A pair of long overdue reissues (on HighNote) have brightened
my CD player in the last month and led me to appreciate the
renaissance of the jazz tradition in our New York jazz scene
today. Back in 1973, the Onyx label issued a series of LP's
taken from the Jerry Newman collection. Newman had been a
student at Columbia University and befriended many of the
musicians who played at the uptown clubs. These location recordings
give us an unprecedented glimpse into a world of music making
that could not be further removed from the sterility of the
recording studio. Art Tatum God Is In The House has
a lot of solo piano, some of which was played on instruments
that would have stymied many a lesser player. Tatum, judging
by the evidence, seems to have been inspired by their inherent
limitations. There is a marvelous story about him playing
a piano with keys that stuck after being struck. He would
play a run with his right hand, and then pick the keys back
up with his left! But the real revelations are the two tracks
with the long neglected trumpeter Frank Newton. There is nothing
in his recorded legacy that approaches the level of musical
ingenuity, humor and swing that he achieves on Sweet Georgia
Brown and Lady Be Good. Indeed, these performances trump the
great majority of the Norman Granz produced Tatum Group Masterpieces
from the mid-'50s. As Dan Morgenstern, whose album notes for
the Onyx series are among his best ever, wrote about the Tatum-Newton
sides, "(one of) the most remarkable pieces of spontaneously
improvised jazz music ever captured by a recording device."
Dan is not known for hyperbole they are that great.
The other reissue is a collection of performances that caught
the Texan trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page in a variety
of jam sessions. Thelonious Monk, Donald Lambert (who like
Newton, is heard for the first time in all his greatness)
and Kenny Clarke are also heard to great advantage. One element
that runs through both albums is the sheer joy of swinging
jazz, which is always a good tonic for whatever ails you.
For folks like me, who began a life in jazz as a record collector
and who still can't pass up some obscure 78 or LP that there
is no room for in the house, the temptation to remain holed
up reveling in the sounds of yesteryear remains. It is always
a good restorative to contemplate that if Jerry Newman had
done the same thing, our knowledge of musicians like Tatum,
Page, Charlie Christian and many others would be severely
diminished. And as great as repeated listening to masterpieces
can be, jazz remains, as Whitney Balliett put it many years
ago, the sound of surprise, and that can only truly be experienced
hearing live music unfold in front of you.
One of the great surprises to long time observers of the
New York jazz scene has been the emergence of a generation
of players who are grounded in the tradition of the music.
They know their Jelly Roll, Louis and Ellington, as well as
their Mingus, Ornette and Coltrane. Many favor an acoustic
sound, especially the bass players. The definition of the
quarter note has reemerged and the long, amplified notes that
muddied up so many rhythm sections is gradually disappearing.
There is also a growing sense of inclusiveness between the
musicians and the audience, without the lowering of the musical
common denominator that one encounters in so called
The young musicians who can do all this and more include:
the pianists Marcus Roberts and Bill Charlap, the saxophonists
Mark Turner, Scott Robinson, Jon Gordon and Todd Williams
(who has taken himself out of public performance to teach),
the trumpeters Marcus Printup, Ryan Kisor, Jon Erik Kelso
and Randy Sandke, the trombonists Wycliffe Gordon and Mike
Christianson, the clarinetist Ken Peplowski, and the drummer
Ali Jackson. There are many other players who share these
qualities it is only space limitation that cuts it
off here. On any given night any of these musicians can be
caught in some New York nightspot aiming towards the kind
of magic that Jerry Newman captured lo those many years ago.
We would do the music and ourselves a whole lot of good if
we made it a point to seek and support what's happening now.
After all, no one was claiming that what was going on in 1940
was any sort of "golden era" at the time. Indeed,
the seeds of the traditionalist/purist/Condon schools of thought
that disavowed virtually anything new in the music were already
getting set to harden their musical arteries.
The issue gets complicated when we confront the players who
dedicated themselves to the tradition throughout the decades
when it wasn't appreciated. Where are clubs and their attendant
audiences that would let us hear Ruby Braff, Kenny Davern,
Jay McShann and their peers in New York on anything approaching
a regular basis?
Jazz record labels have been serving up "the new boy/girl"
on the block for decades now. Countless singers and players
on virtually every instrument (save a few oddities, such as
the ocarina and the serpent) have been touted as the one to
watch, and certainly as the one to buy. Nowhere has this been
more prevalent than among young tenor saxophonists, and the
'90s seems to have borne more than its share of "young
titans" from whom precious little was heard once the
major label in question unceremoniously dropped them - usual
before arriving at the advanced age of a quarter-century.turner.jpg
- 9.90 K
a pleasure, then, to see a player who has attained the grand
old age of one score and twelve (a veritable Methuselah by
"Young Lion" standards) become the Warner Brothers
poster boy of the month - saxophonist Mark Turner. Even more
pleasurable is his mature conception, which seems to be founded
on a precept lost to the great majority of jazz players since
the advent of John Coltrane, and that is that there is such
a thing as SPACE in improvisation, and as Count Basie, Lester
Young and Thelonious Monk proved decades ago, rests can have
at least as much significance as notes in an improvised solo.
The first time I heard Turner was a few years back when his
debut disc "Yam Yam" (CRISS CROSS (HOL) 6731 1094
2) came out, and the track that intrigued me was "Blues",
which, unlike its generic title, turned out to be a real composition,
with an original series of solos by Turner, pianist Brad Mehldau
and the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel (believe it or not, a post-Frisell
player) sandwiched in between an intriguing theme, with sections
both in tempo and rubato. One could hear echoes of Lester
Young and Charlie Christian throughout, but not in any "period"
sense - this was jazz of the '90s. The other performances
on the disc revealed themselves to be the "Blues"
equal. Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" was rendered
in a reflective mode, far from the obsessive fill-in-the dots
manner to which so many of his compositions of that genre
Not long thereafter, I went to the appropriately named jazz
club, Small's, and heard the late pianist Mercedes Rossy's
quintet, which featured Tucker and alto saxophonist Steve
Wilsonin a set of music that reflected many aspects of the
Tristano-Marsh-Konitz recordings. It was clear that Turner
was really into Warne Marsh (this is unusual; his reflection
of Lovano is more in keeping with the "norm" these
days), and had blended it with a deep understanding of Coltrane's
methods and come out with something refreshingly new.
Last year, Warner put Turner together with James Moody, and
has now issued "Mark Turner" (WEA/WARNER BROTHERS
7599 46701 2), in which Joshua Redman is gratuitously added
to three tracks (including the opening one), presumably for
box office appeal. Surprisingly, this major label debut is
a 1995 session, and based on reports from his mid-April gig
at Sweet Basil's, what the world needs now is a 1998 Turner
solo effort, without the distraction of a "tenor summit".
Let's hope Warner Brothers sticks with this young man and
gives him a chance to establish himself in his rightful place,
as one of the best of his generation.