New York Stars
Asked in 2009 about what records he’s on that were most important to him, after a long pause, Brian Lynch replied, “I think my first record that I ever did as a leader is kind of a good indication of. . .” He never finished the sentence, but the album he was referring to was Peer Pressure (Criss Cross, 1987). He added, “Even though there’s other records I like more.” Once Brian got going about his recording career, he really opened up. “I think actually one of my favorite records I did was called In Process, which I did right around the time Art Blakey died. It was kind of indicative of, after playing with Art for a couple of years; that was a pretty good time in terms of playing for me.” After another long pause, he continued. “I think the last thing I did, the Simpatico (artistShare, 2006) record with Eddie [Palmieri], is a pretty good indication.” That album, issued with both Lynch and Palmieri as leaders, features a host of important jazz stars, including Wisconsin-connected Greg Tardy. “The Palmas (Nonesuch, 1994) record with Eddie is, because Latin music is so important to me. That’s something that started in Milwaukee, too, with La Chazz, Toty Ramos.”
After saying, “I don’t’ know, [can’t] I think of anything I really like that I did,” he got started again. “Rob Schneider, Radio Waves (Reservoir Music, 1991). I like that record. That was indicative of again, like a real family that used to rehearse, every week we used to rehearse.” Besides pianist Schneider, the band was “Ralph Moore [tenor saxophone], Gary Smulyan [baritone saxophone], Todd Coolman [bass] [and drummer Jeff Hirshfield]. We used to rehearse every week. We really had a nice band.”
Next up: “Art Blakey Chippin’ In (Timeless, 1990; re-released by Impulse in 1999). Although again, I wish I could have done that longer. I’m not necessarily all that happy with how I sounded on those records, but as a document, it’s very important.” It should be noted that Wisconsin pianist Geoff Keezer is also on this album.
Although he had named five records, he couldn’t resist adding another. “Spheres of Influence (Sharp Nine, 1997). The first Spheres of Influence record [A second volume was released in 2011 and is all Latin]. That’s a good record. That was a good record in terms of where I was first kind of able to cover playing straight ahead and Latin stuff in the same record.” And he mentioned the “great band.” There are, more or less, two bands on the record; one that played on the Latin music, the other the straight-ahead jazz. Lynch mentioned specifically drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and pianist David Kikoski. (Wisconsin-educated trombonist Chris Washburne (see Chapter 14) plays tuba on the album.)
When Carl Allen talked about the records that he has been on that were particularly important to him, a few came to mind quickly. “The first was a record with Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.” Growing up, Carl always wanted to play with Woody Shaw; it turned out that his first important gig was with Hubbard, Shaw’s immediate stylistic predecessor on trumpet in the historical progression of greats. The record they did together was Double Take (Blue Note, 1986). “And that was great; just the energy in the studio was just unbelievable. I’ll never forget that very first rehearsal, man. We got lost playing a blues, ‘cause I was like ‘What?!’ just listening to those guys go back and forth, you know?”
Next he mentioned an album with trumpeter Donald Byrd, A City Called Heaven (Landmark Records, 1991). “Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Rufus Reid, Donald Brown. And that record was big for me because it was right at a time when I was trying to figure out where I [was] at right [then] in terms of dealing with music, that was right when I was trying to figure that out. Which was trying to find a way to bridge the elements of jazz and gospel.” “And I was talking to Byrd about it, and I said, ‘I’m kinda hearing this thing, and it sounds like that’s kind of what this record is about. Talk to me about this thing.’ He said, ‘Well, Carl . . . That’s a very natural relationship between these two genres.’ He says, ‘Now Coltrane, everybody talks about Coltrane’s music being spiritual. We use that term loosely.’ He said, ‘But Coltrane’s music was spiritual in the literal sense, because Coltrane used to take hymns. Coltrane’s grandfather was a minister.’ And then he went on to explain to me that there is a long lineage of jazz musicians whose fathers or grandfathers, in some cases mothers or grandmothers were ministers. So that – the light bulb went on. So that was important because it sent me in another direction. It kind of gave me the green light to kind of pursue that concept a little further.”
“My first record as a band leader was called Dreamboat. And that was a stupid title – it came from the guy from the record company. He said, ‘Carl, we’ll call it Dreamo-Boato.’ A Japanese label, on Alfa Records.”
“Probably the record that I did that I listen to more that any other record I did is a record I did with Terence Blanchard called Jazz in Film (Sony Classical, 1999). And it’s one of the last records that Joe Henderson did, but also maybe the last recording with Kenny Kirkland, before he died.”
Allen claims that, “I never listen to the records I did with Benny Green. People ask me about those records a lot.” Green was very particular about the trio arrangements, “and he used to drive Christian [McBride] and [me] crazy. You know, during rehearsal he’d say, ‘Carl, I want the bass drum here; hit on the bell of the cymbal here, and with the back of the stick. . .’ It was like, ‘Aw, man!’ And I was not used to that. You know, I was used to just a little more freedom. But that whole experience . . . was great, because it opened me up in ways I didn’t know, in terms of just dealing with orchestration. So maybe any of those records. You know, Greens (Blue Note, 1991) or Testifyin’! (Blue Note, 1992) or something like that.”
Although he did not put it on his list of most important records, we spent considerable time discussing a record that had recently been released, and which the author recommends, Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker, Work to Do (Mack Avenue, 2009). It includes several originals by the two leaders (bassist Whitaker has been a frequent rhythm section partner of Allen), as well as covers of tunes done by Marvin Gaye, the Beatles and Billy Preston.
When asked about important records to him, Gerald Cannon said, “the first record would be Roy Hargrove’s strings record.” (Moment to Moment, 2000, Verve). “It [should have done] better than it did. But first of all I love the record because it’s just, man, it’s a beautiful record. It’s like mostly ballads, and . . . it shows some of my writing. One of my first tunes that I ever recorded was on that record. I wrote it for my youngest daughter, ‘Peri.’”
“And, the next record would be, you know I did this record about, I don’t know, I guess, three years ago, with these Russian guys. These, it’s a funny story, because I was in Russia with Elvin, and I met these two young, like teenagers. You know, and they came up to me like, ‘Aw, man! You’re our favorite bass player, man . . . I want to do a record, and I want to use you, man. ‘ And I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ Sure as s— (laughs), about two years ago, you know they’re playin’ with Igor Butman’s big band and they called me to do this record. ‘Remember us, remember me?’ And I’m like, ‘Not really,’ but I did the record, and it’s incredible. These guys can, boy! Man, these guys can play.” (Unfortunately, the author cannot find this album, or who the artists are.)
“And then another record I did, probably about five years ago with the saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. The name of the record is Intuition.” (Nagel Heyer, 2004)
“Any of the Willie Jones III records; they’re all swingin’. You know that was a good time. And, probably Sherman Irby’s Big Mama’s Biscuits album. I’m really not that crazy about it, but it’s like my first record for Blue Note (1998), and that meant a lot to me. You know, just to be documented on that label.” Drummer Jones and saxophonist Irby were Cannon’s band mates in Roy Hargrove’s band; along with Hargrove and pianist Larry Willis, Gerald says, “that by far is probably the best band I’ve ever played in my life.” The author recommends Jones’s album Volume 2 . . . Don’t Knock the Swing (WJ3 Records, 2003). It features not only the great drive and groove of Jones and Cannon in tandem, but also guest appearances from Hargrove on several tracks, as well as some burning work from one-time Milwaukee native Gregory Tardy (see below) on tenor.
Cannon did not mention the one record on which he was leader (Gerald Cannon, Woodneck Records, 2003) until I brought it up. Then he admitted, “Yeah, I’m very proud of that . . . it’s hard to talk about your own record.” Especially when, “it’s as old as mine; ‘cause mine’s like ten years old now. But, you know, it’s good, and, and the reason I’m really proud of that record was like I did the whole thing myself.” He was very generous in describing the considerable contribution that Wisconsin pianist Rick Germanson (see Chapter 7) made to the album. Cannon claims about Germanson, “I think I knew him before he knew he could play,” back in Milwaukee when Rick was just a teenager.
I heard Gerald play at the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee in September 2019. He had with him his latest album, Combinations (Woodneck Records, no date). The album features various mix and match combinations of players including Rick Germanson, the great pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonists Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby and Steve Slagle, trumpeters Jeremy Pelt and Duane Eubanks, guitarist Russell Malone, drummer Will Calhoun, and the drummer Cannon calls his “partner in time,” Willie Jones III. The music contains Cannon originals and standards (some uncommon).
Gregory Tardy has recorded prolifically. When I asked him about his albums, the first he mentioned was Abundance (Palmetto, 2001), saying “People usually appreciate that one.” It includes his frequent collaborators, pianist George Colligan and bassist Sean Conly and is largely made up of uncompromising performances of post-bop originals. About his one “major label” release (Impulse, 1998) Tardy says that “a lot of people like Serendipity as well.” The author would be one of those people. The album contains Tardy’s tribute to his band mate from Elvin Jones’s band, Wisconsin-born pianist Willie Pickens, “Blues to Professor Pickens.” About an album made shortly thereafter, with Colligan, Conly and others, including guest Nicholas Payton and Antonio Hart, Greg says, “I personally like one that’s called The Hidden Light.” It was released in 2000 by J Curve Records, and features a similar mix of styles as is found on Serendipity, although a number of the tunes are explicitly inspired by Tardy’s Christian beliefs. Another of Tardy’s albums that he likes that is in the same style, and with a similar mix, is from 2011, Monuments (SteepleChase). It is a reunion of sorts with Colligan and Conly and also features trumpeter Avishai Cohen and drummer Jaimeo Brown. He also mentioned his “latest” at that time, Hope (SteepleChase, 2014). A quartet album that includes Conly and Brown, the presence of a different pianist, Helen Sung, gives the group a decidedly different sound. All but one of the selections are inspired by Christian scripture, or are in fact old hymns. The last is a standard ballad; each of the albums mentioned above has at least one similar standard selection.
After talking about five of his own albums, Greg was just getting warmed up, and also wanted to talk about a number of albums of others that he plays on. He first mentioned “any of Andrew Hill’s last three CDs,” but adding that “of the three of them I like Dusk the best” (Palmetto, 2000). The music of the iconoclastic Hill, once described as “some of the thorniest, most fiendishly constructed, uncategorizable jazz of any era” (quoted in The Biographical Dictionary of Jazz), is not easy, but it is easy to see why Tardy is proud of his work with Hill. Tardy is featured on heated tenor on several tunes on Bill Frisell’s History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008), a masterpiece of musical Americana by the eclectic guitarist, but Greg also plays some important ensemble parts on clarinet. Greg says, “I felt like I played pretty strong on that.” He also mentioned the album of fellow tenor player Chris Potter, Song for Anyone (2007, Sunnyside Records), on which Tardy plays only clarinet.
When I talked with Joel Frahm in 2009, he talked about albums that were important to him. (It’s very possible he would have a different list in 2018, as he has played on many albums in the interim.)
“I guess I should include my first album as a leader . . . because that was kind of an important one for me. Sorry, No Decaf (Palmetto Records, 1999) is the first one that I did. That was with Matt Wilson and Doug Weiss and David Berkman. And that was a cool experience, because I had been in Matt Wilson’s band for about two years . . .”
For his next choice, he said, “I guess I would have to say that the one that will stand the test of time is the duo record with Brad Mehldau, Don’t Explain (Palmetto, 2004). That one was one of those records where I went over to his place, his house, the night before, we said ‘What tunes do we want to play?’ We picked them out. We actually picked out a bunch of stuff that we played as kids – all the tunes that we learned from The Real Book when we were sixteen.”
And next, “I guess I have to say the one . . . with Kenny Barron and Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis, We Used to Dance (Anzic Records, 2007). That’s a good one, too. That has to be on the list, just because it was my first time actually as a leader with my idols. You know, having to go in and rehearse guys like that and actually take the reins. That was a big growing experience, too.”
“And if I had to throw in two that I really like as a sideman, I’d throw in one by Manuel Valera, the great Cuban pianist; that’s called Vientos (Anzic, 2007). It’s written for wind ensemble and jazz quartet. And it’s a great jazz quartet: it’s Manuel, who’s an unbelievable pianist from Cuba, and James Genus on bass and Ernesto Simpson on drums. And a great wind ensemble. He just wrote amazing stuff for that record.” And finally, “Also the last one – and this was really an important one for me, too. Avishai Cohen, The Trumpet Player (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003), his first record, with Jeff Ballard and actually another Wisconsin guy, the bass player who played with Roy Haynes, John Sullivan (see below).”
In 2011, by email Ike Sturm had this to say about his recordings: “Both of my own recordings represent groups of musicians I admire and [with whom I] share a close bond, musically and personally. Spirit is a suite of music that grew out of a meaningful time I spent in the fjords of Norway with many of my colleagues from my time at Eastman. The diverse instrumentation reflected the cross-fertilization of styles at school and provided an opportunity to write for almost instrument I imagined.
Jazz Mass is a work for choir, strings and jazz soloists. It was commissioned by Saint Peter’s Church and was dedicated to my friend, former Jazz Pastor Dale Lind. I composed and orchestrated the piece with lots of help from my Dad – we had a great time sending material back and forth and his love for studio orchestra and film music inspired me to dream big on this project. I felt extremely fortunate to work with my wife, Misty Ann Sturm, Donny McCaslin, Ingrid Jensen, Loren Stillman, Adam Benjamin, Ryan Ferreira, Ted Poor along with an incredible choir and string ensemble.”
Since that time Sturm has released two other albums, both very well received: Shelter of Trees (2015), with his group Evergreen, and Endless Field (2017), a duo album with guitarist Jesse Lewis, with some of his past guests and band members, including McCaslin, Jensen, Misty Ann Sturm and Chris Dingman.
John Sullivan had some different sorts of recordings to recommend as introductions to his work. The first one he talked about as follows. “I remember doing a radio broadcast with Aaron Parks in Kansas City. And I practiced – we were playing some pretty hard stuff, we were playing “Sorcerer” and different, really difficult, some of his tunes, and that was some of the best music I ever recorded.” But Sullivan admits that one probably cannot find this recording. The next item he mentioned is also very difficult to procure (on the Japanese label Zoo’T Records, 2003). “But I think Donald Edwards’ record that we did in Japan . . . I feel pretty good about that one. You know. It’s called Ducktones.” Of his work with Roy Haynes John says, “I kind of like the two Roy records that I’m on, but you know what I like better than that, though, is, is the Roy DVD that we did.” The two records are Fountain of Youth (Dreyfus Jazz, 2004), with Marcus Strickland and Martin Bejerano, and Whereas (Dreyfus, 2006), with saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and pianist Robert Rodriguez. The DVD he refers to is Roy Haynes: Live at the Modern Drummer Festival (Hudson Music, 2007), which is still available at amazon.com and other outlets.
In his short career, Joe Sanders has already recorded quite prolifically, with quite a variety of jazz artists. But when I asked him what recordings that he is on that I should listen to, here is what he told me by email (with my additions of record labels and dates):
I’ll Give You a Wide Range, That’s my vibe.
(obviously) Introducing Joe Sanders (Criss Cross, 2012)
Two-Shade (Emarcy, 2009) and Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy, 2011), with the Gerald Clayton Trio
III (Criss Cross, 2010), Walter Smith III
Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear, 2011), Greg Ward
and four albums with the Joe Gilman Trio, “recorded the 2 summers of our stint @ the Brubeck Institute”; two of the music of Dave Brubeck, Time Again: Brubeck Revisited (Volumes I and II) (Capri, 2004, 2005), and two of the music of Stevie Wonder, View So Tender: Wonder Revisited (Volumes I and II) (Capri, 2006, 2007). Sanders mentions that “all four of these are with Justin Brown as well.”
I would further mention the trio album of pianist Romain Collin (another classmate of Sanders at the Monk Institute), The Rise and Fall of Pipokuhn (Fresh Sound New Talent), which also features Wisconsin drummer Zach Harmon (see Chapter 18). Sanders is also on all three of fellow Milwaukeean Philip Dizack’s albums (see below), all of which are excellent. Listeners may also be interested in his work with Charles Lloyd, Wild Man Dance (Blue Note, 2013). In front of an enthusiastic crowd in Poland, at one point a Sanders solo elicits a tremendous response from the audience.
Philip Dizack is quite critical of his own recorded work. However, he does have affection for his second album End of an Era (Truth Revolution Records, 2012). As he describes the process of producing the record, “that was a very . . . developed vision. I spent a long time . . . from the time I started writing – anything, to the time I completely finished it, was probably two and a half years. [The] music had time to evolve and grow and, different musicians brought different things to it, and I would change it, and I would fix it. And, it was a completed vision. It’s as though, I got off the road from playing a gig and went straight to the studio. I mean not that, we don’t have that luxury anymore as much, but, it was great, and so I did that, and I had two different amazing rhythm sections: Kendrick Scott, Aaron Parks and Linda Oh, and Joe Sanders, Justin Brown and Sam Harris. Jake Saslow playing tenor, and I did it with strings . . . “ While he didn’t “talk up” his other albums, his 2005 debut on Fresh Sound New Talent, Beyond A Dream, includes adventurous compositions and strong playing. Co-produced by Brian Lynch, the sextet features not only Joe Sanders, but also Gregory Tardy. Philip’s 2013 Criss Cross album, Single Soul, a quintet album with Ben Wendel on tenor, Eden Ladin on piano, Eric Harland on drums and old buddy Joe Sanders on bass, displays very fine, exciting playing and more attractive Dizack compositions.