J07: Connie’s requiem for Lennie

On Sunday, April 15, from 2 to 6 p.m. the music division of WPI will present the Lennie Tristano Symposium, a celebration of the life and music of one the most enigmatic figures in jazz. The symposium was inspired by the publication of the new biography Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music written by WPI professor Eunmi Shim.

In addition to Prof. Shim, the event features such esteemed panelists as pianist Connie Crothers, noted jazz critic Ira Gitler, saxophonist Jimmy Halperin, pianist Sal Mosca and Lennie’s son, guitarist Bud Tristano. The symposium’s moderator will be Monica Hatch, host of “Jazz Matinee,” WICN 90.5 FM. Interviews will be conducted by Tom Reney, host of “Jazz a la Mode,” WFCR 88.5 FM, Amherst. The program will be held at Alden Hall, 100 Institute Road. It is free and open to the public. Contact: Rich Falco, Director of Jazz Studies at 508-831-5794.

Born in Palo Alto in 1941, Crothers was studying at the University of California Berkley when she first encountered the music of Lennie Tristano. Six months later she moved to New York to study with him. For a full biography on Crothers see:www.newartistsrecords.com.

Ms. Crothers spoke with me by phone from her Williamsburg studio in Brooklyn Tuesday, April 3, at 9:30 a.m. I was struck by her patience, her gentle voice and generous spirit in sharing information about Tristano and accounts of her own life in the music. Below is the complete interview.

I understand that you moved to New York specifically to study with Lennie Tristano. What precipitated this?

I had been a classical musician and a composer. I was studying theory and composition, but I realized it wasn’t for me. I thought that I might be able to find what I wanted in jazz, but I didn’t know anything about it. A very close friend of mine played me one track from an Atlantic blues sampler. The track was “Requiem.” When I heard that, I realized immediately, not just that I’d be able to open up my music in this way, but I knew instantly that I had an enormous affinity with his conception and that I would be able to find my own identity by studying with him. I didn’t know much about him. In fact, I didn’t know much about any jazz musicians, but just from the strength of hearing that one track alone, I made my plans to move to New York.

That’s a serious leap of faith. You must have been searching for something that resonated in your being to go that far.

It was immediate. Everything that I felt in that moment, while I was listening to the track proved out to be true. I had some responsibilities when I was in California. I had to make some adjustments in my life situation before I could leave. Then I did. It took me about six months.

At that time were you put on a waiting list? Did you have to introduce yourself?

Before I went, on the bulletin board at school, there was a notice by Lee Konitz. At that time, I didn’t even know that Lee was associated with Lennie. I went over to his place and studied with him for about four months. Lee called Lennie and recommended me. Beyond that, I must say, when I came out to Lennie’s house and met him for the very first time, the thing that impressed me instantly, when he opened the door to greet me, was his enormous warm. He was a tremendously warm person.

So you were looking for connections in the music other than just the notes on the page?

Well, its never about the notes on the page. When you are a creative musician ultimately its about the deep person. It’s not about the personality. I think Lennie would say it is about the person’s character. So yes it is very personal. It’s the person’s deepest feelings and the way they express them.

You knew you wanted to study jazz. You knew you were interested in improvisational music. Were you heading in a direction of opening up your music from a more personal place?

To tell you the truth, I had been composing since I was a kid. When I went to school to study and I thought that would be it. During that time, which was in the early ‘60s, the composing world was pretty much dominated by a theory approach rather than sound or feeling. It was more about the theory. I never could I identify with that. For me music has always been about expressing feeling and beauty. I didn’t encounter that when I was in school. I didn’t feel that it was the way I could express the music that would have meaning to me. Now, when I say this, I don’t mean to criticize them because I know that there are many great musicians among them. I am never out to criticize any artist for any reason, accept if they are insincere of course.

Talk to me about mentoring.

In those years jazz was not taught in school. There were no classes. It was more that I felt a connection with Lennie that was based on a deep conceptual affinity. I felt that right away. That proved out to be true. So it was even much deeper than a mentor. I felt like I had found actually a kindred soul.

So gigging in clubs was not a part of your early development?

When I came to New York, although I was an accomplished classical pianist, I was not an improviser. It took me a few years before I could express myself as an improviser in a way that would have made it possible for me to get on a bandstand. By then jazz had pretty much shut down. There was one club in the city, the Village Vanguard. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, once I went to see Thelonious Monk and there were six people. It just wasn’t happening.

Lennie Tristano live: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZWumSW3O7A

So you had to create your own venues?

Eventually Lennie did that. He started presenting me in little recitals in his home. We called them “scenes.” Then he presented me in a concert at Carnegie Recital Hall. That was my first gig.

In your first lessons did you have to learn tunes and play changes?

When I was a teenager, I listened to the radio and I picked up a lot of standard tunes. I used to sing them so I had already learned a lot of standard tunes mostly from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat Cole. I had never studied chord changes. I’d have to say that chord changes was not Lennie’s approach. It’s not that he didn’t teach harmony. He taught very complex harmony, but his approach was not based on improvising melody from the chord changes.

His approach was to deeply internalize the melody of the tune and release your improvisation from that melody first. Then, when you are improvising, if you add an understanding of the harmony, then you will deepen your improvising. But if you start first with no melody from the chord changes you will always be limited by them.

Did you keep a through line of melody or could you fracture it?

Neither one. Lennie didn’t believe in a style. He didn’t have one approach. Actually, I think the premise of his teaching was “everybody’s different.” He was one to talk up either a fractured approach or long line. It depends on the way you hear.
Lennie always thought that teaching was very much like a conversation. He was wonderful at talking. He was also very good at drawing people out. Yes, there was a lot of conversation. However, I must say, when I came to New York I knew nothing and for me I just wanted to sop up as much as I could from somebody who I would knew as a great master.

Later on, I guess about six years into our association, I started coming up with a lot of things that I wanted to do. I came in once with a piece of paper covered on both sides with things that I wanted to do. It was a problem because I didn’t know how I could do them all in a week. So we went over it and gave me a few suggestions. Then he told me I had to work on my own. So that was it. I had six years of formalized instruction and from then on I was pretty much guiding my own work. We were associates though and a little after that he wanted me to be a teaching associate. So I had that association with him also.

Did you discuss the concept of swing?

He approached that in every way imaginable. He’s renowned for that. I don’t even know how to break that down in a way, but the main way I got to the concept of swing was to sing with records. That’s something that you can’t transmit. There are no words that are going to transmit it. Suppose I say to you, “Well you keep a pulsation and within that context, which is steady, you stretch the time. If you are a classical musician, you can’t understand that.

A lot of teachers try to teach swing in a different way. They want people to stagger the eighth notes based on a kind of underlying triplet rhythm. They call this “swinging the eighth note.” This is very detrimental. If people internalize that they will never really be able to swing because they get stuck on that particular way of expressing an eighth note.

If you listen to the great masters of improvisation that’s not what’s going on with their eighth note line. The reason why it sounds different from a straight eighth note line like a classical musician is because they are inflecting it all the time. There’s no concept of inflection in classical music. Inflection means every note has a different quality of sound. It’s not just the timing. It may be extremely subtle, but each not is its own individual and it has it’s own sound within the phrase. So of course it doesn’t sound like straight even eighth notes, but you really can’t transmit that to someone who has no concept of it. It’s almost like in the brain, there’s no receptive circuit to hear that information and to process it.

So the way that Lennie transmitted that particular concept was to get everybody into singing with records. You can’t sing with Billie Holiday, for example, and keep your notion of placing rhythmic subdivisions in one spot, in a meter, because she never does that. That’s the primary way that he transmitted the concept of swing.

Here is Billie Holiday singing “Fine and Mellow” — youtube.com/watch?v=IUtPODn7cCc

Lennie told me that when he was coming up as a teacher in Chicago, although he was already quite an accomplished theoretician and he could teach many different thing to his students, and he had outstanding students. Lee Konitz was studying with him when he was 14 years old. He could not really transmit improvisation itself until he discovered singing with records. He felt that was his great breakthrough as a teacher.

Lee Konitz live: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBcHP1R2SUU

If you sing with records you not only get the conception, you get the feeling. That was the thing that mattered most to Lennie. This is the thing that I heard him repeat over and over again all through the years. It came up constantly in his teaching – feeling. One of his favorite things was to ask you: “How did that feel?” He would want students to describe in any way they could how the music felt to them.

He had so many ways to teach somebody something. I got into all kinds of rhythmic conceptions. Starting with the quarter note. I never like the metronome and he never insisted on it. Once I grasped that it was about the pulsation, I did get way into it and I spent a lot of time listening to it.

I did a lot of work with Lennie on the bass line, which is all about the quarter note. For him the left hand bass line is not really a counterpoint, but he wanted to be inspired and influenced by the great bass players like Oscar Pettiford. They had a wonderful way of centering the quarter notes. There’s like a little burst of energy that comes out of the center of every quarter note. So I play a lot of left hand quarter notes. There’s one example of really getting into timing and rhythm. A lot of musicians now don’t even consider the quarter note.

This is a rare clip of Oscar Pettiford with Coleman Hawkins: youtube.com/watch?v=x0m3QWnxOKA

Lennie’s not the only one to feel this way. I’ve had this conversation with Max Roach. That’s his favorite subdivision. Max Roach will talk at length with you – if you are willing to sit and listen of course – about the quarter note. Louie Armstrong also. You can hear that very strongly. Max often referred to Louie quite a bit. Start with the quarter note.

Max Roach — www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tmxIXehwV4

Lennie taught rhythm in many ways like for example: I learned many different counter rhythms. He is renowned for being an innovator in this area. I learned subdivisions. Not only do I have the quarter note, and the eighth note, and the sixth, but I’ve got the seventh, the ninth and tenth. Also how to make the timing more elastic. So for example, being able to imagine music that is not confined to the form. The form is the container but it shouldn’t be the straightjacket. That’s a larger concept of rhythm because form is really about rhythm. It’s like the pacing of the piece. If the form is expressed through measures that’s a time concept. So if you can imagine your phrases flowing through this container rather than being contained by it, to be flowing through it or on top of it, then you get a much more flexible and open time conception. You don’t resolve for example on one. You can but you have the option.

What will you present at the symposium?

I don’t know. My tendency is not to take the academic approach. I am an improviser and because I have chosen to spend my life in music that way, it’s had a profound effect on how I express other things in my life. I prefer not to plan. I’d rather be there and in the moment. It will spontaneously come to me. I’d like to be able to respond to where people are right in that moment, rather than decide up front what I’m going to present.

Aside from being a great teacher, Lennie was one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. People don’t accord him this kind of credit, but I think they will because there’s so much documented and the musical evidence is unequivocal.

Clips of the week

Connie with Valentina: www.sonnysinstantpiano.com/gal_students_detail_18.php?EditID=71

Here is a comprehensive Website dedicated to Lennie: www.lennietristano.com/cgi-bin/links.cgi

To see my full article on the symposium, check out JAZZEd magazine at

J06: The jazz ambassadors

Every other year for the past 20 years students in the jazz ensembles at WPI have been traveling abroad sounding the world on America’s music. The troupes are led by jazz studies director Rich Falco, founder of the program who, in addition to teaching classes at the college, conducts the large stage band and small ensembles. The first sojourn across the pond was in 1988 and I was fortunate enough to be invited to go as a special guest, performing on both blues harp and chromatic harmonica. We toured France, Luxemborg and Belgium. The highlight for me was our performance at university in Caen. It was recorded by France’s version of National Public Radio and written up in the local newspaper. I had heard about how Europeans love jazz, but witnessing their admiration in the way of signing autographs for a half hour after the show was a “pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-I’m-awake-experience.” If that wasn’t to beat all, we were then invited back to the mayor’s palace. He wanted to personally thank us for what our fathers had done in the liberation of France during WWII. One can only be humbled by this kind of experience. I carry it with me as one of my fondest memories to this day.

Since that time, Falco and the bands have globe trotted throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and elsewhere. This year, March 3-10, they traveled to Prague in the Czech Republic and Budapest, Hungary to perform in a cultural center, jazz club, concert venue and best of all in a boat floating down the Danube. “Midnight on the Danube. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Falco says.

The gig wasn’t on the itinerary. It was the inspired notion of the gentleman who booked them to play in a downtown jazz club in Budapest called Gödör Klub.

Falco picks up the story from here: “This was a hardcore jazz club. After our performance, the impresario, Lazlo Irinyi – of the whole country in fact — was just overwhelmed with the quality of the music. He wasn’t expecting that at all from a college ensemble – sight unseen. ‘His whole reputation was at stake,’ as he often said throughout the tour. He was so knocked out.

“Anyway, he had another foreign tour, a group of Japanese students from Kyoto. There were over 100 of these kids in an orchestra. These are all college age students. That particular group rented a boat to go down the Danube River at midnight following their last concert. When the impresario heard us perform in the jazz club, he had a brainstorm – maybe these Japanese students would enjoy hearing American jazz. That’s the second largest market for jazz outside the United States.

“Being orchestra players anyway, maybe they would like to see American musicians. So we surprised them. Right at midnight, the students got off their bus. We were already set up with our jazz ensemble and to the last kid who came on to the boat there was a smile from ear to ear as we played jazz when they walked onto the boat.”

Falco says that the group featured with the small jazz ensemble, who performed “primarily the more mainstream jazz from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Bobby Watson, Ron McClure, James Williams. We played some Real Book tunes as well.”

As many local fans know, Prof. Falco is also an acclaimed jazz guitarist. When he travels with his students he is their conductor and rarely plays. This time he did.

“Some of my students were so taken with the beauty of the city at night, that I asked if some of them wanted to take a little break and walk around the ship. They did. So I took over, played a little guitar and bass. The boat was glass. You just look out the window and see the whole city lit up at night. We had a fabulous time.”

When asked if he feels like American ambassador of jazz when he travels overseas, Falco says, “Absolutely. In fact, not so much this time but in almost all previous tours we are invited to either participate with local ensembles in a concert or go literally to a music school or conservatory, as was the case in other Eastern European countries, we had the opportunity to lecture and demonstrate jazz music.

“There’s a great deal of interest in how this actually developed and then how we actually execute it. So the questions are really pointed and the students tend to be really with it in these music schools. They have an interest in interacting with our students as well. So normally that includes a Q&A after my lecture, a performance, followed by a Q&A and then just a hang. They usually have a reception. Students just want to get together and mix.

When asked if there is anything that he says to his students in terms of trying to get them ready to be fellow jazz ambassadors, Falco says, “The first thing I tell them is: We are going there to make the best music we can. That’s the most important thing. Having fun, touring, all of that, of course it’s important, but secondary to our real mission, which is going there as American music ambassadors. That’s really important to me, especially because our portion of the program involves jazz, which is uniquely American music.

“With that in mind we want to present the music in the best possible light. We want to come off as professional as possible. I do have this attitude towards my students. They are always treated like young professionals. That’s just the attitude. Each person has the responsibility of producing the best music imaginable.

Asked if he is ready for the next trip, Falco says, “Yes. It will be in two years. There are a number of options. I’d very much like to bring the Duke Ellington Sacred Concerts and/or the Paul Winter Missa Gaia to Puerto Rico. I think it would be really fun to get a number of college choirs together with the big band. Then the smaller ensemble to do the Earth Mass of Paul Winter.

“I would love to return to Italy. All the students thought that was a fabulous tour. One of the most unique tours was in Egypt. That was incredible. Probably for this reason: There was absolutely no orientation towards Western music, even in the city of Cairo, which is the capital city. You would think it to be more cosmopolitan but it is certainly not the case at all.

“The tour person who was with us, our guide, a fairly educated guy, spoke many languages. I remember after one performance, he said, ‘I really understand where jazz is coming from– it’s just the most amazing music. I understand it because you play a theme then you do variation on the theme and each person has a chance to express themselves. That’s kind of what we are doing in our music in Egypt. That other music — that European music, that’s some weird shit.’ That killed me.”

For more on WPI jazz see: www.techjazzgroup.com

Pick clip of the week: Judy Alpert

J05: Elks on Summer Street

When I first began the writing of The Jazz Worcester Real Book, I wanted to include a collection of interviews with musicians talking about some of the places where they had performed. After talking with Roscoe Blunt about the Saxtrum Club, Emil Haddad about the El Morocco, Bunny Price on the Kitty Kat, Ken Vangel on Circe’s, among others, I quickly ran out of room. I still have all of my interviews on file and from time to time I’ll post them.

Here’s one on the original Quinsigamond Elks Club, when it was on Summer Street. I had called upon drummer Tom Price to fill us in. Price is the son of the late trumpeter Barney Price and brother of bassist, Bunny Price. In the ’60s and ’70s, Tom lived in New York City, where he worked with Jaki Byard, Burton Green, Henry Grimes and Frank Lowe. He also taught the art of drumming at the New Community School of Arts in Newark, NJ for more than 30 years. We begin with a general interview about his life in music.

Did you come up playing drums inspired by your dad?

Yes, the fact that he was a musician naturally drew me into it. He was an influence.

Did you take lessons?

I started out playing bongo drums. I taught myself listening to Calypso music when it was the craze — listening to Harry Belafonte and of course a lot of the other Latin bands — Prez Prado and people like that were around. I was playing bongos and congas.

I played with Kingsley McNeal. He formed a Calypso group. He was originally from Kingston, Jamaica. I was in my early teens, like 14 or 15. I played with him for two years. We used to play some of the country clubs around Worcester County. He was a singer. We had a little group with some of my sisters. I performed with him a great number of times with just him singing and myself playing the bongo drums. A few times he had someone on guitar.

I used to play the conga drums for Reggie [Walley] down in his dance studio on Main Street. I even performed a few times with him at the dances. His wife Mary choreographed these routines. That’s how I started out. Then I started taking lessons with a guy who played in the local symphony. I don’t know if he is still around. Then I took lessons with Joe Brindisi. He is still playing around. After I graduated from high school — I was at Commerce High — I went into Berklee. I was studying with Alan Dawson. He was, I would have to say, the major influence on me, in terms on playing. Aside from listening to guys like Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones – you know, listening to these guys on record.

I would like to ask you about the Elks.

That was the spot. Back then it was on Summer Street not far from Union Station. Just a little in from the square. That’s where it was for many years – across the street from Second Baptist Church. We did sometimes Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes it was a late afternoon on Sundays. We played functions and dances as well.

Do you recall any of the players?

Johnny Catalozzi played with us an awful lot. Bunny. Al Pitts, the tenor player. He died. He stayed in Worcester for quite a while then he moved into Hartford. He used to come back and forth every now and then to play.

I heard he was quite the bluesy player.

Oh, yes. He was. He was originally from Gary, Indiana. He ended up in Massachusetts because he was in the army. He was stationed at Fort Devens. After he got discharged he stayed around. He took up residence in Worcester for a while. As a matter of fact, he married one of my cousins.

Did you play jazz as well as the pop songs of the day?

We formed a group with Art Lonegan. Bunny was on bass. Lou, a piano player, whose name escapes me. Art used to get all these gigs. We played the pop stuff of the day. We did weddings and commercial gigs. At the time I was in high school. I left to go in the service when I was 22. While I was at Berklee I was doing a lot of playing.

Do you recall what the old Elks looked like?

It was basically a membership thing. It was a social club as such. I remember the place that was at Clayton St. We had a little club there for a while. I know my dad and Howie played there. I’m trying to recall if it was still the Saxtrum at that time. It may have been the tail end of the Saxtrum Club that I am thinking of. It didn’t last. Later on it became a church.

Did Jaki Byard play there?

I didn’t play with Jaki in Worcester. I played with him in New York. We played at the Top of the Gate. That was during the days when I was hanging out in the city. That was a gas. It was really great to play with Jaki. It was a quartet.

Did you gig with Howie?

We did some things in that little place I was describing. It was another thing they had going. I don’t want to say it was a rival to the Elks. I did a few things there with Howard and my dad. We had different people on piano. Judy Wade played bass. The Elks was there for quite a long time. It was pretty much the focus in terms of black entertainment. It was the place for many, many years. That’s where everybody came on Friday and Saturday nights. There was an upstairs and downstairs but downstairs was where we did all the playing. It was a big boxy room with tables. I remember playing a gig upstairs too.

Did you feel like it was a learning time for you? A time to pay your dues?

Definitely. It was a learning and growing time for me. Just to get the experience to play. For me the Elks was the place. It was a mentoring time. As far as some of the older black musicians that were around. I remember Freddie Bates. He had a stroke, but he was always around at sessions. They were role models. A lot of it wasn’t spoken out to you directly. You just learned. You noticed how people dressed and how they came to the gig and things like that. You were expected to be there on time and all of that. I did a lot of watching. Because even before I got to play somewhat regularly, I was at gigs just watching, observing and learning that way.

Postscript: The red brick building is at 210-225A Summer Street, which is right off Washington Square before Asylum Street, was recently purchased by Katie Krock, who intends to open a nightclub.

Clip of the week: Sonny Rollins with Don Cherry, Billy Higgins and what appears to be Henry Grimes. For more on Grimes, see: http://www.henrygrimes.com/biography.html.

Here’s a picture of Price with Grimes: http://www.henrygrimes.com/Photos/photos.html.

J04: Swan’s song

For years I had heard that the author of the great standard, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was from around here. His name was Einar Swan. The fakebooks list him as E.A. Swan. That was the only information I had. I filed it away under: Someday, I’d like to find out more about this guy.

A couple of years ago, Sven Bjerstedt, a Swedish educator, also wondered about Swan, not because he was from Worcester of course, but that he seemed to have been “completely forgotten.”

“I have always loved the 1931 torch song “When Your Lover Has Gone,” Bjerstedt says in a recent email correspondence. “My specific interest in its writer started when I discovered (in March, 2005, I believe) that his first name was Einar, which seemed to have a Scandinavian ring to it.”

From this initial thought, Bjerstedt started his research into resurrecting and reclaiming the legacy of Swan. The result is an 80-page loving portrait called Who Was Einar Swan?: A Study in Jazz Age Fame and Oblivion.

It was published online by the Swedish Finn Historical Society, which can be found at http://ask.lub.lu.se/archive/00024036/01/bjerstedt_Swan.pdf. A shorter version was published in the January, 2007 issue of The Mississippi Rag.

For fans of local jazz history like myself, the publication of this remarkable study is akin to finding a lost treasure. Working from the specific of the tune, Bjerstedt has literally written the definitive biography of the man.

Reading Who Was Einar Swan?, we learn that the author of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was no one trick pony, but much more. As a saxophonist he played on the national stage and as an arranger, he supplied charts for the best bands of his day. Most of all, we learn that Swan was someone local fans can hold up and proudly say, ‘He was one of our own.’ As Bjerstedt has rediscovered, Swan’s legacy is rich, deep and most worthy of study.

Though Bjerstedt says he was not able to locate his birth certificate, most books list Swan as being born in Fitchburg on March 20, 1903. He died on August 8, 1940 in Greenwood Lake, NY. He was 37.

His given name was Einar William. He was sometimes called Eino or Einor. He later changed his middle to Aaron, after converting to Judaism. A child prodigy born into a musical family who immigrated from Finland, Swan became a talented multi-instrumentalist, composer, lyricist and arranger.

His father, John, is said to have known Jean Sibelius in the old country and claims to have invented the single reed bassoon. He lived in Ohio for awhile where he was a member of the Cleveland Saxophone Quartet.

The Swan family moved to Worcester some time around 1917-18 and for a time lived at 11 Elliott Street. A teenage Einar went to Commerce High School and played clarinet in the school’s orchestra, of which violinist Harry Levenson was also a member.

Bjerstedt fills his study with family photos, reprints of articles and photographs from the Worcester Telegram and Worcester Historical Museum, even copies of handwritten manuscripts of Swan’s compositions. He takes the reader through Swan’s early days performing with Worcester bands like The Benny Conn Orchestra and his own Swanie’s Serenaders.

In our email exchange Bjerstedt reports, “When it comes to other musicians from the Worcester area, 1920s photos of Swanie’s Serenaders show these musicians, among others: Julius Levinsky, violin; Joe Toscano, banjo; Sammy Swenson, piano; Ernest Paul, drums; Oscar Werme, trombone; Einar Swan, saxophone; Benny Conn, trumpet. I think I also discovered a couple of Einar Swan’s associates from ”Swanie’s Serenaders” by searching this website: http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi.

“According to a 1959 article, trombone player Oscar Werme still lived in Worcester then. On the webpage mentioned above I found one Ernest Paul, b. 29 Dec. 1896, d. in Feb. 1968 in Worcester, and one Oscar Werme, b. 3 Dec. 1893, d. in Aug. 1971 in Worcester. [Werme went on to play tuba with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra]. I also found one Erik Gustaf Werme, b. 1 Dec. 1862 in Borgvik, Värmland, Sweden, son of Lars Gustaf Werme and Christina Löf, emigrated to Worcester, MA.)”

In great detail, the author accounts Swan’s arrival in New York City and his stints with the bands of Sam Lanin and Vincent Lopez. Bjerstedt notes that Swan played with such legendary figures as the Dorsey Brothers, Red Nichols and Xavier Cugat, among others.

Bjerstedt also points out that becoming a jazz musician caused a rift between Einar and his father. It was not the music John had expected his son to play, but as Bjerstedt writes, “Einar’s choice of musical style was no whim. A few years later, he elaborated on the subject in an interview: ‘Jazz,’ he says, ‘is the coming and perfectly legitimate development of modern music. All musicians are turning to it … Jazz is now firmly established, the music of the future, and already has become classic in a certain way — the only difference being that it is more alive than the older type of music.’”

He also talks about Swan’s eventual decision to give up performing to concentrate on writing and arranging. When asked if Swan can be heard on record, Bjerstedt says, “I seriously doubt that his own band, Swanie’s Serenaders ever recorded. The available discographical information on Sam Lanin’s and Vincent Lopez’s orchestras is probably not entirely reliable.

“I found it frustratingly difficult to ascertain whether Einar Swan can be heard as a soloist in any recording. A year ago, I posted on a jazz discussion forum regarding this, and even though the matter hardly was settled, some of the replies definitely were of interest: “>http://www.network54.com/Forum/27140/message/1139352613/ .”

Bjerstedt however points out that orchestral arrangements by Einar Swan could be heard in several recordings by Vincent Lopez, Dave Rubinoff, Raymond Paige, and others. “But,” he says, “I’m afraid that I have no way of being certain as to which specific tunes.”

“When Your Lover Has Gone,” has been covered by all the greats – Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Sinatra, to name a few. It has been reported that when Sinatra heard that Swan had died so young, Sinatra donated the royalties of his performance of the song to the family. The tune has also been sung by a number of pop singers, Eydie Gorme, Linda Ronstadt and Ray Charles, to name a few. Here is a YouTube clip of Carly Simon singing it, complete with the opening verse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6dX9alhXqQ.

Great instrumentalists have covered the tune as well, including such saxophonists as Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. It can also be heard on the film soundtracks of Any Given Sunday, Rockateer and Beyond the Sea.

This is what the sheet music looked like:

In his book, The Unsung Songwriters, Warren W. Vaché, writes: “In 1931 Swan wrote both the music and the words for one of the most beautiful songs in the library of American popular music, ‘When Your Lover Has Gone.’ In spite of the fact that competition that year was fierce, with all the top composers turning out excellent material, and even though the recording industry was struggling to stay alive while being smothered in the two grip of the Depression and radio, the song was an instant hit and it drew attention from those recording artists lucky enough to still be working and who appreciated the song.”

In his study, Bjerstedt includes the full lyric. The piece has an opening verse, which is rarely performed. It reads: “For ages and ages / The poets and sages / Of love wond’rous love always sing / but ask any lover / And you’ll soon discover / The heartaches that romance can bring.”

With a title like, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” you know it is going to be filled with melancholy. It’s usually taken at ballad tempo, but some like singer Alma Micic will read it quite differently. Here’s a link to her take: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hYMPmByCxE.

According to Vaché, in spite of it being a hit, Swan made no attempt to cash in on its success with a flurry of follow-ups. He points to “A Room With a View,” as the only other song of note, singling out Helen Forrest‘s recording on Bluebird. For a complete list of Swan’s published songs check the ASCAP page at: http://www.ascap.com/ace/search.cfm?requesttimeout=300&mode=results&searchstr=8951400&search_in=c&search_type=exact&search_det=t,s,w,p,b,v&results_pp=20&start=1.

For all his comprehensive research and untiring efforts, Bjerstedt admits there is more to the Einar Swan story.

“It is a pity that this research wasn’t carried out earlier,” he says. “Unfortunately, Einar’s two younger siblings Aina and Arthur passed away in 2005. However, I was very lucky to make contact with Einar’s children and two of his nieces. Without their kind and generous help, the task would have been impossible.”

If you have any information about Einar Swan that you would like to contribute to the Jazz Worcester history, please leave a comment and thanks.

J03: Metacomet meets Ataxia

Eight years ago, guitarist Jay Tyer was diagnosed with a rare degenerative neurological disease called Ataxia. Since that time, his life has drastically changed. He has lost his job and virtually all of his students. His driving is limited. His sleeping patterns are all messed up, and though he still plays the guitar, his approach and technique are radically different.

What remains constant in Tyer’s life is his family support, his attitude and sense of humor. He’s not looking for sympathy or attention. What he wants is for people to know that the disease exists. He wears a T-shirt that reads: “Ataxia is not a foreign cab.”

According to the National Ataxia Foundation, the word “ataxia,” comes from the Greek expression, “a taxis” meaning “without order or incoordination.” Here’s what their Website says about it: “People with ataxia have problems with coordination because parts of the nervous system that control movement and balance are affected. Ataxia may affect the fingers, hands, arms, legs, body, speech, and eye movements.

“The word ataxia is often used to describe a symptom of incoordination which can be associated with infections, injuries, other diseases, or degenerative changes in the central nervous system. Ataxia is also used to denote a group of specific degenerative diseases of the nervous system called the hereditary and sporadic ataxias which are the National Ataxia Foundation’s primary emphases.”

Tyer says sometime before the 21st century millennium change, he started noticing that his speech began to slur. At the time, he was a specialist who was consulting and teaching online classes in verilog, timing analysis and other advanced developments in electrical engineering. He is also a composer, author, and music teacher who had written many computer-based tutorials for jazz guitar and improvisation.

“It was like I was drunk and I don’t drink,” he says. “I went to a lot of doctors. Once it was determined to be neurological, I started checking things out on the Internet and found ataxia.”

Tyer says his symptoms fit his condition of the disease. Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann, a neurologist at Mass General Hospital in Boston, confirmed Tyer’s assumption, diagnosing him with Sporadic Ataxia.

Tyer says the disease affects his energy levels and motor skills. He can only sleep for a few hours at time. He can’t really write with a pen and his walk is a pronounced gait. The slurred speech is the most noticeable.

“I could never pass a drunk driving test,” he says. “I have a letter from my doctor that says ‘this guy is not drunk.’”

Tyer is well-known in the Worcester jazz community. For more than 15 years he has been hosting a free jam session at various clubs throughout the city. Currently, he is in residence at the Java Hut. During the winter, Tyer and his trio play but once a month. Come April, the session will happen every Sunday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. Learn more at: www.jaytyer.com.

For years, Tyer played solo with invited guests every Wednesday at the Sahara Restaurant on Highland Street. He has one CD to his credit, Metacomet an outstanding showcase of originals by Tyer and his quartet, featuring saxophonist Jim Allard, bassist Phil Madison and drummer Ed Conley. Check it out at: cdbaby.com/cd/jaytyer.

“My ataxia has effected my playing, but I fight it,” he says. “I use Tom Harrell, Stephen Hawkings, and Django [Rheinhardt] as inspirations. Ataxia is not symmetrical. My right side is different from my left.”

Tyer is married and lives with his family in Jefferson. He and his wife Erica have two daughters. Erin, who was born with brain damage, is six. Brianna, an acoustic bassist who will be accompanying dad at the jam, is 15. Erica is a stay at home mom, who in addition to caring for the family, is also working on becoming a published author.

Tyer says what frustrates him most is the fact that he can’t work. “I collect social security and it’s what we are living on now,” he says. “We are living on an eighth of what I used to make. It’s tough.”

Like Metacomet, the character he named his album after, Tyer is a fighter. (Metacomet, who was also known as King Philip, was a Sachem Indian war chief that fought with the English in the late 1600s in what was to become known as King Philip’s War. He used Mt. Wachusett as a base of operations for most of the conflict.)

When asked where he finds the strength to carry on – Is it religion? he laughs and says, “I meditate. My daughter calls me a non-practicing Buddhist. I’m actually a recovering Catholic. I went to St. Paul’s where I was an alter boy.” (Tyer grew up in Worcester in the Highland Street neighborhood.)

Evidently, there’s not much in the way of treatment for ataxia. Tyer takes a concentrated vitamin supplement. “I could benefit from stem cell research,” he says. “Ataxia is progressive. “Many people with ataxia wind up in wheelchairs. Mine is moving slowly. Still there are so many things I used to do that I can’t.”

Through it all, Tyer maintains his warrior spirit. “Folks who have disabilities don’t have to stop living,” he says. “There are many more worse off than me. You play the cards you are dealt.”

For more on ataxia go to: http://www.ataxia.org/.

J02: The Latin Jazz Beat

Last week I had a chance to sit in on Jaime Flores’ exciting new show, “The Latin Jazz Beat,” heard every Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. on radio station WICN 90.5 FM. The program, “takes you on a wild ride through the intoxicating sounds of Latin jazz,” as the hype reads. “Dance and party the night away to music from Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente and more.”

Flores is one of the most recognized voices in Worcester radio – especially if you understand Spanish. For more than 30 years he’s hosted a variety of shows at community radio station WCUW 91.3 FM. He was one of the first Spanish programmers of “La Voz del Pueblo,” heard at the station back in the ’70s, when shows were broadcast in the basement of Sanford Hall at Clark.

Flores is also one of the more familiar faces in local TV. For more than 40 years, he’s been involved in Spanish programming for television. His latest project is hosting “Worcester Latino,” a 30-minute segment, which airs on WCTR-TV3. A little man with a big voice, Flores is the perfect choice for “The Latin Jazz Beat.” Although, the “Beat” has only been aired five weeks (it was a year in the making), it is rapidly finding an audience. “I get as many Anglos as Latinos listening,” Flores says.

Besides being a popular personality in town, his passion for the music is deep and undeniable. Sitting in front of the console at the Portland Street station, Flores surrounds himself with CDs that he spins throughout the night, some from ‘ICN’s library, most from his own collection.

After cuing up a cut, he takes time to just sit and listen. Like taking sips from the 16 oz bottle of Coca-Cola that he brought along to quench his thirst during the four-hour radio drive, he appears to drink in the sound of every track he plays. When his favorite conga drummer or “conguero,” hits an evocative rhythmic groove, Flores shouts, “Hear that? Unbelievable!”

Flores is particularly fond of drummers. As a kid he played the instrument. “The battery,” as he calls it. “I know all the rhythms — cha-cha, the clave, guanguanco, you know. Poncho Sanchez is my favorite.”

As much as he was excited about doing the show, Flores says he comes to it with a certain reluctance. “I’m used to playing salsa music,” he says. “Mostly three-minute cuts. I have my favorites, but I’ve never done a Latin jazz show before.”

Flores says he works without a script, playing what he likes and feels. He reaches back to the architects of the music like Tito Puente, Machito, Mario Bauza and Tito Rodriquez, and forward to new artists as well, like the Caribbean Jazz Project, Ray Vega and Alex Garcia. In between, he takes listeners on a tour of the Spanish-African Diaspora in music. The names on the CDs scattered on the console read like a who’s who of Latin Jazz – Bebo and Chucho Valdes, David Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Bobby Sambria, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. He also plays artists and friends from the Boston scene like Mili Bermejo, Claudio Ragazzi and Mango Blue.

“It’s a shame there’s no place to go and hear Latin jazz live in Worcester,” Flores says cuing up another track. “People would love it.” As a group of all-stars on the incredible disc called Jam Miami: A Celebration of Latin Jazz unwind their tribute to Tito Puente, Flores says, “There’s some players in town like Cecilio Elicier. He plays salsa and jazz. Of course, there’s Miquel Almestica. It would be nice to bring in guys like Eguie Castrillo from Boston, but that’s going to take some bucks.”

Flores’ style is relaxed and surprisingly brief when rapping on the mike. For those used to the rapid fire delivery of his Spanish shows, this is quite the departure. Using a bed of the ballad “My Way,” played lushly by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Flores gives the time, a little color, list the tunes and gets out of the way.

After a public service announcement and underwriting sponsorship for the Latin newspaper Vocero is aired, Flores returns to the music. “I don’t want to be talking all the time,” he says. “What’s the point? I want to hear the music.”

Returning to the conversation of live music in Worcester, Flores says he hopes to influence the decision making process in determining who plays the Jazz at Sunset series that WICN produces at the EcoTarium every summer. He also talks about suggesting ideas for the annual Latin Festival. He says, hearing pianist Enrique “Papo” Lucca at last year’s festival was a major highlight.

Over the years Flores has had the opportunity to interview some big names in the world of Latin music. He recalls capturing a conversation with Jose Feliciano at Clark on an old eight-track recording device and also mentions interviewing Larry Harlow of the Fania All-Stars.

Flores has been in town so long, locals take him as one of their own. He is actually from Columbia, but grew up in the Boston area in a family of four children. He has a brother still living back home, another in Venezuela and a sister in London. Flores stays in touch and visits when he can. He’s especially excited about WICN’s feature of streamlining shows on the world wide web — that way his siblings can tune in.

When asked if he gets many phone calls from people tuning in to his show Flores says, “Not really. I’m just getting started. I think they don’t call when they are content.”

As if on cue, the phone rings in the middle of a beautiful rendition of “El Manisero,” or “Peanut Vendor” by Paquito D’Rivera. The popular Cuban song is a standard throughout the world. It is essentially a call and response piece between the seller and his potential buyers. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the relationship Flores is trying to establish with his developing audience.

Tune in. You’ll be sold on “The Latin Jazz Beat.”

YouTube clip tip: Machito & Graciela En Japan, pt. 1

It should be noted that great Latin jazz can also be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m. at WORC 1310 AM. The show is called “Ran Kan Kan: The Best of Latin Jazz at Night.” In addition to playing the hits, host Edwin Cancel presents news, commentary and interviews. On Sunday, March 11, tune in to hear a phone conversation with percussionist Paoli Mejias, whose latest CD is called Transcend. For those outside of the Central Massachusetts area, tune in at www.power1310.com. Call-in at 508-791-1310, or write to rankankan@power1310.com.

J01: Opening chorus

Here’s the opening chorus to what I hope will be a weekly session on what’s happening in the way of jazz in Worcester. The students at WPI studying with Rich Falco are to thank or to blame for such instigation. Together they are about to launch The New England Jazz History Database, an active and growing library of historical materials focusing on the history of jazz in New England, as the name implies.

It is a culmination and partnership between International Association for Jazz Education Massachusetts Chapter and Worcester Polytechnic Institute JazzGroup. Through the site jazz historians, musicians, educators, students can contribute to the preservation and education of the music here in New England.

This jazz blog will be just one of many components involved in the site and I’m glad to be a part of this important project. While the database has historic import and obvious academic implications, my intent is to get a little more “street,” and report on activity happening in the here and now. Because this is an online journal, I’ll also use a style borrowed from Jack Kerouac called, “spontaneous bop prosody,” which basically means I’ll write off-the-cuff as much as possible. “First thought, best thought,” to quote Ti Jean.

I plan to dive into the wreck of a myriad of subjects that suits my jazz shoes from CD reviews to live shows, from Q&A’s with musicians, to analysis of musician’s solos. In the coming weeks I’ll catch up with players who didn’t make my book, The Jazz Worcester Real Book, such as Don Asher, Charles Ketter, Dave Kendarian, Rich and Jim Heffernan, just to name a few.

I’d also like to make some calls to Queens Police Department to get an update on the murder of Jaki Byard. I’ll talk with the teenage Chaplin brothers, Stephen and Gregory, to get their take on what it was like playing at the Grammy’s. I’ll sit down with other writers, radio programmers, promoters and club owners to talk jazz. In the coming weeks, I’ll be chatting with Jaime Flores, Miguel Almestica and others about the local Latin Jazz scene.

There’s an extraordinary jazz symposium focusing on the life and art of Lennie Tristano happening at WPI in April. Word has it that Ira Gitler, Sal Mosca, Connie Crothers, among others will be in attendance, as well as WPI professor Eunmi Shin, author of Lennie Tristano: His Life and Times. I plan on previewing the festivities in depth. Watch for it.

The club scene in Worcester is virtually non-existent, regardless there are many musicians plying their trade and practicing their art every day. I’ll talk with artists like Jerry Sabatini, Bill Fanning and Tim McCall, among others about the where, how and why of performing.

I’ll check in with some locals who ventured out of town like Thomson Kneeland, who is currently making a name for himself in New York. I’ll talk with guitarist Marc Copley, who recently signed to sub on “Saturday Night Live.” I’ll also check in with students away studying the music in school, like Sarah Politz at Oberlin, Stephen Chaplin at Berklee and Glenn Zaleski at the Dave Brubeck Institute.

I’ll call some unsung heroes on the scene, people like drummer Phil Salah, who has been quietly teaching at Union Music for years. I’ll talk to local teachers about their teaching style, performing and personal listening, as well as high school band directors like Dennis Wrenn and big band directors like Eric French.

As many of you know, I am a writer for Worcester Magazine. My byline has appeared in the weekly since 1993. In that time I’ve had the opportunity and good fortune to have interviewed such esteemed jazz musicians as Sonny Rollins, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson, Tito Puente, Mose Allison, Joshua Redman, Stanley Jordan and Joe Lovano, to name drop a few. In the near future you will be able to hear clips from those interviews on this site.

Speaking of clips, my old pal Tom Reney and I have been trading YouTube clips of note. (I’ll also pass them along to you. In fact, have you seen the one of Jaki Byard with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Alan Dawson? Reney is a Worcester native, who is the longtime host of “Jazz a la Mode,” heard Monday through Thursday at 8 p.m. on WFCR 88.5 FM. His shows are crafted as clean, tight and lyrical as a Paul Desmond solo. His in-between-the-music banter is always informative and never intrusive. He’ll give you just the right pitch of background for context and then get out of the way. Check him out today and tell him I sent you.

I recently interviewed singer Kate McGarry, who is appearing at Mechanics Hall on Wednesday, March 14 at noon, as part of WICN’s Brown Bag concert series. She has performed with the likes of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. In 2005 Kate toured along side Kurt Elling in renowned pianist Fred Hersch’s song cycle “Leaves of Grass,” a setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry to music. McGarry is currently a member of the new vocal group MOSS, which includes the rare talents of Luciana Souza, Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge and Lauren Kinhan. Kate also has a few albums out under her own name. The most recent is called The Target on the Palmetto label, which is due out in April.

Here’s some bio notes taken from her website: “Growing up in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Kate was one of 10 children in a musical family with whom she spent many nights singing. She attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she studied with Dr. Horace Boyer and renowned avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in African American Music and Jazz.”

In our interview I asked her if she got see Dave McKenna while living on the Cape. McKenna, who is originally from Woonsocket, RI, spent many a night gigging in Worcester, especially at the El Morocco. Here’s what McGarry said:

“I would go to the Asa Bearse House [in Hyannis]. He was there a couple of nights a week. I would go to sit and listen to him. That was one of my main entries into the jazz world. I didn’t even know who he was; I just knew how right it was.

“This is so good. What is it? I had no idea what I was hearing, I just knew that I loved it. At that time I didn’t know any tunes. I was in high school, just starting college. People would say, you go to see Dave McKenna. Do you know how famous he is and how he is a master stride pianist? His name did not begin to register until much later. I’m so lucky.”

Although he is not playing due to illness, Dave has left a recorded legacy that’s rich and deep. In the coming months, I’ll be checking in with him for remembrances and updates. He has great stories about Boots Mussulli and Emil Haddad to share.

McCarry also mentioned a jazz room on Cape Cod owned by Bobby Bryne. “We would go see Donna Bryne there,” she says. “That was in the ‘80s. For me, somebody who knew they wanted to sing jazz, but didn’t know the first thing about it, going to see Donna was like: ‘Wow! This is a real singer.’ I got all the things I need to put me in the right head space to the music.”

McGarry also let it be known that her mother is originally from Worcester and her grandmother is from Grafton.

So here’s a taste of what the Jazzsphere blog is all about. Thanks for visiting. Be sure to jump into the dialog with comments, criticisms and suggestions of your own. I’d love to hear from you. See you around campus.

All the best in jazz Worcester,