Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mal Waldron... Albert Ayler... Thelonious Monk...

Mal Waldron, playing 'Minor Pulsation.' Opening on almost parade ground drums, then some demented piano, something relentless and eery about this theme, like a rat running round a maze... The A sections based on the drums and the piano hammering out in minor key, the bridge (B) a swift swing in contrast. The exhilaration is found in the manner by which Waldron opens it up, breaking out of the box of the repeated rhythm figures. Some hard-hitting piano, going into a brief bass solo, then the drummer comes up front before they power back into the theme. The dark mood may be attributable to the date of the recording February 24th, 1959 – not long before Billie Holiday died. The album title track is 'Left Alone,' co-composed by Holliday and Waldron. Waldron, of course, was working as her accompanist from 1957 up to the year of her death. (Although their last recording date was in October, 1958). Immortalised in the oft-quoted Frank O' Hara poem (oft-quoted by me, anyway!) 'The day Lady died:'

'... and a NEW YORK POST with

her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everybody and I stopped breathing.'

An image which conjures perfectly the sad and fragile – yet compelling - intimacy of Holiday in her late years.

Albert Ayler – 'this is 'Ghosts, First Variation,' with Gary Peacock on bass, Sunny Murray on drums. Ayler is still a controversial figure, bizarrely enough. In counterbalance, Gary Peacock makes some interesting points about his oft-disputed musicianship:

'FJ: Do you find it pleasing that young musicians find Ayler more interesting posthumously?

GARY PEACOCK: Yeah, Fred, and I think there is two aspects to that. One is just the raw emotionality of it and if someone focuses on that, they are going to miss ninety percent of what he was really about.

FJ: What was Ayler really about?

GARY PEACOCK: He was about music, really, really about music and about continual development with the instrument, with technique, with all of that. So when he played it wasn't just squawks and beeps and honks and that kind of thing. He was really, he was coming from a real place. It was authentic. It was really him. A similar kind of thing that I've noticed, not infrequently, among some of the young avant-garde players as it were. They heard Ornette Coleman and thought that, "Oh, I don't have to understand anything about harmony or melody and I can't play changes anyway and so I'm going to be a free player." Well, that is exactly wrong. That's completely backwards. In fact, Fred, that isn't even true. Ornette could play changes. Albert Ayler could play changes. It is almost a prerequisite. So if someone already has that ability and has gone through that, they have developed their ear to the point where they intuitively know what harmonic order and what melody is. Then they are at a place where they can simply let it go. Paul Bley is that way. Paul Bley can play the changes to anything. But without earning that, without going through the necessary disciplines musically of recognizing that the music is fairly deep and if you are going to be an improviser, there is a pretty rigorous pathway. If you come up short, not being able to hear harmony or finding it difficult as it were to play changes, that should indicate something, then you need to stay there for a while until you can become fluid in that. There is a kind of tendency for musicians who recognize that they can't really hear harmony that well or play something with changes that they still want to play that they can forget about that hurdle. I think that is a musical error.' (From here...)

A live recording – Peacock's bass opens over chatter, then Ayler comes in for the theme, joined by the drums. There is an endearing and subtle simplicity to Ayler's compositions – deriving from folk figures, they stick in your mind. He launches out fairly quickly – elastic swirls of elaboration, the fast runs of bebop still there but dancing in a different space now, underpinned by the freeing up of Murray's drums and Peacock's bass. Sound balance isn't great – the tenor is right up front, the drums more felt than heard sometimes in their spattering punctuations, bass also somewhat shadowy. When the tenor drops out, they are more audible – formidable bass soloing over Murray's interweaving rhythms. Seminal music. And to take Peacock's point above - yes, this is raw emotional stuff - but there are many other musical levels here to be considered. Seminal.

Monk in 1948. Milt Jackson leads in on a medium paced swing. Then the lugubrious (out of Billy Eckstine) vocals of Kenny 'Pancho' Hagood on 'All the things you are.' Monk drops oblique accents behind – sharp lemon on the honey. Jackson takes a half chorus solo, rippling smoothly – followed by Monk, a contrast in sharp angles. Anorak note: Hagood also contributed a track to the Miles Davis 'Birth of the Cool' sessions in 1949 – 'Darn that Dream.'

Without the singer: 'I mean you,' a Monk theme. At this distance, one can hear how the pianist abstracted out from the blues and earlier piano styles and the distance this created from more 'conventional' bop strategies. Jackson again is marvellous – his solo ending on a swirling line that Monk picks up in his turn. On the outchorus, listen to the interplay between vibes and piano. Condensed brilliance.

Mal Waldron
Mal Waldron (p) Julien Euell (b) Al Dreares (d)
Minor Pulsation


Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler (ts) Gary Peacock (b) Sunny Murray (d)
Ghosts (First variation)


Thelonious Monk
Milt Jackson (vib) Thelonious Monk (p) John Simmons (b) Shadow Wilson (d) Kenny Pancho Hagood (v)
All the things you are

I mean you



Yoknapatawpha Kid said...

Dear Rod,

Nice entry! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college and writer who is currently contributing to an upstart online magazine called ‘Too Shy to Stop,’ which focuses on culture and the arts.

I came across your entry, as it would turn out, while conducting research for an essay on Monk! I specifically look at the history and characteristics behind Monk, and argue that he personified all of the grandest traditions of jazz as an American art form.

So, check it out here ( and leave a comment! I think you’ll enjoy it, and I always love to read input from readers.


Peter Ricci

Rod Warner said...

Thanks! Just popped over to your essay to say hello...

Yoknapatawpha Kid said...

Thanks for the comment! My own beginnings with jazz also had their precocious characteristics, but with me, it started in the family. As a trumpet player, my godfather gave me a copy of "Kind of Blue" for my birthday. I was in eighth grade, and the slow, methodical sound did not appeal to me. Time passed, I went through a classic rock phase (zeppelin, of course), a blues phase, and then, at the start of my sophomore year in high school, I had a strange, BURNING sensation to listen to the record again. I listend, I enjoyed, I conquered—I was never the same!

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