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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lorraine Gordon, Keeper of a Shrine to Jazz

Lorraine Gordon, Keeper of a Shrine to Jazz

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Lorraine Gordon with Louis Armstrong. View more images from Alive at the Village Vanguard and hear additional interview clips.

Read an excerpt from 'Alive at the Vanguard Village'

Songs from This Story

All Things Considered, February 27, 2007 · Lorraine Gordon is the keeper of a shrine to jazz — New York's historic Village Vanguard. Recently, Gordon published a set of memoirs, the recollections of a woman who was married to two famous men of jazz. The book recalls a life lived beyond society's expectations — a colorful swirl of music, politics and family.

Now, at age 84, Gordon is the driving force behind a still-vital Vanguard, and the formidable guardian of its fabled legacy. The Vanguard is the most revered venue in jazz. John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk are among the many legends who have played the small, wedge-shaped room.

"The room really responds to some artists more than others," Gordon says. "The walls start to shake a little when there's no business and the room says forget it, the vibes aren't right. I listen to the room. The room tells me a lot."

Gordon's personal history with jazz goes back to 1930's Newark, N.J., when she was Lorraine Stein.

"That's the oddest part," she said, "because I grew up in a very middle-class family who never played a record. I don't remember any music in my house except for the records I played."

Some of those discs were on the emerging Blue Note label, a small outfit run by German emigre Alfred Lion. Lorraine eventually met Lion and the two were married in 1942, with Gordon soon making her own contributions to Blue Note's early successes. She'd listen to session playbacks, deciding which of the tunes would make it to vinyl, and the resulting albums helped establish Blue Note as a premiere label for the best in jazz.

The Lions occupied a small flat in Greenwich Village, the hub of bohemian life in New York. Back then, Gordon says, the Vanguard was a haven for poets. They read their works aloud and audiences tossed money onstage in appreciation. When Sunday afternoon jazz was added to the Vanguard's entertainments, Lorraine and Alfred became regulars.

Still, it was after her time with Lion that the Vanguard became a permanent part of Lorraine's life. After eight years, she and Alfred met with both marital and business problems. There was a painful transition.

Then, in 1950, Lorraine married Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard. They had two daughters, and Lorraine became a mother with a taste for politics. She joined Women Strike for Peace, a group of anti-nuclear moms, and she opposed the Vietnam War, traveling to Moscow and to North Vietnam.

Jazz returned to center stage in Lorraine's life in 1989, when Max Gordon died. At age 70 Lorraine found herself the owner of the Vanguard, by then a jazz institution.

"The night he died, I closed the club," she remembers. "Max never asked me to run the club, he asked nobody to run it ... I closed it for one night, and the next night I opened it."

Gordon's memoir is called Alive at the Village Vanguard. Barry Singer, its co-author said of Gordon, "If you look at her life, the arch of it, it's almost like destiny that this is what she would wind up doing, because she was perfect at it."

Relying on her instincts and her love for jazz, Gordon taught herself the nightclub business, saying, "I have good ears. That's my gift — that I know when something is good, and I want it to play here."

So Gordon books artists that appeal to her personal tastes — including saxophonist Joe Lovano, who says Gordon takes a decisive role in running the club.

"I've seen her throw people out, and not care if people come in or not. She's got a strong energy, and when she's there, her presence is felt by everyone."

The people who know Gordon describe her as plainspoken, opinionated, and "one of a kind."

"Even the musicians say she kind of scares them with her intensity and her frank way of speaking," says Barry Singer. "I've always suspected there was a warm person underneath. The more I've gotten to know her the more I understand how sensitive she is."

The Village Vanguard is booked nearly to the end of the year. So, Lorraine Gordon will stay at her desk, backstage, paying bills, answering the phone, and doing whatever it takes to keep the place going. Still, when the lights go down, she's once again that teenage fan from Newark, lost in jazz, her first love.

Excerpt: 'Alive at the Village Vanguard'

by Lorraine Gordon

Alive at the Village Vanguard, February 26, 2007 · It was Ike Quebec who first took us to see Thelonious Monk. Ike didn't say about Monk: "Record him." He just said, "Come on, I want you to hear someone." Ike didn't take us to a club either, he took us to Monk's West 65th Street apartment. And Alfred and I... well, we heard him.

Monk's room was right off the kitchen. It was a room out of Vincent Van Gogh somehow - you know, ascetic - a bed, a cot, really, against the wall, a window and an upright piano. That was it.

We all sat down on Monk's narrow bed — our legs straight out in front of us, like children. I looked up for a moment and saw a picture of Billie Holiday taped to the ceiling. The door closed. And Monk, his back to us, began to play.

He had enormous hands. Those hands almost stammered, it seemed to me, right above the keys. 'Where are they going to come down?' I kept wondering. It was just riveting to watch.

There were a lot of modern musicians I didn't understand — they were fast and terrific but not comprehensible to me, necessarily. Thelonious Monk I understood. Always. Monk was a revelation. From our very first encounter he was right in my groove.

He was always working on something new. That day we heard him composing what would turn out to be "Ruby, My Dear," one of Monk's most admired signature compositions. He didn't even have a title for it yet. I just loved the melody, so much so that I can remember thinking: 'Boy, I wish he'd name it after me - call it "Sweet Lorraine" or something.' Eventually, in the course of a later visit, Thelonious did tell me that he had titled this piece "Ruby, My Dear," and I said to him, "Oh, who's Ruby?" "No-one," Thelonious answered. "I just like the name."

That day Alfred, Frank and I practically said in unison, 'Let's record this guy!'

Did Monk's records sell at first? No, they didn't sell. I went to Harlem and those record stores didn't want Monk or me. I'll never forget one particular owner, I can still see him and his store on Seventh Avenue and 125th Street. "He can't play lady, what are you doing up here? The guy has two left hands."

"You just wait," I'd say. "This man's a genius, you don't know anything."

Thelonious Monk became my personal mission. I was really fighting everyone. I mean, I went huffing and puffing around with those records and my mind was undivided. When I have something to do and want to do it, nothing fazes me. And Monk didn't faze me. I just knew the man was great.

We began to hang out with Thelonious — Alfred, Frank and I — at Monk's family home. We met his mother, his sister, his brother-in-law. Thelonious was not married yet when we first met him. We sort of became part of the Monk family.

Thelonious was so eccentric and non-verbal, I really became his mouthpiece to the public. At one point, out of sheer enthusiasm, I wrote a letter to a newspaper I admired very much at the time called PM. PM was very hip and I enjoyed reading it. I addressed this letter to the editor, Ralph Ingersoll, and described Monk to him as "a genius living here in the heart of New York, whom nobody knows."

Well, Ingersol caught my pitch. He called me and said that he was going to send Seymour Peck, one of this best writers, to do a feature on Monk. I said fine.

I remember picking up Seymour Peck somewhere in my car and driving him that day to Monk's apartment. When I started to get out of the car with him, though, Peck balked. "Where do you think you're going?" he said. "I do this alone."

"I don't think so," I said. "Thelonious is not that talkative. Without me I don't think this will work."

"Don't worry about it," said Peck." And he went on in alone.

I sat outside in my car waiting. Within five minutes, here comes Peck storming out. "There is no story there!" he shouted. "The man doesn't speak!"

"I tried to tell you," I said.

Back at work I called Ralph Ingersoll. "Look," I said. "There certainly is a story in Thelonious Monk. A big story. But either I have to be there with him or you have to send another reporter."

"Fine," Ingersoll said. And back comes Peck. This time we go in together. The result: a huge, 2-page centerfold story on Monk in PM.

What happened? With me there, Monk talked. I mean Monk talked to other musicians, to Alfred, to me. He just didn't talk to strangers. PM took pictures of the apartment, of Monk's room right off the kitchen, and a picture too of the refrigerator in the kitchen, for some reason. This fridge picture actually showed up in the article, with a caption that described the fridge as dominating the apartment. Well, Thelonious' mother got very angry with me. She said that I had embarrassed them and why did PM have to talk about the apartment? I said to her, "Look, Mrs. Monk. Your son is going to be very famous. This is just the beginning. You will have to get used to this."

An Interview with Stanley Crouch

Interview with Stanley Crouch

The Bad Plus and Stanley Crouch have been getting to know each other for the last couple of years, mostly at the Village Vanguard. Reid was the first one to meet Stanley there when he was playing with Bill McHenry and Paul Motian. Stanley dug Reid, began talking to him, and was surprised to discover that Reid's own band was the infamous The Bad Plus. I met Stanley at the Vanguard when playing with Billy Hart, and I surprised him by owning all his books and quoting Albert Murray. At the January TBP Vanguard run, Dave finally got to meet Stanley too, where they spent two nights in the kitchen talking drums and Ornette Coleman 'till 4 A.M. (If you need to find Stanley at 3 A.M. sometime, try the Vanguard kitchen first, where he will be most likely talking to the drummer.)

One of those late nights Stanley suggested that I interview him for Do the Math about his most recent book, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz. Of course, I jumped at the chance. This interview was recorded on February 8th and transcribed over the following two weeks. I suggested that we freely speak our minds while the tape was rolling knowing we both could edit the transcript for content and clarity. Stanley readily agreed; what follows has a few minor additions and subtractions not found on the tape.

If you don't know who Stanley is, read Richard Boynton's wonderful 1995 New Yorker profile. David Adler's review of Considering Genius is here.



EI: I'm going to begin by giving you a copy of this Barry Harris record you said you didn't have, Magnificent! It's from 1969 with Ron Carter and Leroy Williams...let's listen to a song together.

SC: Ok; great. Perfect.

EI: Try track two, Barry's own tune "You Sweet and Fancy Lady."

[Music plays. Here's an excerpt that runs from the bridge of the melody through the bridge of the first chorus of soloing.]

Download Sweet_Fancy_excerpt.mp3

[After we're done listening to the whole track, the interview commences.]

SC: Wow!

EI: Not bad, huh?

SC: Not at all! What fascinates me there is how Leroy Williams' tuning (and the sound he gets from his brushes and sticks and from each of his drums) is perfect for bebop…he really understands how the drums are supposed to sound in that kind of music.

EI: I think it was Williams' first record date.

SC: The other thing I'm thinking about is Ron Carter. Whenever I hear him in this kind of situation, he reminds me of Ray Brown.

EI: Mm-hmm…?

SC: The attack, the way he uses triplets…now, Ron is supposed to be coming from Paul Chambers, which he is, but there is something about Ray Brown that gets left out of the discussion in terms of the linage of the bass.

EI: You know, I wouldn't have thought of that myself, but I hear what you mean, especially in terms of trio playing--like Ron here is closer to Ray's records with Oscar Peterson than P.C.'s with Wynton Kelly.

SC: I was talking with Ralph Lalama one night about how Ray Brown plays a phrase on Sonny Rollins' record Way Out West that people think is a Ron Carter phrase, but is actually a Ray Brown phrase. Of course, if we could put it on Ray now, he would probably tell us he got it from some other earlier guy!

I didn't understand why the bass evolved into the jazz band to replace the tuba until I heard a concert at Carnegie Hall many years ago where they were playing the music of James Reese Europe. I had read in Eileen Southern's The Music of Black Americans about how Europe would have these "banjo choirs" with many banjos etc…I always thought "for WHAT? Why all those banjos?" But when I heard it in person, I could see that he had all of those banjos because he wanted the chords to move…he wanted a string instrument to deliver the chords in a percussive way. He had violins too, playing pizzicato rhythm. The tuba can do a lot of things, but it can't do that-- but the string bass can. When the bass comes into the band is when jazz musicians realized there was a way to have a real relationship between harmonic motion and percussion beyond the piano. It appears first in the banjo, and moves downward into the bass. The bass always delivers the harmony with that percussive sound. One of the great things about Ron Carter was that he sustained that relationship with all the fresh things he brought to bass. He was never tempted to give up the low end of the bass and the power it could bring to a band…always giving us that percussive feeling.

EI: This makes me think of Jimmy with Elvin, of course.

SC: No doubt. I think that John Coltrane heard that sound that he wanted with Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones for the first time on that Sonny Rollins record with Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones. Coltrane wasn't able to get there for a number of years, but Coltrane always got there in the end.

EI: Of course, Coltrane played with Wilbur with Monk. He even talks about that in an interview. The way that Wilbur related to the ensemble, and then the way Jimmy related to the ensemble--there is an important thread there, for sure. [My small article on Wilbur Ware makes this same point.]

SC: As we know, Monk would leave Coltrane out there with Shadow Wilson and Wilbur Ware for a long time so that Coltrane could find that out. That may have been the first time that Coltrane learned how much could be achieved with no more than bass and drum accompaniment, though I don’t know if he always filled up that area of sound as well as Sonny Rollins did…

I know Ron Carter admires Paul Chambers above all other players. What Chambers does with Miles Davis at the Blackhawk is one of the supreme examples of melodic counterpoint while delivering the chords and swinging the time. Chambers is also extraordinary on the Stockholm concert with Davis and Coltrane--like on "So What." Amazing.

EI: There is no doubt that Ron comes from P.C., and on that Blackhawk record there are moments, like on that uptempo version of "Walkin'," where P.C. and Jimmy Cobb sound quite a bit like how Ron and Tony Williams would sound a year or two later.


Well, Stanley, this is great. I thought I would play you a song that I thought was good jazz and start talking with you to learn a few things, and that is exactly what has happened. It's very telling that I played a piano trio record and that all we have done is spent ten minutes on the drums and bass. Most people would have spent that time on Barry Harris, and would get to Leroy Williams some rainy day…maybe! Instead, your first reaction was about Leroy, and then to talk about the lineage of Ron Carter.

That is something I have always responded to in your writing, from your first pieces (I'm thinking of your liner notes to Old and New Dreams from 1976) to now: you always give each member of the ensemble a hearing. That is true throughout this collection of essays, Considering Genius. I like it that you not only praise the famous sidemen, but get critical if there is something not happening, like when you admire Ben Webster for swinging so hard late in life with lame-duck European rhythm sections or call out that mediocre studio drummer on the soundtrack to the movie Bird. If there is one thing I could say to the history of jazz criticism, it would be this: there is always some inherent democracy on the bandstand, and that all the energies are important. Pay attention to everybody, please!

SC: Yeah! Well, the thing is, everybody is up there to play, and everybody has to make the right decisions. What I consider "the groove" is when everybody makes the right decision.

I first came into this music with Duke Ellington of the era that they now call "The Blanton-Webster band." There has been an awful lot of writing about this period of Duke (the early nineteen-forties), usually with the claim that it is his greatest band. That's garbage to me. That was one of the greatest bands of all time, but I daresay the band of Such Sweet Thunder was superior to that one. The band of "The Queens Suite" is also superior. And the band of Anatomy of a Murder--forget it!

EI: Right, the later bands were even more swinging, no doubt.

SC: One of the things I am proudest of in Considering Genius is the long essay on Duke, which tries to straighten out a lot of misconceptions about the range and complexity of Duke Ellington’s work. I point out is that someone who plays the same thing in 1960 that he played in 1940 is going to know how to play it that much better--if he has maintained his health and has no physcial problems that limit his facility. This is true of almost every player in jazz. That's what bothers me about jazz criticism, that it doesn't acknowledge that type of maturation, which is a given in all of the other arts (except something like ballet where youth is so important to the quality of execution). Jazz often suffers from the car-dealership mentality, which is: "Well, we've got the new model this year! We've got to sell this one." That works ok for cars but it doesn't work as well for the arts. It may even pressure the artist to try to keep coming up with new models. If you are an artist with the kind of imagination that requires you to constantly transform yourself, that's one thing. That's fine. But if the artist feels pressure from the critical community or a record label to change, than that is an unnecessary intrusion.

Mingus was one of the guys who needed to constantly reinvent himself--or at least develop an approach that allowed him to play all of jazz as he had come to know it from the range of bandstands on which he worked, which included Armstrong, Hampton, Ellington, Parker, Powell, and Monk. I am still fascinated by all the different ways he and Dannie Richmond came up with to play time. I had never heard before--and have rarely heard since--a bassist and a drummer who could so dramatically affect the direction and intensity of the music.

Intensity isn't always volume, either. Billy Higgins showed me that. He would almost always play at the same volume, but when the band would get louder, he would just start swinging harder. I realized this at the Vanguard one night. I called him in L.A. the next week to tell him I had figured this out, and he said, "You're exactly right! Swing IS energy. If you can swing harder, that's all you have to do to raise the intensity. You don't have to hit anything harder, just dig into that groove deeper."

EI: One of the great things about your writing on jazz is exactly what you are doing now: quoting the musicians extensively. I don't think there is an essay in this book about a major figure that isn't peppered with quotes by their peers. It's very much to your credit that even if you are building a detailed edifice of critical thought on say, Dizzy Gillespie, you stop to quote Jimmy Heath or whoever.

SC: As you very well know, Ethan, the community of the practitioners should have a big part in defining the importance of a given player.

I've learned a tremendous amount about the music by listening to musicians talk about it. I also think that it is important to bring into the arena the interplay between musicians off the bandstand…their philosophical attitudes…and to make it clear to the reader how seriously musicians take interest in what other musicians are doing. They may not want to play like that, but they listen to it in a serious way.

You learn about someone like Max Roach not just from the listening to the records but from the many, many stories musicians tell about him. The stories about the major figures of the music indicate three things: their personality, their imagination, and their physical ability (just their body, not as a player). Like Charlie Parker: he came from a mysterious part of the gene pool that meant he could do almost anything that called for physical precision--he could pitch, he could throw, his first wife says he was a great dancer, and even late in his life when he was overweight he could assume very difficult yoga positions! Symphony Sid told me that he talked to guys who said that Bird could have been a world-class golfer. When Sid saw Bird with golf clubs, he assumed that Bird had stolen them to sell for dope. But then he saw three guys at the club that night who said they had played golf that day with Bird in New Jersey, and that Bird was an absolute natural.

EI: Bird played golf?

SC: Yeah.

EI: Well, that must be in the second volume of your Charlie Parker biography, because you let me preview the first volume and there wasn't anything about golf.

SC: That's right, it will be in the second volume.

EI: Well, the first volume--which comes out in the fall, right?--is remarkable. The amount of oral history you preserve in there is wonderful. All that information from people like Rebecca Parker, Gene Ramey, and Jay McShann--no one but you could have gotten these people to open up like that, Stanley, I am sure of it. It reminds me of Notes and Tones by Art Taylor, which is one of the few other examples of a brother interviewing black jazz musicians. I think that the fact that you are a black writer really means something in the jazz environment--or at least for an older generation, it was really important.

SC: Yeah, it was. But that is primarily because, black academics, including so many of the neon ethnics of black studies, have never shown any serious interest in jazz. In Considering Genius I go on to say that if they had been serious about it, we would have an extensive circuit through American colleges that would be an alternative to the European circuit that so many musicians depend on to make a living.

EI: A large group of talented black academics taking on jazz! Good lord--the history of this music would be written differently, for sure. But at least we have you and a couple of others. Taylor gets incredible stuff out of Art Blakey, Betty Carter, or Dizzy in Notes and Tones--stuff that some white critic would never have gotten, period. The same applies to you, especially in the Charlie Parker book with people like Gene Ramey, but also in Considering Genius.


One thing that your more vociferous critics don't realize is how much respect you get from the older players, both black and white. Paul Motian digs you, for example, and I've seen Al Foster treat you like royalty. I was really blown away the night we saw Bobby Hutcherson leading a quartet. The band was sounding only ok, but then you went up and said hi to Hutcherson during a piano solo. I must admit, that is not my style: when you went up to the stand I was thinking, "What the fuck is Stanley doing going up to bandstand while they are playing? That is rude!" But I bit my tongue when Bobby was clearly so pleased to see you, and then started playing like he really meant it: his next solo was easily the most inspired of the set. Obviously, since he knew Stanley Crouch was in the house, he realized he had better start playing!

There's no doubt that you have hung with the real cats for a long time, and that they respect you for trying to parse the music. They know how dedicated you are, that you would lay down your life for jazz.

SC: [laughs] Well, that's true, I would.

You remind me of a story Reggie Workman told at the Jazz Museum in Harlem about playing with Art Blakey. This was after he left John Coltrane. Blakey had more of a show than Coltrane, and it was largely the same every night, with Blakey playing the same breaks and so on. So Reggie got to point where he thought he knew was it was, that he could sleepwalk through the gig. But one night, Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie came in, and Art Blakey saw them. Blakey then commenced playing on a level Reggie had no idea Blakey was capable of. Actually, when Reggie was telling this story, he started crying, since the memory of this thrilling experience--of Blakey's relationship to the music and to those two other men--was so moving.

(McCoy Tyner also told me of a night playing with Blakey where Blakey did something behind the drums that shook the whole stage. And McCoy had already played with Coltrane and Elvin, but only Blakey--somehow--shook the whole stage.)

I like that bit in that interview with Billy Hart you did where Hart keeps asking Higgins how he got it together and Higgins keeps insisting he got it all from Blackwell. You should have heard the night Ed Blackwell came into Bradley's and sat behind Billy Higgins while he was playing with Hank Jones and Ray Drummond. We all know that Higgins could play more stuff than he usually did, but that night--wow!

I've seen so many musicians play so great on so many nights. I know the difference between the sound of someone in person and the recorded sound of an engineer. Coltrane's tone was much darker and thicker than the sound on those Impulse! records engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. But maybe Van Gelder chose that sound because he could hear that Coltrane was an alto player first before switching to tenor. I think the sound Coltrane was looking for came from the one you hear Charlie Parker using on "What's New" which was recorded in performance at a dance and released on Bird at Saint Nick's.

In Considering Genius, it's always an attempt to deliver the player to the reader, so that the reader realizes that this is a special person. One way I learned to do it was from studying Whitney Balliet and Leroi Jones, each of whom invented a style that was celebratory in its very eloquence.

EI: Let me quote from the prologue:

Part of my belief in the power of words came through having read about Holiday and the various moods she created when singing. Those desciptions allowed me to know, without a doubt, when I first heard her on the radio, "that must be Billie Holiday." As the disc jockey announced her name I think I realized then that if a writer was good enough, he could prepare a listener to recognize the sound of an artist on first hearing. That might apply to certain singers but I don't really believe that is true of instrumentalists. Even so, it always remains a goal.

That's a classic Crouch paragraph.

You take this mission seriously, and there are many passages in your articles on Duke, Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis, and others--like that extremely influential Village Voice article on Louis Armstrong--where you give a novice reader a sense of what the musicians are like to listen to, and the experienced listener a sense of what the musicians themselves were thinking about.

Most of Considering Genius I have read before, in your other collections or scattered about in magazines, but there's some new stuff, too. I got very excited about the long prologue, "Jazz Me Blues." It is your "autobiography with jazz," which is began when you were born in Los Angeles in 1945.

SC: Right. I wanted to lay out my intellectual development and tell how I came to love jazz. There was so much excitement and so much disappointment, but there was always the possibility of discovery. What makes me different from a lot of the guys who write about jazz or who teach in the academy is that I have known many different kinds of people, from semi-literate poor people all the way over to supremely sophisticated men like Ralph Ellison, Charles Johnson, and Saul Bellow. I have been around the block, I have been down in the basement, I have looked out on the world from the parapets of penthouses, and every place that I have been and have come to know is far more often dominated by the moods and wishes of people than by stereotypes. My experience has led me to distrust academics and to feel equal contempt for lames who try to present themselves as hip because they believe that they are up to date with the latest European take on the arts. They need to get out there into life and see what it will do to their ideas. They need to discover what Ornette Coleman calls “the human reason.” But at the same time, as I point out in "Jazz Me Blues," the survival of jazz has resulted because so many white people, hip or lame, have supported the music, which points up, once again--as I go on to say--the ongoing failure of black studies when it comes to the arts, which is a conclusion no else has ever made about black studies and jazz. Being out here for a while will teach you all you need to know.

EI: You've changed you mind on things over the years, and sometimes it has been confusing. There were things I didn't understand about your development until reading "Jazz Me Blues." For example, I knew of your dislike for Leroi Jones/ Amiri Baraka. However, your aggressive dismissal of Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka always struck me as a something like as if I were to aggressively dismiss Paul Bley--my true forebear! Jones was a big influence on you.

SC: Yes, he was, and I go into that in the book.

EI: Exactly, and then you explain step by step how that relationship soured. It was quite revelatory.

SC: Well, I think he lost his mind when he became super-black nationalist, anti-white, and so forth. He has really been a detrimental influence, so much so that if you make any criticism of something done by white people for what are apparently white reasons, most white people seem to they think you must be taking the Leroi Jones line. There's a lot of resentment--or hand-me-down resentment--in both races about that period of black nationalism.

EI: Well, as a flabby white intellectual liberal, I will always be willing to give an angry black man a hearing. And while I really learned some things reading your personal history with Baraka, nothing you or anybody could say would change my mind that Black Music is one of the most significant books on jazz ever written.

SC: Well, it is.

EI: Those interviews with Wayne Shorter and Roy Haynes are great. And when he talks about Albert Ayler--I know you aren't that interested in Albert now, but you were at one point--when he talks about Albert Ayler he really hits high gear. I like what Gerald Early (who I wouldn't know about unless you hadn't written about him) said in Tuxedo Junction:

Baraka…has done more than any other writer to popularize black avant-garde music…he certainly adored it. And adoration is a very useful kind of currency in a society of cash and carry emotions.

There may have been negative consequences from some of the later essays in Black Music, but that feeling I got as a teenager reading Jones about a trio concert of Don Cherry, Wilbur Ware, and Billy Higgins---

SC: Whew!

EI: --That feeling is immortal.

SC: This was a very talented man. And when he went first into Black nationalism, then Super-Black racism, then Marxism--he shredded his talent in front of all of us.

The overall problem with his writing in the last third of Black Music is that he never arrives at anything of substance to say about anyone he likes. You get no idea of HOW Albert Ayler or Sonny Murray played, just a lot of celebratory adjectives or phrases intended as barbs to exclude white readers.

EI: And recently, his poem about Israel being behind 9/11--

SC: He's lost his mind. He's a nut now. He was a superb and original writer up until about 1965 or '66, maybe '67.

When I was a younger guy, I would read his essays in Black Music over and over, and became intrigued with many of people he talked about.

In fact, the essay in Considering Genius about Thelonious Monk, "At the Five Spot," is in direct response to the essay "Recent Monk" in Black Music. I was determined to outdo him, since he has HIS foot so firmly on the gas in that one. Wow! I thought the highest performance level (that I had seen) of "writing an essay about Thelonious Monk" had been achieved by Leroi Jones. He made you feel like you were at the club.

As far as explicating the technical side of Monk, I thought that Martin Williams and Gunther Schuller had closed the door. It's important to remember that back then, Gunther was the only guy with concert credentials who could defend the aesthetics of jazz to other classical musicians, since Gunther could actually write down what the men actually played.

EI: It's not that accurate, unfortunately.

SC: Well, one time Wynton Marsalis told me that he was playing a thorny Ralph Shapey orchestral score with Gunther conducting. There was a big dissonant cluster: blat! You couldn't hear anything in there, and Wynton played a note a half-step off on purpose, just to see if Gunther could hear it. Gunther stopped the orchestra and said, "Wynton? Do you have an A or Ab in your part?" "Oh--uh--it's an A." "Then why are you playing Ab?"

EI: Oh, Gunther's ears are legendary: the pitches are always right. But I don't think any of the musicians Gunther talks about in Early Jazz or The Swing Era would recognize their music-making in Gunther's technical descriptions. And his early 60's transcriptions of Ornette Coleman are an abomination, with "Un Muy Bonita" being notated in 15/8 for chrissake--do you think Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins have ever played in 15/8 in their whole lives?

SC: Well, I don't put anything beyond's Gunther's talent except, of course, swing.

[extensive laughter]

EI: Ok, I'm going in.

SC: Ask anything you want.

EI: Well, I can't really understand why you take it to certain place you take it. Ok: your first book is called Notes from a Hanging Judge. So from book one, we know that Stanley Crouch is going to give us unapologetic fire-and-brimstone judgments on his fellow humans.

SC: Right.

EI: But, man! You really go for it. This is a passage from a speech from your spectacular takedown of Baraka from 1985 called "Jazz Criticism and Its Effect on the Art Form," reprinted in Considering Genius:

…a rail-tailed Negro named Michael Jackson sold more copies of a single album than any singer or instrumentalist in recorded history…a blind Negro named Stevie Wonder has earned more dollars than the most popular composers and instrumentalists in both jazz and European concert music…a horse-faced Negro from the South named Lionel Ritchie pulls down millions for songs that contain so little melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic character that even the most imaginative jazz musicians haven't tried to use them as bridges to a larger audience in the way they could when the best of Tin Pan Alley was in flower.

I suspect I'm not the first person to bring up this sentence to you. What does "rail-tailed" mean? Does that mean he has a small ass?

SC: No, just a skinny guy. It's slang we used growing up.

EI: Ok. Here's the thing: I can understand you saying this in front of an audience in 1985--this was a speech, and I'm sure you got a big laugh.

SC: Yeah, I did.

EI: I'm a performer; I certainly can understand that. But why reprint it twenty years later? Why not soften it, or just edit it out?

SC: Whenever you collect some pieces, you have to decide: am I going to revise them for the way I think now, or am I going to lay out what it was?

EI: Clearly, this is the "what it was" collection.

SC: This is "what it was!" AND, what I'm talking about there is a point that still gets left out of the discussion of music when you talk about race like Leroi Jones does: all three of those men made far more money than Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, or anyone else in classical music--even more than Leonard Bernstein who had "West Side Story." You can't always be arguing that the white man takes all the money and the black man doesn't get all the money, etc.

The next point is that Betty Carter always complained to me that she always was searching for a pop tune to put in her band. (She believed in the classical jazz tradition of using pop tunes to connect with the audience.) But there wasn't anything in the music of those three guys--or anyone else in big money pop music--that she could use on a gig. There wasn't enough harmony or melody.

EI: Um, there's a certain irony that you are talking to a member of The Bad Plus right now.

SC: Of course. But it's not really that ironic, because you and Reid and Dave go so far from the original tune that you aren't playing on the form of the song.

EI: Well, you're right: we don't play jazz harmony or jazz solos on the tunes the way Betty Carter would have needed.

SC: But you also don't play anything after the head that that anybody would call pop music. Your first phrase, after the melody, is always totally "out." I find it really interesting how your audience is shocked and exhilarated by the conclusions you come to with a melody they already know.

To me, the conception of The Bad Plus is actually derived from the way Coltrane and his band played "My Favorite Things," which is really far from hearing Julie Andrews sing it. What Coltrane--what everybody in his band--was playing on it is like…[shrugs] "What are they playing?" --"'My Favorite Things.'" --"Where is 'My Favorite Things' here? I don't get it." That's The Bad Plus, too.

EI: You are on the money with this comparison, Stanley. I have actually brought up Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" to interviewers myself.

SC: Well, there you go. Right.

EI: And even The Bad Plus isn't going to do a Lionel Ritchie song…but back to this quote about Ritchie, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson. Because this is something that gets you a lot of heat: the aggressive put-downs you write are a real barrier for people.

SC: I know it.

EI: I imagine you do--so, is there something you want to say, to explain why you use these insults?

SC: I don't write things to shock people, necessarily, but sometimes, when making an argument…

Let me put it this way: Some people go out into a field of wheat and they'll pick something--just one thing that they like. However, other people will drive a thresher through there.

Sometimes, if I have a choice, I'll just drive the thresher through.

[extensive laughter]

SC: Sometimes I think that's what's called for. Style and form are what I'm thinking about, you know. Sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph there is an attempt to personalize everything I learned from Ralph Ellison, LeRoi Jones, Martin Williams, and Whitney Balliett. Then, in something like “Body and Soul,” I get to a symphonic version of essay form that I am very proud of. Form is always my concern and is what I am always experimenting with, even when I am driving the wheat thresher.


EI: Well…there are friends of mine that you have driven the thresher through, and I know that it doesn't feel good.

But I understand that there is an argument for being over the top, just putting it out there, and seeing the dust settle. I'm sure we will be still looking at this book long after history has forgotten those who never came down on one side or another.

SC: I believe in taking off the gloves and getting to it. Sometimes you just have to say, "this is how is goes, fellas, like it or not." It might be a personality flaw, true. I'm glad you're asking about this.

Being acceptable is not a primary concern. If I wanted to be acceptable, I would join those dolts who think they will get young people to listen to them if they praise rap.

EI: Certainly, back in the day, a lot more threshers were in use than now. Cats like George Bernard Shaw, Virgil Thomson, and Harold Schoenberg delighted in dropping the heavy, often worse than you!

Should we talk in more detail about the most controversial piece in Considering Genius, which is "Putting the White Man in Charge?"

SC: Ok.

EI: I don't know too much about Tom Piazza or Francis Davis, which are your topics in the first two pages, but I do know something about Dave Douglas, who you get to at the end. Here's the paragraph:

There is nothing wrong with Douglas, who can play what he can play and should continue to do whatever he wants to do, but there is something pernicious about [Francis} Davis and all of those other white guys who want so badly to put white men--American and European--in charge and put Negroes in the background. Douglas…is far from being a bad musician, but he also knows that he should keep as much distance as possible between himself and trumpet players like Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, and Nicholas Payton, to name but three, any one of whom on any kind of material--chordal, nonchordal, modal, free, whatever--would turn him into a puddle on the bandstand. Unlike the great white players of the past, such as Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz--or now, Joe Lovano--Douglas will never be seen standing up next to the black masters of the idiom. The white critical establishment couldn't help him then.

Well, all I can say is, if Roney, Payton, or Blanchard tried to play Dave's harder music, they would not find it easy--and they could never play it as well as he can. They would have trouble playing even a few bars of it unless they studied it in detail. There are authentic systems in Douglas' music that contribute to his unique voice.

SC: Whether or not there are authentic systems in Douglas’s music is not even close to the point. To me, the question is: What is jazz music? What I really don't like is how the avant-garde, which is more like contemporary European music, is treated as the solution to jazz to the exclusion of real jazz. I realized the problem years ago when Roland Kirk complained to Cecil Taylor in Downbeat that Cecil wouldn't let him sit in with his band. Cecil said they had arrangements, and that's why he didn't let Kirk sit it, but that's not a good reason. That's what holds the music back. It is a real problem that there is no agreed-upon place for avant-garde musicians and the musicians who play real jazz to play together. Because if the avant-garde musicians stay away from the jazz musicians, their music gets to the point where it has less and less to do with jazz. I don't like that. Some people do; I really don't!

I do know this: if Douglas got up on to the bandstand with Wallace, Payton, or Blanchard to play some blues, he would be in trouble.

EI: I'm not so sure, Stanley..but here, let me put this on me, not Dave. We are going downstairs to hear Eric Reed play in a little bit, and I wouldn't dare get up and play a straight-ahead blues solo after he did. He (or Cyrus Chestnut or Marcus Roberts) could cut me into little pieces. But I don't think any of them could play in The Bad Plus. You have got to make music based out of your life experience.

SC: Yeah, well, I think if you are playing jazz, you really need to be able to play some blues. Ornette is the perfect example: he always sounds like a blues musician, no matter how far out he gets. And this is why Duke Ellington could make a record--a supremely great record--with John Coltrane, with both men just playing their individual personalities but making music together. In fact, Elvin Jones told me how nervous he, Jimmy Garrison, and Coltrane were until Ellington got to the studio and cooled everyone out. Listen to the solo Ellington plays on Coltrane’s tune called "Big Nick." It's two perfect uncliched choruses that could be transcribed and made into a song.

You see when we hear Duke Ellington playing with Coltrane, we realize that the music is a certain tradition, based in blues and swing. Those elements provide bridges between schools and styles. George Wein told me that Charlie Parker played two choruses on "Royal Garden Blues" with so much authority one afternoon in Boston that he startled Vic Dickenson and some other swing era musicians up on that bandstand who only knew him at a distance. But of course Bird could play swing and earlier jazz, and his own advanced style was a re-imagining of those basic elements.

EI: In the post-modern era I think there are more options. I have always believed that you had to play your own way, no matter what---even at the expense of jazz. My own voice is not pure jazz, for precisely this reason, since I have always been determined to be distinctive.

I appreciate your point, though, and do worry about it sometimes, since the best jazz has always been connected to a certain kind of community that I could never have access to. I consider myself lucky to have Reid and Dave--at least we are a little white Midwestern community.

SC: Community is important because music is made by bands, but as I say in Considering Genius and go into great detail to make clear: Sensibility is the imperishable element. Background can never be an excuse for not sounding good. That only comes into the conversation when a white musicians try to duck the difficulty of learning to play by saying that their backgrounds did not provide them with fundamental exposure to blues, swing, or the black church. But that doesn’t work for Leontyne Price or Kathy Battle: neither of them could say that because she was from Mississippi or Ohio that you couldn't expect a good performance of Puccini. The music is there for whomever can play it and it is hard to do no matter what background a player has. How many blues clubs and black churches were in Czechoslovakia when George Mraz was growing up?

EI: Right, and he was the favorite bass player of both Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.

SC: Then there is the impossibly great Francesco Cafiso, the young Italian alto player I discuss in Considering Genius. Nothing will stop a pure musician, not color, not culture, not geography. All they need is what Billy Higgins always told young musicians when they asked him for advice: "Get to a bandstand as soon as you can."

There comes a time, in the personality of a guy who's a jazz musician, that no matter how experimental he was as a young guy, he becomes a jazz musician. From that point on he doesn't need to leave out what he knows about experimentation. I predict that one of these nights in The Bad Plus, one of you is actually going to set up a true jazz groove, and the other two are going to jump on it, and from then on the future will be different. You will still play what you play, but you will be expressing your love of jazz!

EI: H'mm…!

SC: You could actually teach your audience about swing, which is the great American innovation.

EI: You are always convincing, Stanley! I dare anyone to have this conversation with you and not leave determined to start swinging.

Obviously, though, since the 60's, a lot of musicians, both black and white, have wanted to do something more than swing. Let's talk about the avant-garde. I know something about Ornette Coleman, and so do you. Most people don't realize how much you do know about him. In fact, I have a confession to make: I have never really enjoyed the Coleman trio with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett, since my allegiance has always been to the Coleman music with Charlie Haden. But then I read your 2002 essay "Ornette Coleman: Blues for the Space Age" where you say:

The astonishing sweep of liberated form and emotion in his music is made obvious in his remarkably symphonic improvisation on "The Ark," from his 1962 Town Hall concert with bassist Izenzon and drummer Moffett, both of whom brilliantly respond to and inspire Coleman's creation of movements based on the theme rather than choruses. In the process, they make his trio perhaps the most spontaneously flexible we have ever heard.

I had almost all of Ornette records but that one, and after reading that, I had to go out and get that one too. Of course you were right: "The Ark" is amazing and has become my favorite performance by that trio. Stanley Crouch, of all people, teaching ME something about Ornette Coleman--Jesus--can I even print this?

SC: People think I am against contemporary European concert music. I'm not--why would I be against it? But I do think they don't need jazz musicians to do it. And jazz doesn't need European music--or Balkan music, or Indian, or whatever non-American music--to improve itself. Ornette didn't. This is from Considering Genius:

Technically, the most important thing about Coleman is that he proved how much jazz could do with its own tradition in order to "advance." It did not have to use academic methods borrowed from the European avant-garde as the basic foundation with which to marginalize the jazz idiom and the distinctive emotion of the music. It also did not need the exotica of India or African music or the pretensions that too often attend the rhetoric of those devoted to something "Non-Western." Jazz could build on its Negro-American roots while maintaining its universality…As Coleman said once in the early 1960's, "Many people don't realize it, but there is a real American folklore in jazz. It's neither black nor white. It's the mixture of the races, and the folklore has come from it." That realization is what anchors his achievement.

Bobby Bradford told me about how messed up Gunther Schuller and those cats were by how Ornette got to someplace next door to them--without going through what they knew! He got there through Bird and jazz tunes. I said to Coleman one time, "I have figured out one thing about your development." He said, "What's that?" I said, "You were fascinated with the bridges of tunes, weren't you? A melody would go on for sixteen bars, and then change. That really got to you, didn't it?" And he said, "Yeah, that's right."

EI: I had almost exactly the same conversation with him. [See this post.] Ornette's bridges were the beginning of free jazz.

SC: Right!


EI: We have all heard bad interpretations and imitations of modern classical music by mediocre jazz players. But! If I hear a group of musicians who do know something about jazz playing together with talent and commitment, and their playing is informed by European avant-garde, minimalism, rock, world-music--whatever non-jazz source--I, as a dedicated jazz lover, will be nurtured by their performance--perhaps more than I would be by the original. There would still be a spark that I think of as jazz.

Let me give you a specific example: we heard Masabumi Kikuchi and Paul Motian play free the other night. Now, very little of their musical content stemmed from the blues or jazz folklore. But since they were improvising, and do have some relationship to jazz (especially Paul, of course), I enjoyed it far more than if a composer had written it out--a composer who could have made the music superficially much better by taking the time to make it impeccable structurally, time that an improviser doesn't have.

SC: I know that Anthony Braxton agrees with you about this, although, again, that approach is not for me.

I was talking to Braxton one night, and I said to him: "You are really what Gunther and John Lewis meant when they were talking about 'Third Stream,' and you have never been recognized for being that in the right way." He said, "Look, all of us were listening to European music, but when Black Power came in, a lot of us pretended to have gotten the ideas from Africa or someplace non-white. I became the odd man out, because I refused to deny what my real interests were. If it was Stockhausen, it was Stockhausen! I wouldn't pretend that it came out of the south side of Chicago or whatever."

In that respect, I thought the worst offender was Cecil Taylor, whose whole style comes from European music--especially Messiaen--with a few drips and drabs of Ellington, Monk, and Bud. I played Catalogue d'oiseaux for both Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille, and they were astonished. "What record is that? I've heard that many times!" Jimmy almost fainted. They didn't know modern classical music, and had just taken Cecil's word on his own originality.

The reason I really respect Braxton now (although I went through many years of being hostile to him) is that he has always been an honest guy! He stood by what he was doing without ever renouncing his deep commitment to European music.

I wish you had been there the night Cecil and I had it out at Bradley's. We really went at it. I thought I won, but maybe he thinks he did. Anyway, I said it came down to one thing: "All that stuff about Africa that you say--Africa this, Africa that--well, if you went and played in Africa, a new record would be set for someone emptying a hall! However big the concert hall was, you would clear it in five minutes!"


EI: Look, I just have to say, in Cecil's defense, that regardless of whatever Andrew Cyrille said, Cecil's harmonic language is not that of any major European composer, including Oliver Messiaen. I know Messiaen's language, and those of Bartok, Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen and others; I've looked at all those scores, played the notes, etc., and Cecil is different--I mean, apart from the obvious fact that he improvising, and that his piano sonority is massive and distinctive, his actual pitches are different.

SC: Braxton told me that, too. Look, Cecil Taylor is far too intelligent a guy to totally copy anybody. He's not just an intelligent guy, he's some kind of genius, who has many original thoughts about many, many things. BUT the sound of his music is not jazz--it is something else, based in European music. I don't think he has influenced any real jazz today, either. That’s why he and all of those other guys used to call what they do “black music.” They KNEW it wasn’t jazz, although that rhetoric has changed over the years.

EI: Yeah, they gave up that phase "black music" awhile back, but it is interesting to remember that there was that rhetoric for at least a decade. I don’t think Cecil says "Africa" too much any more, either, which is just as well, since any record of the whitest British rock has more to do with Africa than any Cecil Taylor record of the last 40 years.


Stanley, you raise very interesting points about jazz and a definition of jazz in your book, and if the reader is willing to go in and wrestle with you on your terms they will come out learning something.

The older I have gotten, I have noticed myself doing two things: on the one hand, I have gotten more and more willing to stick up for anybody who has a valid song to sing, regardless of style. On the other hand, I have felt increasing tension and resentment when reading (or just being around) people who act like they know something about jazz when they really don't.

I don't think you can have the word "jazz," Stanley--you would make too many people upset if you took it away from them. And if you asked me point blank whether Cecil was jazz, I would say, "yes." However, if you come up with another term that meant the kind of music which you describe on every page of Considering Genius, it's very probable that I (and the rest of The Bad Plus) would give you our support for this new word, because we do believe in some sort of absolute value of that tradition of real jazz, although we haven't made the choice to inhabit it ourselves.

At any rate, I firmly believe that it is high time to put this issue--which has fragmented the jazz world terribly--onto the table and look at it in a serious way.

SC: Ethan, I am always impressed by your enthusiasm.



The interview proper about Considering Genius ends there…however we kept talking with the tape rolling, and here are a few more excerpts from our discussion. It's interesting to get Stanley's insights on some of the music that he has been around but many people don't realize he knows (once, when I told Stanley that my favorite Cecil Taylor song was "Bulbs," he instantly and accurately sang it back to me).

SC: Free Jazz is to me Ornette's supreme achievement with his ensemble concept. You know, the great Whitney Balliett just died…I remember being amazed at how well Balliett heard that record when it was released.

EI: I don’t care for that record--I much prefer the ensemble stuff from the sessions for Science Fiction. I don't appreciate Free Jazz.

SC: Yeah, well you will someday. Ornette responds to each musician on that one…totally unlike the way Albert Ayler tries to out-loud every other player on New York Eye and Ear Control.

EI: Well, I love Ayler. But he probably shouldn't have made those early standards records--he doesn't sound good there.

SC: No…but Jimmy Lyons told me that one time he heard Albert sit in at a straight-ahead jam session in Europe. Before playing, Albert told him, "I guess I need to do my Charlie Rouse bag." And Jimmy said he sounded like that--really good--and Jimmy himself could play the fuck out of bop.

EI: As much as I am a defender of Ayler, I also feel like I don't need every record--it gets monochromatic after awhile.

SC: No, you only need two or three. My favorite is Witches and Devils with Norman Howard. That's sensational--the sound that Ayler and Howard get together is a sound we have never heard before or since. Towards the end of one of Ayler's solos on that record, Sunny Murray play an interpretation of the ride cymbal that sounds like time, but spread out. I like that record a lot.

EI: I remember reading a poem of yours somewhere in praise of Albert.

SC: I liked him…but see (and Earle Henderson was the first one to show me this), John Coltrane was really the cat. In his last records like Expression, Coltrane shows that he peeped Ayler, thought it was interesting, and took it much further musically. I can't stand Coltrane's last band, but when everybody's out of the way but him and Rashied Ali, like on Interstellar Space, that's some rough stuff!

EI: Yeah, really rough--just amazing. But even with the band, the level of horn Coltrane is playing is just astronomical.

SC: No doubt there. Some people like the last band. My problem is simply this: having heard Elvin, McCoy, and Jimmy so many times playing so well, I just couldn't swallow that last band.

EI: Even if they didn't agree with you, anyone could understand your perspective…unless that person was extremely obtuse.


EI: You mention Henry Threadgill's Sextett in the book, and how good they sounded when you booked them into the Tin Palace. That band was an underrated, too-little known moment in the history of the music. [See also this post.]

SC: Definitely!

I'm one of those sentimental people who likes to think that there is some unlettered black person who should be the final arbiter of value, because they have absorbed the truth through their nostrils or something when eating collard greens and cornbread when growing up poor in the South. Blah, blah, blah---it's bullshit, of course.

EI: You mean the kind of character Morgan Freeman gets hired to play sometimes in the movies.

SC: Right! BUT…I will say, not in Henry Threadgill's defense, but in his celebration, that one night at the Tin Palace, this black guy--an uptown [Harlem] guy--happened to be on the Bowery and came in the club as Threadgill started to play. He stayed for all three sets and I talked to him a bit. He didn't know this band, but he was really moved and loved the music--thought they were really playing. There was something that Threadgill had with that band that could make this "unlettered soulful black arbiter of value" say it was the real deal. It was communicating to both people looking for the avant-garde and people who didn't even know there was an avant-garde.

If Threadgill had kept that band together--two drummers, trumpet, trombone, cello, Fred Hopkins and himself--then that band could have been right next to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But I think there is something in Threadgill's personality that prevented him from keeping that band together--something like "when people start liking what he's doing, he's got to figure out something they don't like."

EI: Ornette can be a little like that, too.

SC: Kind of, yeah.

Threadgill did keep Air with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall together for a while, and really turned out New York with that trio. The records don't do them justice.

EI: I dig Hopkins. I admit I don't really like it when Air played the Jelly Roll Morton or ragtimes, but I really dig a record of all abstract music on Nessa called "Air Time."

SC: Man, they killed when they played the Jelly Roll live. Fred Hopkins was deep--I loved him, man. Do you have the Sextett albums What Was That? and Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket? Olu Dara sounds smoking on that one.

But for saxophone playing, when Arthur Blythe showed up, Threadgill felt the pressure. I remember that well, because Blythe had such a rich sound, and Threadgill didn't really have that.


EI: Julius Hemphill is someone I would have loved to gotten to know.

SC: Did he ever die too young! He's another cat who really had the blues in his playing, no matter how far out he got.

EI: You must have known Phillip Wilson.

SC: He was rough, man, a great drummer. But of those cats, it was Don Moye who impressed me the most. I heard the Art Ensemble almost every night at the Five Spot in 1976. They were playing! Wow!

EI: Back then you were playing the drums yourself.

SC: Not well, but not that bad, either, in that free-form style. Check it out:

[Stanley plays a tune recorded live in Amsterdam with David Murray, Butch Morris, Don Pullen, and Fred Hopkins. It's a long waltz with extended solos by each member--Pullen sounds the best on it. The drumming for the swinging waltz is a sloppy slow groove, quite behind the beat, and broken up by free fusillades.]

EI: I dig it! Why did you quit?

SC: Well, when I was in California, I thought I was really good. But then I moved to New York and kept hearing Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, and all the other truly great drummers. That was a level I had no hope of achieving. In my own style, Don Moye was the guy who closed the door.

EI: I guess you had a different destiny anyway.

SC: Yeah…that's certainly true.


Stanley Crouch

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

HTC Unveils Tiny 'Laptop' 3G Phone

HTC Unveils Tiny 'Laptop' 3G Phone

HTC's new trio of smartphones include a device resembling a tiny laptop and a Window Mobile 6-based handset with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Matthew Broersma, Techworld

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 04:00 PM PST

HTC has launched a trio of smartphones at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, including a device resembling a tiny laptop and a Window Mobile 6-based handset with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Separately, BT announced a range of HTC handsets would be added to its converged Fusion offering. HP is also joining Fusion with a dual-mode Windows Mobile 6 device.

The devices are among the dozens of handsets introduced at the trade show, with some manufacturers focusing on the convergence of fixed and mobile telephony, and others, like Research In Motion, on the convergence of business and consumer features.

Still other handsets, such as Samsung's Ultra Smart F700 or the earlier Apple iPhone, are oriented around new interface technologies such as touchscreens.

The HTC Advantage, aka the X7500, to be launched by T-Mobile across Europe in March under the Ameo brand, is a 3G handset built to resemble a tiny laptop. It has a 5-inch VGA screen, magnetic QWERTY keyboard, eight-hour battery life and a sensor technology that allows users to navigate the screen by tilting the device.

Other features include 8GB hard drive, miniSD slot, video output for making presentations, GPS and 3-megapixel camera, as well as standard office software and other features. It handles tri-band UMTS.

The HTC S710, to be launched across Europe by Orange under the SPV E650 brand, is destined to be one of the first Windows Mobile 6 devices on the market. Its principal attraction is a QWERTY keypad that slides out from behind a standard-looking "brick" form-factor; it also sports push email, GPRS/EDGE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The HTC P3350 is a media-oriented handset resembling a PDA, and, like the Advantage, runs on Windows Mobile 5.

FusionBT said it would add an unspecified range of HTC handsets to Fusion, which combines mobile and home wireless telephony using GSM and voice-over-IP.

Fusion will also see the addition of HP's iPaq 514 Voice Messenger, a Windows Mobile 6-based candybar handset with quad-band GSM and 802.11b/g, using UMA to roam between the two.

The device is HP's first candybar-style iPaq and is HP's first Wi-Fi device allowing power management, HP said. Users can turn the Wi-Fi radio off if desired, or it can be left in sleep mode, waking up when it detects Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Saturday, February 10, 2007



URGE: As an artist, have you always felt that revealing emotions we all share was one of the thrills of music-making?

SR: I never was presumptuous enough to assume that what I was doing would ever reach the heights of bringing good emotions to people. I was just sort of involved in learning how to play musical things. I'm still pretty amazed when people tell me how this music has hit them, or describe something they've gotten from my playing.

URGE: But you do know what they're talking about, right? If I came up to you and effused about how the tail end of "Someday I'll Find You" on the new disc really catches the spirit, you'd know what I mean.

SR: Well, I wouldn't know what “you” are talking about. I would know what “/” was trying to convey. But I wouldn't know it affects other people.

URGE: Your new label Doxy is named after one of your classic tunes. Do you remember where you were when you wrote "Doxy."

SR: Actually I think I was institutionalized when I wrote "Doxy." The gory details.well it was back at a time when I was hooked on drugs, and while I was institutionalized my mind turned to music, and I had an opportunity to play with a band, a sort of Protestant Chapel Band - we played hymns and such. It's not a pleasant memory. But it's fruitful in that I was able to overcome those problems.

URGE: Tell me what came into your mind when you watched the classic clips that were recently placed on your Web site. What kind of memories did it conjure?

SR: Hold on to your hat. I've never seen them. I don't have a computer. But I understand we got a lot of hits on the site. A lot people like 'em and wanted more.

URGE: Jazz fans love that kind of footage. I just got a Monk DVD where Ben Riley looks 22 years old.

SR: When I look back at old pictures of me, I know it's me, but it feels like another guy. Like, "who's that guy?"

URGE: Do you look back at pictures of you with your famed Mohawk haircut and say "what the hell was I doing," or are you proud of it?

SR: Ha, ha, ha. I loved it. At the time I did it, it was sort of a statement - outside of the box behavior. I got different reactions from different people. But I thought it was a very individualistic thing and I'm happy I did it.

URGE: When writing, do you know when you have a strong new piece, something a cut above the rest?

SR: When I'm playing at my best I usually know that I have something good, when it's better than usual. But in composing you never really know how it's going to strike people. I had some tunes that I thought were good, but didn't make a lot of noise with the public. Some of my songs did resonate with some people, so I shouldn't really imply that they weren't accepted. "Doxy," that's a song that needed exposition. It needed Miles and the people that were playing on it to truly make it happen. I was fortunate in that I had the right group of musicians around to bring it to life.

URGE: I was listening to “The Bridge” the other night and hearing you trade lines with Jim Hall. From Clifford Brown to Clifton Anderson, you've often had simpatico mates in the front line. What does the job of sharing the front line with Sonny Rollins entail? Is it jousting, is it kissing each other on the cheek, what.

SR: It's all of those things. It's kicking each other in the behind, too. When you're playing with someone on the front line, it's a lot of “give”. I might have to substitute what I might do “alone” for the sake of the other person and what we're trying to make “together”. So we can reach another level. It's a little different than when you're soloing. Some different elements come out when playing in the front line.

URGE: Describe some of your key partners from throughout the years. Jim Hall?

SR: Jim was great, a wonderful accompanist. He had a great sense of space and time and - for sure - harmonic structure. It gave me what I needed at the time. He's an exceptional musician. I learned from him.

URGE: Don Cherry?

SR: Don and I would practice together, just he and I. Great fun. He had a fantastic musical imagination, musical mind. He always kept things on a creative, unplanned level. Spontaneous.

URGE: Fans and critics love to play a parlor game with you. They want to be the producer. "Gee, he needs different band, a trio maybe." Or "He should make a duets disc, just Sonny and a bassist." Do people bring that up to you? Are they steadily pitching you contextual ideas?

SR: My wife used to say that to me all the time. "You know Sonny, all these critics want to tell you who you should play with, or what tunes you should play." There's something about me where people have their own ideas about how I should be presented. I don't know if I should be flattered or concerned or what. It's a form of flattery, though. I'm happy they even consider me.

URGE: Back in the day, when you guys were hanging out, would that kind of conversation come up? "Oh, Miles needs drummer X, not drummer Y." Did you guys speculate how a band could be improved?

SR: Sure, sure. And there would be some musicians. I don't want to mention names - I'm thinking of a specific case - but I remember a piano player who burst on the scene at a certain time and everybody was saying, "well, no, we still like Bud Powell. Bud's the best guy to be involved with Charlie Parker's group, not this other guy. So, yeah, we had our preferences. With Miles, for instance. I always liked Miles with Charlie Parker - outside of the original Dizzy and Parker collaboration, I mean. I always thought that nobody else connected with Bird like Miles did. They really had a perfect symbiosis, if that's the word.

URGE: That a good example of what we're talking about. Because in the large, everyone might not agree with that. Miles is known as many things, but not the ultimate trumpet player.

SR: Right. But Dizzy and Bird were closer in style - they sounded alike. Miles brought a different approach to what Bird was doing, and I thought that was great. I think Miles is a top-notch player. Now Fats Navarro was a guy who everyone agreed was a whiz, technically. But I heard Miles and Fats Navarro play with each other at Birdland one night, and they were right on the same technical level. I can understand why people might say that about Miles, because he doesn't always play with that kind of skill. But he definitely had it, and if the occasion presented itself, he'd let it loose.

URGE: They're finally a movie of Miles' life. Was he as hot-blooded as history has it?

SR: In what sense? How do you mean that?

URGE: As quick to rile or as ornery as we hear.

SR: You know that got overblown, and he played on it. In part, Miles used to turn his back on stage from shyness. People looked at that and said, "Look, this guy's really arrogant -- he's turning away from us." I don't want to blow his image, but from our association in the late '40s and early '50s, I always though he was shy.

URGE: I was chatting with a horn player who's been trying to physically change his personal sound. Did you ever go through a period where you overtly tried to not only improve, but indeed create a different sound?

SR: Oh yeah. I've done it a great deal in my career, so I understand what this guy's doing. That's why we used to change mouthpieces, horns, reeds. We're always looking for something that's not there, a sound we're not getting. I'm still searching. I'm glad I hit it every now and then, but it's a constant. That's why I practice every day - I'm still trying to get my stuff together. That “sound”. You're looking for a place that will allow you to play easily, freely. Coltrane, and me and all the older cats used to call each other. "Oh yeah, try this mouthpiece, try this approach." See if they could make you the best you can be.

URGE: Do you feel more in touch with sentiment or wistfulness now, as an older man. Do you think you bring different emotions to a song now than you did when you were, say, 30?

SR: An insightful question. I've never said this before, but I think I have gained a certain amount of experience, so I can get some thoughts over better than I once did. Not in a technical sense, but in an emotional sense, just knowing certain things from life - experiences, you know? It's very gratifying when those things happen through music. I've never been put in the position of saying that. I hope it doesn't sound to self-aggrandizing. You asked the question, so you made me answer. But yes, I feel I can sometimes get deeper inside an emotion of late. I never thought about it quite that way. But I'm a person who's always searching and trying to improve myself.

Sam Danner
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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

'Lush Life,' a Self-Portrait in Song


'Lush Life,' a Self-Portrait in Song


Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn.

Morning Edition, February 6, 2007 · Best known as the songwriting genius who created many of Duke Ellington's masterpieces, Billy Strayhorn is the subject of a new documentary premiering Tuesday night on public television, as well as a fine companion CD. Both are titled Lush Life, after Strayhorn's most enduring composition, which commentator Ashley Kahn sees as the composer's autobiography in music form.

Though it was written in the '30s, "Lush Life" was not recorded for public release until Nat "King" Cole sang it in 1949 with a free and easy feel. Since then, it's become one of the most standard of pop standards, with no signs of fading away. It was even a highlight of a recent Grammy Awards gala, performed by Queen Latifah.

"Lush Life" conveys such a vast range of emotions that more than 500 musicians have explored it. Some, like Joe Henderson playing solo saxophone, have chosen a hushed approach, while singers like Nancy Wilson have given it a shot of drama.

"Lush Life" seems simple, but it's quite complex — emotionally and musically, with a very unusual structure. It even gave Frank Sinatra a hard time when he tried to record in 1958. He gave up on the song, laughing that he would "put it aside for about a year." But he never did return to it.

"Not everybody could sing it," says Andy Bey, a celebrated jazz singer and pianist with a strong personal connection to "Lush Life," a song he has returned to repeatedly throughout a 55-year career. "A lot of songs had verses and refrains, you know, but it's like a mind boggling thing. It's not about 'ring-a-ding ding' when you do "Lush Life."

"It's about somebody's life. There's a worldliness, about a person who has lived. You really have to kind of understand the story and try to keep the mood, keep the focus."

The pun in the song's title suggests that "Lush Life" might be speaking of a life of elegance, or of boozy despair. In both senses, the song reflects the life of the man who wrote it. Billy Strayhorn was the piano prodigy Duke Ellington recruited in 1938 to compose material for his band. Through a 30-year, on-and-off relationship, Strayhorn wrote many of Ellington's most memorable and sophisticated tunes.

"He was like Duke Ellington's right-hand man," says Bey.

Strayhorn was born in 1915, and fell in love with classical music before developing a fascination with jazz. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, he dreamed of a more cultured and cosmopolitan way of life. He was only 16 when he began to write "Lush Life," which he first called "Life Is Lonely" — and which we now know as "Lush Life."

In fact, the words Strayhorn wrote as a teenager predicted the life he did eventually lead. He did become a socialite, he did make it to France. And he did become an alcoholic.

The song's lyric reveals both poetry and a maturity that's surprising coming from a teenager. It also seems to suggest another significant side to Strayhorn's identity: his sexual orientation.

Bey quotes the first line of the song — "I used to visit all the very gay places..." — and adds, "Who knows? He might have been thinking about the gay bars, but I think it was something broader than that, because he was too broad of a person. I see it as places that are happy and carefree and gay."

As his biographer David Hajdu wrote, Strayhorn was a minority three times over — African-American, gay and open about his homosexuality. His offstage role in Ellington's band made it possible to avoid the public spotlight.

"I think he loved taking a back seat," Bey says. "Because that way, it gave him the freedom to be himself, even though it might have hurt him, because he wasn't given the credit that he deserved as an artist. Billy had the strength and the balls to come out and be who he was."

Strayhorn died in 1967, his death hastened by years of alcohol and cigarettes. He never said if "Lush Life" was intended to be a pronouncement of his lifestyle, yet the song survives as a poignant self-portrait: complex, mature and open to interpretation.


Recommended Strayhorn: Career Highlights

by, February 5, 2007 · Few American composers — in any category of music — were on a par with William Thomas Strayhorn. His ability to weave the intricate and sophisticated harmonies of classical music into the richness and swing of big-band jazz was unparalleled. (Just check out the nimble chordal movement in a tune like "Chelsea Bridge.") He excelled at composing melodies and writing lyrics with wit and poetry, as in his signature tune "Lush Life."

"With all respect to Cole Porter and Rogers and Hart and Jerome Kern, I love them all, they're great geniuses," singer/pianist Andy Bey said. "But Billy Strayhorn was a different kind of a genius because he was in the background."

When the 51-year-old Strayhorn died in 1967 after battling cancer, he was well on his way to the recognition he deserved. Certainly, Duke Ellington — with whom he had remained, off and on, for most of Strayhorn's 30-year career — emphasized his contributions to the Ellington orchestra in stage announcements, on LP covers, and on a posthumous tribute album to his friend and songwriting partner: And His Mother Called Him Bill.

To know Strayhorn's full story, check out the new television documentary Lush Life, airing as part of PBS's Independent Lens series, or read David Hajdu's biography of the same name. For those looking to hear his music, the titles listed below represent a good start.

Passion Flower art

Billy Strayhorn, Passion Flower

Easily the best CD overview of the diminutive maestro's oeuvre, this collection features 21 tracks — mostly performances by the Ellington band of such classics as "Lotus Blossom," "Rain Check," "Take the A Train" and "Satin Doll." Also included: Nat "King" Cole's version of "Lush Life" — the public debut of the song from 1949, with Pete Rugolo's impressionistic arrangement — and drummer Louie Bellson's take on "Johnny Come Lately," with Strayhorn himself on piano.

Duke Ellington art

Duke Ellington, Three Suites

By the early '50s, miffed at the lack of credit he had received under Ellington's wing, Strayhorn departed for a few years to freelance his talents and try his hand at writing a Broadway show. Upon his return in 1957, Ellington spent the next 10 years making up for past slights: granting Strayhorn co-credit on their collaborations and lending him headline status on various projects, including the suites collected on this CD. Of special note: their oh-so-hip reworkings of tunes from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, like "Sugar Rum Cherry" (from "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy") and "Danse of the Floreadores" ("Waltz of the Flowers").

Lush Life art

Various Artists, Lush Life

Not surprisingly, the Strayhorn tributes that are currently available outnumber the composer's recordings of his own music. He created music intended for wide interpretation, and it shows; a tune like "Lush Life" has been convincingly performed as a swinging celebration or as moody self-reflection. The takes on this collection feature stellar soloists from the current Blue Note jazz roster, including saxophonist Joe Lovano, vocalist Dianne Reeves, and pianists Bill Charlap and Hank Jones. The four-handed workout "Tonk," performed by Charlap and Jones, is a revelation, while Lovano's "Chelsea Bridge" and "Johnny Come Lately" are flavorful and fun.