Sessionography- book excerpt by Rick Lopez
ED NOTE: The following is an excerpt from the upcoming extensive book on the work of jazz legend Sam Rivers. More information about Sam Rivers Sessionography can be found at Rick Lopez's website
--A memoir of the New York City trip to the reunion concert, emailed to my friends early morning on June 1st, 2007. -RL
Planetary Alignments, Bird Sightings, Totemic Travels, and the Revelations in Events Unfolding.Start Spreading the News : : :
The Sam Rivers Trio, New York City, May 25th, 2007
A few weeks ago I received the incredible news that the legendary tenor man Sam Rivers was being reunited in a concert at Columbia University with his legendary ground-breaking trio from the 1970s. Along with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul, Rivers was primarily responsible, following several brilliant years of Blue Note albums and tours with Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor, for igniting the "loft jazz" scene in Manhattan back then. These were artist-owned performance spaces that often presented music several nights per week, and most days as well. Rivers' space was called "Studio RivBea," named after the late goddess Beatrice, for whom he also wrote one of the most beautiful and conversational ballads anyone has ever heard. He's now 83, as gaunt and lively as ever, and so please stay with me here.
In February, 2007, I celebrated the 10th Anniversary of my falling head-first into the drowning waters of Music Research. Most of you aren't really sure what that means, even though you may have heard about my involvement before. The short form: I have several gigantic research documents posted on-line that cover the careers of several major "OUT" jazz figures. You know--the free-of-anyone-else's-rules style. The impassioned-abandon style. The soul-pouring-out style. The crazy shit. And why? Because I need more, as in transporting, transcendent, transforming, life-changing, liberating, spiritually uplifting, mind-expanding sounds like you ain't never heard. These documents trace, in somewhat ridiculous detail, the paths of my subjects' musical history, and are cited in dictionaries, books, CD liner-notes, magazine articles, etc. I can't help it! (You all understand that part.)
But to be precise: I've given copies of these documents to a few of the artists themselves on occasion, and so one day back in late 2003, I hit "print" on my computer at 7:00pm and the thing stopped churning at 4:00pm the next day, having spat out the William Parker Sessionography in all of its small-print single-spaced glory. I then had to hit Office-Max for a few large, fat, sturdy binders so that the 400+ pages wouldn't scatter across the parking lot as I tried lugging them out to the car, and I delivered this "book" to Mr. Parker that night at a concert in Buffalo, NY, and was later pleased to learn that he had spent several subsequent nights during the tour sitting on his hotel bed, slowly turning the endless pages in stunned amazement.
There are those who would credit me abundantly with this work, but all that I see from inside is the just barely justifying and blessed fruit of my otherwise accursed obsessions.
In This Regard Then : : :
When I received the word that this trio was to be reunited (after 35 years!) for a concert at Columbia University's Miller Theatre in New York City on Friday the 25th of May, 2007, it came via multiple drooling and panting sources. WKCR-FM, the student-run (and also legendary) New York jazz station let me know that they were preparing a 177-hour week-long broadcast (yes: 177 hours), that would wend its way through Sam's complete discography, and they requested from me a substantial list of archival material, mostly unreleased audience and broadcast recordings that are in my collection (got from the amazing "tape trader" sub-culture, another nearly impossible to explain part of this story). This then turned into a massive trade of another sort: WKCR will soon set loose a band of interns that will clamber through the vast station holdings, in search of any and all bits of info they may find there that concern my main research subjects (Marilyn Crispell, William Parker, Rivers, Glenn Spearman, and David S. Ware), and they then invited me to come running to New York City for the concert. How is all of this possible?
A few milliseconds later, I was on the phone with Monique Williams, Sam's daughter, who informed me that she was having Sam's personal archive digitized by various Universities and Recording Studios and Helpful Individuals, and that copies of them all would be sent to me. So that I might "find out what is there." Wait: Does anyone comprehend what's going on here? This is a mother lode; a dream-come-true; a treasure trove of text and sound that will soon bury me in mounds of previously unheard recordings and tons of previously inaccessible information--into which I will throw myself and ecstatically expire. History! Knowledge! Thank you Jesus.
Ahem : : : (Sorry...)
Anyway, there follows a flurry of fantastic inviting emails and phone calls, and my beloved wife Sandra tells me that I can't NOT go. I mention it to dear friend John Chacona, he of the Signal to Noise reviews and big ears, and he says it sounds like an idea. A few days later, I mention the concert to a musician friend named Steve, and he, gob-smacked at the prospect, immediately tells me he will provide transportation. I realize then that this is a mercenary affair, as I drop the Chacona hit (noncommittal; likely going on his own; no time for love), and tell Steve "We're on!" We will leave very early morning Friday and return early Saturday. All seems to be falling into place.
I mention all of this to my beloved son Aaron, whose life is so full that I would not have thought his presence possible, and who astonishes me by saying that he will join me. Then a furious attempt to find cheap lodgings, accumulate funds, arrange arrangements, remain conscious, and make absolutely goddamned sure that I get there. No obstacles accepted!
And then, the strange and perfect machinations of my glorious world began to click as if pre-ordained.
Oh No You Don't ! ! !
Like this:I call musician friend Steve a full week pre-concert. He will stop by to discuss and firm up plans on Sunday the 19th, "noon-ish." Sadly, he never shows, never calls. But that's fine. I'm easy.That is what my friend said to me. I hold no ill feelings. I still love him. I have no arguments or qualms or bad suppressed urges to murder him with a claw-hammer or anything like that, anything like that at all. Honest. I am as compassionate and patient and understanding as anyone, and I also know when all is lost, and when it is time to jump ship.
I call Monday and leave a message on his cell, trying not to sound anxious, but nearing a firmer grasp of the situation. Somewhere in the recesses. Of my poor mind.
Late Tuesday, he returns my call.
Okay, he says, we can leave after his class Friday morning, hit the road around 10:45 a.m...
"Oh no," I say. "We must leave very early Friday morning, this I told you, I told you so, what is your meaning, what is the meaning of these words you say, what are you saying?"
Then a tad wee smattering of "how long does it take" (6.5 hours), "oh that's not bad" (it's not good) ",oh it's not that far" (oh yes it is) and finally he says to me...
"We'll probably make it on time."
"We'll Probably Make it On Time . . . "
The hell we will.
Okay, called Thrifty Rental and reserved an "Economy Class" KIA gas-efficient itty-bitty vehicle for the trip that I was now making, just perfectly as it happens, with my son Aaron. Unlimited miles; fill the tank; $60 for 48 hours. Not bad.
An email appears from Brent Hayes Edwards, aka now and in future to my son and I as "Mr. Fabulous," he of Yale, Rutgers, and Columbia University connections, who reminds me that he is "the scholar working on the lofts--" (his planned book, on the loft jazz scene, Alternate Tracks: The Politics of Experimentation and Collaboration in New York Jazz, 1972-1982), "--whom you were kind enough to lend many of your Rivers CD-R's to a while back."
He continues: "Do you need a place to stay tomorrow night? I live just a few blocks from Columbia, and have an extra space." Click. Click.
How many people in Manhattan have extra space? How many of those have I by chance helped with research projects, and how many of the remainder also happen to live two blocks from where I'm going?
Further hits accrue. Jeff Schlanger, the famed musicWitness© who has been "painting" improvisational music performances as they happen for lo these many inspired decades, invites me to find him and his paints front-stage for embraces and salutations; and Steven Joerg of AUMFidelity Records requests a close-up to-do so that he may "bat [me] about the ears a bit."
Amidst these and other swirling words and welcomes and visitations from people I've been indelibly connected to and who have helped me and informed me and encouraged me to continue doing whatever the hell it is that I do, I began to remember how deeply those fine and valuable threads had been woven into me, and how many cherished ties and tethers I'd let slip the past few years as I threw myself into the University Experience (pursuing a Radiology career!), how I had once again replaced in large part a former obsession with the next one coming, shifting the priorities and the investments of time and attention. And I was sad that I had drifted away, and glad to feel the pull back.
Photo and painting © Jeff Schlanger artwork of the show, used here by permissision of the artist
Then Came the Day, the Longed for Day : : :
The musician friend never called back.
On Thursday evening, I drove to the airport in Erie, PA, to pick up the rental car, and the coughing young lady behind the counter apologized: "We don't have any economy class vehicles here right now."
She told me that I could have the same rate on another car.
"Can I pick?" I asked.
"If I don't like the color, can I have it painted?" I asked.
"If the gas mileage is unacceptable, will you give me a hundred dollars?" I asked.
Ha-ha. I am such a kidder.
"Would you like a Charger?" she asked, coughing.
"Not really," I said, picturing Dukes of Hazzard and shit like that. "How about a Chrysler 300 Luxury Sedan So Gigged Out You'll Hardly Know How to Drive It?"
Well. I took a peek at the picture she set atop the counter, and I smiled a bit. "Same rate you say?"
Moving right along: Shiny. Silver. Brand New. Far more comfortable than my living room. The user's manual was still shrink-wrapped. It had the factory smell. Satellite radio; CD player with kick-ass sound system; lights that dimmed eeeeversooooo-sloooooooowly when you turned them off. And they did so with feeling--a diminuendo.
CLICK. . . .
A Brief Series of Events Which : : :
𝅘𝅥𝅯 7:00 AM, Friday the 25th, in line at a coffee shop. As the girl is bagging the last two (2) cinnamon-chip scones on this dying earth into my little paper bag, she remarks to a young lady a few folk behind us that, "You'll have to decide on something else with your coffee today," to which I say, "No-no, you must give her what she wants, and please make my second scone a low-fat blueberry whatever instead." The woman later approaches my son and I before leaving, thanking us and promising to "pay it forward." We didn't "have to do that" she says. Aaron and I begin our journey with a Large Latte toast: "Happy Friday," and spend the first half-hour talking about how simple (and important) it is to seize any opportunity to change someone's day. Or week. Or life.
𝅘𝅥𝅯 Bird Sighting #1 ::: Just a few moments after hitting I-79 South, a Great Blue Heron soars across the morning sky. This has become one of my signature omens, the Great Blues appearing before me whenever I need them to, or whenever something momentous is afoot. This happens--this kind of thing happens--with ridiculous predictability, as if a hallucinatory game were being played with me as the wide-eyed game piece, and it makes me shout, and it makes me roll my eyes and lift my hands to the uncaring sky. Where this kind of "meaningful" coincidence is concerned: I don't really "believe" in it, but I absolutely believe in the poetry of it.
𝅘𝅥𝅯 Now, I'm a Honda guy--a real fan of practicality and the avoidance of monetary imbalance--but this Chrysler 300 is so comfortable and quiet and stable that we're both grinning at the hopped-up luxury level. Nice car!
𝅘𝅥𝅯 Bird Sighting #2 ::: An hour later and a few miles west of I-79 heading east on I-80, and we spot a small Green Heron scatting across the sky directly in front of us, its condensed version of the Great Blue's body moving like some fat feathered bullet: Omen.
𝅘𝅥𝅯 We talk. And we talk. Then we talk some more. Sam Rivers and the precise overtone-laden squall of his reed-playing on Tony Williams' Spring (on the Blue Note label, one of Sam's earliest recordings, from August 12th, 1965!), is way down low in our background, and we're not actively listening at all, not for a moment, but Sam is nonetheless there, his tone accompanying us, as we gab constantly for the next eight hours or so, communing deeply, feeding one another's heads, moving at 80mph toward a meeting with one of our mutual heroes, and whenever the talk subsides for just a moment, the spiraling phrases of his horn come drifting up into our open ears and our open hearts, reeling us in, signaling the way to go.
𝅘𝅥𝅯 When lunchtime appears, and then disappears, I begin digesting my own stomach, and to avoid vanishing altogether I first consider The Olive Tree in downtown Williamsport (¡Sophia!), but it seems to be a delaying 18 miles north of the Interstate off Exit 210-B, and I want Manhattan.
𝅘𝅥𝅯 A minute later and we stop at Milton Exit 212-A to gas up and pee. The credit card reader is faulty at the pump that I choose, and as I'm fumbling for another, Aaron slides past me to check the first one at the next pump, gently bumping the door and sending it car-ward with a muffled click. I glance inside and see the keys on the seat where I had just tossed them, and we begin laughing as we discover that we're locked out. A twenty minute delay making a dozen phone calls to Thrifty Rental and Triple-A ends when my competent boy pays six dollars for a thin strip of shiny metal meant to trim out a big-rig somewhere, and he bends it just right and fishes the knob up and we're on the road again, canceling the service calls. The Arizona Cafe and the Mexican food I want them to serve us at Exit 254 further east at Danville is closed this afternoon (WHY?) and so we push on, actively starving to death, until we hit--
𝅘𝅥𝅯 --Tannersville, Exit 299, then a mile north to Route 611 and Northwest Espresso, actually nestled in a small nondescript mud-colored plaza in the "Scotrun" section of town. Here we are, my son and I, walking in on a lone elderly woman whose face has a heavy grim veil pulled over it as we enter. I have on my small oval cobalt-blue shades, which makes me somewhat resemble, I am told, Woody Harrelson as seen in Natural Born Killers, though instead of being totally and threateningly bald, I'm topped out with very short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. Genetics being what they are, my son, who is taller and much more solidly built than my wiry ass, and more completely bald than anyone, looks exactly like Woody Harrelson as seen in Natural Born Killers, and it is clear as I begin talking that she suspects she is about to be beaten and robbed. I turn on the charm, trying to ease her fears, and she hesitates a beat before allowing me access to the private restroom.
While I am gone, my son, asked what he might want, mumbles something about not being sure and waiting for me as he scans the menu board, which only adds to her anguish. When I return, I chat her up as cheerfully as I can, yum-yumming over the plates of cookies in the display case and the brownies and muffins covering the trays, oohing-and-ahhing at the Egyptian art and various local-made jewelry, and finally saying to my son, as she disappears into the back kitchen, that she seems to think we're going to kill her. "Yes," he says, steeped in Psych-Major training and Law-Enforcement Know-How, "She does indeed."
When she comes back, things ease up as the talk turns to birdies. Bird Sighting #3 involves a long row of feathers of many shapes and sizes tucked neatly into the space between the far wall and a horizontal white power strip, and she becomes engaged, pointing to them one-by-one and naming their origin: "Emu; then three African parrots; a blue jay--"I knew that one!" I exclaim goofily, and she continues through cardinals and exotic love birds until I pat the black enamel Crow silhouette pinned to my shirt and tell her "I love birds. Especially the Corvids."
Incidents with birds, and the birds themselves, follow me everywhere always, because I care for them, and because they know that I do. Again, I don't "believe" in this, but the poetry of it is where I live. "Oh yes!" she says, launching into an essay inspired by a National Geographic documentary and its tests on Ravens and Crows (the Ravens win by a feather), and as she rambles on with her back to us I suddenly realize that I do in fact have to rob her. Nothing involving violence or threats or the cash drawer: I am gazing down with awe at a Day-by-Day "Zen Calendar," and having just read and been deeply moved by poet Rainer Maria Rilke's incredible little book Letters on Cezanne--and all of the ways in which it both informed me and spoke to changes and becomings happening in my own life as well--I was astonished to see the page for this day, Friday, May 25th, 2007:
"And do not change. Do not divert your love from visible things. But go on loving what is good, simple and ordinary; animals and things and flowers, and keep the balance true." --Rainer Maria Rilke
I stole that page. I just had to. Me and my Secular Franciscan frame of reference gave thanks to the flawless narrative of the universe, tore it slowly from atop the thick block of paper and tucked it into my man-purse. Her coffee was great, and the pastries as well, and we were hoping that she was still cloaked in all of the charm we had showered upon her before we left, when an hour later we coasted to a stop at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge, preparing to play stop-action bumper-cars with a honking, jostling crowd of millions.
See Part 2 of the Sam Rivers book excerpt here
And see our previous tribute to Sam Rivers
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