Tag Archives: Charlie Parker

Jazz steps lively into future

INTERVIEW

Robert Glasper
Doesn’t hold back: Robert Glasper

Roger Mitchell speaks to producer of the documentary Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, which will be screened on May 2, at 4pm at ACMI, Fed Square, Melbourne.

WOULD Charlie Parker turn in his grave? Probably not. The language is a bit strong, but Bird would surely have heard worse in his day.

Pianist Robert Glasper is talking about jazz and he doesn’t hold back: “Charlie Parker wouldn’t want some motherf—– playing the same sh– he was playing. He’d say, ‘Why are you playing this sh–? I already played that.’ ”

In Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, a 93-minute documentary which has its Australian premiere next Sunday as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Glasper succinctly puts the case for musicians to move on from the past.

As avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew Shipp puts it more gently in the film, “You can’t seek the living among the dead.”

Producer John W. Comerford and co-directors Michael Rivoira, Lars Larson and Peter J. Vogt recorded 130 hours of interviews with more than 75 jazz musicians and 30 hours of super 16mm filmed performance over seven years for Icons Among Us in venues across the US and Europe.

The result is a riveting feature film and a longer, four-part series that is being rolled out worldwide.

When Icons premiered last year at New York’s Lincoln Center, home of the Wynton Marsalis’s “Young Lions” group of neo-traditionalist post-boppers — who see future jazz sounding a lot like its past — it was criticised for not taking a stance.

Comerford disagrees: “Our strategy was to listen as deeply as possible to each of the musicians interviewed. And in making the film we have learned that the essential element to furthering jazz development is to create dialogue, and in that friction is where the energy and the life of it resides.

“The film speaks very clearly, particularly through (trumpeter/composer) Terence Blanchard, who has the last word. He says that we’ve moved on and changed and we’re never, ever going back.

“Pete Vogt is in China right now with the film and apparently the Chinese are apparently bonkers over jazz. What happens with Chinese artists and jazz, given thousands of years of traditional Chinese music, I can’t wait to hear what comes out of that country in the next five years. It may even influence artists from New Orleans.”

The producer also takes issue with jazz writer Paul de Barros, who argues on camera that the problem of jazz today is that it does not connect with modern culture in the way that Parker or John Coltrane did with black freedom or jazz in the 1950s did with immigration and the civil rights movement in America.

De Barros says, “We do not understand the connection between (guitarist) Bill Frisell and the society.”

Comerford says one of the film’s counterpoints is that while De Barros is talking, Frisell is improvising on Bob Dylan’s Masters of War.

“I was in the room when we filmed that cut and that was during a time of intense conflict in Iraq. Frisell was commenting and expressing emotion artistically. The feeling in the room was just extraordinary. People were just locked in.”

Icons Among Us screens as part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image “Future Traditions: Jazz on Film” program.

Details available from Melbourne International Jazz Festival
or Australian Centre for the Moving Image

An abridged version of this article was published in the Sunday Herald Sun Play liftout on Sunday, April 25.

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