The alto-saxophonist’s recording for Blue Note documents the tensions inherent in 1960s jazz
Jackie McLean, Destination... Out! (Blue Note, 1964)
Jackie McLean, Destination… Out! (Blue Note, 1964)

On this day in 1963, Jackie McLean stepped into Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Destination… Out! for Blue Note Records. The album offers an interesting snapshot of the development of jazz during the early 1960s, where bebop and blues begin to give ground to something altogether different: a ‘new thing’, or new ‘avant-garde’.

The alto saxophonist was raised in a New York neighbourhood frequented by some of the most prominent names in jazz. As a young man, he practiced with the likes of Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, and even found the chops to play in Miles Davis’ band and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

His style, described by Cook and Morton as “menthol-sharp”, owed more than a small debt to Charlie Parker’s fleet-footed bebop improvisations of the ‘40s, but through his association with Blue Note the musician began to engage with the abstract and exploratory possibilities of free jazz. As such, Destination… Out! moves away from the open accessibility of 1962’s Bluesnik and builds on the progress of what is perhaps McLean’s greatest recording as leader, Let Freedom Ring (1963). (more…)

Revisiting the jazz innovator’s much overlooked minor classic
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman‘s The Empty Foxhole was recorded at the Van Gelder studio 50 years ago today. It was his first studio recording for the Blue Note label, and the avant-garde composer wastes no time performing trumpet, violin, and his signature alto-saxophone. Longtime collaborator Charlie Haden (who followed this website before he passed away) appears on bass. But the personnel is perhaps most notable for the debut appearance of Coleman’s son, Denardo, on drums: he was just ten years old at the time.

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“Unit Structures is both as mathematically complex as its title suggests and as rich in colour and sound as the ensemble proposes, with the orchestrally varied sounds of the two bassists — Grimes a strong, elemental driving force, Silva tonally fugitive and mysterious — while Stevens and McIntyre add other hues and Lyons improvises with and against them.”

The Penguin Guide to Jazz

Listen to the complete album at Blue Note Records.

An excerpt from a 1994 interview with jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.

A broad freedom of expression was available in the jazz vocabulary. And Henderson says he misses it these days.

“I’ve done some free things because there’s a part of me that is a bit of an iconoclast and was especially so at that time. Part of the spirit then was just to reject all that stuff like bar lines and key signatures. We didn’t want to know about it.

“So part of the thing then was just to get up on the bandstand. I became a little self-conscious about people coming in with their own music and parts written out for everyone to play and totally displacing what others might want to bring. I just said, ‘Let’s play’ and didn’t want to interfere by even suggesting a title for a tune. (more…)

Excerpt from a 30-minute audio interview
His language like his life is free flowing, a stream that follows the lay of the land and rushes forward from a source of nature. He is full of joy and enthusiasm and his ideas often run ahead of his speech. Thus a conversation with Don Cherry is not a linear, organized event. It takes many contours, and it describes the journey of a remarkable mind and spirit. Just as his music encompasses the ethnic expression of cultures as far flung as the hills of North Africa and the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles, the New York art scene of the ‘50’s and the free community of the diggers in Sweden during the ‘70’s, Don Cherry has always played his own way, a very personal music. Starting as a trumpet player and then moving to the “pocket trumpet” which he made famous while working with Ornette Coleman’s band, Don moved on to flutes, double reed instruments, African string instruments (such as the “hunter’s bow”) and even became a singer in order to set free his musical voice. Don Cherry is a pioneer in the field of “world music”, which, ironically, has lead him back to the classical jazz scene in the United States. [Listen]