Went to the Desert Rose tonite to see saxophonist John Altman with the Mark Z Stevens Trio (Mark on drums, Chris Conner on bass and Jon Mayer on piano.) Alto Kim Richmond sat in for a stretch, always a joy, and the superb Mike Lang sat in for a pair of tunes on piano at the beginning of the second set, playing beautifully as always. While Lang played, Jon paced the room like a mountain lion smelling blood. He wanted to be back up there. After his second tune Mike Lang returned to the bar as the crowd applauded warmly. Jon sat down at the bench, an evil gleam in his eye, like it’s the 1930’s and it’s a cutting contest and it’s his turn now. Altman counts down and Jon went instantly mad on the piano, crazy comping, big fat angry chords with all kinds of Monkish space in between, and when it was his turn to solo he did so with a vengeance, grabbing the melody with both hands and whirling it into submission…building and building, each run more intense and impressive than the one before, beautiful figures and shards of melody and turning the old chestnut–damn I can’t remember the tune right now, but you’ve heard it before–turning it into something stunning, muscular, and intensely creative, just absolutely fearless improvisation. When he resolved it and dropped back into the head the crowd burst into loud, sustained applause, the kid behind me whooping like it was a rock concert. What an absolute treasure this cat is. Learned his art in NYC in the crucible of the fifties, brilliance and self destruction going hand in hand. He dropped out for a couple decades, wound up in L.A. No one here plays like Jon Mayer, and yet somehow he remains in the shadows. No one said jazz was fair.
John Altman is back at the Desert Rose (on Hillhurst at Prospect) wth the same stellar trio (the house trio, in fact) next Saturday. And if the crowd is lucky someone will sit in on the piano for a couple tunes, and then Jon will explode with pure creativity again. The purest.
A jazz promoter asked a fascinating question:
Do you think Bird would have dug Ornette? I have wondered about this. Not that Bird is the ultimate arbiter of good and bad, but Ornette was arguably the next major innovator in the music and Bird died JUST before Ornette came on the national scene.
And the consensus was yes, Bird would have dug it.
But I think maybe the commenters, nearly all of them jazz musicians, were looking at this from our own perspective today, thinking that Bird thinks like we do. I’m not so sure. Bird might have appreciated it, as a concept, maybe, but I think he wouldn’t have liked the delivery. Ornette was a huge jump from be bop, a totally different philosophy. Bird was reworking the rules of swing, but still within the rules. Ornette rejected those rules. That is a gigantic conceptual leap and there’s no reason to assume that Bird would have dug it. Don’t forget Max Roach punched Ornette out, sucker punched him, it’s said, in the green room after a set. Max was not pleased. I remember when I used to have long conversations with old be boppers–they’re few and far between now–I was struck by their conservatism, jazz-wise. It’s a generational difference. I’m not so sure that Bird would have been able to reject his own ideas and embrace Ornette’s rejection of be bop. Revolutionaries rarely accept the next revolution, especially as it is nearly always a reaction to what they had themselves created. Today we still see Louis Armstrong as a reactionary, as revolutionary as he was, because he loathed be bop and all it represented. I doubt Bird would have hated Ornette, but I can’t see him taking it too seriously.
I’m not a jazz musician, though, so I really don’t know. I’m just riffing, off on a tangent, doing my own thing. The ideas come and the words just flow with them. Let go of the narrative and let pure free thought express itself, see where it goes. That seems appropriate somehow.
So long, Ornette.
Ornette Coleman, c. 1959.
Simply fantastic nite at Desert Rose, with Theo Saunders and Chuck Manning’s thrilling jazz improvisation within a stream of classic tunes–Trane, Newk, Wayne Shorter, lotsa Monk and at least one of Theo’s own compositions–as combo leader Mark Z Stevens wore Chuck Barris’s duds (really) before an exhuberant packed house. Fyl and I kept seeing all these old jazz pals, like we were back at Charlie O’s, me and George Herms lost in the be bop or laughing at the wrong times. Oh it was glorious.
On another Toshiko Akiyoshi bender. Hard to believe these platters are over forty years old, the music sounds brand new. Lush, complex, burnished, swinging and, like, very smart. A lotta notes, Med Flory told me, and Steve Huffsteter hits a high one, and a higher one, and another.
Man, Edie Adam’s did a devastating Marilyn Monroe parody. If Marilyn hadn’t been so fucked up she might have sued. It surpassed even SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin at their cruelest. I saw it on the Edie Adam’s box set, I imagine some one has put it on YouTube as well. Also, among the many long buried treasures revealed in this collection is a solid dozen minutes of the Woody Herman Big Band c.1963, and what a blazing aggregation that was. You could hear that music in a club now and it would still sound state of the art. Were I Scott Yanow I could rattle off the soloists, but alas I ain’t. A smoking young bunch they were however. And in that very same program the daring Edie gave Jack Sheldon six or seven minutes to go a surreal monologue about falconry that was as hysterical as it was weird. Clean, though. She must have warned him.
I met Edie Adam’s several times. Had a few extended conversations. Wonderful stories, wonderful lady.
Ran into Louis Van Taylor last nite. Damn what a player. Had one of those casually intense conversations that are the hallmarks of jazz players, and I remember how I had to earn my way into those conversations by writing like a motherfucker. I gotta say I miss that rarified air. I vividly remember the moment I realized I’d been accepted into the fold when me and some LA’s finest players were sitting in a Glendale bar between sets, surrounded by drunks and Armenians and insulting each other. You’re one of us, they said. Fuck you, I said. Mutual respect, be bop style. If you’re gonna write about jazz, you need to write as well as they play.
About a decade ago some ancient record geek died and the grandkids dropped off his perfectly maintained collection of swing albums at a Goodwill. Without telling Fyl I bought over a hundred of them. We’ll write it off, I told her later, which we did, helping to undermine the economy. Anyway, I listened to a mess of them, the Basie and Ellington and Artie Shaw and scads more, gave some lame ones to Alan Hambra, who is still mad, and tucked a sizeable proportion into my closet, awaiting the hipster big bang revival when they’ll be worth a zillion dollars. That hasn’t happened yet. So sometimes I dig though the box and pull out a few obscure albums. It really is hard to feel hip and with it listening to Charlie Barnett but damn if Roy Eldridge didn’t burn the place down on that opening solo, and the band is tight and swinging, Buddy DeFranco is on clarinet, Dodo Marmarosa on piano, the drum and bass and guitar section almost like Basie’s, and I’d forgotten how wonderful a singer Kay Starr was. August of 1944 this was, and the Yanks are racing across France to this stuff. Swing helped win the war, or didn’t lose it anyway.
No Cherokee, though.