Week ending 18 April 2020: Covid-19 and jazz deaths

Back to a regular, but virtual, Cosmic Jazz this week. There have been far too many Covid-19 related deaths around the world over the last few months. We mourn those who have passed and think of those left behind, but this post focuses on some of those in the jazz world who have been the recent victims of this global epidemic. There’s a lot of music in this week’s ‘show’ and a long read too. Why not open two CJ’s simultaneously and you can read and listen at the same time?

We start with the two most recently announced deaths – those of bassist Henry Grimes and saxophonist Guiseppi Logan. There are some fascinating parallels between these two jazz artists: both were involved in the free jazz scene on New York in the early 1960s and both vanished in the 1970s and were believed to have died. In 2008 Logan was spotted playing in a New York park and in 2002 Grimes was tracked down by a jazz fan in near destitution in a Los Angeles apartment. Like Miles Davis, Henry Grimes was a student at the Julliard School of Music in New York and had already established himself as a versatile bass player in the 1950s. He can be seen on Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day film at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958. Just 22 years old, Grimes played with six different groups at the Festival – including Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk (you can see him in this brief clip of Stern’s from the film) and Lee Konitz. For more on the film and its relationship with American culture it’s worth reading Nate Chinen’s deep dive for WBGO right here. Grimes appeared on several great jazz records of this time, including two of my favourites – drummer Roy Haynes’ Out of the Afternoon (1962), which also included Tommy Flanagan on piano and Roland Kirk on saxes. Listen to the fantastic Moon Ray here.

Grimes was also on the earlier Lee Konitz album Tranquility (1957). The latter is a quiet masterpiece of which Jason Ankeny of Allmusic says: crafted with startling precision and economy, Tranquility extols the virtues of mood and shape with Talmudic zeal, towering astride thought and expression. …Rarely is music so profoundly cerebral also so deeply heartfelt. Both of these albums should be in your collection. Listen to the track Lennie Bird right here (likely a tribute to two huge influences, Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker). Later in the 60s, Grimes was closely involved in the growing free jazz scene, appearing on records by Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and and Archie Shepp.  He was the bassist on Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid (1967). That’s him on a track I return to over and again – Upper Egypt, & Lower Egypt (Part 2) with its hypnotic Grimes bassline that’s first introduced around 9 minutes into the song. Younger readers may have come across this in samples from Herbie Hancock, J Dilla and Ras G. Pitched up, it was the bedrock of Mr Spock’s Words and Poets 12in single (if you can find it!). After Grimes’ return in 2002, musicians and fans offered help – most notably fellow bass player, William Parker who donated a green painted bass (nicknamed Olive Oil/Oyl) and soon Grimes was back in the recording studio. A notable early outing at this time was for trumpeter Dennis González in his excellent Rive Nile Suite album (2003). Check out Part II: the Nile runs through my heart. Grimes went on to record with dozens of noted jazz musicians including David Murray, Rashied Ali, Bill Dixon, Joe Lovano and Cecil Taylor. He appeared at numerous festivals and it’s calculated that he may have made up to 1000 appearances at live events since his return in 2003. Here he is (playing that green bass) at a benefit concert in 2012.

Sadly, Giuseppi Logan was not as lucky on his return.  He was a collaborator with Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Bill Dixon before recording two albums for the French ESP-Disk label (noted for its pioneering of free jazz) and his own quartet at the times was made up of pianist Don Pullen, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Milford Graves. The self titled album is not easy to find but, as ever, Youtube can help out – listen to Bleecker Partitia here. A considerable drug habit marginalised Logan, and then his erratic behaviour began to take its toll on his music. He was spotted in various locations in New York and was the subject of short films by Suzannah Troy as well as those who recorded him at one of his favourite places, Tompkins Square Park. His comeback record was released in 2010 – here’s a slightly rusty take on Miles Davis’ Freddie Freeloader that sounds rather more like a Sun Ra out-take. Logan died at a nursing home on 17 April.

The passing of alto great Lee Konitz two days earlier is especially sad. Konitz was the last surviving member of the revolutionary nonet that created Birth of the Cool in 1957 – here’s Gerry Mulligan’s Jeru from that album. The first great Miles Davis record, Birth of the Cool signalled a new post-Bop jazz sound and – until last week – Konitz was the only surviving member of that original nonet. Konitz was an incredibly open musician  – from his beginning with Lennie Tristano to his great later recordings with Brad Mehldau. En route, Konitz recorded with so many great names in jazz – Warne Marsh, Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Elvin Jones, Henry Grimes, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Bill Frisell and countless others. Imagine playing with both Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman… From Konitz’s late record for Blue Note with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, here’s their extended version of the 1938 jazz standard Cherokee which Charlie Parker later used as the basis for his Ko-Ko.

Onto Wallace Roney, a trumpet player who died on 31 March and – uniquely – was the only jazz artist mentored by Miles Davis. With a rich, golden tone and a supple technique, Roney was the chosen trumpeter on Miles Davis’ final recording with Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991 where he supported Davis through familiar tunes like Summertime and Gone, Gone, Gone. But Roney was a fine performer in his own groups where he performed with some musicians on a fine series of albums for the Muse and Highnote labels. Some of the later Highnote albums (for example Jazz) featured turntablist DJ Axum alongside brother Antoine on saxes and wife and pianist Geri Allen. Here’s their version of Sly Stone’s Stand. Almost all of these albums are worthy of investigation with Intuition (1998) and Mystikal (2005) good places to start. Roney always attracted great musicians around him too – Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller and Ron Carter appearing on the earlier albums and  Gary Bartz, Lenny White and Patrice Rushen on some later releases.

Whilst Ellis Marsalis may be more famous as the father of Branford and Wynton Marsalis, he recorded twenty albums of his own and featured (sometimes uncredited) on his sons’ recordings. Similarly guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli may not be so well known to more progressive jazz audiences but he featured on a wide range of records – perhaps, surprisingly, including Michael Franks’ Tiger in the Rain. Which brings us to producer Hal Wilner who died of Covid-19 complications on 07 April. Wilner was house music producer for Saturday Night Live but, more importantly, he was best known for a series of tribute albums that redefined the genre, include Amacord Nino Rota that featured a roster of jazz artists including Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, Bill Frisell and the Marsalis brothers. Here’s the Carla Bley Band with their take on Rota’s title music from the film .

Famously, Wilner linked Sun Ra with Walt Disney on the tribute album Stay Awake. I remember buying this record on its release in  1988 and enjoying pretty much everything from Los Lobos rollicking I Wanna Be Like You from The Jungle Book to Bonnie Raitt’s moving Baby Mine from Dumbo. But perhaps most bizarre was Sun Ra’s Pink Elephants on Parade, also from Dumbo, which was to encourage Ra’s full length tribute to Disney’s music on his 1995 live album Second Star to the Right. This post has been a reminder of some great music from superb jazz artists – now all sadly missed. Next week’s show will include more of the great new releases that continue to enrich the world of jazz. Until then, stay safe everyone.

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