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memories and the new

by Steve Dalachinsky

“The good side of my brain is good. the bad side is bad.” - Stephanie Stone

“I’ve lost sight of the horizon. The money of dreams. the money of happiness.” - from the film Pirogue

“Sound turns to texture turns to melody seen” - Ralph Gibson

A now retired N.Y. Times music critic once described me as a Free Jazz Cultist and a famous downtown saxophonist/composer once called me a JAZZ SNOB. Both are true to varying degrees & I wear these banners proudly though anyone who knows me well knows that besides being a chatty little Brooklynite, I love most forms of arts but have definite tastes & consider myself an ignorant elitist.

My first musical love was doowop, which, as a teenager, I sang in front of the pizza place on Avenue J on hot nights (they also had the hottest juke box in town) with a group called the J-tones. I was the lead singer. My nickname was little Dilly Dally. You should have heard me belt out I Wonder Why by Dion & the Belmonts.

My interest in jazz began seeing Gene Krupa on t.v. at about age 10. WOW, I thought, I wanna do that. And I tried. But due to a bad teacher and not being able to afford a drum kit I gave up. Then I did a 6 month stint on trumpet with that same teacher, my public school music teacher Mr. Armstrong, with the same results. Jumping ahead 5 years a friend handed me Horace Silvers’ Silver's Blue, Ornette’s Free Jazz, Trane's My Favorite Things & Oscar Brown Jr’s. Sin & Soul along with some good weed, transporting me from doo wop to hard bop & beyond, with a big dose of the Blues thrown in. I got hooked. I gave up singing doo wop & started singing Hoochie Coochie Man & Rags & Old Iron on Minetta Lane with a joint in one hand and a bottle of Ballantine ale in the other. Ironically where I had grown up there actually was an old rag man who came around once a week & an old blues guitarist who lived in my friend Jonny’s garage.

At night, if I didn't hang out in Greenwich Village, I sat up listening to the Richter Scale on WRVR, a radio station out of Riverside Church & the tail end of Symphony Sid before he went completely Latin furthering my education. I started buying blues and jazz vinyl like crazy, already having accrued a wide range of soul and doowop 45’s. A couple of great early finds were Bessie Lynn & the Georgia Sea Island Singers & Inside Hi-Fi by Lee Konitz, still 2 of my favorites. In fact I’m listening to Lee right now.

There were also afternoon t.v. shows on jazz at that time and an episode that always stuck in my mind was one where Monk, when was asked how he did what he did, simply answered "I don't know. I just do it." That statement profoundly influenced and helped change me. So much so in fact that I suppose you could say that that's how I’ve felt about my work and my life ever since.

One day while walking down St. Marks Place stoned in the late afternoon with a friend at about age 15 I heard wild music coming from the doorway of which I later learned was the 5 Spot. I stuck my head through a crack in the door and saw this amazing pianist tearing up the keys (I was told afterwards that he was banned from many clubs for having a rep for breaking pianos.) The music went right inside me and my addiction to free jazz began full steam. It turned out the pianist was Cecil Taylor.

A couple of years later, already deep into Trane, Mingus, Dolphy (who I first heard on the Mingus Candid lp Mingus that I had swiped from a drug store) and Cecil, a guy stopped me on Mcdougal Street and said “Hey Steve I know you love Cecil Taylor.  There’s this guy you should listen to named Albert Ayler. He’s the Cecil Taylor of the saxophone and his new record is called BELLS.” I immediately went to Dayton’s record store on W.8th picked up my clear vinyl, hand silk screened, one sided copy, took it home and played it over & over again. Though Spiritual Unity has become my favorite Ayler lp I still listen to Bells some 50 years later. 

As soon as I could I started hanging out at Slugs, The Village Vanguard, Rivbea and got to see such greats as Ayler, Monk, Mingus, Kirk, Blakey, Max, J-Mac etc. But sadly I missed Dolphy, who had already left the country, as did many "jazz" greats, for both economic as well as racial reasons, conditions that still exist in America today.
And I just missed Trane (who I've always claimed is one of the reasons I'm still alive.) He died when I was on my way to see him at that now famous Monterey Jazz Festival of 1967. The one that produced Charles Lloyd's Forest Flower lp & more or less introduced "jazz" to the hippies. So, stoned, broke & broken hearted I made an about face, never made it to the festival but returned to Berkeley & wrote one of my earliest so called “jazz” poems for Trane @ age 19.

Little has changed since Dolphy's time when it comes to jazz, particularly FREE JAZZ . There's the political fašade of Jazz at Lincoln Center or George Wein's Fiasco-fest which primarily caters to big business, big name brands & inside stuff, but at least we now have Fire in the Kitchen and the Vision Festival (Arts for Art). And there are many great improvisers and festivals around the world that keep this music alive.  And the Vision folks take the music from where it was born to countries where Dolphy & others went, though now not as exiles but as ambassadors of this neglected form that was always shown more acceptance outside its birth place. And throughout Brookyln and Manhattan just like in the 60’s loft jazz scene there are more and more independent venues, many musician owned, that support this music like Douglas Street Collective, Shapeshifter, Roulette, Jack, Brecht Forum, Barbes, Goodbye Blue Monday, the Stone and Spectrum.  

I started listening to music as soon as I could hear & writing poetry as soon as I could write so it was inevitable that the two at some point would become meet. An extension of my passion for singing. But instead of singing along with the music I write along for almost 30 years as is evident in my books The Final Nite (poems for Charles Gayle), Long Play E.P. (poems for Evan  Parker), Reaching into the Unknown: various poems in collaboration with photographer Jacques Bisceglia, The Mantis (for Cecil Taylor) and Logos and Language, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp.

Keep your ears peeled for Devin “Brahja” Waldman, the nephew of esteemed poet, Anne Waldman, an alto player with a warm post-Paul Desmond tone. He moves notes around in a smooth and beautifully artful way and has inside and outside facilities for playing and hearing. His efforts include Brahja Waldman’s Quartet on Jeunes Volontaires and a soon-to-be-released cd with some of my favorite New York players Daniel Levin, Satoshi Takeishi and the inimitable Daniel Carter. Devin’s cousin Ambrose Bye (Anne’s son) has been playing and producing music for Anne and other poets. A recent release he mixed, produced and plays on is Harry’s House, a tribute to Harry Smith which includes Edwin Torres, Anne, Lewis Warsh, Bob Holman, Eileen Myles and Thurston Moore.

Forget 79 year old Wayne Shorter’s attempt at the classical crossover thing which sounded more like a pastiche of heard-before ideas. His Pegasus, Three Marias and Prometheus Unbound, performed with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra earlier in the year at Carnegie Hall on a program with Ives and Beethoven should have remained bound and gagged.  Shorter barely played during what were ridiculously melodic overly self-conscious compositions. It was a weak over and underplayed watered-down hack job as are most attempts to cross over as far back as Stravinsky and Gershwin (sorry George, pretty but no cigar) to many present-day folks which for the sake of time and space shall remain unnamable. This was a case where playing well was simply NOT enough. That night Beethoven ruled despite four standing ovations for Wayne. Yes I know. It doesn’t hurt to try. Or does it?

Charles Gayle recently played an incredible 74th birthday concert as part of the Arts for Arts RUCMA series. This was preceded by a beautiful solo set by Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet and white plastic alto with pink trim that included two improvised pieces and a wonderfully distorted version of Stella by Starlight. Gayle, who, once in awhile will play a standard in his own inimitable way, this night made standards the rule. He began his set with Well You Needn’t then did a bluesy free original with McPhee coming in on trumpet, accompanied by Michael T. Thompson on drums and Larry Roland on bass. He proceeded, sans McPhee, to launch into Giant Steps then Oleo and from there into Ayler’s Ghosts joined again by McPhee, this time on alto. He ended the set with the trio in out Rollinsesque fashion with I Remember You morphing into Green Dolphin Street and Gayle playing Happy Birthday to himself and his audience. When done he re-iterated what McPhee said at the beginning of the night that without the listeners the music would be nothing and that there would be little reason to go on. He and McPhee were partly alluding to two dedicated JAZZ listeners who had passed away that day and the day before.

I would like to dedicate this piece their memories and can only hope that they meet up and get to experience the best FREE blowing session in the annals of musical history. They are fellow avid fans and music travelers Peter Cox and photographer, book seller, archivist, co-founder of the French label BYG and dearest of friends and collaborator, Jacques Bisceglia, both of whom were as much members of the band as they were members of the audience and above all devoted, true LISTENERS. May they be swinging in heaven right now.

From one of my earliest music pieces written for Cecil Taylor, September, 1966:

“SING  not song / but a well constructed chaos / ….the room floats above us…enfolds & possibly loves us / completion to an unfinished psalm / let us remain locked to each other / as we lock the door & bar admission to all but the piano furious / let us remain together / in love lust & laughter / let us remain together  /  let us remain / let us……”

There is much more to be said but since the "poem of my life" is MUSIC let the music speak instead and I will dutifully listen. MUSIC + WORD = LANGUAGE.


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