Long Live Ornette

Joe McPhee's Trio X at Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2014
Joe McPhee’s Trio X at Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2014

For years I would enter Joe McPhee’s name in one one of those questionnaires that they used to pass out at Jazz Fest. “Who would you like to see at the Jazz Fest?” He only lives in Poughkeepsie for Christ’s sake. I’d put Ornette Coleman’s name in there too but I never expected that to happen. Joe McPhee is too good for Jazz Fest.

Joe brought his “Trio X” to the Bop Shop on Sunday night and we had front row seats. Jay Rosen is often described as a drummer’s drummer and there is good reason for that. I loved watching him play but mostly I loved how he supported and propelled the songs. Bass player, Dominic Duval, was home sick but his son held down the post in fine fashion. His bowed duet with Joe was especially beautiful.

Joe did a solo sax gig a while back in the Village Gate where he did a version of “God Bless The Child” that just blew us away. Joe’s stuff is full of soul and blues and there is a direct link to the Negro spirtuals. He plays music that can change the world. His last tune last night, a song he wrote years ago as a tribute to Ornette, was dedicated to his ailing bass player and to the ailing Ornette. Joe played a white plastic sax on the song.

After the show Peggi told him how much she like the Ornette piece and he said, “We wouldn’t be able to do his stuff if it wasn’t for Ornette.”

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Jesus Is A Baritone

Station 12 from "Passion Play" by Paul Dodd, 24" x 30" inkjet print 1998
Station 12 from “Passion Play” by Paul Dodd, 24″ x 30″ inkjet print 1998

I had planned on stopping by Record Archive and the Bob Shop for Record Store Day. Peggi had emailed the Bop Shop ad we did for Tom for the upcoming Jazz Festival and I wanted to make sure it looked ok before we put it into InDesign and sent it off. I would also check the racks for new releases from my favorite artists, most of which are dead. I’m still hoping for one from Ornette before he says goodbye.

As it turns out we started the day by downloading a live Neil Young gig. So much for supporting local record stores. Duane sent us the link so I can blame him. We saw the “Chrome Dreams 2” tour in Buffalo where they were still using pieces of the Greendale set. This is an audience recording, it sounds amazing.

I’ve seen a few Rembrandts, just a handful really, but I was knocked out by how timeless they are. I mean they actually appear alive. This afternoon we heard Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by “Voices”, the local professional chamber choir. Bach wrote the piece near the end of his long life and it was performed on Good Friday. Today was Palm Sunday and it was close enough. The eighteen voice chorus and small orchestra sounded great in the Lutheran Church, a fitting venue as they have a weekly service in German, a large German contingent to their parish and Bach’s “Passion” was performed in his and their native tongue. Bach’s music is also still alive. The church was packed. We squeezed into the back pew and were blown away by how powerful this music is. We are so fortunate to have this accumulated culture to dip into.

The Stations of the Cross were always my favorite part of church. I collected sources from newspaper clippings for a retelling, the Unabomber was on the front page one Good Friday, and I still plan to paint the Stations some day. I showed the studies at the Bug Jar in 1998 and they were shown again at the Finger Lakes Show in 1999.

I heard the last pope added a fifteen station, the resurrection, the most suspect of all miracles to say the least, for a happy ending. And the current pope wants to rush sainthood for the guy who hired him to “handle” the countless sex abuse cases. I say “sainthood now” for Rembrandt and Bach and Ornette.

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You’re Not Gonna Worry My Life Anymore

Two different kinds of Witch-hazel
Two different kinds of Witch-hazel

A few days have gone by without us even leaving the house. We did find some witch hazel on our last hike and I photographed it at night so there is life out there. I need to get my groove back. I almost forgot I was keeping a blog. No I didn’t. I started to say I was busy but that’s not exactly true. I mean it is true but how do you define “busy”? I get the sense that it has something to do with making money. I love that Lightnin’ Hopkins song where he stops mid sentence and says “I started to say . . ” It’s called “You’re Not Going To Worry My Life Anymore”. And I love how he refers to himself as “Sam” in his songs. I borrowed the Ornette Coleman box set, Beauty Is A Rare Thing” from Tom Kohn and ripped it and read the liner notes before falling asleep. (That last sentence is only interesting if you know that Tom Kohn owns a record store) I was thrilled to read the music critic, Robert Palmer, compare Ornette’s playing to Lightnin’s. What a wild comparison and so vivid.

I am putting the final touches on twenty new crime face paintings. These are sort of small, 11×14 each and all sort of rough and tumble like. I am trying to deliver attitude. After all, what else is there? Well, I guess there is the Plutocracy.

Peter Schjeldahl loves to use big words and I like trying to follow his deeply opinionated reviews in the New Yorker even when I disagree with him. When he tears something apart he levels it, Hiroshima style. In his review of Dakis Joannou’s (a Greek billionaire) collection at the New Museum he says”. . . big money, besides being just about the only money there is, brands the big-time art it buys — art that behaves, in economic terms, like a form of money itself. He calls Jeff Koons, the foundational artist of Joannou’s collection and curator of the show, “the creator of the boom era’s definitive art: perfectionist icons of lower class taste that advertise the jolly democratic sentiments of their loaded buyers.” He says this show “arrives on today’s downwardly mobile art scene like a bejeweled princess at a party that—opps—turns out to be a barn dance.

And I noted in this week’s 60 Minutes piece on the Wall Street robber barons that the fusion of money and government is so concentrated that only a handful of bankers understand what is going on.

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Box Of Sighs

Trout for the grill at Anne Haven's house
Trout for the grill at Anne Haven’s house

Anne Havens is one of our favorite artists. We recently helped her with a few computer issues so she invited us over for dinner last night. She said we would know which apartment was hers by just by looking and we did. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by art and most of it is Anne’s.

We sat out on their deck while Stuart cooked trout on the grill. Peggi and I marveled at his nonchalant barbecue style and we knew the trout would be done to perfection. Anne made a real Ceasar’s Salad and roasted potatoes. We listened to Ornette Coleman and Duke Ellington and had a marvelous time. Anne proposed a toast to Ornette, our cat, and we got to talk about how special he was. The Ornette synchronicity has been non-stop around here. When David Greenbergger was here he had a Wire Magazine with Ornette on the cover and this morning Marc Weinstein emailed us a link to an Ornette Coleman clip from 1974 with James Ulmer Blood on guitar.

We offered to help Anne with an audio file that she plans to put in her concrete box sculpture, “Box of Sighs” which will be featured in the upcoming Rochester Finger Lakes show. Anne’s studio mate commented on how Anne sighs while she works so Anne recorded her sighs and put them in this box. She showed the piece at Studio 354 in 2008 but she wasn’t happy with the sound quality so we rerecorded the track today in our bathroom. The sighs were barely audible behind the closed doors and were so quiet that I had to really boost the input levels. As a result we wound up with a hum on the track. We traced that to the refrigerator on the other side of the bathroom wall so we unplugged it and got a perfect track. Anne was really in the zone. We were telling her that what we needed was a “whisper room” like they have out at Sutro Sound in San Francisco and she liked the sound of that.

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Goodbye Ornette

Ornette the cat
Ornette the cat

Every year I write Ornette Coleman’s name in that line on the Harris Jazz Fest survey where they ask you who you would like to see at next year’s fest. Nobody pays any attention. Or how about Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake or Pharoah Sanders and Yusef Latef and Archie Shepp before they die.

Ornette the cat will take his last trip to the vet tomorrow morning. We would have taken him out there this morning but Barry Brown was off. Ornette stopped eating today so we get the message. He is outside as I write this, sitting in the garden. He is one cool cat and we are going to miss him a lot.


Rochester Loves Bang

Billy Bang delivers the goods at the Xerox Auditorium - Rochester International Jazz Festival 2009
Billy Bang delivers the goods at the Xerox Auditorium – Rochester International Jazz Festival 2009

In a repeat of 2005 we started the Festival with the Bill Frisell Trio at Kilbourn Hall. There was a lot more interplay with this trio than the last one. Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen are great players and fun to watch. I wish Bill had given them a little space of their own but it is Bill’s band after all. The show started with about five minutes of bird sounds and they worked the tweets into the first tune. Bill was was wearing the dumpiest white sport coat you’ve ever seen. He handles his effects boxes, including the one labeled Kook”, with exceptional flair. You are always aware that they are part of his sound but they are never obtrusive. Each song was distinct from the next and they ranged from Dead-like wandering to Monk swing with some very pretty stuff in between.

We ran into Jeff Spevak and Margaret and Martin Edic and Bill and Geri and Sharon from the Genesee Center for the Arts all coming out of the first show of Billy Bang. Everyone was smiling and raving about the the last number they had just heard, Ornette’s “Lonely Woman”.

Along with their sponsorship bucks Xerox has opened the doors to their beautiful performing arts center. We had front row seats for Billy Bang and the band sounded tremendous in this venue. I remember being here in the mid seventies for jazz shows. The stage is low and wide open. Billy had his regular touring piano player and drummer and a new bass player, Hilliard Green, who looked and sounded like Willie Dixon. Look at this guy. He’s standing up back there but getting down! Billy also brought along a trumpet player for some reason. We’ve seen these guys many times and they are always great. Gutsy, they swing and take it to the edge, reworking Billy’s beautiful, haunting, Viet Nam melodies so they never get old.

Billy Bang’s drummer did an old fashioned spoon solo during their version of “All Blues”. Rochester loves Bang. Billy scored a few songs for for Rochester’s Garth Fagan Dance and Garth told Bang, “Billy, you’ve got to play your solo the same way each time because I have arranged these movements for my dancers. ” Billy told the crowd, “Garth taught me how to play Billy Bang”.

These are excerpts from my 2009 jazz fest notes.

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Despite Cultural Indifference

Paul Smoker conducts at the Bop Shop Atrium
Paul Smoker conducts at the Bop Shop Atrium

“Science Fiction” by Ornette Coleman is one of my favorite album and I was thinking about this record last week when Bob Martin posted his top 25 lps on his Facebook page. We named our cat Ornette after seeing Coleman in NYC in 1998. I read in Jeff Spevak’s D&C blog that local trumpet star Paul Smoker and some of his Nazareth College students would perform interpretations of Ornette’s avant-garde classic album, Science Fiction on Sunday afternoon.

I got the lp out this morning so I could look at the liner notes and then I played a few of the tracks from our iTunes library. In Robert (Bob at the time) Palmer’s liner notes he says “Ornette’s music grabs you inside before you understand it intellectually.” That’s certainly how it got me and I still don’t understand it intellectually. He also says “To play this music, you have to step out of the mold your teachers taught you.” But this teacher is Paul Smoker!

So I made arrangements for Peggi to drop me off at the Atrium on the way out to her mom’s place. I sat down next to Greg Bell from “Jazz Rochester” as Paul Smoker introduced the lineup. There was only one Ornette piece in there, “Happy House”, and Paul told the crowd that they would be doing all Ornette later in the month at Nazareth. I had heard that there was a lot of inaccuracies and untruths in the blogospere but didn’t believe it until now. The band sounded great but I gave up some prime painting time to be here and Ornette is one of the few people I would do that for.

There was a discussion panel after the set and Paul Smoker said they would talk about, “Why we do what we do. Why do we keep beating our heads against the wall despite cultural indifference?” I had to leave to meet Peggi out front.

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Musical Eateries

Scott LaFaro and Nick from the Seabreeze Inn in Rochester, NY
Scott LaFaro and Nick from the Seabreeze Inn in Rochester, NY

We did some overeating this weekend while celebrating my birthday. Peggi’s mom took us (we actually took her but she paid) to Mario’s on Monroe Avenue. It’s over the top Italian but well done and the food is sensational. We started with roasted calamari that was light and tender. We asked a few questions about its preparation and our waitress brought the recipe out to the table. They make their own breadcrumbs and lightly batter the squid with lemon, olive oil, Italian parsley (there is a difference) and salt and pepper. They grill it on an open fire for two minutes tops. Mario himself was sitting at the table next to us with his son. They had a fancy glass wine decantor on the table that looked like a bong. Tony and Tony wandered around the room serenading guests on accordion and guitar. They played something for my mother-in-law that only she recognized.

The following night my parents took us to Nick’s on Culver Road up near the lake. I couldn’t decide between the eggpant parm and the manicotti so I asked the waitress if she could split the order. She brought Nick over for clearance. When he gave his approval I did a quick little drum role on the table. Nick asked if I was a drummer. I nodded and he asked who I played with. I said “Margaret Explosion” and he winced.

Nick brought me over to a picture on the wall of him (down front with a big grin) and Scott LaFaro. Scott is center right in the picture above. He played bass on some early Ornette Coleman records and died in a car crash outside Canandaigua when he was 25. Nick managed Club 86 in Geneva during its heyday when Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, and Tony Bennett all played there.

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Not Easily Impressed

Peggi’s mom’s church had their monthly Jazz Worship this morning. Two of the band members are former students of Peggi’s and so Peggi joined her mom out there for the service. I stayed home and painted crime faces in the basement. I went to the church of Ornette Coleman. I kept running upstairs to tend the fire in our new insert. I stoked that thing and got the temperature up to 82 in the kitchen. It was probably near 90 in the living room. Peggi’s mom is always cold in our house and I wanted to knock her out with the heat. When Peggi walked in with her I asked if she was warm enough and she said, “Yes”. My mother-in-law is not easily impressed.

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How To Draw An Ampersand

Peggi opened the box that came from LL Bean and tried on her new boots and flannel-lined jeans. They look good. We took a walk up in Spring Valley and she wore her new jeans with the cuffs rolled up. Saw some turkeys and a few deer, one that sort of looked like “dog deer” but wasn’t. We had picked out some books for ourselves a few weeks ago and Peggi wrapped them and put them under the tree. I had forgotten what they were until we opened them. I got a picture book on German Expressionism and “Miles, Ornette & Cecil”. I dove into the part about Ornette.

Our nephew, who is staying with his family downtown at the Hyatt, emailed us some photos that he took in Rochester yesterday. They stopped by the North Pole. He is staying over with us tonight and tomorrow we plan to migrate our email application and all our email to a newer old computer. And he is going help us get our pc cleaned up and moving a little quicker. And then we plan to put Leopard on two G4s that supposedly can’t handle OS 10.5. I guess you put the dvd in a laptop and boot the G4’s in target mode and install over the network.

Today, I am going to learn how to draw an ampersand.

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