Okay, I flunked Collage but aced Music Appreciation. And Glenn Gould sang funny, as catching the start of this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Carnegie Hall time—will confirm as he croons, with piano accompaniment, while working out his interpretation of Bach’s Partita No. 2; but then he finds his way, the voice desists, and awe might be an apt response to what happens then. This tracklet is followed by Gould’s classic studio recording of the piece, and this is succeeded by an exceptionally lo-fi recording of the John Coltrane Quartet—pre-Elvin Jones, with Pete LaRoca on drums—working out its interpretation in a Philly nightclub of My Favorite Things a few months before the famous recording. Five years later the classic Quartet was playing Afro-Blue in Paris, and by the miracle of modern bootlegging we can listen in; and I didn’t mean to make things difficult for the Charles Lloyd Quartet by playing a concert clip of theirs right after: Lloyd is in more bustling, brawling form than usual, and Keith Jarrett, after a dauntingly virtuoso start of his solo . . . well, I say it in the intro on the show. Meanwhile the great pianist Leon Fleisher, having recovered the use of this right hand after decades of a debilitating nerve disorder, doesn’t have to play left-hand-only anymore, but his recent such recording of a piano transcription Bach’s solo violin Chaconne inspires a different but no less powerful awe than the dazzling Mr. Gould; after which Updoc’s perusal of the Mozart piano concertos takes up Annie Fischer’s performance of No. 20 in D-minor. You want to know what dark and stormy sounded like before Beethoven and the Romantics? The great melodist Mozart finds no better way to begin this concerto than with a series of deep orchestral grunts. After the resolution, we are lost in the stars with Kurt Weill and Heather Masse and Dick Hyman and nuff said.
The photo has nothing to do with the music; I just felt like looking at it. This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Lower East Side time—features a lot of music one correspondent has written to say she finds it hard to understand without context, but I like Wadada Leo Smith’s ambitious new Great Lakes Suite, without understanding what it has to do with the Lakes individually or all together. Smith’s heraldic trumpet in a band featuring Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg, and a drummer named DeJohnette is enough setup for me. A friend recently sent me back to John Coltrane’s Concert in Japan and he was right: Yamaha’s gift of two alto saxophones put a less lethal weapon in Pharoah Sanders’ hands and give Trane a new wing to soar on: Peace on Earth is Coltrane at his most rapturously and romantically hymnful. Lately I’ve been changing the pace with Mozart piano concertos, especially since coming upon the series by Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra, who this week deliver bliss upon bliss on one of the two concertos Mozart composed in the minor mode. Some avant-garde free-jazz types find Mozart the difficult one to get—all that beauty and elegance and mercy and poignancy and wit—but they can get him here. Marilyn Crispell in duet with Louis Moholo and the Art Ensemble in both whispering and screaming mode round out the show and this text is long enough. Hello, I must be going.
I end up doing more memorial shows than is comfortable, but it’s happening in the jazz world: a magnificent generation in its seventies and eighties is filing out of the room—we keep tremulously awaiting Who’s Next—so it’s a pleasure to report on someone who didn’t die. Despite a Farewell To note on Facebook, the cellist Abdul Wadud is still bowing and plucking among us. I programmed Dogon A.D., the Julius Hemphill classic to which Wadud contributed so much, anyway, and followed it up with another classic of that jazz generation, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s People in Sorrow, which I’d almost programmed on Malachi Favors’ birthday, and mine, the week before. Both pieces were recorded during the period in which Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns declared jazz to have been dead. These are some fine zombies. From there this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Doggone Brooklyn time—moves on to Bartok’s sonata for solo violin, its daddy the Bach chaconne, and Beethoven’s always disturbing Grosse Fuge, but herewith Updoc breaks new ground: my deejay announcements were made while lying on the floor of an overbooked Amtrak train headed for NY from RI, and then later from a seat, with side-commentary provided by two guys from Luxembourg and a lady from New Rochelle—and this in the quiet car! For the past few months, Kip Hanrahan has been doing the most adventurous show on taintradio or for that matter anywhere, but has he done this? There were people stepping on me, when the show must go on. Yo, Kip: this is a thrown gauntlet, man. I have raised the ante. Your move.
Not much thesis left—Monk’s harmony plus arpeggiating tenorist equals sheets of sound—in this week’s Thelonious Monk-John Coltrane followup show—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Five Spot time—but I did want to get to some of the live tracks from Carnegie Hall and the Five Spot that didn’t air last week. The atmosphere gets very complex and crowded with those guys playing together, and last week I skipped to later Trane and a Mozart concerto for a breath of different air. This week I wanted to hear women sing: Nellie McKay, Nina Simone, Blossom Dearie, Shiela Jordan, Laurie Anderson, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Stacey Kent, Abbey Lincoln and of course Lady Day, among others still. Miles Davis drops in too, and so might you. You’re most welcome.
There’s a general notion that when John Coltrane kicked his heroin habit in the spring of 1957 he pretty much turned into Superman, and that notion is generally correct; but while working on a book project, with discography in hand and music in ear, I’ve done a lot of close, nerdic listening and come up with some interpretative detail, and I wanted to air some of my Tranespotting’s results on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Five Spot time. The upshot is that Trane’s epochal six-month gig with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot was crucial to everything he would play in the future: hardly earthshaking news—my friend Mike Zwerin was there almost every night and told me that ‘everybody’ knew this was the biggest thing to happen in jazz since Bird—but there’s always something new to learn about an event of such scope. You can tell from Coltrane’s first recording after getting well—his eponymous leader date for Prestige—that he’s no longer a brilliant but somehow impaired player: his sound has doubled in strength and his lines don’t break when they head for the sky; but a couple of months later he’s in trouble and faltering on the great Monk’s Music “little red wagon” date, and there’s the rumor that Monk’s callout “Coltrane, Coltrane!” was meant to pull the relapsed junkie from his nod to the microphone; but I side with producer Orrin Keepnews, who said that Monk was making sure of the solo order. What happens to Trane on Epistrophy and Well You Needn’t is Monk showing him how much he still had to learn, and Monk throws a wealth of inconvenient chordal architecture at the tenorist to prove it. How quickly Coltrane assimilated the lesson led to the complexification of his already arpeggiated style and to those famous sheets of sound. Tune in and see how; though don’t worry, I’ll keep the chatter brief and let your ears find their way (the book pages look like something by David Foster Wallace). Anyway, after a lot of Coltrane intensity we cool off with a Mozart piano concerto and then join John Coltrane, appropriately, in saying Dear Lord.
One of the things I like best about Judith Weir’s music is that there’s only music in it: no dogma, no extraneous rhetorical gestures, no showy displays of compositional chops . . . you know what I mean: she’s pared it down to the essential, purely musical statement and that’s aplenty. I’m reminded of Sibelius’ claim to be providing pure spring water; Weir is in the same business. The sixty-year-old composer, raised in England but of Scottish origin, was recently made Master of the Queen’s Music—the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate—the first woman to hold that position, so this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Niagara Falls time— celebrates her with three pieces: a piano concerto, a string quartet, and her wonderful orchestral composition The Welcome Arrival of Rain. The rest of the show falls in line with modern melodic mostly non-abrasive music like Orion and the Pleiades by Takemitsu, Zemlinsky’s Sinfonietta, and the papa-daddy of the idiom, Jeux by Claude Debusssy—cooling summer music, it seems to me; in any case the kind of thing I’ve wanted to listen to this week. Come by for a sip if you like.
The famous jazz version of Victor Young’s Delilah, love theme from CB DeMille’s wonderfully schlocky Samson and Delilah—Hedy Lamarr was a wiz with torpedo guidance systems but took forever to figure out the haircut gimmick—was by the Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, but John Coltrane performed it in Copenhagen on November 20 1961 with his quartet plus Eric Dolphy, and Trane was in astonishing form on soprano that night, much in the style of The Promise, but longer and maybe more electrifying. This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Radio City time—also anniversaries a towering Naima from Antibes in July, 1965. Otherwise the show hasn’t finished saying farewell to Charlie Haden, and there are tracks featuring Ornette Coleman, Shirley Horn, and Pat Metheny, plus two more ballads from the recently released album of duets with Keith Jarrett. The show opens with a change of pace: a brilliant CPE Bach piano sonata that seems situated midway between his dad’s music and that of Haydn, and closes with some new Willie Nelson and then a Charlie Haden vocal for which I should probably be arrested. If you have tears, prepare, you know, and please don’t call the cops.
Mingus used to call him not Charlie or Haden but “Bass”—a heavy compliment, coming from him—though I can remember a time when people would look at you funny when you started raving about Charlie Haden as a great bassist. That pretty much ended with his first album of duets in 1976, but until then even some musicians were so infatuated with fast, supposedly hornlike bassplaying that they couldn’t get with what Haden was doing. The startling thing about those duets was not only that most of us had never heard such an intimate degree of listening before, but that Haden’s attention and his struggle for truthfulness of expression also pointed us back to life and suggested a way one might be able to live it. I first met him at around that time and his personal impact on me was as great as that of his music, which is why I’m such a lousy deejay on this week’s Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Roundtrip Broadway Blues time. I just keep choking up and muttering “Charlie”, but most of the two-hour show is music, with an appropriate amount of Ornette Coleman, some duets with that petulant pianist, whatsisname, a few trips on the Escalator Over the Hill, and Charlie singing Shenandoah—he was born in Shenandoah Iowa and for all his jazz authenticity he never stopped being country—among other projects and highlights. He was one of the greats, and with him deep really did mean deep. Do drop in. It’s a long way down, and up.
It made me feel like Pogo the Possum: “The 4th of July show comes on the 4th of July this year.” The automatic picks were Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony, which in its last movement gathers together the whole of Creation and slam–dunks it into a New England Transcendentalist quadrant of all-receiving Heaven, and lots of Louis Armstrong. And Sidney Bechet, and Pres with Basie, and a lot of Charlie Parker. When I was a kid I sang “The House I Live” In with Earl Robinson’s chorus—“What is America to me?”—and was awed to meet Paul Robeson after the performance, which was plenty of America for me as a child of ten; but in putting this show together I was struck by what I had to leave out of its mere two hours: Carla Bley’s Spangled Banner Minor, gospel in several colors, not enough Duke Ellington, and, and, and. I may have to do a supplementary July 11th show next week, and end it with Charlie Haden singing “Shanendoah”. Meanwhile, please come by for the fireworks, such as they are—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Hudson River time—and yes I did manage to fit in some of Ornette Coleman’s Ivesian Skies of America, but not nearly enough, so please do keep watching the skies until we meet again.
Think of Horace Silver and the heart warms, the smile begins, even now. If he was one of the architects of post-bop jazz, there was soul in the architecture, church in the soul, and funk in the church, and what he brought to the music is still helping keep it alive. He died the other day at the age of 85, and this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday—plays some of his classic sides in tribute and fond memory. Speaking personally, in 1959 I was a kid who’d happened into jazz via Henry Mancini’s music for Peter Gunn and I didn’t know which end was up or where the center was. Then a cousin of mine I hardly knew said Listen to this, and it was Sister Sadie off the new Horace Silver record Blowin’ the Blues Away. In minutes I had the compass, a map I could begin to unfold, and a world I could get to know. For an additional boost the cousin played me Leeway. Lee Morgan and Art Blakey! I was ready to go. About midway, Updoc takes a break with some Fado because of Silver’s roots in the African-Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, then leaps to India, I’ll tell you why on the show, for the great Indian Singer Pandit Nasraj. Otherwise it’s classic Horace Silver Quintets, including the 1954 night at Birdland with Art Blakey and Clifford Brown; the music is as full of life as it ever was, and Sister Sadie is the first to testify, because.