IMPROV JOHN COLTRANE My music is the spiritual expression of what I am —my faith, my knowledge, my being… When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people.
CHARLIE PARKER I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born.
MILES DAVIS I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
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1885-2016 Henri SELMER Paris
131 years of innovation Henri SELMER Paris unveils, with its new brand
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Aiming to make quality instruments available to a greater number of musicians, Axos provides
playing comfort with its specially adapted keywork as well as great mechanical reliability.
This new saxophone Axos brings with it the heritage of over a century of history and technical knowledge from Henri SELMER Paris, the world leader in saxophone design and production.
AXOS: A perfect match between richness of tone & ease of response! IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
CONTE ON THE COVER 16
John Coltrane Restless Urgency BY JAMES HALE
When the titans depart too soon, the void they leave behind is enormous. The gaping hole that remained in the wake of John Coltrane’s death (from liver cancer at the age of 40 on July 17, 1967) was particularly large— not only because of his incredible talent, but because his artistic vision was evolving so quickly and his next steps were anything but obvious.
FEATURES 6 Miles Davis
Selling the Dark Prince BY MARC HOPKINS
24 Charles Mingus Epitaph’s Return
BY GEORGE KANZLER
30 Charlie Parker
Kansas City Lightning BY DAVID A. ORTHMANN
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NTS DEPARTMENTS 36 Players
Kamasi Washington Esperanza Spalding Jeff “Tain” Watts
40 IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
1926 - 1991 6
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SELLING THE DARK PRINCE By Marc Hopkins
ay the name Miles Davis and it conjures images of the most poignant figure in jazz—ever. He changed the direction of jazz multiple times, and he was always at the precipice of the next groove of his own musical frontier. From bebop to hip-hop, from Coltrane to Prince, Davis effortlessly and seamlessly melded his distinctly delicate sound through straightahead, fusion, funk and beyond. He’s been studied and copied and debated. He’s a hero and a villain, an artist’s artist who always wanted the music to move forward. Whether you know this about Miles Davis or just learned it, the people in charge of his legacy are working to make sure you never forget it. “We want to raise the profile of Miles so people just don’t remember Miles when they reach into their record collection or turn on the radio,” says Darryl Porter, general manager of the Miles Davis estate. “We want it so that when people pick up a newspaper or magazine they have to see him.” Since the beginning of the year, Davis’ estate has been managed by a new team comprised of family members and aided by business advisors who want to perpetuate his legacy. Plans are in the works for a motion-picture biography as well as recordings that remix classic Miles and pair him with soul, pop and hip-hop artists. His artwork comprising some 150
lithographs will be exhibited, and we’ll soon see Miles showing up in ad campaigns. All of these efforts are being guided by Miles Davis Properties LLC, which includes Davis’ youngest son, Erin, his daughter, Cheryl, his nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. and his brother-in-law, Vince Wilburn Sr. The group is assisted by attorney Gerry Margolis of the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP law firm in Los Angeles. Publicity is handled by Rogers and Cowan, also in Los Angeles. The current roster of players is a departure from New York-based representation spearheaded by attorney Peter Shukat of Shukat, Arrow, Hafer and Weber, which had a long history with the estate. Now all things Miles have a West Coast focus, and in the early days of the transition, the team was in the midst of transferring properties from New York to Los Angeles and untangling deals the new group didn’t think were a good fit. “Part of the change in direction of how Miles’ intellectual property is treated is to make re-use something more special and treated with respect,” says Margolis, who has represented the Rolling Stones for more than 30 years. Representatives from the Shukat firm declined to talk about how Davis was marketed in the past. IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Wilburn wants an aggressive marketing approach for his uncle and says, “I just felt like it wasn’t moving along the way Miles would probably want it to. There wasn’t enough going on but reissues. How many issues can you reissue? I just thought we could keep it fresh. And with Gerry and Darryl and the new team it just adds that dimension.” On a day-to-day basis, Margolis, Rogers and Cowan, the family and Porter work in concert to guide the process. Porter and Wilburn Jr. run point on the stream of requests to use Davis’ music or to adopt his likeness. “I don’t recall a situation when we weren’t on the same page,” Porter says. “Their agenda is all the same: to preserve Miles’ legacy and to maximize the estate and not jeopardize the legacy.” No one in the group will say how much the estate is worth or how it has performed over the years. Margolis says the majority of revenues that flow into the estate are driven by royalties from the use of Miles’ master recordings and his copywritten material. The principals in charge of keeping Davis in the forefront don’t talk about money in public; instead they choose to speak fervently about the aesthetics and the essence of the deals they pursue. They talk about style, class and cool, all the things connected to Miles, so any endeavor they attach his name to has to embody those qualities.
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“I’m not looking to whore Miles Davis out,” says Margolis when pressed about finances. “I don’t get paid on a percentage of the money I generate. We want to make sure the legacy is marketed in the classiest way possible.” In March, Miles Davis was swept into the public consciousness once again through his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a nod to his influence in shaping musical styles across genres. The importance of the artist was highlighted again when Davis’ family donated artifacts from the performer’s life to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The museum already houses some 100,000 pages of unpublished compositions of Duke Ellington and a collection of instruments chronicling the contributions of musicians from King Oliver to Louis Armstrong. The Davis donation furthered that treasure with the sheet music he used to play Porgy and Bess’ “Summertime” and the Versace suit he donned at his landmark 1991 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the museum, believes the Miles donation is especially significant because of his place in the culture. “We see Miles Davis as one of the greatest American trumpeters ever. As an innovator who again and again reinvented himself and reimagined
the music we call jazz,” Hasse says. “Someone who transformed the aesthetic a number of times, whose sound on his instrument became a unique aural trademark, instantly identifiable, and came to dominate jazz during the second half of the 20th century more so than anyone else. His importance goes far beyond jazz, for he was one of the great American musicians, period. And one of the great 20th-century musicians, period.” There is probably no other move the estate could have made to ensure the proper positioning, respect and cultural prominence for Miles than giving the Smithsonian tangible pieces of the artist to share with the world. As Hasse puts it, “Something we bring in now will be here in a thousand years, when most things in the 20th century will be forgotten. It is important that Miles Davis be in the national treasure house, for it tells the story of America.” Hasse says he’s in talks with the family to obtain the rest of Miles’ sheet music so it can be kept safe and studied for the ages. As a brand, Miles Davis is probably the next great untapped resource, whose potential to penetrate the market for economic gain and celebrity capital has yet to be realized. In midsummer a number of deals linking Miles to fashion, commercials, music and the use of his likeness are in play. While sifting through
the flood of options that confront his estate daily, the group is guided by one principle: “Would Miles do this?” Just as the group is eager to exploit good opportunities that would be lucrative and grant easy exposure, they are just as adamant of steering clear of relationships and collaborations that would portray Miles in a bad light. Jonathan Faber is president of CMG Worldwide. His firm specializes in handling the intellectual property of celebrities including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Buddy Rich. Faber says deciding what marketing is out-ofbounds and carefully choosing which relationships are appropriate is part of the “branding process.” This is a crucial decision by estates that determines how an artist is presented and under what circumstances. “We tend to regard our clients as brands to the extent that’s appropriate for that client,” Faber says. “We work with Princess Diana, and we would never say that she is a brand because that would be offensive to the people in charge of her rights now, and that is contrary to what she stood for. But you could also say that was her brand: an anti-brand.” A large part of branding involves the use of photographs because they provide an easy vehicle to project an artist into the public consciousness. For instance, there has been an effort on the part of Faber and CMG to market only images of Holiday at her best: youthful, beautiful, vibrant, without the signs of
abuse that wore on her countenance later in life. “You can’t rewrite history and sometimes tragedy is a part of that history,” Faber says. “But we would never want to emphasize that.” The Elvis Presley estate has made similar choices to present the public with photos of the young svelte Elvis to keep that image fresh in the public’s mind. Porter has helped manage a number of artists, which included a stint with Elvis’ wife, Priscilla Presley. While Porter thinks the Presley estate made a smart move, he feels he doesn’t have the same issues when marketing Miles. “The music grew because of Miles, and he grew with the music,” Porter says. “I don’t think there was ever a time when you can look at Miles and say he didn’t optimize cool. We don’t have the same restrictions as other people who try to lock in on a segment of a person’s life or career.” He adds, “So we haven’t begun to think about imaging, but we have thought about branding, and the branding is all about keeping it cool.” Control over photos goes beyond projecting a certain aesthetic to the public. It’s also important for estates to prevent images from being connected to causes or companies in conflict with the wishes of the artist or the family. Faber says Marilyn Monroe’s estate won’t license images of her with fur. CMG has also worked with Humphrey Bogart, who has a cigarette in almost all his photos. “He died of lung IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life.” —Miles Davis
cancer, and the family doesn’t want to see advertising with Bogart smoking a cigarette,” Faber says. “It would be lucrative for Bogart to license tobacco companies, but they don’t want it.” Porter says the estate is currently in talks with General Motors, BMW and several other top brands about doing commercial tie-ins using a combination of Miles’ image and music. And Wilburn is attempting to find the right label to establish a Miles Davis line of clothing. He says an agreement with Damon Dash, the former head of Roca Wear, was close, but fell through. In midsummer, the estate’s official Web site, milesdavis.com, is still under construction. By the fall Wilburn anticipates the site will feature chats with the family, music downloads and information on album releases. Eventually the site will also be used to market Miles’ artwork and other paraphernalia. Faber says because Miles Davis, like Jimi Hendrix, oozes cool whenever he is thought of or seen, he becomes a metaphor for all things
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hip, and that quality will be transferred to the product lines he endorses. He believes this dynamic is at work when marketing Ellington. “If you’re an ad executive and you have a company that you want to be thought of as sophisticated and intelligent and unique, Duke Ellington is all of those things. And it becomes shorthand because the public already has all of those built-in feelings and emotional connection to him, and it gets assigned to the company whether consciously or subconsciously.” One of the Davis estate’s top priorities is to move discussions for a motion picture of the artist’s life from the tentative stages to greenlight status. As of mid-July there was overwhelming enthusiasm but little progress on the essentials of bringing Miles to the big screen. There’s no script and no director, but a few A-listers are lobbying to give voice to Miles’ unmistakable whisper. Wilburn, who lived with Miles and played in his band from 1984 to 1987, said a biopic on his uncle
is long overdue. “People thought they knew Miles, but they probably only knew one side of Miles. We want to tell the story of his life and his craft. We want to show how he changed the course of music, how he came to that thirst and drive that kept him going until he passed away. We can’t get it all in the film, but we want to touch on the important periods in his life. And there was a dark side. You have to touch on that, too. My other uncle, Vernon, used to say, ‘Miles was no angel.’” The estate has been in talks with director Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to his Oscar for Training Day. “Antoine’s excited about this project,” Wilburn says. “When you talk to him, you can feel the fire.” Porter says the estate has also been speaking with actor Don Cheadle, who Porter says has been quoted in Ebony magazine saying his dream is to play Miles Davis. Cheadle received a best-actor nomination for his performance in Hotel Rwanda. “We’ve been having intimate conversations with both of them,”
Porter says. “We are locking in on a writer, and then we’re going to a new studio to lock in the project and get it made.” He adds that since the project’s been generating buzz, Terrence Howard, who also has a best-actor nomination for Hustle & Flow, has expressed interest in playing Miles. Both Porter and Wilburn say they want the biopic on Miles to rival the artistic and commercial success of Ray, which chronicled the life of Ray Charles and earned Jamie Foxx an Oscar for best actor. “Hollywood is tripping all over itself to lock up story-life rights,” says CMG’s Faber. “We are constantly being solicited to give options for the right to pursue investors and get everything in place for a biopic. If the artist still maintains publishing rights, it can be very significant for the estate.” The thinking that guides family members in charge of the estate is simple: Push the legacy forward, don’t harm the legacy and keep the branding cool. But family rivalries aired in public may blur the message. IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Miles’ other sons, Gregory and Miles IV, weren’t included in his will and haven’t been involved in plans to promote and continue his legacy. This month Gregory Davis is slated to release Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis by Backbeat Books. The 224-page read, with a foreword by Clark Terry, will offer a front seat to life with Miles on the road, backstage and at home. Gregory says the book is an attempt to pull away the public façade: “They will get insight from someone who traveled with him. An inside view of this great international icon and his first son, who served as his assistant, road manager, nurse and bodyguard— whatever he needed.” He says writing the book was at times cathartic. “And painful at times, and very humorous and funny. We had some good times and some times that were very painful.” In the documentary The Miles Davis Story, Irene Cawthon, the mother of Cheryl, Gregory and Miles IV, is shown talking about her pain after learning her sons were excluded from Miles’ will. “It didn’t matter about me,” she says. “He could forget about me, but as far as the children are concerned, with that amount of money you have enough to leave a little something, but he didn’t.”
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Gregory, 60, still thinks the will doesn’t reflect Miles’ true wishes. “My father was not that angry at his sons or that mean as a person.” He says his anger over the will or tension with family members isn’t why he wrote the book. “I don’t harp on that to everybody, but it never leaves my consciousness.” He says if members of the estate were to reach out to him in good faith and compensate him for lost revenue, he would want to reconcile. Porter says the olive branch is always extended. “We want to work as a united front. Gregory has rights to certain publishing, as does Miles IV. No one is trying to interfere with that. I don’t know what has been conveyed back to Gregory by his lawyers, but I do know that our guys have extended the branch. If Gregory is not aware of that, that’s unfortunate.” The future of Miles is tied to the gritty beats and urban flows that define hip-hop. As the estate sees it, it’s essential to entrench Miles with the hip-hop generation and cultivate new fans that will take his music into new enclaves of social awareness. “What we hope to do is bridge the gap between young listeners,” Porter says. “And the best way to do that is create a fusion between hip-hop and jazz—and hiphop and Miles specifically.”
The estate’s first foray into this effort is Evolution of the Groove, produced by Wilburn and scheduled for release in the first half of next year. Evolution features remixes of classic Miles tracks with hip-hop and soul artists blessing the music with their personal imprint. “We went after Nas, and he was doing his record, so we went to Dallas Austin’s studio in Atlanta and recorded Nas,” recalls Wilburn. “And his dad, Olu Dara, played some trumpet parts on it and it was killing.” He’s also interested in getting rapper Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest on the album and has been talking to vocalist Rachelle Ferrell about her participation. What the estate is planning isn’t new. Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969–1974, released by Columbia in 1998, featured producer Bill Laswell remixing songs from the trumpeter’s electric period. And a number of labels have allowed DJs to rummage through their vaults to sample and loop songs to provide the foundation for countless hit records, the most famous being Blue Note, which struck platinum in 1993 with US3’s Hand on the Torch featuring Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island,” which was sampled to create “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia).” Eli Wolf, vice president of A&R at Blue Note, who
oversees the remix projects, said the formula for success is to find an artist who can blend a classic sound so it resonates with contemporary tastes. “You also want to pick creative remixers who have an audience in their own right.” Porter says the estate averages about 35 requests a week to sample Miles’ music, but so far it has turned down all queries. “We’ve had people who want to take a Miles sample and build a career [by] co-branding their name with Miles and bring no talent to the table,” Porter says. “We have been very cautious not to do that because that dilutes the brand.” There is a misogynistic and violent bent to some hip-hop, and the estate wants to stay clear of it. Porter tells of an A-list act that wanted to sample a track from Sketches in Spain, but the approach wasn’t flattering to women. “The family opted to pass on it even though it would have generated thousands of dollars for the estate,” says Porter, who won’t name the act. “We will probably go back to the group and say, ‘It didn’t work with your idea. Here’s our idea, can you do something that fits?’” Each time Miles moved his sound a little farther from the comfort of his listeners, there was backlash and resentment. Porter says the estate isn’t worried IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
that fans will take exception to the hip-hop-Miles link. “We don’t want to offend anybody,” Porter says. “Miles passed 15 years ago, and his legacy was locked in at that point. Anybody who wants to listen to Kind of Blue doesn’t have to worry, that will be there.” He adds, “The beauty of this is they can’t get mad at Miles for this. They can get mad at me, Vince and Erin. We don’t mind if people point the fingers at us and say, ‘These guys messed up.’” Bassist Marcus Miller, who played with Miles and worked as a writer/producer from 1985 until his death in 1991, thinks what Wilburn’s up to is in sync with Miles’ wishes. “He was all about the next step,” says Miller. “I remember a story about someone walking up to Miles and saying, ‘Man, I could get with you back in the ’50s, but I can’t get with what you’re doing now.’ And Miles said, ‘Well, you want me to wait for you?’” In the late ’80s Miles expanded his audience by blowing his magic into pop hits like “Time After Time” and “Human Nature.” The estate wants to replicate that success in the new era with the international release of Cool and Collected: The Best of Miles Davis on Sony. Besides the Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson hits, the record will feature other mellow, smoother classic tracks like “So What” and
“Stella by Starlight.” “This is designed to create new Miles fans,” Porter says. “The goal is to reach a population that might not like classical jazz. We’re looking to grab an audience that may not think they like that kind of jazz and help them understand they really do.” Miles’ renditions of “Time After Time” and “Human Nature” are still in heavy rotation on smooth jazz radio. “The reason Miles Davis gets played over and over is he put his own twist on the song,” says Lori Lewis, program director at WSMJ in Baltimore. “It’s almost like Miles owns ‘Human Nature’—and, oh, yeah, Michael Jackson sang it once.” For those who aren’t interested in remixed music or attempts to sate pop sensibilities, classic Miles, and plenty of it, is on the way. In May, Concord released The Miles Davis Quintet: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions. The four-disc set is unique because it’s the first time a painting by Miles, “New York by Night,” appears as cover art. The set includes a disc with transcriptions of his solos. Featured are “Max Is Making Wax” from a Tonight Show performance and two transcriptions of “Tune Up,” one from the studio and the other from the Blue Note in Philadelphia in 1956.
Miles Davis Bitches Brew Standout Track: “Spanish Key”
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Cheryl Pawelski is senior director of catalog development for Concord Records. “I was trying to think of something unique with the first box set we are doing. With the Prestige sessions there isn’t a lot of unissued material and with the Miles stuff, there’s nothing at all. So I wanted to give it a different spin.” She says two more box sets are planned with original cover art and extras like the transcriptions. “I’m trying to do something new, not only with packaging, but I’m looking for photos that people haven’t seen before.” And for the Miles fans who also love Prince, there are talks in the works to release recordings of Davis playing at one of the Purple One’s birthday parties. The estate says to stay tuned. Porter, Wilburn and the estate’s other players have latched onto the business savvy that Miles displayed in life, always looking to open himself up to new modes of expression. The caretakers of his legacy are taking the genius of his life to new audiences through the Web and motion pictures, and they’re reinventing his music for the next generation of fans while maintaining his presence as a key figure in classic jazz. As Wilburn recalls, “He just wanted to reach a broader and broader audience. He wanted to reach the masses.”
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1936 - 1967 16
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RESTLESS URGENCY BY JAMES HALE
hen the titans depart too soon, the void they leave behind is enormous. The gaping hole that remained in the wake of John Coltrane’s death (from liver cancer at the age of 40 on July 17, 1967) was particularly large—not only because of his incredible talent, but because his artistic vision was evolving so quickly and his next steps were anything but obvious. Fans who bought Coltrane’s late-period LPs knew he was moving into uncharted territory. The studio albums Ascension, Kulu Se Mama and Meditations—all released in 1966— showed him adding musicians like bass clarinetist Donald Rafael Garrett and percussionist Juno Lewis to his core quartet, and expanding the harmonic possibilities of his saxophones to play compositions with titles that reflected a deepening concentration on the divine. Listeners who witnessed his 1966 performances were aware that something much more radical was occurring. Gone from his circle of musicians were drummer Elvin Jones— his triplet-based, polyrhythmic swing replaced by Rashied Ali’s looser thrash and propulsive roar—and pianist McCoy Tyner, superseded by Coltrane’s partner Alice McLeod. Bassist Jimmy Garrison was out, too, beginning around the time that Coltrane returned from a tour of Japan and married McLeod in August 1966. Stepping in was Sonny Johnson, the brother of trumpeter Dewey Johnson, who had joined Coltrane on
Ascension. A steady presence was young firebrand saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who seemed capable of matching Coltrane’s intensity, if not his stamina or bountiful flow of ideas. The music Coltrane played through the first 10 months of 1966— some 80 shows—was less rooted in recognizable forms, although compositions like “Naima” and “My Favorite Things” remained as the launching pad for far-ranging extrapolation. Where was he going? The question hangs, and the presence of two final studio sessions from late winter 1967—the set of muscular duets with Ali, released as Interstellar Space in 1974, and the songs that make up the 1995 album Stellar Regions—do not provide an unequivocal answer. That is precisely why any new evidence is treasured, both as a further clue to where the journey was headed and a welcome addition to Coltrane’s catalog. Recorded on Nov. 11, 1966, Offering: Live At Temple University (Impulse/Resonance) is particularly welcomed because it represents the first legitimate release of a performance that has long been bootlegged in a low-fidelity and truncated form. As music journalist and co-producer Ashley Kahn wrote in his liner notes to the set: “Yes, this is a recording of the famous concert at which John Coltrane stopped playing the saxophone, walked up to the microphone, and surprisingly (inexplicably, to many) began to sing.” IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being…When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang ups…I want to speak to their souls.” —John Coltrane
Coltrane had vocalized before, of course, most notably on the “Acknowledgement” movement of A Love Supreme, but also during his band’s Sept. 30, 1965, performance, which was released as Live In Seattle. But what he did during “Leo” and “My Favorite Things” at Temple University appeared to be more spontaneous, and more of an extension of his instrumental work—intoning the same phrases he played and pounding on his chest to produce a percussive vibrato effect. “What I hear is someone being ecstatic, and transcendent energy being realized,” said David Mott, longtime head of the music department at York University in Toronto, whose work on baritone saxophone often expresses similar spiritual themes. Mott said he recognized Coltrane was an ecstatic while watching him perform over the course of a week (likely in early November 1964) at Boston’s Jazz Workshop. “There are three types of musicians: those who play from the ego, those who manage to put ego aside while they play, and a very few like Coltrane, who channel something outside themselves.” The extended vocalizing was just one aspect that made the Temple performance stand apart; another was the presence of a quartet of percussionists, including Ali’s brother Umar, Robert Kenyatta, Algie DeWitt and Charles Brown. “These were guys from the neighborhood who were interested in promoting African culture as part of community-building,” said Kahn. “It was the same kind of thing you saw at the time in drum circles near the Bethesda Fountain in New York’s Central Park or in San Francisco. It was an informal, spiritual thing,
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rather than following any specific style like clave or Indian percussion.” As early as 1960, Coltrane had spoken of a desire to explore the rhythmic possibilities in his music more deeply as a way to further his artistic development. In the article “Coltrane on Coltrane,” published in DownBeat’s Sept. 29, 1960, issue, he wrote: “I want to broaden my outlook in order to come out with a fuller means of expression. I want to be more flexible where rhythm is concerned. I feel I have to study rhythm some more. I haven’t experimented too much with time; most of my experimenting has been in a harmonic form. I put time and rhythms to one side, in the past. “But I’ve got to keep experimenting. I feel that I’m just beginning. I have part of what I’m looking for in my grasp but not all.” According to Kenyatta, whom Kahn interviewed, Coltrane appeared unannounced at the church where the drummers rehearsed and asked if he could sit in. At first, the saxophonist could not find a way to mesh his playing with the rhythms, but within a week he had altered his phrasing to suit the ensemble. If the presence of amateur drummers wasn’t enough to signal that Coltrane was trying a new direction, what to make of two additional saxophonists—Steve Knoblauch and Arnold Joyner—who stepped onstage (the latter uninvited by Coltrane) to solo? Journalist and jazz critic Francis Davis was a 20-year-old English major at Temple in 1966. He recalls that he was not completely surprised by the expanded lineup or unannounced guests. “There had been reports in DownBeat and elsewhere about people
like Rufus Harley and Sonny Fortune joining him onstage, so it wasn’t totally unexpected,” he said. “Still, there were some people who reacted to this like it was open-mic night with a bunch of amateurs. I don’t buy that, but it was certainly in the air.” A variety of factors had brought Coltrane to this atypical point in his performing career. Originally, he had planned to be on tour in Europe in November 1966. Dates had been announced for Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, but the tour was cancelled. Instead, Coltrane spent several weeks in his hometown of Philadelphia. Those looking for clues that he recognized he was suffering from what would turn out to be a fatal disease are quick to point to this abrupt change in plans. Rutgers University music professor Lewis Porter, author of the exhaustive book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, dismisses the notion. “I think the reason he cancelled the tour and returned to Philadelphia is much more mundane,” he said. “John and Alice had two children under 3 years of age, and Alice was several months pregnant with their third child. They had just returned from an extensive tour of Japan. I think they just viewed the European tour as something they didn’t need.” Add to that the fact that it was not until the following spring that Coltrane submitted to medical tests, and it is clear that the sudden cancellation and the spiritual nature of the Temple performance had nothing to do with a heightened sense of mortality. Kahn points to the fact that Coltrane also had burgeoning career plans on his mind as 1966 drew to a close. “He was tired of battling it out with the noise
of the cash register and patrons being served in bars. He wanted to present his music more like a service, and was thinking about opening his own performance space and producing concerts.” Given that, it is not surprising that Coltrane would have responded favorably to Temple’s Student Union Board’s offer to appear in the 1,800- seat Mitten Hall, and that he turned it into a communal presentation that was closer to a spiritual offering than a traditional jazz concert. Davis, who has compared the atmosphere that night in Mitten Hall to a political convention, said: “It was a time when every Coltrane concert seemed charged with meaning. Just like when Bob Dylan went electric a year earlier, it seemed that more than the future of music was at stake. In addition, the so-called ‘New Thing’ had become increasingly black identified, which scared some people off and drew others in. There was a definite political charge in the air.” The tape of the concert made by WRTI, Temple’s community radio station, misses the opening notes of the performance, but when it begins Coltrane is rhapsodizing over his wife’s spectral piano. The song is “Naima,” but he is taking it far beyond the familiar melody he composed for his first wife, and the rhythmic structure has all but vanished. Despite the song’s transformation, saxophonist Jon Irabagon hears a “singular vision” that distinguishes Coltrane’s approach. “On ‘Naima,’ he plays the very used, traditional and standard line from the opening of ‘Cry Me A River,’ and he develops and manipulates it,” Irabagon IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
said. “One wouldn’t think that Coltrane would mix that kind of ‘older’ vocabulary with the cells and transpositions that had taken over his melodies by 1966, but we find it here. Coltrane never saw a line between what he was doing and where he came from, and the traditional, more melodic approaches were a part of his playing all along.” What captures Porter’s ear on this version of “Naima” is Coltrane’s tone. “Right at the beginning, you are struck by his beautiful sound,” he said. “You realize when you hear it how much it had changed; it’s big, open and resonant.” Within minutes, Coltrane is at full throttle, and the effect, even to saxophonists who are as familiar with his body of work as Mott and Irabagon, is thrilling. “It’s kind of astonishing how hard he is pushing his horn, getting it to rattle in the lower register,” Mott said. “The horn sounds like it’s about ready to explode; he’s putting tremendous pressure on it. What he’s doing is not supposed to be humanly possible.” Irabagon marvels at how easily and quickly Coltrane shifts between the motivic cells that he had come to favor, and how he plays call-and- response phrases in separate octaves with extraordinary precision. “The saxophone technique needed to pull off these ideas is incredibly difficult, but because he has constantly grown and evolved his ideas so fully and meticulously, the ideas come through without a second thought to the technical difficulties behind them,” Irabagon said. “Coltrane always had great technique, but in this concert he is not hindered by the technical side of the saxophone at all.”
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The single microphone employed onstage at Mitten Hall keeps the focus clearly on Coltrane when he is playing, but despite how obscured the piano, bass, drums and percussion instruments are, it is evident that the saxophonist’s use of his accompanying instruments had changed, too. From her introduction to his band in early 1966, McLeod had changed the texture of her partner’s playing. While Tyner had underpinned Coltrane with his signature use of fourths and left-hand pedal points, and was frequently asked to lay out during solos, McLeod used sweeping gestures, and was encouraged by the saxophonist to use the entire keyboard. Ali’s low rumble lacked the dynamic range of Jones’ playing, and the percussion ensemble added a dark tapestry to the rhythm section. “One of the remarkable things about this performance is how far Coltrane has shifted to what music theorist Jonathan Kramer called ‘vertical time,’” Mott said. “With this texture of percussion behind him, Coltrane isn’t defining time at all. That frees him up even more than previously. The music is not goal oriented; it doesn’t have to go anywhere.” Both in his book and in conversation, Porter makes the case that this type of background was Coltrane’s attempt to shift the way listeners perceived his playing. “The new context of Coltrane’s last music changed the meaning of his dissonance,” Porter wrote in 1998. “By that, I mean that without that underpinning it starts to sound like the tonal centers are floating. A changing tonal center is unsettling to most people, and even though
the lay person won’t discern the subtleties, the percussionists in the Temple performance give it a certain regularity.” Some listeners might theorize that Coltrane was experimenting with ways to make his music more palatable. “I think he was always moving with his music, trying different things,” said Kahn. “There were always times when he took a break and revisited earlier ideas. Everyone is going to hear what they hear in the Temple performance; I hear a restlessness, and I hear urgency.” Many among the 700 people who paid $2.50 to see Coltrane that evening in Philadelphia did not like what they heard and left the hall. “I’ve seen walk-outs at only two other concerts that I recall,” said Davis, “but this was a real visceral reaction. People either loved what was going on or they wanted out.” “I have to say, as much as I love Coltrane, it’s easy to have mixed feelings about this performance,” said Mott. “Most of the other musicians were not up to his level, and while Coltrane clearly sounds transcendent, the others are simply being cathartic.” Still, Mott made the point that Coltrane’s openness about sharing his stage—to the point of allowing Joyner to jump in as though the concert was the loosest of jam sessions—reflected his state of mind. “He wasn’t discriminatory or judgmental. The whole world was his community, and his playing shows that he was in a true state of love.” “All the rules had been thrown out by this point in Coltrane’s life,” said Kahn. “Listening to
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the complete tapes of the concert, you are struck by the informality of the whole thing. Not only was he open to young players joining in, but after the music is over the band doesn’t even leave the stage. On the broadcast, two WRTI announcers [Dave McLaughlin and Bob Rothstein] converse for 10 minutes, trying to decipher what they’d just experienced.” For both WRTI and the student organizers, who lost $1,000 on the event, the concert was little more than an anomaly, and were it not for Davis’ reminiscence in a February 1992 article in The Village Voice and an essay attributed to Rashied Ali in a book about the ’60s published by Rolling Stone Press in 1977, the event might have been forgotten. Kahn recalled that Ali essay, and was excited when persistent detective work by renowned Coltrane collector Yasuhiro Fujioka turned up the master tape at WRTI. Despite interest by Kahn, Porter and various people at Universal Music’s Verve Music Group, which now owns the Impulse label, the project languished until George Klabin and Zev Feldman of Resonance Records got involved. “We had heard about the idea to release this,” said Feldman, “and Universal knew about us through the Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery archival projects we had produced. We all thought it was a perfect fit for us, right in line with the kind of historical restoration work we had been doing.” The joint venture between the French-owned multinational Universal and the non-profit Resonance is unique, as is the donating of some
profit from sales to the restoration of Coltrane’s final residence in Dix Hills, N.Y. (The museum project is described online at thecoltranehome.org.) While Resonance handled the digital restoration of the 48-year-old tape—giving depth and clarity to the dodgy sound captured on the various bootlegs— Universal’s participation gives the release the iconic orange-and-black spine associated with Impulse and more than 40 other Coltrane recordings. “Any new Coltrane find is massively interesting and immensely educational,” said Irabagon. “For those of us who have researched as much Coltrane as we can, every new solo gives us clues as to where he was at that particular point, and helps us to hypothesize where he might have gone.” “His explorations of pitch, phrasing and spontaneous freedom of expression sound like he was looking for something,” said Mott. “I don’t know what would’ve happened had he beaten the disease, but I do know that if the need to express the divine is there, it’s going to come through.” Jazz scholar-photographer Frank Kofsky’s book John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s includes the transcription of a radio interview that Coltrane gave during his 1966 tour of Japan. The interviewer asked Coltrane what his goal for the future was, and his reply reflected his philosophy that the quality of his music was intertwined with a quest for self-improvement: “I believe that men ought to grow themselves into the fullest, the best that they can be. … [T]his is my belief—that I am supposed to grow to the best good that I can get to. As I’m going there, becoming this—if I ever become— this will just come out of the horn. So
John Coltrane Blue Train
Standout Track: “Lazy Bird”
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whatever that’s going to be, that’s what it will be. I’m not so much interested in trying to say what it’s going to be—I don’t know. I just know that good can only bring good … .” “Regardless of where he was headed, which we’ll never know, I think hearing this [Temple] performance makes us reconsider what Coltrane was doing and what it meant to him,” said Kahn. “The fact that it came so close to the end of his life just makes it more poignant and poetic.” Indeed, Coltrane would perform only an estimated seven more times in 1966, and one final time on April 23, 1967. There is no indication that he intended to continue with a large ensemble, although DeWitt and another percussionist—thought to be Juma Santos— performed at his final gig. Much of what he recorded in February 1967, which makes up Stellar Regions, points to a return to more structured compositions and is notable for the absence of Sanders or other additional musicians. This may have been evidence that he was pulling back from the concept of a large ensemble and open-ended, high-energy excursions into spiritual expression, or simply another stop on a quest for new ways to communicate with listeners. As with so much about Coltrane, the truth h is elusive, but Irabagon believes the journey itself is inspirational. “The fact that Coltrane was on a never-ending search for new and uplifting ways to play, coupled with the drive to do whatever he heard in his head— despite pushback from the public and critics alike—is inspiring and life-changing. His work gives many current musicians confidence to try to find new avenues of expression.”
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1922 - 1979 24
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EPITAPH’S RETURN BY GEORGE KANZLER
hat keeps Mingus Music so modern and moving forward is the space that Charles left within the music. It’s a remarkable combination of serious composition that has to be honored and great freedom within that composition. — Sue Mingus Charles Mingus’ place in jazz history was secured well before his death at fifty-six in 1979. He had made his mark as one of the music’s great bassists, most uncompromising bandleaders and original composers. But an event that happened ten years after his death created a tsunami spreading throughout the jazz world, now known as Mingus Music. That event was the premiere of “Epitaph (available on the two-CD 1990 Columbia release of the same name), Mingus’ sprawling, grand, two-hour-plus musical epic composed for an augmented, thirty-piece jazz orchestra. In 1962, Mingus disastrously attempted to record some of it during a concert (the results can be heard on the 1962 United Artist release, Town Hall Concert), then
abandoned it, although evidently continuing to work on it, since a manuscript of over five hundred pages was discovered in his widow Sue Mingus’ closet some years after his death. Working diligently from that manuscript, conductor/ arranger Gunther Schuller, an early champion of Mingus the composer, produced the performable score heard on the Columbia recording. Until that concert and recording in 1989, Mingus Music had lived on modestly with Mingus Dynasty, the seven-piece band of mostly Mingus alumni that Sue Mingus had been managing and booking for the previous decade. But “Epitaph caused her to reconsider the future. “Hearing Charles’ music reflected in much grander fashion in ‘Epitaph’ inspired me to start the Mingus Big Band, she said from her Jazz Workshop, Inc., offices in Manhattan, where she was in the midst of planning for the first New York performance of “Epitaph in eighteen years, as part of a celebration of Mingus’ 85th birth anniversary (he was born April 22nd, 1922). IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
In 1999 the Mingus Big Band and Mingus Dynasty were joined in her burgeoning Mingus Music organization by the Mingus Orchestra, another ensemble emphasizing orchestral renderings of Mingus Music and employing some of the instruments Mingus added to standard big band sections for “Epitaph, like bassoon, bass clarinet and French horn. “Charles didn’t have the luxury of a big band, explains Sue Mingus, “so almost all of our arrangements for the big band and orchestra are done by members of the ensembles or Gunther Schuller and Sy Johnson [who orchestrated some of Mingus’ larger ensemble recordings]. It’s a living legacy. What keeps Mingus Music so modern and moving forward is the space that Charles left within the music. It’s a remarkable combination of serious composition that has to be honored and great freedom within that composition. He left a lot of freedom for the musicians to bring in their own individual voices. His mantra was ‘Play yourself ’; he would shout it at the musicians all the time and so you have voices of today reflected in the music as it moves forward.
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“In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.” —Charles Mingus
As trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, a pivotal member of the three Mingus ensembles in recent years, expresses it, “With Mingus not alive, musicians now have to be proficient enough on their own level to bring something to the table of Mingus Music. Then, by ‘touching the hem of their garments,’ so to say, playing with musicians who played with Mingus, after the aesthetic is transferred, musically, idiomatically and metaphysically...I feel now I can keep Mingus’ legacy going, with humility. Trombonist Eddie Bert, one of the few musicians who played at both the aborted “Epitaph Town Hall concert in 1962 and the triumphant 1989 Philharmonic Hall event, remembers playing with a very different Mingus as a composer in the ‘50s. “We were in small Mingus bands, mostly quintets, says Bert, “and there was no music written down. We’d go to Mingus’ house and he played it on the piano and said, ‘Learn it and play it like you wanna play it.’ That’s the way he was; he would play it on the piano or even sing it to us at gigs. Now everything is written and it’s different. Back then he
said when you read it you don’t play it the same way; when you know it you play it different. Of course with the big bands he had to write the music, but he was always making changes when he conducted it. Trumpeter Ted Curson, who was in Mingus’ finest quartet with woodwind multiinstrumentalist Eric Dolphy and drummer Dannie Richmond in the late ‘50s, compares Mingus as a leader to Ellington, in that both of them could get the most out of their musicians. “Mingus was a real visionary, said Curson, who is looking forward to conducting arrangements of Mingus and Thelonious Monk pieces with big band from Finland in St. Petersburg, Russia in June, 2007. “He could actually hear how somebody would fit in. I’m a perfect example. I was playing with some way out people in those days, including [pianist] Cecil Taylor, but Mingus could hear me in his music, where a lot of other people couldn’t. What he could hear was Eric bouncing off me. And you had to have a guy like me to tune everybody up and keep everybody on a straight line. Because Mingus was out there, Dannie
was out there. I was the only one really kinda staying close to the basement. “If you take any one of the dozens of musicians who worked with Mingus, Curson continues, “it seems to me they were in their best shape thinking and playing when they were with him. If you couldn’t play, he wouldn’t hire you. When you were with him, you had to be ready and really mentally sharp. He put a lot of pressure on you and it was like putting pressure on coal—you make a diamond. He put so much pressure on guys that if they had anything in them, it was going to come out. All the guys could play, but it seemed like he got a little bit more out of you. “If you weren’t willing to give it up, concludes Curson, “he’d take it off you anyway. He was a modern day Jesse James: ‘Give it up or I’m going to take it, but any way you’re going to give it up because you’re on my bandstand... And with most leaders, a gig would get easier the more you played. But with Mingus the longer you were in the band the more difficult it got. Sometimes he would take you to the whipping post; he was the boss and he didn’t IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
have to say it, you knew it when you were on his bandstand. Another thing Curson points out is that Mingus was one of the few jazz musicians who could keep long gigs and continue drawing an audience. (This writer had the pleasure of seeing the Curson-Dolphy quartet—with guest artists including tap dancer Baby Lawrence and reedman Yusef Lateef on weekends—over many months at The Showplace in Greenwich Village in 1958-59). That, says trumpeter Jack Walrath, who was in one of Mingus’ last working quintets and on Epitaph, was partly because of his “eclecticism and his willingness to break the so-called rules. Like teaming up with tap dancer Lawrence, having monologist Jean Shepard record narration to “The Clown or creating politically charged lyrics to such pieces as “Fables of Faubus and “Freedom. Gunther Schuller is returning to conduct “Epitaph in four performances across the country in March and April, 2007, and his opinion of the piece is just as positive as it was eighteen years ago. “It is a masterpiece of music, whether jazz
or not is not important, he said recently. “It has nineteen or more movements [a newly discovered section may be added to these performances] that are all of the highest creative, innovative quality. And they are all different; they run the gamut from the most soulful, basic kind of blues jazz to the most complex, almost Charles Ives-ian constructions and inventions. There are movements that have almost nothing to do with jazz, influenced by Stravinsky and Schoenberg. But of course when jazz musicians play them it has a certain feeling of jazz. It is a range that even Duke Ellington never covered, plus the fact that it is for a double jazz orchestra. It is an absolute tragedy that Mingus never got to play and hear it in his lifetime. All of that makes it a unique piece in jazz history. Because of all the tsunami-like waves put in motion by the first performance of “Epitaph, this time around Sue Mingus feels it will be even better than in 1989. “When we first presented it, it was so daunting it sometimes seemed tentative, but now we have so many musicians who have been playing Mingus Music that they have Mingus in their pores
Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um
Standout Track: “Fables of Faubus”
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now. Just playing it, with all its requirements is going to make it much easier for musicians this time around. It’s going to really sparkle. And as if all this new Mingus Music activity isn’t enough, Sue Mingus has also been increasing Charles Mingus’ legacy with newly released, archival recordings. 2006 saw the release of Music Written for Monterey 1965, Not Heard...Played in its Entirety at UCLA, Sep. 25, 1965 (Mingus Music-Sunnyside, two CDs), a rare glimpse at Mingus presenting extended compositions with a larger ensemble, an octet. And in the summer of 2007 Blue Note will be issuing Live at Cornell, 1964, a two-CD set by the sextet Mingus brought to Europe that year, with Dolphy, Johnny Coles, Clifford Jordan, Jaki Byard and Richmond. “There are a lot of recordings and even video, of that band in Europe, says Sue Mingus, “but this is one of the very best. They were all happy and healthy—Johnny Coles took ill after a week in Europe and dropped out of the band, but here he sounds like the ‘holy man’ Mingus used to call him—and this is just a marvelous recording.
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1920 - 1955 30
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KANSAS CITY LIGHTNING By DAVID A. ORTHMANN
tanley Crouch’s account of Charlie Parker’s first twenty-one years isn’t a litany of facts and antidotes rendered in an easily digestible form. Not unlike Parker, Crouch is brilliant, bold, ambitious, and mercurial. He delights in conjoining a dazzling array of topics, often introducing a particular subject, moving on to something else, and later on revisiting the original concept in a different guise. Nothing stands in isolation. The book is filled with extended journeys into events which occurred decades and even centuries prior to Parker’s youth. Crouch infers that the entirety of the American experience and culture looked over Parker’s shoulder, offered guidance by example, prodded him, urged him to try and try again, and assured him that, despite a steady diet of rejection, uncertainties and pitfalls, remarkable heights eventually would be reached.
In the hands of a lesser literary talent, the juggling of so many themes—the legacy of the violent settling of the Kansas and Missouri territories; the hopelessly corrupt, anything goes atmosphere of Kansas City in the early twentieth century; the history of African- American music and dance; the intimate details of Parker’s courtship and marriage to Rebecca, his first wife; clued-up accounts of the contributions of Parker’s major influences; and insightful accounts of Parker’s creative process during various points in his development, just to name a few— would come off as labored, compartmentalized, or fail to cohere. In addition to his ability to nurture, manipulate and recast the themes, Crouch’s prose—vivid, incisive, keenly intelligent, and filled with period colloquiums— reads like a work of fiction and serves as the glue that holds the book together. IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Crouch invests the book with society-wide dilemmas that give the work much of its power. They constitute a way of understanding the tensions that swirled around and affected Parker in his formative years, and that placed him and jazz firmly inside the American experience. Through trial and error, Parker eventually learned to thrive within “an improvised world” derived from the Old West’s “provocative tension between the thrust of individual liberty and the desire for order and safety” (42). Not unlike the example of D.W. Griffith and Duke Ellington, both of whom evoked a democratic society’s “fundamental tension between the individual and the collective” (72), so too the best of the ensembles in which Parker played struck a balance between these two extremes, “one that enriched the experience without distracting from it or descending into anarchy” (116). While performing in venues where there was so much to be discovered, admired and celebrated, the threat of violence at the hands of racist law enforcement officials, gangster club owners, and jealous patrons, always loomed large. Successfully
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“I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born.” —Charlie Parker
navigating the environs of Kansas City nightlife necessitated a variety of survival skills, all of which entailed close observation of minute details in the actions of others. “As professionals,” Crouch concludes,” the jazz players learned that the friendly and the hostile live next door to each other, that they stand shoulder to shoulder and sometimes even dance together” (122). Crouch shows how these tensions were acted out on the bandstand, in an extraordinary passage which describes the Jay McShann Orchestra’s performance of “Cherokee,” live on the radio from the Savoy Ballroom in 1942. “Arrogant and proud of themselves, the rhythm section reared back and pounced on Charlie’s back when he put the horn to his mouth. And his saxophone, in turn, became a flamethrower of rhythm, melody and harmony. They pushed and drove, chorus after chorus. Then, as professional experience had taught them, they lulled...and let him dance his hot-footed dance with subtle support. Then they tore into him again...The rhythm section had him by the tail, but there was no holding or cornering Bird. Disappearing acts were his specialty. Just when you
thought you had him, he’d move, coming up with another idea, one that was as bold as red paint on a white sheet. When the band started throwing up stock riffs behind him, Parker sidestepped the familiar shapes, issuing his responses from deep in left field” (31). In another broad sweep of historically informed thought, Crouch gives equal weight to Africanderived sources of the music and the influence of formal, intellectual elements, all of which went into Parker’s search for his musical identity. Not unlike every other aspect of the book, the elements and examples that permeate these concepts come at a rapid clip, at first glance aren’t a particularly tight fit, and in some instances don’t necessarily constitute a direct, cause and effect relationship to Parker’s development. In part, they include the mutual influence of musicians and dancers in live performance situations; the presence of progressive, forward thinking African- American educators; the realization that any stimulus, regardless of its origin in terms of race, was valid as long as it made the music sound good; the legitimacy of informal study outside of the classroom, often in the presence
of a mentor or peer; and the combative, hothouse atmosphere of the jam session, especially those in which musicians were cruelly dismissive of young Parker’s efforts. Crouch introduces substantive ideas about jazz and the art of improvisation throughout the book. These notions are essential in understanding Parker’s quest as well as his eventual, widespread impact on the music. Not unlike other aspects of Crouch’s thought, he shuns rigid definitions of jazz in favor of scattered, unruly flashes of insight. His willingness to keep things loose and fluid is a tacit acknowledgement that this music can’t be tied down or cornered, and it will continue to grow in ways that we can’t anticipate. One important thread will ring true to anyone who stays abreast of the music’s varied developments in the twenty-first century: “a music ever in pursuit of vigor, elasticity, mutation of movement, and potency of pattern” (127). Another thread praises Parker’s “control of the present,” amounting to a ...”jazz musician [who] wrote and interpreted his own script on the spot, right in the middle of the chaos of the moment” (228). Then he reminds us that the music is much more than IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
“merely making something up; as drummer Max Roach often said of playing jazz, it is about creating, maintaining, and developing a design” (325). Above all, Crouch explains, individualism is what really matters. If a player doesn’t rise above formative influences and find a way to speak in his or her own voice, the all-important respect from one’s peers will not be forthcoming. Competition and invention go hand in hand. Crouch briefly cites two examples of Parker’s budding individuality. In 1937, after a long stretch of nights playing clubs in the Ozarks and days spent practicing and beginning to grasp some of the music’s formal, structural elements, the “challenge of synthesizing all of the things that touched his musical sensibility” begins to exceed the desire to send a message to his detractors in Kansas City (179). A year or so later, during his first stay with McShann’s band in Kansas City, throughout intermissions Parker would avidly listen to Lester Young’s solos with the Count Basie band, broadcast on the radio from New York. Anything new or interesting that Young had to say was fodder for Parker’s emerging sense of self. In the course of McShann’s following sets ...”Parker would toy with Young’s phrases, bending them, stretching them, stripping certain things away, and mixing the compressed version with bold ideas of
his own. But even when it was almost recitation, Charlie would tell his story with a shrill savagery you never heard in Young” (248). Crouch addresses the concerns of the jazz improviser by juxtaposing the art’s goals and objectives with the difficulties of actualizing them in real time. His passages strip away some of the mystique of spontaneous invention without shortchanging the enormous amount of effort and extensive skill set inherent in playing a genuinely original solo. Every jazz musician sets out to discover ways of creating phrases that are fluid, fraught with emotional power, and that stand tall inside of the ensemble (18). Few players reach the point in which these goals converge into a state of absolute flexibility, in part because of the demands of absorbing and responding to constant shifts and rhythm and harmony in a matter of split seconds (116). Crouch invites us to imagine what it’s like to issue “a continual response to...a landscape in which spontaneous creation whizzes by in layered stacks” (325). At his best, Parker “knew...how to listen and hear, instant by instant, and how to respond with aesthetic command to that instant, gone now and never to return” (325). Kansas City Lightning was three decades in the making. Speaking as someone who has
Stanley Crouch Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker ISBN: 978-0-06-200559-5 Harper Collins, 2013
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awaited its arrival for a quarter of a century, I believe that Crouch has succeeded in delivering a volume that sheds light on Parker’s origins, the rich, multifaceted society that influenced his journey, as well as the alto saxophonist’s place in the jazz tradition. There are numerous passages that demand to be reread and pondered; moreover, Crouch’s wise, firmly held opinions about the nature of jazz are just as important as the colorfully sketched details of Parker’s life and times. This isn’t simply the greatest of the Parker biographies—it may well be the standard by which we judge accounts of jazz musicians’ lives and music for quite some time. Looking ahead to a proposed second volume, it will be interesting to see how Crouch handles the most productive and celebrated years of Parker’s life and career. The first volume’s emphasis on Parker’s activities as a sideman in large ensembles which thrived in the context of dancing and other forms of entertainment will yield to the saxophonist’s stance as an artist and leader of smaller ensembles that were less accessible to mass audiences. Considering his capacity for expansive, complex thoughts on the music, American history and culture, Crouch will doubtlessly find challenging, thought provoking ways of illuminating this transformation.
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P L AY E R S KAMASI WASHINGTON
A NEW STANDARD By IAN COHEN
Thanks to his vibrant musical connection with Kendrick Lamar as well as his own recent three-hour opus The Epic, saxophonist Kamasi Washington has become a worthy ambassador for jazz in the 21st century. By Ian Cohen. Kamasi Washington is a common link between two of this year’s most necessary records, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard one of them. The L.A. musician arranged strings and played saxophone on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which has sold around 600,000 copies in three months—not bad for a 79-minute opus that blends hot jazz, atomic funk, spoken word, West Coast hip-hop, militant politics, and Afrocentric positivity. But the other record might have pulled off an even more impressive feat. Washington’s de facto debut, The Epic, has achieved consensus acclaim from the notoriously New York-centric jazz community while also crossing over to some non-jazz listeners, despite having no EDM fusions, no guest
rappers, and nothing that would pacify a quaint cocktail hour. Granted, the 34-year-old’s association with Lamar and Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label has helped him become a topic of interest outside of his genre, but there’s no getting around the fact that The Epic is filled with three hours of music very much steeped in the jazz canon. Washington’s excitement over his new ambassadorship is especially crucial right now, when jazz has been deemed the least popular genre of American music. “I’ve had experiences where people say, ‘I hated jazz before I heard you guys!’” Washington notes. “I’m like, ‘You didn’t hate jazz before you heard us, you hated the idea of jazz.’” In particular, the musician points to his gigs at Hollywood goth club Bar Sinister, where he would soundtrack fanged patrons “getting strapped in and beat with whips—and they would go nuts for us.” It’s a Friday afternoon in May when I meet with Washington at his Inglewood home. His wardrobe is
decidedly mystic: turquoise dashiki, knitted hat, and a medallion with the circumference of a Coke can. Walking through his backyard, we’re greeted by his two dogs, Mecca and Mi’raj, named after the birthplace of Muhammad and a spiritual journey outlined in the Quran. Now, I’d hate to describe the personal conservatory of a modern jazz visionary as a “man cave”... but that’s more or less the vibe. The converted shed houses a barely organized array of drums, computers, a light recording rig, Rhodes keyboards—basically everything but his main instrument, the tenor sax. It’s also filled with books including A Marriage Manual—A Practical Guide to Sex and Marriage and the weight-loss handbook Thin for Life, though Washington is currently single and proudly stout, sturdily built but not gigantic, similar to an offensive lineman from a Division III school. When he gets into the narrative guiding The Epic, things can get a little out-of-hand (once again, it is a three-hour record). Its penultimate
track reworks Ossie Davis’ eulogy for Malcolm X into a melody, and there are a few vocal numbers that outline an impressionistic story detailing a warrior’s struggle to find himself, but The Epic is a rare political album that’s mostly instrumental. Just on the basis of its resolute existence, Washington feels the record is part of a societal push back to what he repeatedly calls “the dimming of the mind,” where our brains are flooded with so much information that they just give up rather than trying to absorb anything. “People have been starving for intellectual fodder, but the best way to get people to close their eyes and not say anything is to tell them that they’re not smart enough to comprehend,” Washington surmises, and he believes that can entail anything from the awful roots of poverty and police brutality, to jazz itself. “And if they believe it, then they’ll listen to whatever you say. Frederick Douglass talked about it: Before he learned how to read, he could be a slave, but as soon as his mind opened, he could never go back.” IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
The hero’s quest in The Epic can be traced onto Washington’s own life. He was raised in Inglewood, not too far from where he currently lives, in a quiet, residential stretch of the city that would bring in a good deal of drive-through visitors when Christmas decorations started to go up each year. He was born into a family of musicians: His mother Valerie was a flutist who became a science teacher, and his saxophonist father Rickey played in a fusion gospel group when he wasn’t doing sessions with the Temptations or Diana Ross.
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But Washington’s memories of Inglewood’s gang culture—which still thrives mere blocks away from his current home—are vivid, too. Though many of his friends were Bloods, he grew up near a Crip neighborhood that was run by the infamous Rollin 60s. “It was a little surreal,” he says, recalling his own in-betweenness, “but maybe it broke me of that [gang] mentality because it was like, ‘Y’all are so similar.’ Neither side knew that I was cool with the other.” Washington’s own musical skills were readily evident early on, and his growing obsession helped him avoid getting caught up in the violence
outside his own front door. “People gave you a pass when you were doing something,” Washington explains. “But if you aren’t doing anything, there is a lot of pressure to be involved [with gangs], because you can’t just be like ‘I don’t wanna get involved.’ That’s weird.” He was also academically inclined, a hobbyist of physics and math, which resulted in admission to the prestigious Academy of Music at Hamilton High School in L.A.’s tony Beverlywood neighborhood. Washington embraced the opportunity, while still feeling guilt for contributing to the so-called “brain drain” that occurs when top students are drawn away from lower income areas by magnet and private schools. “This notion that I was somehow special and deserving of a more involved education was wrong,” he tells me. “I was smart at taking tests, but I knew how smart some of my friends were; they were just smart in different ways.” If there’s any political cause that resonates with Washington most deeply, it’s leveling the terrible educational stratification that occurs in city public schools. “I have friends who went through all four years of high school and didn’t have one book while I had too many books to carry,” he says. “The difference in the resources was flagrant, but we still take the same test to determine whether or not we get more education.”
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CHARACTER STUDY By EVAN HAGA
There was something both adventuresome and deeply comforting about a set I took in late last year at the Village Vanguard. It featured ACS, the all-star trio of pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, a group that has been active for over four years now, since surfacing as a kind of addendum to Carrington’s Grammy-winning The Mosaic Project. That album was a genre-hopping, multigenerational celebration of jazz womanhood, which also makes ACS a feminist statement of sorts, though its epistle goes un-preached. Like the most effective political arguments, the value of ACS is self-evident. The band defined the selfaware elasticity that descends from Bill Evans’ trios and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet—postbop, in a word—throughout a program of unimpeachable repertoire: Wayne Shorter’s “Masqualero”
and “Virgo,” Eric Dolphy’s “Miss Ann,” Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman’s “Nothing Like You,” the oddball closer to Davis’ 1967 LP, Sorcerer. More so than the last ACS performance I heard, at the Town Hall in 2013, Spalding’s presence was a model of collaborative confidence. She battened down the harmonic hatches whenever Allen began playing outside the changes or Carrington chopped the beat up, and her soloing, amply allotted, found her matching powerful physical grace with impressive lyricism. Her spotlights became something to look forward to, and a lengthy bout of wordless scatting put the packed-out basement firmly under her command. Within a band that projects as a collective she stole the show, but the entire enterprise was successful in the most straightforward manner; a tourist in search of the best current jazz in the jazz capital of the world
could hardly have done better. Personally, the performance felt like a reprieve of cleareyed understanding, in light of a conversation I’d had with Spalding a day prior, at a coffee shop in Brooklyn. There, questions often begat more questions—big ones, about things like artistic intention and authenticity and the trappings of recognition—to the point where I wasn’t sure what I had after 50 minutes. A strange, sinking feeling settled in as I walked toward the train. Spalding, 31, was there to promote her new album, Emily’s D+Evolution, a nebulous concept piece that nonetheless sounds like an excellent contemporary jazzrock record, with state-of-the-art musicianship and (mostly) palatable lyrics about love and betrayal. Released through her longtime home, Concord, after being shopped around, the album was re-recorded
in front of a studio audience after the material had been developed further onstage. The corresponding live show, replete with sketches and other theatre elements, has also changed by wide margins, most recently being refined with the help of director and playwright Will Weigler. These are unusual logistics, but Spalding was easygoing about detailing them. Elsewhere, when tackling the muse that is this concept of D+Evolution, things got trickier—cagey, but also earnest. “I’ll say it like this; this is what Wayne [Shorter] said,” she began, invoking her North Star and jazz’s champion of bewildering aphorism. “He said, ‘Taking the best of the past and using it as a flashlight into the future.’ I think that’s a really important element—taking the best from the past.” She went on to attribute another image she finds helpful, one of outstretched arms that seek a meaningful equilibrium between IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
the noble and primitive. “That is ‘evolution’; it’s not one-directional,” she explained. “It’s not that we’re always striving to become ‘better’ or ‘higher’ or more evolved spiritually or whatever.” Struggling, I asked for an illustration of how the concept might relate to one of the new songs in particular, and Spalding demurred—“I wouldn’t say any one song can embody an idea that large”—before settling on “One.” “Again, let it be interpreted how people want to interpret it, but I would say there’s a question posed, and it’s set up with, I know about operating from my civilized mind, from my college-educated brain, and I know what it feels like to indulge in the primal,” she said. “I know what those two feelings are when it comes to love, and I’ve explored them both. And they’ve gotten me to certain places, so is there a version of love, of romance,
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that’s neither, or a singularity that shows me the extremes of those two, or a singularity in the middle that’s more than either or more than both? Fortunately, art exists. Art exists to describe and explain things that don’t survive well under literal explanation.” The character Emily, who “came to move and be loud and talk about D+Evolution,” took Spalding’s middle name and arrived at the bassist as a stroke of inspiration without a backstory. For now, at least, she’s to be understood via the work. “I don’t know what Emily’s like,” Spalding responded when I asked if she finds this project to have an edge of cynicism not found in her previous songwriting. “She’s like what she’s like. That’s why the art shows it. Do you know what you’re like? You know what you think you’re like. … I don’t know, man. But I think that the art does, and I think that it portrays that.”
“It’s like when you read any introduction to Euripides’ plays,” she said later. “Now, a scholar of Greek tragedy will analyze what he understands Euripides’ intention to be. But we don’t have an interview with Euripides, and there are going to be five or six interpretations of what he means in that play. You don’t have to trust shit, but if you read the play and it moves you, then you trust his intention. And you trust that even if I don’t get this at first, there’s something relevant here. And I’m asking for the same trust on Emily’s behalf.” Almost since the start of her recognition as a public figure, and well before her work required such shows of conversational force, the stakes of an interview with Esperanza Spalding have seemed higher than one with any of her jazz peers. She’s one of very few contemporary jazz musicians whose career flaunts the landmarks we might better associate with pop stardom. A precocious talent raised by a single mother in Portland, she earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, where she ended up teaching before her classmates had graduated. There she also studied with saxophonist Joe Lovano, an invaluable mentor whose working group Us Five Spalding joined in 2008.
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JEFF “TAIN” WATTS
REVOLUTIONIZED JAZZ DRUMMING By DAVID R. ADLER
It’s day two of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem in August. Jeff “Tain” Watts is dancing in the wings. He hears Camille Thurman sing “Skylark,” and he starts to sway. He holds out an arm ceremoniously to fellow drummer Johnathan Blake, due to play with Dr. Lonnie Smith in a couple of hours. Blake and Watts proceed to link arms, twirl, break away and spin, perfectly nonchalant. Watts’ good cheer is infectious, heightening anticipation for the following set by his quintet with tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts, guitarist Paul Bollenback, pianist David Budway and bassist Chris Smith. They’re here to play material from Blue, Vol. 1 and Blue, Vol. 2, Watts’ first solo releases since 2011, both on his Dark Key label.
When Watts takes the stage, he shouts out Harlem and mentions his time as a resident long ago, adding, “I haven’t appeared much here under my own name. That’ll change.” A Pittsburgh native, Watts debuted as a leader in 1999 with Citizen Tain and has devoted more and more time to composing and bandleading ever since. (Megawatts, a 1991 trio session with Kenny Kirkland and bassist Charles Fambrough, was released as Watts’ debut without his authorization. Sunnyside reissued it in 2004, with Watts onboard.) Before emerging as a leader, Watts proved to be one of the most consequential sidemen of the last 30 years, revamping and revitalizing the art of swing itself with Wynton Marsalis’ group from 1982 to ’88. His volatile, precise, poetic approach to the beat
is seared onto the landmark Marsalis albums Think of One and Black Codes (From the Underground) , among others. These recordings are all the more crucial for documenting pianist Kenny Kirkland, the dearly missed “Doctone,” Watts’ musical soulmate, bestower of the nickname “Tain.” (While on tour, Kirkland spotted a road sign for Chieftain Gas and somehow came up with “Jefftain.”) Together Watts and Kirkland went on to form a much longer association with Branford Marsalis; Watts played both quartet and trio with the celebrated saxophonist, staying another decade after Kirkland’s tragic death in November 1998. Along the way Watts gained three years’ experience with Marsalis and Kirkland in the house band for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
and amassed sideman credits with Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, McCoy Tyner and Alice Coltrane, among others. When he finally left Branford’s group in 2009 and yielded his chair to the young and worthy Justin Faulkner, it seemed to signal a decisive career shift. “It was time,” says Watts. Although Watts is still busy with Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, saxophonist Yosvany Terry and others, he’s on an independent streak. He’s giving free rein to his virtuosity, eclecticism, devious humor and, now and then, even his singing; his vocal alter ego is Juan Tainish, an inversion of “Tainish one.” (“I don’t trust him,” Watts says.) He’s also hiring new players, breaking them in as they strengthen his music in turn: Troy Roberts, Chris Smith, pianist James IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Francies, bassist Orlando Le Fleming and more. “So many roads that I’ve looked down, they invariably lead me back to Africa in some kind of way,” Watts remarks, sizing up his calling as a drummer-leader in the footsteps of jazz masters Elvin Jones and Tony Williams but also nourished by fusion, rock, R&B and classical music. At 55, Watts has also entered a new phase personally, and it might explain his joyful demeanor offstage: He left Brooklyn in 2013 after 25 years and relocated to Easton, Pa., with his wife, pocket trumpeter and vibraphonist Laura Watts (formerly
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Kahle). Their twin daughters, Isis and Jelena, are almost 5. Dominating a quiet residential block, the Watts family home was once St. Peter’s Fifth Lutheran Church, a weathered but impressive red brick structure built in the 1870s. The pews are intact, the stained glass is vibrant and the raised stage is ample, perfect for recording and rehearsal. (One pew is filled with over a dozen snare drums, aligned like congregants.) There are additional soundproofed booths downstairs, installed by a previous owner. There’s an adjoining house, the old rectory, with living space to spare. There’s even a vegetable and herb
garden. Watts recorded both volumes of Blue here, in “The Sanctuary.” Musicians love making the journey. “I took a break after Family,” Watts says, referring to his 2011 quartet date with alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist David Kikoski and bassist James Genus. “I got the family going, and my mom passed away in between. The whole series [Blue] is dedicated to her.” The list of Pittsburgh jazz royalty is long—Hines, Strayhorn, Roy Eldridge, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, on and on—and Watts stands humbly, respectably in that lineage. He was playing drum set by age 12, but wasn’t a jazzhead until later. “I did classical percussion and drum corps kind of stuff during the day,” he says, “and then at night I would play along with the radio— R&B and classic rock. Eventually I got exposed to ’70s fusion and that led me toward the core of jazz music.” Watts specialized in timpani at Duquesne University, “and I could play them,” he asserts. “I would like to be in a professional situation now playing timpani. Perfect pitch helps greatly in just being musical and stuff like that. Even right now I feel like I can play timpani with anybody, and I can’t wait. I’mma have the timpani battle, the timpani challenge—I’m gonna practice for six months.
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REVIE Miles Davis Kind of Blue John Coltrane Blue Train
Cannonball Adderley gave up his own band in 1957 when he had the opportunity to become a sideman in Miles Davis’ epic ensemble with John Coltrane, eventually resulting in some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time (including Milestones and Kind of Blue). Davis returned the favor in March of 1958, appearing as a sideman on Adderley’s all-star quintet date for Blue Note, and the resulting session is indeed Somethin’ Else. Both horn players are at their peak of lyrical invention, crafting gorgeous, flowing blues lines on the title tune and “One for Daddy-O,” as the rhythm team (Hank Jones, Sam Jones, Art Blakey) creates a taut, focused groove (pianist Hank Jones’ sly, intuitive orchestrations are studies of harmonic understatement).
Although never formally signed, an oral agreement between John Coltrane and Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion was indeed honored on Blue Train -- Coltrane’s only collection of sides as a principal artist for the venerable label. The disc is packed solid with sonic evidence of Coltrane’s innate leadership abilities. He not only addresses the tunes at hand, but also simultaneously reinvents himself as a multifaceted interpreter of both hard bop as well as sensitive balladry -- touching upon all forms in between. The personnel on Blue Train is arguably as impressive as what they’re playing. Joining Coltrane (tenor sax) are Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Drew (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The triple horn arrangements incorporate an additional sonic density that remains a trademark unique to both this band and album. Of particular note is Fuller’s even-toned trombone, which bops throughout the title track as well as the frenetic “Moments Notice.” Other solos include Paul Chambers’ subtly understated riffs on “Blue Train” as well as the high energy and impact from contributions by Lee Morgan and Kenny Drew during “Locomotion.” The track likewise features some brief but vital contributions from Philly Joe Jones -- whose efforts throughout the record stand among his personal best. Of the five sides that comprise the original Blue Train, the Jerome Kern/ Johnny Mercer ballad “I’m Old Fashioned” is the only standard; in terms of unadulterated sentiment, this version is arguably untouchable. Fuller’s rich tones and Drew’s tastefully executed solos cleanly wrap around Jones’ steadily languid rhythms. Without reservation, Blue Train can easily be considered in and among the most important and influential entries not only of John Coltrane’s career, but of the entire genre of jazz music as well.
Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album. To be reductive, it’s the Citizen Kane of jazz -- an accepted work of greatness that’s innovative and entertaining. That may not mean it’s the greatest jazz album ever made, but it certainly is a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps it’s that this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of “So What.” From that moment on, the record never really changes pace -- each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It’s the pinnacle of modal jazz -- tonality and solos build from chords, not the overall key, giving the music a subtly shifting quality.
Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie Bird and Dizz
This collection of 78 rpm singles, all recorded on June 6, 1950, was released in 1956. Several things distinguish this from numerous other quintet recordings featuring these two bebop pioneers. It was recorded during the period that Parker was working under the aegis of producer Norman Granz, whose preference for large and unusual ensembles was notorious. The end result in this case is a date that sounds very much like those that Parker and Gillespie recorded for Savoy and Dial, except with top-of-the-line production quality. Even more interesting, though, is Parker’s choice of Thelonious Monk as pianist. Unfortunately, Monk is buried in the mix and gets very little solo space, so his highly idiosyncratic genius doesn’t get much exposure here. -Rick Anderson
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WS Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins
Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins This disc contains an all-star cast headed up by Thelonious Monk (piano) and includes some collaborative efforts with Sonny Rollins (tenor sax) that go beyond simply inspired and into a realm of musical telepathy. The five tunes included on Work are derived from three separate sessions held between November of 1953 and September of the following year. Whether by design or happenstance, the tracks compiled for this EP present Monk in the favorable confines and settings of smaller combos, ranging from the intimacy of the Percy Heath (bass) and Art Blakey (drums) trio on “Nutty” as well as the equally grooving title track. The larger quartet and quintet settings are equally as inventive, retaining the highly inventive atmosphere. However, the undeniable highlight is the interaction between Monk and Rollins. Leading off the disc is a definitive and freewheeling reading of the pop standard “The Way You Look Tonight.” Equally as scintillating is “I Want to Be Happy,” both of which are also highlighted by Art Taylor (drums) and Tommy Potter (bass). -Lindsay Planer
Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um
Moanin’ includes some of the greatest music Blakey produced in the studio with arguably his very best band. There are three tracks that are immortal and will always stand the test of time. The title selection is a pure tuneful melody stewed in a bluesy shuffle penned by pianist Bobby Timmons, while tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s classy, slowed “Along Came Betty” and the static, militaristic “Blues March” will always have a home in the repertoire of every student or professional jazz band. “Are You Real?” has the most subtle of melody lines, and “Drum Thunder Suite” has Blakey’s quick blasting tomtom-based rudiments reigning on high as the horns sigh, leading to hard bop.
Head Hunters was a pivotal point in Herbie Hancock’s career, bringing him into the vanguard of jazz fusion. Hancock had pushed avantgarde boundaries on his own albums and with Miles Davis, but he had never devoted himself to the groove as he did on Head Hunters. Drawing heavily from Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, and James Brown, Hancock developed deeply funky, even gritty, rhythms over which he soloed on electric synthesizers, bringing the instrument to the forefront in jazz. It had all of the sensibilities of jazz, particularly in the way it wound off into long improvisations, but its rhythms were firmly planted in funk, soul, and R&B, giving it a mass appeal that made it the biggest-selling jazz album of all time (a record which was later broken).
Charles Mingus’ debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there’s also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um’s immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes. Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultratight zenith on Mingus Ah Um. The band includes longtime Mingus stalwarts already well versed in his music, like saxophonists John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin; trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis; pianist Horace Parlan; and drummer Dannie Richmond. Their razor-sharp performances tie together what may well be Mingus’ greatest, most emotionally varied set of compositions.
-Michael G. Nastos
Herbie Hancock Art Blakey
Saxophone Colossus Sonny Rollins recorded many memorable sessions during 1954-1958, but Saxophone Colossus is arguably his finest all-around set. Joined by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach, Rollins debuts and performs the definitive version of “St. Thomas,” tears into the chord changes of “Mack the Knife” (here called “Moritat”), introduces “Strode Rode,” is lyrical on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and constructs a solo on “Blue Seven” that practically defines his style. Essential music that, as with all of Rollins’ Prestige recordings, has also been reissued as part of a huge “complete” box set; listeners with a tight budget are advised to pick up this single disc and be amazed. -Scott Yanow
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Thelonious Monk Brilliant Corners
One of the most important records ever made, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was his pinnacle studio outing, that at once compiled all of the innovations from his past, spoke to the current of deep spirituality that liberated him from addictions to drugs and alcohol, and glimpsed at the future innovations of his final two and a half years. Recorded over two days in December 1964, Trane’s classic quartet--Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison-- stepped into the studio and created one of the most the most thought-provoking, concise, and technically pleasing albums of their bountiful relationship. From the adulatory (and classic) bassline at the intro to the last breathy notes, Trane is at the peak of his logical and emotionally varied soloing, while the rest of the group is completely attuned to his spiritual vibe. Composed of four parts, each has a thematic progression. “Acknowledgement” is the awakening to a spiritual life from the darkness of the world; it trails off with the saxophonist chanting the suite’s title. “Resolution” is an amazingly beautiful, somewhat turbulent segment. It portrays the dedication required for discovery on the path toward spiritual understanding. “Pursuance” searches deeply for that experience, while “Psalm” portrays that discovery and the realization of enlightenment with humility.
Although Brilliant Corners is Thelonious Monk’s third disc for Riverside, it’s the first on the label to weigh in with such heavy original material. Enthusiasts who become jaded to the idiosyncratic nature of Monk’s playing or his practically arithmetical chord progressions should occasionally revisit Brilliant Corners. There is an inescapable freshness and vitality saturated into every measure of every song. The passage of time makes it all the more difficult to imagine any other musicians bearing the capacity to support Monk with such ironic precision. The assembled quartet for the lion’s share of the sessions included Max Roach (percussion), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Oscar Pettiford (bass), and Ernie Henry (alto sax). Although a compromise, the selection of Miles Davis’ bassist, Paul Chambers, and Clark Terry (trumpet) on “Bemsha Swing” reveals what might be considered an accident of ecstasy, as they provide a timeless balance between support and being able to further the cause musically.
Pat Metheny Trio 99>00 Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage Less overtly adventurous than its predecessor, Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage nevertheless finds Herbie Hancock at a creative peak. In fact, it’s arguably his finest record of the ‘60s, reaching a perfect balance between accessible, lyrical jazz and chance-taking hard bop. By this point, the pianist had been with Miles Davis for two years, and it’s clear that Miles’ subdued yet challenging modal experiments had been fully integrated by Hancock. Not only that, but through Davis, Hancock became part of the exceptional rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, who are both featured on Maiden Voyage, along with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist George Coleman.
Mixing up his pitches just to keep his fans off balance as always, Metheny returns to the strict jazz-guitar trio format for the first time in a decade, in league with a couple of combative, unintimidated partners. At the age of 45, Metheny leaves no doubt that he has become a masterful jazz player, thoroughly at home with even the most convoluted bebop licks (“What Do You Want?”) yet still as open as ever to ideas outside the narrow mainstream, as illustrated in the countrywestern-tinged phrasing on “The Sun in Montreal.” Bassist Larry Grenadier propels his own voice prominently into the texture, even when walking the fours, and drummer Bill Stewart does not hesitate to go against the grain of Metheny’s ideas. There is a slow, almost bossa nova-like take on “Giant Steps” that works unexpectedly well; it actually becomes a lyrical, gliding thing.
-Richard S. Ginell
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A Love Supreme
Charlie Haden and Jim Hall Roy Haynes Love Letters
Charlie Haden and Jim Hall Ornette Coleman
Originally released in Japan on producer Yasohachi Itoh’s 88 label, Columbia has licensed several titles from the audiophile label, including this one from veteran hard bop/new thing drummer Roy Haynes. Love Letters gathers an all-star roster, including pianists Kenny Barron and David Kikoski, bassists Dave Holland and Christian McBride, tenor player Joshua Redman, and guitarist John Scofield for a thoroughly solid set of standards. Even as he approaches his eighth decade, Haynes continues to display the drive that has made him an in-demand timekeeper since his tenure with Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. It’s evident throughout the entire album, from the rock-ist suggestions of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” to the poignant take on Horace Silver’s “Que Pasa.” All of the groupings have their shining moments, but Haynes with Holland and Scofield is a combination that demands to be documented further. Recommended.
This recorded, intimate document was recorded at Jazz Beat during the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1990 and sees its first official release on this Impulse! volume. Bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Jim Hall played a number of duet concerts together over the years, but this was certainly among the very earliest. Given their respective careers up to this point, both men had nearly perfected the artistry of playing in this particular chamber jazz setting. That all said, it does not prepare the listener for the canny, intimate, yet absolutely electric interplay on offer here. From readings of standards such as “Bemsha Swing,” “Body and Soul,” and Skylark” through to Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround” and excellent originals by both men -including Haden’s bookends, the tenderly dissonant “First Song” and the knotty “In the Moment,” and Hall’s sprightly melodic Latin waltz “Down from Antigua” and his finger popping “Big Man Blues” -this music is an adventure top to bottom.
The Shape of Jazz to Come Duke Ellington Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic debut, The Shape of Jazz to Come, was a watershed event in the genesis of avant-garde jazz, profoundly steering its future course and throwing down a gauntlet that some still haven’t come to grips with. The record shattered traditional concepts of harmony in jazz, getting rid of not only the piano player but the whole idea of concretely outlined chord changes. The pieces here follow almost no predetermined harmonic structure, which allows Coleman and partner Don Cherry an unprecedented freedom to take the melodies of their solo lines wherever they felt like going in the moment, regardless of what the piece’s tonal center had seemed to be. Plus, this was the first time Coleman recorded with a rhythm section -- bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins -- that was loose and open-eared enough to follow his already controversial conception. -Steve Huey
The timeless Way out West established Sonny Rollins as jazz’s top tenor saxophonist (at least until John Coltrane surpassed him the following year). Joined by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Rollins is heard at one of his peaks on such pieces as “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande),” his own “Way out West,” “There Is No Greater Love,” and “Come, Gone” (a fast stomp based on “After You’ve Gone”). The William Claxton photo of Rollins wearing Western gear (and holding his tenor) in the desert is also a classic. [The Contemporary re-release appends three bonus tracks, all of them alternate takes.]
Even back in the early ‘50s, Columbia Records took Duke Ellington seriously enough to place this album on its prestigious Masterworks label, heretofore reserved mostly for highbrow classical music and Broadway shows (later in the decade, though, it was retitled Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown and reissued on the pop series with an additional piece, “The Controversial Suite”). Also, this LP explodes the critical line that the early ‘50s was a relatively fallow period for the Duke; any of these smoking, concert-length tracks will torpedo that notion. The young Louie Bellson was powering the Ellington band at that time, and his revolutionary doublebass drum technique and rare ability to build coherent drum solos are put to astounding use on his self-penned leadoff track, “Skin Deep,” which was quite a demonstration piece for audiophiles at the time.
-Richard S. Ginell
Sonny Rollins Way Out West
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Dave Brubeck Time Out
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Kamasi Washington The Epic
Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time. It was a risky move -- Brubeck’s record company wasn’t keen on releasing such an arty project, and many critics initially roasted him for tampering with jazz’s rhythmic foundation. But for once, public taste was more advanced than that of the critics. Buoyed by a hit single in altoist Paul Desmond’s ubiquitous “Take Five,” Time Out became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever. That’s a testament to Brubeck and Desmond’s abilities as composers, because Time Out is full of challenges both subtle and overt -- it’s just that they’re not jarring. Brubeck’s classic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” blends jazz with classical form and Turkish folk rhythms, while “Take Five,” despite its overexposure, really is a masterpiece; listen to how well Desmond’s solo phrasing fits the 5/4 meter, and how much Joe Morello’s drum solo bends time without getting lost. The other selections are richly melodic as well, and even when the meters are even, the group sets up shifting polyrhythmic counterpoints that nod to African and Eastern music. Some have come to disdain Time Out as it’s become increasingly synonymous with upscale coffeehouse ambience, but as someone once said of Shakespeare, it’s really very good in spite of the people who like it. It doesn’t just sound sophisticated -- it really is sophisticated music, which lends itself to cerebral appreciation, yet never stops swinging. Countless other musicians built on its pioneering experiments, yet it’s amazingly accessible for all its advanced thinking, a rare feat in any art form. This belongs in even the most rudimentary jazz collection.
The Epic is saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s aptly titled, triple-length, 172-minute debut album for Brain feeder. He is a veteran of L.A.’s music scene and has played with Gerald Wilson, Harvey Mason, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar (his horn is prominently featured on To Pimp a Butterfly), to name but a few. Most of his bandmates have played together since high school, and it shows. There are two drummers (including Ronald Bruner), two bassists (including Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner on electric), two keyboardists, trumpet, trombone, and vocals (Patrice Quinn). In various settings, they are supported by a string orchestra and full choir conducted by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Washington composed 13 of these 17 tunes; he also meticulously arranged and produced them. At just over six to nearly 15 minutes, the jams leave room for engaged improvisation. The Epic is based on a concept, though it’s unnecessary to grasp in order to enjoy. The music reflects many inspirations -- John Coltrane, Horace Tapscott’s PanAfrican People’s Arkestra, Azar Lawrence’s Prestige period, Donald Byrd’s and Eddie Gale’s jazz and choir explorations, Pharoah Sanders’ pan global experiments, Afro-Latin jazz, spiritual soul, and DJ culture. A formidable soloist (he plays his ass off here), Coltrane is his greatest influence, but his tone is rawer, somewhere between Sanders and Albert Ayler. Disc one’s “Change of the Guard” is an overture that commences with confident modal piano, a labyrinthine ensemble head, testifying choir, and bright, expansive solos from piano, trumpet, tenor, and upright bass, creating openness and drama. There’s balladic progressivism (“Isabelle”), strident Afro-Latin grooves (“Final Thought”), and Central Avenue roots (“The Next Step”), before it turns toward soulful futurism on “The Rhythm Changes,” with vocals from Quinn.
Change of the Century
Esperanza Spalding Emily’s D+Evolution
The second album by Ornette Coleman’s legendary quartet featuring Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins, Change of the Century is every bit the equal of the monumental The Shape of Jazz to Come, showcasing a group that was growing ever more confident in its revolutionary approach and the chemistry in the band members’ interplay. When Coleman concentrates on melody, his main themes are catchier, and when the pieces emphasize group interaction, the improvisation is freer. Two of Coleman’s most memorable classic compositions are here in their original forms -- “Ramblin’” has all the swing and swagger of the blues, and “Una Muy Bonita” is oddly disjointed, its theme stopping and starting in totally unexpected places; both secure their themes to stable, pedal-point bass figures. The more outside group improv pieces are frequently just as fascinating; “Free,” for example, features a double-tongued line that races up and down in free time before giving way to the ensemble’s totally spontaneous inventions. The title cut is a frantic, way-out mélange of cascading lines that nearly trip over themselves, brief stabs of notes in the lead voices, and jarringly angular intervals -- it must have infuriated purists who couldn’t even stomach Coleman’s catchiest tunes. Coleman was frequently disparaged for not displaying the same mastery of instrumental technique and harmonic vocabulary as his predecessors, but his aesthetic prized feeling and expression above all that anyway. Maybe that’s why Change of the Century bursts with such tremendous urgency and exuberance -Coleman was hitting his stride and finally letting out all the ideas and emotions that had previously been constrained by tradition. That vitality makes it an absolutely essential purchase and, like The Shape of Jazz to Come, some of the most brilliant work of Coleman’s career.
On previous albums, Grammy-winning bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding dived into jazz standards, Brazilian rhythms, and sophisticated, harmonically nuanced R&B. But with her 2016 album, Emily’s D+Evolution, she takes an entirely different approach. A concept album revolving around a central character named Emily (Spalding’s middle name), Emily’s D+Evolution is not a jazz album -- though jazz does inform much of the music here. Instead, Spalding -- who also co-produced the album alongside legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie) -builds the release largely around angular, electric guitar-rich prog rock, kinetic, rhythmically rich jazz fusion, and lyrically poetic pop. Of course, Spalding’s version of pop is never predictable, always harmonically inventive, and frequently imbued with as many improvisational moments as possible within the boundaries of a given song. But relative to her previous releases, this is still a significant shift. Helping to bring Emily’s D+Evolution to life is a band Spalding put together specifically for this project, including guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Karriem Riggins, keyboardist Corey King, and others. Conceptually, the character of Emily represents Spalding as a young girl, and works as a conduit through which she explores and unpacks complex ideas about life, love, sex, race, education, and the creative process. While it would be reductive to call Emily’s D+Evolution a retro album, Spalding’s harmonic and melodic content and production aesthetics definitely have a ‘70s quality. Cuts like “Earth to Heaven” and “Noble Nobles” bring to mind the forward-thinking sound of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell’s work with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius, whose liquid bass style is an obvious antecedent to Spalding’s approach here.
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Out to Lunch
Saxophonist Chris Potter honors the legacy of some of jazz’s greats on Gratitude, his debut for Verve. The award-winning virtuoso and composer is compelling on his tributes to John Coltrane, Eddie Harris, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, and several other legendary saxophonists. Gratitude contains nine original compositions written by Potter, who plays tenor saxophone on the majority of the songs, switches to soprano saxophone on “Eurydice,” his tribute to Wayne Shorter, and plays the alto saxophone and Chinese wood flute on “Star Eyes,” the tribute to Charlie Parker. Chris Potter is outstanding on bass clarinet on his composition “The Visitor” for Lester Young and captures the ambience that reflects the many styles of these accomplished players, including sliding from one note to a higher or lower note with intermediate pitches on “The Source,” his tribute to the glissandi (sheets of sound) of John Coltrane, and capturing the dense, soulful sound of Joe Henderson on “Shadow.” Gratitude also includes a song titled “What’s New,” for the current generation which completes the set. Potter, leading his great quartet of contemporaries -- keyboardist Kevin Hayes, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade -- makes a significant contribution to jazz history with this project and offers musical statements and voices that are truly varied in scope and deep in their essence.
Out to Lunch stands as Eric Dolphy’s magnum opus, an absolute pinnacle of avant-garde jazz in any form or era. Its rhythmic complexity was perhaps unrivaled since Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, and its five Dolphy originals -- the jarring Monk tribute “Hat and Beard,” the aptly titled “Something Sweet, Something Tender,” the weirdly jaunty flute showcase “Gazzelloni,” the militaristic title track, the drunken lurch of “Straight Up and Down” -- were a perfect balance of structured frameworks, carefully calibrated timbres, and generous individual freedom. Much has been written about Dolphy’s odd time signatures, wide-interval leaps, and flirtations with atonality. And those preoccupations reach their peak on Out to Lunch, which is less rooted in bop tradition than anything Dolphy had ever done. But that sort of analytical description simply doesn’t do justice to the utterly alien effect of the album’s jagged soundscapes. Dolphy uses those pet devices for their evocative power and unnerving hints of dementia, not some abstract intellectual exercise. His solos and themes aren’t just angular and dissonant -- they’re hugely so, with a definite playfulness that becomes more apparent with every listen. The whole ensemble -- trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, vibist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Tony Williams -- takes full advantage of the freedom Dolphy offers, but special mention has to be made of Hutcherson, who has fully perfected his pianoless accompaniment technique. His creepy, floating chords and quick stabs of dissonance anchor the album’s texture, and he punctuates the soloists’ lines at the least expected times, suggesting completely different pulses. Meanwhile, Dolphy’s stuttering vocal-like effects and oddly placed pauses often make his bass clarinet lines sound like they’re tripping over themselves. Just as the title Out to Lunch suggests, this is music that sounds like nothing so much as a mad gleam in its creator’s eyes.
Chris Potter Gratitude
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Space Time Continuum Having studied at Juilliard and toured early on with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist/composer Aaron Diehl is the epitome of a sophisticated, urbane jazz musician. Following up his well-received 2013 effort, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, Diehl digs even further into impeccably appointed, straight-ahead acoustic jazz on his third full-length album, 2015’s Space Time Continuum. Joining Diehl here is a cadre of equally gifted sidemen including bassist David Wong and drummer Quincy Davis, as well as a handful of special guests including the masterful saxophonist Benny Golson and Jazz at Lincoln Center baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley. Also adding their own flavor to the proceedings are rising stars tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley and trumpeter Bruce Harris, along with vocalist Charenée Wade. With contemporaries like Kris Bowers and Robert Glasper pushing their music toward the edges of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic fusion, Diehl’s more traditional if no less accomplished approach comes off as striking and unusual in contrast. Cuts like the ruminative, impressionistic “The Steadfast Titan” and the Spanish flamenco-infused “Santa Maria” bring to mind the lyricism of Billy Strayhorn mixed with the measured, dreamlike qualities of classical composers like Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen. Elsewhere, Diehl swings hard with an exuberant reading of Walter Davis, Jr.’s “Uranus” and dives headlong into the fluid “Flux Capacitor,” featuring a breathy, lithe performance from Riley. Certainly, the album’s extended compositional moments, such as the bluesy, literate title track and the suite-like “Organic Consequence,” are impressive in sheer scope. However, it’s on the tracks where Diehl’s adroit, kinetic piano playing takes the spotlight, as on the Bud Powellinfused “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” that Space Time Continuum most threatens to break the jazz universe wide open.
-Richard S. Ginell
On 1999’s Big Train, Marsalis tries on the mantle of Duke Ellington in the latter’s centennial year and finds that it suits him. A 52-minute big band suite modeled after Ellington’s long-form essays, it purports to evoke the moods, sounds and feelings of a cross-country train trip with selections named after a train’s various cars. Like an Ellington suite, the sections run together; after the striking “All Aboard,” you’re in Ellington country, right down to the plunger mute wah-wah riffs. “Union Pacific” paraphrases “Rockin’ in Rhythm”; the ballad “Sleeper Car” evokes Johnny Hodges and Tricky Sam Nanton quite explicitly. Inevitably, there’s a track called “Night Train”; thankfully, its bossa nova flavor has nothing to do with Duke’s piece. Marsalis has mastered the Ellington idiom, writing and organizing the piece skillfully and getting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to play with precision and emotion. Yet the one thing that Ellington (and Billy Strayhorn) could do and Marsalis has yet to demonstrate is the ability to come up with a big, memorable tune; there’s craft, emotion, and swing, but little else to take home with you. If you didn’t know that this work was about trains, you might not guess it; you can’t really feel the rocking, chugging, streamlined motion of the rails in this work. There is fine soloing all around in the hard bop tradition from Wessell Anderson, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Ted Nash and Walter Blanding, Jr., though the liner fails to note which of the multiple tenor, alto, trombone players are soloing on which tracks. But overall, this is one of Marsalis’ better extended form essays.
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
NORD PIANO 3 FEATURES • 88-note Triple Sensor keybed with improved grand weighted action • Nord Virtual Hammer Action Technology for greatly improved key response • OLED-display for better overview • 1 GB memory for Nord Piano Library • 256 MB for Nord Sample Library • Layer and split-functionality • Nord Triple Pedal IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
IMPROV MAGAZINE 2016
Published on May 26, 2016