TT 51: DTM interviews in review, "Riffs" for students

My new mantra: The truth must be faced. Crisis is opportunity. Optimism doesn't cost a cent.

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Remote teaching! I’m giving lessons over video, but I also am texting mad amounts of jazz info to my studio thread. I’m putting these “riffs” on DTM as well. This past week was material about Lester Young, George Gershwin, Mary Lou Williams, the late Wallace Roney, the late Ellis Marsalis.

This week I have an idea about Bill Evans…yes, high time for a bit of analysis about Bill. “Peace Piece,” “Jade Visions,” and “How Deep Is the Ocean” are on the docket.

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On social media I “re-ran” the DTM interviews with fresh commentary. When I look back I’m surprised at how much is there.

1) Billy Hart was the first. I had meant to interview Dewey Redman but Dewey passed away. The next week I brought my tape recorder to Billy’s basement in Montclair.

2) Many of my peers had a dismissive attitude towards Stanley Crouch. I had always enjoyed Stanley’s writing and thought he was an important voice in the choir. This interview was (at least from my side) a polemic aimed at broadening the tent.

3) My own voice was heard all too clearly in those early DTM interviews. A quick one with Jason Moran is a good example. As these interviews turned out to be widely read and perhaps even important, I tried to dial back my side of the convos, at least a little bit.

4) When I realized I was commanding a small bit of real estate as a writer/blogger, I started to help my friends. Benoît Delbecq was coming to NYC to play a concert, and we did a email Q&A to promote his work.

5) The internet opened a lot of doors. I spent many hours re-living old memories, and even tracked down (via email) Robert Dennis, who did the music for some classic Sesame Street. Just learned that Dennis passed in 2018…

6) There was novelty value in a practitioner being a proactive journalist, so I started to get requests from official publications. DownBeat asked me to interview the great Charlie Haden. I’ve thought a lot about Ornette Coleman, and it was helpful to talk to a main architect of OC’s best records.

7) From Haden it was only natural to go on to Keith Jarrett. I doubt I could have gone out to Keith’s pad if the radio show Jazz on 3 at the BBC hadn’t opened the way. (Later Keith told me he thought this was one of his best interviews.)

8) Stanley Crouch told Wynton Marsalis that I was OK, so that led to the next big talk. Again, this was a polemic, as I thought too many of my peers had been dismissive of WM for inadequate reasons.

9) The BBC interviews continued with Django Bates. I didn’t know Bates’s music before Dave King introduced me, and I was smitten with this astonishing personality.

10) The BBC then requested Gunther Schuller. I researched hard for this one, because I didn’t think his legacy was sorted properly. In a way I’m in a Oedipal battle with GS, so I took the fight to his front door.

11) Henry Threadgill was also a BBC request. This one is notably good if I do say so myself.

12) The final BBC interview was with Wayne Shorter, which never aired, because Jazz on 3 ceased operation. Mr. Shorter is famously elliptical in conversation, but I sorta got a few “hard facts” out of him.

13) Before the radio series closed it was already becoming hard to find mutually satisfying subjects. The BBC wanted me to do Anthony Braxton or John Zorn, but those weren’t a fit for me. We agreed on Paul Motian but Paul refused me point blank.

I suggested Cedar Walton. but the BBC rejected him (wasn’t popular enough like Braxton or Zorn). BUT I had already asked Cedar at the club and name-dropped “for the BBC” so Cedar would agree. I never told him that it would just be for DTM.

Cedar remains an unsung giant. The good jazz musicians know, but the critics and gatekeepers don’t always know. After Cedar passed I spoke to two comrades,

14) David Williams and

15) David Hazeltine.

16) It seemed to me that genuine straight-ahead mastery of the old school was leaving the planet. I say “straight-ahead,” but these musicians were also idiosyncratic avant-gardists. I present to you Mr. Albert “Tootie” Heath.

17) With Billy Hart and Tootie Heath on DTM, it was pretty easy to convince Mickey Roker to let me come over for an hour.

18) Roker’s great compatriot was Bob Cranshaw. The musician’s union helped me get in touch with Bob. Ironically, despite his proselytizing for union over the years, Bob needed a GoFundMe at the end of his life, just like so many other masters of late.

19) I love “classical” music too. My piano hero is Marc-André Hamelin, and we went long and detailed in this convo.

20) Hamelin pairs in my mind with the younger violinist Miranda Cuckson, as they both stayed out of the normal classical career path while playing the hardest and most idiosyncratic repertoire in a relaxed and conversational matter.

21) Another fabulous talent from the classical side of the tracks seen on DTM is Mark Padmore. This short interview was done via email.

22) Two of the interviews have been with formal, “classical” composers that lack the association with jazz Gunther Schuller had. The late George Walker and I corresponded over email…

23) …and it it was a real pleasure to host a more in-depth discussion with Alvin Singleton.

24) Just a step or two away is James Newton, who made plenty of great jazz records before ending up as predominantly a formal composer…

25) …while Carla Bley was predominantly a composer who has doubled down on performance in recent years.

26) While working on the Carla material an article by Gavin Bryars was a help. Bryars has played jazz, was resolutely experimental for a time, and now has settled into being a classic British composer.

27) I have also interviewed a few non-musicians notably important to the community. It’s incredible that the Village Vanguard is closed for the moment, a first in the club’s storied history. In 2012/13 I spoke with the GM, Jed Eisenman.

28) In some waysBen Ratliff was the jazz critic for my generation, and he certainly helped give the Bad Plus some initial traction. When he left the New York Times, we did a kind of “exit interview.”

29) Terry Teachout was another early supporter. Teachout is one of the few mainstream critics who really sees jazz as part of the larger American cultural puzzle. We also share a love of Anthony Powell, Rex Stout, and Donald Westlake,

30) Unlike Jed, Ben, or Terry, I have had almost no interaction with Gerald Early other than the hour I spent in his office in St. Louis. Early is an amazing thinker and writer who really should be much better known in American musical circles.

31) Ken Slone is a musician, but his most familiar contribution to the canon has been academic. As far as I know, I gave the man behind Charlie Parker Omnibook his first interview.

32) Bill Kirchner is someone who predates my own work, a player who got involved with setting the record straight in print.

33) The most recent interview with a writer was with Mark Strykersimply one of the best jazz critics in the history of the music.

34) It made sense to include some of my biggest influences and teachers. Unlike an official publication, I do only what I want at DTM. Ladies and gentlemen: Patrick Zimmerli.

35) Like Pat, Tim Berne gave me something that totally opened up an aesthetic. Unlike Pat, Tim has been wildly influential to so many musicians in the last 30 years.

36) I did two years of jazz performance at NYU. My teacher Jim McNeely showed me stuff at the keyboard, but he also had amazing anecdotes from his personal history. In time I would come to accept “the stories about the greats” as essential to jazz wisdom. Jim’s tales are part of why I have done the DTM interviews.

37) After I dropped out of NYU I knew I needed to keep studying privately, and did a deep immersion with Fred Hersch. This interview helped get the ball rolling for Fred’s memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly.

38) I was blessed to study with Sophia Rosoff for more than a decade, and eventually turned the task of documenting her work over to my wife Sarah Deming. Now that Sophia is gone, this essay is important to the Rosoff literature.

39) I had an informal lesson or two with the late great Masabumi Kikuchi.

40) David Sanborn talked about Phillip WIlson. Wilson is a particular favorite of mine, especially for his magnificent drumming on Julius Hemphill’s Dogon A.D.

41) Bill Frisell is a long-time hero and universally one of the best-liked musicians on the planet.

42) I have many peers, far too many to interview them all, but I grew up near Geoffrey Keezer

43) ….and have known George Colligan since 1990. Both Geoff and George are jazz virtuosos of the highest order.

44) Not enough singers in the mix here, but at least I spoke to Cécile McLorin Salvant.

45) Someone who has been controversial online (even more than myself) has been the estimable Nicholas Payton. This is a good one.

46) Early on, I was thrilled to have a phone call with my ultimate hero, Ron Carter. More recently we played a word association game.

47) I’m proud of this major discussion withGeorge Cables.

48) Drummer Steve Little recorded with Ellington and was a long-time presence on the soundtrack to Sesame Street.

49) I love the tenor saxophone, it’s probably my favorite instrument.Houston Personhelps define the lineage.

50) Two of the very first LPs I ever heard (owned by my neighbor Dean Estes) were by Stan Getz and Toots Thielemans with Joanne Brackeen on piano. I’ve never played “The Days of Wine and Roses” without thinking of Joanne’s voicings with Toots…

51) Tom Harrell goes long on musicianly detail.

52) The most recent was a sit down with Bertha Hope, who spans an extraordinary amount of jazz history.

53) And this list finishes very strong with an icon of bebop, Charles McPherson. Very important interview IMHO! Charles is one of kind, certainly one of the best teachers of jazz I know.