Frank-ly Speaking

FRANK KOULEN – Porgy In de Polder is the compelling story of Frank Koulen, founder of jazz club Porgy en Bess in Terneuzen, The Netherlands.

Tjeu Strous - Porgy In De Polder

Journalist Tjeu Strous carefully maps out the life of Koulen, who grew up in poor conditions in heady, colonial Surinam, landed in Dutch Flanders in the latter stages of the Second World War, parading into Terneuzen with the Allied Forces. The only brown-skinned man in Terneuzen never looked back, fell in love, married and started lunchroom Porgy en Bess in 1957, which slowly but surely, and with many ups and downs, developed into a center for traditional New Orleans jazz, Dixieland and modern jazz. When one visited Porgy en Bess, one went to the welcoming host ‘The Negro’, renowned for shaking hands with every customer who entered his picturesque public house. It’s a nickname which nowadays would be viewed as unacceptable, instilled rather mixed feelings in the hearts of some of Koulen’s heirs but back then was a fairly innocent and endearing way of embracing the liberating spirit of the exotic entertainment guru.

Porgy In De Polder is a biography underlined by socio-cultural history. It is also, of course, the story of jazz club Porgy en Bess, a haven for the libidinous, restless youngsters in the sixties which brought the swing to the small harbor town of Terneuzen that it until then lacked. In Koulen’s lifetime ‘Porgy’ staged, among others, Jimmy Witherspoon, Cecil Payne, Eddie Boyd, Nathan Davis, Don Byas, Dave Pike, Ted Curson, Booker Ervin, Paul Bley, Chet Baker, Art Blakey and Boy Edgar with Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton and Art Taylor. After Koulen died in 1985 and friends, with the help of investors and the municipal and provincial departments re-built the club from scratch, Porgy en Bess grew in stature and hosted, among others, Arnett Cobb, Lou Donaldson, Phil Woods, Toots Thielemans, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Lee Konitz, Charles McPherson, James Moody, Cedar Walton, Betty Carter, Astrid Gilberto, John Handy, Horace Parlan, Danilo Perez, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Porgy In De Polder by Tjeu Strous is published by Uitgevery Den Boer/De Ruiter. It is available here. Dutch language only.

Pure Goldings

LARRY GOLDINGS/PETER BERNSTEIN/BILL STEWART IN CONCERT – Wear and tear is not in the dictionary of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart. They continue to pass on sophisticated organ jazz to the next generation.

The organ jazz trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart has been in existence for approximately 30 years. As one is liable to say, the participants in this challenging endeavor have probably been seeing more of each other than their wives at home. Corny joke. And not the kind of crack that pianist, organist and composer Larry Goldings, who functions as a dryly comic master of ceremony, would make. He is one that readily admits having stumbled upon a quasi-funny loose end. Mr. Goldings is more likely seen tapping his fingers along boyishly with the static crackle of the iPhone that resides at the edge of the keyboard of his vintage Hammond B3 organ. His wife, perhaps.

No corny jokes and few loose ends during the trio’s musical conversation at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, ‘the best place for live music in Europe’. A good-humorous side to its hi-level musicianship, nonetheless. These gentlemen have the audience eating out of their hands. Basically, the core of their repertory is an expansion of Larry Young’s music. Larry Young is the last great organ jazz innovator who made his groundbreaking, Coltrane-influenced albums on Blue Note in the mid-sixties with, among others, Grant Green and Elvin Jones. Partly modal, partly vamp, compositions like Bernstein’s Just A Thought and Dragonfly, Stewart’s Don’t Ever Call Me Again and Goldings’ Mixed Message fall into this category. It’s their bread and butter and particularly exciting during the second set, when they have decidedly switched to second gear. Or better said, fourth. In this fast lane, Bernstein picked his composition Giant Coffee, a funkified Take Five, as a canvas for his meanest blues-based licks.

Goldings is a master at coaxing all kinds of sounds out of the organ, more often than not during the course of one of his well-crafted solos, providing layered textures and sustained momentum. Peter Bernstein’s tone, ringing with crystalline clarity, is a marvel and, with the remarkable thoughtfulness we’ve come to associate him with, he picks ideas out of the air like someone devouring myriad M&M’s. In this setting, Bill Stewart is his usual roaring but receptive self. The unannounced solo performance by Goldings, a sweet and sour sermon right out of the church where Aretha Franklin’s dad preached, takes everyone by surprise.

Tincture is on the other side of the spectrum and wouldn’t be out of place on Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch or Tony Williams’ Emergency. Written by Bill Stewart, its shifting tempos and eclectic harmonic movements invite the trio to partake in some moments of pure invention. No chaos, but uncluttered energy. Wouldn’t have hurt to hear more where that came from. Considering the enthusiastic ovation at the end of the evening, the audience not only liked this part but the whole sum that was delivered by this trio of contemporary American masters.

Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart

Place and date: Bimhuis, Amsterdam, May 31, 2018
Line-up: Larry Goldings (Hammond organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Bill Stewart (drums)
Website: Larry Goldings.

The Art Of Taylor

ART TAYLOR – I don’t know about you but every time I discover a piece of vintage footage or oral history on YouTube I get all excited, over the moon really, like a kid receiving presents from Santa Claus. I’m sure those fascinated and spellbound by the classic age of jazz have similar feelings.

So here’s Art Taylor in 1994, talking with fellow drummer Warren Smith at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The vivacious, self-proclaimed hardliner looks back on an amazing career and life as an expat in Europe with a lot of flair and humor and points out the value of the democracy of jazz. Taylor boldly tackles taboos as race, prostitution and the American Nightmare. He also demonstrates his style on the drumkit, with special emphasis on the all-important ride cymbal. A priceless piece of oral history that should be viewed as a platform for discussion at conservatories around the world.

Watch the interview here.

Taylor, born in 1929 in New York City, was probably the most prolific drummer in modern jazz history (“I NEVER was late!”) who played with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and countless others. A legend, who also published the controversial book of interviews Notes And Tones in 1977. Below are some of the albums that featured Taylor.

Art Taylor passed away within a year after the interview, on February 6, 1995.

Serious Fun

PETER GUIDI – Flutist, saxophonist, teacher and bandleader Peter Guidi sadly passed away on April 17. Besides being a regular performer on the European circuit, Guidi has been a driving force in the Dutch landscape as head of the jazz department of the Amsterdamse Muziekschool and bandleader of numerous prizewinning youth orchestras such as Jazzmania Big Band. Many of the children that Guidi teached have gone on to become accomplished professional musicians. And, lest we forget, young talents that have opted for a civilian career instead of jazz music have experienced unforgettable life lessons from the passionate, firm but fair Scottish-Italian resident of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Strikingly, ex-pupils always speak with a lot of admiration and fondness of their former mentor.

I met with Peter for our interview last June. Guidi was a connoisseur of jazz history and a zealous fan of hard bop, which for him was a fundamental force in jazz: accessible, bluesy but clever, the one genre that possesses the capacity to capture audiences, lure beginners into the jazz realm and satisfy talented young lions. Guidi was enthusiastic, generous, energetic and only deafening church bells would’ve been able to stop the flow of uplifting jazz talk. Guidi’s motto was: jazz, like life, is fun, but serious fun. I enclosed the interview here.

The Dutch National Jazz Archive interviewed Peter Guidi for its lovely, enlightening series of interviews Jazzhelden. Dutch language speakers only. See here.

Last week it was communicated that Guidi was seriously ill. The following day, a large group of students and ex-students performed in front of Guidi’s apartment in Amsterdam’s De Pijp neighborhood. See the reportage of the touching event on AT5 here.

Peter Guidi was 68 years old.

Bass To Infinity

BUSTER WILLIAMS – MOVIE

Film maker Adam Kahan is in the process of finishing a documentary about bass player Buster Williams, Bass To Infinity. Kahan, who is also making a praiseworthy effort of wrapping up movies about pianist Junior Mance and multi reed man Rahsaan Roland Kirk, has set up a funding project on Kickstarter and is about to cross the finish line with his Buster Williams docu.

Williams, born April 17, 1942 in Camden, New Jersey, is at home in both mainstream and avant-leaning surroundings. One of the most sought-after modern jazz bassists, Williams started out with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt in 1961 and since has cooperated with Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Geri Allen, Steve Turre and many, many others. He was the bass player of choice for The Jazz Crusaders, recorded extensively with Larry Coryell and was part of Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking Mwandishi group. Williams stayed with the pianist from 1969 to 1977. The Penguin Guide says of Williams’ style: “Buster Williams’ harmony is impeccable and he has a rhythmic sense that is unfailing, feeling and utterly original.” Williams has been recording steadily as a leader ever since his 1975 Muse album Pinnacle.

Inevitably, considering the bassist’s vast discography, Buster Williams’ expert, dark-toned contributions to modern jazz have found their way to the pages of Flophouse Magazine. See the reviewed albums below.

Check the website of Buster Williams here.

Hot Bim House

CHARLES MCPHERSON IN CONCERT – Last Thursday, the audience at Bimhuis, Amsterdam was delighted by the simultaneously burning and sophisticated message of alto saxophonist Charles McPherson (78), one of the prime torchbearers of the bop tradition.

McPherson’s last album, 2015’s excellent The Journey, suggested that the veteran saxophonist wasn’t planning to rest on his laurels. At the Bimhuis, the Joplin, Missouri-born saxophonist, who has been associated with, among others, Charles Mingus and Barry Harris, made abundantly clear that he remains a force to be reckoned with in a live setting as well. In great shape and eager as a young lion, McPherson presented a program of tunes like What Is This Thing Called Love, Lester Leaps In, Off Minor and original compositions by McPherson such as Reflections On An Election.

It’s memorable to be witnessing the real deal, the kind of phrasing, timing and storytelling so typical for the bop and hard bop era. McPherson conjures up vivid images of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss while at the same time delivering supple lines, fluent phrases, blood-red tag endings and humorous asides all his own, topped off with an edgy sound reminding us that his brand of jazz came from the kind of joints where, with the regularity of a clock, a burly whisky drinker is arguing at the bar with a dishwater blonde whose mascara has been steadily running down from her crow’s feet to the decorated birthmark on her left cheek. Meanwhile, the viper is trying to trade his junk.

McPherson’s forceful wail and unexpected excursions in the high register of the alto point out that the saxophonist, like all old-school cats, could in fact do without amplification; he carries the band, particularly noticeable during his rendition of Nature Boy, a beautiful melody and the most surprising pick of the evening. The controlled fury of his lines at breakneck speeds is easily taken for granted. His lines in themselves are sustained efforts of literal storytelling: they comprise a reflection of his personality while also following a logical, musical course. This is most evident during the ballad Embraceable You, the vehicle for some of Charlie Parker’s most enduring statements and a canvas too for McPherson’s breathtaking figures that slowly but surely gain momentum.

The band may have been somewhat out of habit, since bassist Daryll Hall, involved in an unfortunate accident, had to be replaced at short notice by Dutchman Joris Teepe. Occasionally, one of them is waving with a piece of music paper. However, the members of McPherson’s group provide a bed of roses for McPherson’s resolute game of bop, blues and ballads. Like the inclusion of Nature Boy, another surprise was in stock: one would expect some tough customers as accompanists of a monster player like McPherson but instead the trio exhibites an unusual, but far from unbearable, lightness of being. The distinguished Teepe is pure silkiness, pianist Alberto Palau’s touch is restrained and drummer Stephen Keogh’s intricate shadings and subtle rhythmic variations are reminiscent of the great Alan Dawson’s style. Not so much hard but subtle swing. It has its charm, and the boss alto on this particular Bimhuis meeting, Charles McPherson, is very charming as well, conversating more intimately and wittily with the audience as the evening progresses.

Charles McPherson

Place and date: Bimhuis, Amsterdam, March 8, 2018
Line-up: Charles McPherson (alto saxophone), Alberto Palau (piano), Joris Teepe (bass), Stepen Keogh (drums)
Website: Charles McPherson.

Tenor & Alto Madness

CHARLES MCPHERSON, GRANT STEWART, ALAN SKIDMORE – LIVE

Great weeks for fans of real jazz and sax aficionados in The Lowlands. The English tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore has been touring the country with the trio of pianist Rein de Graaff, bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke. Last chance to see this excellent group also including saxophonists Tineke Postma and Benjamin Herman perform is tonight at The Bimhuis, Amsterdam and tomorrow at Tivoli, Utrecht. On March 8 the 78-year old alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, who has been keeping the flame of bebop burning in a most confident, energetic and excellent way, will be playing at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam. Great gig! McPherson will be assisted by pianist Alberto Palau, bassist Daryll Hall and drummer Stephen Keogh.

And on Monday the 5th of March, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart will be performing at Murphy’s Law in The Hague. The 46-year old, Canada-born Stewart is one of the most prolific saxophonists of mainstream jazz today. He’s a fixture on the NYC scene and has been performing all around the world. Stewart played and recorded with, among others, Jimmy Cobb, Clark Terry, Louis Hayes, Brad Meldau, Larry Goldings and Eric Alexander.

The concert at Murphy’s Law, organized by Equinox Jazz Productions, starts at 21:00. A rare opportunity to hear one of the best in the business in an intimate setting. Stewart is performing with Dan Nicholas on guitar, Kenji Rabson on bass and Wouter Kühne on drums.

Find Murphy’s Law here
Check out Grant Stewart’s website here.