do know they get it. You walk in and it’s like a big old open living room, with a little more detail. We do have a bar in there, a beer & wine license.

That’s a full-time pursuit itself, how do you manage to do that and your music?
I have no idea, but it’s working. Going on tour right now like this is a vacation! I have to say that without Fortuna there’s no way in hell this would work because she’s doing a lot of the paperwork. What we’ll be able to do through the non-profit is that we’ll be able to implement a lot of the ideas that we’ve had without the for-profit business always going into our pockets to make these creative ventures a reality. If you really break it down, if we were only to base our business on presenting performances we would already be closed. So everything else that happens at the space – which tends to be rentals, corporate events, weddings, recitals, bar mitzvahs… Now we have a pretty vast clientele coming through the place. So we don’t want to keep taking the resources from the for-profit to then keep the arts alive when it could be done through a non-profit, which is not associated with ShapeShifter Lab itself.

I have some major projects that I need to do that I can do as a for-profit, but others that involve a larger scope of musicians… At the space, the artists come in, they create this cool little hip scene, then some folks around the neighborhood want to poke their heads in and see what’s going on, they love it and now they want to have their parties there, now they want to do this… then you start seeing actors come in and people with a lot of money. We’re already doing everything a non-profit does, but it works. It’s a good development. There’s a lot of educational events going on there. We’re building education into our non-profit side.

I’ll be able to release at least two new projects of mine before the end of the year, and one of those is more of a complete open improv project with various folks that I’ve observed at ShapeShifter Lab that just blew my mind because they were just so out to lunch, but in a really interesting and captivating way; so I want to collaborate with those folks. And then I have a very interesting project where I finally decided to do a fully electronic project, where I’m not even playing the bass; that’s pretty much done – me and a computer and some interesting lighting projections.

Two other projects I have to get done are a big band project with some of my older tunes that I have to rearrange for 18-19 piece big band – we’ve actually performed that several times but I need at least three more charts. The project after that is a fully acoustic project with an acoustic bass guitar – I might even play a bit of acoustic bass and acoustic guitar; that will be some material I still have to write for that project specifically. I’ve got a lot to do.

See the Jack DeJohnette Trio with Matthew Garrison & Ravi Coltrane in action at the Montreal Jazz Festival:

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Monterey stronger than ever @ 57

Songbird Cecile McLorin Salvant keeps racking up the fans wherever she goes – shown here at one of her two MJF ’14 performances (photo: Tyrone Kenney/NeoBop Project)

Last weekend’s Monterey Jazz Festival was yet another reason the event remains one of the art form’s true standard bearers. Across the six stages on the Monterey Fairgrounds one could experience past, present and future over the course of three days, including several hybridized shades, and the sense of interconnectedness was quite palpable. Let’s start with Friday evening on the Jimmy Lyons Stage in the Arena (the big stage) with Cecile McLorin Salvant, who at the tender age of 24 continues to distinguish with her big, expansive voice that ranges from coquettish to astounding high & low register displays and her yen for older songs. Her essential piano accompanist, Aaron Diehl, distinguished himself with two separate performances of his MJQ revisited with the estimable vibist Warren Wolf in the Bags seat. Cecile was followed on the Lyons Stage by the Robert Glasper Experiment, whose set was hampered by some keyboard tech peccadilloes. But Glasper showed up quite auspiciously on two succeeding occasions – first as a panelist on the very rewarding talk session (or “spoken word” session as friend & colleague moderator Ashley Kahn characterized it) celebrating Blue Note Records 75th anniversary, with fellow panelists NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson and label prexy Don Was. Later that afternoon Glasper was pianist in the One Point of View Blue Note futures band, with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Lionel Loueke, tenor man Marcus Strickland, bassist Derek Hodge (also in Glasper’s Experiment), and the resourceful drummer Kendrick Scott. Loueke also hit with Herbie Hancock who closed Friday’s auspicious Lyons Stage lineup. And Akinmusire played his own quintet set Sunday evening at the Nightclub.

Blue Note panel_resized
The Blue Note @ 75 panel: L to R moderator Ashley Kahn, Bobby Hutcherson, Don Was, Robert Glasper

That sense of interconnected artists was a hallmark of this year’s event and a testament to MJF artistic director Tim Jackson’s sterling programming acumen. Many of these artists reside in the NYC area so just flying them all to Cali is such a potential budget buster that engaging the more multi-faceted among them for more than one gig just makes sense. Jason Moran was another example; playing his Fats Waller Dance Party on the Garden Stage, trumpeter Leron Thomas delivering a pithy take on Waller’s “Two Sleepy People”, to open Saturday’s evening session in celebration of the release last week of that project’s Blue Note document All Rise. Then Sunday evening he hit with the Charles Lloyd Quartet (more on him later) in the Arena. The ever-burning, undersung piano great Harold Mabern played three sets at the Coffee House on Friday evening then hung out the rest of the weekend. The festival’s HQ hotel is the Hyatt and the late night jam sessions there are always a good hang to connect with friends and colleagues. Such was the case when some friends summoned Suz and I to the Hyatt lounge on Saturday evening. The usual band of students and occasional pros were cooking while we were busy yukking and catching up with friends in one corner. When the band struck “My Favorite Things” there was a perceptible deepening of the piano groove & acumen that caused heads to turn. Sure enough Mabern had eased into the keys and it was on!

Drummer Eric Harland, this year’s artist in residence, guested with the MJF Next Generation high school all-stars to open the Sunday matinee on the Lyons Stage, played two gigs with his Voyager band, and burned brightly with the Charles Lloyd Quartet on Sunday night. Christian McBride swung with virtuosity at the helm of his trio (Ulysses Owens on drums and Christian Sands on piano) on the Nightclub stage Friday evening, and grooved with equal depth as part of the Philadelphia Experiment, with drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who later that evening led The Roots on the Lyons Stage) and keyboardist Uri Caine. They were joined for some closing selections (including an obligatory “Green Onions”) by B-3 funkmeister Booker T. Jones, who’d played the Saturday matinee on the Lyons Stage with his own band.

Philly Exp_resized
The Philadelphia Experiment: L to R Uri Caine, Questlove, Christian McBride

Freshly minted NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd (just signed to Blue Note per Was on the aforementioned panel session) was a featured MJF eminence, playing in different contexts each of the three nights. On Friday evening he played a beautiful, meditatively spiritual set with Sangam, his trio with master Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain and Harland (mama, there goes that drummer again!). Saturday evening brought arguably the highlight of Lloyd’s three performances – an incandescent duo hit with pianist Gerald Clayton at Dizzy’s Den, one of the festival’s real beauty spots. Sunday evening Lloyd brilliantly celebrated the spirit of his 1966 Monterey breakthrough by including an obligatory “Forest Flower” on the Lyons Stage with his Quartet (Moran, Harland and bassist Ruben Rogers). The festival also screened Charles’ rewarding new ECM film “Arrows Into Infinity” in the Theater. There were additional interconnections, those are just the ones this writer was able to experience!

Chas Lloyd
Lloyd’s latest release is a live document that journeys back in time to his 60s days leading a piano-less quartet

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd Quartet

Additional Highlights
Melissa Aldana_resized
Melissa Aldana was a tenor revelation for many
Tenorist Melissa Aldana and her rich, burgundy tone certainly garnered some new fans with her fine introductory set before a modest but deeply appreciative audience on the Garden Stage. Even at this early stage of her evolution one can envision potential greatness from this assured-though-humble young Chilean saxophonist. Aldana is indeed a lovely young woman, but clearly not one prone to succumb to the gratuitous sexuality of a Candy Dulfer, or heaven-forbid the self-declared “Saxtress” Pamela Williams; Ms. Aldana thankfully is all about the music. Jazz festivals should also be about some fun, right? Well the Brooklyn-based Red Baraat and its oft-humorous mix of improvisatory bangra certainly delivered in that department, as attested to by all ages beckoned to their dancing feet by the groove. The aptly-named Our Point of View clearly demonstrated the Blue Note label’s keen eye on jazz future, opening with a reimagined “Speak No Evil”, playing the label classic through their 21st century lens. Apropos they followed that up with Marcus Strickland’s ferocious original “Tick Tock.” On “Bayyinah”, a Lionel Loueke original from his latest release Heritage, the guitarist played an opening cadenza that uncannily invoked talking drum patterns on his instrument!

Sticks on fire: Brian Blade

There was a lovely kind of wistful optimism in the Brian Blade Fellowship’s expressions of originality, coupled with the controlled flames of Melvin Butler‘s tenor and Myron Walden‘s alto saxophones. After having lent an exquisitely burnished trumpet cadenza to one of his originals on the Our Point of View set, the next day MJF Next Gen alum Ambrose Akinmusire evidenced exponential growth in both his sound and his quintet band concept on the Night Club stage Sunday evening opener. Drummer Justin Brown provided ample explosion for the quintet and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith (who’ll almost certainly be an MJF bandleader on his own very soon) proved an apt alternate solo voice in the ensemble. Vocalist Becca Stevens, whose own set we missed, brought a very attractive quiver to her guest turn with Ambrose. Akinmusire has even at this early stage in his evolution acquired a keen sense of editing both himself and his band, never overplaying. And that’s just a summation of what we caught at MJF; reportedly some of what we missed would be enough to populate a successful jazz festival! But you can’t make ’em all; in more youthful times I might have tried, but there was never a set where this writer found himself yearning to be elsewhere, despite the fact that “elsewhere” was a ton of reportedly essential music. Yes folks, that is indeed the beauty of a great event like the Monterey Jazz Festival!

Cuisine Tip
Besides the obvious charms of the festival, the Monterey Peninsula is a recommended destination in and of itself, and after all these years there remain many undiscovered culinary gems. Good friends turned us on to an essential new stop to get the feed going. Phil’s Fish Market, on Moss Landing just north of Monterey was the cuisine discovery of this trip. One of those “rustic”, no reservations dockside joints where you order at the cash register then find your spot either inside or out on the beach at picnic tables, the house specialty is their cioppino, a luscious, tomato-based traditional Italian shellfish stew served in different permutations, in either prodigious individual bowls or family-style. And the breaded & grilled sanddabs are worth the trip alone, as is the calamari and the several varieties of artichoke preparation.

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Sweet Sue Terry

Saxophonist-clarinetist Sue Terry, known in the music as “Sweet Sue” is a proud alum of Jackie and Dolly McLean’s ground-breaking Hartford, CT urban arts academy the Artists Collective. Recently after viewing the very compelling documentary short film “The Source” which captures various facets of this vibrant artist, including her ongoing residency in the seemingly unlikely South American nation of Ecuador and glimpses of the obvious discipline she derives from her martial arts immersion, clearly its time for some questions for “Sweet Sue” Terry. Below we’re included a link to view “The Source.”

How’d you become known as “Sweet” Sue Terry?
When I was 23 I moved to New York City from Hartford, in 1982. I already knew a lot of New York-based players because they all would come through Hartford and play at the 880 Club. In the city I would hang at their gigs and often get invited to sit in. My three main mentors, Junior Cook, Clifford Jordan and Barry Harris, always called me ‘Sweet Sue.’ When Barry had the Jazz Cultural Theater on 28th and Eighth, he would often launch into the tune Sweet Sue when he saw me walk in. (The Jazz Cultural Theater was my second home, because I lived all the way up on 158th St. so if I went downtown I stayed downtown.)

To give you more of an idea of New York in the 80’s: a lot of players lived up in my area, known as Washington Heights. In my building, Smitty Smith and Jeff Watts shared a crib on the first floor. Arthur Blythe lived across the hall from me on the third floor. Gust Tsilis, and classical musicians Dan Druckman and Barbara Allen lived upstairs. In the neighborhood were other musician friends: Sharon Freeman, Ken McIntyre, Gary Bartz, Ben Salzano, Marion Brown, Melba Liston, Dennis Irwin….

It wasn’t the 50’s, but it was still a great time to be in New York. You could get gigs more easily. If you were a musician you got into most of the clubs for free, and other things like housing and food weren’t as expensive as they are today. As the cost of living got higher and higher, we had to work more and more. This is when jazz players really began exploring other avenues of income, like Broadway pit work and education venues.

What did your experience with Jackie McLean and the Artists Collective mean to your development as an artist?
I was just speaking with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene about that very topic. He is doing his doctoral thesis on the origins and development of the Jazz Studies program at our alma mater, The Hartt School. The program is now called the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and is headed by Javon Jackson.

Let me preface my comments with a little description of this era: In the 70’s Jackie had recruited Paul Jeffrey, Jaki Byard and Walter Bishop Jr. to teach classes at Hartt. I took every jazz class that was offered. (After I graduated and moved to NYC, I played in both Jaki’s big band the Apollo Stompers, and with Bish’s small group.)

I went to Hartt with the express purpose of studying with Jackie McLean. I didn’t know that I was also going to get the chance to study with Jaki Byard, Bish, Paul Jeffrey, and Al Lepak, the director of the Concert Jazz Band. Also at this time, there was a really happening jazz scene in the greater Hartford region. In addition to my studies at school, I was able to play gigs in Hartford, and go out to the various clubs to listen, and sit in. Many New York players came through, among them Dexter [Gordon], Slide Hampton, Frank Strozier, Dave Schnitter, John Scofield, Bill Hardman, Art Taylor. Hartford-based bassist Paul Brown was a close friend, and I met my mentors Junior Cook, Cliff Jordan and Barry Harris through him because he played with all of them. I learned from all the great players in Hartford at that time. In particular, the house rhythm section at the 880 Club was Donny DePalma, Joe Fonda, later Eddie Jones, and Mike Duquette. Tenor player Brian DePalma, vibraphonist Mattie Emerzian. Drummer Larry DiNatale & his wife Connie, a singer. A blues singer who sang like Joe Williams, his name was Big Al; Kitty Katherine, Norman Gage, Tiny Joe, Nat Reeves, Dave Santoro, Gene Bozzi, Genghis Nor, Rick Rozie, and several players around my own age: Jim Beard, Mark Templeton, Cindy Blackman, Wallace Roney, and Ralph the drummer whose surname I can’t remember. There was yet another scene up in the North End, where I used to play with an organ trio and was usually the only non-African American in the place.

In addition to playing with all those people, I had classmates who were very accomplished and went on to professional careers, such as the late Thomas Chapin, Saul Rubin, Mark Berman, Tom Oldakowski, Gary Seligson, Steve Davis, Kris Jensen, Tom Murray, Antoine Roney, Pete Belasco, Mixashawn, Tom Disher, Pete Furlan, Ed Alton, and more. We also played with some of the Springfield cats, since it was only 40 minutes or so north of Hartford. There were two excellent drummers from the Springfield area with whom I often worked, Claire Arenius and Billy Arnold.

Jackie McLean always encouraged these off-campus ventures into the community, and he put me on the faculty of the Artists Collective [Jackie & Dolly McLean’s award-wining arts academy] so I could have the experience of passing on knowledge and skills to younger students. I played all kinds of gigs, put together my own groups, had my own radio show, all while being a full-time student.

Jackie was always suggesting things for me to listen to, not only jazz but also 20th Century Classical music. He was a great storyteller; once he told me a story about walking down the street with Charlie Parker, and Bird pointed at the window of a fish store and said “Wow, look at that!” Jackie said, “What? It’s a fish.” Bird said, “No, look at the colors!” Jackie then noticed the scales of the fish, shining in a fantastic luminescent palette. He pointed out to me that someone like Charlie Parker had a different way of looking at things, and that was an aspect of his genius. Moreover, that aspect could be cultivated once you were made aware of it.

When I received the Alum of the Year award from the Hartt School in 2001, Jackie was at the ceremony and that meant a lot to me. I am proud to be part of his lineage, along with colleagues like Steve Davis, Alan Palmer, Jimmy Greene and Wayne Escoffery (whom Jackie used to call the Twin Towers), Abraham Burton, Eric MacPherson, and of course Jackie’s son Rene, whom I’ve always admired and respected. (I know I’m un-intentionally leaving out some folks, those mentioned are who comes to mind at the moment.)

This month (September 2014) the Artists Collective is bringing me back to do a concert with my “Special Band” of Vic Juris, Bob Cranshaw and Steve Johns. It’ll be wonderful to be back “home.”
Talk about your residency in Ecuador.
I started traveling to Ecuador in 2008, and began meeting other players there, like pianist Francisco Echeverria in Guayaquil, and my old friend, trumpeter Walt Szymanski, based in Quito. There was very little jazz in Cuenca, the town I was most attracted to. But 3 years later pianist Jim Gala, from Rochester, founded the Jazz Society of Ecuador with his wife Debby, right in downtown Cuenca. I began corresponding with him and when I arrived in Ecuador, I began my relationship with the JSE, which continues to this day. There are performances, master classes and other events, and it’s a favorite destination not only for locals, but also for the tourist crowd, particularly those from Europe and Canada. I perform regularly and I also teach. We have rehearsals either at the Cafe or at my house, where we go into more detail and explore the fine points of playing and composing jazz and creative music.

What motivated you to make this short film?
My friend Ashley Rogers, a wonderful film director from L.A. who relocated to Cuenca, had made some music videos for an Ecuadorian composition. She was working with the Venezuelan cinematographer Hernán Salcedo, and I thought their work was stunning. It’s a lot more affordable to shoot in Ecuador so I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity. At first it was going to be a promotional film for my products, but then I thought, who cares about that? I’ve been making videos about artistry and education. I realized I could continue in this genre, this time working with a professional team. We are currently entering the film in a number of international film festivals.

Did you experience musical discovery in Ecuador, in terms of the interest in jazz and the resident musicians?
In 2013 I did a U.S. State Dept. tour of Ecuador, organized by the U.S. Embassy in Quito. My group included Walt Szymanski, and Ecuadorian rhythm section Miguel Gallardo, Daniel Toledo and Raul Molina. We traveled throughout the country giving workshops and concerts, and we found a LOT of interest in jazz. The music students we worked with (ranging from 5 years old to the university level) were fascinated with jazz and musical improvisation. The concert audiences were enthralled as well; it was very gratifying.

The three largest cities have the most jazz players: there are many fine players in Quito, as well as a full-time jazz club, El Pobre Diablo. Francisco Echeverria introduced me to many players in Guayaquil. In Cuenca, my home base while in Ecuador, we have the Jazz Society of Ecuador headquarters. In my film, I wanted to showcase some of the players we’ve been mentoring there. You get a chance to hear bassist Jonnathan Arévalo, guitarist Julio Bonnemaison, drummer Danilo Abad, violinist Cristabell Aguirre and HER student, Aria Serrano. Also my old buddy, pianist Bob Albanese, was on tour in Ecuador at the time and I was able to get him to come to Cuenca and do a guest appearance, which you see on the film as well.

What did you discover about yourself in Ecuador?I ask that because the film suggests a certain measure of self-discovery in your journey.
Well, wherever you go, you take yourself with you. Being in Ecuador takes me out of my geographical comfort zone, what with the 8,400 feet altitude and speaking Spanish all the time. Can you imagine playing woodwind instruments at 8,400 feet? It takes me about a month to acclimate! I relish my time in South America because it challenges me.

Why were you motivated to put aside your alto saxophone for the time being and concentrate on soprano sax and clarinet?
I was Classically trained on clarinet and never really got into improvising on it. Like Frank Wess used to say, “the clarinet was invented by three guys who didn’t know each other.” This is true! Today’s clarinet was originally three different instruments. There is no octave key; it overblows as a twelfth, so all the notes have different fingerings in each octave, and there are three and a half octaves. It ain’t a saxophone.

Most of the clarinet greats focused solely on clarinet, if not right away, then eventually. I had to give up both alto saxophone and C flute in order to focus on clarinet. But I still play soprano saxophone, because at least it’s in the same key!

What role has your martial arts training played in your musical life?
Playing music, especially soloing, is all about relaxing. If you’re not relaxed, you’re blocking creative ideas from coming through. In the old days, musicians turned to booze and heroin to help them relax. These substances take a toll on the body, however, so the trend has moved more toward mind/body disciplines like meditation, yoga, and tai chi.

Tai chi chuan (also called “taiji quan”) is my discipline; it helps me with playing the horn and performing. Because of my martial arts training, I can stay relaxed during musical performances, and correct errors in body posture that cause pain. I can also focus more. Many people practice tai chi (a style of kung fu) for health reasons, but its martial arts application is formidable. I compete in tournaments and practice sparring regularly. You must be relaxed in order for your tai chi to be effective against an opponent. When you spar with a training partner or in a tournament, it’s a reality check to see if your skills are as effective as you thought—just like playing with a band as opposed to practicing by yourself.

The Chinese sage Lao Tzu says, “the tao of the sage is ‘work without effort’. This means that you’re so into the work that it doesn’t seem hard. The path toward this goal is all about relaxation and solid work principles. This is the foundation of both jazz and taiji.

LINK to The Source, a 9-minute documentary short:

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Here’s one intersection of jazz & chamber music

The leafy Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake is an agreeable Labor Day Weekend hang

Think jazz music and jazz festivals are purely urban phenomena? The masterful pianist Monty Alexander, Jazz on the Chesapeake and Chesapeake Chamber Music want you to think again. Given the close proximity to the DC metro area of Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the Chesapeake Bay (depending upon Bay Bridge traffic, its roughly a 90-minute or less drive to the Eastern Shore from the DC area), I had certainly heard of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, plus there aren’t a lot of jazz festivals (consider the various Shakespeare or Beethoven festivals around the world) named after a musician. Last spring when Monty celebrated his 70th birthday with a rousing Howard Theatre performance, one which was a potent mix of jazz, reggae, ska and the mento root source of Monty’s native Jamaica, afterwards when chatting backstage with the pianist he waxed rhapsodic about his festival and suggested we check it out.

Normally either of the two free Labor Day Weekend festivals in Chicago or Detroit, excite the travel impulse. But given the close highway proximity of the Eastern Shore and the inviting prospect of sparing the agonies of the airport/airline spin cycle, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival sounded more intriguing by the moment. The journey proved to be a wise move, from several perspectives – not least of which was the music.

Jamaica ‘mon Monty Alexander’s Harlem Kingston Express

But first a little background. How exactly did Monty Alexander come to be artistic director of his own jazz festival, in Easton, MD? In 2008 Al Sikes, a thoughtful man whose career included stints in law, government services, and business, with a minor in jazz enthusiasm, following retirement communicated with an old friend and past president of Chesapeake Chamber Music with whom he shared twin musical passions for jazz and classical music. At that point Chesapeake Chamber Music hadn’t yet dipped its toes into the jazz waters, but the organization was intrigued by the possibilities and Sikes was charged with producing their first jazz concert. Through another friend Sikes connected with Monty after a concert performance and in ’08 arranged for the pianist to play that first Chesapeake Chamber Music jazz concert at The Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD. For those not familiar with Easton, its part of a chain of small burghs on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, including touristy St. Michael’s Island, and Talbot County is the birthplace of the great Frederick Douglass. Easton is a lovely, tranquil, green town, at the heart of which, nestled among several inviting restaurants and assorted shops is the 400+ seat Avalon Theatre.

Monty’s 2008 concert at the Avalon was such a hit that, “After the concert we met in New York,” Sikes related, “concluded arrangements and began the [Monty Alexander Jazz] Festival in 2009 with two concerts.” Sikes also credits mutual friend Bill Edgar, who had written liner notes for the pianist. Thus began the Jazz on the Chesapeake presentations of Chesapeake Chamber Music. “Chesapeake Chamber Music (CCM) views itself as being in the small ensemble music business,” continues Sikes, “and they asked me if I would expand their program to include jazz. Jazz on the Chesapeake has grown rapidly and now features concerts plus the festival.” Last year’s CCM jazz concerts, apart from but spurred by the success of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, included such artists as DC-based drummer Chuck Redd, tenor man Harry Allen, and longtime Ahmad Jamal bassist James Cammack.

Getting to Easton turned out to be an exceedingly pleasant Friday afternoon drive, particularly once we crossed the Bay Bridge into the Eastern Shore area, with its roadside produce stands and gentle shore breezes (tip: adjacent to one such produce market is a food truck dubbed Grumpy’s; order the crab cake or soft shell crab sandwich, you’ll thank me). The historic Tidewater Inn which provides lodging for all the musicians (as we signed in I glanced over and Houston Person was checking in) is mere steps across Easton’s main intersection from The Avalon Theatre. As jazz festivals go, accommodations don’t get any more convenient. Not long after joining the eager and robust lobby crowd for Friday’s concert featuring the fast-rising Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles‘ quintet, in walked Monty. Asked how this festival came to be presented by a chamber music organization, Alexander’s response was simple – these are people who just love good music and the fact that they’ve become so taken with this jazz festival and the ongoing jazz series in general has more to do with the quality of the music than with any sense of genre boundaries.

When Suzan Jenkins, who is the executive director of the Montgomery County Council on the Arts & Humanities,was introduced to Al Sikes, the conversation turned to the support network for this festival enterprise. Sikes proudly pointed out that this is a festival which is roughly 80% supported by its box office output, not corporate support, with only modest, approximately 5%, funding support from the public sector, namely the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. The festival’s remaining support comes directly from resident patron contributions. As the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival celebrated its 5th anniversary, that’s an encouraging support formula for a jazz festival.

Friday evening many in the packed Avalon Theatre were introduced to Etienne Charles for the first time. Despite the fact that many hadn’t heard the Trinidadian trumpeter, this audience clearly has unquestioned confidence in Monty Alexander’s artistic choices. The Juilliard-trained trumpeter, who also holds an associate professorship at Michigan State University, has over the last several years released a fine series of recordings on the Culture Shock label that highlight his Caribbean heritage, including ancestral links to the island of Martinique and a deep investment in folkloric and rhythmic traditions of Haiti. Possessed of a quick and engaging wit, an ability to tell a story both in his charming introductions and subsequent execution, Charles has evolved a dexterous trumpet style that is beyond trendy and seems poised to deliver him to greater prominence as a bandleader. His musical cohorts, which include bassist Ben Williams, drummer John Davis, piano-keyboardist Kris Bowers, and guitarist Alex Wintz have developed a cohesive, communicative band approach to Etienne’s infectious grooves, which include his clever arrangements of songs from stalwart calypsonians Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow, as well as forays into the Haitian tradition known as racine.

Trini man trumpeter Etienne Charles performing “Kaiso”, title track from one of his potent Culture Shock releases

Saturday’s matinee concert featured alto saxophonist Bobby Militello‘s tribute to Dave Brubeck, but tooling around Talbot County beckoned. That evening was Monty Alexander’s signature concert. Each year Monty develops a different theme and flavor for his festival feature, with invited guests joining his core trio of drummer Dennis Mackrel and bassist Hassan Shakur, plus his longtime percussionist Bobby Thomas, who some may recall from his Weather Report stint. Those familiar with Rat Pack lore know about the legendary New York saloon Jilly’s, a favored haunt of Frank Sinatra. As Monty explained to the audience, shortly after the pianist’s arrival in ’61 from Kingston, Rizzo peeped him in Vegas and hired him on the spot to work Jilly’s as house pianist, backing The Chairman and other singers of the day. For this 5th edition of his festival Monty decided to mount a Night at Jilly’s on the Avalon stage. As special guests he engaged ace tenor man Houston Person, whose big, brawny sound and rich, blue tone filled The Avalon every time he stepped up to the mic – eliciting big audience response for each solo, plus crowd-pleasing vocalists Allan Harris and the delightful Italian Caterina Zapponi. Harris, who always brings a touch of Nat Cole to his straight ahead jazz exploits, has the classic vocal tone and stage manner to represent Jilly’s flavor. Caterina was full of verve as well, particularly winning in French on “C’est si Bon” and delivering in her native Italian as Monty’s representation of Sinatra’s ancestral heritage. Playing largely a program of the classics befitting the singer’s saloon ambience, Monty Alexander swung casually, deeply, and hard in the blue realm when the spirit and the tune called for it, expressing great love for the beautiful instrument provided for the festival by DC piano maker Warren Shadd (read about his remarkable achievement as the first African American piano maker here…

Culinary break… When in Easton, MD, provided you’re a carnivore, you gotta visit The BBQ Joint a grill master as unassuming as its name at the corner of Dover & Aurora Streets just a couple of blocks from the Avalon Theatre and Tidewater Inn. This is the home of killer beef brisket; accompany that with the corn bread and collard greens… you’ll thank me for that one as well.

When I spoke with Monty that first evening in The Avalon lobby he waxed rhapsodic about bringing a gospel & jazz element to Sunday’s proceedings, courtesy of soulful Dee Daniels. Ms. Daniels resided in Vancouver, BC for many years and actually established a broad international and West Coast reputation. About three years ago she took the plunge and decided it was time to see what New York had to offer as far as spreading her vocal wings and education chops. Echoing an immortal Saturday Night Live bit, New York seems to have been very, very good to Ms. Daniels who has gotten around town quite a bit, working with a number of top shelf artists. Along the way she became the first vocal leader to record for the decades old Criss Cross label, the quite aptly titled State of the Art. Dee has become second only to Monty as a tradition for this festival, bringing gospel roots and jazz fruits to an eager patronage. For the Sunday matinee closer she delivered equal parts joy, ease of swing, storytelling verve and a depth of blues knowledge that thrilled the Avalon Theatre. Dee Daniels is proof positive that it takes some living to effectively deliver a lyric, never mind the vocal ingenues overcrowding the field these days. A couple of days after the festival her latest recording, Intimate Conversations (Origin Records) arrived. This one will definitely garner some spins on the Ancient/Future radio program (Wednesdays 10-midnight on WPFW 89.3 FM and streaming live at

Monty & Allan
Allan Harris emoting Jilly’s style with Monty Alexander band

If you haven’t heard Dee Daniels yet (here w/her drummer Dwayne “Cook” Broadnax”)… don’t sleep!
Dee Daniels

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In pursuit of the wild record

Musing on summer just past. You know how it is; you’re going to the beach and unless you’re a surfing fanatic or an enthusiast of wave riding boogey boarding (I’ll leave that to my 14-year old nephew), your main goal is to sit/lay/sleep and otherwise loll in some preferably inert position, beach umbrella tilted just so, bathed in sun block, bare feet planted firmly in the warm sand, the hypnotic wash of oceanic tides providing a tranquil soundtrack. You may roust yourself every now and then and take a quick dip, head up to the boardwalk for some fries or assorted tempting empty calories, running the gauntlet of other bad bodies, and occasionally raise your sun dappled pate just high enough to scope out the kids having a blast in the surf. But most of us will spend that precious time decompressing from the daily grind. Speaking personally, part of that beach ritual will include a good book; and mind you I’m not talking about tomes or literary gravitas here, just something to enhance your maximum chill mode.

While the sisters in the family went off on other pursuits on the retail drag at Rehoboth Beach, DE last week, the ever intrepid nose for vinyl crate digging turned up this soundtrack gem from the film “A Man Called Adam” – sealed, I might add! Often overlooked in discussions of jazz realism on film, this should-see featured Sammy Davis Jr. playing a brooding, mercurial Miles-like trumpeter, Cecily Tyson as his muse, Ossie Davis and Louis Armstrong as a sort of fading but still powerful representation of jazz past, with performances by Mel Torme and Nat Adderley giving Sammy’s trumpet playing its authenticity.

It should be noted here that personal tastes in old vinyl and crate digging in general are all about the pursuit of material pertinent to encouraging some set or other on my weekly radio program (“Ancient/Future” Wednesdays 10pm on WPFW 89.3 FM in the DC area, streaming live at, and not necessarily concerned with matrix numbers, first pressings or some other discographic ephemera of such intense interest to the more dedicated, obsessive vinyl seeking crate diggers among us.

For this year’s beach week, intrigued by certain of the notices, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (by Amanda Petrusich) slaked the beach week book jones. “Wild” would be one optimum descriptor for some of the odd obsessives and their assorted hunts for rare 78s Ms. Petrusich encounters as she digs headlong into the world of crate diggers in search of rarities from the history of our original record format. Along the way she finds herself questioning this obsession from a number of different perspectives – including her own magnetic attraction to the pursuit, which at one point leads her to take scuba diving lessons for the express purpose of plunging into the Milwaukee River in search of discs legend has it were flung merrily into the river by disgruntled employees at the Paramount pressing plant in Grafton, WI. Along the way she meets but one woman collector and largely encounters characters for whom the actual hunt outstrips the end game – the acquisition – along with one or two collectors for whom misanthrope might be an accurate descriptor. A common thread – unlike certain other collectors of what for most is esoterica in the extreme – many of these 78 hunters truly enjoy the music uncovered in those shellac 78s. One of them is in fact a man after my own heart, he shares his treasures via radio broadcasts; while yet another has developed a lucrative DJ business spinning purely 78s on an old Victrola.

Amanda Petrusich

Professionally the author’s proclivities as a music journalist run more towards assorted strains of rock. By the end of her book Petrusich’s sympathy for this crate digging subculture is considerable, as evidenced by this passage written in observation of a release party for a reissue package of 78s: “The whole scene was disorienting. I felt suddenly and fiercely protective of a subculture I had no real claim to. I wanted 78s to continue offering me – and all the people I’d met – a private antidote to an accelerated, carnivorous world. I didn’t want them to become another part of that world. I wanted them to stay ours.”

Though not a particular fancier of 78s (my current, Low-Fi turntable won’t enable 78 spins anyway) Ms. Petrusich’s intriguing examination of this collector phenomenon did take the mind back to a dusty box of 78s from Dad’s old collection sitting on a neglected shelf in the basement; certainly an investigation for another day, but from this book’s account one worth pursuing. The book also brought to mind a current volunteer stint. The Friends of the Library of Montgomery County, MD (FOLMC) operates two bustling used book stores in their ongoing efforts at financially supporting the MC Public Library system. (For scale, Montgomery County, MD is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.) In addition to steady book donations from the public these stores also accept audio and video software discards… and that includes often sizable donations of Lps and CDs. As many of us downsize our listening media to the dreaded MP3 level – or heaven forbid some wall-to-wall online music service – boxes and boxes of Lps from yesteryear are offloaded for tax write-off donations by MC residents.

Which brings me to my own crate digging enabler enterprise. Several years ago, after accepting a seat on the FOLMC Board of Directors I began frequenting our two bookstores in search of their many hidden, way inexpensive literary treasures, only to be magnetically drawn to their assorted Lps. The largest of these two stores, in Wheaton, MD, had particularly ramshackle shelves of Lps mashed together in no particular order. Picking through those shelves revealed a few gems. I soon volunteered to better organize that section of the store and inventory the hundreds of Lps – which were admittedly in varying degrees of playability, from mint to dumpster level. So for the last two years every available Wednesday morning for a couple of hours I volunteer to do intake and inventory, pricing and shelving new arrivals, discarding a few that have lingered overlong to make room in the robust but finite record aisle space. (The Lps pictured below are among some recent gems that have arrived in the jazz section at the Wheaton FOLMC store.)

In its original 7″ Lp format!

Like many nostalgic items considered valuable by at the very least a hard core of collectors, coupled with the burgeoning DJ culture and the audiophile-driven recognition that there indeed is a sonic difference between the sound of a quality Lp versus the digital formats, Lp collecting is more than an underground pursuit. Labels have been issuing special products on vinyl, both new and reissued, for the more sonically astute among us over the last decade. It seems practically every week Lp-aholic jazz publicist Jim Eigo is posting some news item trumpeting renewed interest in Lps or detailing yet another record collector’s gathering. So the interest is out there, and quite intense in some pockets. And, aside from the promise of great music, who could resist the artful quality of an Lp cover like this Count Basie band chronicle that arrived from a donation last week?


This volunteer stint has also engendered a sort of grudging appreciation for the enormity of the popularity of certain artists and recordings from yesteryear. Now I fully understand Herb Alpert‘s financial largesse and his ability to so graciously endow the UCLA Music Program for example. Based on donated evidence, this man sold an enormous number of records during his Tijuana Brass heyday. But just when the malaise sets in from the endless copies of Alpert discards, and the rejects of folks who actually sunk hard-earned cash into somnambulant 101 Strings Lps, along with recognition of the enormity of the assorted discographies of a Frank Sinatra or Barbara Streisand or Bill Cosby comedy records, up jumps something wild like this number from Bob Dorough‘s discography.


So what, you ask is/was the Medieval Jazz Quartet? “Conceived and Arranged by Bob Dorough” as the cover declares? This was a quartet (including our leader) of – wait for it – recorder players! You know the recorder, that end blown instrument you may have encountered in your earliest music ed class? Well here its played by Dorough and his 3 associates in its soprano, alto, lead tenor, second tenor, bass, and second bass incarnations, along with Alto and Tenor “Krummhorn”, Baroque Flute, and finger cymbals, with a notable rhythm section of bassist George Duvivier, guitarist Al Schackman, and drummer Paul Motian. And what are they playing? Standards, the likes of “How High the Moon”, “Nature Boy”, and “Mood Indigo” among the eight tracks. And besides the curiosity factor, the far-as-I-can-tell uncredited liner notes include a hilarious Dorough interview and lines like this one: “There is much more to tell of Mr. Dorough, but one of his selves seems to be leaning over the typewriter whispering “Cool it, man.”

Here’s something hip that arrived at the FOLMC Wheaton store from the Latin side

Alert to the across-the-board $1 per record price (regardless of condition), 25 cents for the assorted 45s which arrive, more than a couple of local dealers hunt these shelves. I see them every Wednesday, chatting among themselves nonchalantly waiting for the new arrivals shelving process along with the savvy collectors who recognize Wednesday as “that time.” Practically all of these guys – and the crate digging clientele is almost exclusively male – do check the incoming jazz section, clear indication of the ongoing value placed on jazz recordings, which admittedly arrive at a premium and generally in decent shape. By contrast, the category with the largest number of weekly donations to this particular store is classical music. So if you’re a classical Lp buff, then this be the place. If you’re of the jazz persuasion, crate digging at the FOLMC Wheaton store may turn up a beauty like this recent mint condition arrival from one of DC’s favorite jazz ancestors, the inimitable Shirley Horn.


Whatever your music interests (not to mention shelves upon shelves of worthwhile books) these two FOLMC locations are worth some crate digging…

1710 Georgia Avenue
(at the rear of the Wheaton Public Library)
Silver Spring, MD

4886 Boiling Brook Parkway
Rockville, MD

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