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Month: January, 2013

Thursday, January 31

passings

Butch Morris, February 10, 1947-January 29, 2013, cornetist, composer, conductor

“Conduction #188,” live, Italy (Sant’Anna Arresi), 2009


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From the New York Times’ obituary:

Butch Morris, who created a distinctive form of large-ensemble music built on collective improvisation that he single-handedly directed and shaped, died on Tuesday in Brooklyn. He was 65.

The cause was cancer, said Kim Smith, his publicist and friend. Mr. Morris, who lived in the East Village, died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fort Hamilton.

Mr. Morris referred to his method as“conduction,” short for “conducted improvisation.” He defined the word, which he trademarked, as “an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor.”

He would often begin a performance by setting a tempo with his baton and having his musicians develop a theme spontaneously and then seize on the musical ideas he wanted to work with, directing the ensemble with a vocabulary of gestures and signals. An outstretched upward palm, up or down to indicate volume, meant sustain; a U shape formed with thumb and forefinger meant repeat; a finger to the forehead meant to remember a melodic phrase or a rhythm that he would summon again later.

He introduced this concept in 1985 and at first met resistance from musicians who were not willing to learn the vocabulary and respond to the signals; he was often in a position of asking artists to reorient themselves to his imagination and make something new out of familiar materials. But he demanded to be taken seriously, and he was. After 10 years he had made enough recordings to release “Testament,” a well-received 10-disc set of his work. After 20, he had become an internationally admired creative force, presenting conductions at concert halls worldwide and maintaining regular workshops and performances at the East Village spaces Nublu, Lucky Cheng’s and the Stone.

Mr. Morris, who also played cornet, began his career as a jazz musician in Los Angeles. After settling in New York in the early 1980s, he took his place among both the downtown improvising musicians of the Kitchen and the Knitting Factory and the purveyors of multidisciplinary, mixed-media art flourishing in the city.

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In decades of workshops around the world, and for a stretch, from 1998 to 2001, at Bilgi University in Istanbul, he taught his signals and gestures. Some of these were common to all conductors; some were adapted from the California jazz bandleaders Horace Tapscott and Charles Moffett, whom he had known early in his career (he also cited Sun Ra, Lukas Foss and Larry Austin’s “Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists’’ as influences); many were his own.

He said he didn’t care whether people thought his music was jazz or not, although he himself saw it as derived from jazz but not beholden to it. “As long as I’m a black man playing a cornet,” he reasoned, “I’ll be a jazz musician in other people’s eyes. That’s good enough for me. There’s nothing wrong with being called a jazz musician.”

Ben Ratliff, 1/29/13

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WKCR-FM (Columbia University) is devoting much of today’s programming to a Butch Morris Memorial Broadcast, featuring his music until 3 p.m. (EST).

Wednesday, January 30th

Old?

New?

Both?

Neither?

Bobby Bradford (cornet), Glenn Ferris (trombone), Mark Dresser (bass), “Purge” (G. Ferris), Los Angeles, 2009


A mathematician could, I’m sure, estimate how many different instrumental combinations you could expect to hear in your lifetime. What that number would be I have no idea. What I do know is that this particular combination—cornet, trombone, bass—is one that, in over fifty years of listening, I’ve never heard before.

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lagniappe

radio

Today the folks at WKCR-FM (Columbia University) are remembering trumpeter Roy Eldridge, who was born on this date in 1911 and lived until 1987, in the best possible way—they’re playing his music all day.

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reading table

[W]hen, in a simple case, one sees the barrister step forward, raise a robed arm and begin declaiming in an ominous voice, nobody dares look at their neighbors. Because to begin with one thinks it is grotesque, but then it seems it might be wonderful, and one waits to make up one’s mind.

—Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again (translated from French by Ian Patterson)

Tuesday, January 29th

two takes

“If I Could Only Fly” (B. Foley)

Merle Haggard, TV show (music starts at 1:15), 1986


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Blaze Foley (1949-1989)


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What makes this song work? For me two things stand out; both relate to the first line of the hook (“If I could only fly . . .”). One is the sounds of the words: the repeated “f’s,” the long “i” and the “y.” The other is what happens with the melody: the little step up on the second syllable of “only.” To me it suggests, fleetingly, what it might feel like, as imagined by the singer, to take flight—”if only.”

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lagniappe

Here’s one more take—Blaze, boozy, somebody’s backyard, 1985.

Monday, January 28th

old school

Lee Fields & The Expressions, “Faithful Man,” 2012

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lagniappe

reading table

[W]e live in a place/That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves.

—Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

Sunday, January 27th

Today we welcome her to the ultra-exclusive MCOTD Hall of Fame, where she joins previous inductees Von Freeman, Wislawa Szymborska, William Bronk, and Lester Bowie.

Dorothy Love Coates, January 30, 1928-April 9, 2002

“The Accident” (Odessa Edwards, speaking), “Get Away Jordan,” “Getting Late in the Evening,” “You Must Be Born Again,” live, Los Angeles, 1955

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“You Must Be Born Again,” “He’s Right On Time” TV show (TV Gospel Time), early 1960s

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“Won’t Let Go” (AKA “I’m Just Holding On”)

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“Strange Man”

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lagniappe

reading table: two takes

The old pond— a frog jumps in, sound of water.

—Matsuo Basho (1644-1694, translated from Japanese by Robert Hass)

New pond. No sound of a frog jumping in.

—Ryokan (1758-1831, translated from Japanese by Kazuaki Tanahashi)

Saturday, 1/26/13

last night

I heard these guys at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall, where the program ranged from Felix Mendelssohn to John Zorn.

Philip Glass, Mishima (1984-85, excerpt); Brooklyn Rider, New York, 2006

Friday, 1/25/13

You can only hear with the ears you’ve got. And the ones I’ve got came of age in another era. But is it merely reflexive nostalgia to ask: Is there anything today—anything at all—that can compare with this?

Otis Redding (1941-1967), with Booker T.  & the M.G.’s* and The Mar-Keys,** “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (O. Redding & J. Butler), live, Monterey Pop Festival, 1967

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lagniappe

reading table

What advice would you give to people who are looking to be happy?

For starters, learn how to cook.

“Questions for Charles Simic: In-Verse Thinking,” interview by Deborah Solomon, New York Times, 2/3/08

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*Booker T. Jones, organ; Steve Cropper, guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn, bass; Al Jackson, Jr., drums.

**Wayne Jackson, trumpet; Joe Arnold, alto saxophone; Andrew Love, tenor saxophone.

Thursday, 1/24/13

two takes

Bessie Jones (1902-1984), “Sometimes”

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Moby, “Honey” (Play, 1999)

Wednesday, 1/23/13

Saturday night, between trips to Northwestern’s Pick-Staiger Hall, I caught these folks at Chicago’s City Winery.

Dolly Varden, “Forgiven Now,” live, Chicago area (SPACE, Evanston), 2011

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Here they talk about, and play songs from, their new album (For A While).

Tuesday, 1/22/13

soundtrack of a marriage

On my first date with Suzanne, in 1974, we went to Chicago’s Jazz Showcase (then upstairs on Lincoln, just south of Fullerton), where we saw Sun Ra & His Arkestra. With a start like that, how could one ever go wrong? When we got married, on this date in 1977, Von Freeman played at the wedding, with pianist John Young. Years later John told me: “When I marry ’em, they stay married.”

Sun Ra & His Arkestra, live, Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, 1974

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Von Freeman, live (with John Young, piano), “Remember,” Chicago (Jazz Showcase), New Year’s Eve 1983 (according to the clip) or 1979 (according to NPR)

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lagniappe

Want to hear what Von and John sounded like on that cold, snowy night thirty-six years ago, at a church north of Chicago? Here (give it a few seconds). As you’ll hear, they played before, during (the processional was Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”), and after the ceremony.

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