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
Congratulations to the Egyptian people whose quest to remove the yoke of dictatorship was successfully realized today.
Much respect to those who stayed the course when the road was blocked with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to the young people who forced action to change the trajectory of their future, to the military leadership (undoubtedly not young) who showed unusual forbearance and wisdom, and to the international media who kept relentless pressure on the Mubarak regime.
This glorious hour speaks to the timelessness of the human desire and quest for freedom, equality and for dignity. This moment, in a far away land and in another time, speaks yet again to the greatness of the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and to the insight of the Founding Fathers and the debate around democracy that attended their deliberations. It brings into focus the struggles of our own country to better realize the ideals which undergird our way of life.
Struggles which include a bloody and defining Civil War, life and death fights for enfranchisement of the excluded, and of course, the travails of the American Negro whose non-violent Civil Rights struggles are so clearly resonant in this relatively peaceful revolution. And though we continue to work through kinks in our democracy, we have surely received a eye-opening, spirit-lifting boost from the recent happenings in Tunisia and now, and no more significantly, Egypt.
Jazz is always on the side of freedom, always on the side of equality, always on the side of human dignity. It came from people who were slaves and therefore, keenly attuned to ascendant changes in the fragile harmonies of the human spirit.
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.
Here is our recording of Warmdaddy's "Egyptian Blues" :
Blue gray skies that engulf all that you see or think or even dream.
We are truly on the road. Two back to back 'through-the-nighters'. 7 hours ago in the beautiful Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha we were embraced by a warm and extremely inviting audience.
The cats responded by playing all kinds of stuff I had never heard. Joe played something on the blues that came from the recesses of the Scottish ancestry (so far back and forward it found the DNA strain that connects us all).
Printup crooning with the plunger, Ryan blessing us with a fiery and well constructed solo, Vic, Vince, Ted on the flute, Sherman with those biting Shermanic lines of harmonic sophistication dipped in Alabama souse, (so many and much I have to make myself stop retelling it)…….the rhythm section..yeah, everybody came to play.
Just 15 minutes ago (it is now about 6:15 am), Boss Bragg was in a dead sleep and I was trying to find a comfortable angle in my seat. Frank hit patches of black ice on the road (I-80 outside Sidney, Neb.) that sent the vehicle skidding all over the road. He was dancing with the steering wheel in vain search of traction as gusting wind joined ice in trying to help us plunge into the gully on the right side of the road.
This was a rough stretch, 4 or 5 trucks were jack-knifed and all others were in single-file and blinkered. When you notice that yours is the only passenger vehicle on the road and truckers are pulling over. That's a clear signal. Not to Frank. That's a green light to him. Sure would be a shame us dying with Frank's beautiful photographic exhibit up in the House of Swing.
Boss Bragg gets up in the middle of the sliding and says,"Take your foot off the brakes. Don't hit the brakes!" Frank, in the middle of his life and death scuffle, starts arguing, "I'm not hitting the breaks! We have down shifted AND have the 4 wheel drive on gotdammit! It's slick as a cat's ass out here." After the irresolute moments passed, we began to joke as people do when they're not quite out of a bad situation but past a very uncomfortable episode. "Frank, pull this motherfucker over! (When we tried, a truck cut us off).
Continuing down the road completely awake, we laugh about Frank and Boss Bragg finding the time and clarity to argue in the midst of extreme duress. Me and Frank tease Boss Bragg (who is normally very calm) about getting big eyes.
He says, "Hey man, I need to get out this vehicle for my knees."
He's about 6'4 and 3 something. These long rides are rough on the big fella.
Last night in the House of Swing in Rose Theatre.
2 and 1/2hr concert with Chick Corea. Him demonstrating all types of mastery of harmony, rhythm, the art of accompanying and of thematic development in improvised solos. Eric Reed with Mary Stallings in the Allen Room. The J Master holding forth with his trio in Dizzy's. People creating a warm and participatory vibe in all rooms.
Jam session 'till 2:30 with Chick, the J, Printup, Cone, Walter Blanding, Vic, Lew Soloff, Abraham Burton, and the great Willie Jones. J and Chick playing all kinds of stuff on one piano on the blues, Chick's wife Gayle (after singing the hell out of 'You're Everything' in the Rose) creating the proper vibe.
Jason Marsalis and Ali Jackson fall into a groove so deep on J's 'A Servant of the People', Chick gets up and plays cross rhythms on the crown of an available cymbal. Ali's dancing on Jason's snare and bass drum, Jason clacking and stroking on the low tom and ride cymbal and Chick calling the N.O. clave on the bell. People clapping on 2 and 4 and wanting to dance.
I asked Chick if he was tired at 2 am.
He said, "I'm not tired! This is the real stuff."
Yeah, it was.
This has been an inspirational week of rehearsing with the great Chick Corea. Chick is gracious, attentive and purely musical. He was instructional with astute technical adjustments as well as brilliant in his comping and soloing.
Concise, deeply intelligent, playfully interactive and coherent on-the-fly, we have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Vincent, Ted, Sherman, Victor, Marcus, Ali, and Carlos came in with imaginative, well crafted, difficult and original arrangements (12 new ones including mine).
Our music preparation team, led by the unsinkable Kay Niewood, did its usual stellar and impeccable job.
J. Kelly sent me a message that sums up what our week was, "9,910 notes this weekend…it felt like a ton of work becuz it WAS a ton of work….nice job."
By nice job he meant himself because there were maybe 2 copying mistakes out of those 10,000.
Yeah, we work at JALC.
The band is looking forward to tonight.
We can't wait.
I always remember that Christmas meal: gumbo, some type of barbecue, and stuff that was not made for Thanksgiving.
I remember the day after Christmas when everybody was out with their new toys that would be broken in a week or two. You had to enjoy those fleeting moments of initial possession. Our family had enough brothers for opposing teams in all sorts of games. It was always Branford and Ellis vs me and Delfeayo in Monopoly, Scrabble, Operation….. everything in that era before electronic games.
After eating, we would have our holiday football game and then argue into evening about who really won. In high school Branford and I always played some type of dance at night. It was funky and soulful. We would also visit friends and talk about whose momma made the best pot of gumbo. We loved Charlie Brown because the music was good.
There was always a lot of music around Christmas.
A lot. There still is.
Our momma and daddy scuffled to get funds together to buy things for all of us. They did a great job making it good for us. Not till I became an adult did i understand what it was for them and that the difficulty also made it more special and intense. Every passing Christmas makes me even more grateful for their efforts in difficult times. Yeah!
I love all the pagentry around Christmas- the spiritual and commercial implications of it all and there is a lot of music. There still is.