thelonious monk

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AMIRI BARAKA/LE ROI JONES: A black critic in the black arts

AMIRI BARAKA/LE ROI JONES: A black critic in the black arts

Nobody talks about Amiri Baraka these days, despite the fact he’s still alive*, still writing and still irritating the hell out of people. That’s called doing God’s work. The last time he was sighted in the public domain was in that Warren Beatty movie, Bulworth. He had a bit-part playing a street bum-cum-guardian angel to...

THELONIOUS MONK AND JOHN COLTRANE IN 1957: Genius loves company

THELONIOUS MONK AND JOHN COLTRANE IN 1957: Genius loves company

Thelonious Sphere Monk was one of the most gifted -- and eccentric -- of all jazz musicians. The memorably named pianist/composer, who died in 1982 aged 64, helped define the bebop movement and his quirky, angular compositions are among the most memorable in jazz. To drive them home he gave them titles such as Epistrophy, Humph,...

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP -- A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY by SCOTT DEVEAUX

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP -- A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY by SCOTT DEVEAUX

Suggesting that this engrossing, historically investigative and anecdotally amusing book should be reviewed because it asked the question, "Was bebop jazz a revolution or simply a musical evolution?" drew the response: "Yep, that's a question that keeps most people awake at nights." Fair enough. But in these scrupulously...

JOHN COLTRANE AND MILES DAVIS: Genius at work and playing, 1955-61

JOHN COLTRANE AND MILES DAVIS: Genius at work and playing, 1955-61

For two people about to write themselves into music history, their credentials were not promising. Only a few years previously, the trumpeter was so hooked on heroin that he was almost unemployable and would often fail to show for concerts. The other was a little-known saxophonist whose career was sound but unspectacular. He had played...

JACQUES LOUSSIER AT 75: Bach and all that jazz

JACQUES LOUSSIER AT 75: Bach and all that jazz

Jacques Loussier, who popularised jazz back when television was broadcast in black and white, says his career came about by accident. Half a century on from his first album and four decades-plus since his Play Bach series screened across the world in prime time, he still pays classical music in a jazz manner. “The people at the...

DUKE ELLINGTON: A genius, but not that great?

DUKE ELLINGTON: A genius, but not that great?

Few statements about music can be delivered unequivocally, but here's one: Edward Kennedy Ellington was one of the greatest composers of last century. And of all time. And no discussion need be entered into. Other than to observe he didn't "compose" in the traditional sense: most of his best-known songs were written with...

BRANFORD MARSALIS INTERVIEWED (2009): Putting the past to bed

BRANFORD MARSALIS INTERVIEWED (2009): Putting the past to bed

Branford Marsalis, who played in bands with Sting and helmed his own Buckshot LeFonque -- which had a stab at the hip-hop-to-bebop territory -- is these days dismissive of his brief skirmishes with popular music. He’s back playing jazz and much prefers it. The audiences may be smaller but he gets to play exactly what he wants, can look...

THELONIOUS MONK; THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL by ROBIN D.G. KELLEY

THELONIOUS MONK; THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL by ROBIN D.G. KELLEY

In late November 1963, a 5000 word profile of Thelonious Monk was scheduled to appear in Time magazine. Monk was to be the cover. An interviewer and jazz aficionado Barry Farrell from Time had spent months with Monk watching him at work and relaxing at home with his family, and the Russian painter Boris Chaliapin had been commissioned to...

Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL)

Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL)

When Gil Scott-Heron -- the American poet, activist and conscience of his nation from the Vietnam years to the Reagan era -- was jailed for cocaine in 2001, then again in ‘06 and ‘07, it seemed it was going to be the beginning of a slow, sad end for one of the most important voices out of black America. If he had done nothing...

Sammy Price: Nice'n'nasty

Sammy Price: Nice'n'nasty

Sammy Price, who had been the house pianist on Decca sessions in the Forties (and played with the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe) among many other things, told me a very funny story which I remember to this day. He'd been in Chicago and after a recording session the manager of the European record company wouldn't pay him. No money, Sammy,...

Jaga Jazzist: One Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune/Border)

Jaga Jazzist: One Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune/Border)

In which our Norwegian big band of jazz-and-elsewhere players borrow heftily from all comers (epic soundtracks and European art films, minimalists, Afrobeat, jazz-rock) and deliver something of a quilt of jazzy colours. They say it is "Zappa-esque, more humorous prog-rock" but in its scale and changing moods, much of it...

Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (Red Eye/Southbound)

Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (Red Eye/Southbound)

Bassist Dave Holland has always had a much deserved reputation for his big band line-ups for which he writes interesting charts and gets in some of the finest (and often up-coming) jazz players. Here he has the benefit of some established names: sax and flute player Antonio Hart, trombone player Robin Eubanks and vibes player Steve Nelson...

FREEDOM, RHYTHM AND SOUND: Jazz with a raised fist and a copy of Malcolm X speeches in the other hand

FREEDOM, RHYTHM AND SOUND: Jazz with a raised fist and a copy of Malcolm X speeches in the other hand

Few people today -- musicians included -- consider rock or jazz as “political”, even in the broadest sense of the word. Yet back in the late 60s and through the 70s large areas of both certainly were. Less than a year after that remarkable year 1968 (student demonstrations, assassinations, political oppression and...

CHRIS BOWDEN (2002): His slightly askew career

CHRIS BOWDEN (2002): His slightly askew career

Sometimes reviewers find words lifted from their articles as a banner for promotion. Film companies seem the main offenders in this: l’ve sometimes written unfavourable reviews of a movie only to see a few judiciously selected words like “an emotional rollercoaster ride” lifted out of a sentence which in full read,...

RAY BROWN, SUPERBASS (1926-2002): A talent beyond words

RAY BROWN, SUPERBASS (1926-2002): A talent beyond words

Ray Brown great practical joker. Once, in Japan, Brown --- bassist in pianist Oscar Peterson’s famous drummerless group, the most highly paid trio in the jazz world in the 1950s -- went to a pachinko hall, one of those gambling parlours where you are blinded by blazing neon and deafened by the incessant roll of small steel balls. He...

CHRISTIAN SCOTT INTERVIEWED (2010): The navigator in difficult waters

CHRISTIAN SCOTT INTERVIEWED (2010): The navigator in difficult waters

Trumpeter Christian Scott out of New Orleans is a hot property in jazz these days. He has received considerable critical acclaim for his unique tone (he plays a specially made trumpet) and the intensity of his playing. He learned from grandfather Big Chief Donald Harrison Snr and uncle Donald Harrison Jnr who had played in Art Blakey's...

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)

From the opening bars - a slightly discordant guitar and unsettling drums and knocks -- this album announces itself as something delivering the unexpected by a young jazz trumpeter out of New Orleans. Scott, 27, and his smart young band here probe the edges of the avant-garde and free playing but always remain thoroughly grounded in the long...

SUN RA IN THE SEVENTIES (2010): Back from space

SUN RA IN THE SEVENTIES (2010): Back from space

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Sun Ra was the hip name to drop into rock conversations: I think Sonic Youth and Henry Rollins started it, but frequently rock musicians who had paid scant attention to jazz of any kind were mentioning the great Sun Ra alongside Led Zeppelin as an influence. As with Tony Bennett being cool with...

MARCUS ROBERTS INTERVIEWED (1990): Keys and thought in black'n'white

MARCUS ROBERTS INTERVIEWED (1990): Keys and thought in black'n'white

Recently a well known jazz writer, Pete Watrous - not known for his exaggeration - acclaimed Marcus Roberts’ new album Deep In The Shed as “the best jazz album for a decade.” Put that to 26-year-old pianist Roberts and he laughs (for the first and only time in an earnest half-hour conversation) and starts to sound like...

CECIL TAYLOR IN 1990: Florescent flights

CECIL TAYLOR IN 1990: Florescent flights

Genius is the word a lot of people use about Cecil Taylor – but words get pretty debased these days. (“Genius, that‘s like brilliant - but better, yeah?” ) So let’s just say Cecil Taylor is different and interesting. Way back in the Fifties they used to debate whether his abstract speedthrash...

CHARLES MINGUS: Genius captured in the late Fifties

CHARLES MINGUS: Genius captured in the late Fifties

Charles Mingus was one of jazz's greatest geniuses and remains among the most misunderstood. Irascible and demanding, his personality and roguish reputation often tower larger than his inspired music. The respectful Columbia Legacy reissue in '99 of two of his late Fifties albums – Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty – restored...

Various Artists: Weird Nightmare; Meditations on Mingus (Sony)

Various Artists: Weird Nightmare; Meditations on Mingus (Sony)

Arranger Hal Willner has put together some exciting, fascinating, irritating collaborations in the past on his tributes to Walt Disney music, Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and Fellini soundtrack man Nino Rota. But this one for jazz composer/bassist Charles Mingus is a bit different. Previously Willner would put together people such as...

CHARLES MINGUS, PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS IN 1956: Man standing up tall

CHARLES MINGUS, PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS IN 1956: Man standing up tall

By the time Charles Mingus died in 1979 at 56, most of the obituaries had already been prepared. Mingus, suffering the increasingly debilitating Lou Gehrig's disease, hadn't been able to walk or play bass in a year, and things just got worse. When told of his passing, the bassist Charlie Haden said, "Charles Mingus was one of those rare...

Lloyd McNeill: Asha (Universal Sounds/Southbound)

Lloyd McNeill: Asha (Universal Sounds/Southbound)

Jazz flautist Lloyd McNeill lived the kind of life only possible in his era: he counted among his friends in the Sixties and Seventies Pablo Picasso (when they both lived in the south of France, McNeill also being a painter), jazz musicians such as Cecil McBee and Ron Carter, singer Nina Simone and many in the Civil Rights movement. He...

DAVID S. WARE: The price of free

DAVID S. WARE: The price of free

When the histories of jazz in the 20th century are published one name from the last two decades could loom unnaturally large: Wynton Marsalis. In some books he'll be hailed as the man who saved jazz from factionalism, commercial isolation and the like. In others he'll be the revisionist who used unquestionable talent, persuasive...

SUPERBREW: Journeys in the past

SUPERBREW: Journeys in the past

Any honest longtime observer of local jazz would say that right now it’s moribund, the patient has no discernible pulse. Sure some musicians would argue otherwise. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? Graybeards like me -- people engaged by local jazz and improv.music for over three decades, and aware of the decades...

THE MODERN JAZZ QUARTET (1968-70): Lost in the big Apple

THE MODERN JAZZ QUARTET (1968-70): Lost in the big Apple

If you had a bottomless pit of money to start your own record company, who would you sign? That's what the Beatles faced when they launched Apple Records in early 68. Their famous ad which invited people to send in tapes saw their office swamped – but not one act was signed on that basis: Badfinger (then known as the Iveys) came...

PAUL HORN INTERVIEWED (1992): The healing force within

PAUL HORN INTERVIEWED (1992): The healing force within

For a man pegged as “the founding father of new age music," jazz saxophonist and flute player Paul Horn has a clear, pragmatic view of the music – which was spawned in the wake of his Inside album, recorded in the Taj Mahal in the late Sixties. That meditative piece -- which used the long acoustic delay within the...

MILES DAVIS AND QUINCY JONES AT MONTREUX: The circle is unbroken

MILES DAVIS AND QUINCY JONES AT MONTREUX: The circle is unbroken

It was emblematic of the soul rebel career of Miles Davis that in his final years he was painting as much as he was playing, had a cameo spot in a movie (Dingo) playing a pre-electric period jazz trumpeter, exchanging tapes with Prince, recorded with rapper Eazy Mo Bee and – most surprising of all turned up at the Montreux Jazz...

John Niland: Barnett Lane (Eelman/Jayrem)

John Niland: Barnett Lane (Eelman/Jayrem)

Here's a surprise: I hadn't heard of pianist Niland since his Inside album of the mid Eighties which he recorded with drummer Ross Burge and bassist Rob Mahoney in Wellington's Marmalade Studios. It was nomintaed for Jazz Album of the Year at the annual music awards (I'm sure I voted for it) and then Niland was off to Sydney. And here he is...

JOE LA BARBERA PROFILED: Counting the beats

JOE LA BARBERA PROFILED: Counting the beats

For some reason - perhaps because they work in a loud profession - you expect drummers to shout. Few do, and while Joe La Barbera may have started his career in the appropriately named Thundering Herd led by Woody Herman, the quietly spoken drummer doesn't shout about it, and doesn't bellow about his illustrious career either. For the...

Sonny Rollins Trio: Shadow Waltz (Solar/Southbound)

Sonny Rollins Trio: Shadow Waltz (Solar/Southbound)

Although now 80 and still playing at the time of this writing, the problem tenor giant Rollns has faced from the Sixties onwards is that no matter how great he plays, his every accomplishment is almost invariably compared to his exceptional work between 1955 and '58. That was when he recorded Saxophone Colossus, Way Out West, the set which...

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Retrospective (Stem/Southbound)

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Retrospective (Stem/Southbound)

With this long-running gospel-cum-doo wop group due in New Zealand for a concert in April with Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples, this triple disc originally released in 2007 gets a timely re-release. The Blind Boys have been around in name since 1939 and recording since the late Forties -- a couple of their founders only died in the past...

SONNY ROLLINS INTERVIEWED (2011): The old lion still prowling

SONNY ROLLINS INTERVIEWED (2011): The old lion still prowling

Gary Giddins, America's most authoritative jazz critic, said of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins that he was “one of the last immortals, the most powerful presence in jazz today. He is its most cunning, surprising, and unpredictable improviser – the one musician whose infrequent concert appearances foster intense anticipation and...

THE BARGAIN BUY: Duke Ellington; New Orleans Suite (Atlantic)

THE BARGAIN BUY: Duke Ellington; New Orleans Suite (Atlantic)

Recorded in 1970, the same year in which Ellington played in New Zealand, this suite of distinctively separate but integrated pieces is -- according to Brian Morton and Richard Cook's Dictionary of Jazz on CD -- "arguably the final masterpiece . . . Ellington looked to create another of his quasi-historical overviews here, but there was no...

Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)

Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)

Recently I was asked if I would contribute a page to a monthly magazine on famous musicians I had met. That part was easy, I've met quite a few. But then the person said they would like to run the article with some photographs of me with such stars. "You must have hundreds," he said. I had to disappoint him: I always saw my role as...

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