Tony Gieske is gone.
So sorry to hear this. Heartbreaking even. Great guy, hardworking journalist, wonderful story teller. In my opinion, Tony Gieske (who died in February 2014, aged 82) was the best jazz writer on the planet. Perhaps the best ever. I’ve never read anyone better. He knew jazz, he knew language, and he knew how to combine the two. I can think of no higher compliment for a jazz journalist than that.
Tony Gieske was a double whammy, a brilliant writer who could also take some terrific photographs. Rarely do the two mediums meets as well as they do here. A jazz review hidden inside some story telling, wrapped around a thousand words worth of a photograph that absolutely nails what he says with the prose. Dig that opening: “You would never say that Sal Marquez was off the scene. He’d just be on some scene not yet up to you.” The way he takes a hipster cliché and twists it open, and you see just how much hipper Sal Marquez is than you could ever be, dear reader.
And then a couple hundred words later, the closing: “And he kept finding fresh paths past beautiful flowers, as did the rest of the players, converging often enough with each other to attain salutary bandhood.” You know, I wrote a quarter million words or more for the LA Weekly and never once did I think up ‘attaining salutary bandhood’. Not once.
Tony was one of those exceedingly rare creations…a jazz journalist whose skill with words was equal to the musical skill of the people he wrote about. I wish there were more like him, but those like him are novelists or short story writers or penning beautiful pieces for the New Yorker. Guys like him don’t write about jazz. Why would they. You’d have to absolutely love a music more than almost anything to spend a life writing paeans to it that will be seen by few and appreciated by fewer. It’s a ridiculous vocation, this jazz writing. We talked about that a few times. About how crazy it was to write jazz reviews. But then we’d change the subject, or a pretty lady would walk by, or somebody’d start soloing and we’d stop everything and listen. Listened and listened. Listened without saying a word, as the saxophone was doing the talking. Later he’d put it into words so you could hear that sax talking too, even if you were not there.
That’s what jazz writers do, and he was one of the very best.
You would never say that Sal Marquez was off the scene. He’d just be on some scene not yet up to you. So here he was now, and what a scene to be back on, at Spazio or wherever.
Rick Zunigar was playing a solo on guitar concerning “What’s New.” Bright ideas were flooding down like seagulls on a sandwich. He has absorbed much from his hero, Joe Pass. It was not terribly far from the sublime.
But then so was the output from Chuck Manning’s tenor, more high velocity goodies in a sound somewhere south of Stan Getz and north of Lester Young, in a room of his own.
Neither soloist asked quarter from the rhythm section, drummer Steve Hass and bassist Chris Colangelo, and none were they given. Tight but bumptious, these two stayed pure and musical.
Marquez called the plays after brief huddles with his bandmates, naming such rich and seldom mined veins as Joe Henderson’s “Ice Truck,” a jump tune, or challengingly familiar ballad fodder such as “If I Were a Bell.” A veteran of the bands of Frank Zappa, Buddy Rich, the Tonight Show and many other enviable gigs, he has plenty in his pantry.
On “Bell,” Marquez eschewed the approach of his one-time idol Miles Davis. Now he was cavorting all over on a foundation we used to hear under Freddie Hubbard. But Marquez’ sound is warmer, gentler and more thoughtful than in the past.
And he kept finding fresh paths past beautiful flowers, as did the rest of the players, converging often enough with each other to attain salutary bandhood.