Tag Archives: Charles Tolliver


Mike Nock on piano and Niko Schauble on drums at Memorial Hall

What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts, so if I found Sylent Running a tad soporific, I was engrossed from the moment of arrival at this gig. Simplicity in the line-up was reflected in the music they created with such apparent (and probably real) ease. Schauble is my favourite drummer, so I was anticipating a treat. Couldn’t help contrasting his playing style with that of Ari Hoenig — the latter being much more the showman and Schauble most of the time seeming to be utterly lost in the music, unaware of anything or anyone else. But of course he was well aware of Nock — the communication was tangible, though it was achieved through no visible means.

This was music to fill the soul and totally occupy the attention, so that you wanted to be nowhere else but there, in the moment. I found myself smiling, though there was no patter and no gimmickry. Variations evolved without hurry, with textures and timbres valued by each player. I heard Art Blakey’s words (as recalled by Charles Tolliver) in my head: This was music to wash away the dust from our everyday lives. As the set evolved, there were periods of swing, of substantial force, of great involvement (of audience and the players). And at times Schauble was so delicate it would break your heart. Is that what makes drummers great … the ability to release sudden force, yet at times to be so restrained?

I have not said much about Mike Nock’s playing, but it was superb. Leaving this gig felt like returning to Earth after a trip to some space beyond. A space of immense satisfaction.


Saturday, October 31, performance by US trumpeter and band leader Charles Tolliver with the orchestra

Aaron Flower and Charles Tolliver
Band leader Charles Tolliver is attentive during an Aaron Flower solo.

It’s funny how little things can so easily sway us. On the final night of this festival, a while after the last gig, I was on my way back to the motel to start writing a festival review and happened to be walking behind some musicians. I won’t name them, and I did not really try to eavesdrop, but the import of their discussion was clearly that Charles Tolliver had been a tad pernickety, demanding that certain requirements be met by the organisers, and seeming to be unimpressed by the JM Orchestra. Who knows whether there is any skerrick of truth in this – it would not be the first time a headline muso had acted ornery – but it seemed totally contrary to the impression I had while watching the band under Tolliver’s direction.

So I may have a totally wrong take on how things were, but I saw signs of Tolliver’s empathy with the band, and of him being supportive and enthusiastic (he had good reason to be) about the performance of the 18-piece ensemble. It pleased me to see Tolliver rest his hand briefly on the shoulder of Aaron Flower en route to the front during the set-opening In The Trenches from the bandleader’s Emperor March album. The piece was a rousing way to start.

Layers of horns built to a crescendo in Tolliver’s I Want to Talk About You, which included an energetic tenor sax solo by Matt Keegan. Tolliver then challenged the audience, saying, “When we finish I’m going to ask everyone in the audience to tell me what the song is.” After a moving trumpet soliloquy, Tolliver quick as a flash turned to conduct.

Charles Tolliver
Charles Tolliver flies solo.

His tone in solos was at times piercing, with notes driven by a relentless flow of air or being pumped out in staccato fashion. The piece was, of course, Round Midnight.

David Theake reeds the mood perfectly.
David Theak reeds the mood perfectly.

Tolliver again introduced Emperor March with a mention of the penguin, saying “no other creature can endure what that does only to have a little one”. David Theak’s soprano sax solo seemed to evoke the harsh conditions in Antarctica. As we heard a trombone solo from Danny Carmichael, then brief flute and clarinet interludes before deep notes from “dem ‘bones”, it felt like a journey. The slow build-up at the end, with melodic repetition, created a great atmosphere.

In closing piece Toughin’, Tolliver cheerfully announced “everyone’s going to solo, and they did. When Phil Slater popped up last in the line of trumpets, it struck me how talented the orchestra was to have such musicians quietly keeping a low profile in the band.

Along with the Bennetts Lane Big Band, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra is likely to win over anyone who does not think big bands are their cup of tea. And that’s because it’s not all about blasting away, though that sometimes happens, but also about playing with sufficient feeling to move those listening.

Aaron Flower
Aaron Flower in a chord with proceedings.

Oh to hit the right note

Linda Oh
Bassist Linda Oh

Two strangers will meet on stage at Wangaratta, writes Roger Mitchell

THEY seem so different. She plays bass — electric and upright. He plays trumpet. She is 25, was born in Malaysia and grew up in Perth listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is 67, was born in Jacksonville, Florida and grew up listening to his parents’ 78rpm Jazz at the Philharmonic records.

Both live in New York, but they have never met. In a few days they will share a stage at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, in a quartet with pianist Mike Nock and drummer Tommy Crane.

One of the joys of this festival, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, is that Linda Oh and Charles Tolliver, who are from such different generations and genres in jazz, can link up.

Yet they have much in common. Each was inspired to play when given an instrument — Tolliver’s grandmother, Lela, gave him a cornet; Oh’s uncle gave her an electric bass. Both were initially self-taught and both considered other careers— Tolliver as a pharmacist, after working for a local apothecary, and Oh as a lawyer.

Both musicians like challenges and both are perceptive, intelligent and thoughtful.

Asked about the importance of music in people’s lives, Oh says, “It’s a shame these days that everything is so overrun by TV and advertisements and reality TV that a lot of people don’t have the energy to go out to live music or put an album on and listen to it from start to finish.

“If Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie said to everyone ‘You should go and see a jazz show’ everyone would go. We need more spokespeople.”

Tolliver’s view, fittingly, is borrowed from Art Blakey: “He would come up to the microphone and, in that inimitable voice of his, say ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we are here to wash away the dust from your everyday lives’. I think that’s it.”

Linda Oh says her entry to jazz was “a little backwards”, beginning with the fusion of Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea and then being turned completely around by Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson on the album Night Train.

Driven by the desire to “do something that I didn’t know much about and to learn as much as I could”, she studied bass at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, graduating with honours. Oh says Perth had many talented musicians who were “very honest about what you need to do to get better”.

Winning a Sisters in Jazz competition in 2004 gave her a chance to visit New York. She was “pretty blown away, but not just in awe of it — I checked out local musicians and universities and saw there was so much stuff to be learned out here and I knew I had to do it”.

Oh won a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music, where she completed a Masters in Jazz-based Performance and met trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Obed Calvaire, with whom she recently released her acclaimed debut album, Entry. With Oh and Crane, Akinmusire will perform tunes from that album at Wangaratta.

Oh has never played with Tolliver, though she has heard a lot of his music. “Tommy went to New School University, where Charles has an Art Blakey Ensemble, so it will be a very interesting mix, especially with Mike Nock — I’m a huge fan.”

Tolliver recalls playing with Blakey’s Messengers “for a minute, replacing Lee Morgan, a long time ago”, but as other names of jazz identities from his past tumble out there is no self-promotion.

He says it was “an act of providence of miraculous proportions” that the young dropout from Howard University met bandleader Jackie McLean and within six months was making his first recording.

Labels such as hard bop, bebop and post bop meant little, Tolliver says. “We understood that was just print journalism. We were just trying to expand on what Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk had laid out there.”

Tolliver admits to many influences on his sound, including Gillespie (“He’s the go-to guy for inspiration”), Charlie Shavers, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Durham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Fats Navarro and Roy Eldridge.

But Tolliver’s improvising involves taking risks. “You’re really trying to make a statement of your emotional self on that instrument and the only way I can see to do that is to get busy exploring something right away. I need to have that little bit of danger there that I might not be able to get out of what I’m trying to do.”

Tolliver will perform twice with Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, playing tunes from With Love and the recent Emperor March. With the quartet he’ll play a selection from the Mosaic Select box set.

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz starts on Friday, October 30

An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne, on October 28