John Stein, Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis
January 1, 1970Three jazz items this week: a profile of guitarist John Stein, a Q&A with saxophonist Charles Lloyd, and a preview of the Branford Marsalis Quartet's performance at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge tomorrow night.
The Lloyd piece, scheduled to run last Sunday, didn't actually appear until Tuesday. And it was a disappointment to Lloyd, since only about half of our e-mail exchange was able to make it into print. That's a pity, because Lloyd's writing in his responses was borderline poetic, besides being informative. So as promised last week, I'm putting the entire interview up on my website. Both versions of the interview are below.
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It's better late for guitarist John Stein
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 15, 2005
It's fair to say that jazz guitarist John Stein is a late bloomer, but that would be missing the point.
True, he didn't get around to studying jazz seriously until he was 30, when he began undergraduate studies at Berklee College of Music. And he didn't begin putting out CDs under his own name until a decade ago.
But since then he's been prolific. This summer Stein, now an assistant professor in Berklee's harmony department, plans to head to Brazil to record his sixth album. In the meantime, he will celebrate another milestone this Wednesday. Stein, now in his mid-50s, will make his debut as leader of his own band at Scullers with saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, organist Bruce Katz, and drummer Yoron Israel.
While he may have gotten a late start, Stein continues to evolve.
"I still feel like a student," he says. "In fact, if I could do anything I wanted to [on guitar], I'm not sure I'd still be interested."
Stein began guitar lessons with the folk-oriented Charlene Kunitz at age 7 in Kansas City, Mo. His first jazz lessons came at 13, when he studied briefly with local standout Don Winsell. But by the time he entered Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1967, he wasn't studying guitar at all. Or much of anything else, for that matter. Stein dropped out of Beloit and followed a girlfriend to Vermont, where he spent most of the next decade mulling what he wanted to do with his life.
"I guess I always picked up the guitar when I got confused about other things I was doing," he muses, seated in his Berklee office in blue jeans and a dark-red patterned shirt.
Stein supported himself by playing rock and country-rock in clubs around Vermont, but he grew bored with those simpler genres and wound up taking jazz lessons from a pianist who'd spent some time studying at Berklee. The pianist had a weekly gig playing at a Brattleboro restaurant, the Mole's Eye Cafe.
"It became my ambition to get good enough to play with him at the Mole's Eye," says Stein.
Stein finally did, but soon exhausted what he could learn about jazz in southern Vermont. He came to Berklee for his degree; he was hired by the school immediately after graduation.
His career as a guitarist and composer grew slowly. There was even a point at which he set the guitar aside altogether while he earned a master's degree in education at Harvard and flirted with switching to orchestration. Eventually, he says: "Something snapped in me and I thought, 'This really isn't me.'"
Once again it was time to pick up the guitar. His first CD, "Hustle Up!," came out in 1995. But it was his second, "Green Street," that captured attention, in large part owing to the presence of Newman. The two joined forces again on Stein's fourth CD, "Conversation Pieces."
"I think John is a fine guitarist," says Newman, whose tribute to his longtime employer Ray Charles, "I Remember Brother Ray," has been getting heavy radio airplay. "He has an original approach to his playing, and his compositions are quite good."
Stein's most recent disc, last year's "Interplay," broke his habit of recording mostly his own tunes. But it shows off the success he's had merging qualities from his two primary guitar heroes, Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery, into a quietly melodic, harmonically sophisticated voice of his own.
Stein is not finished learning, though. He has begun studying upright bass and now plays it weekly at Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Jamaicaway Books & Gifts in Jamaica Plain.
Then there's that recording date he's got planned for São Paulo. The idea was planted during a previous tour of Brazil, on which Stein was reminded of a favorite record from his boyhood, the famed 1964 collaboration of Stan Getz and João Gilberto, "Getz/ Gilberto." Stein hadn't realized how much that record had affected him until he went to Brazil.
"I'm standing up in front of these students at a music studio," he recalls, "and they started asking me what my interest in Brazilian music was. Why was I in Brazil? I said to myself, 'Oh my God — this is the reason why.'"
"What a record," Stein continues. "Maybe the best record in the world. Stan Getz — every note he plays is perfect. And who's playing piano? [Antonio Carlos] Jobim, the guy who wrote all the tunes. And João Gilberto is the perfect singer for that kind of music and that kind of guitar playing. He taught everybody else how to play guitar in that style."
There are hints of Gilberto in the tranquil melodicism of Stein's own playing, especially on "Interplay." That influence, presumably, will become more evident when he records this summer.
"The amazing thing about music, no matter how much you've learned, there's more to learn," Stein says.
"People who feel like they've gotten as far as they want should stop playing."
Surprise party: When we bumped into pianist and longtime New England Conservatory professor Ran Blake at Harvard's tribute to Hank Jones on Sunday, we asked about the 70th birthday salute NEC's got planned for him. He said that he wasn't supposed to know about it, and scurried away. The secrecy was a surprise, given that the event is listed for all to see on NEC's events calendar. But far be it from us to give away anymore of what's in store, beyond noting that an assortment of musicians and students are lining up to pay tribute, and that the free concert will take place at 8 p.m. Monday at NEC's Jordan Hall.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Charles Lloyd, uncut
By Bill Beuttler
(a website exclusive, April 15, 2005)
The newspaper business sometimes constrains itself to smaller-than-ideal news holes, and such was the case with this past Tuesday's Q&A with Charles Lloyd. Neither of us was happy at my having to cut our actual "conversation" in half.
In my case, I rued the loss of his poetic description of Big Sur and his talk of times in Memphis as a young man, among other things. (Lloyd, presumably, didn't appreciate having his thoughtful answers summarily deleted, rendering the time he'd put into writing them wasted.)
Luckily, websites have fewer space contraints. So here, with Lloyd's permission, is the unabridged version of our e-mail exchange. (The shorter, published version of the interview, and my introduction to it, follow.)
Bill Beuttler: You've assembled a new quartet for "Jumping the Creek," with Geri Allen on piano, Robert Hurst on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. How did you come to choose the three of them as collaborators? Had you worked with any of them previously?
Charles Lloyd: I have been working with this particular quartet since 2002 — the evolution of the group happened in a rather organic manner. Geri Allen and I first played together in 1996 at Lincoln Center as part of a benefit for Billy Higgins. Then later we did a couple of concerts with Dave Holland, Master Higgins, and myself.
At the time I was still playing a lot with John Abercrombie, whom I love. Brad Mehldau was living on the west coast then, and we did a couple of concerts together, and he recorded with me in 1999. During a NYC concert in 2000, Geri came to me and said she needed to play with me again. So we started touring together, and I brought her in for my next recording, "Lift Every Voice."
During this period, either Larry Grenadier or Marc Johnson played bass with me, and after Master Higgins left town, Billy Hart came back. In 2002 I had a long summer tour which neither Larry or Marc could make; consequently I invited Robert Hurst. The group meshed and became a strong unit. Then in the fall of 2002 Billy Hart couldn't make some important concerts, so I asked Eric Harland to come out.
This is a special connection — I strongly feel that Master Higgins sent me Eric. He has so much joy and intelligence and inventiveness in his playing. So what you are hearing on the recording is not a haphazard affair — we are together intentionally. I think you can hear that on "Jumping the Creek." We love playing together.
BB: Your website indicates that, aside from Reuben Rogers filling in for Robert Hurst, that this will be the group backing you at Scullers here in Boston. Is that correct?
CL: Yes, Reuben has been playing with me for a year now — he is great! He has helped to open the music even more and give it flight, and he's not filling in — he is now a member of the quartet. (Robert Hurst left to tour with Diana Krall.)
BB: Will you be concentrating on compositions from "Jumping the Creek" in the Boston performances?
CL: I don't know. Surely there will be some pieces from "Jumping the Creek" — some new things too. And probably some earlier work. I never know ahead of time. I'm a musician by nature, and sometimes the journey takes us down roads we haven't been on before. The winds of grace are always blowing. We must set out sails high.
BB: Your music has such a free-flowing, spiritual feel to it. Is it difficult finding musicians who can achieve those qualities with you?
CL: Somehow I think we gravitate toward each other. I have been blessed in this lifetime to have played with some wonderful souls. This quality you are asking about is not the kind of thing you can put in words or on your résumé, but it reflects the nature of the spirit of the other person. When you find it there in another musician, it helps to intensify your own search.
BB: You've spent long periods of your life in retreat from recording and performing publicly. But lately there has been a wealth of music coming from you. Is there a reason for the recent productivity?
CL: When I went away in the early '70s, I thought I might spend a couple of months getting myself together in the seclusion of Malibu and then Big Sur. But the months turned into years and then a decade or two.
In 1986 I had a near-death experience. I had already come off of the mountain in the early 1980s to help Michel Petrucciani get started, but I retreated again after two years. When I recovered from emergency surgery in 1986, I decided to rededicate myself to this wonderful for of expression — this music called jazz. In 1989 I aligned myself with ECM. The first recording was "Fish Out of Water." That record will always be special to me — I think you can hear a lot of the silence of Big Sur, but I also got a lot of energy and strength from my long period of seclusion.
Quiet as it's kept, I have been very productive for about 15 years now, with a lot of recordings starting to back up — and there is still so much more to do!
BB: What prompted those previous retreats from the music business? A philosophical or spiritual search? A disgust with the commercial side of music? (Sonny Rollins, who spent some time studying eastern religions at about the same time, told me his early '70s sabbatical was also caused in part by his dissatisfaction with the music business.)
CL: I was burned out from the constant stresses and excesses of life on the road. It had taken its toll on me both personally and in the music. My mother had just died, my best friend, Booker Little, had died at the age of 23, and I knew that if I didn't get off the bus and work on my character and inner life, I'd be out of here too. And of course, there was the disillusionment of the whole music business. Yes, it was about a product and not about the art.
BB: The record that made you famous, "Forest Flower," sold extraordinarily well for a jazz recording. Were you surprised by this?
CL: This is not something you can think about or plan. At least I can't. I didn't even know they had recorded the concert until we walked off the stage and Wally Heider said to me, "We got it. We got it." I said, "Got what?" He did capture a great moment.
BB: Did the commercial success of that album contribute in any way to your decision to back away from the music business a few years later? (Perhaps by creating unrealistic, non-art-related expectations from record executives. Or by giving you the financial freedom to pursue your muse.)
CL: That's a loaded subject — at that time the businessmen wanted to put me in stadiums; as I mentioned above, they wanted a product that they could control. But that was not me — I was not far enough off my moorings to go along with their program. I had some small financial body, but by no means enough to call it freedom. I'm still working on that puzzle.
BB: Your original hometown, Memphis, produced an extraordinary group of talented jazz musicians of your generation. Guys like George Coleman and Harold Mabern, though, stuck more to the bebop tradition. You went more your own way. Your music has a tranquility and peacefulness to it not generally associated with bebop. Is there a reason you went this direction and they didn't?
CL: I was a lonesome child drawn to Lady Day and Pres, Bach and Bird, Duke and Strayhorn, Art Tatum, Bud, and Monk — not to mention Howlin' Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, Johnny Ace, Junior Parker, and B.B. [King]. Later the music of Bartok, Africa, and India attracted me. When you love music you love a lot of it. I played in Phineas Newborn's father's band with Phineas and his brother Calvin. Memphis was a great school for me — we never doubted it. We just didn't like the setup, but that's another story.
Phineas was a mentor, and it was great to learn and play with George, and Harold, Frank Strozier, and of course, Booker Little. But when I got to New York Booker said, "We're in different camps now." He knew I was forward-thinking and had been in California with Gerald Wilson, Don Cherry, Scotty LaFaro, Master Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Ornette.
BB: Sonny Rollins told me about hanging out and practicing with your childhood friend Booker Little in the mid-1950s in Chicago, and then Sonny of course spent some time in L.A. not long afterward recording "Way Out West" and meeting Ornette Coleman. Did you meet Sonny around that time? Were he an Ornette important influences?
CL: I spent a lot of time with Ornette while I was in L.A. We would get together at each other's apartment to play, and discuss music. It was a very fertile time for me, but to answer your question about Sonny, I didn't meet him then.
BB: I have to ask you about Big Sur. You make reference to it in song and album titles, after all. (A longtime friend of my wife was visiting us from Chile a couple of weekends ago. She mentioned having had a vacation in California not long ago, and I asked her if she'd been to — or had heard of — Big Sur. She hadn't, so I dragged out a photo book I have about the place, "No Man Apart," and told her of my own very brief visit to Big Sur years ago.) What years were you living in Big Sur? Was that where you spent your retreat time? How has Big Sur and its extraordinary beauty informed your subsequent music?
CL: Big Sur is forever imprinted in my being. I lived there, struggled there for over a decade — how could it not inform my music? Each moment there is about the now. Nature is huge. You can spend a whole day just watching the ebb and flow of a fog bank which sits between you and the Pacific Ocean like a puffed white carpet. On full moon nights I drove Highway 1 without headlights simply following the shimmering light of the moon on the asphalt. In the winter months we might get cut off from town for days because of the storms, and when the sun came back out the air was delicious and pungent. This is a place very westerly in our country where the mountains meet the sea, and to live there requires a lot of inner fortitude and peace.
BB: Do you feel like you've hit the right balance between making music (your life's work, after all) and your spiritual seeking? Did all those years of seeking ultimately improve your art?
CL: It is all one. My life's work is the vehicle for my spiritual path. It's in the music, not in the words.
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Branford Marsalis Quartet Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St., Harvard Square, Cambridge. 617-876-7777. 8 p.m. $30-$37.50.
The first Boston performance of the Branford Marsalis Quartet following last September's release of "Eternal," the group's CD of melancholy ballads, was postponed this past fall for a melancholic reason: the death at age 96 of the leader's grandfather, Ellis Marsalis Sr. But the band - Marsalis on tenor and soprano saxophone, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums - had already previewed some of the music live at the Regattabar at the tail end of 2003, and it's stuff very much worth hearing again. The quartet has been together several years now, and it shows, both on disc and in performance. Marsalis and Watts, especially, have developed an extraordinary rapport, having met a quarter-century ago at Berklee and collaborated regularly ever since. At the Reggatabar show, the quartet played a mix of original compositions and obscure gems, among them Nat King Cole's sad but lovely "Dinner for One Please, James." Melancholy, they proved, can have its charms. As Marsalis noted at the time, anyone above the age 35 knows that "life is not sweet or sour - it's bittersweet."
Thu 4-14 Katahdin's Edge The Boston- and Providence-based trio Katahdin's Edge - pianist Willie Myette, bassist John Funkhouser, and drummer Mike Connors - plays tonight at All Asia, a venue better known for its chilled out DJ nights that for jazz. The trio's early evening set features music from its 2004 debut CD, "Step Away. All Asia Bar, 334 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-497-1544. 6 p.m. $5
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Lloyd reemerges, reenergized
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 12, 2005
Charles Lloyd walked onstage at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival with three young, then-unknown colleagues — Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee, and Jack DeJohnette — and played the legendary concert that became "Forest Flower," one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. Several years later, Lloyd took his tenor saxophone and disappeared from the music scene, spending most of the next two decades in Big Sur, Calif. Over the past decade, however, Lloyd, 67, has quietly reemerged with a series of superb CDs. The most recent, "Jumping the Creek," was released last Tuesday. We spoke via e-mail with Lloyd — who will perform Thursday and Friday at Scullers — about his retreat and his return to music.
Q. You've spent long periods of your life in retreat from recording and performing publicly. But lately there has been a wealth of music coming from you. Why the recent productivity?
A. When I went away in the early '70s, I thought I might spend a couple of months getting myself together in the seclusion of Malibu and then Big Sur. But the months turned into years and then a decade or two. In 1986 I had a near-death experience. I had already come off of the mountain in the early 1980s to help Michel Petrucciani get started, but I retreated again after two years. When I recovered from emergency surgery in 1986, I decided to rededicate myself to this wonderful form of expression — this music called jazz. In 1989 I aligned myself with ECM. The first recording was "Fish Out of Water." . . . Quiet as it's kept, I have been very productive for about 15 years now, with a lot of recordings starting to back up — and there is still so much more to do.
Q. What prompted those retreats from the music business?
A. I was burned out from the constant stresses and excesses of life on the road. It had taken its toll on me both personally and in the music. My mother had just died, my best friend, Booker Little, had died at the age of 23, and I knew that if I didn't get off the bus and work on my character and inner life, I'd be out of here, too. And of course, there was the disillusionment of the whole music business: It was about a product and not about the art.
Q. The record that made you famous, "Forest Flower," sold extraordinarily well for a jazz recording. Were you surprised?
A. This is not something you can think about or plan. At least I can't. I didn't even know they had recorded the concert until we walked off the stage and [recording engineer] Wally Heider said to me, "We got it. We got it." I said, "Got what?" He did capture a great moment.
Q. Do you feel like you've hit the right balance between making music your life's work, after all and your spiritual seeking? Did all those years of seeking ultimately improve your art?
A. It is all one. My life's work is the vehicle for my spiritual path. It's in the music, not in the words.