Archive for January, 2011

Iverson on Sandke and Race in Jazz

Recently my friend who shares a Hall Overton jones, Ethan Iverson, posted two long blog entries about race and jazz, based on Randy Sandke’s recent book.

I’ll let Ethan’s pieces speak for themselves.  The discussion is important.  I admire Ethan’s willingness to stick his neck out.  I don’t  know Sandke – I’ve enjoyed his trumpet work on a number of records – and I haven’t read his book.  So I’ll make only a couple of comments here:

1) I wouldn’t mind taking a stab at editing what Ethan calls a Jazz and Race Reader. I would never do it with a committee, as Ethan suggests, but I might sign up to do it with one partner such as Robin D.G. Kelley, if Robin were interested.

2) Ethan’s jabs at Whitney Balliett’s late work make me squirm.  I feel a need to stick up for the late, great New Yorker scribe.  Balliett was one of Ornette Coleman’s earliest and most prominent champions, as he was of Cecil Taylor and Roland Kirk.  He also wrote favorably and well about Mingus and Monk.  Given the real estate Balliett’s writing occupied weekly, it made an impact.  Mid-town Mad Men or The Apartment or Revolutionary Road types would read Balliett’s words and check out Monk or Ornette at the Five Spot.  For a writer of my generation, his work provides access to a certain kind of jazz history that would be otherwise hard to find today, a documentary record of a bigger scene.  Plus he wrote sentences as well as anybody.  Maybe Balliett came to enjoy less challenging music as he got older; his colleague Adam Gopnik noted this, too, in a New Yorker obituary a few years ago.  But it makes me uneasy to see Balliett scrutinized without his full body of work in focus.  So I needed to say something, especially in this space where I’ve written about Balliett before.  HERE is a piece I wrote on him last year.

3) I fully agree with Ethan about the deep significance of Arthur Taylor’s book, Notes and Tones.  When the Jazz Loft Project book came out I did an interview with and I remembered putting Notes and Tones on my list of recommended books.  Looking at the list again today, I see Balliett in there, too, and I’m glad.

-Sam Stephenson

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Jazz Loft Swings Through Raleigh-Durham

A preview in today’s Raleigh News & Observer, with a list of associate events this winter and spring.

-JLP Staff

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Sonny Clark: A Recommended Playlist

Sonny Clark made some of his most affecting musical expressions as a sideman.  Here are a few recommendations with him as leader and sideman.  *Indicates two starting points.

Buddy DeFranco: 1954-56. Verve. Inexplicably, the music recorded by clarinetist DeFranco with Clark has been out of print, for the most part, for decades.  Do what you can to find some of these 39 tracks, particularly “You Go to My Head,” in which DeFranco and Clark engage in a stunning dialogue of simultaneous solos.

Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge. 1956.  Capitol.

Larance (aka. Lawrence) Marable: Tenorman.  1956.  Jazz West.

Clifford Jordan: Cliff Craft. 1957. Blue Note.

Lou Donaldson: Lou Takes Off.  1957.  Blue Note.

Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin’. 1958.  Blue Note.

Sonny Clark: My Conception. 1957-1959.  Blue Note.

*Sonny Clark: Leapin’ and Lopin’. 1961.  Blue Note.

*Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark.  1961-62.  Blue Note.

Dexter Gordon: Go and A Swinging Affair.  1962.  Blue Note.

Stanley Turrentine: Jubilee Shout.  October 1962.  Blue Note.  With old friends from Pittsburgh, the brothers Stanley (saxophone) and Tommy (trumpet) Turrentine.  Clark’s last recording session.

Sonny Clark: There are a few recordings of Clark in a trio format, each having some essential moments, such as the tune “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” from the 1957 Blue Note recording with Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, and the extraordinary “Nica” on the 1960 Time/Bainbridge recording with George Duvivier on bass and Max Roach on drums.  But generally I enjoy his playing more in other formats.

-Sam Stephenson

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Gary Moran on Sonny Clark and Lin Halliday

Two weeks ago at the JLP event in Winston-Salem pianist Gary Moran appeared in the Ron Free Trio.  Today I got a note from Gary with interesting comments I thought should be shared, with his permission – SS:

I read the piece you did on Sonny Clark in the Paris Review.  Very interesting.  Sonny Clark has been one of my favorite pianists for a long time.  He was probably the first pianist I really studied.  I did about 20 transcriptions of his solos early in my career.  As you can imagine, that had a huge influence on my playing.  I’m sure some of his licks still come out frequently in my own solos.  Many years ago while I was in Japan I did a tribute concert of all Sonny Clark compositions.  I arranged them for 3 horns and rhythm section.  I was struck by how popular Clark was in Japan while he was relatively unknown in the US. (at least to the general listening public) Cool Struttin’ is an iconic album Japan.  Even the cover photo of the high-heeled feet seemed to be everywhere.

I lived in Chicago for a while in the mid ’80′s and knew Lin Halliday.  I remember him telling me a story about he and Clark getting busted together for heroin possession.  According to Lin, Sonny got a lawyer and got off while Lin spent time in prison, “busting rocks” as he put it.
-Gary Moran

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Sonny Clark, Pt. 2 in Paris Review

HERE is my new entry for Paris Review Daily.  It is a continuation of my previous entry about Sonny Clark.


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David Logan, 1918-2011

David and Reva Logan

David and Reva Logan

(Update January 26 – Chicago Tribute obituary HERE – more obituary links below).

Over the weekend we got word from Chicago that David Logan, age 93, head of the Reva and David Logan Foundation, had passed away on Saturday.  I’ve written many times, including some of the first words in the JLP book, about the Logan family’s role in the JLP project.  The project wouldn’t have happened without them.  In the winter of ’99-’00 David Logan called me at home after my original story on 821 Sixth Avenue was published in Fall ’99 issue of DoubleTake magazine.  I was a struggling freelance writer at the time, scratching my head to figure out how a project based on W. Eugene Smith’s unwieldy and mysterious 1740 reels of tape could launch.  My DoubleTake story was based on Smith’s photographs and my early oral history interviews.  Nobody had ever heard the tapes that required hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve.  It was a daunting challenge:  How do you raise money to preserve tapes that nobody has heard?  How do you raise money to preserve tapes that, frankly, did not have a very good reputation, tarnished by the upheaval of Smith’s personal life at the time?

David, 82 years old when he called me, said, “We love your story.  What can we do to help?”

The way David found me illustrates the fearless, impulsive manner in which he worked.  The first person he called was the influential New York Times photography critic Vicky Goldberg.  He went straight to the top.  Of course, Vicky had no idea who I was.  But she pointed David to Smith’s Archive at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona and CCP gave David my phone number.  It was one innocent evening in the Pittsboro, NC home I share with my wife that our phone rang.

The Logans’ first grant of $65K made the project real.  It bought the time necessary to write grant proposals to National Endowment for the Humanities, the Grammy Foundation, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, among others.  Over the next eleven years the Logans gave the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) more than $600K for JLP.  They roughly matched the funds we brought into CDS from elsewhere.  Without the support of the Logans and a versatile, one-degree-away-from-anything home like CDS, there’s no way this project would have happened in the manner it did, in the manner that did justice to Smith’s chaotic and weird achievement.

Another quick anecdote illustrating David’s tried-and-true methods:  In 1971 Smith mounted a retrospective of his career at the Jewish Museum in New York City.  The show had around 600 photographs, an impossible number.  It drew media attention from everywhere – Barbara Walters and CBS and all the major print outlets.  A knowledgable and voracious collector of art books and photographs, David Logan attended the show.  Later that week, he wrote Smith a letter (which I found a few years ago in the archives at CCP).  David asked:  How much would it cost me to buy your entire show?  I want your show.

As I write this blog post I’m sitting in the Epic Cafe on 4th Avenue in Tucson, AZ, about a mile down University Boulevard from CCP.  I’m here for another week of research, my 20-something trip here since my first one in April 1997.  This week is devoted to Smith’s work in Japan and the Pacific, and the work is in preparation for my efforts to follow Smith’s footsteps in those places beginning in a few weeks.  Among countless ways – most importantly his three sons and their families – Reva and David Logan’s legacy will live on.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. HERE is an obituary emanating from the West Coast.  There will be another coming from Chicago soon.  Check back here for updated links.

HERE is an obituary from the University of Chicago, and HERE from National Public Radio.  HERE from UC-Berkeley School of Journalism.

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Jazz in NYC Today

HERE is an interesting report on jazz in New York City today by bass player Ronan Guilfoyle from Ireland.  If you don’t feel like reading all of it, scroll down to the part called “New York – Beauty and the Beast.”  His analysis of the jazz scene in America vs. Europe is intriguing.  The abundance of young jazz musicians in New York today provides some hope.  But if there were a way to encourage half of them to move elsewhere and become pivotal on local scenes it could transform things.  Over time they’d make impacts locally, filtering down to younger kids.  Judging from my experience traveling around with the Jazz Loft Project, including Winston-Salem last week, there is a good measure of local appreciation and hunger for good jazz out there.  It’s sure not easy to make a living, but that’s the case with anybody who is compelled to be an artist and creator.


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Duran Duran in the Buick Regal

I participated in writer Karen Balcom’s new series of questionnaires regarding high school music experiences.  You can check it out HERE.

-Sam Stephenson

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Ron Free and JLP in Winston-Salem, a Review

Last week’s JLP event in Winston-Salem, organized by Winston-Salem State University’s radio station WSNC, the Piedmont Jazz Alliance, Bookmarks, and the Community Arts Cafe, was an inspiring success.  I’m belated in commenting on it here.  I got waylaid by cold/flu this week.

In Winston there was a vital, overflow crowd.  I gave a multi-media talk for about 45 minutes and then Ron Free and I took Q&A for another 30 minutes.  It felt like the group discussion could have gone on for another hour.  Then Ron’s trio with Gary Moran on piano and Bob Bowen on bass played a set, followed by a jam session.  Ron wrote me in an email later:

“The audience was fantastic.  I was delighted to see such a large(ish) and enthusiastic turnout.  And they were knowledgeable, too.  This was revealed by their questions and comments during following your excellent presentation.  We received a lot of very positive feedback which is always gratifying, especially at this stage of a long and not-so-illustrious career.  Bob and Gary seemed to enjoy themselves immensely as well.  I sense a lot of potential in this trio and hope we can find some more work.  Gary’s repertoire amazes me.  He is much too young (at 50) to have been on the scene when I was, yet he knows a lot of fairly obscure old be bop tunes including many by Monk and Bud Powell.  And he plays the shit out of ‘em.  And Bob, who is even younger (30 something) catches on fast with very little preparation.”

Of the post-set jam session, Ron wrote:  “My general impressions of the session are not unlike many other such sessions, not only in the New York lofts, but virtually anywhere that such sessions occur.  Chaotic is a fairly apt description, and understandably so.  It’s always a crapshoot.  I’ve played sessions with top, world-renowned jazz players that really sucked.  The Winston-Salem session excelled by comparison.”

I concur with Ron’s views on the audience.  The attendance was amazing, and the engagement of the audience was unusually strong.  I credit the partners who set up in the event (more on them below) and  I credit the location of the event – downtown Winston – which welcomed a diverse and lively crowd.

One member of the audience was trumpeter Al Neese, a veteran of 821 Sixth Avenue who can be found on Smith’s tapes.  I’ve interviewed Al before – he told a fascinating story about taking Gene Smith to a dentist for an emergency that I probably should have put in the JLP book – and I want to interview him again soon.  Also in the audience was retired TIME magazine photographer Ben Martin, who I had never met.  Ben was a student in the acclaimed photography program at Ohio University in the 1950s (longtime Smith aide Jim Karales also went to OU).  Smith went to OU to speak when Ben was a student and the two of them ended up spending an afternoon at a bar before Ben had to rush Smith to his lecture on campus.  Ben lives in Salisbury, NC now and I hope to make it down there to see him soon.

Finally, I need to send a special shout-out, with deep gratitude, to Monica Melton of WSNC radio and the Piedmont Jazz Alliance who contacted me about this event many months ago and who saw it through with impressive care.  Also, Marguerite Oestreicher of WSNC deserves warm thanks, as does Ginger Hendricks of Bookmarks, a local nonprofit literary organization that sold JLP books at the event and sold them out.  It was a great pleasure to work with this group.

I was inspired by the whole event.  You can read two additional reports HERE and HERE.

-Sam Stephenson

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New Yorker on Sonny Clark in Paris Review

A very generous post by Richard Brody with some great links and videos.

-JLP Staff

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