Tuesday, December 26, 2023


After I write a post, I often check the tally to see how many posts I've written in total for the year, and compare it to where I was 12 months ago.  Most of the time, those numbers are relatively close. Sometimes, I catch up or figure I will within a months time, or before the year is out. 

But I really fell hard off the wagon in November, writing one piece and then disappearing from this spot. This month, as you can see below, I finally posted my lost article on Steve Tintweiss. Beyond that, nothing. 

Part of the reason for no blog content is related to some good news. I started freelancing for New York City Jazz Record. My debut had me hit the ground running: I was assigned to write three reviews for the December issue, each one on two albums, with a pretty quick turnaround. (I don't know how other scribes do it, but I'm used to giving an album several listens, and scribbling some notes before I start on a review. Call me crazy.) There was a bit of scrambling going on in preparation (mostly internally) but I got it done. And I even went back and wrote a few things for the January issue of NYCJR too.

November was also a big music month for me. On Friday the 10th, I made it to Brillobox in time to catch Creedmoors, who released one side of a split single on Igor Records (my label) earlier this year. This was the band's third show since their debut at the release party earlier this year and on this night, they really sounded like A BAND. What I mean by that was that they were all working in unison, playing songs in which they had worked on parts that took the song's concept and elevated it, as opposed to being four people on stage playing the singer's songs, adding their thing to it and just having a good time. Not that I have anything against the latter approach, which can be a blast as well. But virtually every song in Creedmoors' set felt like it could be on album - a good album. 

Unfortunately, the timer was set on my phone camera and in the pic above, bassist Mike Athey and guitarist Tammy Wallace both look like they were under a sun lamp too long. But this was a good group action shot. Gato Gateau and the Hi-Frequencies both played that night also, but since I was coming from my work, I missed all but the last minute of the Hi-Freq's set. 

The next day I drove to Philadelphia (stopping in King of Prussia before and after, hanging with my brother) for only the second time in my life. The first trip occurred back in 2004 when I went to see Mission of Burma. This time, the reason was once again musical - to see my dear friend Barbara Manning open for Codeine. 

The last time I saw Barbara perform was in the last century, at a show where my band at the time got to open for her. She was great then but the turnout was embarrassingly low, for which I felt really bad. Especially since I knew deep down that my band was on its last legs, though I tried to put on a good face. 

Barbara took several years off from recording and performing, going back to school and becoming a teacher, and getting married along the way. It almost seemed like she was retired from music, which is understandable, considering how she released several albums for a high profile independent label and didn't seem to get beyond categories like "critic's darling" or "cult figure" or things like that. But now she's playing a few shows here and there, and dadgum, she sounds great. Her voice is still really powerful, her onstage patter is great and engaging. And... I'm planning to release a single on Igor Records by her in the coming year. This will follow the recently released CD Charm of Yesterday...Convenience of Tomorrow. 

Below is a picture of me and Barbara, at the end of the night at Underground Arts, where she and Codeine played last month.

A week later, the Harry Von Zells, my current band, finally played another show since the record release, which we did with Creedmoors. We have a firm new lineup, with my former workmate Erik Worth joining us on Moog. He really adds some extra energy, not to mention sonic wildness, to what we do and it was really great to actually have people cheering and whooping for us. 

I don't have any pictures of the HVZs but here are shots of the other bands on the bill, Frazé-Frazénko & the Happy Lovers, who combined stark, brittle post-punk with an adventurous jazz rhythm section.

Following them, Bat Radar delivered a solid set that reminded me a bit of the Feelies, with an extra dash of raw power, and - dare I say it - Television, due to the way guitarists Will Simmons and Paul Labrise delivered some dual leads. 

I took out an ad in the long-standing magazine The Big Takeover and they also found someone to review the Harry Von Zells album in the same issue. That arrived in the mail at the beginning of December. The review really blew me away because it's not often that someone seems to have really listened to my songs, or at least given them a cursory listen while checking out the lyric sheet to see what I'm talking about, and critiquing what they hear. The writer compared my voice to Stan Ridgeway (Wall of Vooddoo) and Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) - which I think is pretty on the money. I'll take it!

After all that, one might think I'd be inspired to do more blogging, digging into this pile of music that surrounds me and - while not thinking that I can get ahead of it - just simply getting thoughts out about a few things. But it's been hard. Not simply to find the time but to find the focus to do it. Especially after the demise of that other jazz magazine where I freelanced for over two decades, my confidence is a little shaky. As I came up with the reviews for  NYCJR, I was worried that my style or thoughts might not fit in with their other writers. (My reviews all ended up running with little or no changes to them, so perhaps I was overthinking it.) 

Blogging always feels like something I should be doing only after all the real important things are out of the way, like laundry and the dishes and vacuuming. Sometimes I feel like I have ADD while writing because I get lured away from the keyboard by the least little things, and it can often take a whole afternoon to get a post together.

But, looking back at a post from almost this exact week last year, I was lamenting in almost the same way about all this stuff, and that time, the feeling wasn't part of a longer post that started with a tale of musical journeys like this one did. So perhaps I need to just remind myself that I got through this slow period once before, so just do it again. And I should quit writing about not being able to write. There are better subject to cover. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

My Lost Article on Steve Tintweiss

First an introduction: Back at the start of the year, JazzTimes finally took me up on my pitch to do a story on bassist Steve Tintweiss. An interview was conducted, the story was written but then the magazine was sold. The story was left in limbo. When I wasn't feeling shy about approaching a few other magazines, I sent them the story and patiently waited to see if they were interested. After a while it became clear that, despite the story being a bit of an evergreen, it wasn't going to run anytime soon. So if I'm not going to get paid for my work, I might as well put it up here on the blog. Hopefully anyone reading it will realize why I was interested in talking to Steve in the first place. 

An hour into a conversation, Steve Tintweiss makes an astute observation. “I’ve been producing almost as long as I’ve been playing,” the 77-year old bassist says, on the phone from his home in Queens, New York. Production in this case comes in several different forms. He staged concerts at the Forest Park Bandshell and Music Grove in Queens from 1969 to 2003¸ which included both free jazz and rock acts. He also played and helped produce albums by experimental vocalists Amy Sheffer and the late Judy Stuart.

Yet Tintweiss might be better known for appearances on several albums in the free jazz canon of the ’60s. As a member of pianist Burton Greene’s trio, he played on Patty Waters’ 1966 debut album on ESP-Disk’, Patty Waters Sings, in a cathartic version of “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair.” The singer’s College Tour album featured a track with the Greene trio, who also recorded and released an album made during that same New York City State College tour.

One of Tintweiss’ favorite of his recordings also appeared on ESP a year later — saxophonist Frank Wright’s Your Prayer. At a time when a lot of free recordings lose the low end amidst wailing horns and percussion, that 1967 session has a good recording of his bass. He also admits another secret about the session. “We were all on LSD except for Jacques [Coursil, trumpet]. In those days, we were kind of experimenting with LSD. It was a challenge to discipline yourself when you’re that high to channel it musically,” he says.

Through Wright, the bassist met Albert Ayler, who later enlisted Tintweiss to perform with him at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, France. Those concerts there were released in their entirety last year as Revelations – The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings, a five-record/four-CD package by INA/Elemental Music. Remastered for the release, the music also features greater clarity to his bass work.

But only recently has Tintweiss’ name appeared on any albums as a leader. In 2018, he launched Inky DoT Media, an imprint that draws from his personal collection of live performances, practices and radio broadcasts. With the entire archive now digitized, he’s finally put his name up front, offering snapshots of a nearly 60-year career and overlooked chapters from the heyday of what was then called “the new thing.”

By the time he was a teenager, the Queens native was hanging out in Greenwich Village. “There were a bunch of these coffeehouses that had all night jam sessions,” Tintweiss recalls. “There was no alcohol there so even as a 16-year old, I was able to hang out and catch a lot of music. I got to see Roswell Rudd and that whole school, Milford Graves and, before he even changed his name, Farrell Sanders.”

Tintweiss attended Queens College off and on, where he started a weekly improvisation session with saxophonist Dave Liebman and keyboardist Martin Reverby, who would become known as Martin Rev a few years later in the pre-punk duo Suicide. But eventually work with players like Greene put school on hold. 

During a Burton Greene set at Slug’s Saloon in 1966, Albert Ayler sat in with the band. (An excerpt of the performance appears on the 2004 Ayler box set Holy Ghost.) Tintweiss, who broke a string in the heat of the moment, must have made an impression on the tenor saxophonist because he received a call in 1970 asking the bassist to travel with him to Europe – in a matter of days. “I had to get an emergency passport,” Tintweiss says. “I had never even been on a plane before!”

The group arrived in France just hours before their first performance, leaving no time for rehearsal. Without any sheet music, Ayler gave Tintweiss one direction. “We’re playing in this geodesic dome, maybe 10 miles outside of Nice. It was in the woods, on top of a mountain,” the bassist recalls. “Before we played, we went behind the dome, into the woods. Albert said to me, ‘You start out with the bow and we’ll take it from there.’ That was it!” Both evenings went so well that the group wound up playing a free show at the resort where they were staying nearby.

As he remembers Ayler, Tintweiss says recordings never fully captured the saxophonist’s sound. “You could feel the room vibrate, the sound was so huge,” he says. “His sound was bigger than anyone I’ve ever heard. Not just in jazz. I’d have to compare it to the power of large symphony orchestras.”

In the years since Ayler’s death, which occurred just months after the Fondation Maeght trip, Tintweiss became a regular guest during Albert Ayler Day on Columbia University’s radio station WKCR-FM. There, the bassist met Ben Young, at the time the station’s Director of Broadcasting and Operations. Along with Joe Lizzi, Young took on the three-year task of digitizing nearly 400 of Tintweiss’ reels, cassettes and DATs. With the results recorded on a spreadsheet, the bassist launched Inky DoT Media to release the music.

Among the first releases was a 10” single by vocalist Judy Stuart accompanied by a group that included Burton Greene and cellist Calo Scott. (Tintweiss acted as music director, adding some vocals and tambourine.) The 1969 session seemed to bridge the gap between adventurous jazz and wild folk. MarksTown (2021) captures two 1968 performances by Tintweiss’ band Purple Why, one coming from a benefit for Operation Airlift Biafra, a concert that included folk singers Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. With vocalists Stuart and Amy Sheffer sounding a bit like a Greek chorus behind three horns, the ensemble moves from loose song structures to wild improvisations. A similar aesthetic comes across in last year’s Live at NYU 1980 by the Spacelight Band, which includes the late saxophonists Charles Brackeen and Byard Lancaster, drummer Lou Grassi and vocalist Genie Sherman.

By contrast, Ave B Free Jam takes the listener to a 1967 practice when Tintweiss, drummer Lawrence Cook, trumpeters Jacques Coursil and Warren Gale and clarinetist Perry Robinson (in a rare moment on bass clarinet) blow freely for 80 minutes. The music is definitely loose but never too manic. Two vastly different Inky DoT albums are due in the near future: Electronic Music of Steve Tintweiss consists of solo music realized at Queens College’s Electronic Music Studio in the mid-1970s; and another Purple Why performance from August 1967 “really captures the time and the flavor of the Lower East Side’s psychedelic era."

Coming from an era when fire music could have scorching results, Tintweiss’ archive reveals that nuances existed in free music as well. He placed equal emphasis on his composed work. “What I was interested in was a lot more personal to me, which involved a lot more structuring the framework for free form improvisation around my pieces,” Tintweiss says. “I always valued the power of a melody, [the way] you can impress somebody so that they remember the tune.” As Inky DoT increases its catalog, so too will it shine a light on these more unique moments of that period.

More info on Inky DoT Media releases can be found here