About the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive

The collection was donated to the University’s Music Department by an alumnus, the distinguished film and television composer and producer, John Altman. The collection comprised approximately 1600 VHS tapes of footage of jazz performances recorded off-air from television broadcasts. Altman, along with his colleague the late Eric Koss, established a network of collectors who had been exchanging and sharing the footage over a period of some years.

The School of Media, Film and Music has started to digitise this footage in order to enhance access to the collection for students, and for visiting scholars.

The Centre is highlighting this to improve knowledge and understanding of the collection. This will allow the collection a new lease of life, preserving footage that might otherwise have been lost from studio archives. Having the collection in one place provides the opportunity for researchers to look at it in a broader context and to readily compare material across a wide range of sources.

The physical collection also includes meticulously hand typed index cards which will be documented along with the footage, as well as a number of notes to and from various collectors, along with newspaper cuttings from some of the broadcasts. It also includes several revised catalogues with details of when and where the material was collected. Over time the carefully catalogued tapes have been subject to the slow shuffle of entropy, so it is hoped that the digitisation of the collection will preserve their order. As an artefact, the collection bears the marks of a community of avid collectors who put huge amounts of time and effort into an area of study that Heile notes had hitherto been overlooked. As the title of one of the catalogue attests, the collection is the extraordinary result of the dedicated efforts of a ‘video freak’. The collection will be made available through the School of Media Film & Music’s Resource Centre to current students and to visiting scholars.

– From the University of Sussex website

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Interview with John Altman: Part 6

Part six of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

Altman and I continue our discussion of his years running The 10 Room, a club in London he started with Patrick Alan. Their Monday night jam session, which won Club Night of the Year awards, hosted some of the most recognizable names in hip hop, R&B, and pop today.

*****

Camellia Boutros: You had The Sugarhill Gang here?

John Altman: In the club? Yeah.

CB: You never worked with Tupac, did you?

JA: No, Pat did. He started him – yeah, my partner. He was Michael Jackson’s choreographer, and he was lead singer in Drifters.

CB: Oh, wow. How did you meet him?

JA: I met him through another friend of mine. I met him originally when I went to Poland, to see him in a Broadway show, and basically we decided then we wanted to start a jam session in London, which we did.

CB: Look at all the people that came through, it’s amazing.

JA: Oh, yeah. I’ve got photographs.

CB: And I can only imagine, you know, what connections happened in those clubs.

JA: Oh yeah – I introduced Orlando Bloom to Spike Lee. Had never met him. Samuel L. Jackson used to come down…

CB: I’m excited for this Prince video, every story you hear about Prince is really interesting.

JA: Yeah, unfortunately it’s not a video, it’s a recording, but, there’s a whole story behind it. Here we go.

1:43: He starts playing the recording.

Prince: “I have a guest saxophone player, he should be coming down in a second, but – I think sax is his hobby. What he really is into is film scoring and he only scored, um… a film called the Titanic… give it up for my homeboy, my friend, I met him the first day I came here in London: Mr. John Altman!”

Wow, what an intro. To have your resume given out by Prince…

2:36: Prince: “John, are you ready? Now this is not the Titanic, now, we gonna get into some jazz now!”

3:10: Altman starts playing. They play “So What,” a la Prince.

3:50: JA: I couldn’t work out what the drummer was going to play, so I thought “jazz,” but couldn’t really hear it.

CB: Your sound comes through very well.

JA: Yeah.

Altman’s saxophone playing goes on for about a minute or so.

4:50: JA: I was getting all these text messages from people in the audience, it was so last minute. They were like, “We didn’t know you were going to be up there!”

CB: Which concert was this?

JA: Prince did 21 nights in London, and 21 after parties. This is one of the after parties. And I told my friend in America, “I did a thing with Prince. And I’d love to hear it, but – no chance.” And he said, “Let me see what I can do.” And he got it off the mixing deck. Every night that Prince was in London.

CB: That’s amazing.

JA: It is amazing.

CB: It’s great that you got this!

JA: Yeah!

CB: I think it’s a little over a year now that he’s passed away, huh.

JA: Yeah. Well all three of them died last year: Bowie, Prince, and George Michaels. I worked with all three.

CB: Yeah. Wow. What a brutal year.

JA: Yes.

6:08: JA: There you go. So they can’t take that away from me! You know? I did it.

*****

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Interview with John Altman: Part 5

Part five of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

This part of the interview gets personal, with Altman departing a bit from the archive to talk about his personal career as a performer, composer, and impresario. We start with his time at Monty Python and eventually learn about his experience running The 10 Room, where he became hosted some of the biggest names in hip hop, pop, and R&B.

*****

As a longtime composer for Monty Python, Altman has hours of public and private footage of the cast and crew. We spend some time watching interviews and sketches, including one of the cast wishing John Cleese’s 75th birthday.

5:38 John Altman: Yeah, I’ve got this weird assortment of stuff..

Camellia Boutros: Well your career – it’s spanned over so many different things.

JA: It’s so many different things, yeah… actually, talking about that… Somebody gave us all of these, which are interesting.

Altman starts playing a video
CB: Is that John Legend?

JA: Yeah, it was his first ever show.

CB: Wow… Where is this?

JA: It’s a club I ran called the 10 Room… They had no clue who he was.

CB: [Laughs disbelievingly] Was he discovered here?


JA: Yeah! And Amy Winehouse.

CB: I also saw that you worked with Will Smith?

JA: Yeah!
CB: What was that for?
JA: He performed at the 10 Room.

CB: He came here?!

JA: Yes! Uh, everyone came here. When they did the Amy Winehouse film, they said, “Do you have any footage of her?” And I said, “Well, it was before she got famous, so the only person who would have taken footage would be if somebody came down with a film camera.” And somebody did come down with a film camera, and he sent me all these that I hadn’t seen, about a year ago.

7:55 We’re watching footage of John Legend, then Will Smith, then Altman playing with Amy Winehouse.

JA: [laughs] It’s like stepping back in time. There’s me.

8:50 We can hear Altman’s sax playing from the recording

9:45 CB: Pharrell?!

JA: Pharrell.

CB: Do you play up there with Pharrell?

JA: Yeah! I’m sure I do.

CB: How fun was that?

JA: It was fun! Yeah. There’s Eminem’s manager.

10:45 Pharrell performing with N.E.R.D.

JA: I just got sent a bunch of these tapes.

CB: Are these in the archive?

JA: Sorry? No, these have just come to me. They’re not in the archive.

CB: Do you think you’d ever consider including them, as an offshoot of jazz?

JA: Yeah, I mean the only thing is I don’t own the licensing for all these private recordings, they couldn’t use Amy Winehouse’s because they couldn’t clear them.

CB: Oh, okay.

CB:  Well that’s amazing, then.

JA: Isn’t it? This was every Monday night! Lionel Richie, Amy Winehouse, Will Smith, The Roots… I mean, you name them.

13:02 Altman stops the video.

CB: So much of modern-day hip hop owes itself to you.

JA: It’s just amazing having a club. It was the best place in London! There were never any paparazzi, never any, um… hassling, you know.

CB: Is it still around?

JA: No. I mean, Patrick [Patrick Alan] still does some things but it’s much different now.

CB: What did it take to come in?

JA: Guest list.

CB: Ah. Can’t just buy tickets.

JA: No, I mean, all this time it’s free. Nobody gets paid to come in.

CB: So many of these were R&B and hip hop, were you always a fan?

JA: Yeah! Yeah, I mean, I really enjoyed enjoyed being at the forefront and doing that, I kept my chops in, doing that sort of thing.

CB: You usually go up on stage with them?

JA: Usually, yeah, I mean, I ran the night, you know, they’re all there because I sort of ran them in, with Patrick [Alan]. History!

CB: Yeah. And it’s so great, from my perspective, that it’s something that came from the jazz world. Because hip hop artists are so indebted to…. it really speaks to what’s going on right now, there’s so much hip hop to jazz roots.

JA: Yeah. Well, especially with my friend  Kamasi and Kendrick Lamar…

CB: You know Kamasi and Kendrick Lamar?

JA: Yeah! I mean, Kamasi was in my band!

CB: What?! I just saw Kamasi in fall for the first time last October and it blew my mind.

JA: Oh, it’s great.

CB: You know Kendrick?

JA: Yeah, I mean these are people I used to hang out with.

CB: What year is this?

JA: Between 1999 and 2006.

In fact, they’ve dated most of these, so…

Video stops

*****

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Interview with John Altman: Part 4

Part four of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

Choosing a video of Miles Davis on tour the year that Coltrane died, this part of the interview briefly features Altman’s personal commentary on attending shows at jazz clubs in London, and about his personal connection with Herbie Hancock.

*****

Announcer in the video: “Miles Davis!”

Camellia Boutros: Where’s Miles?

John Altman: This is Stockholm in ‘67.

CB: The year Coltrane died.

JA: Yeah. This is the tour I saw when they were in London.

CB: Okay. With, uh, Artie Shaw.

JA: With Herbie, and – yeah. This is just their set, but this is the package that I had only seen two nights earlier.

The performance commences.

CB: Wow.

JA: [Slaps his knee]. Straight on it, totally.

1:14: CB: Do you know what month that would have been?

JA: That would be October.

CB: And did they say anything about Coltrane, since he was supposed to be on [that] tour?

JA: No, no – I mean, he died in June, July – well, July, it’s been 50 years.

1:99: CB: Did you know Herbie at that time?

JA: I didn’t know him. I got to know him many years later.

CB: Mmm. Did you work with him?

JA: No, I didn’t work with him, just friends. But we clicked, and just stayed mates. He’s a lovely guy.

3:13: JA: Look at that.

Here Altman shows me a picture of him and Herbie Hancock. They’re both grimacing comically, as if they’re trying to outdo each other.

CB: [laughs].

JA: There are so many photos of us smiling…

In the video, we can see Herbie as he plays behind Miles Davis.

5:10: JA: He’s so young there… [Herbie’s 27 in the video].

*****

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Interview with John Altman: Part 3

Part three of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive. In this segment, we’re watching a video of Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw performing in France in 1998.

*****

14:40: Altman’s looking for a video. I glance over his shoulder at the list.

Camellia Boutros: Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.

John Altman: This is history. But that year, this was live on TV. Now they’re all gone.

15:17: CB: Who gave you this one, do you remember?

JA: No idea.
We’re watching Freddie and Woody on stage, along with the rest of the Freddie Hubbard Quintet.

16:10: JA: Herbie said to me years ago, “Freddie Hubbard is the greatest musician I ever met. The greatest musical brain I’ve ever met. It’s too bad they put it in the wrong body. [laughs]

CB: [laughs] Maybe he’d rather it was in the body of a piano player?

JA: … I don’t think they got on, I know they didn’t get along.

CB: Freddie and Herbie?

JA: Yeah.

16:50: JA: He was a genius.

Freddie’s solo intensifies, outlining more intricate harmonies and getting more maniacal.  Listening, we’re absorbed.

18:20: JA: You know, it’s because Woody Shaw’s next, that’s why. He was always best when he was competitive with someone else.

19:55: CB: So was Woody Shaw touring with them, or did he just join them for this?

JA: Just joined them for this.

20:21: CB: You said Freddie got to go back and see some of these videos too?

JA: Yes, Fred saw this one.

CB: … What did he –

JA: He loved it! But all the guys said they’d never heard him play like this.

CB: Really?

JA: Yes. He was like inspired.

26:10: Woody’s playing now, and he’s absolutely ripping up his solo.

CB: Wow.

JA: Exciting, isn’t it?

CB: Yeah, I bet Freddie would want another go after that.

JA: They’re all inspired.

CB: Did they ever get this put out on record?

JA: No.

CB: Then it’s gold.

JA: Yeah.

27:20: JA: This is a festival in France. 1998. And I’ve got the whole tour, which is mainly Freddie and Joe, really. This is the only gig Woody Shaw plays on. There are so many riches, in there… Complete Tony Williams tours…

CB: I think it’s so special to have an entire  night-by-night tour of these guys –

JA: Yes!

CB: – playing together. You can see the changes, over this short period of time.

JA: Totally. You see how they respond to each other, how they interact… and you see them as well… and that’s powerful. Which records just can’t give you.

CB: Yeah, there’s something so physical and so visual about jazz… you know, so much of – I mean, other music genres, there’s, of course, communication, too, but in jazz, it’s so much –

JA: It’s so much more, yeah, and you don’t get it off record because – that’s the nature of record, and unfortunately, the history of the music… I mean, it’s three-fold: it’s live in clubs, records, and live film. And people really just have records because clubs… it’s gone. Evaporated. Televised concerts, it’s what’s the music’s about. Not records! But the whole, sort of, jazz criticism ethos over the years have been about what records have been. So it’s almost… it’s not a fair representation of jazz.

CB: What do you feel those records miss in addition to, you know, communication and stage presence and all that stuff?

JA: I think often it’s the tired, sterile environment itself, right? And it’s all we have. But you listen to a record of a certain person and think, “Well, that’s not a millionth of what they were.”

CB: It’s just missing that extra energy, or something.

JA: Yeah…

Listening to the video.

30:28: CB: Wow.

JA: Have to say, I’m like, “alright, watch this,” to Mulgrew Miller, Ralph Moore, and to whomever, it’s like – well, that’s not bad, is it? When it’s the people who are considered peers of the people who are performing… you know, well, “oh, they think it’s good” [laughs].

CB: That’s so cool, that you got to show them those.

JA: Yeah. As I said, most of these things were unseen by the people who played it. Because they’d go on live, and the end.

The Hubbard/Shaw recording wraps up, with Hubbard holding out a strong double-high C.

CB: Woah.

JA: Terrifying.

CB: Yeah, I’ll say!

*****

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Interview with John Altman: Part 2

Part two of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

As we watch footage Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Altman clues me in on some background information and stories from the artists involved that I would have never known otherwise.

*****

Altman and I are watching his compilation of Snooky Young for LACMA.

1:05 Camellia Boutros:  In every one of these clips he’s using a hat or a mute or something

John Altman: Oh, that’s what he was known for.

2:18 He puts on a video of Count Basie performing in ‘58

JA: [about Snooky] So this is the video he was watching. So I’ve got film of him watching himself about 50 years later.

CB: That’s amazing. You said you don’t have that film…

JA: I don’t have it on this platform… I have it on DVD. The inaugural jazz cruise, he was on it, he was playing on it. So he came down to watch the video. I ran a lot of videos and he was watching this one.

3:45 Thad Jones appears on screen for a solo.

JA: So this is one that came from our Swiss contact.
CB: He sent you guys a lot, huh?

JA: Boy. I mean we used to get boxes full of video tapes, like shipped over, and we’d send back things that we had seen.
CB: What year is this?
JA: This is ‘58.

CB: Were most of your contacts producers and broadcasters, or-

5:00 JA: No, no, just, – punters as well, like jazz fans, who, if something came up on television they would tape it. Of course they had not seen any of this, so we all benefitted.

CB: Mmhmm. I love that there’s that element to it, where there’s an exchange happening-

JA: Yes.

CB: So it’s an interactive, live thing versus, just historical record, although it’s that too.
JA: It’s both. Because, if you’re a jazz fan, you love jazz.

CB: [Still watching Basie] Love that drummer.

JA: Oh, he’s the best. Best big band drummer ever.  I saw them… in London. Duke Ellington, Count Basie … anybody who came to London, I was there. There I was. But quite often, for example in this… [looks for a video]. Yeah. I mean basically I’ve got everyone. So I have Clark Terry Big Band in ‘73. Which, a lot of guys in the band had never seen, so I did it for Jimmy Heath.

CB: Sorry?

JA: Jimmy Heath, who was in the band at the time, I made a copy for him. Which knocked him out, because he…

CB: He didn’t think it existed, huh?

JA: Well, after 43 years, you know… It was always great  showing these to people who’d done it, you know, it’s a whole different experience, because they would have memories of playing or whatever that obviously you would have, because it was them, you know, it was their band.

I mean, for example, this…

CB: Duke Ellington in Copenhagen?
JA: Yeah. This is the night after I saw him. Listen –

CB: Where’d you see him?
JA: In London. So he would have flown from London to Copenhagen to do this gig.

He puts on the video.

JA: So that’s the same line-up, same musicians… he falls asleep on stage… it’s great

9:30 CB: [laughs] [pause] Doesn’t really, no!

JA: Yeah, he knocks out!

CB: [pause] Jet lag? [laughs]

JA: Uh – I don’t think so. In fact, Jimmy Hamilton, um, Ellington kicks him. Ellington says – “Wait, hold up,” he says – “Huh – aww man, do I have to?”

*****

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Interview with John Altman: Part 1

Everybody’s heard John Altman’s music, whether they know it or not: he has composed for some of the world’s most high-profile films, TV shows, and acts, including Titanic and the Monty Python comedy troupe. Alongside a flourishing career as a composer, he also led a successful parallel career as a jazz saxophonist, working in circles that included Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, and many others. Later in life he owned a private London nightclub known as The 10 Room, which hosted artists such as Pharrell, Will Smith, John Legend, and Amy Winehouse. This summer, as a researcher working on an extensive collection of jazz videos he personally donated to the University of Sussex, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Altman and interviewing him about the tapes and his fascinating career.

The following edited transcript is divided into sections with timestamps corresponding to the original interview recordings, which are in the University of Sussex’s possession.

*****

Part one of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

We start with Altman choosing videos from his archive and giving me the inside scoop as we watch them. In this part of the interview, we also learn how Altman and Eric Koss came into contact with various producers in the jazz community and started to build their archive.

*****

As Altman searches for the first video, I ask him if Gil Evans ever viewed the archive.

00:45 John Altman: He just wanted to watch Louis Armstrong. I went to bed and he was watching Louis Armstrong, and I got up and he was watching Louis Armstrong.

Camellia Boutros: He must’ve been a big fan!

JA: Oh, fanatic.The document’s part of history, really. As I said the other day, these people were part of history, but that was 30 something years ago, and now it’s part of history as well.

2:40 JA: So this is the one that came out of the Swedish archive.

He plays a tape, and suddenly we’re watching  Sonny Rollins performing in Stockholm in 1957.

3:23 CB: So this was on the archive and then Sonny went back and found this and said, we need to publish this, or -?

JA: No, we found this. The director of Swedish television, he sent it to us, he’d never seen it either. We made a copy of it and sent it to New York, and every saxophone player in New York came to see it, except for Sonny Rollins, who came in the next day to watch it! So that was the story. And this was in the first batch.
3:45 CB: So that’s when you and Eric were starting the collection?

JA: Pretty much, yeah.

We finish watching that performance, and then Altman chooses another one of George Harris and Harry Grimes playing on a stage.

5:30 JA: George Harris is still alive… and Harry Grimes is still alive, I think he’s still alive… They found him recently –

CB:  Found him?

JA: Well, he worked as a janitor in a building, but had no idea that John Coltrane had died. Just cut himself off completely from playing the bass.
5:50 CB: Why?
JA: I mean, he had a lot of mental problems, that, uh…. But someone bought him a bass and got him playing again, so he reappeared.

CB:  How did they all start playing together, do you know?

JA:  Well – he was invited to Sweden where George Harris lived – the drummer – the drummer had just left his big band, so he, uhm – no, he’s still alive! He’s 81, there’s a very interesting article about him. Completely disappeared by 1970, presumed dead and re-appeared in 1982.

Just vanished, he was playing with everyone, Monk, and.. He was 22 years old.  He vanished in the late 60s. It was commonly assumed he’d died but he was rediscovered in 2002…

9:10 Altman is looking for a video of Charles Mingus performing with Eric Dolphy

9:30 CB:  How did you meet this guy from Sweden again?

JA: He was – Eric [Koss] was a European accountant. And he just traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, wherever the company would send him. So they would pay him to go. Because he was a jazz fanatic, he wanted to go wherever there was a jazz club. The first club he came to in Scandinavia, he was told, “ You’re in luck, this is the guy who produces all the shows.” And he said, “That’s it.” And that’s what Eric did, everywhere he would go he’d stop, and talk, and chat… quite amazing. It’s unedited footage, basically. So you see, like – Oh, angry cameraman! [laughs]. “Not expecting me to do that.” [laughs]. It’s quite fascinating.

10:20 We watch as Mingus gets in a fight with the cameraman – Altman and I laugh over the unedited footage that got cut out when it aired on TV. Mingus says utters some pretty vulgar profanity.

11:15 CB: Love it, the parts you don’t get to see in performance [laughs]… or, well, on screen. So this was broadcast over Swedish television?

JA: Yeah well not this, this is uncut.

12:00 We spend a few minutes talking about the Mingus video, positioning of people. Altman points out some of the musicians look upset or annoyed and just want the gig to be over.

JA: You can tell they’re all fighting. Everybody’s fighting each other and they don’t want to be there, it’s wonderful.

CB: Even the way they’re arranged –

JA: Yeah, sitting.

CB: They’re all close in together, the guy in front of the drummer too, can’t tell… They stopped in the middle, what’s going on?
JA: Yeah, because, well, this is what’s going on. This is what you don’t see. This is show business.

13:20 We discuss the likelihood of the uncut video being duplicated elsewhere. Altman thinks it’s highly unlikely.

14:29 JA: Well you can see why it was so exciting, at a time before YouTube or anything – to have this stuff here –

CB:  Well it’s still exciting!

JA: Yeah.

15:25: JA: Later on there’s some small talk… Mingus asks Dolphy what he’s going to do in Europe, you know. It’s like we’re eavesdropping on history! It’s… 50 years ago now.

CB:  Can we see that part?

JA: Yes, it should be next. [Fast forwards]

16:39 CB:  I like that phrase that you used, “eavesdropping on history.”

JA: Well you are!

17:02 JA: [About the music] It was some very intense stuff, actually.

17:35 We hear small-talk, watch them relaxing a bit after playing.

17:55 CB:  Yeah they’re just taking a break and hanging out, huh.

18:06 JA: [about a musician] He’s like, “When is this gig over!”

18:27 CB:  He’s so serious!

JA: Oh, geez! So, you’ve got the whole show.

CB:  That was from 1964?
JA: ‘64, from his tour.

19:20 Altman’s put on a clip of Ellington.

JA: You can see this entire concert of Ellington.

CB:  Do you know where he is?

JA: Touring. 1958.

CB: You get to see the audience.

Duke Ellington speaking to the audience

CB:  I love that you get to hear him doing his commentary.

JA: Well these are all TV shows, these are – concerts, that were filmed.

21:00

JA: This is Snooky on his 90th birthday… [John was asked to put together a video compilation of trumpet player Snooky Young, to be shown at the LACMA for his 90th birthday]. I provided a lot of material so that they could show something at LACMA.

CB:  So you put this together out of the videos that you have  [from the Altman-Koss archive].

JA: Mmhm.
CB:  That’s another great use for this archive I hadn’t even thought of, isn’t it? You can use it to make videos to educate on jazz.

JA: Totally. Well I’ve done [compilations of] the great trumpet players, the great jazz players… I’ll show you actually, I should have it here.

CB:  [back to the video] I love that you can see the conducting.

JA: Snooks… lovely man, great player.
CB: So you were personal friends with him?
JA: Sorry? Oh yeah, yeah.

*****

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Eye of the Hurricane: National Truths Revealed Through the Music and History of New Orleans

Update: This post was written in August, before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated the Caribbean and Southeast United States. Finally published in late September, the content now seems even more pertinent international discussion than it did previously.

I’ve been wanting to write about New Orleans for a while. Well-known as the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans was and still is as important to jazz history as it is to American history and culture. Searching through the archive for videos that offer a comprehensive view of New Orleans through the lens of jazz (or maybe it’s better to say a view of jazz, through the lens of New Orleans), I ended up listening to an interview of NOLA musician Wynton Marsalis on the Charlie Rose show, recorded during the fallout of Hurricane Katrina. Poignant and philosophical, Marsalis’s answers touch on multiple facets of the city, its music, and how the tragedy there centered the surrounding debate on so many issues Americans have on a national level. So I thought, as the interviewer begins on Altman tape 141, “Who better to talk to us about New Orleans than Wynton Marsalis? He is a world-renowned trumpeter, the artistic director of jazz at Lincoln Center, and a native of that great city [2:31:20].”

Asked about what family he had in the city at that time, while people were still trying to find shelter in the aftermath of the hurricane, Wynton replies, “I have my mother, my father, three of my brothers, cousins, uncles, I’ve got all kinds of various relatives. Everyone in our clan is accounted for. My brother’s people are scattered around in different places, but, everyone’s alive.” In that he includes Ellis Marsalis, his father and one of the greatest piano players in jazz history, and his brother, Branford Marsalis, who has been described as “arguably the most respected living U.S. jazz instrumentalist.” In addition to Delfeayo and Jason, these five form the Marsalis jazz dynasty, nicknamed “The First Family of Jazz,” and is probably the most influential family of musicians to come out of New Orleans and the United States. But they’re not the only one that New Orleans is home to: several of the most prominent and genre-pushing musicians active today can trace their family histories back to New Orleans. Trombone Shorty, brother to bandleader James Andrews and grandson of singer-songwriter Jessie Hill, played his first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival at the age of four, and has since been drawing young musicians with an in interest in rock and blues to his energetic type of jazz fusion. Even more relevant is Christian Scott Atunde, world-class trumpet player and grandson of the legendary Donald Harrison Jr., who is melding hip hop, Native American, and Creole music into a new genre of jazz he’s calling “Stretch Music.” All three musicians openly and frequently declare a love of their city and culture, as articulated by Wynton in the interview: “We’re a clannish kind of people… we have our traditions and our customs. We love being New Orleanians, wherever we go. Man, I been gone a long time, but I love being from New Orleans.”

Donald Harrison Jr.

Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah

 

Speaking on how music factors into the other facets of the city, Marsalis explains at 2:32:30, “We are really probably the only city in America that the economy and the politics kind of revolve around the culture. In most other places we don’t have as great a cultural base. Our ceremonies, our food, our music – we are known for those things internationally. We’re not as known nationally for them; nationally it’s known as a place where you can get a good meal and you can get drunk.” This is the first indication in the interview that something is bothering Wynton about the way New Orleans is portrayed within the United States, but he doesn’t delve deeper until the interviewer asks him whether or not the city will rebound from the current tragedy.

The Marsalis family in concert

“We’re gonna fix it. That’s not even really an issue. We’re Americans; we’re good in a crisis. We have a tradition of rising to a crisis. Now the problem we’re gonna have is after that… What we have a tendency to do is we rise in that moment, but when that moment is past, we fall back again. We need a reminder. Because the heroism of Americans, when we come together, for some reason it never becomes a part of our national mythology. And so that’s why we are doomed to repeat the same kind of mistakes, just like what happens in your personal life.”

So Wynton sees the resilience in New Orleans and the strength of spirit available to overcome the current tragedy, but he’s concerned about the long-term: how do Americans deal before and after a crisis? What is our identity as a nation in peacetime? Asked about which parts of Hurricane Katrina have been personally difficult for him, Wynton responds,

“I guess the hardest for me is the stupidity surrounding the deaths of the people. I mean a hurricane is a catastrophe, there’s nothing you can do about that, you’re overwhelmed by it… But I feel that the type of callousness that was shown toward the people when they were stranded,  by our government, by politicians, I just feel like that highlights the incompetence on every level – like taking money away from the levee project – I think the more we investigate, just on every level, you’ll see a level of incompetence born of lack of interest and caring. And it’s in all of our other cities, it just takes a catastrophe or something to bring it out. It exposes it – the underbelly. It exposes a lot of the basic truths of how far we’ve fallen from our fundamental principles. And for us we’ve always had to struggle with our fundamental principles, you know? In this case we’re talking about race and class [2:35:10].”
Jumping from the present, local case of Katrina and New Orleans, Wynton points to the greater American historical narrative:

“It’s the same thing that we discovered when the Constitutional Congress decided that black people would be three-fifths of a person. Not because of the Southerners, because of the Northerners. When we discovered with Hayes-Tilden that Reconstruction would be repealed, so that black people could go back to basic slavery. 1876, when we discovered with Plessy v. Ferguson before the turn of the century that – and Homer Plessy was from New Orleans – when we discovered that, Separate but Equal, but, Separate but Unequal…

When we discovered after World War I the Harlem Regiment was the most decorated in France, and World War II, that black soldiers could not fight. When we discovered after the Civil Rights Movement, with what is now called the Republican Reclamation…

We discover this same thing over and over again, which is basically, ‘Don’t lean on us, don’t trust us.’ Because when you need us to be there for you, what we are saying in our ideology, we are not really prepared to live up to that with the type of intensity that we would have to live up to it to make our nation be a reality, to make our nation be congruent with its foundational principles.”

These insights into what this current disaster says about the failings of America as a whole are broad and difficult to contend with. But Wynton brings the discussion back to the local level by explaining his personal commitment to support New Orleans as a musician:

“My primary function will be to embody our culture, and to say that, ‘Our way of life is valuable’ – I’m here, I represent that, and people at home know that. We’re all together, and our way of life is not something that’s going to perish because of a flood. Now, basically, we are born in hardship, and by that I mean all New Orleanians. Especially, of course, black people are resilient people, we’re blues people – and blues never lets tragedy have the last word, that’s the nature of the expression. And let’s not forget that the expression comes from an experience, and from a people. And not just black people – New Orleanians, Southern people, American people, people of soul – we’re not going to just fade away because of a crisis. That’s not in our nature, in our character, it’s also not in our history [2:38:50].”

By invoking America’s history of oppression and the blues, Wynton is tapping into the root of both the problem facing New Orleans at this time and the strength the city drew on to confront it: the history of the slave trade, which spawned both the institutional racism and systemic poverty alive today and the culture and spirit that drew some people together in this time to alleviate the worst of the tragedy. The racism and callousness in the American government allowed politicians to ignore the concerns of lower-class, predominantly black New Orleanians and withdraw money from the levee project; as a result, the 9th Ward was among the hardest hit neighborhoods during Hurricane Katrina. It allowed a dehumanizing attitude as, in the midst of dealing with a hurricane, four officers that were supposed to keep order in the situation instead added to the chaos by shooting six unarmed black citizens, killing two of them. It allowed for a blatant negligence as President George W. Bush delayed the federal emergency response for multiple days as people were left stranded in floodwater.

These events are reflected and recounted by musicians, particularly those directly from New Orleans and those culturally indebted to it. Wynton Marsalis played at both the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Concert at the Lincoln Center (tape 180) and the Hurricane Flood Relief Show (tape 141), the latter including celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kanye West. Though Altman’s tape catches a glimpse of Kanye, it cuts off right before it would have gone into the hip hop musician’s famous off-script speech of the tragedy and ensuing criticism of the sitting president, neatly summarized in one sentence: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Just a few months ago, at the last Christian Scott concert I attended, the NOLA native talked at length about the influence his city had on him before revealing that the Danziger Bridge shooting was the emotional context for a song he was about to play. This tragedy deeply affected these musicians, and their music expresses and communicates that tragedy to the rest of the world, drawing a different, more humane kind of attention back to it; and that’s a recurring theme in the history of New Orleans and the United States. This is not the first hurricane to hit Louisiana and become subject matter for the musicians living there; there have been many, such as in 1947, 1965, and 1969. There have been all the historical events that Wynton briefly touched on in his interview. There has been the slave trade in the South, where on plantations African-American rhythms and song mixed with gospel hymns to form the beginnings of soul, blues, and, eventually, jazz music.

Those beginnings, the musical mixture that in New Orleans distilled gospel spirituals, the African tresillo, blues form, and swing sensibilities into a unique cultural genre, were embodied by Louis Armstrong, who took it with him from New Orleans to Chicago, and from Chicago to the rest of the world under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department (earning him the nickname “Ambassador Satch”). His and other musician’s championship of New Orleanian culture have made it one of the strongest representations of America on the world stage, despite the many bouts of tragedy in its history. As Wynton says, “We need to lead the world from a soul standpoint. The blues swept around the world, it came from the United States; jazz swept around the world, it came from the United States.”

The interviewer mentions that George Bush wanted to export democracy to the rest of the world, too. Wynton has a response to that as well:

“Well, let’s deal with some democracy at home. And stop with all this polarization and not caring, not having just a feeling for people, man, just a basic feeling, and nuances of human life. We’re seeing it exhibited with such grace and elegance all over the screen by all kinds of people. ‘Cause this is not just a black issue. So I don’t like it when it’s put in those terms. What about all the people flying helicopters, all the doctors, all the people on the ground, people in those boats, they don’t count? Those people count, man. They’re not obligated to do those jobs. Those people are working day and night. They’re living and sweating and dying with those people out there. Those people count. They’re Americans, and we see the working of our country together, but we don’t have the leadership to put that into context. Everybody’s ready to spin. Now they’re trying to think, ‘What photo can we get?’ or ‘How can we focus more on the looting? How can we create more of a story?’ It’s all just bulls–t, man.”

The interviewer: “And the story you want to see told is what?”

Wynton: “I want to see the story that will help our nation the best. That’s the story I’m interested in.”

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60th Annual Monterey Jazz Fest

Last weekend Monterey hit a milestone: 60 years of hosting one of the most exciting musical events worldwide, known and hailed internationally as the Monterey Jazz Fest. And they didn’t hold back for this special anniversary: topping the lineup with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, all three days of the festival were jam-packed with acts such as the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Kenny Barron, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Common, Joshua Redman, Pedrito Martinez, all three of the Claytons (John, Jeff, and Gerald), Joe Lovano, Regina Carter, Branford Marsalis, and Jimmy Heath (to name a few). Not only was this year’s fest particularly star-studded, but it also included a diverse spread of genres while keeping the focus centered around jazz.

I was fortunate enough to perform at this year’s festival with the UCSC Jazz Combo, after spending the summer researching jazz for this archive! As a result I came to MJF with a much more critical ear and better-informed playing – read my experience of the event and our performance over on the Muse-Tripper blog.

The archive currently has two videos on previous years: tape #6, which contains footage from MJF 1970 (including an Ellington performance), and tape #91, the full documentary Monterey Jazz Festival: 40 Legendary Years, released in 2006. The latter is an in-depth film featuring interviews with the musicians and festival organizers, including performances by John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Patrice Rushen, Joshua Redman, Clark Terry, Mundell Lowe, Dave Brubeck, John Hendricks, Jim Hall, Gerald Wilson. It can be found for sale on Amazon, although the full documentary is up on YouTube as well.

That documentary has a bit about MJF co-founder Ralph Gleeson that caught me: at 1:41:48, “By 1967, Ralph Gleeson wrote that rock music had more to say about what was happening in America than Jazz. And he convinced Myers to add rock to the Saturday Afternoon line-up.“ This led to an influx of Blues and rock to the festival, which in the 60s almost ruined the festival’s reputation as being a Mecca for jazz artists. But it returned to its roots in the 70s, and today is internationally recognized as one of the premier jazz spots in the world, while still incorporating branching genres into its line-up. Now, in 2017, the festival continues its reputation by featuring acts such as hip hop artist Common, bluegrass star Chris Thile (with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau), and experimental groups such as the Hammond organ/drum kit duo Amendola vs. Blades. Yet the festival remained thoroughly jazz-oriented; nobody could argue with the authority brought by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, and Branford Marsalis – and that’s only a handful of the high-profile names topping the line up this year. 

The open approach MJF takes to jazz really interests me, especially as someone who is just starting their musical career. So I really focused on that aspect of the festival in the post mentioned above. If you’re interested in finding out what Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, and Common all have in common (pun intended), go check it out!

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Roy Hargrove: Performer, Composer, and Jazz Educator

On July 15th I was lucky enough to catch Roy Hargrove at the famous New Morning jazz club in Paris, a venue he passes through almost every year. He’s one of my heroes when it comes to trumpet playing and music in general: not only has he worked across genres from jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis to hip hop legend D’Angelo, but he talks, thinks, and teaches about music in a way that’s almost philosophical. He’s also a very fun musician, balancing out his serious technical skills with dancing on stage, jokes in interviews, and experimenting with strange sounds and sound effects. So as a follow-up to the performance, I dug into the archive to see what I could find on him.

As someone who’s very good about allowing videos of his concert performances on YouTube, it was refreshing to find tapes on the maybe lesser-known aspects of Roy’s career, from his earlier days. The four tapes I could find portrayed him in four very different contexts: number 19 as a leader of his own big band in 1995; 112, as a guest and performer at what would have been Dizzy Gillespie’s 81st birthday party, where we see his interview right before he goes on stage; 119, showing a young Hargrove playing with an old Joe Henderson and talking a bit about the legend; and 325, the full concert of Roy when he appeared with The NHOP Quintet at Jazz Baltica in 1996. And across these tapes, especially the first three, you really begin to see Roy Hargrove’s importance to the jazz world not only as a performer and composer, but as an educator. Of course many other jazz musicians will preach the significance of passing on what they know, but for Roy the exchange in education emerges quite apparently as a principle he’s held onto his entire life.

Take, for example, tape 19. Roy is leading his big band at the Village Jazz Festival in 1995, when he would have been about 26 years old. He talks about his dream of putting on a full big band, and how he had mentioned it in an interview once. “James Brown noticed and made it happen for me (00:08:15).” The footage cuts to clips of him rehearsing the group, directing them and playing with his trumpet pointed towards them, while he talks about the differences between leading big band and quintet. “It’s an extreme task of leadership,” he explains. Watching his conducting in the rehearsals and hearing the reverence in his tone when he talks about leadership and Brown helping make his dream come true, you understand that for Roy this is about more than taking the stage with a group of his own. He actually wants to offer something of himself to the lineage of big band music in jazz, to future jazz musicians, and he approaches the whole thing with an admirable humility that not every musician has (looking at you, Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus).

Although tape 112 only shows Hargrove’s interview prior to playing at the NYC Blue Note in 1999 for Dizzy’s birthday, the interview itself is telling. The reporter and Roy banter a bit, easily exchanging jokes and talking about horoscopes. Then they move into talking about Dizzy, who would have been 81 years old. “He was definitely down to help a lot of the young musicians coming up, and he had a beautiful spirit. He was also a Libra! [fist pumps] (00:20:00).” The fact that the first thing he says in honor of Dizzy is that he was supportive of upcoming musicians says a lot about what Roy himself is passionate about; he sees bringing up the next generation as a valuable responsibility. And then, I guess, he’s also passionate about his astrological sign ;). He goes on to name his influences, among them Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, and, of course, Dizzy… “So many.” The reporter brings up Kenny Barron and asks for a story about him, and Roy talks about going to listen to him at Bradley’s. “Everytime I hear him I learn so much,” as the footage cuts to a clip of Barron’s trio playing. Worth mentioning that Roy Hargrove will be joining the Kenny Barron Trio this year at Monterey Jazz Festival, which I will be attending (looking forward to it!).

Finally, tape 325 features a full concert of Roy playing with The NHOP Quintet at Jazz Baltica in 1996. I mentioned it earlier, but Roy is really great about hosting full videos of his concerts on YouTube: the video that inspired me to go see him in Paris was his full performance at The New Morning in 2010, and the day after I saw him he already had some video clips of up (check them out on YouTube). These videos are actually so important to young jazz musicians, who watch them over and over trying to learn not just the songs and the sound, but the subtle techniques that can only be learned from a visual performance: which fingerings did they use to play that note? How did they communicate to the other musicians that their solo was ending right there? What were they wearing, how did they carry themselves on stage? Were they rigid, or did they free themselves up more? Roy, in particular, looks a lot more formal and rigid in his earlier performances, as opposed to a couple of weeks ago, where I got to see him dancing on stage in his now classic attire blending jazz and hip hop styles. It helps musicians to see and to know these things, because there is no real guidebook on how to find success in your art. That’s why it’s so valuable when people like Roy Hargrove release content of themselves playing and talking and giving advice, like in the beginning of one of his albums where he talks about the lessons he teaches his current students.

Going to see this trumpeter at this jazz club felt like a sort of pilgrimage to me as a musician, and watching these videos has only enriched my knowledge and added to it. For a longer post on this year’s New Morning concert, check out Muse-Tripper, the blog where I write about where music takes me when I travel. Maybe the full concert will end up in the archive someday!

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The Beatles and Jazz (and maybe even a new tape)

“Jazz is just a lot of old blokes drinking beer at the bar, smoking pipes and not listening to the music.” John Lennon allegedly declared his opinion at a press conference, disparaging the genre that held the title as the most popular alternative to classical prior to The Beatles taking pop music to its throne. Even though The Beatles didn’t particularly like jazz, the jazz world owes a lot to them, a fact that is reflected by the group’s representation in the Altman-Koss archives. Not only did their records and performances have such widespread influence on the music word as to have shaped the course of music in general, but many of the most commonly played jazz tunes are actually covers of old Beatles songs. Flashback to 8th grade big band in junior high school, when I was just dipping my toe in jazz performance and our director throws “Can’t Buy Me Love” into our set…

A few of the Beatles entries are duplicates of their full-length films, such as tape 207 (containing the full “Let It Be” 1970 album documentary), tape 258 (all of “A Hard Day’s Night”) and tape 307 (The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, the documentary). Honestly, I had expected all of the Beatles contributions to be media that could easily be found online or in other libraries – they were, of course, one of the most popular groups in recent history and extremely well-documented. So I was surprised when I came across tape 256 and found something that didn’t seem to come up anywhere.

The video, called “The Early Beatles,” is a compilation of their performances and interviews from 1962-1965. Released by Granada Television on IBA network as a Christmas special in 1984, director Johnny Hamp wanted to do a special on The Beatles focusing on this particular period, early on in their career. Searching through both Granada’s and IBA’s archives, I could find nothing on the video; only a reference on an unrelated site, along with this statement: “We understand that Granada executives are also toying with the idea of an official videocassette release, providing the usual plethora of legal obstacles can be surmounted.” It seems as though they never did overcome those legal obstacles.

The actual footage ranges in quality and content, from old recordings of their performances where the glare off the guitar actually creates a blind spot for the camera, to well-produced clips of them arriving at a concert and shoveling through screaming fans to get to the stage. And the fans really are screaming; a needle-drop anywhere in the video has a decent chance of giving you an earful of it.

Personally, I’ve seen loads of Beatles performance footage throughout my life, so what really interested me were the various interviews. There are a few and they all differ in structure; one, right around 1:02:05, isn’t even an interview, really, but a clip of The Beatles being told several jokes in quick succession. The one at 1:11:18 is much more of a formal interview, with close-ups of the members’ faces as they share their thoughts on their upcoming United States tour (and famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show).

I’m curious about how rare the material shown here actually is; I’ve started asking some professor’s and colleagues for their input, and will get back with any updates!

Update: I consulted Giacomo Fiore, an expert on The Beatles at UC Santa Cruz, and he quickly got back to me with this information:

” As I suspected, this is an old Granada TV special from the early 1980s, which has not been widely circulated due to copyright claims from Apple Corps (the Beatles’s company, not the computer one). It’s not impossibly rare, but it gets routinely pulled from YouTube, and much of the footage is exclusive to Granada TV (I’ve read somewhere that they have about 4 hours of unedited stuff from various sessions, including more Cavern Club recordings).

So, a good find, and one that may be worth archiving for your own purposes.”

Thanks, Giacomo!

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