Posts Tagged ‘JAZZ WRITINGS:

18
Sep
09

Notes from a Season at the Center of the Universe: Cecil Taylor at The Take 3

(Excerpted and adapted from a work-in-progress, Going Outside: A Memoir of Free Jazz & the ‘60s.)

Originally published on the All About Jazz website.

photo

Robert Levin and Cecil Taylor, June 2015.

In the summer of 1962, Cecil lands a three-month, four-night-a-week gig at The Take 3 coffee house on Bleecker Street. A large, nondescript room with a stage at the back end and several dozen tables of various shapes and sizes, The Take 3 is right next door to the glittering Bitter End where Woody Allen had performed just weeks before. (Allen was second on the bill and I’d thrown him a quick couple of lines in the Village Voice column—something about how this new comic exploited his appearance to good advantage.)

For Cecil, 33 now, The Take 3 experience will be important for the opportunity its extraordinary duration affords him to develop new ideas and achieve deeper levels of interaction with the two musicians he brings with him, Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone, and Sunny Murray, drums. (The trio will be joined on occasion by either Buell Neidlinger or Henry Grimes on bass, but most of the time there’s no bass player.)

For me, 23, and never happier than when I’m in a jazz club and in the company of musicians I admire, it’s a chance to hang in my element on a semi-regular basis. But it’s something else as well. This is 1962. An increasing number of us live with the conviction that a seismic change in human consciousness is both possible and imminent. We also share a belief that the New Jazz, in its break with established forms and procedures, and with its resurrection of ancient black methodologies, is showing the way. “Man,” the bassist Alan Silva (coming off an hour-long, 13-piece collective improvisation one night at another venue) can say to me, “in ten years we won’t even need traffic lights we’re gonna be so spiritually tuned to one another.”

At The Take 3, I’ll feel myself to be at the very center of the universe.

I mention Cecil’s engagement in the column a few days before he opens and maybe six people a night show up in the first week. The following week, impervious to criticism that I’m functioning as Cecil’s unofficial publicist, I write what amounts to a paean to him. I also discuss a simultaneous Monk date at the Five Spot. (Monk, of course, is one of Cecil’s principle influences.) The Voice titles this column “The Monk and the Taylor” and gives it a banner front page headline. The next night I arrive at The Take 3 and see that the proprietors have hung an enormous sign over the entrance:

“CECIL TAYLOR! ‘STARTS WHERE MONK LEAVES OFF!’—VILLAGE VOICE

Not exactly the way I had put it, but so what? The column and the sign serve their purpose. From this point on the room is sometimes filled to capacity.

Among the musicians who come on a night that I’m there (and who would have come without the hype) are John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. When the last set ends they sit at a table with Cecil, Anne (my girlfriend then) and me, and a love fest breaks out. John says to Cecil that he’s “awestruck” by him. Eric calls Cecil “the spaceman—the astronaut!” After Cecil tells Eric that Eric is “about to become great,” I raise my hand and say, “So what about me?” Everybody laughs except Eric. I can see him thinking: Wait a minute. Should I know…? Does Bob play an instrument?

John and Cecil had recorded together in 1958 and a word on the album they made, and their musical relationship in general, is in order here. The album, Hard Driving Jazz, was originally a Cecil date and later reissued under Coltrane’s name as Coltrane Time. It was certainly an interesting album but it turned out to be less than terrific.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Tom Wilson, an early champion of Cecil’s and the producer of his first record, Jazz Advance, produced this one as well. He also chose the sidemen, all of whom—trumpeter Kenny Dorham, bassist Chuck Israels, drummer Louis Hayes and tenor saxophonist Coltrane—were serious beboppers and, with the exception of Coltrane, very much set in their ways.

Tom believed that he was putting something seminal together, something that would foreshadow where, following Cecil’s lead, bebop might go from here. But surrounding Cecil with a group composed largely of intransigent beboppers was counterproductive to say the least. While Coltrane acquitted himself decently, Dorham (a splendid bebop trumpet player) was incensed by Cecil’s “eccentric” comping and he made no effort to conceal his feelings. For their parts, Israels and Hayes could only struggle with the rhythmic challenges Cecil posed.

But the album would still have failed to predict bebop’s future even if these men had been more flexible. Although it wasn’t entirely clear at the time, Cecil was in the process of creating a discrete system of his own; if anything, he was shedding bebop. (It would be Coltrane who’d deliver bebop to its outer limits.) Given this circumstance, what a Cecil Taylor record needed was musicians inclined and prepared to take his journey with him. Cecil had been opposed to Dorham’s inclusion on the date—he’d wanted Ted Curson, a younger trumpet player who was very much in sync with him. And he hadn’t been so sure about using Coltrane either. That John would be more capable than the others of taking Cecil on wasn’t enough. (Jimmy Lyons, whom he didn’t encounter until 1960, became Cecil’s most congenial supporting player. Jimmy survived for years on odd jobs in order to be available if Cecil had work, and when Jimmy needed a new saxophone Cecil rewarded his loyalty by buying him one. “It had to be a Selmer, so that’s what he got,” Cecil told me. When Jimmy died in 1986, it was months before Cecil could bring himself to go near a piano again.)

Probably the closest thing to a successful number from the Hard Driving Jazz recording sessions, Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song”— “For the Noël market,” Cecil said—was left out of the album.

By 1962, of course, Coltrane was all but possessed by the Free Jazz players. He was both their patron (he gave them money and employed many of them in his band) and their student. “He loved us,” Archie Shepp would say. But as far as Cecil’s approach was concerned, there was only so much that John could use. “That’s too complicated,” he remarked about it once, and he derived a lot more from Archie, Eric, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, among others.

But Coltrane was always prepared to honor Cecil. I’m thinking of a night at Birdland a year or so later. John is about to go on as Cecil and a small group of us come in. We walk past the bar where Pee Wee Marquette, the club’s midget and famously nasty emcee, is saying to the bartender—and just loud enough for us to hear—“How much more of this ‘Greenwich Village’ jazz am I supposed to take?” John sees Cecil and says something to McCoy Tyner who’s already playing an intro. Tyner abruptly quits the number he’s started and they open the set instead with “Out of This World.”

.

Another musician who comes to The Take 3 doesn’t stay very long.

It’s between sets and the band is backstage when I hear something going on at the door. I turn to look and see Coleman Hawkins standing there. Coleman Hawkins! The “Bean” himself!

I can’t make out what Hawkins is saying, but I hear the girl who collects the admission charge say: “Everybody pays a dollar, Sir.”

I see what’s happening and I want to rise from my chair and drop a dollar onto the girl’s table, but I can’t do anything. I’m frozen. Coleman Hawkins!

And it’s over too fast. Hawkins glares at the girl, then turns and splits.

“Maybe ‘Bean’ didn’t have a bean,” Cecil says when I tell him about it.

.

So what about me?

On the same night as Hawkins’s abortive visit, Cecil and I leave The Take 3 together. In the years ahead I’ll grow up a little and how I relate to Cecil, who I met in 1956 and who quickly assumed the role of an older brother, will change.  But as I’ve made evident elsewhere, in this period of my life I’m not someone you’d describe as perfectly centered and no serious time spent in Cecil’s company can pass for me without a certain issue erupting. I refer to my unrealized and maybe never to be realized, creative writing aspirations and to the envy and resentment that will unfailingly be triggered in me at one point or another.  Cecil is a genuine artist. The real thing. I’m chronically “blocked” and without any clear sense of what I want to say or how to proceed. (If a part of me is counting on osmosis with him, it isn’t working.) In Cecil’s words, spoken without malice—to be straightforward about such matters, at whatever the cost, is central to the stance he’s taken in the world—I’m a “person of artistic persuasion.” It’s a phrase that he’s used more than once and it embarrasses and infuriates me. But anything that makes me too conscious of the contrasts between us can set me off. When that happens my pattern is to become aggrieved and petulant and then, in a paroxysm of indignation and vainglorious self-assertion, to withdraw from him, sometimes for months. In this particular instance, however, a separation at least is forestalled by Cecil in a way I could not have anticipated.

With the completion of an evening’s last set, Cecil’s usually eager to check out what’s going on in clubs that are still open. But on this night, a sultry night in late August, he’s not feeling well and he wants to go home. I need to get home as well—to finish an overdue Blue Note liner. “You’re killing me, Robert,” Frank Wolff had said to me earlier on the phone. “Frank,” I told him, “I’m suicidal myself. This is the fourth Jimmy Smith album you’ve assigned me. Didn’t you get that I had nothing to say about him the first time? Why doesn’t Joe Goldberg have to do these?”

I plan to accompany Cecil as far as Second Avenue.

“What’s the matter with you?” I say once we’re outside. “You don’t have the clap again? I warned you not to sit on public piano stools.”

Cecil, who’s looking a little gray, grimaces. “Ulcer attack,” he says. “I have something to take at the apartment.”

The stomach ulcer has been a persistent concern for Cecil (he’s convinced it will soon become something lethal) and waiting for traffic to pass on the corner of LaGuardia Place, I’m about to ask him if he’s seen his doctor recently when this guy I’d noticed standing outside The Take 3 approaches us. “Excuse me, Mr. Taylor,” he says—and to me, “Excuse me, Sir.” He’s black and around my age.

“Mr. Taylor,” he says, “I just wanted to tell you how amazing I think you are and how much I love your music. No one can play the piano like you do.”

Cecil smiles. “Thank you,” he says.

“I wish I could be a musician,” the guy goes on. “I’ve taken lessons, but I’m no good at it. I just don’t have the aptitude for it, I guess.”

Cecil looks at him and says gently, “Then be a good listener.”

Not a bad answer, I think, and I’m instantly rankled by it.

“What empty shit,” I say after the guy—nodding earnestly, then smiling broadly and vigorously shaking my hand as well as Cecil’s—backs off. “‘Be a good listener.’ Was that the best you could do?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cecil says as we resume walking. I see that his countenance has brightened considerably. Cecil responds well to adulation.

“I mean that’s not what he wanted to hear,” I say.

“He seemed satisfied to me, Bob,” Cecil says. “But then you may be right. Since when do I give people what they want to hear?”

“He wanted you to tell him the secret,” I say. “When he digests what you said he’s going to sink into a profound depression.”

Cecil gives me a sidelong glance. “Are you talking about him, Bob? You’re not starting some shit here, are you?”

I ignore this. I’m remembering something I’d all but buried, but which is suddenly of great importance to me, and I say: “Come to think of it, since when do you really give much of anything, even when you say you will?”

Cecil stares at me. He obviously has no idea what I’m talking about.

“Cecil,” I say. “What the fuck happened to ‘Bobt’?”

“What the fuck happened to who?” He says.

“To ‘Bobt’, I say. “ Shit, man. Not ‘who’. What! ‘Bobt’!”

“Bob,” he says laughing at me.  “Listen to you. Are you’re having a fit of some sort? Should I take you to an emergency room?”

“You said you were composing a tune for me and that you were calling it ‘Bobt,’” I say. “That was a year ago. I’ve waited long enough, don’t you think? Where is it? I want it.”

“You want it?” Cecil says.  “Have you collapsed into an infantile state, man? Do I need to remind you of the vicissitudes of the creative process?”

“In other words you never wrote it,” I say.

In other words, please be kind’,” Cecil sings. “ In other words…’”

“You were bullshitting me,” I say. “Will you cut the crap and give me a straight…”

“It was absorbed by something else.” Cecil nods to himself after he hears what he said. He bought a moment with the musical interlude and he’s pleased with the answer he’s come up with.

“‘Absorbed by something else’?” I say. “That’s beautiful. Well you know what, Cecil? I’m going to write a poem for you—a poem I’m going to finish—and I’m going to call it…”

“‘The Magnificent One’?” He says. “‘The Immortal…’?”

“I’m going to call it ‘The Insufferable Self-Centered Prick’,” I say.

“Bob,” he says, his hand on his chest, “Are you saying that I’m self-centered? Me? The amazing Cecil?

“I’ll tell you what I’m saying,” I say. “I don’t need this shit—that’s what I’m saying. The one thing I do get back from knowing and touting the ‘amazing Cecil’ is reflected glory, and it definitely has some practical benefits—I can point to two occasions when it’s actually gotten me laid. [For some reason, Cecil finds this little joke hilarious.] But is it worth the indignities I have to suffer? Will it make me immortal, too? No, you can shove reflected glory, man. I don’t have to settle for it anyway. I’m making some moves. I’m going to be my own Cecil Taylor.”

Cecil feigns a horrified expression “You…you…” he blusters. “You would dare take my name, the name of Cecil?”

I stifle a laugh. “And I’m not exactly beginning at zero either…”

“Listen,” he says, “there’s something I haven’t told…”

“…Maybe it isn’t really ‘writing’,” I continue, “but…”

“…The column?” He says. “You’re talking about the column? I appreciate what you’ve done with it but no, you know it isn’t ‘writing’.

Ready, in the wake of this remark, to take permanent leave of him, to never even listen to a record of his again, I say: “I just conceded as much. But fuck you, Cecil. No one’s ever told me their three-year-old daughter could do it.”

Cecil stops walking and grabs my shoulder. “Robert,” he says, “I haven’t mentioned this.”

What?” I snarl, pushing his hand off me.

“Awhile back,” he says, “that poem you wrote…the one you gave me …”

That poem?” I say. “That poem sucked. It was awful.”

He shakes his head. “Something about that poem…it made me want to write poems myself. I started writing poetry the next day.”

“I didn’t know you were writing poetry,” I say. “How fucking dare you.”

He laughs. “I haven’t been able to stop. Not since I read that poem. No one’s seen any of it yet. I guess I’ll have to show it to you now.”

I take this in. I’m still only a “person of artistic persuasion”—at best I’m destined to be a footnote in his biography. But I’m also something more than Cecil’s flack now. I’ve managed to have an impact in a way that really matters to me. “Bobt”? Who needs “Bobt”? I regard what Cecil’s imparted as a gift beyond measure.

“I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better,” I say a moment later when we arrive at Second Avenue. “So Coleman Hawkins came to check you out. Too bad he didn’t want to pay for the privilege.”

Cecil shrugs. “We could have used his dollar,” he says. Then he says: “I’m thinking about going to Slug’s. Come with me.”

“Sure. Yeah.” I say.

If Frank Wolff dies I’ll find a way to live with the guilt.

.

[Following a trip to Scandinavia in the fall of 1962, Cecil, Sunny and Jimmy played The Take 3 again in 1963. It was during the second engagement that Albert Ayler made an impromptu appearance. Since, at this point in time, I tend to recall both gigs as one, I’m taking the liberty of reporting on the event here.]

On a night I’d have regretted missing, a heavy presence causes me to turn my head in the middle of a set and I see this dude with an odd patch of white on his goatee and wearing a green leather suit. He’s holding a gleaming tenor saxophone. (Sunny will tell me that he polishes it every day.) I know who he is. Sunny and Jimmy had both spoken about Albert Ayler, the “new bitch on tenor” they’d met and played with in Copenhagen on the recent tour. Before they left Denmark, Cecil had invited him to “say hello” when he returned to the States.

But Albert isn’t wasting time with any formalities. The cap is already off his mouthpiece and he’s edging his way between the tables toward the bandstand. Sunny says to Cecil, “Albert’s here,” and though Cecil barely raises his head that’s enough for Albert to mount the stage.

I write this half a century after the fact, but the first sounds Albert makes remain as vivid and immediate to me as if I’d heard them only moments ago.

Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler

It’s his vibrato. The breadth, the amplitude, of his vibrato is astonishing. (It will redefine the scope of the tenor saxophone and Coltrane will admit to having dreams about trying to duplicate it.) If it succeeds in chasing a portion of the room into the street, the rest of us are riveted by it. And we are no less transfixed by what follows. Coming from an obvious rhythm and blues matrix, and reminiscent of the shouters and honkers of the ‘40s and ‘50s, what Albert proceeds to play—with suddenly shifting meters and no regard for tonal centers—isn’t a sequence of notes so much as an amalgam of sounds. Primal sounds. Ecstatic sounds. Achingly mournful sounds. Grotesque and funny sounds.

Albert’s intention, he’ll explain to me, is to reassert black music’s original function, to “conjure up holy spirits.” I can’t vouch for his success in that regard, but I can say that for me what he’s doing is equal in its emotional impact to the first time I heard Cecil.

And Cecil. When Albert begins to play, Cecil laughs and his posture changes noticeably. He’s recalibrating to accommodate Albert. Sunny and Jimmy respond in the same fashion. They embrace Albert and unite with him. Half an hour passes before the number he cut in on is completed.

Of the many gifted musicians who belonged to the New Thing’s second wave, Albert, an astronaut and an archeologist all at once, was the monster. The full range of his unique vision wasn’t revealed the night he sat in with Cecil, of course. But later, in bands of his own and with the pre-Louis Armstrong-through-Ornette Coleman spectrum of material he would utilize, Albert created a fascinating body of innovative work. Many of us took for granted that he’d be the next major force in the music.

In 1964, when I’d be living with “Pretty,” Albert came to the apartment several times to hang out and also to do an interview. The tape of that interview (and a tape of an interview with Betty Carter) was inside the Wollensak case when I was burglarized. I never got the chance to transcribe it.

Albert would die in 1970, apparently by his own hand. A year after that, in the process of moving to the West Village with Carolyn, I discovered a leather tie on the floor of the bedroom closet. It was caked in plaster dust, but I was able to make out the letters “AA” written in ink on the label. My first thought was, how the hell did this get here? Had Albert removed his tie while we talked and forgotten about it? Had “Pretty” found it and, for safekeeping, hung it in the closet where, forgotten by her as well, it had eventually been jostled from its hook? After a moment I realized that the circumstances behind the tie’s appearance in my closet were probably not so innocent—and I could smile about it now. When I met her, “Pretty” had already “balled” every living entry in the Encyclopedia of Jazz and cohabiting with me had in no way discouraged her from moving on to the supplementary volume. Why not Albert?

Speaking of girl singers, I should note that in the course of Cecil’s run a couple of remarkable vocalists, Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan, work opposite him from time to time. Another performer who turns up (making his debut, as I remember it) is Tiny Tim. “What the fuck is this?” two people at separate tables exclaim in unison when he launches into “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

I should also add that someone who doesn’t show is Ornette. Eventually Ornette and Cecil will be acknowledged as the dual progenitors of the New Music, but they’ve been competing for sole ownership of this distinction from the start and, declarations of mutual respect aside, they aren’t especially supportive of one another. Ornette, who’s the better known of the two, clearly wants to protect his advantage. A few days after the “Monk and Taylor” column I’m walking on 8th Street, head down against a driving rain, when my path is suddenly blocked. I look up and it’s Ornette.

“You must make a lot of money writing for that paper,” he says and brushes past me.

So much for the parties at Ornette’s loft.

(There’d been talk about Ornette and Cecil recording together since the late ‘50s, but nothing ever materialized. Around 2003, preparations for an album by them were actually underway when Ornette decided not to go ahead with the project.)

.

Just days before the gig will come to its conclusion, and determined to savor every last moment, I’m seated at a table right near the stage. The band has been “exchanging energies” for forty minutes. Each time the torrent of sound begins to ebb and you think, that’s it, they’re spent, they can’t possibly have anything left, an apparently tossed-off phrase, a single note, reignites the process and the music builds to even greater levels of intensity than it had reached before. (Buell Neidlinger, who’s here tonight, isn’t going along at this point. He’s stopped playing and he looks to be exhausted—or worse. Eyes closed, his glasses askew, his head is hanging over his bass at an alarmingly strange angle. Has he broken his neck?)

I’m facing straight ahead and totally absorbed in what’s taking place, when Jack Kerouac bounds onto the bandstand in front of me. Appearing to be in a…well…beatified condition, he twice, and very slowly, makes a circle around the entire group. Then he walks between and around each of the individual players. Finally he bends down and slides under the piano where, lying on his back, he folds his arms across his chest. At the end of the piece (some twenty minutes later), he emerges from beneath the piano and extends his hand to Cecil.

“I’m Jack Kerouac,” he says, “and I’m the greatest writer in the world.” A startled Cecil (who at first isn’t sure who this cat is and who’d apparently been unaware of his presence) recovers quickly. Accepting Kerouac’s hand he says: “I’m Cecil Taylor and I’m the greatest pianist in the world.”

Me, I’m thinking, Jesus, this is too much—it’s way past too much. And though it occurs to me to say to them: “I’m Robert Levin and I’m the greatest ‘person of artistic persuasion’ in the world,” that’s just a reflex. I’ve got, right now, no need to say anything—certainly nothing bitter. No. If reflected glory turns out to be the best kind I’ll get I’ll take it. Right now my simple proximity to this is enough to make me feel like I’ll live forever.

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02
May
09

Introducing Anthony Braxton

From Jazz & Pop Magazine, 1970

To anyone still questioning the validity of the systems and methods at which Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman arrived, I would first of all recommend that he listen more attentively to the work of those men. But I’d also suggest that he make it a point to hear the strong and very exciting musics of an emergent collection of musicians from Chicago who constitute what is already a third generation of New Music players (Ayler, Shepp, Dolphy, etc., representing the second), and whose very existence serves to certify the innovations which Taylor and Coleman forged.

Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton, Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, LeRoy Jenkins, Leo Smith, Steve McCall and Henry Threadgill are just some of the gifted and mostly very young musicians involved in the Chicago movement. These men have not only embraced the new aesthetic, they are adding remarkable dimensions to it. In addition to the utilization of extraordinary instruments like harmonicas, accordions, sirens, Chinese gongs, Hawaiian tipples, whistles, etc., the Chicago players are into using objects like garbage can covers, chairs and beads to make sounds with. They are also incorporating theatrical effects with provocative results.

Although I’d heard most of the Delmark albums (the Chicago label that’s recorded many of these players), my first live exposure to what these guys are doing came on an evening last May when a five-man cooperative group calling itself the Creative Construction Company of Chicago played its first New York concert at the Peace Church in Greenwich Village.

The music which Anthony Braxton, LeRoy Jenkins, Leo Smith, Richard Abrams, Steve McCall and Richard Davis made that evening was lifting and invigorating, full of movement, wit, adventure and surprise. It reminded me in its spirit as well as its setting of the loft and coffee house gigs that Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler, Marion Brown, Don Cherry, Pharaoh Sanders, et al used to play seven or eight years ago. The music was as new and as fresh, and the same kind of joy exuded from the musicians, as though each sound they made represented a new discovery about music and themselves, and each discovery surely had an extraordinary significance.

Especially impressed by Anthony Braxton, I introduced myself to him at the completion of the concert and invited him to be interviewed. We got together to talk several days later.

Braxton was born on Chicago’s Southside and turned twenty-five this past year. He is classically trained – he studied for a few years with private teachers and at the Chicago School of Music – and has composed orchestral pieces and piano music. Although the alto saxophone is his chief instrument, he plays all the reeds, woodwinds, some brass and various other conventional and unconventional instruments.

The first jazz group Braxton remembers hearing was the Dave Brubeck Quartet. “That was at a very early age. I didn’t dig Brubeck that much, but I was attracted to Paul Desmond. Actually, it was after listening to Desmond, whom I heard before Charlie Parker, that I decided to play woodwinds. He was very important to me and he’s still one of my favorite musicians.”

In 1961, Braxton heard Ornette Coleman’s <i>The Shape of Jazz to Come</i>. “I had gone by a friend of mine’s house, his father listened to jazz, and he said, ‘Listen to this, because this is what’s going to be happening. This is where the music will be going.’ When I heard Ornette I was immediately affected by him. I was afraid of him, because he was so different in relation to what I’d been hearing. I was very conscious of the fact that something was happening with this music – it drew me very strongly, and I knew that someday I would have to deal with it.”

Braxton continued to play with his “Desmond sound” for several more years, during which time he was also listening to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, as well as to Lee Konitz – “whom I still love. I have every record Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh ever made. Konitz, even by today’s standards, was into some far out things – ‘Marshmallow,’ ‘Ice Cream Konitz…” Later Braxton encountered Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman. “Those guys really turned my head around. They were so advanced even then it was incredible. I thought I had some knowledge of music, but I found I didn’t know anything.”

In 1963, Braxton went into the army, spending most of his hitch in Korea. When he was discharged, in 1966, he met again with Jarman and Mitchell who were by then involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the cooperative of some thirty or forty musicians that is nearly four years old now. He began then to really get into Ornette, and Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, and to “stop playing like Paul Desmond.” He also, during this period, got seriously turned on to ‘classical’ music.

“One day I happened to put an Arnold Schoenberg record on by accident, and I almost passed out. So there was something else for me to check out. I was very much affected by Schoenberg, and he led me to other people like Berg and Webern and Stockhausen, and finally to John Cage.”

Braxton was playing concerts with other AACM musicians by this time, and he also recorded two albums for Delmark – 3 Compositions of New Jazz and a two-record set of alto solos, which was scheduled for release in late 1970. He also played on Richard Abram’s <i>Levels and Degrees of Light</i>.

In 1969 Braxton went to Europe with LeRoy Jenkins, Leo Smith and Steve McCall. He spent nearly a year there, working all over and recording two albums for BYG and Polydor. He also participated in an album of Alan Silva’s on BYG, <i>Luna Surface</i>. While in Paris, Braxton met Ornette Coleman, who heard him play and invited him to come to New York. Braxton responded to the invitation and, with LeRoy Jenkins, got here early this spring and stayed with Ornette until he was able to get his own place. Of Ornette, Braxton says, “I’ve always loved him, loved and respected his music. And after getting a chance to meet and to know him, I’m thoroughly in awe of him, of the kind of person he is. He’s been such a good friend. He has my deepest respect, musically and personally.”

Despite Ornette’s hospitality, the aforementioned concert, a gig with Chick Corea and record dates with Corea and Marion Brown, Braxton hasn’t had that easy a time of it in New York, though it’s been no worse for him than for most New York musicians. He had, he told me, been looking for a day job, but without success.

We talked about the dismal economic realities of the scene and then Braxton began to discuss his music and what was happening with the Chicago players.

“When I got out of the army I joined the AACM and found everybody deep into exploring different avenues. Roscoe Mitchell talked of colors. Steve McCall was into shadings – he knows more about shadings, I think, than any other percussionist. Joseph Jarman, at the time, was into theater and getting politically involved; he was very concerned about the social aspects of what was happening in this country. Henry Threadgill was talking about healing through his music, and he was learning about different sounds and how these sounds affected people – like the relationship of one note to a particular illness. Richard Abrams was concerned with the spiritual aspects of music. So many different things were, and are, happening. If you talked to Leo Smith, he would talk to you about composition and about theater. LeRoy Jenkins, a master string musician, he’s concerned with opening up avenues for the violin and arriving at different approaches. He wants to utilize the whole instrument without having someone call him a ‘classical’ violinist.

“I myself was into mathematics and philosophy, seeing music from a mathematical perspective and working with mathematical systems. I wanted to make up my own vocabulary because I didn’t want to follow anybody else. I wanted to find my own avenues. Now my music is a combination of all I learned in the AACM plus what I was working with in mathematics in terms of sound relationships, densities, textures, different forms – what I call ‘conceptual grafting,’ which is about mixing different elements. I’m moving now toward trying to free the music in other ways, like playing in the streets and bringing carpenters and automobile mechanics into the music. I’m starting to see the music, and to me the notion behind the music is just as important as the music itself. I can see how in the next ten years or so everybody will be able to bring something into the music from whatever their occupation is. Like, you bake cookies? You make ice cream? Well, we’ll find a way we can create with that.

“I’ve just finished a piece for one hundred tubas. I’d like to go to all the high schools and get all the tuba players and have a parade and go down to City Hall playing this piece. I want to make music that is socially usable and from which there can be direct results. Like, I dig watching shoemakers, watchmakers, ceramicists, work. I wish my art could be as useful as theirs is – I wish somebody could put tea or coffee in my music, or put their feet in it.

“But there are so many different types of music happening in the AACM. Chicago is a new center of the New Music. The atmosphere there seems to be more conducive to real creativity than New York’s. Nobody’s famous there and nobody’s working, so if you’re in music it’s only because you love it.

“Each person is realizing the different things he can do – his capacity for creating in different areas. This is something that’s just beginning – we’ve been practicing and working for three years now, but it’s still just beginning. What’s happening now is really just a stepping stone and a way of people getting their minds together. The music has just begun. That’s why the AACM is so important, because it’s given us the opportunity to study exactly what’s been opened up by people like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and ‘classical’ composers like John Cage – to find out what will be the disciplines that we have to learn and what new avenues are available for the young musicians to explore.”

I asked Braxton to elaborate on the ‘classical’ influences in his music.

“I want to be able to make use of everything that’s in the air,” he said. “I want to arrive at a world art that takes in everything. Nobody can tell me that John Cage, or David Tudor playing Stockhausen (which I just heard the other day, and which knocked me out), is not my music. There are a lot of people contributing in ‘classical’ music who I’m attracted to. I listen to ‘classical’ music an awful lot and I’m very involved with it. Like, for me, John Cage is one of the two most important composers in the country today – the other is Duke Ellington. Cage’s knowledge and use of so many different concepts, textures and properties have been a major contribution to music, and anybody who’s in contemporary art has to know about them. Cage has done so much in terms of materials he’s worked with and notions he’s gone through – even the unsuccessful notions. And the fact that he’s always trying to assimilate new concepts into the music, I find that very attractive.

“Of course there are a lot of things Cage hasn’t come to terms with. His music is almost all intellectual, all conceptual. He’s so conceptual that the only way you can really deal with him is through some kind of intellectual system. That’s true of Stockhausen, too. Stockhausen (who is just the end of Webern) and Cage are like at the opposite polls of the same thing – Stockhausen with his empirical intellectualism, Cage with his metaphysical intellectualism. I met Cage once and we talked about this. I was telling him that when you look in this life you see trees and rocks, but you also see people – people exist, egos exist (in the sense that each person is coming from his own head), and if that’s true then his music isn’t reflecting nature as much as he thinks it is, because people are just as much a part of nature as rocks and trees.

“I’m also aware that Cage has put down black art. But that’s something I overlook because that’s something he has to deal with, not me, and I devote my attention to the positive things he’s contributed. Actually, I think Cage, in regard to jazz, is starting to listen now and going through a period of change. He’s been a victim of the scene, like everybody else; his inability to really expose himself to black art, to really be open to it and acknowledge it, has led him to a lot of wrong conclusions. But now I think he’s becoming aware of the importance of black musicians, aware that he can learn from Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. It’s basically about improvisation. Nobody who walks into the next twenty years and calls himself a contemporary musician will be able to do it without having some understanding of what improvisation is all about in terms of the emotions behind it. Improvisation has been a property of world art – with the exception of Western art – for as long as this planet’s been here. Most contemporary ‘classical’ musicians have now come to the juncture where they’re starting to understand that they’re going to have to know about Duke and Miles. If you don’t know about them, you’re missing some essential knowledge, because they’ve been through it gloriously.

“But I’m saying that in spite of themselves and their emotional deficiencies, people like Cage and Stockhausen have done so much. One thing for sure, the next stage of creativity will employ the gains that Cage has made, as well as the gains that black art has made. That much is undeniable.

“Getting back to the music in the AACM,” Braxton went on, “what’s happening is that we’re coming to realize that we have to bring all the different arts, all the different avenues, together. Music, painting, sculpting – they’re all, in themselves, very limiting. We’re working on getting to a wider spectrum with a label like ‘art’ or ‘activity’ or ‘environment,’ rather that ‘music’ or painting.’ We want to incorporate as many different approaches and avenues as possible. We’re working together in different kinds of groups with different kinds of approaches. We have pieces where each musician plays ten balloons. I have a piece in which I conduct four chairs and four shovels; another piece where an audience comes, the musicians play three blocks away, then someone comes to tell you the concert is over. Leo Smith wrote a lot of plays that we perform. All these different avenues are being covered.

“I mean we can all play on changes, and most of us could read music in a symphony orchestra. But we’re really not concerned with that anymore. Sometimes I do it because I like that kind of music. But it’s not about proving anything anymore.

“What’s happening now can be seen as a logical reaction to the lies this country was built on. But this is not so much a revolution as it is a final curtain being drawn on a particular scene, and while the final curtain is being drawn, a curtain is opening on the next scene.”

Although he was determined to stay in New York, to “meet musicians, hear music, go to art galleries and get into new avenues of expression,” Braxton said that he’d found the scene here in many ways “depressing.”

“The musician’s here are so divided economically, because people who control things divide them that way. But they’re also divided from a lot of other standpoints, and the music in relation to the people is not as strong as it could be. There’s so much dissension here. I feel like what’s needed here is some kind of organizing by the artists along the lines of the AACM. In New York musicians are so separated. It would be nice if we could get together some kind of orchestra and take it to different neighborhoods. I mean there are so many remarkable people walking around now creating music, whose music could reach out to all the people. But those in control won’t let it get through to the public.

“There’s been a conscious, plotted attempt to suppress and wipe out creative music in this country. I think you realize the significance of art in a culture and what the new art represents and who it threatens if people are able to hear it. It becomes a threat to existing values because it can expand things and stimulate people to change the existing state of things. This is dangerous to people for whom change is not an advantage, so it becomes very…interesting.

“Let me tell you how deep this thing is. When our first record came out on Delmark, it was put down immediately. Immediately. And what was strange, the jazz cats said it wasn’t jazz and the ‘classical’ cats said it wasn’t ‘classical’ music. The critics said it wasn’t even music. One way they’d put it down, they’d use comparison to try to destroy the morale within the group – compare me to Roscoe, compare LeRoy to someone – and they would say, well, the conclusion is that this cat’s better than that cat. That’s a very good way to destroy unity, and that is what was done. Everybody in the group knew it, but we were not in a position to do anything about it. Like certain individuals – they know who they are – consciously exploited what we did and used it for something else.”

Braxton was ready to split. “You know,” he paused to say, “here I’ve been talking all this time about art and artists, but actually I’ve never really wanted to fully identify with the idea of being an ‘artist,’ or with the idea of playing music for a living. I’m afraid of being a ‘musician’ in the sense that society defines it – that is, of separating art from life, or of being in the music business. Art gets to be so manipulated. Like everybody’s a potential artist – butchers, bakers…I think the whole idea of art is something that Western culture has introduced so that it can be used on evil trips. Like, Western music was originally just a toy for rich people, something for the king to talk shit about. I feel that potentially we all are the music, our lives are art in the purest sense. So I don’t want to sell my music anymore than I want to sell my hands. It’s very evident, just checking out the scene, that if you tamper with the music and turn it into a synthetic, then in fact you turn yourself into a synthetic. It’s very hard to participate and not have that happen.

“Of course, I can see how right now we need ‘artists,’ as such, to help show people that they’re artists, too; to show them what’s meaningful. Consciousness is the most valuable thing that can be communicated right now – making people aware of themselves and their environment – and there has to be somebody holding the line and pointing out the options and the different avenues to learn about. In this country right now the people who are artists in the truest sense of the word are participating in an activity which will bring this consciousness about. And then maybe we will be able to stop categorizing ourselves.

“Actually, some of the most creative people I’ve met are not involved in music. They’re simply living what the music is about.”

17
Apr
09

The Emergence of Jimmy Lyons

From Jazz & Pop Magazine, 1970

Since 1960, when he began working with Cecil Taylor, alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons has been developing from a somewhat diffident musician into one of the more potent voices in the New Music. In recent recordings and appearances with Taylor, Jimmy has been playing with a glowing assertiveness and an often stunning beauty.

Jimmy Lyons

Jimmy Lyons

This past spring, Jimmy’s first record under his leadership, Other Afternoons on the French BYG label, was released and it should make anyone who can get hold of it take serious notice – not only of his increasing mastery of the alto saxophone, but also of his newly revealed and exceptional talent as a composer. The album is highly charged and demonstrates Jimmy’s capacity to play and write with a startling rhythmic energy, a strong sense of melody, and a near-to-excruciating lyricism. He’s accompanied on the record by three first-rate musicians, trumpeter Lester Bowie, who makes fierce and electrifying music, and two colleagues from Taylor’s unit, Alan Silva, a fine bassist and brilliant cellist, and Andrew Cyrille, who I think sometimes might be the best drummer on the planet.

Born in Jersey City, December 1, 1933, Jimmy began playing alto when he was in high school. “At the time, and mostly from records, I was into Ernie Henry. I’d heard Bird first, but when I heard Ernie Henry I dug him more. Afterwards I heard Bird again and could see how he offered more. Then I started listening to people like Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, James Moody…. What really got me to start was a chick who lived next door. She had a baby grand and used to have people coming over and jamming all the time – Elmo Hope, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and a lot of local players. I’d been playing for about six months then, mostly by myself, tunes like ‘Indiana’ – I had no teacher, but I had a very good ear – and she heard me and one day she said, ‘Hey, you’re sounding good, why don’t you come over?’ I did, and Monk was there. We played for about a half hour. He told me he wanted me to play a certain figure – sevenths – so I thought, sevenths? I didn’t know what he was talking about. I could hear it, but I’d never studied or learned. Monk said I was talented, but that I had to get down and take care of business; had to learn about music and do a lot of woodshedding. It was actually a beautiful experience. Later I played with Elmo Hope. We had a piano too at that time, and he used to practice on it afternoons when my mother was out working. We used to play and put things together, but I still hadn’t had any formal training.

“In 1959 I met a cat named Rudy Rutherford. He wasn’t as modern as some of the cats I was playing with, but he said, ‘C’mon, I’ll teach you how to play the saxophone.’ I needed to learn and he showed me a few things. He was very helpful.

“A year later I met Cecil. I was playing with a bass player at a club called Raphael’s on Bleecker Street. Cecil worked opposite us on weekends. He had Archie Shepp and Dennis Charles with him, and the whole thing really knocked me out. Up until then I was playing mostly as a hobby, working at the Post Office, with just occasional gigs here and there. But hearing Cecil made me want to get into music full-time. Later a mutual friend said Cecil was looking for another horn, so I went down – he was living on Dey Street then – and we started rehearsing.”

With Cecil, Jimmy was obliged to take a leap into a whole new methodology. “I had to reorganize my whole approach to music and break a lot of habits. That’s not very easy to do. I’d spent about a year trying to get myself together scale-wise and key-wise and tune-wise. Then, all of a sudden, this other thing came up. It took me a little while to get myself together in Cecil’s music, to stop thinking chord-wise and to think about linking idea to idea. Like on the Into the Hot album [Impulse], I didn’t feel I was playing as well as I should be.”

If Jimmy’s work on Into the Hot was uncertain and tentative (and still more imitative of Charlie Parker than an extension of the Parker tradition into the New Music), it gradually, as I’ve said, assumed authority and individuation. Witness the progression of his playing on Taylor’s four succeeding albums: Live at the Cafe Montmartre (Fantasy), Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come (Fontana), Unit Structures (Blue Note) and Conquistador (Blue Note).

In my conversation with Jimmy I posed a number of questions at random. His comments on various aspects of his approach and aesthetic, as well as the New Music and the current scene in general, follow.

His Influences: “Well, of course there was Bird and there is Cecil. Also, I really dug Sonny Rollins a lot – and Jackie McLean. The man who wrote the liner notes for the BYG album said I’d been influenced by Ornette, but I haven’t really. I like Ornette, and I must say it’s always good to hear him. But if Ornette and I sound alike in any way it’s because of the mutual influence we share of Bird. As for Bird, I think he was what every musician should be. He’s an inspiration for every musician to do his own thing instead of being imitative. That’s the realization I came to. I mean the major thing to learn from Bird was not to play like him, but to play yourself.”

His Procedure: “Music has come to me to be an abstract thing. I don’t try to imitate sounds like birds, or give a direct symbol of the sky or anything like that. I try to just let the music come out of myself without giving any special meaning in front. I might think about what it might symbolize after I play it, but not before. It’s more innate with me than deliberate.”

The New Music and Bebop: “Bebop was very romantic in a sense. It talked about heroic actions – things to do politically as well as musically, rather than doing it now. Of course Bird got to some things, and a lot of the cats who are playing today aren’t as modern as he was. When I say ‘modern,’ I mean using techniques that are indigenous to the modern school, like wide skips or things of that nature. But basically bebop was about the idea of doing what had to be done, rather than actually doing it. Now we’re doing it.”

The Meaning of Freedom: “When we talk about ‘free jazz’ it doesn’t mean that you play whatever pops into your head. It just means greater freedom of choice, and not being tied to some previous cat or things like chord structures.”

The Jazz Continuum: “To move to the next step you have to have a knowledge of tradition – of the tradition of the black aesthetic – to have heard all of the things of the past and to truly have been moved by them. I don’t mean just checking them out, but having been really moved by them.”

Rock: “Rock is dealing with a lot of electricity. You hear a full orchestra playing, then a rock group with four pieces comes along and blows them all away because of all that electricity. But I spent a year in North Carolina and heard a lot of those blues singers and players, and my father was a good dancer who had a good collection of blues records. I feel I’ve absorbed what most of rock is about, and the point now is to go on. I really want to push forward rather than dwell on what’s gone before.”

“Classical” Electronic Music: “Much of it strikes me as bland. Of course, some of it would take a whole lot of fantastic blowing to get. But for me it lacks the human quality. When you hear a John Coltrane record, for example, you not only hear it, you visualize it too. I think the music of the black avant-garde is at least on the level of Stockhausen. But the black avant-garde doesn’t have the kind of scene and patronage that he has. Those cats are able to work and write at their leisure.”

Finding a Place to Play: “It’s obvious that clubs are not the right atmosphere. Guys go to a club to hit on some chick and the music comes along and pulls the whole thing apart. I prefer to play in schools or concert halls because I think the intensity of the music demands the full attention.”

Finding an Audience: “An audience will have to come through education. Black avant-garde music has to be inculcated into the ghetto, and schooling may accomplish that. I mean if you go to a white slum neighborhood where people live in utter poverty and you play them a record by Chopin, they’ll say, wow, that’s really something. They may not really like it, they may be being hypocritical, but they’ll have a certain respect for it because they’ve been educated that way. This isn’t true of black slum neighborhoods. There’s no real respect for jazz. They haven’t been taught in the schools that they should respect it. If it’s taught in the schools they may not like it at first, but they will respect it and support it, and eventually they’ll get to it.”

I asked Jimmy about his plans for the future. “Of all the groups out there playing, I think I’m most satisfied playing with Cecil. Of course I’d also like to have my own context, to set up certain things and build up my own milieu. Like Coltrane. He’s working out of his own thing, and he built it and built it and built it until it was overwhelming. In the last year and a half I’ve been doing a lot of composing – writing things down and putting them aside and developing them when I have the time. Often ideas pop up while I’m playing and I write them down later. I’m also learning things from composing that are changing my playing. Writing and composing can be two very different things, of course. I’ve met a lot of cats who compose some out-of-sight shit, but they can’t play it at all. I want to be able to do both well. What I’d really like would be, say, to write for three months, then woodshed on it for six months, then play it in public for the next three months. Then I’d want to start fresh all over again with new material and ideas. Economics won’t permit that, of course. But I want as best I can to keep moving from one area and context to another, to really get into one thing, get out of it, then get into another thing.

“I want to always be moving. Moving forward.”

09
Apr
09

Introducing Booker Little

From Jazz & Pop Magazine, 1970.
(Booker died in 1961, just a few months after this piece was originally published in Metronome.)

Booker Little, twenty-three-year-old composer, arranger and trumpet player (the order is arbitrary, each role has equal importance to him), has lately come to demonstrate, in recordings and as the musical director of the Max Roach group, a talent that promises size.

Booker Little

Booker Little

As is true of many jazz players of his generation, Booker is a product of the conservatory. He’s found that experience to be “invaluable,” but has discovered that it can tend to bind one to conventional concepts and result in an excessive emphasis on the technical aspects of making music – at the cost of the emotional aspects.

“My background has been conventional,” he says, “and maybe because of that I haven’t become a leftist, though my ideas and tastes now might run left to a certain degree. I think the emotional aspect of music is the most important. A lot of guys, and I’ve been guilty of this too, put too much stress on the technical, and that’s not hard to do when you’ve learned how to play in school. I think this goes along with why a lot of trumpet players have come up lately sounding one way – like Clifford Brown. They say everyone’s imitating him now and that’s true in a way and in a way it isn’t. Clifford was a flashy trumpet player who articulated very well. He started a kind of trumpet playing that’s partly an outgrowth of Fats Navarro – insofar as having a big sound, articulating well all over the instrument and having an even sound from top to bottom. Most of the younger guys, like myself, who started playing in school, they’d have the instructor driving at them, ‘Okay, you gotta have a big sound, you gotta have this and that.’ Consequently if they came in sounding like Miles, which is beautiful for jazz, they flunked the lessons. They turned toward someone else then, like Clifford. Donald Byrd is a schooled trumpet player and though he’s away from that now he’ll never really be able to throw it out of his mind.”

Booker was born into a musical family in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 2, 1938. His father was a trombonist in a Baptist church band and his mother was a church organist; an older sister sang for a time with the London Opera Company. Booker began playing trumpet in his high school “classical” and marching band. “At first I was interested in the clarinet, but the instructor felt trumpet would be best – because he needed trumpet players. Jazz records were very scarce in Memphis at that time, but there were a lot of guys who were interested in it. George Coleman was one. He was probably one of the most progressive people around town at the time, and there was also Louis Smith, who is my cousin. They were listening. I was rather close to George because he was in the same high school. He was sharp enough to take things off records. I was fourteen or fifteen then, and he sort of got me started. I played with some groups around town and then, when I graduated, I went to the Chicago Conservatory. Being in Chicago gave me greater exposure to things, because guys were always coming through.”

At the conservatory Booker majored in trumpet and minored in piano. He also studied theory, composition and orchestration. In his third year, when he was nineteen, he met Max Roach through Sonny Rollins, and not long afterwards Roach called him for a record date. About that time he decided to quit school. “I gave it up because I realized there wasn’t much I could do as a far as being a ‘classical’ musician was concerned.” The record date eventually resulted in a regular working association with Roach’s quintet, an association that continued through 1958 when Booker took a leave of absence to freelance in New York. During the latter period he gigged and/or recorded with John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Slide Hampton, Ed Shaugnessy, Teddy Charles, Mal Waldron and Abbey Lincoln, among others. He also recorded an album for United Artists and another for Time. In early 1960 he rejoined Roach.

Of late, however, Booker has been considering the possibility of forming his own group. Its repertoire would consist exclusively of his own compositions.

“I think I’ve found the way I want to play on my instrument and now I want to concentrate on the sound I’d like to build around it.” Currently, Booker has a working agreement with Candid Records, for whom he’s already made an album (with Eric Dolphy) comprised entirely of his own writing. At the time we spoke, he was working on the orchestrations for an album that will feature Coleman Hawkins “in a modern setting.”

“I don’t think there’s very much of my work prior to these Candid albums that expresses how I feel now about what I want to do.”

What Booker wants to accomplish as a composer involves drawing on his knowledge of what he terms “the legitimate aspects of writing” without being confined by them.

“Those who have no idea about how ‘classical’ music is constructed are definitely at a loss – it’s a definite foundation. I don’t think it should be carried to the point where you have to say this is this kind of phrase and this is that kind of development. Deep in your mind though you should maintain these thoughts and not just throw a phrase in without it answering itself or leading to something else. Say I know the chord I want the piano player to play and I give it to him. But the other instruments won’t necessarily be playing that chord. Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally, they’d say, ‘Well maybe you’ve got a wrong note in there.’ But I can’t think in terms of wrong notes. In fact I don’t hear any notes as being wrong. It’s a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you’re thinking completely conventionally – technically – and forgetting about emotion. And I don’t think anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole notes and half steps. There’s more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. Say it’s a B flat, but you play it flat and it’s not an A and it’s not a B flat, it’s between them. And in places you can employ that and I think it has great value. Or say the clash of a B natural against a B flat.

“I’m interested in putting sounds against sounds and I’m interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. I think sections of a piece can sometimes be played, say, on a basic undersound which doesn’t limit the soloist. You wouldn’t necessarily tell him how many choruses to take. You say ‘You blow awhile. You try and build your story and resolve it.’ One thing I wrote for [producer] Nat Hentoff on the Candid date is like that completely. The undervoices were playing a motif and I just improvised on the sound. It had a definite mood, and the mood didn’t warrant my running all over the trumpet.

“There are a lot of people who think the new direction should be to abolish form and others who feel that it should be to unite the ‘classical’ forms with jazz. The relationship between ‘classical’ and jazz is close, but I don’t think you have to employ a ‘classical’ technique as such to get something that jells. I think the main reason a lot of people are going into it is because jazz hasn’t developed as far as composition is concerned. It’s usually a twelve-bar written segment and then everybody goes for themselves. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to do either of these things to really accomplish something different and new. And I think sometimes a conscious effort to do something different and new isn’t as good as a natural effort.

“In my own work I’m particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it’s a consonant sound it’s going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns, in fact, you can’t always tell how many more there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things.”

Booker has been impressed by the writing of Charlie Mingus. “He’s been thinking rhythmically, in terms of breaking up rhythms, and that interests me. He’s definitely a giant as far as writing is concerned. He stems from another giant, Duke Ellington. Duke is one of my favorite writers. He’s a man who’s worked at a sound and never wavered, and his musical personality is always identifiable as his. Slide Hampton has impressed me when he’s writing for no other reason than himself. He has a terrific mind. And I thought the Gunther Shuller Atlantic date with Ornette Coleman had some terrific writing.”

As a trumpet player, Booker concedes that his major influence, much for the reasons stated earlier, has been Clifford Brown. “Yes, to a degree I’m afraid there was an influence, but I do think I’ve rid myself of it. I remember when I was living at the YMCA in Chicago. Sonny Rollins was living there too. You had to go down to the basement to practice, and once he heard me listening to a Clifford Brown record. I was playing it over and over again, and I guess I was driving him mad, because he was trying to practice himself. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to learn the melody. He told me that it was probably best that I go buy a sheet on it, because if I kept listening to the way he played it, it was going to rub off, and I was going to play it the same way. I never forgot what he said, though I did continue listening to Clifford Brown records. Brownie was the easiest guy for me to really get close to, as far as finding out what was going on was concerned. I like the way he played his lines.”

Booker is preoccupied with remaining within the mood of a piece when he solos.

“Jazz soloing, as a result of the methods Bird introduced, started a very involved technique, and Bird and some of the others reached a very high degree of emotion, higher than most of the soloists to follow. Sonny Rollins has reached the same height, probably because he was around to hear them. He not only heard them say this is an A major or a D seventh, he also heard, firsthand, what they did with it – the kind of emotion they got out of it. A guy learning as I learned – say, the first chord in the bridge is an A-minor seventh – well, the first thing he had to do was figure out every note in the A-minor seventh, and when it came to playing it, he had to make sure he hit all the right notes. I think this is important, but not half as important as concentrating on staying within the mood. Say you’re playing ‘Blue Monday.’ I don’t think it’s saying very much if you start to play it and then just rip and run all over the instrument. But again, you can get so involved with the technical aspect of playing that you do that – it’s not hard for that to happen. Miles Davis minimized how much trumpet playing you could do as much as anybody could minimize it, But many people have a misconception about him. They say he can’t play trumpet. But he’s a fantastic trumpet player with a fantastic mind. He was one of the first guys around who didn’t have to play every note in an A-minor chord to give you the impression of an A-minor chord and to get the mood that the section needed.

“There’s so many areas of trumpet playing that can be employed, and they don’t have a lot to do with the ‘legitimate’ end of trumpet playing as such. There are a lot of notes between notes – they call them ‘quarter-tones.’ They’re not really quarter-tones, but notes that are above and below the 440 notes. This is something Miles employs a lot, and I doubt that he even thinks about it.”

As a result of the influence Clifford Brown has exerted on the younger trumpet players, Booker said that he believes there is a serious need for everyone to break away and find his individuality.

“The problem isn’t only with trumpet players, and that’s why I think it’s very good that Ornette Coleman and some other people have come on the scene. Ornette has his own ideas about what makes what and I don’t think it’s proper to put him down. I do think it’s okay to talk about what his music has and what it doesn’t have. I have more conventional ideas about what makes what than he does, but I think I understand clearly what he’s doing, and it’s good. It’s an honest effort. It’s like a guy who puts sponges on his feet, steps in paint and then smears it on the canvas. If he really feels it that way, that’s it. At one end you have a guy who does it from a purely intellectual aspect and at the other a guy who does it from a purely emotional aspect. Sometimes both arrive at the same thing. I think Bird was more intellectual in his playing than Ornette is. I think Ornette puts down whatever he feels. But I think both ways have worth, though I don’t believe Ornette himself has the worth of a Charlie Parker. Bird consumed everything, all that has been before and then advanced it all, and I don’t think Ornette has consumed everything, though I’m sure he’s heard it. I do think what Ornette’s doing is part of what jazz will become.

“You know, there are so many things to get to. Most people who don’t listen often say jazz is a continuous pounding and this is something I can feel too. I think there are so many emotions that can’t be expressed with that going on. There are certain feelings that you might want to express that you could probably express better if you didn’t have that beat. Up until now if you wanted to express a sad or moody feeling you would play the blues. But it can be done in other ways.”

Booker is concerning himself with exploring some of the “other” ways. If his aesthetic remains bound to the conventional precepts in which his education is rooted, he is trying to find out how to make his conservatory education nourish rather than taint or restrain his music. His most recent work both in person and on records is evidence of his certainly growing skill and courage as a composer and instrumentalist who is likely to achieve real stature.

09
Apr
09

Cecil Taylor: “This Music is the Face of a Drum”

From Jazz & Pop Magazine, April 1971.

As an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, Cecil Taylor has finally been able to realize a long-held ambition – the command of a large orchestra.

Comprised of fifteen of his students (and augmented by Jimmy Lyons, Sam Rivers, Leroy Jenkins and Andrew Cyrille), the “Cecil Taylor Ensemble” recently played concerts at Wisconsin and at Dayton University in Ohio and it is scheduled to make its New York debut at Hunter College in May.

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor

The band’s repertoire consists entirely of Taylor compositions, pieces which he describes as “embodying ideas that crystallized for me around 1960, and which were first revealed on the 1966 Blue Note dates [Unit Structures and Conquistador] and then in the procedures Mike Mantler borrowed for the Jazz Composers Orchestra record. They represent a development of those ideas, plus what’s current in my musical vocabulary today. I’m involved in the investigation, on a very consistent and steady basis, of the timbres inherent in the instruments of the band, an exploration of their potential, and an attempt to make a definitive sound with a larger number of people than the scene in New York allows.

“This opportunity to work with a large number of musicians – which enables you to do so many things you cannot do with a small unit – could not have happened in New York,” Cecil continued. “Like the scene has forced Monk to play with just four people for so many years and it has imposed unnatural limitations on what he does. At Wisconsin we’ve been able to rehearse five or six days a week since September because the school is paying for the rehearsal hall. The unique ‘high’ that I’ve been getting in Wisconsin, from the nature of the band and from the continual level of activity I’ve been able to experience is similar to the one I’ve gotten in Europe when I’ve worked every night for a prolonged period.”

The personnel of Taylor’s band (male and female) is young and inexperienced. It’s also mostly white. What, I wanted to know, was the significance of these circumstances for him?

“The inexperience of some of the players is a virtue rather than a drawback. There are fewer things to unlearn. My approach to the members of the band – which is similar to the kind of approach I use in the class that I teach – ‘Black Music from 1920 to the Present’ – constitutes a fundamental attack against the whole structure of the way music is given to people and also against how our parents taught us and what they thought was necessary and important to teach us. All of us intuitively knew the things young people know today, but we could not implement our intuitions because of the way we were taught. This is why people drop out of school. I don’t tell people in the band how to play. I just tell them: ‘Play.’ Then, by doing it, they begin to see how to play. I’ve dispensed with the idea of teaching notes as such. I play for them and they write down what they want to. We have someone in the band who has been playing only seven months. I confront him with possibilities around the one note he can play with ease and have him see how that one note relates to a living musical structure

“As for the personnel of the band being dominated by whites, that’s true. But esthetically the band is dominated by me, and that’s one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of it. White musicians are serving a black director and implementing his concepts, rather than the other way around.

“I think this is very important. You see, black music is the face of white culture and white culture is very busy denying it. That’s why CBS could give an hour to Janis Joplin and call her the ‘Queen of the Blues.’ So I’m involved with making it impossible for white culture to deny the truth any longer. As one who bows to the omnipotence of black creativity in music, I’m also involved with conveying spiritual knowledge to anyone who will hear it. Janis Joplin heard something, but what she didn’t hear were the spiritual laws and heritage which determine what the tradition is. If she had heard that she’d probably still be alive.

“I’m saying that what African culture has been about is the celebration of life, of joy and of creativity – the manifestations of which are to make one high. The white plantation owner saying, ‘Goddamn, where did they get all that energy from?’ thought it was just physical energy, but it was more than that, it was spiritual recognition, a recognition that all things in the universe have energy, that you are part of the universe and that everything around you gives you energy. Africans were agricultural, but they paid homage to nature in their dances, in their consecration of a tree before they cut it down.

“The white people who are in the band are in the band because they responded to this concept.

“In directing the band I try to communicate the aesthetic basis on which black music is built. I’m teaching the musicians in the band the philosophical and spiritual factors which resulted in the idea of black music – a very ancient music. I’m telling them the precepts. I’m giving them the idea of how black men proceed. I’m not expecting them to play as black men, but I’m trying to teach them how to assimilate, as much as they’re culture will allow it, black procedures, and to assist them in achieving their liberation For example, I said to a young, white woman in the ensemble: ‘This music is the face of a drum,’ and her whole attack changed! Blacks would play the music in a different way, but anybody can play it – anybody can interpret it. What you do is you have an exchange and each person takes what he deems to be valid. The whites in the band are attempting to come to terms with the black aesthetic of music.

“You see, what white intellectuals must be confronted with is the black methodology that creates this music. Stravinsky and Bartók made a statement in a certain way, but blacks put it together differently – their way – and Ralph Ellison’s notion of the symphonic form as the ‘ultimate’ is a lie.

“My purpose,” Cecil concluded, “is to carry on the tradition of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington and therefore to reaffirm and extend the line of black music that goes back thousands of years.”

By my lights, every performance by a Cecil Taylor group is an event. But the first New York appearance of the “Cecil Taylor Ensemble” (which reliable sources report is making “astonishing” music) will clearly have a special significance and I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to it.

More on Taylor: Notes From a Season at the Center of the Universe: Cecil Taylor at the Take 3, 1962-’63 and The War is Over: A Conversation About Jazz with Robert Levin

28
Nov
08

Sunny Tells Me a Story

On Taking the Leap from One Reality to Another

The following is excerpted from a work-in-progress, Going Outside: A Memoir of Free Jazz & the ‘60s.

Sunny Murray is widely regarded as the preeminent drummer of the Free Jazz movement.

The “Jeanne” mentioned below was Jeanne Phillips. Although there were, to be sure, significant differences – she was black, she worked a forty-hour-a-week civil service job and her one-bedroom flat on West 10th Street was no showplace – Jeanne, who was astonishingly astute on matters musical, played very much the mother-figure role for the Free Jazz musicians that the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter had played for the beboppers.

We’re in my living room, taking a break on the second day of an interview I’m doing with him for Jazz & Pop – and smoking the amazing bush he’s always holding – when Sunny says, “Bobby, I never told you this, but for a while there were people trying to kill me.”

Sunny Murray

Sunny Murray

“No shit,” I say and turn the Wollensak back on.

“No shit. It began a short time after I met Cecil. Did I ever tell you how I met Cecil?”

“No.”

“It was at the Café Roué in the middle of winter, 1959. I came in one night with a cat named Wade, who had just bought a bass yesterday. All the bebop dudes that I used to play with was there. Cecil came in a few minutes later and sat in a corner with his collar up over his head. All the dudes immediately started packing up, and when I asked them why they said, ‘You don’t know Cecil Taylor. The way he plays can’t nobody get together with him.’”

“He told me that – back when he was making that scene – they’d always say he didn’t know the changes.”

“And it could have been true sometimes, but it’s not exactly what they meant.”

“I know. Go ahead.”

“Cecil, man. I’ve always admired a cat that stood out in a crowd, because it meant he was very…useful. He was a necessity. He wasn’t one to shun, he was one to dig. And I thought, if you pack up when a man comes in to play, then he must be something. Let some more come in that make you pack up and then maybe I’ll be around some really good musicians. It was like when I was hanging out on the corner with the guys in Philadelphia. If a cat would come up who the other cats didn’t like, I’d want to know why. And if they gave me some sick-assed reason I’d say to the cat who’d come up, ‘Let’s you and me split’ and I’d leave them there. So I said, ‘Listen, man, I’m going to play with him.’ And they said, ‘Okay, we’ll listen.’ So I went over to Cecil and introduced myself and said, ‘I would like to play with you.’ And he said, ‘Do you know how I play?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Are you sure you want to play with me?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He took off his coat, and everybody got all tense, and he went to the piano and started playing. Well in ’59 it was a little different. I said to myself, damn, he sure is into something else, and I struggled along. But I played a whole three tunes. Wade played too, even though he couldn’t really play. Cecil said, ‘That’s all right, let him do it if he wants.’ Cecil laughed. He had fun. A couple of times I didn’t know what to do and I just stopped, and Cecil turned around and said, ‘No, keep going, don’t stop.’ I wasn’t just playing conventional, like tanka-ting – I could have, but I decided not to play that way with him. I was playing on one. Like Elvin Jones was playing on one in Detroit, but I didn’t know about him yet. I just thought it was hip to play on one. Bass players would always say, ‘Oh motherfucker, you keep turning the beat around.’ So a lot of cats didn’t like me, though some cats did.”

“Count me with the first group. I hate the way you play.”

“Fuck you. Anyway, I went back to play with the beboppers after that night and they all started laughing and saying, ‘Sunny played with Cecil, Sunny played with Cecil,’ and making a big joke out of it. And I was thinking. who is Cecil? Who the devil is this cat I played with? And I looked for Cecil, man, for days, every day. I thought, I ain’t heard nobody play like that, and I’m gonna make sure that I can play with him again ‘cause I knew he had enjoyed my playing and it wasn’t like I was bugging his nerves. Finally I found Cecil at the old Cedar Bar and we talked a little. I happened to need a place to stay at the time and he helped me get a small loft on Dey Street where he was living. After I moved in I knocked on his door and yelled out his name. There was no answer, but I could tell he was in there and, as it happened, my keys worked for his place too…”

“Could it be, Murray, that you maybe forced the lock just a little?”

“Maybe. Anyway, I opened the door and brought my drums in after me. Cecil was lying in bed and he just looked at me. It was a depressing period for him – nobody wanted to play with him. I said, ‘You don’t mind?’ And he said, ‘Uh-uh.’ And I set ‘em up. But I was too nervous to start playing with the cat in bed like that. It took me about three weeks to decide, well, I’m gonna play anyway. I’ve got to practice, and my drums is over there now, and he said, ‘Okay, go ahead.’ So I played. But he wouldn’t get out of bed, and his windows was open, and snow was on the windowsill up about twelve inches, and I’d be trying to talk to him and shivering, and finally I said. ‘I can’t talk to you like this. Can I please close your windows?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I’d been practicing there with a big coat on and I was getting tired of it. Then, one day, Cecil did get up to play with me. He got up to play on his beat-up upright and said, ‘I want you to play something like you never played before.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? Like a drum solo?’ And I started to play a drum solo, and Cecil said, ‘No. Stop. Just – with me – let yourself play.’ Just let myself play. I thought that was kind of weird at first. But you understand what he meant by ‘just let yourself play’. He meant like not to be hung up on artificial rules and roles and disciplines and orders that have been set up and which limit what you can express – or to be daring or hip while still playing within the restrictions of those rules, you know, like playing on one. He meant like to go outside of those rules and roles, you know what I’m saying? Like to go outside of ‘time’ and to play naturally – out of the natural rules and rhythms of my body. Also to really listen to him and to play with him, not just behind him as an accompanist. Dig all the energy that is liberated with this kind of playing and the things that can happen when two or three or four or a dozen cats are playing together like that. The spiritual things that can happen. Like if Charlie Parker had really let himself go twenty-five years ago we would be past all the shit by now and really out there. This is a whole new freedom and a whole new system of music. And dig the revolutionary…enormousness of it.”

“He calls it ‘exchanges of energy’.”

“’Exchanges of energy’. Right. I have to admit that I didn’t understand all of this right away. I was the first drummer to play the ‘New Thing’ and for a long time I wasn’t really sure about what I was doing. It seemed like what I was playing was unnatural, not natural. I was very disturbed. I listened to tapes of myself and I wondered if I was going crazy. It was a couple of years until I understood that Cecil was leading me into a new system. Those were difficult years for me, particularly because of the attempts on my life that happened during this period.”

“Yeah, I’m waiting to hear this.”

“Okay. Like I went over to the Vanguard one night – I had moved to West 11th Street by then – and I got into a discussion with some dude about the music, and he said that this music was crazy and would never survive. I laughed him off and went outside. But when I got to the corner there was a Thunderbird parked there with the lights on real bright. Something said to me, don’t walk in front of that car, that’s the dude you were arguing with. I thought I was being paranoid, so I walked in front of the car. And Jim, if it wasn’t a fucking movie scene! I had to dive and I landed right on my fucking ass. The car took off. I got up and just stood there, and I thought, why the fuck do they want to run me over? I started to walk toward my house and I saw the car again. It was turning a corner and coming toward me. I ran into the house and I went into a vacant apartment. There wasn’t nothing there but a mattress – wasn’t even no lock on the door. I looked out the window and there’s two dudes getting out of the car and heading toward the building. I went to the door, which had a window – a misty window that you couldn’t really see through, but you could see the silhouettes. These dudes were standing in the hall looking for my room. I heard one say, ‘Do you know which apartment he went into?’ One was a soul cat and one was Italian. They were standing right in front of the door – all they had to do was push it. I was scared as hell. Finally they left and drove away and I ran over to Jeanne’s place. Ornette was there. I asked them, ‘Am I out of my nut? Is someone really trying to kill me? Jeanne said, ‘Sunny, I’ll tell you the truth, it could happen that way because this music is bothering a lot of people who don’t want black people to play this way. The whole club scene will come down if this music really happens.’ And Ornette said, ‘Yeah, that’s what’s happening, man.’ And I said, ‘Oh shit, you shouldn’t be saying this, you should be saying I was nuts or something.’ And he said, ‘Listen, those people paid me not to play for a whole year.’

“I think I remember that…”

“Yeah. I stayed at Jeanne’s until the sun came up. Then, dig this, when I went to Europe with a group I co-led with Albert [Ayler] – that was the ‘Free Jazz’ group, and Gary Peacock and Don Cherry was in it – a lot more strange things happened that I didn’t understand. Like when I had gone to Europe a year earlier with Cecil as the leader, almost everything had been pretty cool. But with Albert and me it was different. Like, first of all, part of the tour was cancelled when Albert hit some promoter in the mouth over ten dollars. I always thought he hit the wrong cat. The cat he should have hit he was always smiling at. And like later, when we got ready to go home, I had to go to the embassy because I didn’t have enough money. Everybody else in the band was cool. I didn’t understand that shit – why was I the only one that was uptight? The embassy had to give me a transport ticket to go home. Another funny thing was like on the first tour, when I was playing with Cecil at the Montmartre in Copenhagen, one night this bartender went crazy. He started screaming and tearing up the bar. ‘Stop the music. I cannot stand the music!’ Then on this tour he comes back. Albert, who had played with us on the first tour, saw him and said, ‘There’s that dude.’ And the dude came back and he said, shaking hands and very quiet, ‘You have freed me.’ He’d been in a home for almost a year.”

“That’s funny.”

“But a lot of strange things. In Denmark, [the bebop drummer] Art Taylor, who’s been living over there, told me we were chased to Europe by the business world. The tour was agreed upon by a lot of business cats just to get us out of the country. He said that anything could happen and to be careful. He said, ‘Look what happened to Eric.’ I said, ‘Man, are you serious?’ He said, ‘Just watch yourself.’ And I almost did get killed. See, I was getting strange vibrations all the time we was in Europe. We were very in tune with the spirits when the ‘Free Jazz’ group was over there – we were the most spiritual band in Europe at the time. Eric Dolphy, who’d come over earlier with Mingus, had stayed in Europe to play with us, with the ‘Free Jazz’ group. He wanted to bust loose and really play free. But he died. Suddenly! Rumor was that he was poisoned.”

“Eric. How old was he?”

“Thirty-six? Thirty-seven? Yeah, that set me off and I began to realize that a lot of people were doing things to me to hang me up. I started to get very nervous. It seemed like they was always doing something to me to stop me from the way I was playing. I was getting sick a lot – drugs, I’m serious, were being put in my drinks, and shit like that. Then, when the time came to go home, everybody split on me – Albert said, ‘Bye,’ and flew home. I was stranded and frightened. I was in a hotel room alone in a foreign country. The embassy said, ‘Okay, we’ll send you home on an army boat.’ They told me what boat to catch. And this is how another attempt on my life came about. I had known a chick from the earlier tour, and she came up to me and invited me to stay at her home, which was sixty miles from Copenhagen. I said, ‘I’m catching the boat tomorrow and I can’t go that far.’ She said, ‘Don’t catch that boat, Catch the next one.’ So I got a strange vibration and I didn’t go home with this lady. I packed my bags and headed for the train station to take a train to the port where the boat was. When I got on the train, two cats got on right behind me. They were dressed very debonair. They kept watching me. Smiling at me. Every time I went to eat they followed me into the dining car – real foreign intrigue shit! One time these dudes came and looked in my compartment, opened the door, smiled, and then closed the door. I had some smoke and I threw it out the window. I didn’t know what was going on and I took this little Swedish dagger out and kept it near me all the time. When we got to the port the dudes changed clothes, man, and they came out dressed like sailors – and they weren’t no sailors. This really messed up my head because what happened then was they changed into civvies again. And when I got off the train I saw the dudes cross the platform and get on a fucking train that was going back! It was too much, man. But that wasn’t even it. On the boat, about three days at sea, a dude cuts into me and he says, ‘You know the next boat that was leaving the day after this one? Everybody on that boat is just about dead, man.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘There was an epidemic of spinal sclerosis or something. Somebody snuck a sick person on the boat, and he died on the boat.’ They had taken about four people off the boat in helicopters. So I’m thinking, damn, if I’d went over to this broad’s house and laid up an extra day in her crib and caught the other boat, I’d be dead.”

“Jesus, man.”

“Yeah. But then – it was weird – all these attempts on my life just suddenly stopped. I’ve never been able to figure it out. I remember that it was around the time that J.C. Moses came into town and tried to play like me in the new system – and, right after him, Paul Motian. That made three ‘New Thing’ drummers. Right about then is when that shit broke up. Since around that time I ain’t had no more hassles with people trying to kill me with violence. Since around that time I’ve been cool.”

25
Nov
08

When Pacino’s Hot reviews


FROM REVIEWS OF WHEN PACINO’S HOT, I’M HOT

by Bennett Lovett-Graff, New Haven Review

So who the hell is Robert Levin? Well, there’s always the Wikipedia article, where you can learn that he’s a jazz critic, a short story writer, and a writer of music liner notes. He seems to have had his heyday here and there—a critical article in the Village Voice about the 1963 March on Washington that drew a year’s worth of responses; a 2004 recipient of “storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story.”

That story is the title of a collection of Levin’s writings, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories & Commentary. Dare I confess that I read this slim 90-page volume over the course of seven dog walks? (Yes, I can walk and read at the same time; I can also chew gum and type.) Let me add that it was one of my more pleasurable dogwalking experiences, which is otherwise a dreadful bore. The reason is simple: Levin is funny. Leaving aside the eponymous lead short story, itself a ribald tale of mistaken identity and the sexual pleasures that can derive therefrom, the miscellany and commentary are laugh-out-loud grotesques, some weirdly Dickensian in their exaggeration of the mundane, others Jamesian in their syntactically elaborate transformations of the bizarre into the clinical or poetic. Only examples will do. In his screed “Recycle This!” on a recycling notice asking residents “to sort and…rinse [their] garbage before leaving it out,” he writes: “So while I’ll allow that self-immolation would constitute a disproportionate form of protest, I have to say that reacting with less than indignation to so gratuitous an imposition would also be inappropriate.” That’s a fairly ornate response to a recycling notice. Like I said, pure Dickens.

Or consider “Peggie (or Sex with a Very Large Woman),” a story so wonderfully offensive that it would be impossible not to relish the absurd attempt to poeticize the physical challenges set before Levin’s narrator: “…Peggie’s particular body could have served as a Special Forces training ground for the field of hazards and challenges its presented. I’m speaking of the twisting climbs and sudden valleys, the crags, the craters and the amazing plenitude of gullies, ravines and bogs that I was, and on my hands and knees, obliged to negotiate and traverse in my search.” And don’t even ask what he was searching for. You can probably guess.

In some ways, Levin is at his best wringing every drop of qualification from a feeling or thought, an instance of rage or fear, often in one long but densely packed sentence. The bathos of the stories and of some of the miscellany—there are cantankerous whines about cashiers and their stupidity, smoking bans, HMOs, aging, the aforementioned recycling notices—is actually what makes it all worth the reading. Levin, in essence, gets more out of the mundane through an overwrought prose style that is utterly apropos to the sensibility behind it.

But there’s no substitute for the man himself, so let’s conclude with his thoughts on when one of God’s “natural wonders”—in this case a solar eclipse—fails to deliver the goods: “I’ll allow that, however disappointing it may be, it’s ultimately of small consequence when He mounts a shoddy eclipse. But it’s something else again when, for one especially egregious example, He leaves you to blow out all your circuits trying to figure just where a mindless inferno of neuroticism like Mia Farrow fits into the notion that everyone’s here for a reason.” Consider my own circuits blown.

•••
by Darran Anderson, 3AM Magazine

“When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot,” an hilarious tale of sexual disaster and delusion.

***
by Nancy Freund, Necessary Fiction

The titular Pacino story is comic genius—satire at its best. Like Swift’s A Modest Proposal, there is no back-peddling or apology—it takes its suggestion to the nth degree and leaves the reader reeling in the joyful discovery of the author’s tongue-in-cheek. Pacino delivers self-deprecation and humor that packs a punch. No wonder that [it] was a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story of 2004. In fact, the collection is worth owning just for the joy of reading those first delicious Pacino pages.

This is a story of repeated mistaken identity—sometimes Levin’s character is Dustin Hoffman, sometimes Leonard Cohen, sometimes Al Pacino. The women love him, or the famous man they believe him to be. Sadly, taking the goggle-eyed women home to his place is problematic:

    Now before I go on I should point out that my place isn’t exactly a showplace. It suits my budget, but it’s in an old Lower East Side building where the facilities aren’t in their conventional locations. (We’re talking bathtub in the living room, toilet in the kitchen, that sort of thing.) Plus, I share the joint with several legions of cockroaches, an ever-extending family of rodents and an apparently unprecedented and aerodynamic hybrid of the two. (The biologists who’ve come from everywhere to investigate this phenomenon always leave with very concerned expressions on their faces.)

But the fact remains, a woman wants this fellow’s attention, and he’s learned the hard way that correcting her mistake only leads to heartache, sometimes worse.

    I’ve given the matter a great deal of thought and I’ll explain this just once. The women I attract are not what you’d call off the top shelf. Though they all qualify as women in the technical sense, are all, that is, in possession of the crucial anatomical components (which, more often than not, are in something like a normal configuration), they are not exactly achingly beautiful, beaming with mental health or candidates for a Star Fleet Academy scholarship. In fact, and without exception, they are pretty desperate people, sick puppies and three-legged cat types. Many of them suffer horrendous hygiene problems and are also myopic to the point of posing a serious threat to themselves. They are usually very drunk as well. Given their condition the service I provide them is every bit as valuable as what they do for me.

The story delivers sublime images, dialogue and descriptions, and a charming little love story too.

    A sparrow of a girl, no more than four-foot-ten and alarmingly skinny, Roger had thick black hair that, falling over most of her face, also fell nearly to the floor. The first time I saw her, from the other end of a long and crowded bar, I thought she was a half-opened umbrella standing on its handle.

The Drill Press must be congratulated for creating the vehicle by which to get Levin’s Pacino story on the road. How often does one encounter undiluted intelligent foolishness and tears of laughter?

***

by Rachel Kendall, Sein und Werden

“Stupidity is among the most effective means available to reduce existential terror to a tolerable disquietude.”

Robert Levin’s collection of short stories and commentary had me laughing out loud with its societal quips and lashes. I had published a story of Levin’s previously in Sein und Werden. “Dog Days” is about a man who is caught in flagrante delicto with his girlfriend’s dog. So I kind of knew what to expect with these stories. Yes it’s bawdy. It might be toilet humour. But it’s very intelligent and it spares no one. It takes the piss out of society.

“‘Sylvia,’ Helen said, ‘why are we talking about your ass now? You know your ass isn’t the issue… I told you what it is; it’s your ankles. They’ve started to make me cross. I can’t help it.'”

Mostly it takes the piss out of its own protagonist.

“A subversive I may be, but I’ve never been of the militant variety. When the SDS was blowing up banks in the early ’70s, I was expressing my displeasure with the establishment by intentionally omitting zip codes—that’ll jam their gears!”

I enjoyed the stories. But I loved the essays. Levin has written for Rolling Stone. He’s written for the Village Voice. He knows about music. He’s co-written two books on jazz. He’s also slightly bitter. A little bit twisted. Someone I can relate to. He talks about sex and death, ie, fear of the unknown, fear of dying without having really lived, fear of pain and terror. He has something to say on the subject of non-smokers: “Like you I’m dealing with an out-sized fear of dying,” where the smoker seizes control of his ultimate cut-off point by taking the risk of cancer out of the hands of death and into his own nicotine-stained fingers,

people who recycle:

“These people are coming from the secret hope that if they suck up to nature by not wasting any of it—and get the rest of us to follow suit—nature will return the favor and arrange to perpetuate their existence in some other package once their current status expires.”

and general stupidity…

“Let me hasten to say that I value stupidity as much as the next man. I do. Stupidity is, after all, one of the best solutions we’ve come up with to the problem of being mortal.”

This is a brilliantly entertaining book, which will have you nodding in agreement whilst feeling slightly guilty for laughing so hard. To conclude this short review, I’ll let the author himself say a few words:

“I wish I could make my cat laugh.”

* * *

by Nathan Tyree, Bookmunch

Terrific new collection blazes a trail on to the Bookmunch “must-read” list…

I had not heard of Robert Levin before When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot arrived in the mail. I’m not really sure how I had missed him. Much of his work has appeared in publications that I sometimes read, and yet he had slipped completely beneath my radar. That fact is something of a shame.

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot is a slim volume, split about in half. The first forty or so pages are devoted to Levin’s short stories, the second forty or so made up of his commentary. It is the first half of the book that interested me most.

Levin writes rude, bawdy, strange, idiosyncratic tales. His characters are obsessed with sex and with themselves. They tend to be losers and bores (but are never boring). Levin crafts stories often in the first person, with a raw wit and free Id. There is a discomfort (with life, existence, sexuality, the body) that bleeds out of his characters. These are not the strong, sleek, beautiful protagonists that hang about so much of today’s fiction. These characters owe something to Bukowski and Burroughs.

All of the tales that make up this book deserve some level of mention, but a few truly stand out. “Dog Days” is disturbing. “Peggie (or Sex with a Very Large Woman)” is hilarious. I found myself putting the book aside while reading that story, to compose myself and let the laughter trail off so that I could finish reading it. “Spinning the Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception” has one of the best titles I have seen in years…

The title story is most deserving of discussion. “When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot” is a fascinating and nasty tale. It follows an unattractive man. He describes himself thus: “Just under average height, more skinny than slim, and with long, usually unkempt hair hanging over my ears and forehead and down the scruff of my neck, I also have heavily lidded eyes, sunken cheeks and a pallor that’s cadaverous.”

Reading that self description, one may be surprised that our narrator “Gets his pipes cleaned” all the time by a variety of women.

His secret is that a certain type of woman will mistake him for Al Pacino, or Dustin Hoffman, or Bob Dylan, or some other celebrity that doesn’t meet the standard of beauty in the modern world. We are presented with a holy litany of the times he’s been laid due to mistaken identity.

Eventually he falls into a relationship of sorts. He begins living with a girl who has no idea who it is she is sleeping with each night. This girl has the improbable name of Roger (her father had wanted a boy). She is one of the strangest characters I have ever read about. Something in her reminds one of Anthony Burgess’ Enderby. She is flatulent and sort of disgusting in her habits. This girl is a fountain of malapropism, mixed (or twisted) metaphor and strange construction. When excited she is “excruciated”. She wonders why strangers don’t “notarize” her boyfriend (who she initially believes to be Dustin Hoffman) on the street.

The two of them make a strange pair in extremis. It is, in its own way, a sad tale. We know from the start that it can’t end well, and of course it doesn’t. Along the way we are given some of the best characters to appear in a long time.

Any Cop? I’m tempted to call Levin a sick comedian, but how then to account for the pathos and the genuine sadness that permeates these stories? How to account for the fact that I am about to set aside several other books so that I can read this one again?

* * *

by Casey Quinn, Short Story Library

Robert Levin has three things going for him. One, he is extremely intelligent. Two, he has complete control of the English language and makes the most of it. Three, [he] has an unusual sense of humor. The combination of intelligent humor and witty storytelling is effective and the result of it is the collection of short stories and essays entitled, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot.

* * *

by Jim Chaffee, author of Sao Paulo Blues

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot is perceptive commentary on contemporary US society. It is also funny as hell, something that the US would be were it not such an overbearing juggernaut. Clearly juggernaut is what the people of the US want from their government, though they seem unhappy about paying for it either with their taxes or their offspring. How long a society given to such fantasia can continue in its present state is anyone’s guess; certainly its collapse will not be funny in local time. For those living in it now, local time may as well be global time. Interesting time.

Levin’s story is set in the new America where everybody’s somebody. Mundane superheros of the big screen or concert stage, usually as dull-witted as the rest of the class and easily as boring, victims of luck, but everyone wants to be one. Easily fixed, however, by parents bearing geniuses, every one of them, or else austistics if not performing at genius standard. An entire generation so smart and talented they need never work at anything (interesting they are not all natural athletes, but perhaps athletic gifts are rarer than intellectual creativity or musical ability or other such trivialities). Born hucksters, brought up on self-delusion, expect more from them: more tulip mania, juvenile writing, mawkish acting and hideous music among other more serious catastrophes as these born masters take the stage after bypassing the tedium of learning, study, reading and of course, thinking, opting instead for video games and non-stop guitar whining, certainly education enough in the brave new world that the US has become.

Enjoy the ride. Levin has the ability to make such horror both telling and hilarious. That is a rare gift indeed. To cadge an almost forgotten liner note written of Pee Wee Russell’s performance with Thelonious Monk at Newport, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot is a funny snapshot blinking out from the belly of the juggernaut.

***

by Gabriel Ricard, Unlikely Blog

One of the unfortunate things about books written by comedians is that they very rarely offer anything new to the longtime fan. Exceptions to the rule exist, of course. Lewis Black wrote two excellent books consisting of mostly new material. Steve Martin has written a couple of decent novellas. The majority though are just old jokes rehashed into book form. The bits suffer in the medium because the voice and timing are gone. What’s left is just a transcript of barebones comedy, and that’s very rarely funny.

I only mention this because these thoughts occurred to me as I was reading Robert Levin’s stunning collection, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot. Every piece in the book is a wonder of talent, humor and tone flawlessly manipulated to tell the story at hand. It was in the title piece itself that I found myself wishing Robert Levin was a comedian by trade. In that story and others I wanted there to be a way in which I could see Levin perform these stories. That’s how strong the voice is in this book. Most of the pieces in the book, especially the hysterical “Get Your Face out Of My Cigarette” and the dry ingenuity of “Redefining Insurance Fraud” are written in a form that’s somewhere between casual, occasionally strange conversation and pure rant. Some of it is fictional and some of it is taken from Levin’s own opinions and grievances. It doesn’t really matter one way or the other. They’re all a pleasure of some kind. They all come from the mind of a man who shows nothing less than flawless confidence in his style.

Confidence is critical in anything that’s meant to amuse, frighten, inform or some combination of those three. Any comedian or performer worth a damn will put self-belief at the top of the essentials list. That’s why Levin should be out there in the world to bring these pieces to life on stage. He brings that confidence to his work on such an outstanding level. You would almost swear that he sweated these stories and opinions through before the brutal graces of a live audience. The best of When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot evokes the spirit and memory of the truly great comedy writers. It’s not surprising that Woody Allen’s name comes up on the back in the book. Levin is probably not Woody’s adopted son, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if Levin has read some or all of Allen’s literary endeavors. The two are by no means identical, but there’s definitely a penchant on Levin’s part for presenting the incongruous as though it’s everyday weather. That doesn’t make the writing dull. It also doesn’t apply to all of them, but the ones that do read like that have clearly taken a page from guys like Allen. Levin goes about the approach in his own way, but the influence is clearly there. Rather than steal from his influences Levin instead uses them to give extra dimension to his own individuality. That’s another mark of a good comedic writer.

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot isn’t all comedy though. Another stand-out write from the book is the last one, a captivating essay on the jazz revolution of the 1960’s. It’s a little different from the rest of the stories, but it’s no less a great piece of writing. The basic talents of Levin remain in place. He knows what he wants to say, he knows how best to say it, and he has nothing but unflinching coolness in his ability to get us interested. “Free Jazz: The Jazz Revolution of The 60’s” proves that Levin is able to apply these skills to any form of writing he chooses. It just happens to be lucky for us that he seems to prefer comedy. We need humorists like him more than ever. He may not be showing up on Letterman anytime soon, but that’s okay. This book and Levin himself as a writer are just perfect the way they are.

***

by Books Are Pretty

“Spinning the Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception”—great title, by the way—[is] how you write a story. “Spinning” focuses on male anxiety regarding conception, again asking the age-old questions both men and women ask themselves, “Am I ready?” “Is this really what I want?” “Is my sex life going to be ruined?” These questions grow heavier in the nebbish-y Steve’s mind, and at last his nerves are shot, resulting in a total inability to perform. This continues unabated until his wife, Connie, creatively solves the problem by making the night of conception a night to remember by being unspeakably filthy. The yin and yang between the two, her strength when his is lost, his caution when she is reckless, form a perfect circle on which new life can begin.

…”Spinning” made for a good lead-in to Levin’s essays, which made up the second half of the book.

[Levin’s] theories regarding the ways religion and politics are used to ward off the fear of death have a strong ring of originality and genuine passion… “Recycle This!” where he describes his aggravation with recycling and the absurdity of washing one’s garbage, is a must-read. Also essential reading is Levin’s 2003 essay “Redefining Insurance Fraud,” where Levin battles insurance companies.

“…most of the 45 million-plus Americans who go without insurance because they can’t afford the premiums oppose the alternative of a not-for-profit system. It apparently hasn’t occurred to them that there’d be no significant risk to capitalism in this solution. We’ve already got “socialized” institutions in this country—fire departments, for example—that hardly infringe on our freedom to take advantage of one another. A few more would still leave us with plenty of opportunities to exploit our fellow man.

“(And speaking of a not-for-profit health care system, does anyone seriously think that dealing with a government bureaucracy would somehow be more brutal than dealing with Aetna, Prudential, or Oxford?)”

Well, yeah. That’s pretty much it.

When Levin’s Hot, He’s Hot…

***

by Armchair Interviews

This book is a little oddity–half what the writer call “stories” and half what he calls “commentary,” something like essays and editorials.

Most of the stories relate hilarious encounters in sex, from his contention that when some male movie stars are considered “hot,” he is mistaken for them and gets lucky, to things like “Peggie: (or Sex with a Very Large Woman;”) and did we mention impotence and bestiality? (Yup, more sex.)

The commentary essays run the gamut from “Stupidity: Its Uses and Abuses,” quite funny, to a serious and weighty piece on “Free Jazz” and the death of the Sixties. Levin writes in a nervous and chatty style, albeit a very funny one. But underneath his hip humor he has a very dark outlook on life: we’re all going to die, anyway, and culture is our coping mechanism. (Check out “Everything’s All Eight in the Middle East” and “Get Your Face out of My Cigarette!”) My favorites were “Arena” and “Redefining Insurance Fraud,” which are written the way a smart, savvy columnist would write them, to get his point across.

He is the author and coauthor of a couple of serious books: Music & Politics and Giants of Black Music, with numerous published pieces in magazines—from which some of these are drawn.

Armchair Interviews says: Fun and funny read.

* * *

by Ócháni Lele, Majestic/Lit.org

…“All right,” Robert Levin writes, “maybe my book fell a hair or two short of greatness, and for sure, it hadn’t sold very well – even my parents, went my standard joke, waited until it was remaindered to buy their copy. Still, my book had made it onto a library shelf. A library shelf!”

That was the first passage I read in Robert Levin’s collection of stories and essays as I sat there, sipping a diet coke and flipping mindlessly through the pages of this slim volume. The story was titled, “The Author,” and being an author myself, I’d found a point where I could begin connecting with his work. I was hooked. Cautiously, I let myself giggle a little, but soon I was so engrossed in the humor and political incorrectness of the book that I blew soda out of my nose. Seriously!

In the space of 91 pages, Levin examines, dissects, desiccates, and illuminates everything from love, sex, smoking, conception, mistaken identity, art, writing, and politics; and he does it through a bevy of characters conjured from his own life-experience. More important, he does it all with a wry sense of humor and an eloquence of language that can only be described as masterful.

To be honest, Levin hasn’t written a “book” in the classical sense of the word; he’s written a feverishly funny exploration of his own life and social/political views, tying it all together with the title of his opening story, “When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot.”

In truth, Pacino has gotten cold in his old age, and I doubt he’ll ever be at the top of his game again, but Levin is hot with his writing. Spend ten bucks on this amazingly humorous read. It will provide you with an enjoyable evening of laughter and wit.

•••

by Midwest Book Review

5 out of 5 stars. About a dozen funny bone poking short stories and commentaries

From pondering about the universe itself to poop jokes—this is the range of humor that author Robert Levin brings in his short story collection, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories & Commentary. With about a dozen funny bone poking short stories and commentaries, Levin looks at the world from the way it should be looked at—with an eye that cannot take anything too seriously. When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories & Commentary, is highly recommended for community library short story collections with a focus on humor and for short story enthusiasts in general.

* * *

by Natalie Wood, Perfectly Write

…All of which brings me to the crazy world of American short story writer and essayist, Robert Levin, whose excruciatingly funny tales and waspish views—interlaced with often unbearably sad meanderings—are as rich, raw, dirty as anything published.

Levin, a jazz journalist, is shackled in a deep, dank, noisome internal cave and diaries his endless struggle for the top with a sort of non-stop yowling reminiscent of a lone wolf baying at the moon. When it is less than first class (some of the essays are imperfect), the stream of consciousness reads less as soliloquy than verbal self-abuse. But at its best, its silvery top notes and sombre cadences reminiscent of the ‘free jazz’ improvisations he holds so dear, this collection of short stories and commentaries—headlined by the laugh-out-loud “When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot,” whose anti-hero is a cross between Woody Allen and Stanley Unwin—is music.

* * *

by J. Kaval, Katha Kshetre (India)

…An American would love to read this book. A British may frown upon the content, an Indian may replace it on the shelf after having read a page or two…because the book does not entice his/her curiosity.

We appreciate the book for it’s author’s versatility and verbosity displayed in his rather humorous stories and essays. The language and the style of narrating are superb. The book is a holy handmaid for travelers both in air and on rail.

***

For Levin’s tongue-in-cheek response to a not so favorable review see “To My Fans: The Author Addresses His Base,” which originally appeared on the now defunct Beat website.

To My Fans: The Author Addresses His Base

by Robert Levin

“Puerile, sex-obsessed…at times a misogynist, at times a bestiality apologizer…Levin, a sexagenarian, sounds like a moronic twenty-something who’s had a few too many and is trying to pick up chicks by throwing SAT vocab randomly into his sentences…What kind of people would want to read this?” – Sara Plourde in her review of When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories & Commentary (The Drill Press), on the GoodReads web site.

I’d like, first of all, to say how moved I am by the vast quantity of mail you’ve sent me expressing your outrage over the not so favorable review I recently received for my collection of fiction and essays, When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot. Your rush to console me and to defend the book, which I know that many of you are modeling your lives on (and which is available online from Barnes & Noble for the ridiculously low price of $15), has so warmed my heart as to affect my very chemistry. My breath has never been sweeter.

And it’s not just your loyalty that’s impressed me, but the depth and succinctness of the comments you’ve made. “This REVUE is fukkedup!!,” for example, is a marvel of concision and implicitly speaks of an exceptional literary acumen. (Thank you, “Deek from People’s Creek.” And sure, I’d be happy to take a look at that pamphlet of quatrains you’ve just completed.)

Yes, this review – written, it turns out, by a recently graduated English major! – is an execrable thing. I mean I’ll readily concede that my stuff is susceptible to criticism. I have, indeed, used words William Buckley found it necessary to look up. Plus, I’m not only capable of dangling a participle, and of taking immense pleasure in watching it writhe in terror, I can do it twice in the same sentence. That said, however, the degree to which I’ve been misrepresented in the review is astonishing. Bestiality rescued my sex life. It would never occur to me to apologize for it.

(Okay, I was making a little joke there. Bestiality’s not my bowl of Jack Daniels – no, that one time in college doesn’t count. It doesn’t. And the story, “Dog Days,” which the reviewer is obviously referencing, isn’t really about bestiality, as any discerning reader would recognize. It’s not, let me hasten to add, that I’ve got something against bestiality. Hardly. I agree with our own “NatureBoy in Schenectady” – whose memoir/self-help manual, How To Win Your Girlfriend Back After You’ve Fucked Her Ferret, I very much admire – that speciesism has no place in the twenty-first century. Nice job, NB.)

Outraged, as I say, by this Plourde person’s mindless denigration of my book (not to mention that unforgivable knock on your character and intelligence), a lot of you are calling for retaliation. “#6728351 from San Quentin” suggests that a woman with the temerity to write a book review despite a “glaring lack of reading comprehension skills” may “need some killing.” And his offer to “take care of this matter” for me upon his release is, on its surface, very generous. But you know as well as I do, #6728351, that you’re not getting out. You’re never getting out. We’ve been through this before – once when you learned that the scurvy mattress back I married ran off with another guy and twice after that when you heard that the second and third scurvy mattress backs I married ran off with other guys. Your getting out is a fantasy, man. So I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from jerking me around.

In any case, and as egregious as the violation is, retaliation could not be farther from my thoughts.

Do I need to point out that the metaphysical meditations included in the book prompted the Jersey City Journal of Philosophic Inquiry to remark, “As opaque and incomprehensible as it gets”? (Which says something good about the depth of my intellection, right?) Would an author of my caliber allow his chain to get yanked by the reflexive reaction of an apparent animal rights freak, who’s evidently coming from that whacko women’s liberation thing as well? (I’m speaking, in the latter case, of the “misogynist” accusation that was presumably sparked by the story, “Sex With A Very Large Woman” – a story in which I was only trying to have some fun.) Yes, it’s certainly true that this tone deaf ignoramus has committed a grave injustice, not just to you and yours truly but also to her readers. From now on these folks will picture a puddle of something green and viscous should they think of When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot (which can also be purchased from Amazon.com, where it’s eligible for Super-Saver Shipping). Still – what’s a few missed sales? – there’s no way on earth that I’d stoop to avenge her inane remarks.

For instance: I would never publicly suggest that, projecting her own propensities on to me (propensities she’s clearly riddled with guilt about), it’s Sara Plourde who’s using her writing to “pick up chicks.” (Jesus. You can tell what her obsession is just from the swagger of her syntax, which practically reeks of Old Spice.) Nor would I openly posit the theory that her review is nothing more than a pus discharge; that Sara Plourde, who could stand to lose a few pounds (her prose style also gives this away), saw a resemblance to her own body in that “Large Woman” story and, in a fit of pique that overwhelmed any capacity she might have to be objective, squeezed her lingering adolescent pimples all over her keyboard.

No. As you can see, I’m handling this review with the maturity, grace and dignity that you’d expect from a man of my stature.

Now I know you guys. I know my fans. For my own protection I read the paper that team of psychopathologists did on you last year very carefully. I know that you have as much control over your emotions as I have over my bladder. I know about that very destructive fire several of you set in your anger management class and about that thing in Rochester too. (I also know – I have no idea what it means, but I find it disquieting – that a disproportionate number of you play the tuba.) So I’m fully aware that my taking the high road in this situation is unlikely to dissuade you from doing something weird. Inasmuch as you’re going to do what you’ve got to do, all I’ll ask is that you deny any knowledge of my whereabouts and pay your own attorney’s fees this time. (I’m speaking directly to you here, “HermaphroditeWannaBe.” And by the way, Hermph, congratulations on finally succeeding in going down on yourself. We’re all pulling for you to get out of traction as quickly as possible.)

Let me see now…I wanted to bring up something else while I had everyone together, but I can’t remember what it was. Oh yeah: What the hell happened to the recruitment drive? Did I make a mistake putting “Peckerhead” in charge of the Fan Club? Did the junior high schools finally dry up? Five new fans a month at the measly dues we’re charging is bullshit. Fifty would be more like it. Fifty should be the goal. Get me fifty and you’ll make me even prouder of you than I already am.

 

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot is available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble as a paperback and as a Kindle and a NOOK Book.




Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot
The Drill Press LLC
Reviews

109415877-0-m31
Music & Politics
by John Sinclair and Robert Levin
World Publishing

“Robert Levin’s articles…make up the second half of Music and Politics, and they’re something else again. He’s a quietly briliant writer (not flashy but subtly dazzling) who knows jazz extremely well and who knows how to let us know what he knows. His piece on Sunny Murray says more about the birth of the New Jazz than most writers could say in a volume; the Anthony Braxton interview is one of the freshest, most reassuring articles on the future of music (of the arts in general) that I’ve read; his ‘found critique’ of ‘Space’ by the MJQ, which contrasts Murray’s thoughts on music at the White House with President Nixon’s introduction of the MJQ in that very place, is brilliant; his piece on the unfortunate evolution of Willis Jackson…is a minor masterpiece; and he’s lucid and painful and thoroughly correct when he writes that ‘What is meant by ‘every man has his price’ is that every man has his uncertainty about the validity and sanity of his perception of the truth. To ‘sell out’ is to capitulate to that uncertainty.'”
—Colman Andrews, Creem

giants
Giants of Black Music
Edited by Pauline Rivelli and Robert Levin, with a foreword by Nat Hentoff
Da Capo Press

Music & Politics and Giants of Black Music are no longer in print, but remain available from Amazon.com and other outlets.
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