Chris Conner

One of my favorite moments was a jazz party at Chuck Manning’s pad and there were all these cool nice people except for one table where I was sitting with Chris Conner, George Herms, Theo Saunders, Chuck and others and it was one of the most gloriously abrasive, insulting, mean spirited, sarcastic and anarchistic few hours I’ve ever spent (and I’ve had more than my share), and just pure jazz. I couldn’t tell you why it was pure jazz, but it was. It was so Beat. Finally, leaving a pile of bottles, butts, roaches and egos in our wake, we repaired to the music room where Chris and Chuck and Theo joined a spontaneous sextet and did amazing things with old melodies and a little Trane. It was gorgeous stuff, pushing and reaching and, once there, reaching even further, ever further. A timeless hour later Chris thrummed the last notes of A Love Supreme into the ether and we all went our different ways, renewed. Gonna miss Chris and his sharp wit and ill considered sarcasm and cigars and that ancient gorgeous bass. I once wrote a beautiful piece on a night where he’d played bass and I copped one of his wisecracks and slipped it into the narrative. You stole my line, he said. Sorry, I said. You stole my line, he said. So I went home and rewrote the line and gave him credit. That’s better, he said. Chris Conner never kissed a jazz critic’s ass in his life. Rest In Peace.

Just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been

(from a Brick’ s Picks in the LA Weekly, c. 2007)

Several years ago i can remember walking into a posh Valley jazz joint and realizing, alas, no one else had wandered in. The place was so empty that the lounge area where the musicians set up away from the main dinner room seemed cavernous….which was too goddam bad, as one of the best pianists in jazz was up there with a remarkable quartet and the music was simply stunning. Chuck Manning was subbing for the regular saxophonist, and the stuff he came up with…free thinking rushes of chords that just filled up all that space in the room, or low tones, held, that flowed over the rhythm section in shades of blue…wow, and when he and the pianist met in the middle entirely new compositions burst out of whatever standard they were doing, completely new creations that took the breath away and then disappeared forever when they got back to the head and the traditional melody fell into place. Oh man, this jazz music is so ephemeral. All the recorded jazz that there is in the world—your entire music collection—it’s just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been and will never be heard. Improvisation, it comes, and it goes. If you’re there, you’re lucky enough to hear it and maybe later you’ll remember a bit of it, can even pick out a trace on the piano, or try and write about it. Maybe a photo you took will spark a snippet in your mind’s ear. Maybe, just maybe, there’s even a recording somewhere. Those recordings….jazz fanatics can be driven mad by those, like that junkie following Bird around, desperately trying to catch every last note of his solos on a wire recorder before the bartender threw him out for not buying anything. Imagine that poor tortured bastard, haunted by all Bird’s solos that the world never hear again unless he can catch the sounds on his tinny little machine…and imagine his desperation as he was tossed again out into the street, hearing Bird’s alto spinning brilliance into the air that disappeared like a morning fog in the brutal summer sun….

Chuck Manning’s pad


Another way hip bash at Chuck Manning’s pad in Altadena last nite….zillions of jazzers—players, fans, scenesters, stoners, hipsters, physicists, lushes, artists, crazy Russians, identical twins and no writers almost—hanging and listening and insulting and playing and smoking stogies out to yar. Tales of clubs and players gone by. So long Jim Szilagyi. So many stories, some maybe true even. So many more opinions, some maybe stupid even. They talk, you ponder and soon you’re in the stars overhead with no idea how you got there. People talked of Mars. People who knew. I listened. Sometimes you just listen. At other tables egos were dragged through the coals and kicked across the yard, you’d better be prepared to talk at some of these tables, and be funny. Tequila flowed by the bottle. The longer the minds steeped, the more intense the banter. Hanging with the serious players is a contact sport mentally and beautiful. Not for the gentle. This ain’t no cocktail party shit. The music was amazing…for a couple hour stretch early on the jamming was intense and heavy and Zoubovian, or it swung hard, and you couldn’t believe you heard jazz like that at a party in Altadena or anywhere, just sitting outside yammering with jamming like that inside. We’d shut up for a minute and listen. Wow. But inexorably as the nite wore on the talent was diluted as drunker amateurs got up the nerve and the session went belly up in bad noodling. The heavies were getting pissed and were all set to bounce their talentless asses out of the room Joe Jones style, throwing people out the door bodily….but Chuck interceded and the noodlers split, smiling, unaware of how close they came. Non-confrontational, that Chuck Manning. No big lug he. No wonder everybody loves him. Big lugs were present tho’, ready for action. It got down to Matt Gordy, Chris Conner, Theo Saunders and Chuck Manning, and it was perfect and real again, and we sat and listened and thought of Charlie O’s and wondered where it had all gone.

Chuck Manning at Vibrato


Last night the wife sez let’s go to Vibrato. It’s way the hell up in Bel Air, where you spend money not even spending money, and there are rich people all around you, balding and important and trophy-wived. Chuck Manning was there with bass and drums, a sax trio, pure jazz, one of those set ups where it’s noisy no matter what you do. It brought out all the Joe Henderson in him, and he wailed nicely, crazy torrents of notes that sailed over the heads of the rich people and bounced off their wine glasses till even they noticed and applauded. The jazzers in the crowd dug it. Loose limbed straight ahead is a hard find in this town anymore. We sat at the bar and talked to the bartender who plays weirdo punk rock on his own time, unbeknownst to the rich people, and pretty waitresses walked by with platters of food that cost more than one of my car payments. It was sticky with humidity even inside, where the vast space between the diners and the ceiling renders air conditioning moot on these Jersey-like summer nights. We sat still and drank and listened. A “Listen Hear” got the crowd moving, swaying balding heads, trophy wives jiggling and jingling. I wish I could remember the title of the next tune but the house bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall Kay locked into a groove that got people really excited. They cooked right through to the end, with a hard bop finish. You think saxophone trios and it always comes down to Sonny Rollins at the Village Vanguard, blowing Caravan for half an hour. This had those moments. It being a restaurant, you can only go so far, Sonny circa 1957 would scare the nice people now. Those were crazy times–crazy places, crazy people, crazy music. Now we take what we can get. And if Chuck Manning can get away with some intense blowing at Vibrato–even though to him it was a cake walk, nothing special–then we’ll take it. Jazz is a special thing, harder and harder to find. And when I find some like this–off the cuff, unplanned, going with the flow–I dig it. Totally.

We’ll be on the Westside again today, though this time it’s a pig roast full of heavy metal guys and intellectuals. Ya never know in this town.

George Herms

[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly about 2010]

We don’t know anything about art, really. It’s like classical music or philosophy or poetry or anything really cerebral like that, universes we don’t traipse around much. So we had no idea who George Herms was before we met him. We were occasional drinking buddies at Charlie O’s, always right up front rocking out and applauding too loud and laughing, just really digging the music. He never let on he was famous, like Getty Museum famous. Then one Friday we saw him do his thing at LACMA. There was a band, they took a break, and then there’s George and this huge sphere, an immense hollow iron ball he’d found in the mud somewhere and thought wow, Thelonious Sphere Monk. He finds things that way. And he’s dragging the damn thing around the stage at LACMA, then stops, thinks a minute, and then starts beating on it, making this ethereal music. Freaky. After a while he dragged it off again. For some goddamn reason it was the coolest thing ever, Beat beyond belief, and the band had to blow their asses off afterward to get anywhere near the space he’d taken us.

Well, REDCAT has given him three nights to get to that space again.  He’ll be doing the sphere thing, his legendary spiral staircase thing, he’ll be assembling some sort of mondo clarinet out of throwaways, oddities and detritus. He has two incredible bands to score this madness…Theo Saunders & his Lesstet (including Azar Lawrence, Chuck Manning and Henry Franklin) doing mad things with Monk and Trane and Saunders, and the Bobby Bradford Mo’tet doing “Sideman”, one of our fave tunes ever. Herms calls the thing his Free Jazz Opera, and talks of Horace Tapscott and John Carter and Ornette and, well, get him going he can go on and on. He’s breathed this stuff for fifty years, inhaling jazz and exhaling creativity. This will be a real happening, people, each and every night.

[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly c. 2009]

Trumpeter Bobby Bradford brings his Mo’tet back to LACMA on Friday. Sure, Bradford has major avant garde credentials; his work with John Carter was way out there. But he is always close to the source, with Satchmo just an arm’s length away, and his band sounds so positively genuine you know that his jazz isn’t something purely cerebral, not just art, but deeper than that, something that really swings. There’s no genre to file the Mo’Tet under; not bop enough for Charlie O’s, but not conceptual enough for the way hip art crowd. But he gets serious players like Chuck Manning, and serious fans, like artist George Herms. If you’ve hung around the coolest joints for the past several decades you know Herms, he’s always totally into it, but this time he ain’t watching the show…he’s part of it. Creating what, we have no idea, but his crazy work—just things he’s found combined with other things he’s found that he somehow turns into cool, new things—somehow matches the whole feeling exactly. It’s a real live happening. Be there.

George Herms2

George Herms and light bulb. (Photo by Wilder Herms)

Long, low tones

(Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)

Years ago we heard Chuck Manning and Sal Marquez duet into the wee hours at a party in the hills above Pasadena. The home was old and Spanish, the lights of the city spread out in all directions, and Manning blew long, low tones that Marquez softly cavorted in and around…. Just one of those boozy late night jazz memories.

Photo by Tony Gieske.