The heroes and legends that define this music, our ancestors that we pay homage to are transferring from the earthly realm. Chick Corea, one of the most important modern keyboard innovators and composers, passed away on February 9th from a rare form of cancer. The following is a brief remembrance of Mr. Corea by New York Jazz Workshop’s CJ Shearn. There is really so much that one could say about his vast legacy and influence […]
The heroes and legends that define this music, our ancestors that we pay homage to are transferring from the earthly realm. Chick Corea, one of the most important modern keyboard innovators and composers, passed away on February 9th from a rare form of cancer. The following is a brief remembrance of Mr. Corea by New York Jazz Workshop’s CJ Shearn.
There is really so much that one could say about his vast legacy and influence that truly it boils down to just grabbing a few musical highlights. Massachusetts born and bred on June 12, 1941, Chick’s career mantra really was exploration. From his appearances on albums like The Thing To Do (Blue Note, 1964) by trumpeter Blue Mitchell, it was evident early on that the keyboardist was a major talent, as was his ability to be adept in multiple genres as his work with Latin jazz titan, Mongo Santamaria. When he cut Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1968) with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes, that entire album, particularly with the title track, and now standards “Windows” and “Matrix” that Corea had a particular approach to melody, rhythm and harmony that was game changing, and the album offered a new way of thinking about the piano trio that’s been a template ever since. Corea’s chamber oriented work with Gary Burton framed piano and vibraphone magically and it goes without saying that the work with both the initial Return to Forever and the beloved edition with Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White provided compositional durability, along with Corea’s unmistakeable touch on both Fender Rhodes and synthesizers that allowed the music to gain a wide range of followers, regardless of genre.
As an explorer, Corea’s take no prisoners approach to free playing on albums like The Complete Is Sessions (Blue Note/Solid State, 1969) Arc (ECM, 1971) and dense, ring modulated Rhodes textures with the rhythm section of Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette in the Miles Davis Quintet was something to behold– Corea, like Herbie Hancock before him was a conduit to the past, present and future. The music of the Elektric Band, like that of Three Quartets defined an era that an entire few generations of musicians grew up with.
Though Corea was so serious and precise in the execution of his compositions, the sense of humor, fun and innocence in the improvisation was truly a joy, he truly did travel into unknown vistas on fantastic recent albums like Forever (2009) Five Peace Band (2009) Trilogy (2014) and Antidote (2019), his zest for life, creation, and passion for family were all reflected in his life and music, and there will never be another Chick Corea. Thanks for all the music, and even in Returning to Forever which he has now done, he is still probably writing music and being so creative.
To close, I’d like to offer my own memory of Mr. Corea which started my journey which continues to this day.
I first encountered the music of Mr. Corea at the age of 7, I had traveled with my mother to Los Angeles as a young child, a family member was getting married and along the way, we had gone to the JVC Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, with Michael Brecker and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Beyond the shock of concert goers in front of us that a 7 year old knew what an EWI was, that night in a sense tied tradition (MJQ) to the present and future of the music. As I was so young, I’m not sure I remember a ton from that night, but I do recall the energy of the Elektric Band’s music as they were touring in support of their second GRP album, Light Years with the classic lineup of Eric Marienthal on saxophones, John Pattitucci on bass and drummer Dave Weckl. About a year later my mom’s brother told me about Return to Forever, because I was so immersed in straight ahead jazz at that age, I wasn’t quite ready for that music, I didn’t get heavy into RTF until my late 20’s, and I have re investigated the Elektric Band music in my 30’s. To be transparent, this period gets unfairly slammed because of the dated synth sounds (I went there too in my purist phase) but there is cool music there, when you open up your mind, but for some with their tastes, that music is not for them. The keyboardist blazed many trails and was in the best sense of the word, a musical polyglot.
New York Jazz Workshop offers a variety of courses which edify and explain the innovations of Mr. Corea and his contribution to this music.
Herbie Hancock is a restless visionary and groundbreaking artist. This year marks the 80th birthday of one of music’s most important innovators. Growing up in Chicago, being a classical piano prodigy, and having an insatiable appetite for curiosity, both as a player and technological innovator the keyboardist has pushed the boundaries of genre and collaboration for over 50 years. From his beginnings with Donald Byrd, to his life changing experience as a member of the […]
Herbie Hancock is a restless visionary and groundbreaking artist. This year marks the 80th birthday of one of music’s most important innovators. Growing up in Chicago, being a classical piano prodigy, and having an insatiable appetite for curiosity, both as a player and technological innovator the keyboardist has pushed the boundaries of genre and collaboration for over 50 years. From his beginnings with Donald Byrd, to his life changing experience as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet for five years, Hancock has walked a musical tightrope of creation.
This piece focuses on a carefully curated selection of eight groundbreaking Hancock tracks that go beyond the borders of jazz and are significant for their enduring influence, and use of new technologies at the time: the Arp, Moog, Prophet and Oberheim synthesizers, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, the Sennheiser vocoder, the Linn LM-1 drum machine and the parents of modern digital audio workstations, the Fairlight and Synclavier synthesizers. One track, “Harvest Time” while acoustic in nature, is included for it’s use of then new digital recording technology and the audiophile direct to disc recording system.
Rain Dance from Sextant (Columbia, 1972). Hancock left Blue Note in 1969, and signed with Warner Bros for three albums. Following Fat Albert Rotunda, a soundtrack for Bill Cosby’s television show that introduced funk into Herbie’s repertoire moreso than an initially rejected (but later released) track “Don’t Even Go There” or his soundtrack for the Italian cult classic film Blow Up. Fat Albert Rotunda still retained the lush rich orchestrations of his final Blue Note albums Speak Like A Child (1968) and The Prisoner (1969) but Mwandishi, consisting of Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Bennie Maupin on reeds, Julian Priester on trombones, Buster Williams on bass and Billy Hart on drums and Dr. Patrick Gleeson on synthesizer. the band sought something different. From Crossings (1972) the band’s second album, and the ensemble freely explored avant leaning improvisations, treacherous odd meters and textures influenced by musique concrete and composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen. Additionally, with burgeoning black consciousness expanding following the civil rights movement each musician adopted African names– Mwandishi, Hancock’s chosen moniker meant teacher or leader in Swahili. A huge reason for the bands success as a working unit t was not just Hancock, it was the man who introduced him to synthesis, Dr. Patrick Gleeson who not only provided ground breaking and other worldly synth textures to Crossings, and Sextant but also toured with the ensemble . Background on Dr. Gleeson is critically important to understanding why “Rain Dance” is such a pivotal track. Hancock’s primary use of Fender Rhodes electric piano as opposed to his customary acoustic, fitted with an echo plex tape device permitted cosmic and under water like textures that sounded unlike anything else at the time.
Gleeson’s goal was to originally play jazz piano. Hailing from Seattle, he eventually forged an academic career teaching English literature and was also a significant political activist. The time of the late 1960’s was a new cultural frontier with Eastern spirituality, the traumas and outrage from the Vietnam war, and growing tensions from the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. While teaching, Gleeson’s experience of tripping on acid, led him to return to music in a roundabout way. These events lead to the creation of Different Fur Trading a community funded studio which Hancock also used for Headhunters. Further, Gleeson’s challenges as a political activist and strong conviction against practices at the university landed him an unjust arrest record, and following leaving the university began his quest of integrating music and technology in unprecedented ways. His mission was to investigate synthesis in a manner that would eventually lead to innovative, practical applications beyond the walls of an academic institution.
The professor’s first forays into synthesis began while he used San Francisco State’s AV facilities department to record mundane sounds which would be later edited, and used as transitional material between rock groups at local SF venues such as the Avalon Ballroom and the Haight Theater. As Gleeson noted in a 2015 interview with Red Bull Music Academy:
“It was electronic music, not jazz. And when I say electronic music, I really mean musique concrète – tape manipulations and that sort of thing. There was no real distinction at the time,” he recalls. He began using equipment from San Francisco State’s AV department to go out and record sounds from his everyday life, which he would then splice with a razorblade. “We’d put on performances of this stuff at places like The Avalon Ballroom or at some theater in the Haight. We’d do it between rock groups. You know? You’d bring your shit in and turn it on. And everyone was out of their heads on acid, so no matter what you did they’d say, ‘Wow, this sounds great!’”
These experiments would later foster a relationship with the Divisadero Street Tape Music Center where Dr. Gleeson would encounter avant garde luminaries such as pioneer composers of so called “minimal” music, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and also Don Buchla of whom he acquired the first Buchla synth unit. Without Gleeson, or Bwana as he was known in the band, the music of Mwandishi would not have turned out as it did. During the sessions for Crossings, the final album for Warner Brothers and arguably the group’s most adventurous album, Gleeson further explained in the Red Bull Academy interview:
“I told him about what I’d been doing with Bitches Brew and said, ‘I’d like to get in on this. I can do this.’ And so, David went to Herbie and (I later found out) said, ‘Look, there’s this guy, he’s not in your league – which, fair enough, who is – but he’s been doing synthesizer programming for me and he can play. But what he can really do is set the machine up for you.’”
At the time, Hancock and the Mwandishi band were recording Crossings, the daring follow-up to Mwandishi. Rubinson advised Hancock to bring some of the already recorded material to Different Fur to see what they might add. “So Herbie comes down to the studio with the material they’d already recorded. I’d just bought a 16 track, and it had a loop function. So he tells me to set everything up and he puts on ‘Quasar.’ So we’re listening and he says, ‘Can we hear that again?’ We loop it. He says, ‘I’m thinking of something we can add here.’ So I start patching the Moog 3, and I’m just rushing like crazy because I think I have no time to get this shit together. And then he says, ‘Okay, did you record that?’ And I tell him no because I was setting up the synthesizer for him to play. And Herbie being Herbie, he liked what I was doing and says, ‘Well, why don’t you just keep playing, I’ll be back later, just keep going.’ And by the time he’d come back the next day I’d overdubbed an entire side of the album.”
Hancock’s Milesian instincts to let Gleeson just be himself, set the stage for some of the most intriguing music yet heard in the keyboardist’s oeuvre. “Quasar” alternates odd meters, swing, unusual electronic textures with voices for something sounding like a soundtrack for a super hero epic, while Bennie Maupin’s strange “Water Torture” lays a few thematic elements that mood wise would resurface on “Vein Melter” the last cut on Headhunters and intense dramatic arc from Gleeson’s synth work amidst highly conversational rubato playing. Gleeson’s overdubs in a marvel of post production sound absolutely as if he was playing with the band in the studio in real time.
“Rain Dance” was the opening track on Hancock’s first Columbia album Sextant (1972). Aside from Robert Springett’s futuristic cover art continued from Crossings , the track is a microcosm of the keyboardist’s fascination with technology and genre blurring. Kraftwerk had also laid the template for electronic music producers in the ensuing decades in the 1960’s, but “Rain Dance” with it’s use of analog synth sequencing at the cut’s opening, hand claps, and panoply of electronic sounds juxtaposed with the acoustic sounds of bass and drums, with Henderson’s heavily reverberant trumpet sounded of the the future. The burbling, occasionally discordant synth blasts from Gleeson (who also makes brilliant textural contributions to Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus) firmly rooted in the tradition of pieces such as Edgar Varese’s “Poeme Electronique” (1958) but also pointing to untraveled places, forming a wall of noise were also ahead of their time and a blueprint for a lot of current trends in electronic music. The overall sound of Sextant did signal some changes in that it was leaning towards in some respects the funkier direction of Headhunters. It is the most accessible of all the Mwandishi recordings but no less challenging and rewarding. Dr. Gleeson has recently released an electronic interpretation of Holst’s The Planets and for further reading on Mwandishi, Bob Gluck’s You Know When You’ll Get There: Herbie Hancock and The Mwandishi Band is available.
Chameleon from Headhunters (Columbia, 1973)
Hancock’s Mwandishi group, despite being some of the most satisfying artistic work of his entire career was unsustainable commercially. Their live shows, (of which no tapes reportedly survive of officially recorded material) were legendary for traveling to unknown vistas. Much like former boss Miles Davis, Hancock was looking at new ways of reinventing his sound and gaining a new audience. He took interest in the music of Sly Stone, and James Brown and sought to reconcile that with his own conception. Bennie Maupin remained on saxophones, while Hancock added bassist Paul Jackson, the specialist maestro of African percussion, Bill Summers, and drummer Harvey Mason. The result was Headhunters, a journey into in the pocket but simultaneously elastic funk, jazz improvisation and advanced harmony. The music was such a change for Hancock in the eyes of Columbia record executives, that he and manager David Rubinson had to fight to get it released. Also, “Chameleon” itself had to be edited down to 7 minutes from 15 and a half minutes to accommodate single release.
The track’s iconic bass line with Hancock on an Arp Odyssey synthesizer was a bit of a role reversal. As the Miles Davis Quintet reversed roles with the rhythm section leading Wayne Shorter’s classic “Nefertiti”, Hancock took an active role as a bass player AND guitarist through guitar like comping on the Hohner D-6 clavinet via overdubs. Bassist Paul Jackson, a former acoustic bassist whose electric bass lines captured an agility of an acoustic, tuned up the electric bass and used it as an electric guitar adding more counterpoint in the thick polyrhythmic stew. Hancock’s Arp Odyssey solo on the first section explored it’s timbral and textural capacity. On the third section of the track with rich harmonies often omitted when bands cover the track, the keyboardist has yet another iconic moment with his rich, pillowy Fender Rhodes electric piano solo. Ironically, the Fender Rhodes was developed in the 1940’s but did not see widespread popular music use until the late 60’s and by the early 70’s, had become the de facto keyboard sound of a decade. Hancock, along with Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul had developed an immensely personal voice on the instrument, and along with Corea has been for years one of the most imitated and emulated sounds in all of music. While Hancock’s solo made use of the stereo tremolo on the Rhodes, his Arp string ensemble orchestrations were so organic they sounded like a real string section– even more convincing than the analog tape loops used for the mellotron, which can be viewed as one of the world’s first sampling keyboards long before the Fairlight and Synclavier entered the digital realm.
Come Running To Me from Sunlight (Columbia, 1977)
Sunlight followed several albums that included the Headhunters line up Thrust (1974) and the live initially only released in Japan Flood (1975) with the exception of Mike Clark adding his innovative funk conception based out of Oakland replacing Harvey Mason. Man Child (1975)and Secrets (1976) refined the R&B and funk that Hancock first explored with Headhunters with vestiges of the Headhunters lineups mixed with the cream of the crop of LA studio pros. The productions became slicker, and more commercial with the aim of really crossing over to the popular music tastes in the black community that were captured by Sly Stone, James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic and Earth, Wind and Fire just to name a few. With Sunlight, Hancock aimed at the disco crowd with it’s title track and thumping lead single “I Thought It Was You”; but there was a distinct difference this time around. Not only did Hancock play keyboards, but also became a lead singer.
If the thought of Hancock becoming a vocalist seems like a paradox viewed from a jazz purist perspective, it is the root of his next sonic and technological innovation. Vocoders seem like just a normal part of the musical landscape today, as well as being the technology that is at the core of Autotune, Melodyne and other pitch correction software- but it was quite fresh in the 1970’s. The vocoder was developed by Homer Dudley, who worked at Bell Labs, first patented in 1928 and used for military use. The function of the vocoder was to convert human speech and break it down as digital bits garbling, distorting it, giving a robotic sound. The intended use of the vocoder originally was for underwater communication. Kraftwerk was a huge proponent of the instrument, the same time as Hancock. Avant garde icon Laurie Anderson also had a major mainstream hit with 1983’s “O Superman” in which the vocoder was used to transmit a cold, harsh, robotized voice that satirized the corporate nature that society had morphed into. The Sennheiser vocoder offered the keyboardist a chance to sing with his imperfect voice.
“Come Running To Me” was a lush love song co written with hit maker Allee Willis, and also contained orchestration from brass, reeds and strings. Hancock’s arrangement recalled the gorgeous dark instrumental timbres found on Speak Like A Child, The Prisoner and “Tell Me A Bed Time Story” on Fat Albert Rotunda. The vocoded singing seemed to portray an extra feeling of longing, the detached humanity adding melancholy. The track has been incredibly popular with hip hoppers, especially the late J Dilla ingeniously slowing it down in a track, and long before Daft Punk, Sunlight was a shining example of vocoder use in popular music. Hancock would continue to use the vocoder to varying degrees of success on future albums, and as recently as a few years ago began using it again in live concerts reprising “Come Running to Me”.
The Piano (CBS/Sony, 1978)
There is a reason for including an entire album in this list of eight tracks, because it is of a piece. The Piano was one of eight albums that Hancock recorded for Columbia’s Japanese affiliate CBS/Sony. Prior to it’s debut U.S. CD release in 2004, and subsequent reissue in The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988 the album was also one of the rarest and hardest to find in Hancock’s discography. The CBS/Sony connection allowed the keyboardist to record straight ahead albums that the U.S. Columbia branch deemed not as profitable, but they also gave him the opportunity to test out emerging technologies. Sony had developed the PCM 1600 for digital recording one of the first widely available digital recording systems, and also were actively involved in the audiophile direct to disc process in which a performer played live in real time as a vinyl album was being cut, by a stylus cutting into a lathe, not unlike early pre magnetic tape recording at the start of recorded music. A back up digital tape was made of the session, but the direct to disc process forced Hancock to cut a precise error free suite of songs without stopping, enough to cover an LP side. Hancock played a variety of tunes, both standards associated with Miles Davis, and recent originals. The album sounds absolutely incredible, and is a rare example of him as a solo pianist.
Textures from Mr. Hands (Columbia, 1980)
Mr Hands was Hancock’s last funk album before the next stylistic change into pop, rock and R&B. The brief stylistic detour would ultimately culminate in his electro and techno based trilogy with Bill Laswell that through the smash “Rockit” would make Hancock a household name for an entire new generation that did not grow up on jazz. “Textures” book ended an album that saw Hancock reunite with the original Headhunters lineup with Harvey Mason, Ron Carter and Tony Williams whom he had been playing with in the VSOP Quintet, and Jaco Pastorius. The track was significant because not only did the keyboardist play all instruments himself, but he debuted a new piece of gear into his arsenal– the digital, sample based Linn LM-1 drum machine. The LM-1, while not the first drum machine to exist, did change the face of pop music forever as it was prominent throughout the new decade of the 80’s. Hancock programmed a relatively simple, subtly swinging beat, but it’s striking in the context of the moody sound scape the track created, which also included his trusty Sennheiser vocoder.
The TwilightClone from Magic Windows (Columbia, 1981)
The album Magic Windows was the second in a triptych that saw Hancock interested in more of an L.A. rock, R&B and funk based sound but also still contained disco elements with the track “Magic Number” featuring Sylvester on vocals. “The Twilight Clone”, the final track is a fascinating pre Future Shock glimpse into the musical world Hancock would inhabit a year and a half later with Bill Laswell. In some ways the track is even more effective than the Laswell collaborations because there is a real post futurist dystopian grit through the use of the LM-1, Hancock’s synthesizers and the otherwordly tones of King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew that seemingly suggest a neon industrial city, the stuff of cyberpunk stories like Blade Runner or Japanese animation classics like Akira.
Rockit from Future Shock (Columbia, 1983)
“Rockit” from the first album with producer/bassist Bill Laswell and his collective Material was a game changing track in a lot of ways. Not only did it elevate Hancock to household name status, he was one of the first artists with a jazz background to take on the young genre of hip hop on it’s own terms. Previously Fab Five Freddy collaborated with Max Roach, but in it’s scope seemed to be more of something to connect the roots of hip hop to jazz. With “Rockit”, Hancock was willing to take the music on it’s own terms, and after his string of pop and R&B albums wished to try something new. Hancock had heard a tape of Material, was blown away by that and the use of early turntablism on a track from Malcolm McLaren and agreed to collaborate with Laswell and together incorporated these elements into the track. As Hancock detailed in his memoir Possibilities once Columbia executives were presented with the track at a meeting, they heard the sound of a record scratching courtesy of Grand Mixer D. ST (now DXT) at the start of the track, and could not make sense of it.
As with Headhunters ten years earlier, the label felt that this new sound had nothing to do with Hancock’s previous work, had no idea how to market it and Hancock had to once more fight to have the album released. Perhaps more than the hip hop and b-boy culture embracing the song, it’s video with robotic mannequins created by Jim Whiting had the biggest culture impact. Hancock won an MTV video award for the bizarre, memorable video, as well as a Grammy, and as MTV was first starting, they refused to play black artists on TV, which is why Hancock only appeared on a video screen. Along with Michael Jackson, Hancock was the other prominent black artist to get played on MTV, a major achievement that would pave the way for Prince, various hip hop artists and in future generations, Beyonce and Kanye West. The mechanized feel of the track was also accomplished through the use of the Fairlight CMI, E-Mu digital keyboard and a host of other devices. The Fairlight, along with it’s competitor New England Digital’s Synclavier were some of the main production tools in pop music in the 80’s and their host of recognizable timbres and samples can be found on countless recordings of the era.
Dis Is Da Drum from Dis Is Da Drum (Mercury, 1994)
A decade after “Rockit”, Herbie Hancock began a deal with a new label and was searching once more to update his sound. For non jazz projects, he signed with Mercury, and for jazz oriented projects he signed with the legendary Verve Records. The bulk of his most path breaking music was on Columbia, a tenure that ended with Perfect Machine the final collaboration for the label with Bill Laswell in 1988. This new deal offered some intriguing possibilities that would once again place Hancock at the forefront of technical innovation. The initial concept for Dis Is Da Drum started as an interactive multimedia album, in which the user could choose different mixes, and make choices in the direction of the recording. The idea/format never really took off in the form it was intended, but Hancock did innovate this 90’s hip hop and dance flavored track with another visionary video that used CGI and early facial motion capture.
(c)2020, CJ Shearn for New York Jazz Workshop, LLC
The New York Jazz Workshop is offering online courses post pandemic with world class instructors and catering to many levels of musicians. The school has recently upgraded it’s streaming capabilities as well.
Born on August 27th 1909, Lester Young ( “Prez” )was one of the giants of the tenor saxophone. In the swing era he staked his claim by being refreshingly different from his peers Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Young’s sound was dancing, light as air and he played mellow ideas that for some were a harbinger of the bebop movement to follow. Young arrived in 1930’s Kansas City, a mecca of Jazz activity and played […]
Born on August 27th 1909, Lester Young ( “Prez” )was one of the giants of the tenor saxophone. In the swing era he staked his claim by being refreshingly different from his peers Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Young’s sound was dancing, light as air and he played mellow ideas that for some were a harbinger of the bebop movement to follow. Young arrived in 1930’s Kansas City, a mecca of Jazz activity and played with various bands including the Benny Moten and Fletcher Henderson orchestras, and in 1936 he joined Count Basie’s ensemble. Young was one of the stars of Basie’s orchestra, and Prez’ solos, in his band, on his own and with Billie Holiday provide plenty of grist for study and transcription. Here are 5 ear grabbing Lester Young solos you should know.
Young’s style was an alternative to those who idolized Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and the approaches which firmly established them in the still blossoming Jazz vocabulary. Tenor players such as Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were direct disciples of Young. Charlie Parker admitted that Young was a huge early influence, and big toned Dexter Gordon frequently liked to incorporate some of Young’s lines in his solos. Paul Quinichette, a most known for his Basie stint was nicknamed “Vice Prez” because his tone and lines uncannily resembled Young’s. A good example of hearing the Lester Young influenced tenor alongside more modern exponents like John Coltrane are the Prestige albums Tenor Conclave (1956) featuring Coltrane, Mobley, Sims and Cohn, in addition to Cattin with Coltrane and Quinichette (1957). Through players of that magnitude, Prez’s legacy lived and continues to burn brightly on.
As an adjunct to the 2015 profile of Freddie Hubbard, New York Jazz Workshop at home offers up 5 of the most important solos for those new to the trumpeter. There are at least several more that were up for inclusion, but this strikes a nice balance as a primer for his groundbreaking Blue Note recordings and the CTI years when he became a superstar, his most well known music. The New York Jazz Workshop […]
As an adjunct to the 2015 profile of Freddie Hubbard, New York Jazz Workshop at home offers up 5 of the most important solos for those new to the trumpeter. There are at least several more that were up for inclusion, but this strikes a nice balance as a primer for his groundbreaking Blue Note recordings and the CTI years when he became a superstar, his most well known music. The New York Jazz Workshop continues to offer up workshops, master classes and intensives even at home, featuring faculty such as Marc Mommaas and Dave Ambrosio.
The jazz world mourns the passing of legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. 2020, with the horrendous pandemic sweeping globally will go down as one of the worst years in history, if not the worst ever. The jazz world this year has lost some of the greatest musicians including pianist Mike Longo, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps the biggest and most heartbreaking loss this year is the […]
The jazz world mourns the passing of legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. 2020, with the horrendous pandemic sweeping globally will go down as one of the worst years in history, if not the worst ever. The jazz world this year has lost some of the greatest musicians including pianist Mike Longo, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps the biggest and most heartbreaking loss this year is the loss of drummer Jimmy Cobb, the lone surviving member of Miles Davis’ legendary Kind of Blue session recorded over two dates in 1959. Cobb, whose resume includes Earl Bostic, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Wayne Shorter and Miles, and as well as leading his own bands for many years remained a strong player till the end, was known for his insuperable ride cymbal beat, incredible sensitivity to dynamics, fantastic brushwork and peerless ability to swing. Cobb passed away at his Manhattan home at 91 on May 24th.
Wilbur James Cobb was born in Washington, DC on January 20, 1929. Entirely self taught, the drummer was inspired to take up drumming from watching an older boy in his neighborhood, and by the age of 21, was already on the road with legendary R&B tenor saxophonist Earl Bostic. The drummer met Bostic through bassist Keter Betts, and began touring with the saxophonist after meeting him on 125th Street and St. Nicholas in Harlem and began touring one nighters with the saxophonist. Bostic, incidentally was a huge influence on John Coltrane, and the saxophonist along with others like Jay McNeely, through their use of extended techniques were tremendous influences on the avant garde movement that would occur in the 60’s. After the tenure with Bostic, the drummer later joined Dinah Washington, and her pianist was one, Wynton Kelly whom Cobb would play with until the pianist’s untimely death in 1971 with Paul Chambers, the drummer’s rhythm section mate with Miles Davis, and Wes Montgomery. Cobb had also spent one week playing with Charlie Parker as part of disc jockey Symphony Sid’s All Stars, a group that included a young Miles Davis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and the recently arrived Belgian sensation Toots Thielemans, then still on guitar before he picked up the instrument for which he is most known– harmonica.
1959 was a pivotal year in jazz. The music was rapidly changing, with directions moving from chord changes to modal based jazz, John Coltrane stretching harmony to the breaking point, Dave Brubeck introducing new time signatures into the form, and Ornette Coleman was discarding traditional melody, and harmony, into a unique blend he called harmolodics. Cobb had joined Miles Davis’ group formally in 1958, having been taped at the Newport Jazz Festival for Columbia in July, and having replaced Philly Joe Jones for half the sessions that produced Porgy and Bess when Jones had failed to show up. The trumpeter called Cobb one evening, and explained that Jones had left the group, and would he be interested in making the gig? Cobb said yes, according to an interview with NYU’s Jazz Department director David Shroeder and explained that Davis had called him at 6 PM, and the gig was at 9 PM! The drummer hurriedly packed a bag, his drums, and took a plane, a shuttle that went from NY to Boston in 55 minutes and arrived when the band had just been playing “Round Midnight” and entered following the iconic interlude section. Cobb was on Kind of Blue and recalled no one had anticipated the kind of success it had. His cymbal crash beginning the round of solos on “So What” is a perfect example of the kind of drive and swing he brought to the band, and his brush work on “Blue and Green” “All Blues” and “Flamenco Sketches” are all textbook examples of supreme sensitivity, and the uplift he brought two years later to the recording of “Someday My Prince Will Come” with his brush to stick transition is absolutely magisterial.
After leaving Davis, the Kelly-Chambers-Cobb rhythm section went on to join guitarist Wes Montgomery. Though Cobb had participated in the 1963 session that produced Boss Guitar (Riverside) with organist Melvin Rhyne, the Kelly-Chambers-Cobb unit really found it’s stride the previous year when they taped Full House with the guitarist the previous year, featuring guest, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. Cobb’s driving pulse and relentless ride is behind Montgomery’s famous version of “No Blues” from Smokin At The Half Note (Verve, 1965) a half live, half studio album which influenced a whole new generation of guitarists. Cobb remained active, teaching, and being an incubator of young talent including those who have gone onto stardom like Brad Mehldau and tenorist Eric Alexander, releasing the albums The Original Mob (2014) and his final album Dis I Dig Of You earlier this year on Smoke Sessions, the label run by Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, Cobb’s strong pocket will never been forgotten and live on forever.
The New York Jazz Workshop’s CJ Shearn offers a reflection on the passing of jazz piano legend McCoy Tyner. Below are Shearn’s words. The legends who have made significant contributions to this music within the linear historical narrative are leaving the earthly realm one by one. March 6th saw the passing of an absolute giant: McCoy Tyner. The groundbreaking piano titan passed away at home peacefully, leaving a legacy as vast as it was […]
The New York Jazz Workshop’s CJ Shearn offers a reflection on the passing of jazz piano legend McCoy Tyner. Below are Shearn’s words.
The legends who have made significant contributions to this music within the linear historical narrative are leaving the earthly realm one by one. March 6th saw the passing of an absolute giant: McCoy Tyner. The groundbreaking piano titan passed away at home peacefully, leaving a legacy as vast as it was influential. My initial entry to Tyner’s work was at five or six years of age when my aunt got me the album Milestone Jazzstars In Concert (1978) my first exposure as well, to Sonny Rollins. I always loved this particular double album because I felt the group dynamic was very strong and it introduced me to Tyner’s inimitable walloping, but also subtle playing.
Tyner was born in Philadelphia on December 11, 1938. The house where he grew up was downstairs from his mother’s beauty salon and it was there from the age of 13 that the pianist developed his craft. In a heartwarming way, in a 1999 interview with Owen McNally that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Tyner described a typical scenario at his mother’s salon:
“My mother’s customers would be patting their feet right next to my band’s baritone saxophone player, never missing a beat,” Tyner recalls, speaking by phone from his Manhattan apartment.
“My mother would walk into her shop–we lived over the parlor on the second floor–and say, ‘Wow, McCoy! You got a big band there! Go ahead and play!’ ” From early on, the environment he grew up in was conducive to honing his chops; studying both classical and jazz. Richie Powell, Bud Powell’s younger brother who was tragically killed in the same car wreck as Clifford Brown, lived around the corner, and Bud would frequently play at the family’s home.
In 1959, he joined Benny Golson’s Jazztet, and at a matinee bill he shared with Cal Massey, the legendary Philadelphia trumpeter and composer a chance meeting would be something that would define his career.:a chance meeting with John Coltrane. For five years from 1961-1965 in the classic John Coltrane Quartet, Tyner aided in the redefinition of what a jazz quartet was and could be. The quartet, first with Art Davis on bass, Reggie Workman and crystallizing with Jimmy Garrison, was a unit of indescribable energy, but also capable of wonderful subtlety as Plays The Blues, Ballads and the recent finds Both Directions At Once and Blue World demonstrated. It was Coltrane’s stripping down of “My Favorite Things” to find Eastern sonorities, that really showcased Tyner’s innovations. Though the use of perfect fourths and fifths had been in use prior to Tyner, the application in his playing was game changing. In his fingers, the fourth voicing achieved a pillowy character that was somehow massive, and the sudden slamming of fifths, also in the left hand just freed up the harmony in a unique way. His skittering diminished lines in the right hand suggested something other than a piano– something more like a guitar, harp or zither. Tyner’s application of this style of playing added so much to albums such as Juju by Wayne Shorter, Tom Cat by Lee Morgan, and Matador by Grant Green just to name a few. It would be foolish here to list a traditional career narrative here, but compositions such as “Passion Dance” from the landmark The Real McCoy (1967) are so fascinating for the mileage he gets from the F Mixolydian scale and the use of an Fsus4 chord underneath, nothing ever gets tired in his solo from the use of that one scale. The solo version on the Milestone album of the same name, recorded live in Japan makes intriguing comparative listening to how he approaches the melody, and alters the harmony.
As with a lot of his Milestone recordings, the pianist sought to increase the sound palette, as with his final Blue Note albums of 1968-1970. These albums, Cosmos, Expansions, Extensions, and Asante (unreleased until 1973) found Tyner using diverse instrumentation such as Wayne Shorter on tenor, (and his first instrument, clarinet), Gary Bartz’ alto, Herbie Lewis’ bass augmented by Ron Carter’s cello, Hubert Laws’ flute, and a string quartet among others. Tyner expanded the harmonic palette by employing these various colors, and taking cues from Indian and African music with some of the tunes. One of the most memorable aspects of the track “Vision” is the balance between the tonal and atonal, particularly on the bridge. Herbie Lewis holds down a vamp, while Carter goes on some surreal micro tonal flights. While this contrast may seem jarring to listeners only familiar with his work with Coltrane, the early Shorter Blue Notes, and vice versa, it showed how he moved forward to create new ground from the experiences that shaped John Coltrane’s music. From the Milestone period, Tyner carved his stake in the burgeoning so called “spiritual jazz” movement, the albums taking on Afrocentric ideals, and the sing song melodies of many pieces, like “Ebony Queen” and “Fly Like The Wind” were canvases for stirring modal improvisation. Tyner experimented further with instrumentation, such as his appearances on flute, koto and celeste, never quite approaching jazz-rock or jazz-funk, but recordings like the seminal Enlightenment (1973) and Atlantis (1975) bristle with an overwhelmingly intense rockish energy. “Valley Of Life”, from Sahara, his 1972 Milestone debut found him overdubbing koto, percussion and flute in his own idiosyncratic way, a meditative reflection long before “new age” was a category. To be fair, as a piece it is far more interesting than a lot of what comes out of that genre.
As a solo pianist, Tyner was simply superb. His sense of dynamics were incredible, like Cecil Taylor, truly treating the piano as a percussion instrument, yet at the same time demonstrating thorough grasp of the entire piano lineage from Earl “Fatha” Hines to the present. Milestone recordings as well as later period Blue Note, Impulse and Telarc offerings captured the massive dynamic range of his solo performances in a way his classic Blue Note albums do not, with their square mid range piano. As the pianist entered his later years, he pared down the frenetic energy of his right hand runs mixing in some chordal passages, never losing sight of the powerful fourths and fifths in the left hand.
The legacy of McCoy Tyner is one that will live on through the multitudes of pianists that followed in his footsteps. The Poetic Language of Jazz Improvisation taught by Marc Mommaas, at New York Jazz Workshop can give greater into Tyner’s innovations.
What is soul jazz? For individuals getting into jazz, this is a good question. Jazz (or Black American Music depending on who you ask) has a myriad of genre designations that can be quite confusing, or in the modern era, useless. Soul jazz is an odd designation that came in a relatively brief period of little over a decade plus that included a fusillade of innovation: bebop, cool jazz and hard bop. Soul jazz became […]
What is soul jazz? For individuals getting into jazz, this is a good question. Jazz (or Black American Music depending on who you ask) has a myriad of genre designations that can be quite confusing, or in the modern era, useless. Soul jazz is an odd designation that came in a relatively brief period of little over a decade plus that included a fusillade of innovation: bebop, cool jazz and hard bop. Soul jazz became most popular at the onset of the early 60’s when Jimmy Smith pared down his style to a funky essence, moving from the bop and hard bop of his 1956-58 albums on Blue Note, beginning with Home Cookin’ released in 1959. Other significant organists followed over the next decade such Jimmy McGriff, the great Brother Jack McDuff, Johnny Hammond Smith, John Patton, Shirley Scott, Rhoda Scott (no relation) Charles Earland, Don Patterson and Richard “Groove” Holmes among many others; all of whom had unique approaches on offer. Classic Horace Silver compositions like “The Preacher” and Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin'” were popular soul jazz vehicles as well, but the genre has a history that has it’s roots in the church, and further, with pre Jimmy Smith organists. Cannonball Adderley, by the early to mid 60’s was one of the biggest soul jazz draws. The alto saxophonist once remarked that the genre term was marketing, that Riverside felt the music was jazz but also soul. Soul jazz also introduced the public to some of the all time great guitarists, Grant Green, a 21 year old phenom by the name of George Benson, and another prodigious talent: Pat Martino.
St. Louis’ Milt Buckner, ebullient, ferocious, short statured, after Fats Waller and Count Basie had dabbled in jazz organ, was an early Hammond organ proponent. Initially a pianist, Buckner’s pianistic innovation was the use of block chords that influenced legions of pianists from Red Garland, to Bill Evans. Buckner’s career took off with the McKinney Cotton pickers, followed by an 1941 stint in the band of Cab Calloway, but he was most known for his Lionel Hampton association. When Buckner transferred to the Hammond organ, like his contemporaries Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis, he primarily utilized the instrument showcasing the huge sound obtained with every drawbar out to act as a big band In later years, Buckner adopted a modern post Jimmy Smith approach utilizing leaner registrations and less heavy vibrato. In 1956 when Smith arrived on the jazz scene, his very first recording A New Sound, A New Star heavily drew on the Bill Davis influence as far organ sound, but the ideas integrating, the blues, Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and Bud Powell, were unheard of for the time.
The key with much of soul jazz was that it was dance able. In most cases, the song forms were relatively simple, A-A-B-A song forms, and standard 12 bar blues forms. Horace Silver’s “The Preacher” was a bit different: a 16 bar form with heavy doses of gospel and R&B. Many tunes played by Jack McDuff and Charles Earland, were a bit more complex with post solo interludes and shout choruses as big bands would do. In the case of Jimmy McGriff’s many singles initially recorded for the Sue label beginning in 1962 with his smash version of Ray Charles “I Got A Woman”, and later tracks like “Cashbox” they relied heavily on the blues, the emotional fervor of gospel, and gospel rhythms. Much like how bebop and hard bop were dance musics in the black community, artists filled organ rooms in inner city clubs and the music was made for these audiences. Particularly in the mid 60’s, Prestige became a soul jazz factory producing records like Black Feeling (1969) by Johnny Hammond and Black Talk from Charles Earland, which were thematically named to tie into the civil rights and rising Afrocentric climates. Much of this music was reviewed relatively lukewarm within mainstream jazz media in the midst of the innovations from Miles Davis, and the jazz-funk and jazz-rock music coming from Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather Report, but soul jazz was pure people music at the core. Musically there were some very subtle things of interest– for example the bass lines of John Patton differed from other organist’s bass lines by being highly syncopated and on the upbeat with tracks such as “Latona” and “Ding Dong” providing wonderful examples. Jack McDuff’s tight arrangements made him something akin to an Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers of organ. Eventually though as jazz paradigms began to shift into more abstract territory, many turned to R&B, funk or smooth jazz. Miles Davis, as the Second Great Quintet was nearing it’s close, one of his initial experiments with electric instruments, “Stuff” from Miles In The Sky (1968) was a soul jazz homage of sorts with a boogaloo rhythm.
The mainstream jazz media is/was somewhat indifferent to soul jazz, because as stated earlier, amidst the innovations of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and others the music was designed for the black community. If one were to look at All Music Guide reviews written by critics such as Scott Yanow, Michael G. Nastos they, frequently dismiss the music as being predictable or having “throwaway” tunes, but such statements are cursory and ignored the layers of the music. On one level, from 1965 on, Prestige organ based albums are predictable in that you know the kind of repertoire will be played, but within that, several albums by Don Patterson, Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Richard “Groove” Holmes were truly special, as were the Blue Note albums of Lonnie Smith– all of these musicians have unique voices, instantly identifiable voices. Jimmy Smith’s Verve recordings made him a superstar, while his Blue Note albums have his most adventurous playing– there are moments of such during the Verve era and his genius was always on display. Hammond organ scholars such as Pete Fallico and Youtube jazz personality The Jazz Shepherd are ardent soul jazz supporters and seek to correctly posit the music’s social and historical status– this was people music, the grooves, and solo intensity are some of jazz’s greatest pleasures. The New York Jazz Workshop offers several workshops that can edify the historical concepts discussed in this article.