Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Maurice Durand and a Chance Encounter With Jazz History

Every time I visit New Orleans I find something remarkable, or at least interesting, just by wandering around.  On my visit last week, geocaching took me to a spot on Burgundy Street in the Bywater neighborhood in the Ninth Ward - a spot I didn't know exsisted.  It's a large arch, erected in in 1919 "by the people of this the Ninth Ward in honor of its citizens who were enlisted in combative service and in memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the triumph of right over might in the Great World War."

The arch is pretty interesting and impressive in and of itself.  I found a website on the monument and its history here.  I don't know how tall it is, but I'm almost six feet tall, and the top of my head only made it one-fourth of the way or so up the four large brass plaques on the arch.  You can see two of the plaques in the picture to the left, the other two are on the other side of the arch.  They list the names of all the men from the Ninth Ward who served in World War I.  I was a little surprised, but shouldn't have been, to see that the names are divided by race; three of the plaques list the white soldiers who served, while one of the two on the back honors the "colored" men who served in the war.

As I was looking at the names of the African-American Ninth Warders who served, one name jumped out at me: that of Maurice Durand.  I knew that Durand was an early jazz and brass band trumpet player from New Orleans, and it seemed to me that he would have been about the right age to have served in the first World War.  But I wasn't sure whether or not this name represented the right Maurice Durand.  When I got home, a little research revealed that, yes, this was Maurice Durand, the musician.

An early-eighties interview with saxophonist and bandleader Harold Dejan placed Durand in the correct part of New Orleans:

Maurice Durand had his own little band too, so I played with him too. Durand lived on Deslonde Street in the 9th Ward and used to get all the jobs down St. Bernard Parish. During the day he worked at a broom factory. He played on all the weddings and St. Joseph day parties. Maurice used to play in the Alley Cabaret by the St. Bernard Market, that's on Claiborne and St. Bernard and in the back was the Alley Cabaret.

But did Durand serve in the military during WWI?  Yes, he did, as it turns out.  Discussing the famous Onward Brass Band and its members in his book Fallen Heroes: A History of New Orleans Brass Bands, Richard Knowles says that Durand played both clarinet and trumpet in the 816th Pioneer Regimental Brass Band, which spent time in both England and France during the war.

Durand, born just outside of New Orleans in 1893, was a student of the legendary Professor Jim Humphrey, who taught so many early jazzmen.  He had a youthful band with Willie Humphrey, the Professor's grandson, and later became something of a protégé of Manuel Perez, the famous cornetist.  Durand played with the Onward, Tuxedo, Imperial, and Terminal brass bands and played dance band jobs like the ones described by Harold Dejan above.  According to the brass band history website containing the quote from Dejan, Durand also gigged at the famous Pythian Temple Roof Garden uptown.

That same website states that Maurice Durand never recorded, and that's almost true.  Fed up with the meager pay, he retired from music in 1933 and moved to San Francisco in 1944 - he died there in 1961.  But jazz researcher Bill Russell tracked him down and recorded an interview with him in 1958.  During the interview, Russell persuaded him to play a little trumpet, and on the CD which accompanies the Fallen Heroes book, you can hear Maurice Durand play 16 measures of "I'm Confessin'."  His lip is obviously out of shape, but you can also tell that this is a man with a good command of the trumpet.  

I'm not sure how interesting all of this is to anyone else, but my chance encounter with a little bit of jazz history fascinated me.  I was glad to pay tribute to a jazz pioneer.


Friday, October 12, 2012

1928 Victor "Race" Record Sleeve


A couple of years ago I bought a box of 78 RPM records, mostly early country music from the late 1920s and early 1930s.  In the box was this 1928 record sleeve, which was intended for a Victor "race" record - that being the term used at the time for records aimed at an African-American audience.  I was struck by the sleeve when I saw it; not only is it a beautiful example of one-color graphic design, but, unusually for its time, it portrays black artists with a certain amount of dignity and respect.

Blues researcher Jeff Titon devoted an entire chapter of his book Early Downhome Blues to the differences in record companies' portrayals of early country music and early blues in their advertising.  Advertisements for early country records (or "old-time tunes") generally featured white rural Americans in peaceful, dignified settings - listening to the phonograph in the evening or dancing with their neighbors.  "Race" record advertisements, on the other hand, were often filled with cartoonish caricatures of black culture.  It was as if the record companies were so out of touch with black America that they didn't realize that they were offending the very people they were trying to sell records to.

This record sleeve is different, for the most part.  There is a hint of blackface in the depiction of comedians Jones and Jones in the lower right-hand corner of the front, and the clarinetist in the upper left-hand corner is a little over the top, but otherwise, the illustrations are sympathetic.  Each of the pictures corresponds to a Victor record listed on the back - and how amazing it would be to have original copies of all of these records!  Clockwise from the upper left, the pictures represent clarinetist Douglas Williams, Rev. F.W. McGhee, blues singer Luke Jordan, Jelly Roll Morton's band, Jones and Jones, Johnny Dodds' Washboard Band, The Memphis Jug Band, and the Pace Jubilee Singers.

I have about half of this music on CD, but none of these 78s.  I selected a Victor record from the same period to keep in this wonderful sleeve - "Get Low-Down Blues"/"Kansas City Breakdown:" by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra.  I have quite a few early record sleeves, but this one is by far my favorite.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tchicai

John Tchicai died yesterday.  The Danish saxophonist, most strongly associated with free jazz, avant-garde, or whatever you want to call the more adventurous side of jazz, was 76.  From the first time I heard Tchicai's music, some 35 years ago, I was transfixed - I had never heard anything like it.  The record was Archie Shepp in Europe, the Delmark label's U.S. issue of the album also known as The New York Contemporary Five, Vol. 1.  Tchicai's contributions to the music of this important, but still underrated group stood apart from the improvisations of his fellow horn players, Don Cherry and Archie Shepp.  Shepp was loquacious and Cherry quirky, but both of them indulged their imaginations fully, resulting in solos which were rambling (in a positive sense), full-bodied, and many-noted.  Tchicai's alto saxophone improvisations, on the other hand, carried a mantle of reserve, of deliberation; they exhibited a sense of logical construction that was almost compositional.  Yet his playing somehow managed to combine this careful construction with as much adventurousness as Cherry's or Shepp's.  Amiri Baraka, then known as Leroi Jones, called Tchicai's early solos "metal poems."

And there was a freshness in Tchicai's playing; it was like nothing else in jazz.  Based on his early style, I would guess that he had listened fairly extensively to Lee Konitz and Ornette Coleman, but he didn't sound like either of them.  Early and late in his career, he sounded only like John Tchicai.

During his early stint in New York, from 1963 to 1966, Tchicai achievements were remarkable - as he put it later, "I managed to do a lot in a short time."  Besides his contributions to the New York Contemporary Five, he was alto a member of the very important New York Art Quartet, with trombonist Roswell Rudd as the other horn.  He played on Albert Ayler's New York Eye and Ear Control.  And a jam with John Coltrane led to Tchicai's appearance on Coltrane's groundbreaking Ascension album.

He returned to Europe in 1966 and expanded his instrumental arsenal; he never abandoned the alto sax, but added tenor and soprano sax and bass clarinet.  He formed the genre-bending big band Cadentia Nova Danica and played and recorded with Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra (I particularly like "Very Hot/Autobahn Tchicai" from the album Even the Moon is Dancing) and various Cecil Taylor large ensembles.  In the 1990's, after he was awarded a lifetime grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture, he moved back to the U.S. - to California this time.  After many more albums and collaborations, he moved to the south of France, where he died in the hospital yesterday.

Over the years Tchicai's instrumental "voice" deepened and expanded in expressive range, while remaining recognizable and unique.  His discography is extensive, but my choices to pay tribute today were a very early album, Rufus, and a later one, Love is TouchingRufus is by four-fifths of the New York Contemporary Five (Don Cherry is missing); it's from 1963, and is a wonderful example of his early style.  Love is Touching was recorded in California over 30 years later with a very young backup band, the Archetypes.  Tchicai is generous with solo space (I wish he had featured himself more) and utilizes electronics effectively.

If you want to hear John Tchicai, any of the albums by the New York Contemporary Five and the New York Art Quartet are recommended, as is Afrodisiaca by Candentia Nova Danica.  I certainly haven't heard Tchicai's complete recorded output, but my favorites include Timo's Message on Black Saint, Grandpa's Spells on Storyville, Life Overflowing with Charlie Kohlhase on Nada, and Witch's Scream by Tchicai, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille on TUM, as well as the ones I've already mentioned.

I never heard Tchicai in person, but I came close.  One my first visit Copenhagen, I missed him by one day.  I regretted that then and I regret it now.  So long, John Tchicai.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Best Graph Ever

I haven't added to this blog much lately, so I might as well post something different from my usual ramblings about music.

In 1869, Charles Joseph Minard published a graphic map depicting the march to, and retreat from, Moscow by Napoleon's army in the campaign of 1812/1813.  It tells quite a story.  19th-century French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey said that Minard's graph "defies the pen of the historian in its brutal eloquence"  Over a century later, statistician Edward Tufte opined that it "may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."  It's certainly sobering once you realize what information Minard is presenting.  Take a look (click to enlarge):


You can click here for a larger view of the map than Blogger will let me provide.  I suggest taking a look at the larger picture - it will open in a new window.

The tan band represents Napoleon's army moving eastward, from the Polish/Russian border toward Moscow.  The size of the band corresponds to the number of men he had at each point of the march.  He began with 422,000 soldiers; he was down to 100,000 by the time he reached Moscow.  Parts of the French army split off from the main force at two locations.

The black band shows the army retreating westward, away from Moscow.  10,000 of the original 422,000 men lived to cross the border back into Poland.

The black "retreat" band is linked to a date and temperature graph along the bottom.  The temperature scale used was the Réaumur scale, which used 0° as the freezing point and 80° as boiling.  It was 0° when the army left Moscow in the middle of October, 21 below zero (about -15 °F) by November 14, and -30 (about -35 °F) by December 6.

Minard has included more telling details.  Look what happens when the army has to cross a river.  The retreating army's crossing of the Berezina was particularly brutal; nearly half of the 50,000 troops on the east side of the river didn't make it to the west bank.

Minard's map is an amazing visual representation of what happened to Napoleon's army on this ill-fated campaign; it is stunning and horrifying.  Read it and weep - perhaps literally.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Mass Killing

Three days ago a young man armed with with a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58.  The shooter was captured almost immediately.  His motives are unclear at this time, although it seems fairly obvious that he has mental problems.  The country is shocked, horrified, surprised. 

Not me.

This is the United States.  Mass shootings and multiple murders have become part of our life.  They should be expected at this point.  Mentally unstable mass killers pop up every few months, like tornadoes do.  They're part of the American fabric.  Too bad, but that's the way it is.

Why are these mass killings so common in the U. S.?  Hell if I know.  I mean, we love our guns more than any other developed nation on Earth, and it's easier to arm yourself here than almost anywhere else on the planet.  And we don't seem to value mental health care as much as some other countries.  But that doesn't really explain it.  I don't know, except that killing as many fellow citizens as you can seems to be as American as baseball at this point.

I'm not quite sure why I'm writing this.  I'm not calling for stricter gun laws.  I personally think that would be a good idea, but it ain't gonna happen.  I might as well plead for laws banning tornadoes. 

I'm not shocked by this attack.  I'm actually surprised that people seem so surprised.  It's happened many times before; it will happen many times again.  When I read this in a year, there will have been several more "shocking" mass killings. 

It's America.  Get used to it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Original Memphis Five and the Superior Jazz Band

Back in July of 2009, I posted about The Original Memphis Five, one of my favorite early jazz bands. I've continued to pick up and enjoy more of their 78s as I find them. Here are a couple of recent discoveries and some speculation.

First, here's a rare picture of the band, from a 1924 Vocalion Records catalog that I recently found. The picture is small and poorly reproduced in the catalog, but I've never seen it published elsewhere since its original appearance. It's from the "dance music" section of the catalog. This interesting catalog also has a "race music" section, but Vocalion had just started to record and issue black music at the time; the "race" section only has five records in it!

More importantly, I recently took a chance and spent five bucks on a 78 by the "Superior Jazz Band" on the early Bell label. According to the Rust discography, "Virginia Blues" and "Georgia" were recorded on April 18, 1922, but "Georgia" was rejected and remade on May 2. They were issued on three related labels, Arto, Bell (#P-144), and Globe. The instrumentation is the same as that of the Original Memphis Five, but Rust didn't know who the five musicians were. I figured the record was probably pretty corny until I put it on the turntable for the first time. As the first side played, my thoughts went like this:

1. "Wow - this is pretty good."
2. "That sounds like Phil Napoleon on trumpet."
3. "Is that Jimmy Lytell on clarinet?"
4. "Damn! I think this is the Original Memphis Five!"

So is it the Original Memphis Five? Nobody knows for sure, but after listening to the record repeatedly over the past week and comparing it to other OM5 recordings from 1922, I think it probably is - or at least most of the band. The more I listen, the more I'm convinced that Phil Napoleon is the trumpeter and Jimmy Lytell the clarinetist.

I emailed early jazz expert Mark Berresford; he's familiar with the record, but doesn't think it's the OM5. He calls the trumpeter "far coarser and 'hotter' than Napoleon" and describes the band as "very good and not as refined as the OM5." Everyone hears things differently, of course, but I don't agree. By the middle of the next year, Napoleon's style was more consistent, but other recordings I've heard by him during this period show him moving back and forth from a legato, swinging style to a more clipped, ragtimey attack, as the Superior Jazz Band trumpeter does.

And the band seems "refined" enough to by the OM5, to my ears. In fact, although "Georgia," (the Walter Donaldson song - Hoagy Carmichael's song had not yet been written) is excellent throughout, "Virginia Blues" bogs down when it turns into an over-arranged medley of "Southern" tunes. The side starts well, but becomes too "refined" to be totally successful.

Besides Napoleon and Lytell, what of the rest of the instruments on the Superior Jazz Band record? Well, it certainly could be Frank Signorelli on piano and Jack Roth on drums, but it's probably impossible to say - both instruments function almost entirely in an accompanying role. The trombonist, however....

I wanted the trombonist to be Miff Mole, but it's almost certainly not him. The Superior Jazz Band's trombonist doesn't display the range, fluency, imagination, or swing of Miff Mole, even at this early stage. In an online discussion, one listener stated that the trombonist was Moe Gappel, who recorded with Napoleon at times during this period. I don't know where he got his information, and I'm not familiar with Gappel's style, so I'll just have to say, "Could be."

Besides the musical evidence, there is some circumstantial evidence that the Superior Jazz Band was related to the Original Memphis Five. Rust noted that Ed Kirkeby directed the sessions. Kirkeby is best known as the manager of the California Ramblers and (later) Fats Waller, but also "managed first dates for the Original Memphis Five," according to John Chilton's Who's Who of Jazz. The first known record by the OM5 was Bell P-140, recorded some time in April, 1922; it was also issued under a pseudonym: The Original Dixieland Jazz Band!

So who, exactly, were the Superior Jazz Band? I'm interested in opinions and speculation from informed listeners. You can listen to the Superior Jazz Band sides here. Note that there is a needle dig that causes a skip on "Virginia Blues." I welcome your comments - what do you think?

Update; May 8, 2012:  Original Memphis Five collector Ralph Wondraschek has replied to this post in great detail, outlining why he doesn't think this band is the OM5.  Interested readers are urged to read his comments.  With his level of knowledge of the subject, he's probably right.  He's certainly right about the picture in the Vocalion catalog being the Original Dixieland Jazz Band rather than the OM5; I even found another picture of the ODJB from the same photo session.

I thought about deleting or heavily editing this post, but I think I'll leave it as is, with this update and Mr. Wondraschek's comments to set the record straight.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Legends of Jazz - Photos From an Album


About a month ago I found a cheap copy of a 1973 LP by the Legends of Jazz, a (mostly) New Orleans traditional jazz band put together by drummer/producer Barry Martyn. The band consisted of Andrew Blakeney on trumpet, Louis Nelson on trombone, Joe Darensbourg on clarinet, Alton Purnell on piano, Ed Garland on bass, and Martyn on drums. Martyn was in his thirties at the time; the other musicians were all in their seventies or eighties. All were from New Orleans except for Martyn, a Brit, and Andrew Blakeney, who was born in Quitman, Mississippi, even though he is usually associated with traditional New Orleans style jazz.


The album, on the Crescent Jazz label, was in great condition, on nice red vinyl. (I have since learned that some copies were also pressed on green vinyl.) However, the name of the group seemed to be something of an exaggeration - the Solid Journeymen of One Style of Jazz would be more accurate. (To be fair, Louis Nelson is one of my favorite New Orleans trombonists, and Ed Garland was indeed something of a jazz legend.) In any event, I didn't listen to the album right away, and only put it on the turntable for the first time a couple of days ago. As expected, it was enjoyable without being spectacular.




As I was listening and reading the liner notes on the back of the jacket, I realized that there was something still inside the record cover. I shook it, and much to my surprise, six photographs fell out. They were snapshots of the group in concert; obviously an unknown music lover attended a Legends of Jazz concert back in 1974, took some pictures, and bought the album as a souvenir (and had it signed by Nelson and Purnell).


The photographs were kind of washed out, but I scanned them, tweaked the color and contrast, and did some cropping to improve the layout of some. I thought they deserved to be seen, as presumably unpublished pictures of a group of jazzmen who, except for Barry Martyn, have all left us.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Abdul the Rabbi

This post is not intended to be self-promoting in any way. It was written in a spirit of gratified amazement.

I play in a band called the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra. It's led by the trumpet player Roger Ruzow, best known as a founding member of the Gold Sparkle Band. As the name implies, the band plays a fusion of jazz, klezmer, and Afropop. It's an unusual and interesting band; I very much enjoy being a part of it.

A little over a year ago, Roger brought a new piece to rehearsal. Nothing about it made sense, including the title, "Abdul the Rabbi." Musically, it consisted of a bunch of random-sounding horn riffs over a funk/hip-hop base. It seemed both repetitive and directionless. Roger explained that it was intended to have a rapper laying down a vocal over it, but I couldn't see any way that this piece could work.

But Roger decided that this would be the title tune of our new album. We recorded the tune in pieces, to be assembled later. Roger seemed to have some mysterious vision of where the piece was headed, but I was still clueless. After I recorded as part of the saxophone section, he called me back into the studio to record an odd marimba part. Okay....

Before a gig a few months ago, Roger took most of the band outside to his car and turned on the CD player. "Abdul the Rabbi" had been put together, with some striking guitar melodies I had never heard before. It caught my attention - this was almost something really good.

A few days ago I finally heard the rough mix of the finished product, with a vocal by Atlanta rapper Zano. I was floored. Zano came up with first-person rap in the character of the Arab/Jewish rabbi Abdul.

A religious anomaly, devoid of harmony,
Forged in the kiln of the hot sands....
What I am is unique in its chutzpah,
But most likely it will lead to a fatwa.


Peace between Arabs and Jews is Abdul's desperate, doomed mission.

Got to find the light within the dogma
To impact the knack to crack the surface
With some news other than where the last bomb dropped.

To every last checkpoint, wherever I can plant seeds
Every last synagogue and every last masjid
This I will accomplish even if it be my last deed.


I'm the oldest member of the band at 53, and I'm not that into hip-hop, although I like some things I've heard. But "Abdul the Rabbi" brings a lump to my throat, and the piece gets deeper every time I hear it. I really didn't have much to do with the song, but I'm glad that I was a small part of it; I'm as proud of this as any music I've ever recorded. I can't wait for the album to come out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Letter to a Clubowner

My quartet played a gig at an Atlanta club back in October. The clubowner told me that they were looking for bands could bring in 30-50 listeners. We had what I thought was a successful gig - pretty good musically, and the 45 or so folks in the audience were enthusiastic about the music.

I waited a reasonable amount of time before approaching them about playing there again. I was told that our last gig had been "a little sleepy, turnout-wise." I pointed out that we met their audience expectations; the owner replied that bar sales had been disappointing, but offered us an earlier weeknight or Sunday slot instead of the more desirable Friday or Saturday. I probably overreacted in sending her this long reply. I've changed her name and redacted the name of the club. Creative Loafing is Atlanta's weekly entertainment paper.

Hi Katie,

I know that what I should say is: sure, we’d love to play on a weeknight or Sunday. But this exchange, as well as some other recent adventures trying to book bands, has brought a lot of things to the surface for me, and here’s what I’m feeling:

I’ve played music for 30 years – commercial music with other folks’ bands, but my own music has always been off-center, jazz-based music. It’s the type of music that will never have a large audience, but it’s the kind I’m driven to create. For the Jeff Crompton Quartet, our October gig at ------- was a good one.

Thinking back on that gig, I remember how nervous I was that we’d attract the required 30-50 listeners. It’s actually embarrassing and kind of humiliating to me when I remember how relieved I was that we’d “passed the test” by drawing the required crowd – at a venue that wasn’t paying us anything.

And now I find out that we didn’t pass after all. So after all these years of struggling, I put a new, excellent band together, and played a show which the clubowner liked, but don’t rate a weekend night. I'm depressed beyond words.

The current system of live music in clubs reminds me of our political system – it’s broken. You and I are part of the problem, and I’m kind of ashamed of myself for contributing to the problem by being willing to play at ------- under the current system. But not only am I willing, I want to. I love -------. I love the feel of the room; I love the acoustics; I love playing there; I love listening to music there; I love the Fin du Monde beer. I love the place.

But what have musicians come to? It has come to the point where there are hardly any clubs that will actually pay musicians for playing. Well, okay. Times are hard. Many clubs are scraping by. So we musicians have come to accept the fact that we have to play for the door, tips, or nothing. And if we play for the door, we have to hire our own doorman – and if we do that, we probably will have little left after paying him.

But okay – we’ve become resigned to that.

But when did the major responsibility for promoting the gig (and thus the venue), providing an audience, and racking up bar sales become the band’s? They should certainly be part of those things (mostly by playing good music), but it’s just bizarre that it should all fall to the band.

At our October gig, there were indeed some light drinkers and even some teetotalers. But some of those folks wanted to order food, only to find that there was little or none available. And one beer aficionado in the audience complained to me that he had difficulty getting served. I don’t know what the specifics of his problem were, but he wasn’t happy. It was his first time hearing me play, and he genuinely seemed to love the music. But I don’t know if I can get him to come back to -------. So maybe we’re not the right band for a weekend night at -------; maybe our audience is not right for the place – that’s for you to decide. But maybe the disappointing sales weren’t the band’s fault.

And promotion – I did a lot, but I have since thought of some other things I could do. And I’ll do them next time, if there is a next time. But I just looked through Creative Loafing, and none of -------’s upcoming shows are included in the music listings. I can understand if you don’t want to buy ads – I’ve bought Creative Loafing ads, and they’re expensive – but getting your venue included in the listings is free; there’s even a paragraph of instructions on how to get your shows listed.

I’m more discouraged than ever to be a creative jazz musician in Atlanta. I’ve probably pissed you off and burned this bridge, but that wasn’t my intention. To give you the simple answer I should have, instead of this depressing diatribe: Yes, we’d love to play at ------- – on a weekend, weekday or Sunday. Whenever you’ll have us, if you’ll still have us.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. Like I said, I love -------, and hope to play there soon, in spite of what I’ve said about the broken system we both contribute to. If that’s not to be, so be it.

Jeff

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Deep Rivers

Sam Rivers was born in 1923; he died on the day after Christmas, 2011. The death of an 88-year old can't really be said to be shocking or unexpected, but Rivers' passing caught me be surprise; it sometimes seemed as if he would live forever, creating incredible music for all time.

Sam Rivers was a saxophonist (tenor and soprano), flutist, pianist and composer; he also recorded on bass clarinet and synthesizer (and as a vocalist) on occasion. Jazz is often considered a young man's game, but Rivers was a late bloomer, at least in terms of making a mark in the larger jazz world. Although he had put in stints with Herb Pomeroy's Boston big band and T-Bone Walker and had recorded a Tadd Dameron session for Blue Note (not released until many years later), he was over 40 years old and practically unknown when he joined Miles Davis's quintet for a tour of Japan in 1964.

Recordings from that tour reveal a mature, imaginative, and very individualistic musician. He knows the tunes, knows the changes, and knows how to improvise over them. But he already seems to be somewhere else; his phrasing and note choices push against the confines of the songs. Musically speaking, Rivers wanted to be elsewhere, and his association with the Davis group ended when the Japanese tour was over.

But the floodgates had been opened; by the end of the year, Rivers had recorded Blue Note sessions with Tony Williams and Larry Young, followed by Fuchsia Swing Song, his own first album. This seeming explosion of creativity marked the level of accomplishment that would last the rest of Rivers' life.

In 1970 he and his wife Beatrice opened Studio Rivbea in their Manhattan loft home. For most of the decade, audiences had the opportunity to walk through Rivers' living room to the performance space and hear some of the finest avant-garde jazz musicians in the world. Highlights from one week at Studio Rivbea were issued on five LPs - the Wildflower series on Douglas, reissued on CD as The New York Jazz Loft Sessions.

In 1991, he took a step in common with many Northern residents nearing 70 years of age - he moved to Florida. In Orlando, he found a large number of highly skilled musicians who were employed by Disney World, but were hungry to play some challenging, creative music. Rivers' name for his large ensembles was the RivBea Orchestra, and the Florida version of the big band was tight and impressive, even if some of the soloists could not match Rivers' own level of inspiration.

But for many listeners, Rivers was at his best in a trio setting, joining a bassist and drummer to play seamless sets of mostly-improvised music that flowed in and out of different keys and rhythms. His mid-70's trio, with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, was almost telepathic in the musicians' responses to each other. His Florida trio, with Doug Mathews on bass and Anthony Cole on drums, was also excellent. Mathews doubled on bass clarinet and Cole on tenor sax, so they sometimes produced surprising all-woodwind textures. Personally, I feel cheated that the only recorded evidence of a really magnificent trio, Rivers, bassist Richard Davis, and percussionist Warren Smith, is six minutes from a 1972 concert released on Rivers' Hues album.

I was lucky enough to hear Rivers perform three times. The first was at Tyrone's in Athens, Georgia, where he played a stunning duet performance with Dave Holland in 1979. He was back a week later with a quartet, but the Art Ensemble of Chicago had a concert a few blocks away the same night - what a choice to have to make! - and I went with the Art Ensemble. (As I write this, I'm listening to the two wonderful Rivers/Holland duo albums on the Improvising Artists label.)

I didn't hear Rivers in person again until 2002, when his trio with Mathews and Cole played in an old stone church with wonderful acoustics, just a few blocks from my house in Atlanta. About a year and a half later he drove up from Orlando (no limo or private jet - the jazz business ain't exactly big-time show biz) to play a concert with the Jason Moran Bandwagon trio at a concert hall south of Atlanta. One of the selections they played was Rivers' tune "Beatrice," from the Fuchsia Swing Song album; this is the only one of Rivers' compositions that has become something of a jazz standard.

And now I am left with not only the memories of some wonderful concerts, but with regret. I always meant to make the eight-hour drive to Orlando to hear the RivBea Orchestra perform, but somehow never got around to it. I was excited to have a chance to redeem myself this Spring - I was planning to meet a friend in Sarasota for some shows Rivers had scheduled in March. Now, of course, that won't happen.

Reading what I've written, I'm struck with what a shallow tribute this is. I've only scratched the surface; Sam Rivers deserves a book, not a little blog post. So long, Sam Rivers, and thanks for the endlessly creative music.