Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Excavation - Record Shops

This is my initial post on one of my favorite subjects and pastimes, record shopping. Wherever I go, I try to find and visit record stores. I love seeing different retail approaches, local listening trends, meeting fellow junkies, etc. These posts are posited in review of choice stores that I’ve managed to visit.

New Orleans, LA

I’ve been down to New Orleans a handful of times over the past twelve years, only once pre-Katrina and at an early stage in my collecting. The first trip spent with parents and sightseeing, I only managed to run into Virgin (deceased) and the Louisiana Music Factory (still going strong).

Over the past four years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend distributor conventions in NOLA. I’ve managed to hit most of the city’s record stores during that time, when not schmoozing or eating.

Here’s a rundown of the spots that music collectors should definitely hit.

Here's one of my favorite jams to get you through.

Louisiana Music Factory - 210 Decatur St. – (504) 586-1094

Easy enough. On the edge of Storyville in the French Quarter, LMF has been the authority on all things music in New Orleans since 1992. The store carries everything but specializes in music native to the Crescent City, namely jazz, soul, zydeco, gospel, blues and what have you.

Just three blocks from our convention’s hotel, LMF has typically been my first stop. The ground floor hold most of their stock on New Orleans based music and memorabilia. I spent a fair share of time downstairs as I was looking for reissues of the AFO label and some other oddities. Of the ten CDs that I was looking for, nine happened to be in stock. I was also able to snag a copy of Harold Battiste’s biography, Unfinished Blues. It was happy hunting.

The vinyl and the remainder of their CD stock are located upstairs. Genres are split along a long wall with jazz being the first and probably largest category. They are arranged in a bookshelf kinda way. A little more difficult to surf through than bins, which they do have for new vinyl and recent arrivals.

Records are pretty varied in price, style and condition. The prices are generally in the moderate range. There were some interesting looking releases, including some fun looking indie jazz labels from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (need to dig in a bit more on the Discovery label). Could tell they were run off from radio stations.
Probably the first place WWOZ goes when they clean shop. The pieces themselves weren’t in the shape that I was looking for to pay the $15. Nice to know the records exist, though.

They also have a large, fun $3 bin. All styles. I did manage to find the 1968 Woody Herman Big Band’s Light My Fire on Cadet (corny but with some good drums – my man Donny Hathaway played organ on the follow up, Heavy Exposure).

As I mentioned, I was pretty focused on the CD buy and only took back a couple pieces of vinyl. The staff was extremely knowledgeable, especially in the NOLA centric stuff. Fun place to surf through and a must for any fan of New Orleans/Louisiana music. I was in the shop everyday that I was in town.

The Haul:
1. Al MacDowell - Time Peace - Gramavision - R1 79450 - 1989 - LP
2. James Newton - In Venice - Celestial Harmonies - CEL 030/031 - 1988 - LP
3. Steven Halpern - Spectrum Suite - SRI Records - 770 - 1976 - LP
4. American Jazz Quintet - In the Beginning - AFO - 91-1028-2 - CD - 1991 (1956/58)
5. The AFO Executives & Tammy Lynn - Compendium - AFO - 92-1028-2 - CD - 1993 (1963/1970)
6. Kidd Jordan & the Elektrik Band - Kidd'stuff - Danjor - 001 - CD - 2001 (1984)
7. James Rivers - Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues Vol. 3 - Mardi Gras Records - 9009 - CD - 1994 (1977/78)
8. James Black - (I Need) Altitude - Night Train - 7105 - CD - 2002 (1976/88)
9. Clyde Kerr, Jr. - This Is Now! - St. Agnes Sessions - Jazz Foundation of America - CD - 2009 (2007)
10. Ed Blackwell & AJQ-2 - Boogie Live...1958 - AFO - 92-1228-2 - CD - 1994 (1958)
11. Harold Battiste - Unfinished Blues - Book
Not Pictured
12. Woody Herman - Light My Fire - Cadet - 819 - LP - 1969
13. The New Orleans Saxophone Ensemble / The Improvisational Arts Quintet - The New New Orleans - Rounder - 2066 - CD - 1988 (1985/86)

Location: 9/10 (unless you hate the French Quarter)
Prices: 7/10
Stock: CD = 9/10 - LP = 6/10

Euclid Records – 3401 Chartres St. – (504) 947-4348

I had been looking forward to hitting this store since hearing about their opening last year. I’ve always made sure to check the Euclid guys out at the WFMU Record Fair in NYC. They have always carried a great, varied selection of jazz records.

The original Euclid has been a St. Louis institution for over twenty years and I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to visit yet. It has been rumored that they have over a million records all told. Urban legend or optimistic inventory? Regardless, they have a ton of records.

Psyched to see that they have a shop in NOLA, obviously. Not to mention they have their inventory online (kinda disheartened to find out that it was the combined inventory of both stores - not to worry, there was plenty to buy).

Euclid moved to the Bywater district north of the Quarter about a mile and a half. I made sure to run by on my early morning sweat bath/death march/jog.

Caught a cab on a post monsoon Saturday afternoon. Got to Euclid in about ten minutes with the driver fording through ravines of rainwater as high as the bumper. The store was located near the river levy where the city has been installing a river walk. Very cool neighborhood with some beautiful row houses.

I got there about two and was the only customer for most of the two or three hours I was there. Inventory was almost entirely vinyl with a wall of CDs in the back. Fine by me.

They have an excellent, large new arrival section. Love the mixed bins (typically pull stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise). Some new pressed vinyl in the mix, too.

The layout was pretty straightforward. Soul/R&B, jazz, blues, vocalist (male & female), folk, rock, hip-hop/rap, world, reggae, etc. Jazz section was big and covered a lot of stuff. I went through everything and had to weed down through a stack about seven inches thick. Did manage to find some John and Beverly Martyn records that I have been looking for in a very well stocked folk section.

The vinyl condition ranged from good to excellent. Prices vary based on condition and rarity. I thought that the prices were typical of what most of these pieces should go for, some a bit low.

Staff was extremely cool. Definitely holler at James Weber, the proprietor. Very nice guy. He also gave me the recommendation for the next shop I visited, the Domino Sound Record Shack.

Vinyl collectors – this should be #1 on your list for NOLA.

The Haul:
1. The Don Elliott Octet - Jamaica Jazz - ABC-Paramount - ABCS-228 - LP - 1958 (arrangements by my man Gil Evans)
2. Steve Grossman - Some Shapes To Come - PM - PMR-002 - LP - 1974 (excellent funky fusion)
3. Chameleon - s/t - Elektra - 6E-190 - LP - 1979 (Azar Lawrence's R&B excursion produced by Fred Wesley)
4. Icicle Works - s/t - Arista/Beggars Banquet - AL 6-8202 - LP - 1984
5. Sun Ra - St. Louis Blues - Solo Piano - IAI - 37.38.58 - LP - 1978
6. The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble - Facts of Their Own Lives - Nine Winds - 0120 - 2LP - 1987 (1984)
7. John & Beverley Martyn - The Road To Ruin - Warner Bros. - 1882 - LP - 1971
8. Exuma - Do Wah Nanny - Kama Sutra / Buddah - KSBS 2040 - LP - 1971 (Caribbean soul)
9. Klaus Schulze - Trancefer - Pathé Marconi / EMI - 2C 068-64636 - LP - 1981
10. Mary Lou Williams & Cecil Taylor - Embraced - Pablo - 2620-108 - 2LP - 1978
11. John & Beverley Martyn - Stormbringer! - Warner Bros. - 1854 - LP - 1970

Location: 6/10 (a little harder to get to but worth the trip – even to check out the neighborhood)
Prices: 8/10
Stock: 9/10

Domino Sound Record Shack – 2557 Bayou Rd. – (504) 309-0871

I originally came across Domino while searching for record shops on Yelp. It had a couple of very nice reviews. After hearing the nice review from Weber, I thought I should make the trip.

Domino has been open for nearly five years and seemed to be pretty healthy. The store was the only one in the neighborhood and caters to folks looking for more obscure titles, especially punk, reggae and world.

The store was located a bit north and west of the Quarter and took a five minute cab ride.

The store was a small one that was maybe 50/50 new to used vinyl, all mixed together. The selection was well rounded for a store that size. The sections were broken down into punk, rock, soul/R&B, jazz, mainly reissue world, avant-garde and a very large reggae section. This was the best store for reissue vinyl as the selection was large and very up to date.

I was happy to find a rather large cache of out indie jazz stuff. A couple Ogun, Hat Hut and MPS pieces at reasonable prices. There was a Harold McKinney on Tribe Records on the wall but I don’t roll that deep.

The owner was in the house and was very helpful. He was also nice enough to put up with my friend and me for an extra 40 minutes as we waited for a cab to pick us up. Time played into his hands as we continued to comb through the bins finding more to add to the bill. Turns out the store also had their own vinyl only record label with some nice looking blues, world and punk stuff (including The Ex + Tom Cora).

Good hang and well worth the trip.

The Haul:
1. Tommy McCook & The Super Sonic - Top Secret - Techniques Records - WRLP 35 - LP
2. Ernest Ranglin - Be What You Want To Be - Konduko - KON 1984 - LP - 1983
3. Oliver Lake Quartet - Clevont Fitzhubert - Black Saint - BSR 0054 - LP - 1981
4. Naná Vasconcelos - Bush Dance - Antilles / Island - 90698-1 - LP - 1987
5. Louis Moholo's Viva La Black - s/t - Ogun - OG 533 - LP - 1988
6. Jasper Van't Hof - The Selfkicker - MPS - 68.164 - LP - 1977 (great, weird fusion)
7. Joe McPhee - Variations On A Blue Line - Hat Hut - Hat 0 - 1979
8. Pheeroan ak Laff - House of Spirit: "Mirth" - Passin' Thru - PT 4238 - 1979 (awesome solo record featuring spiritual jazz and soul)

Location: 6/10 (bring a phone number for a cab)
Prices: 8/10
Stock: 7/10


Full disclosure: I visited three other record stores while I was there. I won’t get nasty here and point these shops out but I will say that in a town that prides itself on its cultural/musical legacy these retailers need to get their shit together. Between the variables of no AC, terrible stock condition and overpricing (one store had CDs at nearly twice suggested retail), these stores are borderline horrible.

That said, I give an enthusiastic endorsement to all the three stores that I’ve mentioned above.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BYOV - Meeting #2

Whew… Sorry for the delay. Got waylaid in New Orleans. More on that soon.

The second installment of BYOV was held at Barbés on July 12. We had a great crew and some interesting musical selections.

For those of you playing at home, here were our themes:

a) Acoustic guitar soloists. The suggestion was acoustic jazz guitarists but I thought I’d open it up. So who’s your fav finger-picker or nylon guitar strummer?

b) Great rhythm sections. Should have a good response here. I’ll only allow one Coltrane, Miles, or Messengers record. Get creative. More points for unusual combinations.

c) Musicians with faulty technique that sound fantastic or totally works for them. Cracked notes, singing out of tune, banging pianos with fists… Let’s hear your favorite flubs or bad technique.

I was surprised at the number of acoustic guitar selections we had. Maybe because it was listed first? Good to have heard the varying approaches, though. Had a few folks for the rhythm section and a handful of the “unorthodox technique.” Inversions of these two will probably come back around.

On with the show!

1. Eugene Chadbourne – “Good Bait” from The Hills Have Jazz (Boxholder 046, 2005)
Presented by Richard Gehr – Theme: A & C – CD

As a blindfold test, Richard presented a very unique take on jazz guitar tradition. No one guessed the player.

Of course, Chadbourne has been known as an agent provocateur in the world of rock, country, folk and everything else he sets his mind on. His most high profile groups were Shockabilly and Camper Van Beethoven, though he has made tons of records under his own name.

According to Richard, Chadbourne, being a fan of horror flicks, sent a copy of Shockabilly Baby to director Wes Craven, who actually got in touch with Chadbourne. Craven dug the music and invited Chadbourne to hang on the set of the movie Cursed. The director also lent Chadbourne his prized Gibson acoustic.

Tad Dameron’s “Good Bait” was one of the standouts on this following jazzy tribute (the title was a spoof of Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes). The track showcased a swinging yet discordantly, twangy Chadbourne along with foil electric guitarist Carey Fosse and tenor saxophonist Brian Walsh. The recording was a definite departure from what was generally accepted as a Chadbourne-ian.

Listen here.

2. Frank Vignola – “Donna Lee” – Blues for a Gypsy (Acoustic Disc 43, 2001)
Presented by David Adler – Theme: A – CD

Vignola has been extremely well regarded as a player that can handle nearly any jazz style. On Blues for a Gypsy, he tackles the gypsy jazz reminiscent of Django Reinhardt. The CD came out on David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label, a home for amazing, acoustic string players. Interesting to note that a lot of the old hippies adopted these acoustic folk, blues and folk forms later on (Jerry Garcia among them).

David mentioned Paul Brady’s astute comment that Django was a be-bop player. The quick eighth note and chromatic movement that was typical of Reinhardt’s playing has fit perfectly in the be-bop canon.

Vignola has carried on the tradition extremely well. I was amazed that the “gypsy” jazz style has remained so popular and studied for so long. Vignola’s solo take on the Miles Davis standard “Donna Lee” had the fleet fingered runs and in the pocket swing that Reinhardt made popular decades ago. This would be a more traditional acoustic guitar jazz setting.

3. Quique Sinesi – “Dos Soles” – Cuentos de un Pueblo Escondido (Acqua 067, 2011)
Presented by Eric Benson – Theme: A – CD

Eric brought in a lovely recording by the Argentinean folkloric guitarist Quique Sinesi. Sinesi has been around for some time collaborating with musicians like Dino Saluzzi, Paquito D’Rivera, Charlie Mariano and Joe Lovano.

“Dos Soles” was a solo feature on Sinesi’s Spanish 7-string acoustic guitar. He displayed a very percussive style with his use of the entire instrument, not only the strings.

Someone mentioned that his playing sounded much like that of Egberto Gismonti. “They are close on a map…” (Gismonti’s from Brazil).

A question asked about how his sound approximated Argentinean folkloric music. Jerome mentioned that there was a certain accent that was present that occurs frequently in Argentinean music. Eric, our resident Argentinean music aficionado, said that he heard the echoes of Candombe rhythm in Sinesi’s playing.

4. Louis Moholo – “Khanya Apho Ukhona” – Spirits Rejoice! (Ogun 533, 1978)
Presented by Jason Weiss – Theme: B – CD

Energy! Whoof! Moholo has always been a force of nature. The South African expat made his initial impact in the European improv world as a member of the Blue Notes and then as the fire-y drummer in Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. He then went on to establish a reputation as a percussive whirlwind behind a number of avant-garde masters including Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy, Kees Hazevoet and Elton Dean.

Spirits Rejoice! was his first recording as a leader and he presented an octet of outstanding players, including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and trombonist Radu Malfatti. The rhythm section really stood out as it included the amazing British pianist Keith Tippett and South African bassists Harry Miller and Johnny Dyani. “Khanya…” featured an amazing solo from the renowned Evan Parker. Like much of the South African inspired progressive music, the performance straddled spiritual and march. The township meets free jazz. Could easily have been a pummeling free jazz blowout but was rather an animated celebration. Love this.

With this explorative selection, I broached the topic of audacity in performance. The willingness to push the limit of an idea can be either polarizing or genius depending on the context. There are definitely situations where an artist can push the bullshit level too high but there have been situations where an artist shouldn’t fiddle with so many different “ideas” but further develop one. Tippett’s playing has provided many examples of this. Check out his solo recording, Lonely Raindancer.

5. Marc Ducret – “Le Relief” – (Detail) (Winter & Winter 910 003, 1997)
Presented by Jerome Sabbagh – Theme: A – CD

Jerome brought a great recording by the ever-intriguing guitarist Marc Ducret. Ducret has been a celebrated figure in the progressive jazz/improv scene for years. He’s probably most well known for his playing in a number of ensembles led by NY Downtown legend/saxophonist Tim Berne.

Ducret’s output has been incredibly varied. He has tended to perform in groups that blend elements of jazz and progressive rock. He has also made a number of solo recordings, on both electric and acoustic guitar.

(Detail) was released in 1997 and was an entirely acoustic guitar solo recording. “Le Relief” was chosen to show Ducret’s command of his instrument (a 12 string guitar here) and use of space. He was able to use the natural resonance of the guitar wonderfully. Jerome commented on Ducret’s ability to transpose his technique equally on acoustic and electric guitars, maintaining his unique identity.

6. Fucked Up - “The Other Shoe” – David Comes To Life (Matador, 2011)
Presented by Adam Schatz – Theme: B & C– Vinyl

Switch up! No jazz..? That’s fucked up! See what I did there? Meh.

So if you haven’t read Pitchfork over the past couple years, Fucked Up has been mopping up critical attention in the indie rock world. Our man Adam Schatz described the band aptly as “a dynamic rock band with hardcore singing.” The singing was the “unorthodox” element here.

Evidently, the group has been prone to concept albums. David Comes To Life has continued the trend, a rock opera about a light bulb factory worker.

“The Other Shoe” showcased vocalist Pink Eye’s gritty, throaty voice over a lush instrumental nearly progressive rock backdrop. The contradictory styles made the track extremely interesting to listen to. Typically, these over driven vocals don’t hold my interest but they seemed so well integrated and honest, I was won over. Can’t argue that there wasn’t some talent/technique involved there.

Adam has been smitten. He had seen the band recently and was impressed by the band's attitude. The group was fully committed to the music and also reaching listeners. Pink Eye managed to wind his way through the crowd to the upper tier seating, creating a very communal vibe. Adam even got a sweaty bear hug.

“It could be played louder…”

7. Clifford Jordan – “Shoulders” – Glass Bead Games (Strata East 19737/8, 1973)
Presented by Ted Panken – Theme: B – CD

Critics and their blindfold tests… Well, Ted has been a carrier of the flame for some time.

Ted said that he wanted to avoid the “philosophical conundrum” that could arise while discussing the ingredients or purpose of a great rhythm section. Should it support the soloist? Provide brilliant soloists? Play straight or around the beat…? There were so many facets that could be explored and argued.

So… We got an example of an excellent, swinging jazz rhythm section. One that “played in cohesion and with higher functionality.”

I have to admit that I was trying to nab the saxophonist while listening. Extremely fluid tenor playing, very contemporary. The rhythm section was extremely solid. The production on the record sounded like the “polished” sound of the 1980s. Really, it could have been any time from the ‘70s to ‘90s.

The drummer was the first to be guessed correctly. The tight playing with impeccable snare rolls had to be Billy Higgins.

“Eastern Rebellion?”

No… But the right rhythm section. Therefore, the remaining players were pianist Cedar Walton and bassist Sam Jones.

Ted went on to say that Higgins was his favorite jazz musician to observe because of his ability to adapt and project his sound in any situation.

There were a number of surprised folks when we found out it was Clifford and recorded in 1973. Including me and I owned the damn thing!

8. David Sylvian – “The Good Son” – Blemish(Samadhisound 001, 2003)
Presented by Simon Jermyn – Theme: A & C – MP3

Sylvian has been at the forefront of avant-rock for some time. His early recordings with the band Japan have been eclipsed by his amazing solo recordings, which have spotlighted some of the world’s most unique musicians as collaborators.

“The Good Son” featured one of the last performances of the improv god Derek Bailey. Bailey had developed his own language of guitar playing over a 50-year career while collaborating with nearly every creative musician around the planet. Sound artist Fennesz probably added some reverb and effects to the material, as well.

Bailey’s knotty, brittle guitar was the only accompaniment to Sylvian’s dark, Sprechstimme-esque lyrics. The eerie track felt as if both musicians might have recorded separately because they seemingly go in their own directions. Simon posited that it would have been difficult task either way, as Sylvian would have had to try to keep his even cadence to Bailey’s seemingly impromptu and free accompaniment.

9. Herb Ellis & Stuff Smith – “Get Acquainted Blues” – Together! (Epic, 1963)
Presented by Matt Merewitz – Theme: A – Vinyl

Matt presented this reunion jam that was produced by John Hammond for Epic in 1963. Guitarist Herb Ellis and violinist Stuff Smith had played together previously alongside Ella Fitzgerald.

Both musicians had been around for some time and represented two generations of the jazz tradition. Smith was a pre-be-bop violinist that had spent time in the territory bands of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Ellis was a be-bop guitarist that was most well known for his stint with the Oscar Peterson Trio.

The two were brought together with a fantastic group including pianist Lou Levy, bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Shelly Manne. Bob Enevoldsen also provided a pretty killer valve trombone solo on “Get Acquainted Blues.”

“Get Acquainted Blues” was a feature for Ellis’s bop runs on guitar and the very swinging violin of Smith. Very much a throw back to both musicians’ respective earlier styles.

Okay. Wasn’t able to find an audio sample of this one, unfortunately. Sorry. Time to do some digging, huh?

10. Tim Sparks – “Beautiful City (Kirya Yefefiya)” – At the Rebbe’s Table
(Tzadik 7160, 2002)
Presented by Damien Bonelli – Theme: A – CD

Damien brought this great duo between guitarists Tim Sparks and Marc Ribot. Sparks has been recognized as one of the best acoustic specialists of his generation covering the stylistic gamut between acoustic blues, jazz, world and jazz.

Sparks duo partner on “Beautiful City” was the wide-ranging guitar stylist Marc Ribot. Ribot has been a feature in the NY Downtown jazz/improv scene for many years along with being a first call sideman for musicians as diverse as Tom Waits and Elvis Costello.

The song itself was a Jewish Yemeni tune. Both guitarists played acoustic. The minor, Middle Eastern flavor would eventually break towards the twangy blues (most certainly Ribot). Very cool piece that showed a very engaging dialog between two virtuoso, complimentary musicians.

11. Paul Motian – “Georgian Bay” – Conception Vessel (ECM , 1972)
Presented by BS – Theme: A – CD

I finally got to exercise my Sam Brown addiction. Conception Vessel was one of my earliest ECM purchases and definitely my first recording of Paul Motian. CV was Motian’s first recording as a leader and featured his pals Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden in a number of spare but grabbing compositions.

“Georgian Bay” led off the record and featured a guitarist named Sam Brown. Brown had a short but very eclectic career playing in numerous jazz, folk and rock bands. His playing could be heard on records by Ars Nova, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton and even the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band.

Brown’s playing was the main attraction on “Georgian Bay” as his acoustic guitar rings with harp like sweeps between the heavy bass of Haden and the meandering percussion of the leader. Top shelf stuff.

I’ve been tracking down Brown’s recordings for some time. Love to get more info on him. Ted recommended talking to Motian. I’ll try. Any other suggestions?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

NOLA Progressives

New Orleans has been on the minds and tongues of many over the past few years. A very good thing. The town deserves the attention. After the devastation of Katrina, two oil spills and some grade-A political corruption, NOLA can certainly use some shine. The city has been featured recently in two Spike Lee documentaries, the fine HBO television series Treme (get caught up here) and all over the press. Don’t forget a Super Bowl win.

NOLA is certainly on my mind. I’ll be heading down there this week. I hope to see some music and raid some record shops.


Back at BYOV #1, the group listened to tunes featuring Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, both legendary New Orleans bred performers. There was a comment about the similarities between early New Orleans style jazz and that of the free jazz movement most notably during the 1960s and 1970s. Got me thinkin’…


Traditional New Orleans jazz was made for improvisers. Emphasis was placed on collective improvising throughout a song with each member elaborating on the theme. Free jazz, overtly or not, was influenced by this earlier tradition. Given this lineage, it would seem obvious that there would be a history of progressive/free jazz/avant-garde/what-have-you in New Orleans. No?

The conditions that bred the early jazz style in New Orleans weren’t exactly the same as those of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The popularity of the music as it moved outside of New Orleans made stars out of the leading exponents, Armstrong and Bechet among them. While the City’s musical focus grew exponentially in the areas of R&B, the jazz strata remained with a more conservative, tourist-directed traditional style. The music was an important aspect to NOLA’s identity and a very powerful economic tool. Therefore, experimentation was left to the wayside for more important things, like paychecks.

I’ve tried to outline a handful of the progressive NOLA musicians that I’ve come across. Definitely nowhere near a complete list. Just grazed the surface. I believe that those covered here are among the most recognized of the modern/avant-garde scene in NOLA. These are also brief as to give a taste of each. There has been a trend of collective building in progressive movements in jazz and improvised music, a very cool phenomenon continued in New Orleans.

Even though modern jazz wasn’t a paying proposition, there were musicians attracted to the more progressive sounds that evolved in the late 1940s through the early 1960s. These musicians were not able to forgo careers in the more popular R&B and traditional jazz fields but continued their experiments on the side in complete earnest.

The first names of New Orleans’ modern jazz that I came across were in Dr. John/Mac Rebennack’s book, Under a Hoodoo Moon. He mentioned saxophonist Harold Battiste (b. 1931) and his AFO (All For One) cooperative/record label. Battiste was instrumental in the creation of Dr. John’s first release, Gris-Gris (ATCO, 33-234) from 1968, as he provided the studio (originally a time slot intended for Sonny & Cher – for whom he was working) and production (musicians and arranging). Battiste turned into one of the main forces behind mainstream jazz in New Orleans.

I really think that a more focused report on Battiste and the AFO will be necessary. I’m planning further research (looking forward to reading this). From what I’ve read so far, it sounds fascinating. Furthermore, I need to check out all that music!

The modernists sprung up from the largely African-American Central City locale most of musicians called home, specifically the Calliope and Magnolia Projects developed during the 1930s. Players like Battiste, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and percussionist Ed Blackwell came together during the late 1940s as they looked for challenges outside of R&B and blues. Blackwell initially met up with Ornette Coleman during this time in New Orleans, he would later join Coleman’s ensemble in New York. Much has been written about Blackwell as he went on to become a huge figure in improvised music.


Anyway… By the late 1950s, Battiste had developed a cadre of the NOLA’s modern jazz players, creating the American Jazz Quintet. His independent AFO record label came next in 1961. After being a talent scout, Battiste wanted to control his own output and support his compatriots. He made sure to release R&B along with modern jazz sides to help keep the label afloat, the bankrolling release being Barbara George's "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)". Most musicians in AFO’s collective were fluent in all genres, from jazz, blues, Dixieland to R&B, which made it easy to create a diverse catalog.


Pianist Ellis Marsalis, tenor saxophonist Nat Perrilliat and drummer James Black were among the musicians affiliated with the AFO. These three were essentially the second generation. Marsalis (b. 1934) had met Battiste at Dillard University and joined the American Jazz Quintet soon afterward. Black (b. 1940) grew up in the Treme and absorbed the local scene, including sessions led by Battiste at the local Foster’s bar. Perrilliat (b. 1936) was highly regarded stylist but poorly documented over his career.


These three musicians were the first to make a larger impression outside of the local jazz scene. In early 1962, Nat and Cannonball Adderley visited New Orleans where they were impressed by the talents of the young modernists who had solid chops from playing R&B and underground modern jazz gigs. Nat was able to convince Orrin Keepnews at Riverside into a recording session in New Orleans with a handful of the impressive musicians. A recording session with unknown musicians (especially outside of New York) was unheard of at the time.

During June of 1962, Nat and Cannonball were able to fit a session in between their travel from Los Angeles and New York. Longtime friend and bassist Sam Jones came along. The recording issued was called In the Bag (Riverside, JLP 75). It was a pretty solid showing for the New Orleans players. Black displayed a steady hand in both drumming and composing, as he contributed both “Sister Wilson” and “New Arrival.” Though he didn’t play, Alvin Batiste was represented as both his “Chatterbox” and “Mozart’in” (Mozart was Batiste’s nickname) appear. Perrilliat made the biggest impression on the record, even Keepnews made mention in the notes. Check out his muscular, bluesy solo after Nat on Yusef Salim’s “Low Brown.”

The three New Orleans players would record together on Marsalis’ debut, Monkey Puzzle, the next year on AFO (haven’t gotten to it – more later). These recordings were definitely in a modern jazz vein, certainly not avant-garde. Perrilliat would record scantily after and pass away in 1971 due to a cerebral hemorrhage.


There has been much said about the mentoring tradition in New Orleans. Nearly all of these musicians were educators at some point, formally or not. Harold Battiste was instrumental in Marsalis’ progress as a player. He also taught elementary school music before he started AFO. Alvin Batiste was not only a fabulous instrumental talent but also he was a legendary educator. (To avoid confusion, start watching them t’s.)


Batiste (b. 1932) was a wunderkind. A master of the clarinet and who began classical study early on, able to perform with the New Orleans Philharmonic before he was a teenager. He attended Southern University but received his most important lessons on frequent trips home to play alongside Harold Battiste as they attempted to get their heads around bebop in the late ‘40s. He remained affiliated with Battiste through membership in the American Jazz Quintet and AFO, until Battiste shut down operation in 1964. Alvin went on to establish a jazz program at Southern University renowned for its excellence and for producing some of the leading talent that came out of New Orleans, including Branford Marsalis.

Though he recorded on and off from the ‘60s to the ‘80s with Cannonball Adderley, Billy Cobham and Clarinet Summit, Batiste finally recorded a couple records under his own name on the defunct India Navigation label. The first, Musique D’Afrique Nouvelle Orleans (India Navigation, IN-1065) [the record I’ve found], was released in 1984 and showcased Batiste’s mastery of the clarinet, composition and the entire scope of the New Orleans musical tradition. His own words from the album notes, “The music on this album is, in an esoteric sense, about manifestations from my content of consciousness and my attunement with the roots of my cultural direction.”

The best example of what Batiste’s avant-garde approach with deference to the past would be the opening track. “Musique D’Afrique Nouvelle Orleans, Suite No. 3” which was written as a nine-movement suite for the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra then adapted for a small ensemble that included keys, bass guitar, guitar, percussion, voice and clarinet. The 15-minute piece covered a huge range of colors and moods. The music swept through traditional song (“When the Saints”), dancing funk (with marching drums and throbbing bass) and atmospheric soundscapes. Listen below.

Clearly, Batiste was one of the most progressive of the generation raised on bebop. His music covered a wide range but never abandoned the principles of traditional New Orleans jazz. It was a tremendous loss to the music community when he passed away on May 6, 2007 just hours before he was due to perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.


At the end of 1962, John Coltrane came to New Orleans for an eleven-day stint at Vernon’s. This would have a tremendous effect on a number of young musicians (James Black took away much from Elvin Jones). Saxophonist Earl Turbinton (b. 1941) had already been studying with Alvin Batiste at Southern University, but Coltrane became his number one inspiration after he spent three days under Trane’s wing.

Turbinton toured with organ combos and large ensembles until the mid ‘60s when his brother, keyboardist/vocalist Willie Tee, organized a group that played R&B. Willie got a break from the ever-helpful Cannonball Adderley which led to his David Axelrod produced I’m Only A Man LP. The Adderley connection worked out for Earl, too. He was introduced to former Adderley sideman Joe Zawinul upon his move to New York in 1970. His highest profile jazz gig was as a sideman on Zawinul’s Zawinul (Atlantic, SD 1579) in 1971. Listen to "Doctor Honoris Causa" below.

Turbinton even maintained that if he hadn’t joined up with B.B. King shortly thereafter, he would have been the saxophonist in Weather Report. Turbinton returned to New Orleans where he performed with many luminaries and on productions of his brother, most notably The Wild Magnolias, The Gaturs and Willie Tee’s Anticipation record.

It took some time but he was finally able to release his own LP in 1988. Brothers for Life (Rounder, 2064) was a collaboration with his brother and showcased their mainstream jazz chops. Earl’s Trane influenced tone was in full force, especially on his dynamic tune “Neferdoris.” Listen below.

Turbinton’s reputation as an educator has been lasting. By the time he had passed away on Aug. 3, 2007, he had instituted a workshop for avant-garde jazz, taught at Loyola University, lectured all over the globe and presented numerous prison outreach concerts.


So free jazz hadn’t made a tremendous impact in New Orleans. There were a handful of players that dabbled, most notably Turbinton and Batiste. The ensemble that really went for it represented the most progressive of all New Orleans’ collectives, the Improvisational Arts Quintet. The group was well schooled in the history of traditional New Orleans jazz and definitely saw their contribution as part of that lineage.

The IAQ was founded in 1974 by drummer Alvin Fielder. By this time, Fielder (b. 1935) had studied with Ed Blackwell, earned a degree in and practiced pharmacology, co-founded the AACM and promoted “the new thing” in his home state of Mississippi. The group was co-led by saxophonist Kidd Jordan (b. 1935), who had a stint as an R&B sideman before beginning a long, successful teaching career at Southern University. In the New Orleans tradition, Jordan also led his family into music, including two sons, Kent and Marlon. Kent (b. 1958) was a member of the IAQ and went on to have a fairly successful solo career as a jazz flautist. Amazing trumpeter, Clyde Kerr, Jr. (b. 1942) was the son of the legendary trumpeter Clyde Kerr, Sr. and built a legacy as an educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

The IAQ made one recording, NO COMPROMISE! (Prescription), that was released on Fielder’s own label in 1983. The record was comprised of tracks recorded in April 1978 and February 1982. All the tunes were written by Jordan except “Three Pastels”, written by acoustic bassist London Branch who was the original bassist and splits the tracks with Fender bassist Elton Heron.

The tunes recorded were direct and energetic vehicles created for improvisation. “A New Cycle” showcased all the members, including an upfront Heron and a dynamic solo from the younger Jordan. Kidd Jordan’s tenor playing was tremendously open, especially on “Last Trip To Jackson.” Kerr fabulous technique was also well documented on “Last Trip…” Fielder maintained a forceful pulse that swings even in freer moments. Listen below.

NO COMPROMISE! was dedicated to a recently fallen member of the ensemble, saxophonist Alvin Thomas. He had been a huge influence on the musicians in the IAQ and had barely missed the first record date, passing away in 1977. Another under documented progressive. Video of him with the IAQ here.

Fielder and Kidd Jordan have gone on to become legendary amongst free jazz aficionados. Fielder’s contributions have been well documented over the last couple years (Destination:Out ran a nice retrospective). Jordan has toured throughout the world and has made great recordings for Silkheart, AUM Fidelity and his own Danjor label. He also was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Vision Festival and the French Ministry of Culture’s Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


It should be noted that the progressive movement in NOLA was almost entirely led by reed players and percussionists. Very interesting especially when the leading voices of New Orleans wind players historically had been brass (trumpets and cornets). It should also be noted that the most successful contemporary musicians from New Orleans are trumpeters. The tradition has continued.


It was interesting to see this post (Does ‘Treme’ Hate Modern Jazz?) by Will Layman at as I was tying a bow on this rambling mess. His post posited that there was some aversion on the part of the Treme production team to the use of modern jazz or even the portrayal of New Orleans modern jazz practitioners as outsiders. There are definitely some interesting points.

I would have to say that the team on Treme was simply using the law of averages. As I’ve noticed in my small amount of research, the modern jazz scene in New Orleans was never a huge one. The performers that decided to pursue the progressive side of the music were small in number but dedicated to the task. There simply was no career focusing on modern jazz in New Orleans. The musicians that did make their name in modern jazz had to go elsewhere to make their mark.


Whew… Enough for now. Look for more soon.