Last night in Pescara, Italy on the Adriatic Sea. There was another real jazz musician sighting. We were treated to an opening performance by the great Cyrus Chestnut. His sound is warm and wise and his approach is Soul. He even played several songs on our set. It was like the first day of a family reunion.
The prodigy Francesco Cafiso played a small band set with us. We first heard him here at 13 yrs old. He still astonished with his reflexes and musicality but even more, the quality of his person—-still humble, full of joy and humor. Yeah.
My Italian brother Demo and his wife Lucia came down from Rome and we hung for a minute. We have known each other for 20 something years. He showed me a Cat Anderson mouthpiece (the smallest i've ever seen). The cats are playing through the roughest part of two months of touring. The bus was a couple of hours late picking them up from the airport ruining Sugar Rob's soundcheck (he has to set lights and sound). Every minute is important when you're in a place for 10 hours. Now, I'm on a 9 hr. drive and the cats have a 3 hr drive to a plane to a 2hr drive to the hotel in Aosta.
'De Road'. This is when i love someone saying, "it must be fun to travel." HaHa.
We are not traveling. Added to it: there is virtually no social component to our road lives outside of each other. No parties, receptions, very few jam sessions or hangs. You better want to be out here… or HAVE to be. Still…we swang once again off the Adriatic.
Highway of the Flowers from Nice to Genova (from the break of day) may be the most beautiful stretch of road in the world. It is an engineering marvel of tunnels, bridges and grainy asphalt slithering alongside the shimmering Mediterranean. We go straight up through the Pre-Alpine range in northern Italy. The sights are unsurpassed. Pastel towns and villages in various stages of undress emerge at all angles on every turn. Spires, a diversity of wild foliage interrupted by pristine farmlands, and ancient and modern structures side by side, testify to the fleeting permanence of life. This road drives well too. Viva L'Italia. Wynton
We stop in Pont De Molina Spain on the way to Barcelona. It's 11:30 and we're starving. Irene tells us to stop at Amiel & Molina, a local restaurant she's spotted from the road. Fernando doesnt want to. They aren't open.
Irene goes in…20 min. later they are rolling out an Epicurean feast for us. Tortilla de Patatas, Iberian Ham, Manchego Cheese, Gazpacho w Rum, Fried Pescadillas, Pa Amb Tomaquet, Have Mercy! it went on and on. We said,"we'd hate to see when you're open." Fernando tells Irene, "I was wrong." She says, "Let's record that."
Chef Gabriel Marin even brought out some Louisiana Tobasco (always a sign of civilization) with a portion of the Cocido that he had prepared for himself. I went to the kitchen and played some New Orleans blues for them. Brother Carlos, the sui chef, started clapping a syncopated groove. Everybody started vibing. Upon finishing, Carlos said, "flamenco."
As we walked out the door they told me, "remember us when you get famous."
Leaving Nice at 9 am.
Fernando, Irene and I stop by the airport to pick up Boss Murphy's late arriving bag as the band flies to the next destination. We play the jazz night of the festival with Ahmad Jamal and Roy Hargrove. It's good to see some actual jazz musicians at a jazz festival.
Some loud non- jazz blaring from the main stage has created the campy atmosphere of a bad casino throughout the city all day and is now bleeding into every song we play. We have to laugh. It's like a 'collateralized debt obligation'. What could possibly be better to sell than nothing, with the name collateral to describe it.
Jazz beat our financial systems to this level of fraudulence with the first generation of 'selling out as artistic statement' some 40 yrs ago. Now it's a way of life. The equation: many of our bankers and traders resell unscrupulous loans using THE LOAN ITSELF as collateral, wreck the world economy and keep their jobs and our money (actually are given more)= Non-Jazz stands in for actual jazz, is easier to sell because it's not, headlines jazz festivals and destroys not just the festival ambience and intimacy, but even the late-night jam sessions with a lot of loud, sad, non-playing assed bullshit.
This non-jazz is celebrated for being 'open' and 'of it's time' and sells more and is more pervasive than the actual music whose name it carries. HaHa. This is 'of it's time', because corruption is of all times. My great grandma Mama Rosie used to say, "A lie will go around the world twice 'fore the truth ever gets started."
She wasn't lying.
On our way out of town, we see some of the cats sharing a meal and drink at an open street corner cafe w the soulful Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (also in our hotel). Our waiter starts talking 'bout we better pay now, and pisses Fernando off. As we discuss Japanese musicians we both know and love, Fernando becomes temperful, drags the man away, and slaps some money down with an earful of vitriol. We cool off and recognize that he's been working as well as sampling beverages all day. A few diplomatic words from Irene (fernando's much better half), and ten minutes later it's Japan meets Jazz meets Ska in Spain w some free Sangria and good Iberian ham sandwiches. As we leave, our inebriated brother asks me, "what do you sing?" Wynton
Gigs in Atlanta are always festive. All kinds of family and friends sitting on the right side of the stage. Walter's momma and sister, Chris' wife and daughter, Marcus Printup's mother, so many people. Soulful people, Mrs. Pearl Fountain. Some of Sherman's people. Frank's grandson, the irrepressible William Edward Lee (age 7 with blue jacket and khaki pants) running all around, dancing to the music with controlled abandon.
The last night of a tour is always bittersweet, but this gig was fun. The blues was on the menu and people were hungry. The tour was, as always, revelatory. New and old friends, all kinds of different stuff happening on the bandstand. We mainly played the Vitoria Suite and our arrangements of Chick Corea's music.
Whenever I announce Chick's music, someone yells,"Yeah!" above the general murmur of approval.
I pointed this out to our audience last night and said that I told Chick and that he was happy about that response.
The cats' dedication is evidenced by the attention to detail they give to each song on every concert. On stage, I say we have an embarrassment of riches. And we do. Everywhere I turn, Ted, Vincent, Carlos, Marcus…….Ryan, Vic. Bam! A lot of ability writing, playing and teaching. A lot of soul and love of the music and experience. Ali.
I consistently receive a plethora of wonderful comments about how generous all the guys are when interfacing with students, audience members, and staff. Generally we speak to student groups after soundchecks and sometimes after gigs. I love when guys who are not scheduled to teach come in and share a few anecdotes with the youngsters.
Of course, everyone is bone tired now. We normally have a group toast in the intermission of the last gig of a tour. We missed it last night. The President of Moorehouse College, Dr. Robert Franklin celebrated his birthday at our concert which was presented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I love him and the orchestra also for doing their best to play my Blues Symphony (which I still need to do LOTS of work on). Normally we get out right after the gig.
Tonight, there are so many great musicians in Atlanta, I go with my boy Milkshake to Danny and Terry Harper's jam session at Churchill Grounds and play till 2 in the morning with a room full of swinging trumpeters including their son Terence. It was a late-night affair with great warmth and the feeling of informal profundity that good jazz brings to a space.
John Robertson came in around 1 and played all kinds of piano. His son James, 12 and of sterling personality, was already there tearing up the place and is someone to watch out for on the alto sax. Now, at 7:30am we are on I-85 staring hard at 16hrs of driving. No soon as we finish lunch, Frank and Boss Bragg strong arm me into going to a rib restaurant. We circle Lexington, North Carolina for 1hr looking for Lexington One Barbecue. Frank and Lolis wrote THE book on BBQ- 'Smokestack Lightning', so you can't tell him anything about it.
They get a couple of chopped shoulder sandwiches and I cajole them into stopping at North Carolina Central so's I can see Branford and his students. Book (branford) gives us the directions and at 4pm we fall into a room full of students and talk about and play jazz music. We conclude by playing some modern counterpoint on Sweet Georgia Brown. It's so much fun playing with him, I want to laugh. I remember how Gerry Mulligan used to smile like a mischievous kid when telling me,"Hey, let's play that counterpoint." Yeah me and Book riffed on it for a while to great mutual enjoyment. Even Frank admitted he liked it. Boss Bragg said the music was cool but he enjoyed the educational questions (about mouthpiece sizes and what not). Now we are back on that same road except it is 6:20pm.
Two hours just evaporated like that. The sky is giving way to headlights, and birds cut stark unpredictable rhythms against the fading horizon. Soon, trees are shadows and there is only asphalt, white lines, green and blue signs, and specks of intermittent yellow. In order to avoid finishing my arrangements for next weeks concerts, I put on a recording of William Warfield singing Aaron Copland's arrangement of the American song, 'The Golden Willow Tree' with Mr. Copland himself conducting.
I knew Mr. Warfield, and I swear I can hear the feeling of how orchestra members who are not playing listen to him on this recording. Copland's arrangement is spare and beautiful and imaginative and bubbling. Mr. Warfield's voice is full of the sweet, anguished fire and intelligent pride I hear in Lester Young. The song is poignant and rich, but I confess I don't quite understand the meaning of it. If anyone does, please let me know.
We're out here. Still in the swing seat.
Early in the 21st.
Driving through Alabama on Hwy 72 at 7:30 in the morning. Some 11 hrs.
Earlier 15 men played an evening of jazz in Conway at the University of Central Arkansas. The cats have been very consistent and serious about 110 percenting it on this whole tour. Last night was no exception.
Many highlights. From Elliot's thematically concise and acrobatic offering on 'Straight Up and Down' (plus he's suffering from a serious stomach virus and shouldn't even be on a bandstand) to Vincent's singing on Joe Turner's Blues (pure soul, imagination and Ooo-Ble-Yew). The rhythm section was loping all night long and Carlos had his hard hat on.
The saxophone section played with absolute dedication and synchronized nuance on the very last song of the night (Ted's arrangement of 'Old MacDonald') on the second to last night of the tour. Before the gig Ali, Vincent, and Sherman all scrunched over their computers working on arrangements for next week's concerts in the House of Swing with Ute Lemper.
My 7th grade teacher, Sr. Lee Ann, was there. She was such a great teacher.
I still show off letters with her lyrical and meticulous handwriting. After an hour or so of meeting with our audience and talking to young musicians, I had the opportunity to sit with her for a minute. We shared jokes and pleasantries and stories. She told me, "I have loved you for a very long time." It felt like someone putting a blanket over you as you struggle to sleep through a cold night.
Well, now we are under steel gray skies passing southern, ranch-style homes, alongside some railroad tracks, past an occasional field of cotton, passing small businesses bearing people's names—-Lula's, Roy's, Beryl's and the winner of the contest this morning goes to a lounge, 'Stagger Lee's.' Frank said that's because of how people walk out of there.
I grew up down the street from railroad tracks and always feel something when I hear a train or see some tracks— tales of journeys upon journeys from the Underground Railroad to 'The City of New Orleans' to the Glory Train.
On I-565 east passing the Davidson Center for Space Research, the shuttle and some earlier rockets announce themselves proudly against the sky. Their beautiful, streamlined architecture change the mood of the highway and cast a long shadow over a chain-gang with fluorescent yellow uniforms and orange trash bags.
Places like Stagger Lee's, yeah, I was in those too. As a boy, I never liked the smell of stale beer in a lounge in the day time.
At night it was ok because everybody was looking for something. In the day you can already see.
5 o'clock Sunday afternoon driving through the Texas panhandle 20 miles from Amarillo.
Big Sky Country for sure. Wide open spaces with crucifixed power lines stringing one ranch to the other. Aluminum grain elevators glisten in the setting sun and rise out of the brush dotted plains with the purposeful permanence of the functional.
From way off you can smell cattle sloshing in their holding pens on the last leg of a bad journey.
Water towers announce the presence of a main street, a high school, something to eat.
Here we go.
A strip mall. Civilization.
On the road at 5:30 am leaving Los Angeles headed east to Mesa, Arizona.
The sky over the road ahead (as far as the eye can see) is pink-blue-yellow haze with shavings of smoke gray clouds and orange searing the expanse with no identifiable logic or pattern whatsoever.
I'm telling you that every dreamy, unmanaged, wisping, floaty shape against the horizon inspires optimism and is celebratory of freedom. And here comes cars, cars, cars with so many rapidly passing headlights and there go smaller, red-eyed tail lights guiding us through the immediate landscape in syncopated polyphony with the criss-crossing brights of vehicles who zoom rank and file through the arteries and veins of this concrete maze we call highways and Frank is sleeping.
Boss Bragg, not ever given to much talk, takes in the new sun as it peeks through looming mountains. We speed past waking neighborhoods that we will never know.
I called Chris Beiderbecke last night in response to his comments about this sentence in my post 'Egyptian Blues':
"From Buddy Bolden's first revolutionary notes, to Bix Beiderbecke's decision to play this music in spite of his family's disrespect of 'nigger music', to Benny Goodman's historic integration of his band (before baseball), to John Coltrane's 'Alabama', jazz musicians have always known—-when YOU are free, I become more so."I apologized to him and his family for the justifiable misunderstanding caused by the quotations in this sentence. My quote around the term 'nigger music' was meant to indicate that this was a prevalent national sentiment about jazz at that time, not to imply that it was a direct statement from or teachings of Bix's parents. I extend this apology also to any others who may have misinterpreted my intended meaning. I used Bix's decision to play this music in spite of his family's lack of support AND the obvious cultural obstacles, as an example of a personal quest for freedom through jazz. In combining his family's concerns with the national attitudes about jazz at that time, I gave an unintended inference. One of the beauties of this forum is that it allows people who would never meet or speak to one another to communicate freely without the cloak of anonymity. I enjoyed the conversation with Chris and always welcome comments that spark meaningful dialogue. Thank you. Wynton