Tuesday, June 26, 2007




Little did I know that after finishing my junior year in college in 1967 when my parents gave me $1000 cash and a book called “Europe on Five Dollars A Day” that I would be going there countless times since. It was truly an adventure with tenor in hand, landing in London, scared out of my 21 year old wits and making my way to a hotel in Piccadilly Circus, the only hotel that my parents had wisely booked on the tour. I had a few phone numbers and somehow ended up at the premier club in London, Ronnie Scotts for after hours big band rehearsal with all the younger musicians. It was there that I met John Surman and Dave Holland who immediately invited me to stay at their pad, which I did for the next three weeks. (This was a year before Holland joined Miles Davis.) Being a young New York saxophonist was a bit exotic at the time and I completely grooved with the guys. I worked my way across Scandinavia by boat and train, making my way to Stockholm and again calling a number that bassist Cameron Brown had given me. Once more, I was invited to pianist Lars Werner house and spent two weeks there with a great bunch of older musicians, even doing my first recording. By coincidence, I landed on the day Trane died which was dramatic to say the least.

As anyone familiar with my schedule is aware of, I go to Europe on a very steady basis and have been doing this for the past twenty plus years. As George Wein, the impressario of the Newport and JVC Festivals for decades told me once: “If it wasn’t for Europe there would be no jazz!” A bit dramatic but I would have to agree. As well the changes in the European scene has been incredible over these decades, from a period when copying the American style was the main thing to the wonderful individuality we have become accustomed to with the German record label, ECM, leading the way in the 1970’s. European artists have and continue to find many voices to express their own identity. I have been very fortunate to have made many relationships with musicians from all the countries and of course the very existence of The International Association of School of Jazz (IASJ) came about due to the wide spread emergence and influence of jazz education in Europe. I have to state that for me Europe has made me a better musician and artist-it is in general a place where culture is respected and admired.


I have never had any direct contact with Marsalis but of course like anyone in the business have observed him for decades, being at times exasperated with some of his remarks, but admittedly also agreeing more than not with some of his points. Not withstanding some negative side affects that have resulted from Wynton’s utterances, I still have a lot of respect for HIS respect of jazz and the fact that he tirelessly serves as a great role model for young people everywhere, African Americans particularly with his educational activities. I came across an article that appeared in US Today earlier this year titled “Hot Corporations Know How to Swing.” In a question and answer format Wynton makes some great points about jazz, how a group resembles a finely tuned business and more. Some excerpts:

“When you listen to great jazz musicians, you hear the respect they have for each other’s abilities. During a performance most of the musician’s time is spent listening to others and making adjustment, improvising based on what someone else does.”

“…jazz music always stood as a fortress of integrity. The musician’s skills were so hard earned that they did not easily sell out. Once the musicians decided to be less—for notoriety, publicity or money—our art began to face challenges:dearth of leadership reducing human labor to a line item on a budget and so on.”

“In jazz, hierarchy is determined by your ability to play, not your position in the band. It is rooted in the elevation and enrichment of people. The reason that jazz is the most flexible art form on the planet is because it believes in the good taste of individuals…in the human power to create wonderful things….”

“Swing is …a world view.. a belief in the power of a collective ability to absorb mediocre and poor decisions. When a group of people working together trust that all are concerned for the common good, then they continue to be in sync no matter what happens. That is swing—it’s the feeling that our way is more important than my way.”


I recently came into possession of live recordings from London’s Ronnie Scott’s club (the same one mentioned above) with Sonny Rollins playing with a local rhythm section in 1965. (I think they are commercially available). This is some of the greatest saxophone playing I have ever heard, on standards, creative beyond belief with a command of the horn and rhythm that is over the top. It lead me to thinking that during the year 1965 (or around that year), so many great live recordings of important saxophonists and bands have come to the fore and exerted an incredible contemporary influence. There is of course Trane at the Half Note, the Miles Davis Plugged Nickel recordings, some of Wayne Shorter's very influential Blue Note recordings, Ornette Coleman at the Golden Circle and Miles’ “Four and More” which really put the rhythm section of Hancock, Carter and Williams on the map. I think a case could be made that the era of jazz having a common language (harmony, time signatures, repertoire, etc) was fast approaching its zenith with so many musicians having spent years playing steadily on a night to night basis. Shortly after the direction of the music would change irrevocably.



Sony Legacy records is releasing all the tracks that were recorded in the period 1970-75, including “On The Corner” “Get Up With It” and many unreleased studio recordings in a five CD boxed set this fall. As part of their promotion, they gathered bassist Michael Henderson (who traverses the entire period), guitarist Pete Cosey and me to speak about Miles. They somehow procured the garden in back of Miles’ former residence in Manhattan where we all spent some significant times in our lives. I have not seen these gentlemen since my last recording date with Miles (which was for the track “He Loved Him Madly” from “Get Up With I.”). It was really a special meeting talking about the music we played, how Miles brought together so many diverse elements (a bassist coming from Stevie Wonder, a guitarist who worked with people ranging from Gene Ammons to Aretha Franklin, a saxophonist working with Elvin Jones (myself), a bebop drummer (Al Foster), etc—not to mention tablas, percussion and a few more guitarists and keyboardists. This period of Miles was met with much antipathy and I remember vividly when Michael Henderson, who plays only electric bass, took Dave Holland’s place. That was really a significant move by Miles, because it more than implied that the days of walking 4/4 time were over and all that meant. Nowadays, with rap and world music so in the fore, Miles’ far sighted thinking and concepts are being very positively re-examined and this boxed set is long over due. That evening I went down and sat in with Pete Cosey, playing some down home blues coming right out of Chicago, his home base. No doubt, in a lot of ways life does come full circle.


July 17 will be the exact date of Coltrane’s passing forty years ago. In commemoration of that I was asked to organize a recording session for the BBC which we did in New York featuring Joe Lovano, bassist Ron McClure, Phil Markowitz and Billy Hart-a sort of half Saxophone Summit band. We did all Trane tunes and it was a great day to just go in and play the repertoire that is so close to all of us. Look for the broadcast on BBC on the web.


Talking about Miles, it was after all through the “On the Corner” sessions that I met tablaist Badal Roy who became part of my first group “Lookout Farm” in the mid 70’s. We have maintained our friendship over the years and I had the pleasure of joining his band which features bansurai master Steve Gorn and guitarist Kenny Wessel at an event sponsored by National Geographic Magazine (which I avidly subscribe to by the way) publicizing India. We had a great time and though I cannot say I am intimate with the incredible intricacies of Indian classical music, when a situation like this comes up with people basically “jamming” on the sound and feel of that style, it is a lot of fun—and for sure it sets a mood on an audience that is very powerful. Listening to Steve play the long bamboo bansurai flute is a thrill in itself.

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A Dixieland rendition of Giant Steps, that is amazing:


This has to be seen to be believed-a canary singing the blues!


July: concert and 17th Annual Jazz Meeting of the IASJ in Siena, Italy (our third time there celebrating the 30th anniversary of the very influential Siena Associazone); performance with bassist Christian Stock Group in Augsburg, Germany; tour with “We Three: Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum in Europe. (http://www.saudades.at)

August: 20th Anniversary of Lieb’s Saxophone/ Chromatic Master class at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, USA celebrating John Coltrane with a performance for multiple saxophonists doing the “Meditations Suite” joined by Evan Gregor on bass, Mike Stephans on drums and Phil Markowitz on piano; performance of “Sketches of Spain” at the Marciac (France) Festival with the Toulouse Conservatory Orchestra under the direction of Jean Charles Richard; workshop and premiere of chamber piece written for Lieb by Ronan Guilfoyle in Dublin, Ireland; Red Sea Festival in Eilat, Israel with Saxophone Summit doing Coltrane program; workshop and performance at trumpeter Paolo Fresu workshop in Nuoro, Sardinia.

September: Birdland in New York City with Dave Liebman Group featuring Mike Stern and Anthony Jackson doing music from “Back on the Corner” (Shrapnel Records); Festival in Delaware Water gap, PA with Bobby Avey, Matt Vashlishan, Evan Gregor, Mike Stephans and Lydia Liebman; Saxophone Summit with Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra doing “Meditations Suite” at Symphony Space, NYC on Coltrane’s Birthday.