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.
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.
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.
Theo Saunders and George Herms tonite at LACMA–6-8 pm FREE.
Sitting here listening to Theo Saunders Jassemblage for the umpteenth time, digging how each tune is different tunes pieced together crazy logically illogically into new things, like Nuttiness that is half a dozen Monk tunes in one, or I Steal Good Moments that somehow slides Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments inside James Brown’s I Feel Good (or is that vice versa?), or the gorgeous Naimanox or Caramanteca or or more Monk in Rubistrophy–Theo Saunders digs his Monk. Great band on board this CD too–Chuck Manning and Louis Van Taylor on saxes, George Bohannon on the trombone. Love this album. Love it even more as the great George Herms designed the sleeve. Meanwhile, as I listen I’m flipping for the umpteenth time through the gorgeous double volume The River Book, which just gushes with George Herms crazy brilliant art. Madness, this stuff, things he finds and turns into other, cooler things. It incluides a DVD of a show he did at the REDCAT a few years ago that I still have difficulty describing. But why should I? After all, tonite, Friday, September 16 from 6-8 pm George Herms and Theo Saunders and band–including Phil Ranelin and Chuck Manning–will share the stage at LACMA and its free. Free free free. Be there. This has to be one of the jazz and art events of the summer. The year, even. Certainly the now. What a spectacularly groovy and weird and swinging and out way to begin the weekend. Believe you me, this will be something pretty special. And believe you me, be there or be unassembled.
[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.