Free download of the month #1:
Special thanks to the great Seattle pianist and music educator, and our most cancelled guest artist so far (scheduled to play on dates that have been cancelled), Randy Halberstadt for sharing his thoughts and music, a tribute to pianist McCoy Tyner:
Jazz continues to incorporate ever wider palettes of sound. I think that many of the early giants of the idiom would be fascinated and thrilled to hear how the music has evolved over its century-old history. At the same time, however, something has been lost. I used to be able to identify many of the musicians on a jazz recording within a few bars, certainly the pianist and the horn players. There was no mixing up John Coltrane with Coleman Hawkins, or Miles Davis with Freddie Hubbard. And the pianists? You would think that piano would be less pliable, less likely to sound different under different hands, since you can’t affect the tone in the same way you can on a saxophone or trumpet. And yet Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, and Duke Ellington approached the instrument in such different ways that you could pick them out immediately. While I listen to and thoroughly enjoy a wide range of modern jazz pianists, I often find it more difficult to distinguish them from each other in the same way. There are fewer distinct “voices” than there used to be, and I miss that.
On March 6 of this year, one of the most distinct piano voices was silenced forever. Born in Philadelphia in 1938, McCoy Tyner was known to most jazz listeners through his contribution to the sound of the legendary John Coltrane Quartet, featuring Coltrane on tenor, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, and Tyner at the piano. He was with the group from 1960 until it broke up in 1965. During that time, Coltrane played exclusively with McCoy: if Tyner couldn’t make the gig, it became the John Coltrane Trio. His style was that inherent to the band sound that no one else would do.
Many of Coltrane’s compositions were based on a “modal” concept, in which the harmonies tended to move much more gradually than in bebop. In fact, some tunes like “Impressions” only include two chords in a 32-bar form. In order to play creatively over such a static harmonic framework, McCoy had to reinvent his playing and, in the process, he laid the foundation that jazz pianists imitated for decades thereafter. He came up with a set of left-hand chord voicings that enabled him to sound fluid within the context of a static harmony. For example, if the only chord written for eight measures was C minor 7th, he could keep his left hand moving from sound to sound, essentially superimposing a much more active progression over that single harmony. Meanwhile, his approach to his right-hand lines was every bit as revolutionary. Taking the C minor 7th example, there are a set of “right” notes that jazz musicians learn to play over that chord which, arranged as an ascending scale, is known as the C Dorian mode (C D Eb F G A Bb). The other notes (C# E F# G# B) are, by comparison, “wrong.” Yet McCoy’s lines would often alternate between an “outside” sound, which included those notes, and the “inside” sound of C Dorian. In this way he was able to create a sense of tension and release that was much more interesting than if he had been content to just “color within the lines.”
“Song for Sulieman” is a song I composed for my fifth recording “Open Heart” (Origin 2018). It’s based on a driving bass line that might remind some listeners of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus Loves Lucy” theme. (For the more technically minded, my bass line is in a 7/4 meter.) While a lot of McCoy Tyner’s music is also very hard driving, it was actually a chord progression in the fourth measure of the main melody, not the tempo, that connected it to McCoy in my mind. As soon as I came up with it I thought, “That’s something McCoy might have written!” So it seemed appropriate that I should honor him somehow in the title of the tune. Tyner had converted to Islam when he was 17, and his Muslim name was Sulieman Saud, so I chose to call it “Song for Sulieman.”
Free download of the month #2: (story by Rhonda)
This is the first month in many, many years that I have not had a new poster to take to Fred's bike shop, Olympic Bike and Skate at the crossroads of the heart of downtown Port Orchard WA, on Bay and Sydney. I always enjoy talking to Fred, whom Mark calls a "Renaissance Man," a man with many talents and areas of knowledge. Fred is no youngster, I think he told me he's eighty-plus in years and was planning to compete in (and win) a national bike race for folks in his age group this year. I suppose that's off now, too... You wouldn't guess his age to see him working on bicycles, or riding his bike to and from work for that matter.
Fred played the saxophone when he was young, and even had experiences involving some of the giants of jazz. I remember stories like how he used to walk in and sit on a bench to listen to Thelonious Monk play piano. He didn't interrupt, just listened. And another about sitting on the same piano bench with Duke Ellington at a party. Fred hears jazz at a high level and is a big fan of Mark. He says that Mark heard what the greats before him did and has taken it to a new level with his own sound.
It doesn't seem to matter the topic, Fred has related real world experiences. When I called to see if his shop is open (it is: Thursdays through Saturdays 10 to 6), he told me that 6 of 60 students in his childhood classroom died from polio, and two more required braces or more after recovering. He had to go to school for 10 more years before there was a vaccine. I'm sure we're all thankful right now that science has shortened that wait time over the years.
Fred was a pilot in the US Air Force during war time, and later for a commercial airline. He was roommates with artist Andy Warhol and tells very interesting stories about his roommate's work and art critics. He makes fiberglass car parts. He used to fix and ship old bikes to less fortunate parts of the world. He is active in his church and in the local opera. He doesn't sell bikes anymore because he can't compete on price with budget online stores, but he fixes them. He's a master mechanic and his prices are low because he wants his customers to ride their bikes for their own good.
Fred maintains my bike which helps keep me healthy. He's proud to have Mark Lewis posters in his windows on both streets of his prime downtown location, and when I bring them he tells me stories that make me think. He had Mark play at his daughter's wedding and also his Air Wing reunion. He spreads the good word about Mark Lewis in his shop and comes to most shows in Port Orchard. I owe a lot to Fred!
Still up from last month:
Mark's composition "Rendezvous", written for his friend from his early days as a musician, David Zasloff, jazz comedian. When we made a trip to Los Angeles in 2012, we looked up David and stopped to visit him at his home in Burbank. Mark wrote the song to honor the reunion. Mark’s been playing "Rendezvous" again lately, so he wanted to feature it as the free download.
David is a stand-up comedian/multi-instrumentalist – vocalist and has performed in a wide variety of venues throughout the United States. David has written two books. One called, “The Complete Book Of Everything, Part I” which is a compilation of his comic monologues. His autobiography is called, “The Joy of Suffering.” And he recorded a comedy CD entitled “Honey Take Me Home.”
Alone Together (Live)
Mark Lewis & David Friesen
Veteran jazz masters Mark Lewis and David Friesen have recorded more than 100 albums between them, including two together (one on the Audio Daddio label, one on the Quartet label). The single “Alone Together” was recorded live at The Fremont in Seattle WA in December 2017.
This recording is rare for a number of reasons:
-It’s the first recording released of Mark Lewis on baritone saxophone, he’s most often heard on alto -David Friesen plays his own original music on recordings and in concert, almost never jazz standards -Mark Lewis typically records his own original music (more than 1,700 songs composed to date) -“Alone Together” is from the only night that was recorded at The Fremont during a six-month jazz series in a trendy neighborhood. - the club has since closed , a casualty of rising Seattle rents -The recording demonstrates master musicians improvising with what some might call unusual instrumentation – just baritone sax and bass -The performance combines an exquisite mix of technique, creativity and emotion – hallmarks of these musicians
0:00 / 7:20
The New York Session
From liner notes by Ted Gioia: In short, this is a great artist and a remarkable ensemble, so set aside some time to relax and settle into this recording - original compositions by Mark Lewis.
Liner notes by Ted Gioia:
I have been writing about jazz for more than thirty years, and now have ten books on music to my credit. But I rarely write liner notes for new jazz releases. In fact, I’ve probably only done 3 or 4 in the last decade.
But I asked Mark Lewis to let me write something for his new album. I volunteered and refused any payment for my services. You see, even a seasoned music critic like me can also be a fan.
If you lend your ears to this music, I suspect you’ll be a fan too. There’s so much to savor and admire here. Lewis’s musicality, his inventiveness, his humor, his ability to immerse himself in the soundscape of the performance with total emotional commitment—these all stand out here in track after track.
It would be easy to focus on Lewis’s exceptional technical skill—and he has probably put in more practice hours than any jazz player I know. There are only three time periods in a typical Mark Lewis day: he’s either practicing, just about to practice, or just finished practicing. (He may also be the most prolific composer I’ve met—with around 1,700 works to his credit!) By all means, enjoy his uncanny ease of execution, and dig how he hits those high notes with the grace of an outfielder stretching to grab some insane almost-home-run ball before it flies over the fence. But the aspect that most delights me here is how Lewis puts the stamp of his own personality, quirky and charming, on every song.
Check out Lewis’s solo on “Child’s Play”—an off-to-the-races performance on a composition that is anything but child’s play—and marvel at how he still brings out the playfulness and sense of childlike discovery even at a blistering tempo. That’s a signature of his style. It’s never just patterns and flying fingers with Mark Lewis. He always takes us on a musical journey, marked at every step by the curiosity and zeal of the eternal explorer who is our guide.
Then compare this with “Koan,” Hearing Lewis’s work here is like watching the slow unfolding of a lotus blossom, almost a lesson in musical mindfulness. He evokes the sound of the traditional shakuhachi flute, but blends it effortlessly with the vocabulary of jazz (and even some Rahsaan-ish overblowing) in a piece that serves as tribute to, in Lewis’s words, “the dedicated workers who went into the Fukushima atomic power plant after the tsunami flooded it. They saved so many people without regard to their own safety.”
Or listen to the soulful blues of “DL Blues,” dedicated to fellow musician Dick Lupino—Mark first got the idea for this song while trying out a microphone at the session that had been previously used by John Coltrane. Or check out the slow funk waltz of “Connie” (for club owner Connie Jacob), the carnival spirit “Boberto’s Magical World” (dedicated to drummer Bob Merrihew), and the 12/8 “Roll ‘Em Joe” for guitarist Joe Huron. As these tributes indicate, Mark’s music is an autobiography in sound of the people and places he’s known. But even if you weren’t aware of the particular circumstances behind each song, you would still get a sense of the experiential element and rich tapestry of life woven into these songs. You can hear it at every step in the music.
Mark Lewis was born in Tacoma, and started learning saxophone at age nine—playing his grandfather’s C-melody horn. He later switched his focus to alto sax and flute, and started to gain a reputation in the Seattle area before embarking on his travels. Although he deals with a serious visual impairment—he was born with congenital cataracts, but after a series of surgeries has some limited sight, although he is legally blind—that might make others reluctant to travel unaccompanied, Lewis has made bold explorations of the world. He has pursued residencies in a wide range of cities and countries. He has lived, for shorter or longer periods, in Holland, San Francisco, British Columbia and other locales. He now calls Bremerton, Washington his home, but he is often on the road.
Lewis is ably assisted here by a world-class band. Even before I heard the music, I was excited about the prospect of Lewis collaborating with pianist George Cables. Cables has been one of the most in-demand jazz pianists of the last four decades. In addition to his many leader dates, he has worked alongside Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Art Pepper, Joe Henderson, Max Roach, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, and many other leading luminaries of jazz. On track after track, Cables shows just what an alchemist of the keyboard he is, transforming the black and white notes into rich kaleidoscopes of sound.
I’ve admired Victor Lewis’s drum work since I first heard him with Stan Getz’s band in the early 1980s. I’ve seen him in different musical settings, and Lewis always finds the right pulse, texture and drive for every song. New York bassist Essiet Essiet rounds out the group, and he too brings an impressive pedigree to the session—he was Art Blakey’s last bassist, and has worked with Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, and the Blue Note All-Stars.
In short, this is a great artist and a remarkable ensemble. So set aside some time to relax and settle into this recording.
I only wish you could meet the man behind the music. I have learned much from watching Mark Lewis in action. And not just from his activities on the bandstand. I’ve heard him in analytical discussion with a scientist on the musical scale implied by the orbit of the nine planets around the sun of our solar system. I’ve seen him teach a famous jazz drummer the nuances of an African 15/8 rhythm. I’ve heard him offer a learned disquisition on the relationship between Gustav Mahler and Lennie Tristano. Whenever I encounter Mark Lewis, I am rewarded with something new to consider or some fresh sound to relish.
Perhaps if you get a chance to hear Lewis live in concert you will gain a more complete sense of what a special person he is. And if you have the opportunity to talk to him after the gig, seize it. But even on these tracks, you will get some measure of who he is and what he does. He’s a magical man. I’ve experienced the enchantment; here’s a chance for you to do so too.
Ted Gioia is the author of The Jazz Standards and The History of Jazz, both published by Oxford University Press. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from Basic Books.
Mark Lewis Cool Jazz Trio
The Cool Jazz Trio went to the Audio Daddio Studios and out came this intense yet lyrical and highly creative recording of nine of Mark Lewis’ favorites from his compositions. Real jazz. The good stuff.
Mark Lewis has a remarkably perceptive — and indeed spiritual — personal agenda of creativity. There is no way to safely place this music in the background. It will seize and open you. It is a total experience. The music will stay in your mind long after you hear it on this CD. In this reverberating performance by Mark Lewis and his self-challenging associates, ordinary time stops and you enter a new sonic world. The value of the time and intensity that Mark Lewis and his colleagues have put into this endeavor is manifold.
An authentic and invigorating creator is among us. Dive into the sonic now with Mark Lewis’ recently released album. The vibrant alto sound intones long lean lines that build with dramatic tension over the arc of the album. Told in an unpretentious dialect, his stories manifest in fragmented images, notes, tones and shapes, a sonic lunch for your ears. What a great band, this music deserves to be heard on all the jazz radio stations, internet stations and more! The repertoire is excellent, this music is all about melody and harmony, and attempting to musically be oneself through the composer’s language.
Ok, the thought that arises after listening is "why isn't this guy winning polls?" That's no spur-of-the-moment impression; Mark Lewis is as sharp and perceptive as anyone you'd care to name. Pay heed, for example, to his dazzling stories as he plays his alto saxophone with the highest integrity. Improvisation doesn't get much better than this. What a pleasure to hear this timeless music, and the musicians whose singular talents made this superlative recording possible. It is powerfully, passionately alive.
Liner notes by ..............Tim Price ......www.timpricejazz.com.....
Mark Lewis Cool Jazz Trio
Inventive. Interactive. Lyrical. Spontaneous. The Mark Lewis Cool Jazz Trio has a sound reminiscent of West Coast Cool, with more freedom and in a smaller group. The harmonies and arrangements in this live recording are inspired, spontaneous and unrehearsed.