John Carter

NICE NOD by Ben Ratliff in today’s New York Times about my former neighbor, the musician John Carter. Mr. Carter dug his heels deep into L.A. He taught music, tooling around local schools. He lived right across the street from me and was a steady voice of encouragement when I was feeling a little wary about the piano (I’d played clarinet, then flute so this was instrument number three) and much later when I got into photography found a space for me to create — and I was able to shoot a couple of his album covers. Always calm, centered, Mr. Carter’s music felt worlds apart from the soft-spoken man with the dignified carriage and the quiet smile. I was amazed at the zigzags, squawks and spikes of sound that came out of the bell of his clarinet. I didn’t realize how impressive a cult figure he was until a drummer I knew and worked with kept repeating “That John Carter?.”
My most indelible memory: Stepping out of work late, late one night across town in Silver Lake, leaving the newspaper’s office I worked in, I hear a voice intoning my name — both of them. I turned. It was him, Mr. Carter, after a late-night session of akido — again, right across the street. “Late night? Too late for you to be walking to your car alone. Our secret, unless I see it again.”

He kept his word.

Mr. Carter always felt like a guardian angel floating around this big impersonal city, sending out messages. Glad to see there are much more of them to hear.

John Carter/Bobby Bradford

New York’s experimental jazz groups of the 1960s were framed as the “new thing,” but their counterparts in Los Angeles weren’t being framed at all; they were mostly ignored. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top, and here are two examples. John Carter and Bobby Bradford both played in the 1950s around Dallas and Fort Worth, where they had encountered the young Ornette Coleman; they were all beboppers looking for something new. By the end of the decade all three wound up in Los Angeles. Mr. Coleman left for New York, joined there after his initial success by Mr. Bradford. But by the mid-1960s Mr. Bradford was back on the West Coast, and the New Art Jazz Ensemble, with Mr. Carter on saxophones and clarinet and Mr. Bradford on trumpet, had become a real band, a good one. It started from the premise of Mr. Coleman’s music: clarion bebop themes giving way to long and grooving collective improvisations with no predetermined chord changes. And it pushed on from there, with a whole different kind of authority and intelligence — sometimes a more formally disciplined one — than there had been in Mr. Coleman’s bands. But it didn’t have enough opportunities to work, and outside of Los Angeles the group only became known to those most stricken with the jazz record-collecting virus, the kind who track down D.I.Y. albums with shaky Letraset graphics, released in tiny editions. An excellent new boxed set — “Mosaic Select: John Carter & Bobby Bradford” — should help right the situation. It contains reissues of two Carter-Bradford ensemble albums from 1969 and ’71, “Seeking” and “Secrets,” as well as some unissued live performances and a clarinet-trumpet duet from 1979. As improvisers the two musicians had an uncommonly special connection; Carter, who died in 1991, was a good saxophonist but a great clarinetist, clear and strong and resourceful, with few peers in his time.


“The Cult of Frailty”

SAM STEPHENSON, author of the expansive and prerviously posted about Jazz Loft Project has just put up on his blog “Chaos Manor” a synopsis of a conversation between two NYT writers about the “frailties of jazz” — in that unlike the pop world, within the jazz circle aging and fragility is equated with wisdom, depth, etc. It arrives on the tail of the release of Steve Lacy’s “Novemeber” a solo recording made in 2003. Lacy, who was a Jazz Loft regular, died, at 69, just seven months later.

A snip from Stevenson’s post:

This solo recording was made in Switzerland in November 2003, three months after Lacy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died seven months later.

Ratliff and Sisario discuss how in jazz appreciation aging is okay. Musicians are appreciated for gaining wisdom and new expressions over time. Ratliff mentions a “cult of frailty” in jazz. In other words, infirm jazz musicians are seen to expose primordial human conditions otherwise hidden in “normal” people. A dying master can express profound new things. Can you hear evidence of this in Lacy’s late recording? That’s part of Ratliff’s and Sisario’s discussion.

The cult of frailty also pertains, of course, to musicians who have addictions and other pathologies; they offer access, perhaps dangerous, to the tormented soul. This might help explain why African-American pianist Sonny Clark, who died of a heroin overdose at age thirty-one in 1963, sells hundreds of thousands of records in Japan. (This isn’t about Japan; it is about the exotic unknown. There are excellent French philosophers who are rock stars in American universities but they remain frumpy and obscure in France).

You can read the rest here:

More later in this spot.

rewind: stan getz, blood count

LAST NIGHT, while sitting outside for a quiet dinner and talk with a friend and the long days of summer fast approaching, the conversation turned predictably to, well — Stan Getz. He’s always been part of my personal ambient sense-memory of summer as long as I can remember — both live and on disc — the bossa novas part of the soundscape, yes, but the standards, ballads and blues too. And so, it’s impossible to believe that been almost 20 years ago this week since he left the grand bandstand, if you will. So ingrained a summer tradition that I even had tickets (and still do) for a Hollywood Bowl show that was slated for later that very summer — he figured he had another one in him, too.

Here is one of the pieces Getz played as a set-list staple in the last years of his life, Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Because Getz revisited this piece, it seemed, almost nightly when he was on summer tour or a short-jaunt set of gigs up-and-down the West Coast there are plenty of versions out there, however this one is particularly poignant and elegantly expressed:

And since you’re already in the room this too, a ballad written by Thad Jones, “Yours and Mine” … I was introduced to this piece via a concert in Santa Barbara at the State Theater and it never let go.

The Jazz Idiom, pt. 2: David Stone Martin

James P. Johnson by David Stone Martin I’VE BEEN on a jam-session bender for the last month, knowing that the service would cease to exist on Monday. (It did. I’m blue.) The plan: Listen to a wide range of artists, genres and songs that I might not normally have a chance to explore in their entirety, and see whom I might stumble upon serendipitously.  Consequently, I’ve made several purchses on iTunes, which would make Apple’s bottom-line happy, since they are the entity who snapped up lala. This is just a roundabout way to talk about the all the roots music I’d been listening to, string bands,   New Orleans R&B, stride piano and then rounding it out with bebop and other assorted catch up.

In so doing, I’ve been sinking into all the lush virtual jacket art. These gorgeous album covers that were sort of murals reflecting the music. Blue Note designs, Chuck Stewart photographs, West Coast Cool shots by Claxton — yes, yes all have their place. But there wasn’t anyone like artist David Stone Martin.

What would jazz — the jazz motif — be without him?

I could still kick myself, more than a decade later, for not buying a set of David Stone Martin jazz prints I saw in London at a record store in Piccadilly Circus.  Martin’s work was an intrinsic part of the experience of listening to jazz for me. Our house was full of jazz LPs and many of them, when not graced by odd, middle-of-the narrative photographs (women in negligees in improbable locales) or incongruous set-ups (West Coast jazz musicians in cowboy duds playing on the “wild west theme”) there were the beautifully, fluid, almost impressionistic work of   David Stone Martin.

My favorite pieces of Martin’s work often graced producer Norman Granz’s projects – Jazz at the Philharmonic and the like. They were often denoted by Martin’s imprimatur, the trumpet player.

Among my favorites:

And of course this one: this one always made me blue:

Just how he was able to convey all that was wrapped up in Holiday’s voice with a telephone receiver, coat on the bed a bottle on the floor? And as a child, I would have no idea it would take me decades to understand just how truly devastating an image this is.

I’ve never been able to find those prints or even something close to them when I returned stateside, but there is a beautiful gallery of Martin’s work here.  Martin, who died in 1992, made jazz visible;  his illustrations convey a singular, unforgettable internal music of their own.

rewind: “what’s it all about?”

I’M IN the midst of pulling together video on cities in their “cool” periods (and defining what that means) and well, this time capsule brings up all manner of sense memory connections/sensations.

Quotable from the global YouTube comment queue: “michael caine was very sexy in his youth times”

Sonny Rollins at the start, Cher to finish it off . . . oh yeah, and of course, Micahel Caine in the middle.

The Jazz Loft Project — Rehearsal

FROM MY piece that should be going up soon . . . Friday on the site SonicBoomers.

When you think about the “jazz idiom,” the fluid interplay among musicians and, in turn, between artist and listener; the music’s symbolism has always gone beyond notes. That’s the magic of jazz. The jazz vernacular, its modes, its symbols, its very atmosphere has been transmuted into visual “moods” – hence, “the jazz life.”

That “life”, translated through the lens of various photographers can be high gloss, after-five (Herman Leonard) or ethereal, moody beauty (William Claxton); or sweaty, sessions in-session from the musician’s point-of-view (Chuck Stewart) and so on.

We seldom see jazz in its full context, as a sort of workaday world of concepts, conversation, analytical equations worked out step-by-step. Seems fitting then that photographer W. Eugene Smith, most famous for his documentary work for Life magazine, his unblinking, front-line examination of World War II would interpret jazz differently and document a hiding-in-plain sight jazz scene in mid-century New York. City..

The Jazz Loft Project, a book, exhibit and now-ongoing online project, assembled by Sam Stephenson, a writer and instructor at Duke University and Smith scholar, is a study of serendipity stumbling into serendipity. Stephenson, who is also the author of W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project and W. Eugene Smith 55, was at work on something else entirely when he happened upon this treasure trove of Smith’s work – which included not just photographs of musicians and their sessions but the surrounding bustle and city noise of NYC’s flower district from 1957 to 1965.

Smith, by chance ended up, pushing off – away from his wife and family – and relocating to the fourth floor this broken-down industrial building to try to finish his expansive documentary project about Pittsburg, PA. He’d hit a dead-end of the creative sort and decided to hole away as an attempt to concentrate fully. He had no idea what threshold he’d walked over at 821 Sixth Avenue. It was its own crossroads for jazz musicians – some names that will perpetually echo others that might have been lost forever except for Smith’s copious record-keeping. For a decade, beginning in 1954, musicians found their way to the nondescript commercial building; climbed the stairs with their cases, often in the middle of the night, to sit-in on sessions that could go well into the next day. Smith collected the evidence – Theonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Don Cherry, im Hall, Jimmy Giuffre, Orenette Coleman, Paul Bley, Pee ,Wee Russell, and more.

Smith however, had the presence of mind to go one step further – he didn’t just photograph the jam sessions – but as well the audio equipment, the neighborhood’s comings and goings, the seasons changing, the tops of Fedora’s the swing of a pair of silk-stocking legs emerging from a big, American sedan. Smith didn’t simply record the sessions on film, he taped, and taped and taped. And Stephenson happened upon all of these too – the sessions, sure, but again the aural context – the world that was a-swirl around these sessions, the music that was being made on the spot — the radio talk shows, and sppeches and news reports which All of them stored away on nearly 2,000 reel-to-reels that work as a time capsule of sorts – that too, incrementally exhibit the seasons changing in the country – from the Cold War to the Civil Rights movement — in a much more philosophical and metaphorical way.

The photos are portals; the details intimate: Hands on keys, fingers on strings; men in motion so that the line separating the musician from the instrument has been rubbed away.

Smith’s main goal, writes Stephenson, was to record the people in the loft, as both an aural and visual document. “He once asked a visitor,” writes Stephenson “ ‘Do you mid if I turn on my recorder in case something brilliant happens?’” The idea, suggests Stephenson is that he gained more than inspiration from the musicians who wandered in to play but rather, “sustenance.”

— By Lynell George

(photots: w. eugene smith from the jazz loft project)

Yours and Mine: Stan Getz

I WAS lucky enough to hear and ultimately meet Stan Getz during those “nice” years that Wall Street Journal critic Will Friedwald speaks of below. I’d heard all of those rumors as well, but there was the much re-told Zoot Sims quip that kicked around in my head the most: “Stan Getz? He’s a nice bunch of guys.”

Shortly after I’d read about Getz’s cancer diagnosis, I began to travel to gigs up and down the coast. Sat in grand-gilded auditoriums and sweaty nightclubs with quarter-sized tables. Most nights, he didn’t look well but always played with an astonishing honesty and depth. During those years he unfailingly hit a cycle of songs — “Blood Count,” “Yours and Mine” and “First Song” — which always brought up goose-flesh. Then he’d switch it up, making fun of all those bossa nova years by announcing the samba medley by jumping off with “Dis Here Finado.”

One August night, I sat way up close to see the completely-in-sync quartet featuring Getz with Rufus Reid, Victor Lewis and Kenny Barron at the old Loa in Santa Monica. J.P. and I, pushed through a horrible tangle of traffic crosstown from Echo Park to Santa Monica and sat stewed on Pico. We rush inside and from the front hostess stand, I could hear the first few gauzy phrases from that singular tenor. Behind the stand, the owner began ever-so-meticulously inching down the press/media list, but something made her look up, but not at me, just beyond — a sort of daybreak smile crossing her face. From behind, I heard a voice — somewhat familiar, but not quite placeable: “We’re all with the media here, but I believe she was first.” I spin around to find Clint Eastwood standing there. Smiling. Thanks Double D for this head’s up.

Stan Getz’s Last Hurrah

“One should always listen closely when people are saying goodbye,” Katherine Hepburn tells us in “Stage Door.” Likewise, Stan Getz, the great tenor saxophonist, found a way to make sure that people would be listening closely when he experienced what would be his last hurrah. Just a few months before his death, Getz (1927-1991) decided to make a live album with the pianist Kenny Barron. Getz and Mr. Barron—who had just spent five years performing with the bassist Rufus Reid and the drummer Victor Lewis in what was quite possibly the best quartet of Getz’s career—formed a sort of band within a band, working four nights in front of a live audience (and a recording crew) at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen. Shortly after Getz’s death, 14 of these tracks were issued on a two-CD album titled “People Time.” Now, Universal Music France is issuing the complete recordings—48 performances on seven discs that amount to as moving a last will and testament as I have ever heard by a major musician.

Beginning in the late 1980s, there was a rather incredible rumor circulating around the jazz world—all of a sudden, Stan Getz was acting “nice.” Up to that time, the jazz icon was generally regarded as being infamously callous and cold toward almost everybody, a personality issue no doubt related to his lifelong addictions. One famous lyricist who knew him well told me, “Stan plays all these tender love songs like he really cares, but he hurts people more than anybody.” When the saxophonist was diagnosed with cancer, he famously said “I’m too evil to die.” But as a result of that diagnosis, Getz started doing the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and he reached the point where he needed to make amends to people he had wronged over the years. Such old acquaintances as the trumpeter Shorty Rogers started receiving caring, apologetic calls from Getz, who was determined to work the program and purge himself of his demons and the disease.

The seven Café Montmartre discs are a window into the turbulent soul of a great artist. As Gary Giddins observes in his splendid liner-note essay, the material consists of 24 different songs, which are fairly evenly divided between jazz standards that had begun life as pop songs (“East of the Sun” and “There Is No Greater Love” among them) and compositions by jazz musicians (such as Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” “Whisper Not” and “I Remember Clifford”). Getz and Barron play one Broadway standard, “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” four times, but many other numbers, such as the semiclassical “Hushabye” and “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” are heard only once.

Whether by accident or design, most of the pop-derived standards are in medium or up tempos—even the ballad “End of a Love Affair,” famously done as a slow torch song by Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, is exuberantly extroverted here. Getz saves his more profoundly introspective moments for the jazz originals, particularly Thad Jones’s “Yours and Mine.”

Thanks to the sheer firepower of the Getz-Barron duo, the fast numbers really rock, and one never notices the absence of bass and drums. Getz flies over the chords to “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and his two treatments of “Night and Day” are even faster and more irreverent than the famous Art Tatum-Ben Webster treatment of 1956. Throughout, Mr. Barron plays with Getz as an equal, attaining a level of empathy that’s beyond telepathic. Telepathy implies communication between two distinct individuals, whereas Getz and Mr. Barron play like right and left halves of the same brain.

On the fast tunes, Getz almost seems to be playing with the idea that the best defense is a good offense. But on the ballads he really lets his guard down. Getz tells the audience that “I’m Okay,” the first tune of the first disc, was written by Brazilian keyboardist Eddie Del Barrio shortly after the composer had prevented a friend from committing suicide; Getz seems to be conveying multiple emotions at once, as if depicting both sides of the argument, and is simultaneously melancholy and optimistic in the best tradition of his primary inspiration, Lester Young. At times he seems like he’s resigned to his fate, while at other points, he throws punches like a boxer pushed into a corner, refusing to give up. Like most jazz waltzes, “Allison’s Waltz” (by pianist Alan Broadbent) conveys a subtle feeling of nostalgia for innocence lost. “First Song,” heard three times here, immediately ranks as a Getz masterpiece, played with lucid intensity.

Benny Carter’s “People Time” is also heard three times, and it’s the loveliest, most moving work of the package. I like to think that Getz himself chose “People Time” for the original album title (though he didn’t live to see it come out) for a very good reason. For all of his 63 years up to then, Getz had made time for music, for notes, melodies and chords, and he had made time to become one of the most celebrated and successful jazz musicians in history. Getz had also made time to chase after drugs and sex. He had made time, in fact, for everything but people. With this album, Stan Getz was serving notice that he planned to make the most, God willing, of whatever people time he had left.

—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.

Yours and Mine: