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


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.

Alive & Cookin’

Amazing how some of the elder masters keep at it. Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson (76) can be enjoyed live in Denver, Colorado on March 26 & 27, where he’ll be playing the Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge. McPherson is also one of the teachers at UC San Diego Jazz Camp, June 18-24. Beside performing and teaching, McPherson has found his way to the studio on a regular basis. McPherson’s latest album, The Journey, was released in January 2015. It finds McPherson at the top of his form.

Charles McPherson has always been a dedicated torchbearer of bebop, without lingering too much in the past. An altoist in the style of Charlie Parker, McPherson shaped a distinct personality, adding a rich, resonant alto sound to angular, blues-infested phrasing. McPherson has always displayed a particular lyrical talent for balladry. Best known for his long association with Charles Mingus during the sixties and start of the seventies, McPherson has recorded prolifically as a leader and sideman. You will find an insightful, extended biography on McPherson’s website by Donnie Norton here

You can find my review of The Quintet/Live! here. Check some of my favorite (available) moments of McPherson on YouTube:

Explorations from McPherson’s Mood
Reincarnation Of A Love Bird, with Charles Mingus, from Charles Mingus’ Blue Bird
Don’t Explain from Siku Ya Bibi

And listen to The Journey below:

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!

Charles McPherson The Quintet/Live! (Prestige 1967)

Altoist Gene Quill once walked off the stage, when a malignant member of the audience quipped: “All you do is play like Parker!” Whereupon Quill pushed his horn forward and replied: “You try to play like Charlie Parker!”* Discussions on Charles McPherson usually ran along the same lines. In the sixties, McPherson was often set aside by critics as a mere imitator of Bird. Too bad. Quills’ perky remark suggested it was far from easy to play Parker’s complex and spirited music. Yet, cats like McPherson carried on the flag of the Parker legacy eloquently and with great pride. For that, it would’ve been more than reasonable to be thankful.

Charles McPherson - The Quintet/Live!


Charles McPherson (alto saxophone), Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Ray McKinney (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)


on October 13, 1966 at the Five Spot, NYC


as PR 7480 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Viper
I Can’t Get Started
Shaw ‘Nuff
Side B:
Here’s That Rainy Day
Never Let Me Go

Undeniably, the influence from Bird on McPherson is evident throughout his career. Certainly on his live album The Quintet/Live!. But for all McPherson’s (articulate and furious) bebop sparks, as heard on the album’s highlight, Bird’s Shaw ‘Nuff, McPherson had grown into an alto saxophonist with a singular, vibrant style. A style appreciated by giant of jazz Charles Mingus, in whose group McPherson intermittingly played from 1960 to 1974, notably on Live At Town Hall and Music Written For Monterey 1965.

Beside being a first-class player in the bop and hard bop vein, McPherson proofs to be an outstanding balladeer as well. The attraction of Never Let Me Go lies in the combination of the altoist’s darkly lyrical mood, husky delivery and long lines alternating with swift phrasing. He also tells a sweet and sour story on Gershwin’s I Can’t Get Started, on which his interaction with pianist Barry Harris is particularly responsive. Harris nudges fellow Detroit-native McPherson into interesting directions and turns in an exquisite solo. Foremost bop interpreter Harris had mentored McPherson in the late fifties. Harris obviously pulls a lot of strings on this date, displaying sympathetic accompaniment, confident command of harmony and melodic finesse.

Drummer Billy Higgins, tasteful and propulsive, is a strong force as well. Crowd-mover The Viper has a similar vibe as Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, a hit that thanked its success for a big part to Higgins’ indomitable, fresh beat. (Barry Harris played on The Sidewinder as well) Greasy statements by McPherson and trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer (another Detroit friend and a colleague from the groups of Mingus and Barry Harris) are followed up by a percussive Barry Harris solo, who makes use of Monk-like delayed time.

The ‘Latinised’ Here’s That Rainy Day includes intriguing variations on the melody by McPherson. On the driving hard bop waltz Suddenly Lonnie Hillyer is in a Don Cherry mood. Both are fine performances. Shaw ‘Nuff, however, is of another order. McPerson cum suis set up an appropriate breakneck speed for Charlie Parker’s madly beautiful tune. It’s a lightning bolt. So fast Hillyer has trouble keeping up, both melody and solo-wise. McPherson’s solo is full of fire. Barry Harris seemingly effortlessly displays his vast knowledge of Bud Powell, brilliantly and suavely running through the complex changes. Both soloists thrive on the fierce, articulate backing of Billy Higgins and bassist Ray McKinney.

The Quintet/Live! contains varying repertoire, dynamic group interplay, a warm live atmosphere and immaculate improvisation by both leader and ‘consiglieri’ Barry Harris. An essential McPherson album.

*The little piece of jazz lore involving Gene Quill is chronicled in bassist and jazz writer Bill Crow’s wonderful and insightful book Jazz Anecdotes.

YouTube: Here’s That Rainy Day