In memory of Marty Napoleon:
Marty played piano with Gene Krupa, Red Allen (and – much later – Harry Allen), Doc Cheatham, and (perhaps most memorably) the last editions of the Louis Armstrong All Stars, after Billy Kyle’s death. Now Marty has gone, but here he is, aged 91 in 2012, playing a medley of latter-day Louis songs (he even sings himself at one point) in a New York club that had arranged a special night for him, with fellow-veterans Bill Crow on bass and Ray Mosca at the drums (and just watch – and listen to – those ol’ guys swing!).
As my good friend Michael Steinman (of the great Jazz Lives blog) wrote at the time : “If this is 91, I want to be a rug-cutter in just this Napoleonic manner. Marty, Bill and Ray rocked the room”:
Here’s Michael’s very moving tribute, posted at Jazz Lives a couple of days ago:
Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27. His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”
I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm. It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.
I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed. But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.
It is true in Marty’s case as well. And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.
And a closing story. One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape. Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces. I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others. In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?” And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”
And he is. As is Marty.
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This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:
Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists
By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)
Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.
For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.
Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.
TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.
As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.
This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.
Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).
This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.
Do Everything to Help this Comrade.
STATEMENT BY UK KURDISH ORGANISATIONS ABOUT SHILAN OZCELIK’S IMPRISONMENT.
The Kurdish community and supporters of the Kurdish struggle are incensed at the arrest and imprisonment of 18 year old Shilan (Silhan) Ozcelik, who is accused of wanting to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS).
The UK government in its steadfastness to appease the Turkish state, who are continuing to support ISIS, and withhold support from the Kurdish armed movement, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) has made clear whose side the government are on. The recent killing of the heroic Konstandinos Erik Scurfield (Kemal) in the battle against ISIS in Rojava (Northern Syria), has garnered a very positive approach from the British media and public. The UK government has been afraid of this support for the Kurdish struggle because for a 100 years the UK state has been one of the initiators and supporters of Kurdish oppression in the Middle East. This is why they have delayed and not supported the repatriation of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield and criminalized the struggle he has sacrificed his life for.
The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which is on the terror list in the UK, EU and USA was added to this list in 2002 during a 5 year unilateral ceasefire, at the behest of Turkey. The PKK have never posed a threat to the UK and threatened this country. This listing is evidently political and to do with the economic and political ties between the Turkish and British states. Using this listing the UK government has been criminalising the Kurds for at least 13 years, yet not one Kurdish individual has been charged and convicted of being a PKK member, despite many raids, arrests and intimidations.
The case of Shilan Ozcelik is the most recent chapter of this story and the Kurdish community are now concerned that the UK government will, in its attempt to seem impartial to ‘certain’ sections of British society, once again criminalise the community who have been the biggest supporters of the international fight against ISIS terror and fascism. Shilan has on many occasions stated that she wanted to travel to the region to assist with humanitarian work. It seems that the UK government are blocking and trying to prevent any support from going to Rojava and Sinjar, thus strengthening ISIS’ resolve and the unofficial embargo on Rojava and the resistance there.
To call for the immediate release of Shilan Ozcelik and to call for an end to the criminalisation of the Kurdish community [we held] a picket outside Holloway Prison [last night], where Shilan Ozcelik is being held.
Roj Women’s Association, Kurdish Youth Assembly, Kurdish People’s Assembly, CAMPACC, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), MAFDAD (Kurdish Lawyers Association), Kurdish Community Centre, Roj Women’s Assembly, Highbury East Councillor Aysegul Erdogan
SIGN EMERGENCY PETITION TO THE UK HOME SECRETARY THERESA MAY TO FREE SHILAN OZCELIK IMMEDIATELY!
* More info over at Tendance Coatesy
Below: an extract from Terry Pratchett’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, Shaking Hands With Death, February 2010:
When I was a young boy, playing on the floor of my grandmother’s front room, I glanced up at the television and saw Death, talking to a knight. I didn’t know much about death at that point. It was the thing that happened to budgerigars and hamsters. But it was Death, with a scythe and an amiable manner. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I had just watched a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, wherein the knight engages in protracted dialogue, and of course the famous chess game, with the Grim Reaper who, it seemed to me, did not seem so terribly grim.
The image has remained with me ever since and Death as a character appeared in the first of my Discworld novels. He has evolved in the series to be one of its most popular characters; implacable, because that is his job, he appears to have some sneaking regard and compassion for a race of creatures which are to him as ephemeral as mayflies, but which nevertheless spend their brief lives making rules for the universe and counting the stars.
I have no clear recollection of the death of my grandparents, but my paternal grandfather died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after just having cooked and eaten his own dinner at the age of 96. He had felt very odd, got a neighbour to ring for the doctor and stepped tidily into the ambulance and out of the world. A good death if ever there was one. Except that, according to my father, he did complain to the ambulance men that he hadn’t had time to finish his pudding. I am not at all sure about the truth of this, because my father had a finely tuned sense of humour that he was good enough to bequeath to me, presumably to make up for the weak bladder, short stature and male pattern baldness which regrettably came with the package.
My father’s own death was more protracted. He had a year’s warning. It was pancreatic cancer. Technology kept him alive, at home and in a state of reasonable comfort and cheerfulness, for that year, during which we had those conversations that you have with a dying parent. Perhaps it is when you truly get to know them, when you realise that it is now you marching towards the sound of the guns and you are ready to listen to the advice and reminiscences that life was too crowded for up to that point. He unloaded all the anecdotes that I had heard before, about his time in India during the war, and came up with a few more that I had never heard. Then, at one point, he suddenly looked up and said, “I can feel the sun of India on my face”, and his face did light up rather magically, brighter and happier than I had seen it at any time in the previous year, and if there had been any justice or even narrative sensibility in the universe, he would have died there and then, shading his eyes from the sun of Karachi.
He did not. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s an open letter to Cameron, Miliband etc. on the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who now again faces possible execution for apostasy.
The organisers are trying to move the campaign from petitioning and desperate pleas – amnesty style – to something a little more substantial. There is a translated letter being used in France and they are trying to get Charlie Hebdo survivors to sign.
We intend to send it end of Tuesday, sending to the press for Tuesday lunchtime. It would be good if we could get some signatures on it from trade unionists and socialists.
We are attaching the letter and signatures as of midday today (also below) but anyone thinking it would be useful to make contacts as well as get signatures please use it. Or obviously if you want to sign….. let us know in the comments below.
Open Letter to be sent to Cameron, Miliband and other Party leaders
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.
In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.
The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.
But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.
The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.
As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.
We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.
If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.
In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia
Signatories as at Sunday, 8th March, 12pm: Read the rest of this entry »
Make no mistake: ex-Royal Marine, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed on Monday, fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, was an anti-fascist hero.
His comrade, ex-US soldier Jordan Matson, also a YPG volunteer, wrote on Facebook:
“Kosta as we call him was from the United Kingdom and was born a Greek citizen. He served in both the Greek army and as a British Royal Marine commando up until he came here. He served with me in Jezza and Shengal.
“Kosta volunteered for every attack and guard duty opportunity. He wanted nothing more than to bring the fight to the enemy.
“I’m going to carry on your legacy brother, I will; never forget you. I love you man.
“Save ne a place up there big guy.”
Scurfield had been fighting in an area southwest of the town of Tal Hamis, which Kurdish forces seized from the ISIS/Daesh fascists last week, when (it is thought) the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by mortar fire.
The death of this hero reminds us of how shamefully the Kurdish forces have been neglected by the West and that, despite their courage and superior fighting skills, they are often simply out-gunned by the well-equipped forces of ISIS/Daesh.
In memory of Kosta, we must demand of our government: Arm The Kurds!
Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:
Avijit Roy, who has been killed in an attack in Dhaka at the age of 42, was a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.
Mr Roy rose to prominence though his prolific writing on his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona – an internet gathering of mostly South Asia free-thinkers, rationalists, sceptics and humanists founded in 2000.
He was a passionate atheist and an adherent of metaphysical naturalism – the school of thought that rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.
He was the author of numerous books, and had many articles published in magazines and journals.
In a conservative country like Bangladesh, his subject matter was often contentious, covering sensitive issues such as homosexuality – which he argued was inherent in nature – religious unbelief and cosmology.
Mr Roy’s followers argue that many of his secular ideas are in the tradition of the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941 and is often referred to as “Bengal’s Shakespeare”.
Some of the last books Mr Roy wrote, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), were critically well received around the world.
In the Virus of Faith he argues that “faith-based terrorism will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions”.
In one of his last published articles in the Free Inquiry magazine, Mr Roy wrote: “To me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences in this regard verify the horrific reality that such religious extremism is a virus of faith.”
He said in the article that a book he published last year “hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists” and led to him being targeted by militant Islamists and terrorists.
It also led, he said, to a man openly issuing death threats against him on Facebook.
“Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now,” Mr Roy quoted one threat against him as saying, “but he will be murdered when he gets back.”
The Independent reports,
Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.
Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.
Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.
The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.
Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.
Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene
In Commemoration: Avijit Roy.
News From Bangladesh:
BD News 24.
Avijit’s killing stirs world media Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique
The brutal killing of writer, blogger Avijit Roy in hand of machete-wielding assailants has created a shockwave in the global media.
The leading news organisations from around the world including BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, NDTV etc condemned the barbarous killing, bringing out detail of the attack.
BBC placed the news on the attack that left the Bangladesh-born US citizen dead and his wife also a blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, critically injured, as its lead on the following day, with the headline suggesting “US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death.”
The contributions of Avijit, a naturalised US citizen, particularly his activism for scientific knowledge and secularism through online and publications, his receiving threats from militants groups, the attack by the widespread protest against the killing and for arrest of the attackers, and the country’s context were mentioned in the BBC’s report.
The killing of the son of the country’s one of the most prominent professors Ajay Roy was covered Reuters, as “American blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack,” the New York Times reported “Avijit Roy, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Is Killed by Machete-Wielding Assailants,” besides several other versions with updates.
Roy came to Dhaka for publication of his new books in the book fair around mid-February with his wife, and on the evening they fell under the attack in the TSC area in Dhaka University on the way back from the fair.
Avijit wrote a number of books on mainly philosophy, rationalism and science, in line with his activism, also in online, for secularism and freedom of expression, for which he had been receiving death threats since long, including the recent one when social media fanatics openly declared to kill him on coming home, family told media.
The UK-based the Guardian reported “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh” mentioning the previously happened similar attacks on the free thinkers.
“American-Bangladeshi atheist blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists,” wrote the UK based the Independent.
The Telegraph wrote: “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh,” while The Times headlined “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”
CNN titled “Prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy killed” where it detailed with the facts related to the killing and the shocks emerged from it.
It reported on the very attack in two more stories with title “American writer hacked to death in Bangladesh spoke out against extremists”, and “Blogger’s brutal death for speaking his mind.”
From the murder to the UN condemnation, the media all around the world are coming up with the follow ups as well.
The attack was widely covered in the media of neighboring India and Pakistan.
India’s NDTV and Pakistan’s Dawn among the prominent news media covered the story, his contributions, threats were mentioned.
These news media are also following the developments in Bangladesh and the world, in response to the attack, protest and condemnation that began in Dhaka.
Marty Grosz is 85 on Saturday February 28.
As well as being a superb rhythm and chordal guitarist is the tradition of Karl Kress and Dick McDonough, Marty is also an engaging vocalist, a raconteur of Olympian stature, a writer, graphic artist (he is son of George after all) and social commentator … in fact a true renaissance man.
Here he is, a few years ago, playing his ‘Horace Gerlach medley’ with characteristic opening remarks:
And here, from the sleeve notes to his 2000 Jazzology album Left To His Own Devices, is his philosophy of jazz:
“PUT JAZZ BACK INTO THE SALOONS”
Forty years ago I had [a] card printed that bore the legend “Put Jazz Back into the Saloons.” If I were left to my own devices, that is exactly what I would do.
When I got into jazz, during the late Pleistocene era, besides embracing the music, I embraced its anti-establishment climate. I was fond of small improvising groups who played hot music unencumbered by the reams of music manuscript that suffocated individuality in large orchestras. Jamming in some low joint far from the pompous, santitized, pious atmosphere of the concert hall enthralled me.
Nowadays when I tread the boards, I often tread upon the planks of exactly those pristine concert stages – stages intended for the performance of a Schubert Lied or a Stravinsky wind octet. But I’ve never quite acclimatised myself to performing for concert-goers stacked neatly like eggs in their cartons. We hot musicians strut and sweat, toot and bang, scrape and strum; and now and then a fan will register involvement by tapping his or her toe ever so discreetly. Most jazz audiences could be whisked away and plunked down in the midst of a Sunday service at the first Episcopal Church of Greenwich, Connecticut without incurring so much as a raised eyebrow.
Nay, Nay, give me the gin mill of yesteryear, that murky shoe box from whose floors and walls oozed a miasma of tobacco fumes, whiskey breath, stale-beer vapors, the aroma of Tangee Lipstick and Sen-Sen breath pastilles, the scent of Lucky Tiger hair pomade, the odors of show polish, roach paste and toilet disinfectant.
A mahogany bar near the front door was manned by a whey-faced “mixologist” with the sour countenance of one who has heard every joke and clever saying and knows that he is going to hear them again and again until the day the D.T.’s get him and he is carted off.
Flanking the bar like bookends sat two female soldiers of fortune, no longer in the first bloom of youth, perhaps, but not yet inclined towards domestication. Perched insouciantly on leatherette bar stools in ways designed to call attention to their skimpy skirts, mesh stockings and stiletto heels, they cradled long-stemmed glasses filled with a green liqueur and ice cubes that tinkled like little bells. Each wore her version of what columnists used to call a “come-hither look”, cool, sloe-eyed glances that assumed an inner glow at the sight of a big butter-and-egg man unfolding a ten dollar bill or something larger.
At the opposite end of this long dark space stood a bandstand the size of a ouija board. Six or seven or eight musicians plus a drums set, a string bass, and an upright piano fit on the stand like interlocking pieces of a Rubik’s Cube. If a saxophonist on the far left reached into his pocket for a match and inadvertently bumped the drummer, he could cause a chain reaction. The drummer would lean into the bass player, whose bow then prods the piano player’s back just as the latter is raising a tumbler to his lips, causing him to dribble whiskey onto the keyboard. The pianist unleashed a string of oaths and foul imprecations, which are perceived as offensive by a female customer in a tiny pill-box hat, causing her escort to rise off his chair and to castigate the pianist for his improper language, whereupon the pianist challenges the gentleman to “try and do something about it.” This prompts the gentleman to remove his jacket as a foretoken of fisticuffs. Raised voices result in the arrival on the scene of a waiter who doubles as a bouncer and who deftly defuses the conflict by pushing the irate gentleman into his seat while cooing the calming words, “Shut up and sit down.” The orchestra, as is its wont in times of audience unrest, combs its repertoire for a properly soothing selection and settles on ‘Tiger Rag’ or ‘Crazy Rhythm’.
When the rhythm moved them, which was just about anytime the band started up, twenty to thirty dancers jostled, elbowed, and kickedone another, alternately glued together like limpets, or tossing each other about like boomerangs, all on a dance floor intended for ten persons. Laughing, hugging, groping, banging into tables, sending glasses to the floor, they tried to dodge the trombonist’s slide which projected over the edge of the bandstand.
How this frenzied stew of foul air, roistering patrons, long hours and low wages combined to produce beautiful music is not as difficult to explain as one may think. Musicians had a full evening till two or three in the morning, six nights a week, to lock into a groove – something that’s almost impossible to accomplish in the two brief halves of a concert format. Players knew each others’ strengths and weaknesses and could compliment each one another’s styles. Dancers were crucial in that they had a way of encouraging a musician to concentrate on the pulse of the music, causing him to think more of “swinging” and less of showing off with empty technical gestures and cheesy visual tricks. “Swing” was the catchword. Trash all those glib announcements: “Swing Fast”, “Swing Slow”: just Swing.
So how, you may ask, in view of the fact that hot music dives have died and gone to their reward, do I cope? I just pop a time-warp pill, and then, in my mind I’m back in The Peek-A-Boo Lounge, The Tropics, The Bar-O-Music, The Gaslight Club, The Blackstone Hotel, The Old Town Gate, imagining the guys on this CD are with me.
The great musician and human being has finally succumbed: the following article was (obviously) written a few years ago. It’s a fitting tribute to this great musician, and also contains many words of wisdom that would-be jazz musicians should take to heart:
Clark Terry is one of the living legends of this music.
He has played with every big name in jazz over the last half-century from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, to Ella Fitzgerald…the list could go on forever. With such a rich performing career spanning over six decades, he continues to play with today’s top musicians and inspire up and coming improvisers.
During school, I was lucky enough to have an impromptu lesson with the trumpet master. One night after a rehearsal for a gig, Clark came in unannounced to the practice rooms at our school looking to impart some wisdom to some aspiring musicians. Before I knew it I was sitting inches from Clark Terry’s bell and he was teaching me a tune by ear.
That sound that I had listened to for years on record was coming out of a horn a foot away from me. It was an experience that I will always remember. I don’t know what was more impressive, the fact that I was sitting down with a jazz legend or that Clark, age of 89, came into the music school practice rooms around 10 at night to hang out with students for free.
Pretty amazing, but then again Clark Terry has been dedicated to educating young jazz musicians for decades. He mentored a young Miles Davis and encouraged Quincy Jones as he was starting out as an arranger and trumpet player. With a track record like that, it’s safe to say that he knows a few things about learning this music.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to hear Clark speak or attend one of his master classes, you have probably heard him talk about his take on jazz articulation or about the history of the music as he lived it. One topic that he often talks about is how to approach learning improvisation. For Clark Terry, the art of learning jazz can be summed up into three words: Imitation, Assimilation, Innovation.
Clark explains this idea in about 20 seconds in the clip below:
Sounds pretty simple and straight-forward, right? The great thing is that this idea actually is simple and easy to comprehend, however when you get down to business, each step entails some serious in-depth study and dedicated practice time.
Imitation: Listening. Learning lines by ear. Transcribing solos. Absorbing a player’s feel, articulation, and time.
This is where it all begins.
Imitation is an integral first step in learning to improvise, but sadly, it’s often overlooked by beginners because scales and theory are immediately thrown in their faces. While you do need to have a solid understanding of music theory, the truth is that scales and chords, no matter how much you memorize them or run them up and down, aren’t going to magically turn into great stylistic improvisations full of long lines and interesting harmonies. To do that you need a model.
The great thing about jazz is that who you choose to imitate is entirely up to you. Maybe you dig a player’s sound and articulation, maybe an unconventional ii-V7 line catches your ear, or perhaps the way a soloist uses space in their phrases may be something you desire in your personal concept. Imitation is not relegated to only harmonic ideas or even to the players on your own instrument. If you like what you hear, learn it and incorporate it into your playing.
By imitating the players you love, you’ll begin to understand the music on a deeper level and begin to see a personal sound develop in your own approach to improvisation. Questions that can’t be answered by music theory or etude books, like how to play longer lines or how to articulate and swing, will reveal themselves as you start to imitate the masters.
Assimilation means ingraining these stylistic nuances, harmonic devices, and lines that you’ve transcribed into your musical conception. Not just mentally understanding them on the surface level, but truly connecting them to your ear and body. This is where the hours of dedication and work come in.
Get into the practice room and repeat these lines over and over again, hundreds of times, until they are an unconscious part of your musical conception. Take these phrases through all keys, all ranges, and all inversions. Begin slowly and incrementally increase the speed until you can easily play them. Don’t feel satisfied until you can play these lines in your sleep.
This is not an easy step to complete.
Many of us have taken a lick or pattern in one key and inserted it into our solos as an easy and quick way to sound hip. However, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s clear that this approach is really limiting your playing – not transforming it. Stealing a lick from a book of transcribed solos or learning a line in only one key is not going to cut it. You need to learn these lines and ideas from the record and work them out in all 12 keys. Practice them until you have them down cold and can execute them in the blink of an eye.
A great way to quickly internalize the lines and styles that you’re trying to absorb is to sing them. Sing the rhythms, accents, and the exact pitches so they are first ingrained into your ears – you can even do this outside of the practice room. Remember, when you’ve truly assimilated something, it’s ingrained to the point that you’ll never forget it.
Creating a fresh and personal approach to the music. Many young musicians want to skip to this step as soon as they start learning how to improvise. They want to have their own harmonic concept and a unique sound on their instrument right from the get-go. Without a model or in-depth conception of harmony and melody though, it will be much more difficult to create a truly unique approach.
Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.~Salvador Dalì
Innovation is the direct result of hours upon hours of imitation and assimilation. Take a look at the great innovators that this music has already seen. Each one spent countless hours studying harmony, solos, form, tunes, etc. in order to realize their own personal concept.
Woody Shaw studied the solos of Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, and incorporated techniques idiomatic to the saxophone into his own improvisation. Coltrane mastered how to play over standards before he delved into the unknown with his quartet. Before you can change history and plot your own course, you have to know a few things about what preceded you.
The steps of imitation, assimilation, and innovation are not limited to “jazz” music. Take any style or concept that resonates with you and incorporate it into your playing through this process. You may like the harmonies of Ravel or the rhythms found in traditional Indian music. Listen to them, figure them out, analyze them, practice them, and finally use them in new and innovative ways in your improvisations.
Clark Terry’s legacy
Clark Terry is one of the masters of this music and a legendary trumpet player, but his legacy in educating young musicians is just as rich as his contributions on trumpet. Even at the age of 90, Clark continues to reach out to younger musicians and share his knowledge of what it takes to learn and live jazz. Everywhere that he goes, he is dedicated to passing on the tradition of this music to the players of today. Check out this video of Clark giving some words of wisdom to one of our friends and former classmates, Justin Kauflin:
The art of learning to improvise lies in three words: Imitation, Assimilation, and Innovation. Take it from Clark Terry, a master who has lived this music and knows what it takes. If you dedicate yourself to this process, you’ll see improvement in your playing immediately and you’ll be on track to becoming the player you’ve always wanted to be.
Brian Parsons died on Saturday morning, after a long illness (a brain tumour).
Brian had been very politically active in the 1970s and was, briefly, associated with the libertarian-left group Big Flame. He was also a great champion of a wide range of music and pioneered appreciation of what became known as “world music” by means of his Bongo-Go disco (with occasional live sessions), which for many years were a hugely popular feature of Birmingham night-life, at the Moseley Dance Centre. He also supported live jazz and blues: I last saw him about a year ago at a gig featuring the Kinda Dukish Big Band – apparently he’d long been a passionate enthusiast of the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn – something I’d never realised.
Meanwhile, he never lost his political commitment and remained a friend of equality and justice all his life.
So long, old friend and comrade!
H/t Terry Lilly
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