music clip of the day


Category: French horn

Wednesday, April 15th

MCOTD Hall of Fame

Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy (LB, trumpet; Steve Turre, trombone; Frank Lacy, trombone; Bob Stewart, tuba; Phillip Wilson, drums, et al.), live, Berlin, 1986

Tuesday, May 13th

voices I miss

Lester Bowie (1941-1999), trumpet (MCOTD Hall of Famer), with Brazz Brothers, “Summertime” (G. Gershwin), live, Germany (Jazz Baltica), 1993



art beat: more from last week at the Art Institute of Chicago

Christopher Wool (1955-), Maggie’s Brain (1995)


Monday, 3/14/11

Albert King

Fontella Bass

Art Ensemble of Chicago

Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Few musicians travel so widely—or so well.

Lester Bowie, trumpet, October 11, 1941-November 8, 1999

Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy (Steve Turre, trombone; Phillip Wilson, drums)
Live, Germany (Berlin), 1986


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#2 (Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You”)

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Lester and drummer Phillip Wilson were kindred spirits. Like Lester, the drummer came out of St. Louis. And like Lester, he roamed freely. Adventurous jazz (Art Ensemble of Chicago), funky soul (Stax Records sessions), hard-rocking blues (Paul Butterfield Blues Band): to each he brought the same hands, the same feet, the same ears.



Bill Cosby on Lester Bowie

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Monday, 1/24/11

Does anyone play Mozart with more verve?

Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, KV. 466, first movement;
Friedrich Gulda (piano and conducting), Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, live, Germany (Munich), 1986

Part 1

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Part 2

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More? Here.



Friedrich Gulda has refused to succumb to the increasing specialization of our age, refused to limit his horizons to one small portion of the musical spectrum. A prodigious talent, whom Harold Schonberg once hailed in The New York Times as “a continuation of the great German traditions of piano playing exemplified by Schnabel and Backhaus,” he chose to reject the cloistered life of a virtuoso in favor of a career that paid equal attention to jazz and classical music, to performance, composition and improvisation.

“There can be no guarantee that I will become a great jazz musician, but at least I shall know that I am doing the right thing,” he once said.  “I don’t want to fall into the routine of the modern concert pianist’s life, nor do I want to ride the cheap triumphs of the Baroque bandwagon.” His insistence on shaping his career in his own image has been costly: once a household name among piano aficionados, he has not toured America in nearly two decades. Yet a spate of recent releases – both jazz and classical – suggest that it may be time for him to reclaim the fame once so deservedly his.

Born in Vienna in 1930, Mr. Gulda began piano studies at the age of 7, entered the Vienna Music Academy at 12 and won a major competition at 16 – first prize in the Geneva International Music Festival. His career catapulted with meteoric speed: he toured Europe and South America in 1949, and made his much-heralded Carnegie Hall debut in 1950. Mr. Gulda’s playing, however, always shunned excessive showmanship, favoring an intellectual, objective stance. His concentration on Bach, Mozart and Beethoven reflected these innate tendencies.

Mr. Gulda’s life changed in 1951: after an appearance with the Chicago Symphony, he joined Dizzy Gillespie in jazz improvisations – his first taste of freedom, so it would seem. Jazz offered “the rhythmic drive, the risk, the absolute contrast to the pale, academic approach I had been taught.” By 1956 Mr. Gulda had made his American jazz debut at New York’s Birdland, subsequently participating in the Newport Jazz Festival. Later he founded a jazz combo and in 1964 a big band grandly titled the Eurojazz Orchestra. Refusing to be limited to the piano, Mr. Gulda quickly mastered both flute and baritone sax.

What happened to his career as a classical pianist? By the late 1950’s he had rejected the traditional recital format, instead combining classical music and jazz on the same programs. By the 1970’s he had begun to irritate concert promoters by refusing to announce the content of his programs in advance and by fearlessly juxtaposing Bach, Debussy, his own jazz and freely improvised new music. Not surprisingly, many ridiculed him, claiming he had thrown away a promising career, had succumbed to egotistical eccentricity.

A sudden burst of new releases proves how wrong his critics were. “The Meeting: Chick Corea and Friedrich Gulda” (Philips CD 410 397-2), recorded at a live performance in Munich in 1982, consists exclusively of two-piano improvisations. Chick Corea is hardly a novice at either improvisations – readers may recall his 1978 two-record set with Herbie Hancock (CBS PC2 35663) – or at a crossover stance that melds both classical and jazz approaches. The result is a disk that consists of three gigantic essays, each beginning in a rhapsodic manner and only gradually coalescing into a structured commentary on familiar tunes –  “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Miles Davis’s “Put Your Little Foot Out,” Brahms’s Lullaby. Most remarkable are the completely free sections in which the players must rely entirely on listening, responding, sensing each other’s every whim. Ironically enough, the music is often angular and dissonant – occasionally approaching the intricacies of atonal modernism – yet always possessing a tightly disciplined structure. Both Mr. Corea and Mr. Gulda display dazzling technique together with fertile imaginations that dart unfettered from classical to jazz idioms.

“Gulda Plays Gulda” (Philips CD 412 115-2) consists almost entirely of his own piano compositions. The finest are those in which he adopts the conventions of both jazz and classical music to traditional forms – a virtuosic set of Variations, a Prelude and Fugue, a three-movement Sonatina. If Mr. Gulda is not an innovator, he shows remarkable ability at absorbing, integrating, synthesizing diverse idioms. Even at his most derivative – the spirits of Count Basie and Miles Davis haunt these works – the pieces are never less than formally skilled and overflowing with vitality. Only  “For Paul” and “For Rico,” bathed in pop-rock cliches, sound both dated and embarrassingly trivial.

Mr. Gulda’s  “Winter Meditation”, paired with Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (Philips 412 114-1), provides the link from his own compositions to the realm of classical music. There are no references to jazz here: instead  “Winter Meditation” conjures up images of a barren, ominous, frozen landscape. Dissonant and fragmented, it explores extremes of register and dynamic range; it deliberately eschews traditional form or melodic content. Ultimately, though, it reaches for profundity, it appears far less successful than his jazz, remaining shapeless and self-indulgent. The Beethoven, however, is a revelation: rarely have I heard such a riveting performance of the composer’s last Sonata. Mr. Gulda’s Beethoven is driving, lean, hard-edged, its propulsive power more than matched by a probing, intellectual musicianship that penetrates to the core of this most complex work.

Schumann’s  “Fantasiestukce”, Op. 12 and “Liederkreis”, Op. 39 (Philips CD 412 113-2) find Mr. Gulda in similarly evocative form. It takes him no more than a few moments to capture the essence of these moody, impassioned, sometimes haunted texts. Mr. Gulda is joined in the “Liederkreis” by the soprano Ursula Anders, who opts for a childlike purity of tone, performing these songs almost entirely without vibrato. Such a vocal timbre can be appealing but here seems a bit excessive in its application; though she may have been reaching for naturalistic, folklike simplicity the result severely limits her expressive range.

In all of Mr. Gulda’s recent releases he favors a percussive, hammered attack in forte passages, eliciting a clangorous, metallic sound from his beloved Bosendorfer. His own jazz benefits from such an approach, and to a certain extent even the Beethoven Sonata – with its explosive sforzandos and ensuing pianos – is not harmed. In the Schumann, however, Mr. Gulda’s pianistic touch can seem needlessly brutal. Yet his manner provides the hidden benefit of creating chiseled, transparent textures; even in massive passages, all lines stand out in relief.

Mr. Gulda’s approach fits perfectly with the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s, and the result in their new recording of Mozart’s Concertos Nos. 23 and 26 (Telarc CD 8. 42970 ZK) is nothing less than a radical rethinking of these familiar works. Mr. Harnoncourt stamps his imprint on the Concertgebouw Orchestra: he has it imitate the manner of an original-instrument ensemble, with biting articulations, crisp bow strokes and transparent textures in which brass and tympani stand out with startling clarity. To further enhance textural lucidity, Mr. Harnoncourt occasionally reduces the strings to a small concertino group during solo piano passages. Mr. Gulda plays throughout, even during orchestral tuttis, sometimes adding arpeggiated figuration or bass reinforcement in full instrumental sections.

Mr. Harnoncourt and Mr. Gulda possess no less a unity of vision than do Mr. Corea and Mr. Gulda in ”The Meeting.” Mr. Gulda’s playing is rhythmically precise, keenly articulated, objective and unsentimentalized, yet never insensitive to phrasing or mood. The result is the ultimate vindication of this enigmatic, fiercely independent musician, a man whose wide-ranging efforts have – to judge from recent recordings – succeeded far more often than they have failed.

—K. Robert Schwartz, New York Times, 9/29/85


reading table

The John Cage of status updates?

The Led Zeppelin of sensitive screenwriters?

The Willie Nelson of pin-up girls?

All these, and more, can be found at The Rosa Parks of Blogs.

Thursday, 11/4/10

Violins teach us what it would be like to fly.

Henry Cowell, Symphony No. 13 (“Madras,” 1956-58), excerpt (first two movements), San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, live, San Francisco, 2005

Want to hear all five movements? Here.



Henry Cowell, the all-American composer of the 20th century, did it all. “I want to live in the whole world of music,” he said. He was “the open sesame of new music in America,” John Cage said.

He was famous once and is now all but forgotten. There was a time when Leopold Stokowski championed him in New York, as did Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia and Serge Koussevitzky in Boston. Schoenberg thought the world of him. So did Busoni. But since Cowell’s death in 1965, the musical establishment has concluded his music, and particularly the plentiful late orchestral music, doesn’t hold up.


A century ago, he was a teenage piano pioneer in Menlo Park, Calif. He was the first to hit clusters of tones on the piano with fist and forearm (Bartók noticed) and the first to play directly on the piano strings. He all but invented the concept of world music and was on the front line of flexible phrasing, extreme polyrhythms, percussion music and mechanical music. He was a celebrated pedagogue. Cage, Burt Bacharach, George Gershwin and Lou Harrison were among those who found their own voices through him. Cowell, who was born in 1897, was known in New York, Berlin and Moscow by the ’20s. He helped found the study of ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley. He published and organized the concerts of progressive music from all over.

Cowell is primarily known for is his Bohemianism, which led to the creation of the California school of music and, sadly, for his arrest on morals charges. He was publicly shamed in a celebrity trial for having had consensual oral sex with young men and sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin.

After four years of incarceration, he was paroled and eventually pardoned by Gov. Earl Warren so that he could become a musical ambassador for the State Department. He moved to New York and taught at the New School for Social Research, traveled and absorbed the musics of Asia and Latin America, wrote 21 symphonies and much else. When Malaysia was looking for a national anthem in the ’50s, the country turned to him and Benjamin Britten for help.

—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times (blog), 1/31/10

Saturday, 10/23/10

Your 16-year-old daughter dies, suddenly, in a car accident.

What do you do?

If you’re pianist/composer Kenny Werner, what you do is create music.

Kenny Werner, No Beginning No End (featuring Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone), recording session, New York (NYU), 2009

Tuesday, 10/5/10

beauty from behind bars

Tadd Dameron wrote and arranged this while serving time for a federal drug crime.

Blue Mitchell Orchestra (Blue Mitchell, trumpet, with [among others] Clark Terry, trumpet; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Willie Ruff, French horn; Philly Joe Jones, drums), “Smooth as the Wind” (1961)


Federal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Medical Center (as it’s now called)
Lexington, Kentucky


Tadd Dameron



Sarah Vaughan, live, “If You Could See Me Now” (Tadd Dameron)


radio gems: jazz

Bird Flight
New York (Columbia University)
Monday-Friday, 8:20-9:30 a.m. (EST)

I know of nothing, in radio or anywhere else, like Phil Schaap’s daily meditations on the music of Charlie Parker, which he’s been offering now, five days a week, for over twenty-five years. At its best, his show enthralls. At its worst, well, sometimes you wish Phil would play a little more music and talk a little less. But even when he goes on longer than perhaps he should, your tendency, as with a charmingly eccentric uncle, is to excuse his excesses.

Tuesday, 9/28/10

crystalline, adj. Clear and transparent like crystal. E.g., Mitsuko Uchida playing Mozart.

Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, KV. 466/Mitsuko Uchida (piano and conducting), Camerata Salzburg, live, Germany (Salzburg), 2001

Part 1 (first movement)

Part 2 (first movement, cont.)

Part 3 (second movement)

Part 4 (third movement)



I like to make the gestures of the piano concerto, so big and public, much smaller and intimate, as if I were sitting alone or simply dreaming.

—Mitsuko Uchida

Thursday, 1/28/10

This guy—one of my all-time musical heroes (someone I’ve been listening to for over 30 years)—makes you move. He makes you feel. He makes you think. What more could you ask for?

Henry Threadgill, alto saxophone

With His Very Very Circus, live, New York, 1995


With his Society Situation Dance Band (featuring Craig Harris, trombone), live, Germany (Hamburg), 1988

Like a lot of live performances (especially ones where the musicians haven’t had many chances to play together [as no doubt was the case here]), this gets better as it goes along. At first, things are a bit tentative and raggedy. Then, at around 1:50, trombonist Craig Harris starts to find his way. By around 2:15, the horns and strings begin to sound more cohesive. By around 3:30, the drummers, having gotten more comfortable with the tempo and structure, start to push the groove harder. At around 8:00, with everything going full steam, Threadgill, feeling Harris feeling it, suddenly breaks things down, leaving just the ’bone and the electric guitar. And with that, the performance jumps out of its skin.


With Judith Sanchez Ruiz (dancer), live, New York, 2008



Music should go right through you, leave some of itself inside you, and take some of you with it when it leaves.—Henry Threadgill

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