Geez, I didn't mean to be away for so long. Since I last wrote, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa came to Pittsburgh for the International Festival of Firsts and premiered a new piece that was spellbinding. I wrote a review for JazzTimes that should be up on their website by the time you read this. (Check out www.jazztimes.com) I picked up a copy of Rudresh's 2004 album Mother Tongue last week, and it has me thinking that this guy is really on the cutting edge of something big. He has amazing technique on his horn and his compositions are really astounding - going to places that haven't been gone before without any cliches or highminded ideas about "this is world music," or anything like that.
Yet again, musicians have left the earth. And while the three I'm thinking of didn't die right around the same time, the old "they always go in threes" adage seems to apply. Guitarist Hiram Bullock died in July as did tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin - something I didn't hear about until last week! - and then arranger Neal Hefti died on October 11.
I grew up hearing Hefti's name because my folks were into big bands and they had a Count Basie album that he arranged. He also composed an obscure but really good ballad called "Falling in Love All Over Again" that Phil Woods did on an album called Woodlore. So the story goes, he was in Pittsburgh with some band and my mom called him at his hotel room to get a chart of that song for some even that she was staging. (I believe because she's not known to tell tall tales.)
But Hefti is probably best known to people my age due to a song for which he was supposedly credited with "word and music": the Batman theme. Like any simple song that became a hit, he said that it was really hard for him to write. It took a lot of time to come up with that 1-4-5 riff. Where would the music world be without it?
Johnny Griffin is one of the last tenor giants of the early 50s era. I know I say that everytime one of those guys dies, but damned if it isn't true. 80 years old, he was. Heart problems were listed as the cause.
Griffin came to Pittsburgh several times for the Pitt Jazz Seminar and was a really gracious guy. Who knows how many times he was asked what it was like playing with Thelonious Monk, but he still was willing to tell me stories about the pianist hiding the written music from Griffin, insisting he learn it by ear. Listening to Monk's Misterioso on Riverside, Griffin is amazing enough playing with the band, but then a few choruses into solos on a couple of tunes, you hear, "I got it, I got it," and the rest of the band drops out. Griffin just blows away without any need for a safety net.
Hiram Bullock's death really came out of left field. He was only 52 but he supposedly was suffering from a throat tumor. He did a lot of slick music, and for a time was best known as the original guitarist on David Letterman's NBC show. But he also played on many of Carla Bley's albums, so he had pretty diverse qualities.
And Awaaaaay We Go!
11 months ago