“… literally they almost kicked her out of the tribe.”
– Woman to man on Waverly Place and Broadway
“I wonder if Susan’s a better bet than Rob.”
– Man to woman Astor Place and Broadway
“This is a poem that has nothing to do with anything outside itself.”
– Raphael Rubinstein
It was a summer filled with music, art, poetry, and violence. May, June, July saw such an upsurge in the latter—what was one to do but submerge oneself in the former? Here’s a taste as I sit in my overcrowded mess, indulging in some Andrew Hill solo piano:
* During Make Music New York I heard two unfamiliar pieces. The under-acknowledged Earle Brown’s 25 Pages for two pianos and Julius Eastman’s Gay Guerilla. WOW.
* Hal Willner’s reinvention of Del Close’s ’50s classic, How to Speak Hip, one of my favorite spoken word albums, was fantabulous beyond words and included the stellar cast of Laurie Anderson, Terry Adams, Kenny Wollesen, Steve Bernstein, et al. But the highlight of Willner’s Stone Residency for me was Garth Hudson’s night. Feisty, small, bearded, all in black leather and bent out of shape, Hudson was led to the keyboard where he immediately started tinkering. “Will there be any yodeling?” he asked. I don’t recall ever seeing/hearing anyone going so seamlessly from organ, to piano, to harpsichord, to weird effects all on one small keyboard. At one point, Willner called “Caravan” and as Bernstein, Doug Wieselman, Karen Mantler, or Marcus Rojas tried to set the tune in motion, Hudson would be off in his own world, at one point playing Mendelssohn, then segueing for about ten minutes into a tune that he mumbled to the band was called “On A Little Street In Singapore.” “Anyone know that one?” Complete silence, then Bernstein chimed in, “I’ll learn it for next time.” Later, Willner calls “Caravan” again then switches it to “Black and Tan Fantasy” The band hits, with Mantler on mean harmonica. Suddenly Hudson, who has switched to accordion (which is bigger and heavier than he), launches into, what else, “Caravan.” The band follows suit and everyone is in sync, or so it seems. They then hit “Tennessee Waltz,” Hudson back on keyboards. They close out the set with Allen Toussaint’s “Java” in what was a totally discombobulating but enchanting night. My only regret was not bringing my Band LPs for Hudson to sign.
* John Rogers had his first jazz photography show at the Jazz Gallery. The opening was packed with folks from the jazz world, listeners and musicians alike. The photos included giants and mentors to Rogers like Paul Motian, Yusef Lateef, Hank Jones, and a poignant shot of Ornette and Butch Morris. There was a brilliant, elevating discussion about his work and the evening culminated with an intense musical dialogue between Jason Moran and Tyshawn Sorey (their first). Twenty or so minutes of some of the best music I had ever heard.
* It was the day after the Orlando massacre when I entered the Park Avenue Armory to catch a solo set by Milford Graves. It was held in the newly renovated Veteran’s Room, which included stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany and great acoustics. I thought about all the war-mongering that might have taken place in this lushly carved wood room with its wrought-iron chandeliers.
Graves was part of a series curated by Moran, who also has his first major art exhibit at Luhring Augustine Bushwick. Deantoni Parks, a new name to me, opened the evening on drum kit, electronics, computer, and a static video of futuristic architecture. Despite his impressive resumé I was not impressed; he played drums mostly with one hand and foot while creating beats and sounds in what he termedTechnoself, “soundscapes atop a highway of refined, war-drum rhythms.” As my uneasiness increased I thought “I’ve done that at times … Techno-selfed.”
And Milford? Well, he’s Milford. He entered through the side door playing a djembe. He welcomed us, talked in English and in tongues. demonstrated various patterns, giving us, through his vision, what was more like a history lesson than a concert. He showed a video of himself in his house doing ongoing studies in the conversion of heart sounds to music, explaining how inside us all we are constantly making beautiful music through the heart-brain connection and all those neurotransmitters. In the video, the heartbeats were externalized, which at times sounded like the music Parks was aiming for.
After the film Graves said, “Now that’s free jazz.” Throughout the evening he intoned wisdoms like “Take the ride. Don’t think about academia […] Don’t think about what note I’m playing. Drumming is drumming. Music is music. There’s no separation. Folks don’t ride the electron. They observe the electron. Look at this hand. This hand plays time while this one plays free.” He then went on to say, “I don’t want to make this didactic but I want you to leave here feeling you’ve learned something.” He is truly a national treasure and one-of-a-kind individual whom everyone should experience.
It’s like a poem I once wrote about Cecil: “The young man speaks but has nothing to say. The old man says the same thing over and over again but it’s always new.”
* Summer was filled with lots of jaw-dropping, heartstopping outdoor concerts. For me they began with SummerStage/Blue Note Jazz Festival’s tribute to McCoy Tyner, which included Ron Carter’s group and Roy Haynes’s Ensemble. Summer ended with the Charlie Parker Festival featuring Dave Holland, Moran, and Jack DeJohnette. In between I caught King Sunny Adé, Patti Smith, a tribute to Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock and Wadada Leo Smith with Hardedge, aka Velibor Pedevski. Wadada also appeared in a free talk and performance with longtime associate John Lindberg at Jazz at Lincoln Center: “The best part of listening to music is to hear it. That’s where the information is. It’s not important to understand.”
The McCoy tribute was packed until a downpour began in the middle of Carter’s set, though I heard enough Renee Rosnes to finally realize what a good pianist she is. Since SummerStage has a no cancellation policy the band kept playing. I was given VIP passes, which amounted to nothing since they were in the unprotected part of the bleachers where anyone could sit. Yuko and I sought protection under the press tent where one could barely hear the music. They kept trying to remove us but we held firm using age as our defense. So much for the VIP thing for us poor underlings of the “press.” As I once stated in another poem, “we must eventually pay the price for being on the guest list.”
When Haynes came on we started out again, but the rain increased even as he did a little war dance and chant to make it stop. What we heard sounded great, though Haynes finally started to show his age. Miraculously, when McCoy hit, his set was basically rain free. It was as if Trane’s spirit was there to protect him. He began with his classics, “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit” and “Fly Like the Wind,” and ended with Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone.” His rhapsodic, unaccompanied solo (I didn’t know the tune) went through many tempo changes, and its great balladic quality rivaled Chopin. Tyner has that unique style of keeping a rhythmic bass line happening with his left hand while lushly galloping across the keys with his right, making every move seem ethereal and effortless despite his frail health. When he played “Blues on the Corner” he said it was about “. . . some guys I grew up with” and invoked his grandmother.
As the thick clouds turned fiery red it became an intimate, fascinating, and entrancing experience for all who braved the storm, hardcore vets and young newcomers alike. Tyner ended by humbly thanking us for remaining on board, and told us all to take care of our health, ourselves, and our families. The audience shouted back, “You made the rain stop McCoy.”
Tyner (along with Taylor) is one of our truly great post-bop piano innovators. They are two of a handful that have changed the course of modern piano playing.
For friend, collaborator, confidant, and pianist Connie Crothers, a human’s HUMAN. Your smile, vibrance, charm, strength, gentleness, love, honesty, creativity, community activism, and ability to put up with me will sorely be missed. My love for you has no bounds.
Correction from April Outtakes: Taborn played with Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory not at the Note Factory.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was born in Brooklyn after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little ones. His book The Final Nite (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His most recent books are Fools Gold (Feral House, 2014), A Superintendent's Eyes (Unbearable/Autonomedia, 2013), and Flying Home (Paris Lit Up Press, 2015), a collaboration with German visual artist Sig Bang Schmidt. His latest CD is ec(H)osystem with the French art-rock group, The Snobs (Bam Balam Records, 2015). He is a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His poem "Particle Fever" was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.His most recent books are Black Magic (New Feral Press, 2017) and Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bisonte Prods, 2017).