James Moody, Steve Lacy tribute
January 1, 1970Just jazz this week, with a Jazz Notes profile of James Moody, a short item on the busyness of trombonist Joel Yennior, and a review of a New England Conservatory tribute to Steve Lacy.
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Serious music, plus a sense of humor
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 15, 2004
James Moody isn't often in the mood to talk about himself.
At 79, he's one of the finest saxophonists and flutists in jazz history. Among his many achievements, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998, and his much-beloved "Moody's Mood for Love" has been covered by everyone from King Pleasure in 1954 to Queen Latifah on her new CD.
He's also renowned for his rare ability to leaven his serious musicianship with humor. But off the bandstand he is a self-effacing man who prefers to let his work speak for itself and to stay mum about plans for upcoming shows.
Asked what he'll be playing at the Regattabar this weekend, Moody has a one-word answer: "Music." He politely, but firmly, cuts off a hoped-for discussion about cutting up on the bandstand.
"Don't get me wrong," says Moody from his San Diego home, "but do you mind if I don't talk about that? The reason I don't want to is, if I feel like doing something, I do, and if I don't, I don't. And it got to the point where sometimes people expect it."
Besides, he says, "if you tell a joke, the writer will put the joke in the paper. Then it's no good for you anymore."
Moody's longtime bassist, Todd Coolman, isn't so sure. "The people who come and hear Moody time and time again hear the same jokes again,'' Coolman says. "And you know what? They laugh harder the second time."
Coolman, the director of jazz studies at SUNY Purchase and the author of Grammy-winning album notes for the box set "Miles Davis Quintet 1965-1968," has been playing with Moody for 20 years. He's scholar enough to recognize how rare it is for jazz musicians from the bebop era on to be playful onstage. The biggest exception was Dizzy Gillespie, whose band Moody joined for the first time not long after World War II.
"Dizzy recognized that there was a segment of the public that was being either intentionally or unintentionally alienated by the bebop kind of seriousness," says Coolman. "So I think he used humor to allay their apprehensions about this new serious music."
Moody, says Coolman, is doing the same thing. Which doesn't in any way diminish the seriousness of his music. He'll get up and clown around and tell jokes, but as soon as he finishes that, "you'll see him count off a tune by beating his foot on the stage, and the music hits — man, it is as serious as a heart attack."
Moody's chops remain equally serious, as big-name players decades his junior realize whenever they get onstage with him. "He's definitely a bebop-style player, no question about it," says Coolman. "But his vocabulary is thoroughly contemporary, completely modern. And that's what I think really turns people's heads around.
"What's even better," Coolman adds, "is to watch him then assimilate parts of their language. And then the next night, if they have the misfortune of playing with him the next night, he plays their stuff back at them from right to left.
"And then they say, `Oh . . . my . . . God.'"
Moody's reluctance to offer specifics regarding what he'll perform this weekend stems from his desire to play off the feel of each night's audience, Coolman says.
"That's another skill that he has that a lot of good bandleaders have," he says. "Reading an audience and trying to figure out what kind of repertoire will reach them."
As secretive as Moody is about what's in store, he has no problem revealing that he'll definitely perform "Moody's Mood for Love."
"Oh, I play that all the time," says Moody. "I have to. If I don't play that, I might as well not come."
No rest: Trombonist Joel Yennior has several busy nights in front of him, starting tonight when Gypsy Schaeffer — his cooperative quartet with alto saxophonist Andy Voelker, bassist Jef Charland, and drummer Chris Punis — offers a combination clinic and concert at Newton's Lasell College. Yennior will then head to New York for a performance with Felipe Salles at the Manhattan School of Music on Sunday, before doubling back home to Boston for a Monday night gig at Zeitgeist with the Either/Orchestra (of which he has been a member for eight years) and then a Tuesday CD release party for bassist Alejandro Cimadoro's "The Princess and the Moonlight" at Ryles.
Gypsy Schaeffer, which gets the largest share of Yennior's divided attention these days, was on WGBH's "Eric in the Evening" live this past Tuesday night plugging its critically praised debut CD from earlier this year, and has already begun rehearsing new compositions for a follow-up. Tonight's clinic, "Creative Jazz Arranging Made Simple," is geared largely toward young, aspiring jazz musicians but is also meant to double as a friendly guide to those unfamiliar with the freer aspects of modern jazz.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Emotion, music fill Lacy tribute
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 15, 2004
Steve Lacy taught for just two years at New England Conservatory before his death from cancer this past June, but he left a lot of friends and admirers there. Many of them — an assortment of current and recent NEC students and their professors, plus special guest David Liebman — gave the late soprano saxophone genius a bittersweet sendoff Tuesday night at a well-attended free tribute at Jordan Hall.
The first half of the 2 1/2-hour-long program was primarily devoted to student ensembles performing Lacy compositions, much of it incorporating text by authors such as Herman Melville and Robert Creeley. These pieces, like much of Lacy's later work, had a painterly, experimental feel to them, and the students approached them with high levels of competence and seriousness. Three of them — Jeremy Udden, Daniel Blake, and Adam Roberts — dared to perform on Lacy's instrument, soprano sax, and handled themselves admirably. (Blake boldly played the instrument solo on an intriguing composition of his own, "Confines.")
Other pre-intermission highlights included Josh Sinton's solo baritone sax treatment of Lacy's "Resurrection"; a fiery, sometimes dissonant alto sax duet by Jorrit Dijkstra and Matana Roberts on Dijkstra's intricate "Lace"; Monika Heidemann's chant-like rendering of Brion Gysin's lyrics on "Somebody Special"; and Irene Aebi, Lacy's widow, joining the students as vocalist on "Mind's Heart."
After intermission, the professors took the stage, beginning with a septet — Ken Schaphorst, trumpet; Liebman, soprano sax; Allan Chase, alto sax; George Garzone, tenor sax; Danilo Perez, piano; Rick McLaughlin, bass; and Bob Moses, drums — on the drummer's composition "Spacey for Lacy." Perez, a frequent Lacy collaborator, went next, with a lovely solo piano piece. And then came the most riveting performance of the night: Ran Blake's interpretation of Thelonious Monk's " 'Round About Midnight."
The stage lights were dimmed so that Blake sat in darkness, alone at the piano, and improvised his way through the best-known composition of Lacy's touchstone composer, fitting it with dark, dirge-like chords in places and yet letting light trickle in by the end. The effect, coupled with Blake's consummate mastery of the piece, was highly moving and earned him sustained applause.
Liebman followed with a pyrotechnic display of soprano saxophone technique on Lacy's "Prospectus," and then Aebi returned with pianist Daniel Tepfer to sing her late husband's "Le Jardin," which earned a standing ovation.
The set concluded with more Monk: "Misterioso" as arranged by Schaphorst for a soprano-sax choir of Liebman, Garzone, and Chase, with Perez following the horn players' series of highly charged, alternating solos with a fine one of his own.
Hearing all those sopranos tackling Monk, and the honoree's compositions that preceded them throughout the night, it was hard not to smile and think that Lacy lives.
Steve Lacy tribute
At: Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Tuesday night