Ted Curson died yesterday (June 3, 1935 – November 4, 2012). If his contribution is recognized at all, it's for his time spent with Charles Mingus, but Curson had a long career and created a singular, instantly recognizable sound.
Born in Philly, Curson went to the Granoff Conservatory, also John Coltrane's alma mater [You can read my interview with Mr. Granoff in the book Coltrane on Coltrane, by Chris DeVito].
Ted moved to NYC in the mid-1950's and started playing with Cecil Taylor. In 1959, he recorded tracks on "Love For Sale" w. Taylor, including this tune, "Little Lees" [Interesting how much Monk there is in Cecil's playing here]:
Monday, November 5, 2012
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Tom, one of our commentors, speculates about Coltrane's contribution to the fracturing of the jazz audience and the concomitant loss of jazz audience in the early 1960's. This fracturing was certainly underway before the early 60's; chiefly through Ornette and somewhat via Cecil Taylor and Dolphy, but for several reasons-and for better or worse- Coltrane was most responsible for this process. I would lay a few shekels on the notion that this era gave birth to the jazz expression: "You gotta be able to go inside the house before you can go outside." If the adage did exist, I'd say it alluded to being able to play the blues-not to the bop/free dichotomy. But whether or not the phrase was newly coined, it was in the air. And, of all those playing "free jazz" or "the New Thing," if you will, Coltrane was the only one who had obviously negotiated that transition (for the moment, let's suspend the large discussion that could be devoted to Dolphy and chord changes). Another factor is that, while he was pressing on the "outside," Coltrane continued to make "inside" melodic music: the Johnny Hartman and Ellington records, recording "Someday My Prince Will Come" with Miles; even as late as 1964's "Crescent." It's reasonable to think that listeners who loved 'old' Trane would be willing to expend some energy trying to follow and find the musical value in his new directions. This may have led some to a kind of limbo; possibly the place where our friend Tom found himself. The point I tried to make in Coltrane on Coltrane is that he basically just went about his (extraordinary) business. He talked about trying to be in tune with the Creator, but never proselytized; never tried to elevate his status as a "spiritual" person. Others, however, took him up for their cause; ridiculous in the case of people with political agendas (c.f. the Frank Kofsky interview); understandable in the case of people with a spiritual bent. Secular music-jazz-always had a bit of a shaky spiritual relationship with the culture at large. Coltrane changed that. His highly credible musical history, his nearly universal acceptance by other musicians, the widespread perception of him as an exemplary character and his early death, made him the exemplar of this change. In 1965, some thought you couldn't successfully pull the spiritual thread out of the jazz skein any more than you could the rhythm thread or the harmony thread. Others thought the most important thread was being given the primacy it deserves. This difference in perception continues.
Monday, August 2, 2010
It may be the most ubiquitous scale in the world and arguably the oldest. Anywhere in the world, when someone carves a flute, plucks a string or twangs a piece of metal they inevitably stumble into some variation of a 5-note-pentatonic-scale. It sounds good. It offers simplicity, yet potential for tension and relaxation. You can use it to create chants, melodies and twist it to suit your fancy. The blues, early jazz, then rock, are all about the pentatonic, with a few altered notes for good effect. But kids, in the early 1960's, something happened to pentatonic and its name was McCoy Tyner. The change was rooted in necessity-an uneasy adaptation to 'free' jazz, as I'll describe below. But 45 years later, reverberations from the changes wrought by the gifted Tyner are still ringing and for me, a re-evaluation, fresh ears and new adaptations are called for. Back in the 1960's, the question McCoy had to ask himself was: What do you do if you're playing a fixed-pitch instrument with someone(Coltrane) who has left the diatonic and chromatic restrictions of Western music behind; who has essentially bid adieu to the harmony that underlay jazz for the last-say-50 years. The answer, of course, is to find a way to fit in. McCoy's approach, his strategy, his solution, was to alter his playing so that the harmony he played was based on "perfect" intervals-4ths and 5ths-and yes, in this most sophisticated of musics, the musical scale this most accommodated was our old friend, the 'primitive' pentatonic scale. In McCoy's"open" harmony, almost anything could happen. Notes "not on the horn," as they say, could be at least partly accommodated. There was a transitional period when it seemed to work for Coltrane and other times when he asked McCoy to lay out. As the texture of Trane's music grew even denser, just changing the harmony wasn't enough and McCoy used another creative approach: shift the weight of the piano from melody and harmony to percussion. Pedal tones were one good way to do that-you could really land on those suckers-but it meant harmony was still in the mix. McCoy pushed percussiveness as far as he was comfortable, but he was not Cecil Taylor. Eventually, the fabric of Trane's music grew so dense that accompaniment as usually understood became superfluous. Ok-I've strayed. Pushing the piano's percussive envelope is a question for another time. It's the widespread leakage of McCoy's harmonic approach into the general language of jazz that feels off; like the kid who's too old, but shows up at the playground anyway and doesn't fit in the swing; kinda like Jelly Roll Morton's "Spanish Tinge" run amok. Come to think of it, let's play a Latin tune; Blue Bossa, maybe.