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medjuck

Ted Curson/Don Cherry

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The liner notes to a Savoy cd which includes  3 cuts from Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary 5 state that Curson "had been recruited by Charles Mingus in 1960 to play in the style of Don Cherry".  Is this widely known?  Has it been published elsewhere?  

I was familiar with Curson before I'd ever heard any Don Cherry because he often played Montreal when  I moved there in 1961.   (I saw Mingus sit in with him at least once.)  

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That seems odd, as I recall hearing and reading that Mingus was not very fond of what Ornette was doing in jazz.  Nevertheless, Mingus did use Dolphy, who to my ears usually sounds more "out" than Ornette (though I guess he isn't in the technical sense).  The Mingus group with Dolphy, Curson, Richmond, and himself (no piano) certainly has affinities with the contemporary work of Ornette, or at least I hear it that way.

 

 

 

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20 hours ago, medjuck said:

The liner notes to a Savoy cd which includes  3 cuts from Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary 5 state that Curson "had been recruited by Charles Mingus in 1960 to play in the style of Don Cherry".  Is this widely known?  Has it been published elsewhere?  

I was familiar with Curson before I'd ever heard any Don Cherry because he often played Montreal when  I moved there in 1961.   (I saw Mingus sit in with him at least once.)  

Good question. I will have to go back into my Curson interview and see if he says anything like that... I don't think he sounds like Cherry; was listening to the Candid LP not too long ago and was struck anew by what he was putting together phrase-wise and soundwise at that time.

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It's possible Mingus was looking for someone with a modern perspective like Cherry's and found Curson and his approach and knew when to stop a search.

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The notes go on to say that Curson even took up the piccolo trumpet "to fit the bill".  But the notes also quote him as saying "I think (Don and I) were trying to come close to each other. I don't know why, because all we ever talked about was Dizzy."

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This is from the Priestley Mingus biography, p. 110.

"Ted Curson even reported that Mingus not only went down to the Five Spot to hear Coleman, as it seems did every other musician in New York, but sat in on piano; he also took Curson and Dolphy along in his car.  After a while he said, 'Do you think you can play like that?'  Of course, we could.  I'd just got my picket trumpet. Eric said OK."

And here's a quote in the same book attributed to Mingus, pp. 109-110.

"Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale...in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh.  So hen [disc jockey] Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.  I'm not saying everybody's going to have to play like Coleman.  But they're going to have to stop playing Bird."

And this is Mingus quoted in the liner notes to "Mingus Dynasty", which was recorded in 1959.

"Recently a young man came to New York with a plastic horn who critics are saying will cause a new era in jazz.  He's doing atonal things that I've heard other musicians do, but he talks with his horn in the profound and primitive way Bird did."

What Mingus expressed concerns about was not Ornette but that "lesser" musicians would hide behind Ornette the way they had previously hidden behind Bird.  The "Mingus Dynasty" notes quote Mingus at some length on this topic, including a brief conversation between Mingus and George Russell where Russell seems to agree with him.

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I think that Mingus's concerns were founded in reality, as it is arguably (though I might say unequivocally) true that the advent of free jazz fostered visibility for scores of musicians who might otherwise have been considered technically "incomplete."

I also don't think that Mingus's attitude was particularly novel. A friend of mine who very reputably ran in post-bop/free jazz circles once intimated, "Man, everyone knew those cats couldn't play." Another friend of mine - an army veteran who intersected with this time in history (saw Ornette at the Five Spot, Coltrane at the Half Note, etc. etc.) one related this anecdote: Oliver Nelson was sitting the audience for a New York Art Quartet gig. After the gig, Nelson was approached by Lewis Worrell, who asked Nelson for his thoughts. Nelson replied, "You have to play inside before you can play outside." 

I think that what many among the jazz mainstream or left-mainstream (understandably) missed - and what others, like Mingus, may have implicitly recognized - is that there was something in Cherry's playing that was not in Curson's playing. Curson may have been the superior technician, but Cherry had a clarity of concept that was undeniable.

Speaking subjectively, I sense that the "death" of free jazz as an art that required both consideration and confrontation had less to do with the sound of the music and more to do with its cost. Willful experimentation levied serious economic consequences on the music's practitioners - especially after the energy of the 60s dissipated - and those who couldn't hang just moved on to other things. A lot of the movement's sustainable innovations were integrated into other things. 

What jazz musicians in the 60s and 70s could not have anticipated was the latter-day resurgence in interest in free jazz as a kind of "art music" apart from the mainstream. While outright experimentation remains an economically challenging career pathway, trading in the sounds of the 1960s is actually kind of lucrative now (from a certain point of view). 

In one of my last exchanges with Milford Graves, we spoke a bit about the explosive costs of some SRP and IPS records. I think he was more than a little bemused, as he related (and I'm only paraphrasing here) that none of that music made very much money back in the day. I'd imagine (speaking only from my read of the situation) that though Professor Graves held a deep conviction in his own work, he was maybe unable to see even his late career success as anything other than part of a career-long battle for due recognition.  

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Doesn't Donald Byrd play pocket trumpet on FUEGO? Recording date: October 4, 1959. 

The "toy instruments" were part of the whole Ornette Coleman Quartet package at the time. I can imagine those visuals might have made the music sound even more disorienting / alienating to someone like Mingus whose avant-garde roots were more Third Stream.

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Sustainable energy requires planning. Planning requires both the will and the disciple to, uh....have a plan to begin with, and then to execute it.

Jumping into the fire to keep it burning...is self-immolation really a survival strategy?

 

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There are a couple of (relevant) points to be made: (1) I think it's reasonable to argue that the social divisions between "avant-garde" and "mainstream" have been a little overexaggerated by history, and (2) the well-traded narrative that free jazz was about dissolving conventions is only a partial truth. 

Time and historical perspective (it's been, what, 50-60 years?!) have clarified that free jazz as a gestalt was more about expanding the repertoire of possibilities in the music rather than erasing the technical innovations of the music(s) that preceded it. The folks who survived the music's heyday each had coherent, often evolving artistic concepts - e.g., Ornette, Cecil, Sun Ra, etc. It also bears notice that a lot of people commonly associated with the genre have balked at the "free music" as praxis thing (Sun Ra: "there is no freedom in the universe"). Moreover, many of the folks who did and do strongly associate with the "free music" appellation often had political (as opposed to strictly aesthetic) reasons for doing so - which is a big reason why we're forced to compartmentalize the music of the South Africans, Europeans, etc. into a different genre category. 

With regard to my point above, who in 1959 would have guessed that Don Cherry was about a million things besides playing trumpet? I think there were a lot of surface attempts at the turn of the 1960s to bottle the sound of early free jazz and reapply it in more palatable, marketable, or controllable ways. (I don't mean to rag on the guy, but I keep thinking about Jimmy Woods in this regard.) This was, of course, a failing venture, as - again - the chief innovation of free jazz was in expanding the range of expressive possibilities in the music. Cats like Mingus understood this basic idea and found ways to use the innovations of Ornette, Cherry, etc. to grow their own work. 

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16 minutes ago, ep1str0phy said:

The folks who survived the music's heyday each had coherent, often evolving artistic concepts - e.g., Ornette, Cecil, Sun Ra, etc.

They also all either had or developed a sustainable way of surviving on a daily basis, be in through some type of co-op/communal network, an individual benefactor, getting a good break with some money that they used intelligently, so forth and so on.

That takes personal discipline and clarity of vision. Long game. If not at first, then sooner or later.

The older I get, the less sympathy I have for people who are hellbent determined to stay "out" in every way and then fall through the cracks as a result. At some point, "out" leads to a loss of gravity, and as a momentary experience, that's transformative, but as a permanent outcome...you don't make it, you be gone for good.

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3 hours ago, JSngry said:

The older I get, the less sympathy I have for people who are hellbent determined to stay "out" in every way and then fall through the cracks as a result. At some point, "out" leads to a loss of gravity, and as a momentary experience, that's transformative, but as a permanent outcome...you don't make it, you be gone for good.

Not to get too far off topic, but I've shifted on this issue a bit. There is indeed such a thing as aggressive (and possibly arrogant) confrontationalism, the likes of which celebrate the alienation of audiences and the abject obscurity of the artist. At the same time, I feel (anecdotally) that 90% of musicians who operate in fringe or avant musics aren't trying to be so out that they, as you suggest, drift into oblivion.

Consider someone like Sonny Sharrock, whose influence is absolutely everywhere - had it not been for Herbie Mann and Bill Laswell, certain epochal stages in the development of improvised guitar may have been lost to obscurity. Consider, too, that Sonny had (and I'm paraphrasing his words here) tried to "sell out" on numerous occasions - only to fail at every turn. Does this make Sonny one of the players with "personal discipline and clarity of vision," or is he just one of the lucky ones? Does it matter?

In a historical context, that's all the more opportunity to celebrate artists who have managed, by force of will or ingenuity, to survive without compromising their art. Guys like Milford and Cecil toiled in obscurity for long stretches of their careers, going essentially undocumented for years at a time. It's virtually impossible for this to happen (unless by intention) in 2021. Milford kept his head above water because he was - and I use these words very selectively - a fucking genius. 

In short, I wouldn't knock any number of guys who, say, appeared on an ESP Disk session and proceeded to almost completely wipe out - they may not have been the "special" ones, but they're also victims of circumstance to a degree. 

Edited by ep1str0phy

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50 minutes ago, ep1str0phy said:

Consider someone like Sonny Sharrock, whose influence is absolutely everywhere - had it not been for Herbie Mann and Bill Laswell, certain epochal stages in the development of improvised guitar may have been lost to obscurity. Consider, too, that Sonny had (and I'm paraphrasing his words here) tried to "sell out" on numerous occasions - only to fail at every turn. Does this make Sonny one of the players with "personal discipline and clarity of vision," or is he just one of the lucky ones? Does it matter?

Yes, it very much so matters .

#1 - he had the internal focus to take gigs that would be good for him when they were offered to him. Getting the offer in the first place is half the battle.

# 2 - that he kept trying to "sell out" is an indicator that he had enough sense to know that voluntary obscurity would get him even more nowhere. And whether or not he succeeded at it, I can tell you that there has never been one point during his time alive where I was not the only person alive who knew who "Sonny Sharrock" was. That's a huge advantage when you know you're going to have a limited audience to begin with, name recognition and visibility, at even a small level.

And in the end - Space Ghost. They knew who he was, and they probably didn't have to look too hard to find him.

50 minutes ago, ep1str0phy said:

In a historical context, that's all the more opportunity to celebrate artists who have managed, by force of will or ingenuity, to survive without compromising their art. Guys like Milford and Cecil toiled in obscurity for long stretches of their careers, going essentially undocumented for years at a time. It's virtually impossible for this to happen (unless by intention) in 2021. Milford kept his head above water because he was - and I use these words very selectively - a fucking genius.

Yes, they toiled in obscurity for years, and in Cecil's case, I've heard some pretty harrowing tales about how hard that was for him. But again - personal discipline and intense focus to keep that genius on track. We all know genius/"genius" type people who just can't keep it together...and only sometimes because of undiagnosed...illness/"illness".

Not everybody is disciplined and not everybody really wants to be. And today, more than ever, imo, people need to be. Self-reliance is the only way to stand even half a chance. It's not even optional.

Next time you see a sucker trying to get over in any other way, either get paid in cash up front, or else run like hell. Or even better, do both.

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4 minutes ago, JSngry said:

# 2 - that he kept trying to "sell out" is an indicator that he had enough sense to know that voluntary obscurity would get him even more nowhere. And whether or not he succeeded at it, I can tell you that there has never been one point during his time alive where I was not the only person alive who did not know who "Sonny Sharrock" was. That's a huge advantage when you know you're going to have a limited audience to begin with, name recognition and visibility, at even a small level.

I want to preface by saying that Sonny is my favorite guitarist (and so my #1 guy on my chosen instrument, which is a whole thing). All this is to say that I don't want to talk out of my ass or out of turn here - bone of this is a knock on his body of work so much as a study on, as we're discussing, life practices in out music. 

Points taken, though I do want to qualify that a lot of Sonny's solo forays into commercial music were, at least early on, disastrous. The Paradise record + the Savages band culminated in years of virtual inactivity. I agree that the promise of the Laswell collaboration - and Sonny's receptivity to the prospect of drastically reworking his technique - basically concretized his place in history. At the same time, this feels like an instance in which the destination validates the journey, and the story feels a little more complex-

I have a sense (loosely corroborated in any number of interviews) that Sonny couldn't really play guitar in the early 60s. He was a fantastic rhythm player and a daring conceptualist with a very limited understanding of linear construction. From a guitar player's perspective, I sense that Sonny's later success, paired with the advent of readily accessible electronics, more or less forced him to undertake an accelerated, if wildly delayed, regimen of self-improvement. Had he had the time, perspective, initiative or whatever to recognize his limitations sooner, who knows what we could have gotten.

It's an academic line of inquiry, but - and this was kind of my point above - we've never had to ask this kind of question about, say, Ornette, Cecil, or Milford. Those guys were self-starters and deserve their flowers. To put it a different way, I've had personal and musical experiences with plenty of guys who never got to that second gear that Sonny found, and I also feel that musicians of this ilk are not self-sabotaging so much as a little unlucky. 

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31 minutes ago, ep1str0phy said:

 I've had personal and musical experiences with plenty of guys who never got to that second gear that Sonny found, and I also feel that musicians of this ilk are not self-sabotaging so much as a little unlucky. 

And I'm sure you know plenty of people who barely have a first gear who keep playing in some form or fashion, just because they want to and don't self-destruct or otherwise just don't bother with finding a way to be anyplace other than where they already are.

Is it a person's "fault" that they just flounder around in some half-realized state of...whatever? No, not if that's what they want. But, you know, that's on them. "Unlucky" is for people who really want, really try, and don't get what they want. And there's been plenty of that. But not as much as we might want to assume...

I'm tired of "victims". This music is loving its victimhood way more than is good for itself. Fight back, dammit. And that means surviving or else making them kill you. Letting them kill you is so....20th century.

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5 hours ago, JSngry said:

I'm tired of "victims". This music is loving its victimhood way more than is good for itself. Fight back, dammit. And that means surviving or else making them kill you. Letting them kill you is so....20th century.

I'll freely admit that I have my issues with victim mentality in free music, and I've had to excuse myself from certain situations where this psychology is the dominant one. More often than not, communities that freely trade in this language are undone by circular, feudalistic infighting. 

On the other hand - and this is a bit of a truism - but hustle is hard. "As Serious As Your Life" is not a joke. The danger/trouble with fighting back is that you're going to go through a world of hurt. Lots of people are cut out for this, but twice as many people are not - and I don't begrudge that, personally. 

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Of course it's hard. Power surrenders nothing without a struggle. Nobody gives you anything. Etc. Etc. Etc.

This never changes, whether you'd 25, 45, 65, hell, 85.

That's why survival comes before anything else. And survival is not accidental, not in this world. A clear-eyed and sober approach to facts coupled with a focused work ethic, that's how you get shit done, that's how you fight your fight to win (or at least to not get taken in by all the sucker traps). This is work.

Yeah, it's hard. That's how it is going to be. That's how it's always been. That's how it's always going to be.

"Angels and Demons At Play" indeed.

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I’ve attended avant-garde free music on a regular basis in NYC on a fairly regular basis for the past 20 years - especially more often from ~2009 up until the shutdown. I’ve seen up close the vast majority of the working musicians in this scene often. Most of them do not have anywhere near the visibility that even people like the above have had or have. I’ve never encountered any thing except a sense of gratitude that the 100 or 50 or 10 people attending the shows were there. No victim mentality that I’ve run across. They are thrilled to be playing the music they choose to play. 

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Same in London over a similar, maybe slightly longer, timeframe. And most of the musicians have even less visibility than the NYC cohort

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13 minutes ago, mjazzg said:

Same in London over a similar, maybe slightly longer, timeframe. And most of the musicians have even less visibility than the NYC cohort

And I still have a dream of getting over there in a few years as besides and along with the NYC core (and the Chicago core) the London musicians are my favorites. 
 

in 2006 on his last visit that I know of to The States, Paul Rogers was playing a couple/three nights at The Stone with Paul Dunmall & Tony Levin (RIP) using a rented bass and he was thrilled to be there / “playing for peace and love” as he told me. So one if the greatest 4-5 bassists on the planet (and he has to know how great he is no matter how humble he might be) and we was happy at least in that moment in time. Fwiw he had the same attitude back in 2000 or so when I saw him at the Knitting Factory in front of about 25 people. With Dunmall & Kevin Norton. 2 sets, btw, that are still among the best 10-15 nights of music I’ve ever experienced. 

 

Edited by Steve Reynolds

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12 minutes ago, Steve Reynolds said:

And I still have a dream of getting over there in a few years as besides and along with the NYC core (and the Chicago core) the London musicians are my favorites. 
 

in 2006 on his last visit that I know of to The States, Paul Rogers was playing a couple/three nights at The Stone with Paul Dunmall & Tony Levin (RIP) using a rented bass and he was thrilled to be there / “playing for peace and love” as he told me. So one if the greatest 4-5 bassists on the planet (and he has to know how great he is no matter how humble he might be) and we was happy at least in that moment in time. Fwiw he had the same attitude back in 2000 or so when I saw him at the Knitting Factory in front of about 25 people. With Dunmall & Kevin Norton. 2 sets, btw, that are still among the best 10-15 nights of music I’ve ever experienced. 

 

We don't see Paul rogers here very often at all. I've only seen him 2 or 3 times myself. Long time resident of France.

That Dunmall/Rogers/Norton trio on CIMP! I envy you seeing them live

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