Tag Archives: anthony coleman

Which Monk Tune Is Most Fun To Play?

Glee spilled from Anthony Coleman’s fingers last night as he and his trio skipped around “Played Twice” the Undead Jazz Fest’s Littlefield hit. Terry Adams once told me that it’s silly to play anything that’s not fun. Marc Ribot recently told me that “fun is the only impulse I trust.” Elliott Sharp and Matt Wilson also had a blast bouncing through the master’s book. Which Thelonious tune brings out the giddy side of you? The question isn’t for musicians only. Record-spinning fans can answer, too. One of mine is “Coming On the Hudson.” Take it away…


Here’s “Played Twice” – Team Coleman played it much quicker.

That Old Shit, Man, Fantastic!

It’s a blast to hear Anthony Coleman romp through Jellyroll Morton. A few years ago, just after the 53-year-old pianist with the modernist tendencies began essaying the New Orleans master, I chatted with him about the music’s impact on contemporary ears and the character of the iconic composer himself. Below are some snippets. Coleman takes to the 88s at Barbes on Sunday night, part of the Carefusion Jazz Fest.


Several years ago, in Brussels, [where someone was curating a program of] new people playing old stuff. They asked me to do Morton and James P. Johnson. I realized that if I played parties or benefits, it would be interesting [to know these pieces] – different than what people would expect I’d play. But after doing a whole evening of it, I thought, “This sucks, if I’m going to do this, I need to do it properly, really well.”


When I was young, I was very canonical. I explored the whole pianist/composer thing thoroughly before I was 18. Knowing some of this other stuff drew me to Jaki Byard, and I began to study with him.


He let’s syncopation tell the story. He doesn’t do that much about “getting hot.” He cares about dynamics a lot, but he’s very involved with understanding the rhythmic elements that do or don’t make something swing. And he calibrates the syncopation; they go in a certain line – it’s something very consistent in his music. Check “Hyena Stomp” on Library of Congress. Each time he goes around, he stresses more of the elements that make jazz jazz. Check “Froggie Moore.” You can see he’s a serious theorist. Ellington did lots of things with color, gesture, and register. Morton has no extravagance, in a way. When you think about what people listen to for pleasure, I haven’t known too many people who are into Morton. And its because he lacks color and extravagance. He’s kind of austere. When he uses humor, he’s so NOT funny. There’s a quality of joy in Armstrong, Ellington, Waller. There, the joy is palpable. When Morton tries that, it comes out with the false gaiety of a carnival or sickly, like a failed vaudeville routine.

I’m getting off on all the elements, it’s a whole geschalt. They move so logically, and they’re swinging. But they’re also conservative. When the right hand is going and the left hand is going, it feels like a whole marching band in one piano. But the mechanics are only one of many elements that draw me to him. One of the statements about jazz that influenced me the most was when Albert Ayler said that he jumped from Sidney Bechet to free jazz – that bebop was not interesting to him. He made that connection between the ‘20s and free jazz, which is a connection that’s always meant a lot to me.

People love it. I don’t think about which part of Morton is emotional and which is intellectual, but I do know the audience loves it. They go nuts for it, in fact. But Morton is tough. If you get him you get him. If you don’t you don’t. I love it all. The WORST Morton record I love. If you’re playing very modern or post-modern thing, and then you play something from the 20s, it’s almost a no brainer that the audience is going to go wild. “Hey, he plays that old shit, man, fantastic!” You don’t even have to play it well. My problem is that I hate revival jazz. I come to Morton out of loving him for 35 years and wanting to do him justice. And by the end of it, it’s going to take me…I don’t know where. It’s already taken me to piano lessons again – first time since I was a kid. Wow. I just want to be able to inhabit the music more objectively, like a classical interpreter does.

Here’s the other pianist to see this weekend. They were crackling the other night.

Jazz Goes To College

Don’t believe the naysayers: Academia isn’t antithetical to artistic expression— developing technique and studying theory helps nurture a performer’s eloquence. Boston’s NEC has been sending well-schooled improvisers to New York for decades, and for the last few days, teachers and students have taken over clubland. From pianist Anthony Coleman and saxophonist Jeremy Udden at Cornelia Street last week to the McNeil/McHenry squad at Cornelia Street Cafe on Friday night, the action is thick. The must-see gigs include the coolest faculty meeting ever (McNeil, McBee, Garzone, Hart, Carlberg) and a multi-artist bash with a cast that stretches from Ran Blake to Joe Morris to Jason Moran to Matthew Shipp. Don’t forget the nod to big band theorist George Russell. Here’s the full schedule and venues list.