Recently a small group of Canadians (and a few Yanks too) paid tribute to our dear friend Ross Taggart who left us far too soon. His ex-wife Sharon Minemoto was a rock during his illness and held it together through a very dffcult time. She was very generous to bring his ashes to NYC where Ross had expressed he be distributed. On a calm and clear Columbus Day morning we spread his ashes in Marcus Garvey Park where our friend Rudy Petchauer thought Ross would feel the good vibes. Many great cocnerts have taken place there, especially through the legendary organization Jazzmobile. It was a bittersweet occasion and a nice gathering of old friends. This memoriam connects to something quite positive for me which is the new CD of music I’ve dedicated to Ross coming out tomorrow on Sunnyside Records called Tiddy Boom. I have written several blogs about this project (just review the history in the menu below) so I won't get into the details of the music here but let's just say it is a work of mutual respect and admiration to several musicians that came along before us.
Ross and I spent about a year together in NYC when we were quite young. I was about 27 and he was 23. I had just gotten in the Lounge Lizards and was finally making a living. He was studying here on a Canada Council grant and going out to hear everyone he could. We saw a lot of great music together, listened to a lot of great music and we had a lot of fun. I was able to help Ross get an apartment and even a few gigs under the table. We bonded over most tenor legends but especially Clifford Jordan and Dexter Gordon. Ross was a remarkable pianist but he could also play the hell out of the tenor sax. So when I started working on Tiddy Boom it only seemed appropriate that it would be dedicated to Ross. I think this distraction helped me through the loss.
That loss only piled up when another wonderful spirit and music lover left us. I met Holly Schneider through my ex-wife Elizabeth. I believe our first meeting was at the Filmore in San Francisco after a Lizards show. She had us over to her apartment and showed me her vinyl collection. I was floored and upon other visits I’d stay with her and her family and she’d hip me to all sorts of great music. A real mind opener was Quincy Jones’ Gula Matari. It’s hard to find but she gave me a rare vinyl of it. Years later while doing the musicians show on WKCR I played a track from this (pops and scratches included) when the phone lit up. It was an elderly man who called to say that while he was doing time at Sing Sing Prison upstate he’d go to the library and listen to records to help him get through his imprisonment. Turns out that Gula Matari was one of those records and he thanked me for playing it. He said, “That music kept me alive”. That really blew me away…I believe that music is a serious healing force and it should remain something we respect and hold dear to us as individuals. Holly ended up playing drums and teaching music to kids. She was a remarkably kind and beautiful woman. I really miss Holly and it is unfair she became ill and passed away so unexpectedly. She’s left us with a great talent in her young son Ari and she lives on in our hearts.
What a strange year for jazz in the media. In July The New Yorker published a satire about Sonny Rollins that to any sincere jazz lover was in bad taste and just unpleasant on many levels. Then the Wall Street Journal paid another young man to write an op-ed on the fact that we jazz musicians are simply wasting our time pursuing an unpopular intellectual indulgence, insinuating that the Rollins satire is a symptom of an art form on it’s last legs being played out by a bunch of college grads. FYI the writer is a disgruntled music school drop out! I didn’t comment much on these topics because I felt the best response was to ignore them. There's always room for good humor and jazz musicians certainly enjoy it as much as anyone else. All you have to do is search youtube for jazz robots, shredders or Hans Groiner!
Recently the young and talented band Mostly Other People Do the Killing created a wave of controversy by releasing an identical copy of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis’s seminal ‘modal’ album that has been the biggest seller in jazz for decades, called 'Blue'. Along with many of my generation, I found myself reacting quite strongly to this work. At first it was a, “Really?…oh man did they have to?” sort of groan of disapproval. However in MOPDtK's defense Jimmy Cobb - the drummer from Kind of Blue - was quoted giving it his approval, although he said it lacked feeling. Well yeah and how could anyone think you can transcribe that feeling? This could be a piece of art for observation or scrutiny but it’s not a new way of playing jazz or even a classical interpretation. All of us who grew up after music schools took on jazz had to learn by imitating other players. Ethan Iverson's piece on Lester Young has some great quotes of Lee Konitz saying how he and many of Lennie Tristano's students/peers memorized Lester Young solos. I’m not going to belabor this topic any further but if anything what 'Blue' shows us is that a new generation of jazz musicians and writers have entered a dimension of satire, analysis and research that has left some of us scratching our heads with clenched fists. I prefer hearing these guys and most anyone trying to create new music and facing the efforts of that type of challenge rather than projecting a post modern imprint of Kind of Blue on us. For the record I did say they may be among the first jazz 'aethiests' and the inventors of zombie jazz, in jest of course but maybe not so far off? Remember what people said about trad, swing, bebop, modern jazz and the avant-garde! Whatever comes after is always a scandal and jazz is a young persons 'sport'. One thing is for sure, I don’t have the memory to play someone else’s music note for note, that’s why I chose to play jazz!
Tiddy Boom is probably my most traditional album to date. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, rather show how well it still works. Like a big ‘ol American car I hope you enjoy the comfortable ride and the way it hugs the road.