A Musical Autobiography
Part 1: 1956-1980
This is a very long (25,000 words) and detailed musical autobiography with most of what I can remember about music and music education in my life, from my first memories to the present.
Who might want to read this? Maybe no one! I’m not particularly famous or historic, but I’ve crossed paths with some famous and historic people, been present at some memorable events, and learned from some great teachers who I try to pay tribute to here. I recount some little-remembered moments in Phoenix jazz history, and I've had a particular vantage point on the development of jazz and improvised music education, first as a student interested in everything from bebop to the avant garde in the 1970s, and later as a faculty member, chair, and/or dean at two leading schools, Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. (I'll expand on the education parts in my blogs later.)
You can also just scroll through these pages and look at the pictures and scans, check out the links, and listen to some of the audio, which includes some rare and never-before shared music and other audio.
Anyway, I enjoyed writing it, as a memoir of my convoluted, somewhat unusual path through music and education, and it might possibly be of interest to family members, close friends, or someone in the future who might be curious. I’ve provided headers and bold type to help find things like the Creative Music Studio, or certain people, bands, and schools I was involved with.
There may seem to be a lot of name dropping here. Growing up in the relatively isolated, though large, city of Phoenix, I've always been amazed to meet famous people in person, to the point that it seems remarkable and almost surreal to me. It's never been something I expected or took for granted, and the smallness of the jazz world still seems remarkable to me. So if I briefly met or worked or sat in once with someone known, or if someone I knew growing up went on to become well known, I mention it because it shows something about the web of connections in the music world, even passing momentary ones.
I apologize to anyone and everyone I’ve left out. I keep thinking of more people and events to add, but I think this is enough for now! I tried to keep this focused on music, so I’ve intentionally left out most of the other aspects of my life. Family, relationships, several non-music jobs, my dearest friends, etc. are not mentioned much except when directly related to something musical.
If anyone has corrections or remembers things differently, I would welcome your comments. I’ll probably add to this, edit it, correct things, and add more audio, pictures, and scanned programs and documents here and there from time to time.
I was born on June 22, 1956 in Willimantic, Connecticut. My parents had met when they were seven years old as neighbors in Crestwood (Yonkers), NY. My father’s family moved to New Milford, Connecticut during his high school years, but the families had stayed in touch. When I was born, my father had completed four years of service in the US Army, mostly stationed near Munich, and was studying electrical engineering on the G.I. Bill at University of Connecticut. My mother had a BA in Biology from Elmira College (’53) and had worked in pharmaceutical labs. After college, my father worked for a couple of years as a computer engineer in Connecticut. Then, when I was four and a half and my sister Patty was a few months old, our family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where I lived until the age of 24. We had three reasons to move there: our father was offered a job at General Electric’s process control computer division, our mother had health problems and her doctor said she would do better in a warm, dry climate; and some close family friends who had just moved there and encouraged us to move. We lived very close to the northwest corner of the developed part of Phoenix at the time – cotton and lettuce fields across 35th Avenue from our corner house, and more fields, then desert a few blocks north after Sweetwater Avenue. It was totally different from the Newington suburb of Hartford in climate, environment, architecture, culture…
My parents were born in 1931 and ‘32 and grew up on the Swing Era dance music and show tunes of the World War II era. I’m not from a particularly musical family, but my mother took piano lessons through high school and could read and play as an adult, and could read and sing alto harmony parts in church. My father took clarinet lessons for a year or two as a kid, and could play one song on piano: “American Patrol.” My father’s older brother was into Benny Goodman and Fats Waller, and they knew Slim Gaillard’s songs and Stan Kenton’s “City of Glass.” My mother was in college during the Roaring 20’s fad of the early 1950s when “Dixieland” was popular, and listened to the Intensely Vigorous Jazz Band and a few more authentic traditional musicians like Wild Bill Davis. They both became modern jazz fans a little before I was born, partly because of neighbors who would become our family’s closest friends. Karl Woodman was a working jazz singer-pianist studying for master’s degree in English education at U Conn. He had a jazz group called the High Four, played gigs in Connecticut, and was a big jazz fan who had met many jazz musicians while stationed in Japan in the military as a musician. He played something like Horace Silver, and sang kind of like Chet Baker, although he had his own sound; that’s just a rough approximation. He knew lots of standards, and jazz tunes like Horace Silver's "The Preacher." Karl and his wife El lived in the next apartment in a converted barn in Willimantic when I was born. My parents attended jazz concerts with them and listened to records together. Their friend Bill Lacey, also a graduate student in education, had a jazz radio show on WILI-AM in Willimantic and interviewed musicians like Erroll Garner on his show. My father’s college friends nicknamed me "Hi-Fi" as a baby since he was saving for a hi-fi to play his jazz records on when they found out I was unexpectedly on the way. When I was about 2 years old, they taught me to imitate Erroll Garner’s grunts while playing my toy piano.
By 1960 or so, my parents had a growing collection of dozens of jazz records by Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, the Jazz Crusaders, the Mastersounds, Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Connor, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Stan Kenton, Mose Allison. By the mid-60s, the collection included Wes Montgomery, Herbie Mann, Ray Charles, Paul Horn, and others, and listened to jazz radio at home – Bill Lacey, and the NYC and Hartford shows when I was little, and Mort Fega and Herb “Mr. J” Johnson in Phoenix during the 60s and early 70s. Some of their records came from the Columbia Record Club, but I also remember my father coming home from shopping trips with new records by the Jazz Crusaders, Cal Tjader, or later Art Blakey’s Roots and Herbs, and being excited to play them. I grew up hearing Karl Woodman sing and play standards often when our families were together, first in Connecticut, and then in Arizona when both our families moved there. When I first started really getting into jazz, Karl and his family spent two years in Japan and left their LP collection with us, so I had access to even more jazz records for a while.
So I grew up hearing jazz records and radio daily, and some live singing and playing on weekends, from birth until I moved out at age 19. Jazz was almost the only music played in our house, except for Christmas records. I did hear some other music through my parents: Sometimes my mother would listen to blues and R&B in the daytime on KCAC (when it was an R&B station ca. 1961-66, before it went to underground rock), and later my parents had a Joan Baez record, the Hair soundtrack, and albums by Simon and Garfunkel, Sergio Mendes, and Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack, overlapping (almost) with my generation’s pop music. They listened to the morning team of Jim Spero and Paul B. Munt on KXIV during breakfast and driving to work – a mixture of jazz, comedy, hip banter, and adult pop singers like Jack Jones. But basically our parents’ music was almost all jazz of the 1950s and ‘60s, almost all the time, especially in the evenings at our house and on weekends with the Woodmans.
The first memories I have of hearing bands perform live, other than parades, were from events associated with Phoenix’s legendary kids’ TV show, the Wallace and Ladmo Show. Like many thousands of other Phoenix kids, I saw the show live in the TV studio once or twice. I also attended their Saturday morning live shows at the Fox Christown Theater most weeks around 1967, where they performed on stage before and between B-movies like “The Blob,” and saw them at the local amusement park, Legend City. Their shows included Hub Kapp and the Wheels, a comedy rock-and-roll band fronted by Pat McMahon, who played many of the characters on the show (Captain Super, Marshall Good, Boffo the Clown, Aunt Maude, Gerald the Private School Brat, etc.), and was also a rock and pop radio DJ. (Late in high school, the McMahons lived a few blocks away from us, I taught his son Mike saxophone, and Pat drove me to school some days. I was in awe in the presence of this local celebrity.) Hub Kapp and the Wheels had been on the Steve Allen show and had a single or two out (“Sigh, Cry, Almost Die”). The other band, which was more our type of music, and played at the Fox Christown movie shows, was Mike Condello, sometimes leading a Beatles parody band called the Commodore Condello’s Salt River Navy Band. Condello and his band were both musically excellent and hilarious with surreal parodies of Beatles hits and rock bands in general.
I began playing alto saxophone in public school band in fourth grade (fall 1965) at Sahuaro School in northwest Phoenix. My parents signed up for a rent-to-buy program and got me an almost-new Holton Collegiate alto sax at the Lederman’s Music store on Central.
The night we brought the alto saxophone home from Lederman’s, my mother asked me if I wanted to hear some examples of how the instrument could sound. She played me a track with Paul Desmond and another by Cannonball Adderley. I think those were the only alto players in their tenor-heavy record collection, with the exception of a few Paul Horn tracks and big band solos, and I heard Desmond's and Adderley's sounds a lot.
A friend, Bruce Dieffenbach, and I had chosen alto saxophones after our first few instrument suggestions were shot down by my parents: viola (too scratchy, and they didn't think we'd stick with it), trombone (arms too short), and French horn (heavy, and again they didn't think we'd continue). Our teacher in 4th grade was a woman who played French horn, and like most music educators, taught all the instruments. I was enthusiastic about beginning saxophone that year and wanted to continue.
We moved a couple of miles south before 5th grade, near Northern and 35th Avenue. My school band director at Palo Verde Elementary School from 1966-70, Bob McAllister, was an excellent musician who later played trombone in the Phoenix Symphony and taught trombone at ASU. He was an important early influence in motivating me to stick with the saxophone, practice, and stay interested in music. In 6th grade, I was able to play with the stage band as well as the concert band. We played “Theme from ‘A Summer Place,'” “Winchester Cathedral,” and other pop tunes, some published and some Mr. McAllister’s transcriptions and arrangements, I believe.
In the summer before 7th grade, around July 1968, I saw the Charles Lloyd Quartet on the Jazz Casual TV show. I bought two of their albums, Soundtrack and In Europe, soon after, and listened to them constantly. Suddenly jazz seemed like it could be my music and not just my parents’ music. This made me interested in exploring my parents’ record collection on my own, where I found John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Art Blakey’s The Freedom Rider with Wayne Shorter, and other things I liked.
At the end of 7th grade, I had been thinking of quitting saxophone and band and trying to get an electric bass. A 1969 TV documentary about Jack Bruce, Rope Ladder to the Moon, had something to do with this. Mr. McAllister advised my parents, and together, without forcing me, they helped convince me not to quit. In any case, my parents weren’t buying me a bass and amp; they said they had just spent years paying off the saxophone, and if I wanted a bass, I should get a paper route. I started thinking about playing saxophone in high school, including jazz band. I had started seeing the saxophone as something cool that had a future because of Charles Lloyd, and because horns were becoming more prominent in rock and R&B bands I was hearing and seeing on TV, like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Sly and the Family Stone, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, and the Buddy Miles Express.
Near the end of 8th grade, on April 18, 1970, I heard my first real rock concert, Led Zeppelin at the Phoenix Coliseum. I went with my friend Paul Temple, who won the tickets in a radio call-in contest. We had incredible seats, fourth row right, and could see Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham up close. It was deafening and I remember my ears ringing for three or four days. (44 years later, I sat in another basketball arena in the fourth row right and saw Jimmy Page get an honorary doctorate at Berklee's commencement, an odd coincidence.)
My first time in a nightclub must have been in 1970 or ’71 at age 14: the Garcia Bail Bond Benefit at the Odyssey Club, a big rock club on East McDowell Road. It was an all-ages daytime show and one of our parents dropped us off and let my friends and me stay inside for many hours to hear six Phoenix rock bands, including Cactus, the soul-funk band Memphis, and headliners The Beans (with “Radar Men from Uranus”), a Phoenix band that soon became The Tubes after merging with the Red, White, and Blues Band when they moved to San Francisco. (In 2015, I got a chance to tell some of The Tubes I saw them at the Odyssey Club.)
Like all the other kids of my age and demographic, I had seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, then many other bands, and grew up on Top 40 radio from about the age of 8. I knew all the popular artists and bands from Motown to the British Invasion, and watched the music shows Shindig, Hullabaloo, and Where the Action Is on TV (and later, The Music Scene), and saw bands on variety and talk shows. I found Playboy After Dark on a grainy UHF station and watched bands like Canned Heat and Buddy Miles’ Express play at a pseudo-party hosted by Hugh Hefner. My first music albums received as gifts were The Monkees, then The Genius of Ravi Shankar and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper when they were new. I bought almost every Beatles or John Lennon single as it came out, starting with my first record, “Yellow Submarine” b/w “Eleanor Rigby.” I had a shoeshine job outside a barber shop in a strip mall the summer of ’69, after 7th grade, 45 hours per week, and used the 35 cents an hour average that I earned mostly to buy records, starting with Canned Heat’s Hallelujah and Boogie with…, Goodbye and Best of Cream, and Hendrix Smash Hits. I loved the psychedelic and Indian sounds, and the blues-based rock that was overwhelmingly popular at the time, especially Jimi Hendrix and Cream. At school dances, we’d request “White Room” or “Hey Jude” for the last dance. I knew a couple of people who played guitar and three friends formed a rock band and played at a school talent show: The Horizontal Viewpoint playing “Gloria” and “Out of Limits.” I also started to notice the overlap of the blues sounds I liked and some of my parents’ records, like Ray Charles, Mose Allison, the Jazz Crusaders, and others. In 1970, my mother bought me a B.B. King record, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.
As I got into jazz and started noticing my parents’ records more consciously, there were certain sounds that made a big impression on me: John Coltrane’s “Naima,” Wayne Shorter’s tune “Ping Pong,” all of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, Wilton Felder’s tenor sound in the Jazz Crusaders, the writing and playing on Cannonball Adderley and Oliver Nelson’s Domination, and Miles Davis on Round About Midnight.
From about 8th grade on, in addition to liking blues-rock and psychedelic pop-rock, I was always looking for different, adventurous, unknown, weird music. This was partly inspired by the psychedelic attitude of the times, and the experimentation of bands like The Beatles – tracks like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Revolution #9,” or the sound effects on “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am the Walrus,” the ones with Indian instruments, and guitar distortion and effects on Jimi Hendrix and other records all set the stage for an interest in trippy, weird, adventurous sounds. I was immediately attracted to King Crimson (In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard) and Frank Zappa when I heard them in 8th to 9th grade. Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy and Hot Rats and the Mothers of Invention’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh, the Yoko Ono sides of John Lennon singles (“Don’t Worry Kyoko”), and my parents’ copy of The Rite of Spring (Bernstein’s version, one of three classical records in the house with Handel’s Messiah and the Grand Canyon Suite), led by the end of high school to my buying LPs of music by Ives (Calcium Light Night was probably the thing that inspired me the most to study composition), Varèse, Xenakis, Patty Waters, Sun Ra, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and, early in college, Stockhausen, Penderecki, Cage, etc. I remember liking all this music immediately and listening to it repeatedly until I knew it well. Having a limited number of LPs, we would play them many times. Another influential experience in high school was a chance to hear the ASU faculty string quartet play the Webern Six Bagatelles, part of an outreach concert that our teacher, Mr. Tholl, took a few of us out of school to hear one afternoon. My friend Bret and I bought recorders and books of simple Renaissance and early Baroque duets and learned to play them, and we listened to early music on bargain and public library LPs towards the end of high school.
My parents took me to hear my first jazz concert, Miles Davis at the Celebrity Theater (with Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreira), in April 1971, a couple of months before my 15th birthday. It was a mysterious and mind-blowing experience. One of the security guards outside was a policeman who had lived across the street from us. He said “You’re not going in there, are you?” I couldn’t really tell when they had started playing -- no one spoke or introduced the band, and I wasn't sure whether the rubato intro with wah-wah trumpet was a soundcheck or the music at first. I wondered why two members of the band were also on my two jazz LPs, Keith and Jack from Charles Lloyd's band. Maybe there weren't very many jazz musicians? My father was expecting "My Funny Valentine" and wanted to leave but my mother convinced him to stay because she could see I was interested. It was my first time hearing a professional alto saxophone player, and Gary’s sound made a big impression on me. (I got a chance to talk to him about it 20-some years later.) The next day I bought Bitches Brew, my third jazz record, and I got Live-Evil, with essentially the same band I’d heard live, pretty soon after.
CORTEZ HIGH SCHOOL, 1970-74
At Cortez High School in north Phoenix, the new instrumental music teacher in 1970 was Walter Tholl, a recent University of Arizona graduate who was also playing trumpet professionally with horn bands in the Phoenix area. Mr. Tholl was another inspiring teacher who kept me interested in music. His ensembles were my favorite classes through high school. He introduced me to contemporary compositions, opportunities to play jazz and improvise, and music theory through wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, and a short summer theory class that resulted in my first attempts at compositions for wind quintet and concert band.
I played my first improvised solo in front of an audience at a high school jazz ensemble festival in spring 1972 (a Dorian modal solo, I think, on a published piece called “Caroline and her Magic Cello Enter the World of Jazz-Rock” – the performance was broadcast live on the radio). Around this time, Mr. Tholl recommended his college friend Randy Power as my first private teacher, and I began taking private lessons for the first time at age 15, in my seventh year of playing the saxophone. Randy Power helped me correct some basic issues that had gone unnoticed in my early group instrumental classes. (The main one was that I had misunderstood an early instruction and had been tonguing like a flute player, saying "T" by touching the roof of my mouth rather than the tip of the reed, for six years, and had to relearn articulation.) With Power’s and Tholl’s help, like many kids in band, I participated in state solo and ensemble competitions, playing pieces for saxophone and piano, unaccompanied alto saxophone, saxophone quartet, an avant-garde saxophone and percussion duo composition (Fantasy Duos by Robert Myers, maybe?) with classmate Sharon Lynn Kramer, and I made it to All-State Band during my senior year. In summer 1972, I saved up almost enough money from a job in a sandal factory (and got a little help from my grandparents) to buy a new Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone for $465.50 from a mail order discount warehouse, Freeport Music in Long Island. It’s still my main instrument.
Some of my fellow students at Cortez High School went on to musical careers: Jim Benitez played trumpet in the Phoenix Symphony, and Christina Steffen http://azflute.com/, who played alto sax with me in the jazz band for two years, is one of Phoenix’s finest flutists and woodwind doublers. Sharon Lynn Kramer was clearly the best musician in our grade, making the McDonald’s All-American Band as one of two high school musicians picked from each state, and playing piano in jazz band and percussion in band, but she didn’t pursue a professional career in music as far as I know. Mike DeSoto (trumpet) was a professional player in rock and jazz bands, including Andy Hardy, the band that Steve George (alto sax, keyboards) and our friend Mark Aguirre (guitar) also played in. (Steve George http://users.skynet.be/sky67891/bio-stevegeorge.htm went to Sunnyslope High and went on to form Pages, Mr. Mister, and was Kenny Loggins’ musical director.) Gary Eis, the first chair alto saxophonist I looked up to during my first two years of high school, unfortunately died of a congenital heart problem while playing on a trampoline a year after high school. A few Cortez acquaintances were active in the Phoenix and L.A. punk rock scene of the late 1970s, like Paul Cutler of the Consumers and BPeople. Rickie Lee Jones was one year older and had attended Cortez for only her freshman year before moving to Washington state, so I never met her, although my good friends from the Manzanita Elementary School did – but she wasn’t known as a musician until her first album came out in 1979. (It took her friends a minute to realize this was the same person, but she talks about Cortez in the intro to her songbook.) The famous musicians from Cortez High then were Alice Cooper (first called the Spiders and the Nazz, then Alice Cooper). They were eight years older, distant legends to kids my age, but I knew lead guitarist Glenn Buxton’s younger sister Janice in marching band my freshman year. My friends and I used to look at the 1966 Cortez Colts yearbook in the school library with Alice’s (Vince Furnier’s) senior ambition: “To sell a million records.”
STARTING TO LEARN JAZZ IMPROVISATION
I’d been trying to teach myself something about jazz improvisation from two mail-order books advertised in Downbeat magazine, Jerry Coker’s Improvising Jazz and David Baker’s Jazz Improvisation, and from listening to records. Karl Woodman gave me a few tips and helped me figure out the changes to “Naima." I particularly loved the sound of the chords changing over a pedal tone in that tune.
In my last year of high school (1973-4), I heard Phoenix-based saxophonist and flutist Frank Smith. http://www.ssgfhs111.info/ He had just returned from touring with the Airto Moreira-Flora Purim band. (Airto and Flora had hired members of The Eclectic Mouse, a Phoenix jazz-rock band that had recorded for Capitol Records, for their touring band after sharing a bill with them in Los Angeles.) I heard Frank with the quintet Dave Cook’s Vanguard, with Prince Shell on piano. Coincidentally, Frank had played some gigs with Karl Woodman and had once played for me at Karl’s house once when I was just starting saxophone, eight years earlier, and I remembered him. Frank would later be my first and only regular private teacher in jazz improvisation and harmony, but not until the middle of my freshman year of college. In the meantime, listening to him play was an education.
My parents bought a Wurlitzer electric piano when I was 17 so I could work on theory, harmony, and composition at home, because of my interest in composing. (My mother played it, too.) I had barely touched a piano before, and I remember playing a D-9 chord stacked up in thirds and being excited, and going from there. I also bought a flute during my senior year of high school and worked on the basics, learning from my sister Patty’s books. (She was a good flute player four years younger, but she started taking lessons at a much younger age than I did.) Later, in college and after, I took a few lessons with fellow student Judi Frost and with Phoenix’s great classical and jazz flutist Joe Corral.
After the Miles Davis concert, around 1971-2, I started going to as many concerts as I could afford and get to, and to clubs where teenagers were allowed. My parents took me with them to jazz concerts by the Giants of Jazz (with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon, Roland Hanna subbing for no-show Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach subbing for Art Blakey), Herbie Mann (with Sonny Sharrock and David “Fathead” Newman), Les McCann, Cal Tjader, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, and to hear local musicians like Lou Garno, and I went on my own or with friends to hear local musicians like Dave Cook’s Vanguard, the Charles Lewis Quintet, Ox (Seawind), Jerry Byrd with Prince Shell, visiting big bands playing at high schools (Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson), guests at college and high school concerts (Don Ellis, Tom Scott, Quincy Jones and Ray Brown), the MJQ with the Phoenix Symphony, Ravi Shankar with Alla Rakha, and many progressive rock bands, jazz-fusion groups, and singer-songwriters: Mahavishnu Orchestra (first and second versions of the group), John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana (with Larry Young), Weather Report, Eddie Harris, Charles Lloyd, Gato Barbieri, Jethro Tull, The Strawbs and Gentle Giant, John Mayall’s Jazz-Blues Fusion (with Blue Mitchell), Frank Zappa with Captain Beefheart and George Duke, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur, Wendy Waldman, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, etc. (Two groups I sadly missed seeing in their last Phoenix appearances were the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Celebrity Theater and Cannonball Adderley at the Playboy Club.)
In my last two years of high school, I met Brooke Michal. She was a legal secretary and single mother who was about 12 years older than me, but she welcomed musicians and friends into all-ages parties and listening sessions and general hanging out in her apartment near the high school, and seemed to take us younger people seriously. Her ex-husband was a Detroit jazz drummer, Denny Michal, and Brooke knew people like Horace Silver, Blue Mitchell, and Donald Rafael Garrett, and kept in touch with a lot of jazz musicians. Some would visit while passing through town, like pianist Bob Dogan who I later knew at Berklee. She lived in the apartment right above my best friend Paula and her sister. Through Brooke, I met some local Phoenix jazz musicians like John and Ann Hardy, radio DJs including Mort Fega (whose studio I visited a couple of times with her while he was broadcasting jazz midnight to morning on KXIV-AM), and people in the record business, especially John Dixon (aka Johnny D, A&R man and host of “R&B with Johnny D” on KDKB, the underground rock station).
Brooke got a lot of duplicate and unwanted records from her DJ and record business friends, and gave me some she thought I’d be interested in: Eric Dolphy, etc. There was always music playing in her apartment, and people bringing records to listen to. One night we watched silent Super 8 movies of Mahavishnu Orchestra someone brought, while listening to Bitches Brew. Later, Johnny D worked for ABC/Impulse! Records (and later, Capitol in L.A. and London) and I started to get boxes of promo LPs in the mail, including the later John Coltrane releases (Concert in Japan, Interstellar Space), Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers (Streams), Keith Jarrett, John Klemmer, and almost all of the many Sun Ra records that Impulse issued, among others. The Impulse Energy Essentials 3-LP set turned me on to a lot of avant-garde jazz. I could never have imagined that I would later know and play with some of the musicians on these records, like Cecil McBee and Rashied Ali. With very limited money to buy records, and no college radio stations playing anything experimental or “out,” these gifts of music made a huge difference to me. I also bought a few new jazz albums with my earnings and allowance: Don Ellis At Fillmore, Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, Wayne Shorter’s Schizophrenia, Pharoah Sanders’ Thembi, and John Klemmer’s Constant Throb. Brooke also loaned me most of her LPs for a while around 1973-5 when she and John living in the Los Angeles area. John Dixon introduced me to Gato and Michelle Barbieri backstage at the Celebrity Theater one night. John was the road manager for Impulse Artists on Tour, traveling around the US with artists including Alice Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Michael White, and John Klemmer.
I won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, an award given to one student per year by each high school that started around that time, and got a scholarship to attend the summer music camp at NAU in Flagstaff, where many of my friends had gone before. My roommate there was Cortez trombonist Bruce McHenry, and I played in an impressive wind ensemble conducted by Don Wolf, father of MCC jazz director Grant Wolf, and a jazz big band directed by tenor saxophonist Trent Kynaston. (Kynaston was a U of A alum and former classmate of my band director Walter Tholl and first private teacher, Randy Power there.) We played Buddy Rich’s “Channel One Suite,” among other things. There was a music theory class that advanced my interest in that subject, and I loved being out of Phoenix in the cool pines at Flagstaff’s 6800-foot elevation in August and more or less on my own for a couple of weeks.
For a while, I had very little idea what I might choose as a major in college. I told my advisor I was thinking about being a lawyer to represent poor people – I was inspired by someone I'd seen on TV news who was representing a Mexican-American man who was shot because he didn’t understand the sheriff’s deputies evicting him – and she laughed. I think that was a career idea she’d never heard before. (As far as I know, my high school class of about 500 produced one lawyer, Robert Nellessen, no MDs, a couple of PhDs in sciences and one in art history. Only a few of us went to a four-year college right after high school.) Music was by far my favorite subject in high school, but I had no expectation of making a living from performance or composition, and I didn’t see myself as an elementary or high school band director. Looking at the ASU catalog, and thinking about music, I noticed the Music Theory and Composition faculty. I remember thinking “That sounds like a great job – music theory professor!” After Mr. Tholl’s short summer theory course, where I wrote my first piece (“Beta Lyrae” for a wind quintet with saxophone instead of bassoon, partly 12-tone), I’d been studying on my own, trying to compose, and I really wanted to know all there was to know about music theory. I wanted to compose, but I wasn’t that confident about it. I thought a little about writing film music. And I imagined myself playing jazz locally, professionally but not full-time. At that moment, I pretty accurately envisioned the next 45 years or so of my professional life, minus the administration part. (I don’t think anyone imagines themselves as an administrator.)
I attended Arizona State University as a music theory and composition major, also completing almost all the requirements for the saxophone performance and jazz studies majors, from 1974 through 1978. I had also applied at University of Arizona, which had an excellent saxophone teacher, Elizabeth Zinn Ervin, but decided to stay closer to home. (I commuted from home for my first year of college, often sharing a ride with jazz pianist – now Oberlin German professor – Steve Huff, then lived in apartments and a mobile home with mostly music-student roommates in Tempe for the next four years.)
In my first year at ASU, my focus was mostly on my music theory classes. Ronald LoPresti (1933-85) was my most influential professor in theory and, later, composition and counterpoint. Dr. Grant Fletcher, also a composer-theorist, was my adviser.
I remember the in-state tuition, including an added charge for private music lessons, was $235 per semester – less than $2,000 for four years of college, not including room and board. My share of rent was something like $90 per month when I moved into an apartment with my high school friend, guitarist Mitch Hodesh, in sophomore year, and stayed close to that in the following years in a shared mobile home with saxophonist Dave Bennett, then a three-bedroom apartment with Dave and pianist-arranger Tracey Lyons.
There was an influx of new, younger faculty members in my freshman and sophomore years at ASU, and they had a big impact on my experience there and made me glad I had chosen ASU. The new faculty included Joseph Wytko (saxophone, who was finishing a DMA with Fred Hemke at Northwestern; he added a required saxophone quartet program for all saxophone principals) in 1974, and Amy Kusian Holbrook (music theory and musicology), Glenn Hackbarth (an adventurous composer who ordered all of Anthony Braxton’s records for the Music Library, and started a new music ensemble), and Dan Haerle (a well-known jazz pianist, author, and educator) in 1975.
I studied jazz improvisation and small ensembles with Dan Haerle, jazz pedagogy, conducting, and big band with Bob Miller, and jazz history with Wally Rave; saxophone lessons and saxophone quartet with Joseph Wytko; composition with Ronald LoPresti; music theory, counterpoint, and analysis with Ronald LoPresti, Grant Fletcher, Amy Holbrook, and Glenn Hackbarth; and conducting with Richard Strange and two others (band, choral, and jazz conducting), as well as courses in music history, musical acoustics, piano, and liberal arts. I completed the bachelor's degree in music theory and composition in May 1978.
In January 1975, during my second semester at ASU, I asked Frank Smith for jazz improvisation lessons; he had recently begun teaching at a studio in Scottsdale owned by pianist Bob Ravenscroft. (At the time, before fall 1975, there was no opportunity to study jazz improvisation in lessons or classes at ASU, only in ensembles.) I studied with Frank for about a year. He had me compose solos on tunes, try to improvise clearly on changes, learn tunes, and work at the piano on chord progressions and voicings and write them out. Frank was a great teacher who was willing to answer my many questions. He saw jazz improvisation as a creative art form with a spiritual aspect in the same way I did, and his playing and knowledge were very inspiring to me. He was open to free and outside things, and also had a real mastery of changes; he later worked a lot as a pianist, in addition to flute, alto, and tenor. He encouraged me to explore things on my own, then commented on them, rather than laying down a lot of rules and patterns, although he did teach me some elements of jazz vocabulary as well. I often went to listen to him play at the Hatchcover with the Charles Lewis Quintet.
Once Frank asked me to bring a record to a lesson that was close to my ideal sound on the alto. I chose Carlos Ward on “Sod House,” from Paul Motian’s Tribute album on ECM with Charlie Haden. Gary Bartz was probably my main model for sound – I liked the solid way he played in the lower octave or so, especially -- but having grown up with Desmond and Cannonball, I think I heard the alto as having a spectrum of sounds and wanted to be able to play different ways in different situations.
Studying counterpoint was one of the most helpful things – for my composing, my understanding and analysis of music, but also for my jazz playing. It taught me a lot about composing a melody, first, and then showed me how control of the timing and rhythmic arrival of lines creates harmonic clarity and forward motion, which is very relevant to bebop improvisation. (It took me a few years to be able to really apply this revelation to improvising in real time.) I took 16th- and 18th-century counterpoint with my composition teacher, Ronald LoPresti. He taught from the literature, deriving knowledge of the styles from Palestrina and J.S. Bach, and not from Fux’s species or other rules. The “rules” we came up with were more observations on actual practice based on listening and score study. We wrote mass excerpts for two to eight voices in the 16th century class, and 2- and 3-part inventions in the 18th. And we sang and played what we wrote, and discussed it in class. Later, I took a year of canon and fugue with Dr. Grant Fletcher, who had taught at Arizona State for decades. Both he and Mr. LoPresti were alumni of Eastman and former students of Howard Hanson. Ronald LoPresti attended Eastman at the same time as jazz bassist Ron Carter, and was a sometime jazz tenor saxophone player in his youth. He had hosted Karlheinz Stockhausen at ASU one semester in the '60s (a residency mentioned in Jonathan Cott’s Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer), and had written a master’s thesis on Scriabin’s music. Fletcher and LoPresti were working together on a theory of contemporary music they called Chromatic Functional Modality. It was, superficially at least, somewhat similar to George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept, but more tied to classical theory and early 20th-century literature, as well as Renaissance music. LoPresti saw the 300 years of the tonal "common practice period" as a deviation in the 2,000+-year development of (modal) Western music. The basic idea of freely mixing colors from a spectrum of modes, and moving in the sharp or flat directions on the circle of fifths around a tonic (not that these are unique or uncommon ideas) made a lot of sense to me and is still part of how I compose, improvise, and teach.
As a saxophonist in college, I played in a saxophone quartet in which we all rotated among soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, with Michael Jacobson, Terry Williams, and Randy Weece. We gave recitals on campus and were invited as finalists to a national chamber music competition in California. I gave junior and senior classical saxophone recitals, in addition to a shared composition recital. Throughout college, I also played in college big bands and small jazz ensembles, and in a new music ensemble led by Glenn Hackbarth, as well as some mixed chamber ensembles for fellow students’ recitals. (As a theory-comp major, I wasn’t required to play in marching band or wind ensembles, and I never did in college.)
ASU started a jazz major in 1975, my sophomore year, when Bob Miller recruited pianist Dan Haerle to join the faculty. Two improvisation classes and a small jazz ensemble program were added to the curriculum, along with a weekly required Jazz Forum, and other courses to complete the major: arranging, jazz pedagogy and conducting, and maybe more. Quite a few students from other parts of the country transferred to ASU to study with Dan, who was well known from his publications and his work with the Jamey Aebersold clinics and playalong records, and had worked with Clark Terry, Chris Connor, and many of his contemporaries in New York. I believe there were about 70 students involved in jazz ensembles around 1976-8. I played with a student ensemble at an NAJE conference in Los Angeles to demonstrate compositional techniques for Dan’s clinic in 1976. We also traveled to Las Vegas for a college jazz festival at UNLV.
Some of my fellow students in the jazz program at ASU who I played with were pianists Steve Huff, Mark Lyons, Frank Kimbrough, Suzanne McElfresh, and Brad Buxer (Tim Ray started at ASU after I graduated, but was already working professionally in Phoenix while in high school), arranger-pianist Tracey Lyons, bassists Warren Jones, Jon Lane, and Hamilton Sterling, drummers Lewis Nash, Keith Miles, and Dennis Hollingsworth, percussionist Vaughn Kaser, singer Dana Osborn, saxophonists Dave Bennett, Michael Jacobson, Tony Vacca, Mike Bean, Craig Render, Sam James, and Dave Hanson (also a pianist), trumpet players Tim Walters and Barry Downs, guitarists Steve Grismore, Ted Goddard, Jr., and Stan Sorenson, vibraphonist Dale Armstrong, and trombonists Mike Lake, Doug Robinson, and John Wise. Some of the older students we looked up to included trumpeter-composer-arranger Bob Washut, trumpeter Tom Miles, composer-alto saxophonist-pianist Charles Argersinger, and singer Sunny Wilkinson. We also interacted a lot with students in Grant Wolf’s program at Mesa Community College, the two-year junior college nearby which had a strong jazz program established by Dr. Grant Wolf before ASU’s: Dennis Sexton (bass), Bob Fernandez (drums and percussion, later at CalArts), Bill Mendez (piano, composition), and many others. Some MCC students transferred to ASU. Dan Haerle brought in guest artists to ASU including Woody Shaw; David Liebman and Lookout Farm (two or three times); Clark Terry; and the Gary Burton Quartet with Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, and Bob Moses, among others.
While I was a college student, I was performing most weeks in clubs, concerts, and festivals with local jazz musicians. Our first quartet, Angles, a collective with fellow students Steve Huff (piano), Jon Lane (bass), and Keith Miles (drums), had a steady weekly gig at Uncle Albert’s in Tempe in spring 1975 -- my first nightclub performances. We played modern jazz by Keith Jarrett, John Klemmer, and Sun Ra that we had transcribed, and a mixture of standards, jazz tunes, and jazz versions of pop tunes. We drove to LA together for a Keith Jarrett solo concert at Royce Hall, UCLA on March 13, 1975 that was billed as “The Last Concert” and had the good and bad luck to meet Jarrett outside our hotel lobby just before his concert. (Gary Burton opened on solo vibes, and afterwards we went to the Roxy and saw a double bill of Airto on solo percussion and Gil-Scott Heron and his band.)
I occasionally subbed for my teacher Frank Smith with the Charles Lewis Quintet (Plus One) in nightclubs, especially the Hatchcover in Scottsdale, playing alongside Joe Corral (flute), Steve Banks (percussion), bassists Ronnie Scott, Hamilton Sterling, Genley Anderson, or Bob Lashier, and drummers including Lewis Nash, George Carrillo, Jr., Dave Wilson, or Dave Cook, and sometimes with John Hardy also on saxophones, and/or Alice Tatum (voice). The Charles Lewis Quintet plus One also played occasional gigs through the union’s Music Performance Trust Fund at schools, prisons, juvenile detention centers, reservations, and hospitals. Charles had come to ASU from Philadelphia in the 50s, then studied with Oscar Peterson in Toronto. Charles’ group was the top instrumental group with horns in the city and getting a call from him, starting with my first gig, was an honor.
My very first gig with Charles Lewis, and first real professional jazz gig, was an outdoor graduation party at a college in Yuma (probably Arizona Western College) with John Renner (1937-2017) on tenor sax, in May 1975. It paid $55, a lot of money at the time. John was the original tenor sax soloist in The Eclectic Mouse, and later played a lot with the Beach Boys and many others. He has a humorous autobiography of music business stories online. He was an excellent, experienced player and was kind and supportive on the ride down – we rode together in my father’s car, since it was too long a drive for my (un-air-conditioned) ’61 Falcon – and on the gig, helping me along. I remember the fact that I wasn’t comfortable playing “On Green Dolphin Street” in C was a problem – I knew it in Eb concert and hadn’t really learned to transpose, so the band shrugged and played it in my key. I was a near-beginner, a college freshman with a small repertoire of standards and jazz tunes, but I could read and knew chord-scale theory and some blues and modal ways of playing, and the decades of listening to jazz helped me out a lot. Charles was known for giving young players a chance to develop, and he mixed standards and jazz tunes (Horace Silver, for example) with simple funk things (Theme from “Ironsides”) and more complex tunes he had charts for (a Cal Massey tune called “Nessa,” Jobim’s “Children’s Games” or “Double Rainbow,” etc.). Later, I did overnight trips with Charles Lewis’s band to a juvenile detention center in Alpine, Arizona; the College of Ganado on the Navajo Reservation; and a group of gigs around Prescott; as well as clubs, some private events, and some schools and other institutions around Phoenix. Charles would take a band to the bottom of Havasu Canyon (part of the Grand Canyon) by helicopter to play for the residents of Supai once a year, but I never got to do that trip.
A couple of years later, I was performing occasionally with Prince Shell, sitting in with Keith Greko, both often with Lewis Nash on drums, and on a long-running weekly gig at Chuy’s on Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe with vocalist Francine Reed, Suzanne McElfresh (piano), Bob Lashier (bass), and Lewis. I played occasionally at the Century Sky Room with Prince Shell’s Mastercharge big band, opening with a band set of Prince’s arrangements and then accompanying an open mic session. A jazz quartet with Ted Goddard, Jr. (guitar), Hamilton Sterling (electric bass), Keith Miles (drums), and me had a steady weekly gig playing jazz standards at the Old Mill in Tempe (owned by two former Philadelphia Eagles football players). We hosted a Sunday afternoon jam session there where Sun Ra sideman Pat Patrick once sat in on flute.
I didn't play in rock or horn bands much, but for a year or so around 1976, I was in a band called Rendezvous with Bill Clifford (trombone and keyboards), his brother, Steve Grismore (guitar), Don Connor, Bill O'Dell, and one or two others. The Cliffords were good musicians who were sons of a Phoenix arranger, Bill Clifford, Sr., who had written the gorgeous KUPD theme that I had grown up hearing, "Sound of the City" — a song that still gives me chills because it was something where beautiful harmony really struck me as a small child soon after we moved to Phoenix.
Rendezvous did a very eclectic mix of cover tunes from Ohio Players to the Doobie Brothers to Peter Frampton, and some pop originals with lyrics by their friend Jeff Holmes. I had a very short career as a background singer on their original, "Breezin'," but I was having trouble singing the major 7ths next to the roots in a four-part close harmony of parallel major 7th chords — incentive to work on ear training. We played a few club gigs, including the 5th National Banque on Central and Indian School Road, where we thought we'd been double-booked, since the marquee outside said Roadblock; the owner had renamed our band because he couldn't spell Rendezvous. Our most memorable gig was an insane party on March 6, 1976 for 800 Saguaro High School students at the Squaw Peak Inn off Tatum Boulevard, organized by a girls' club. There were hired security guards, many kegs of beer and punch bowls (for underage high school students), , and dressing rooms and a very loud PA for us. Eventually the police shut it down, but not before we'd played for four hours.
The band rehearsed in a rented self-storage unit on McClintock north of University, near Minder Binders, a college bar. It was incredibly hot and the sound bouncing off the metal walls was ear-damaging. I started wearing ear plugs and eventually quit because of the rehearsals.
When I graduated from college in 1978, I bought a tenor saxophone, and began to play both alto and tenor on most of my small group jazz gigs. A couple of years later, a friend sold me his grandfather’s curved Conn soprano (which had been played in the Sousa band).
Dan Haerle left ASU after my junior year to join the faculty of the prestigious North Texas State University jazz program, and in fall 1977, we had a new jazz professor, pianist Dr. Tom Ferguson, who had been at Memphis State for over 15 years. (My roommate Dave Bennett had left Memphis State to come to ASU and study with Dan Haerle.) He was president of the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE). In addition to teaching at ASU, Dr. Ferguson appeared on local TV news as a commentator, something like Paul Harvey on the radio or Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes.
CMS – THE CREATIVE MUSIC STUDIO
In the summers of 1978 and '79, I studied improvisation and composition with Roscoe Mitchell, Karl Berger, George Lewis, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Jerome Cooper, Frederic Rzewski, Garrett List, Jack DeJohnette, and others at the Creative Music Studio near Woodstock, New York (in the former Oehler’s Mountain Lodge off Route 28A near West Hurley). Each weekday would begin with Basic Practice and Tuning, two 90-minute sessions (if I recall correctly), one based on rhythmic cycles, and the second on singing together and hearing overtones. The idea was to break music down to its most basic and universal rhythmic and pitched elements to start the day. In the afternoons we had guest artists some days – Jimmy Giuffre, Michael Gregory Jackson, Eugene Chadbourne, Burton Greene, Peter Warren, Byard Lancaster, Ursula Oppens, David Eyges, Jim Burton, etc., or founder Karl Berger or Garrett List – doing single sessions on a wide variety of topics. There was a dance/Alexander Technique teacher, Sara Cook, who worked on our posture and alignment, and made a lasting impression on my practicing. After a vegetarian buffet lunch (the cook was a friend of Jack DeJohnette’s), most afternoons were devoted to several-hour rehearsals with the week’s visiting artist, leading up to a Friday concert of their music with all the students and staff members.
Guest artists in the first summer session of 1978 were Jerome Cooper, Fredric Rzewski, Roscoe Mitchell, and Jack DeJohnette, and Garrett List and the A-1 Art Band (with Genie Sherman, Youseff Yancey, and Sadiq Abdushahid). Each guest was there for a week. Staff members included Michael Lytle-clarinet; George Cartwright-saxophones; Marilyn Crispell-piano; Don Davis-alto sax; Tom Collins-soprano sax and congas; Lisa Brown-alto sax; Janet Grice-bassoon; and others. The 1978 students included my friend Keith Miles (drums; we drove there from Phoenix in his van), Tom Cora (cello, who arrived from Richmond, Virginia, and became a close friend), Steve Rowland (the jazz radio producer, on baritone sax), Mark Kramer (trombone – later the famous Kramer of Shimmydisc label and the band Bongwater), Elisa Mereghetti (later a jazz DJ in Rome), Michael Brorby (drummer from Tucson who later played with Diane Schuur, then became an engineer and studio owner in Brooklyn), Phillippe Keyser (drums, from Montreal – there were 8 drummers, attracted by Jack, and one bassist), Michael Garden (congas), Jonathan Heine (bass) – a total of about 20 students. In 1979, the students included a lot of future notable figures: Tina Marsh (voice), Carlos “Zingaro” Alves (violin), Fred Hess (tenor sax), Mars Williams (tenor sax), Bill Ylitalo aka Otto Kentrol (tenor sax, guitar), Axel Kröll (drums), Bob Wyatt (drums), Tom Dill, Sam Holmstock (congas), Dan Seamens (elecric bass), Jim Henry (trumpet, from Phoenix), and Mike Lake (trombone, also from Phoenix). The main faculty that summer were Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, and Leo Smith.
Our first CMS guest artist in June 1978 was Jerome Cooper, subbing for Leroy Jenkins who had planned to come but was out having surgery. Jerome had one black glove on – it turned out to be for playing musical saw. He wrote 7 rows of 7 whole notes on the board, told us we were going to play a piece called “Seven,” with seven movements. “7 is a heavy number.” He had us play the notes. I asked if we should transpose or play them as written, since most seemed to be reading them in their instruments’ key. He thought for a moment, then said “Play it in your own world.” One movement consisted of me improvising over walking bass and eight drummers all playing medium fast swing. He gave me a pep talk before the concert: “Be prepared for this to last seven hours. You are going to have to deal some shit!” Later that week, he played his amazing solo pieces from his album The Unpredictability of Predictability on a stage outdoors for us. My drummer friend Keith and I drove him back to his apartment on Little West 10th Street in Manhattan on the weekend, and he invited us in. His LP collection was very small – about 20 discs, entirely Art Blakey and Folkways native American records. It was an unforgettable week and seemed like a great concert – the biggest change I could imagine from my composition studies at ASU, where I’d graduated a few weeks before.
Of all the CMS faculty, Roscoe Mitchell made the biggest impression on me. He came prepared with several pieces for our odd ensemble, ranging from graphic scores to smaller leadsheets, and his process of putting together the concert was fascinating. He gave us a clinic on composition where he illustrated his decision-making process on a blackboard, note by note. He also took the time to write a separate piece consisting of a deck of cards with musical instructions tailored to each student and staff member, more than 30 people, with our names on our deck. We were to deal a hand, and play what was on the cards, following certain guidelines about silence and sequence. We recorded this orchestral piece, with Roscoe listening in the booth but unable to see us. At one point, he cut off a take when he heard one of the 30-some musicians play something that wasn’t on his card, saying “It isn’t about your personality.” We also got to hear an astonishing, beautiful duet by Roscoe Mitchell on alto sax and Marilyn Crispell on piano one night in a faculty concert. In 1979, the interactions between program director Roscoe and guest artist Anthony Braxton, who arrived a day late due to travel problems, were hilarious – Braxton lying face down on the ground grabbing Roscoe’s ankles and mock-begging for forgiveness.
In August 1979, Anthony Braxton had us play a piece that consisted only of long tones with extremely detailed dynamics: each dynamic with a subscript or superscript of 1-10. He wanted us to also visually illustrate the dynamics with our vertical position of our instrument. We were about 20 musicians set up on risers with folding chairs, and this instruction resulted in Tina Marsh lying face down whispering into the floor, and a trombonist standing on a high chair pointing to the ceiling, etc. Braxton watched this for a while, grabbed his head, screamed “I’m out!” and left. The next day, he brought his wife Nickie with a big professional TV camera to videotape us doing it again, and he discussed his plan to have a big band with puppets, among other things.
I had a three- or four-hour private lesson with Julius Hemphill at his home in nearby Shady, NY in June ’78. Michael Gregory Jackson had helped me get in touch with him. He was, and is, a hero of mine, along with Roscoe Mitchell. They were both generous with information and working with both of them that summer was extremely inspiring and it’s still a positive influence on my music almost 40 years later.
During those summer sessions at CMS, we also had a chance to hear Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon with acoustic quartets, sitting up close at the Joyous Lake club in Woodstock, and went to NYC for some concerts, including a midnight Carnegie Hall concert of Cecil Taylor’s band and Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time in one of their first gigs. At CMS, we gave a concert with the week’s visiting faculty member every Friday night, and there were faculty/staff concerts Saturday nights, sometimes with guests (Richard Teitelbaum was one), plus student concerts, recording sessions (Roscoe Mitchell wrote and recorded “Cards” with everyone, about 40 musicians), and on one occasion a poolside festival with Jeanne Lee-Gunter Hampel duo, Don Moyé solo percussion, and others. There were also bands to hear in and around the Catskills on afternoons or nights off (The Suspenders, a Eugene Chadbourne-Leslie Dalaba tribute to Duke Ellington…), and we’d see famous musicians from the area hanging out or playing pool at CMS: Carla Bley, Daevid Allen, Oliver Lake, Bill Laswell (who wasn’t famous yet), etc. Christian Wolff and a radio crew came to do an environmental piece called Stones (playing rocks in the field). In ’79, the rained-out 10th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival led to some artists like John Sebastian, and Ed Sanders of the Fugs, performing in our CMS main hall, too, and Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and David Amram played in the soccer field.
The eight weeks or so that I spent at CMS those two summers were magical and almost unbelievable. To go from the isolation of Arizona where this adventurous music was like a distant signal to daily interaction in a small community with so many of the major figures in the music was incredible and fueled a lot of activity in the years to come.
Bob Sweet, who was a student around the same period, wrote a book at CMS, Music Universe, Music Mind: Revisiting the Creative Music Studio, Woodstock, New York (1996, Arborville).
PHILADELPHIA AND PENN (AND NYC)
In the summer of 1979, when I wasn’t at CMS, I was living in Philadelphia for about 4 or 5 months. My professor Amy Holbrook had encouraged me to apply to top schools for a PhD in music theory. I’d been admitted to the PhD program in the history and theory of music at University of Pennsylvania with a full ride and a stipend to live on, and moved there early in the summer to find a place (a studio apartment at 43rd and Chester), take a German course (I needed three languages and had none), and hopefully make musical connections. I had two ASU friends there, Barbara Lafitte (oboe, working on a master’s at Temple) and Vaughn Kaser (congas, studying music therapy) but they lived far from my West Philly apartment, and I knew Steve Roland from CMS. I hadn’t visited the school, or any of the five graduate schools I’d applied to (Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Penn, and Chicago, I think). It had seemed too expensive to fly across the country for a visit and was not something I understood was necessary. I was offered admission to Chicago and Penn, and chose Penn based on the offer of free tuition and fees plus a $400 per month stipend, faculty members Leonard Meyer’s books and George Rochberg’s music, and some AACM members’ advice at CMS that they did not recommend we move to Chicago. I also liked the idea of being closer to New York and in a city I had at least visited on a family vacation and could visualize. As it turned out, I knew far too little about the program before making the decision. Due to bad experiences with my advisor; the unexpected two-year absence of Leonard Meyer, the professor I had gone there to study with; the difficulty of passing the music department’s PhD language exams (after an intensive summer course as a beginner, I got a perfect score on the German department’s exam, but failed my first attempt at the music department’s exam); dissatisfaction with ¾ of my courses (bibliography and medieval notation, both taught by my advisor; and an absurdly incompetent Indian music “class” in which I was the only student; only Eugene Narmour’s analysis course was interesting and relevant to me); no apparent chance of interacting with the composition faculty (George Crumb and George Rochberg) or studying contemporary music; belatedly realizing the PhD program had zero history of job placement of graduates (one was a librarian; my advisor couldn’t name a professor who graduated from the program); and not much prospect of playing jazz anytime soon in Philadelphia after trying to introduce myself to Monnette Sudler, the Eubanks brothers, Sumi Tonooka, etc. (all friendly, but not looking for an alto player)…for all those reasons, I dropped out and moved back to Phoenix in October.
On the positive side, during that summer of 1979, when my then-girlfriend from ASU was home with her family in Pelham, NY, and Lewis Nash was spending the summer with friends in Bronxville, and taking lessons with Freddie Waits, Andrew Cyrille, and Billy Hart in NY, I heard a lot of music, both in Philadelphia and in frequent short trips by train to NYC. Lewis and I heard a double bill of the Dewey Redman Quartet (with Fred Simmons-piano, Mark Helias-bass, Eddie Moore-drums) and Clifford Jordan Quartet (John Hicks, Walter Booker, Jimmy Cobb) one night, and the Philly Joe Jones Quartet another night, at the Tin Palace. I heard the Heath Brothers at Stars in Philadelphia and asked Jimmy Heath for lessons. He said he didn’t teach, but referred me to George Coleman (advice I should have taken). I also heard Rickie Lee Jones (who had attended my high school) twice, once in Philadelphia and once at Carnegie Hall with a small orchestra. There were many more nights of listening to great music, but those stand out. Lewis’s studies and opportunities to sit in that summer led to his eventual hiring by Betty Carter and move to NY a couple of years later.
THE LEWIS NASH-ALLAN CHASE DUO
Lewis Nash invited me to form a drum set and saxophone duo in fall 1979 when I returned to Phoenix, and we rehearsed and performed as a duo for about nine months in 1979 and '80 and made live and studio recordings with the help of Johnny D. Lewis and I had met in an ASU jazz quintet when he was a freshman in September 1976 and we hung out a lot, listening to music, and played together often in other settings, with the Charles Lewis Quintet and other bands. Lewis had played in the all-city Young Sounds big band in high school, and was already a very good player, but he hadn’t listened to jazz that much before his freshman year. (I believe his jazz record collection consisted of Quincy Jones’ Walking in Space and Ramsey Lewis’s Sun Goddess, with one great swing track, “Killer Joe” with Grady Tate on drums, between them. But he had picked up a lot more information than that, even then.) I helped Lewis buy some of his first jazz records at the record store where I worked, Odyssey, and he was the fastest-learning musician I’ve ever met, becoming the first-call jazz drummer in Phoenix in a year or so. As The Lewis Nash-Allan Chase Duo, we opened college concerts for Eberhard Weber (with Charlie Mariano, Rainer Bruninghaus, and Jon Christensen), Old and New Dreams, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago in Neeb Hall and the ASU Music Theater and Recital Hall, and played at the No-Nukes Jazz Festival at Scottsdale Stadium, at our self-produced A Night of Creative Music at the ASU Music Theater, and in an informal concert on the porch of a cabin at the Avalon Community in Dewey, AZ, and we recorded live and in a studio for a very limited cassette-only release. Our repertoire included pieces I brought from CMS (Roscoe Mitchell’s “3 Ex 4 Eye”), things Lewis got in his summer ’79 lessons in New York (Andrew Cyrille’s “5-4-3-2”), and a sort of history of the drums-saxophone duo in jazz: “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” a la Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones; “Leo” or other Coltrane-Rashied Ali pieces; and other pieces from members of the AACM, Billy Hart, David Murray, Don Pullen, etc., plus some originals and free improvisations. We also each did a solo piece in some of our sets.
In the two years after college, I was free to practice a lot. With no homework for the first time in 16 years, but still doing my record store clerk job and gigs as I had during college, I had a lot more time, and I began to develop and work out things that Dan Haerle and Frank Smith had shown me, learning more tunes, and especially figuring out how to “make the changes” better by using chromatic approach notes to control resolution and spice up lines, which was a major, belated development in my jazz playing. Older players and listeners commented on the difference, which was encouraging. Listening carefully to Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz was a big part of this. (Sonny Rollins had become my favorite “straight-ahead” player, as we said in those days, meaning tunes and changes, after hearing him live a couple of times, and meeting him twice. I was aware of Lee Konitz earlier, but it was Julius Hemphill who really pointed me to Lee Konitz: he was amazed that I wasn’t already very deeply into Lee’s playing and said it was a must for me to check out. I started with the duo album with Red Mitchell, I Concentrate on You, and eventually got to know his playing well.)
OTHER GIGS, 1978-80
One steady gig around spring 1978 was with Oscar Oscar y el Orquesta de Oscar Oscar at El Salon México, a big dance club built in the Salt River bottom in southwest Phoenix. This was a band with singer (Oscar), guitar, bass, drumset, congas (George Carrillo, Sr., father of the jazz drummer I often played with), two trumpets, and tenor sax. Oscar would call the day of the gig – you had to be near the phone – and tell us whether to wear the orange, green, yellow, or black tux jacket that night. I think it was a way of verifying everyone would show up, as well as allowing for last-minute inspiration for our matching colors. The horns were fellow college students, and we read horn books while the band played from memory, playing a variety of Mexican and Caribbean / Latin-American dance music. The guitarist, bassist, and drummer (who tuned the bass and guitar, one of whom played left-handed) were all called Oscar, at least on stage: Oscar de California, etc. We alternated sets with a strolling mariachi band. There was a landlocked boat on a patio out back that sold burritos. Oscar (the singer and leader) had an echo machine for announcements (the popular sound on Mexican and Mexican-American radio at the time). The band was good, grooving and very solid, and the audiences packed the huge dance floor and were generally very happy and festive. On one occasion, a fight broke out on the dance floor and the rhythm section members joined it, defending their friends, but Oscar yelled at the horns to keep playing, which we did. On one other occasion, I was leaving the club when I saw someone in the parking lot shooting a revolver into the closed trunk of a car. I waited inside for a long time before leaving the club that night. But mostly it was a fun gig with good vibes and gave me a bit of a window into a culture I lived alongside but didn’t know that deeply. We were paid an odd amount of money that might have had to do with a union contract, in cash including coins (to the penny): $28.57 per night or something like that. I lost the gig to my roommate when I was away for 6 or 7 weeks at CMS the first time. When the Salt River “flooded” (had water in it) the club was destroyed. No one had flood insurance in Arizona; the club burned down soon after the flood, though.
In 1979-80, I led a quartet accompanying vocalist Lady J (Helen Jones) at the Century Sky Room in Phoenix, billed as Lady J and the Jazz Collection, on a regular weekly gig for several months. Members of the group included Ted Goddard or Stan Sorenson on guitar, or Prince Shell or Lee O’Donnell on piano; Warren Jones on bass; and Keith Miles on drums. In a quartet with Warren Jones (bass), Zeke Gutierrez (guitar), and Keith Miles (drums), we opened shows in Tempe and Tucson for Angela Bofill’s band which included pianist-musical director Onaje Allan Gumbs and Tinker Barfield on bass.
Mary Bishop, who managed the Century Sky Room, presented a series of concerts called The Roots of Jazz, centered on arranger-pianist Prince Shell (b. 12.31.28 in Lott, TX), who was an important mentor for many of us. Prince Sell (born 1928) had attended DuSable High School on Chicago’s South Side with many future jazz greats, and had worked with Gene Ammons and others before serving as a staff arranger in the Navy and Air Force, then as Gene McDaniels’ musical director on a world tour. He had accompanied many jazz and R&B artists and was well-known to musicians who had spent time in Chicago, although his record credits were few (including arranging and playing orchestra bells on a Jesse Jackson LP; and uncredited arrangements for Sun Ra, Eddie & Ernie, and others; he wrote for the Sam Jones-Tom Harrell big band, but the band fizzled when Sam Jones passed away). Prince settled in Phoenix and arranged and played for many bands. I had a chance to play Prince’s music in the Roots of Jazz big band swing and bebop shows, and sometimes went to his house to listen to records, and often went to hear him play with his own bands and with guitarist Jerry Byrd, Dave Cook’s Vanguard, and other groups. For us, he was a direct link to the bebop era, having played with Gene Ammons and other bebop greats, and been one of the people recording Charlie Parker at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago.
I worked with a group of ASU modern dancers and choreographers in 1979-80 collaborating on music for a recital, and on another multimedia dance and art piece in Phoenix. I’d sometimes play the Art Walk on the art gallery streets of Scottsdale, either solo saxophone or duets with Keith Miles, Ruth Vichules, and others. A couple of gigs that almost happened: I got a call to play in a big band with Louie Bellson at a Paradise Valley jazz party, but unfortunately he had to cancel, and a near miss subbing with Buddy Rich due to an emergency absence, but someone else did it.
During three of my college years and for a couple of years after graduation, I worked in record stores: Odyssey Records on University in Tempe starting in March 1976, and later Odyssey in Phoenix and the Hollywood Records chain. I learned a lot about many kinds of music from my coworkers, including manager (and bassist) Warren Jones. Working at Odyssey Tempe was so much fun that we all tended to stop by the store on our days off, to check out any new releases and see our co-workers.
On a few California trips during my college years, I got to hear some great jazz and creative music. In addition to the Keith Jarrett solo concert at UCLA, around 1975, John and Brooke took my friend Paula and me to the Universal Amphitheater to hear a double bill of Al Jarreau with his band and Natalie Cole with strings. When I helped my first roommate, Mitch, move to Pacifica in early summer 1976, we went to the Keystone Korner in San Francisco and heard Horace Silver (with Tom Harrell-trumpet, Bob Berg-tenor sax). Flora Purim was leaning over our front-row table, taking pictures of Horace, and we recognized other jazz musicians in the audience.
ASU jazz classmates Keith Miles, Dave Bennett, Dana Osborn, Tracey Lyons, and I went on a 1977 spring break road trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. John Dixon took us to hear the El Monte Art Ensemble (Marty Krystall-saxophones, Don Preston-electric piano, Buell Neidlinger-electric bass, and Deborah Fuss-drums) at the Century City Playhouse. It was free jazz, more or less. I remember Buell lying flat on his back playing Rickenbacker electric bass. The drummer was introduced as someone who had never played the drums before. It appeared that way – she pulled out sticks from a vase and looked at them quizzically, then tried hitting various things in various combinations. At one point, a woman in a sari stood up from the audience to join in on soprano sax during a tune called “Baby Trees Dream.” Afterwards, John introduced us to Don Preston, a legendary member of the original Mothers of Invention (and doctor of “vile foamy liquids” in the movie 200 Motels). One goal of the trip was to hear the Dave Liebman-Pee Wee Ellis band in San Francisco, but most of us weren’t old enough to get in – the drinking age was 21 in California, but 19 in Arizona then, so I had to listen from outside. We did get to hear the Sam Rivers Trio (Dave Holland-bass, Bobby Battle-drums) at the Keystone Korner, and Julius Hemphill playing his solo saxophone and tape piece “Roi Boyé and the Gotham Minstrels” at a club in Oakland called Mapenzi. I went to the Keystone Korner in San Francisco on one other trip and heard Kenny Burrell (with Jerome Richardson on saxophones).
From 1975 through 1980, there were also tremendous opportunities to hear jazz in Phoenix. We didn’t appreciate them as much as we should have at the time, because Phoenix felt isolated and distant from the hippest, biggest cities, but all kinds of historic figures came through town. I heard a solo concert by Oliver Lake in Tucson, Charles Mingus in both Scottsdale and Tucson, Sonny Stitt with a local rhythm section, the Bill Evans Trio, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, Tony Williams Lifetime (with Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua), Herbie Hancock-Chick Corea duo, Daevid Allen’s Planet Gong (with some of my CMS friends in the band), Todd Rundgren's Utopia, and more appearances by Charles Lloyd, Weather Report, Gato Barbieri, and John McLaughlin. I heard Dizzy Gillespie’s quartet and Joe Farrell at the Boojum Tree, and the Phoenix Hyatt started featuring jazz in a small club where we heard Helen Humes, Chico Hamilton’s band (with George Young on alto and flute), Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and others. Sun Ra played at Neeb Hall at ASU, my first of about 25 times seeing him. At the annual Arcosanti Festival, we got to hear Dave Liebman’s Lookout Farm, the Liebman-Richie Beirach Duo, Anthony Braxton solo, McCoy Tyner with George Adams and Joe Ford, Gato Barbieri with Bernard Purdie, and the Gary Burton Quartet. Through jazz journalist Pat Myers, Lewis Nash, Suzanne McElfresh, and I got to talk with Sonny Rollins after his Scottsdale Center for the Arts concert in ’78, and I met him again at Dooley’s through Jerome Harris. Brother Jazz McDuff and his band came to the Skyroom where I was playing and some of them sat in. I heard Rufus with Chaka Khan, the Brothers Johnson, Earth, Wind and Fire, and some of the first Phoenix punk shows by the Consumers and the Trout-a-Rama where the Feederz, the Roll-Ons, and the Turquoise Orchestra played.
There were also lots of great opportunities to hear local jazz during the late 1970s. One of the main venues was the Hatchcover, the underground club in downtown Scottsdale where the Charles Lewis Quintet plus One played. Later, it was redesigned and called Raffles, and the Keith Greko Trio (Bob Lashier-bass, Lewis Nash-drums) played there. Friends and I would go sit in with Charles and Keith there, or just go to listen. The Century Skyroom had Prince Shell, guitarist Jerry Byrd, and many others. At the El Bandido Restaurant, the great drummer and polyrhythms teacher Pete Magadini had a hip quartet with Zeke Zoeckler (tenor sax), Prince Shell (piano), and Curtis Glenn (bass). They played 1-4 AM, the only after-hours gig in Phoenix as far as I know, on weekends and we’d often end up there listening. Pete would play his piece dedicated to Billy Higgins, “Smiling Billy.” Once I saw Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) listening for hours, alone in a booth over to the side (possibly after the Frank Zappa concert at the Celebrity Theater). There were also lots of outdoor gigs, local festivals, library concerts, benefits, and other events to hear. If we weren’t playing on them, we were often there listening.
The Boojum Tree at the Doubletree Hotel in Phoenix had national touring jazz acts. I played a week there as part of Gap Mangione’s local pick-up band, with Hamilton Sterling (electric bass) and Keith Miles (drums). At the corresponding Doubletree Hotel club on Scottsdale Plaza, the Suzanne McElfresh Quartet had a steady gig with Lewis Nash, a bassist, and me. One night, after their Scottsdale Center concert, Marian McPartland and her trio (Brian Torff-bass, and probably Jake Hanna-drums) came in and listened, then the three of them sat in but asked me to stay for a few tunes (Marian said “Well, we don’t have a saxophone”), which was a thrill. When she got an honorary doctorate at NEC decades later, I was seated next to her at a dinner and thanked her again for that opportunity, and she charmingly claimed to remember it – I’m not sure, but it was nice of her.
A month after I left Phoenix, in August 1980, Lewis Nash got called to play for three weeks of alto sax guest artists at the Boojum Tree: Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, and Sonny Stitt. (Phil Woods also played a week, but brought his own band.) I hated missing that, but I was thrilled for Lewis and it was a sign of great things to come for him less than a year later, when he got a call to submit an audition tape by Express Mail for Betty Carter, on recommendation of some of his NY teachers (Freddie Waits, Billy Hart), and got the gig and moved to Brooklyn to tour for years as a member of Betty's band.
For Part 2: 1980-2018, click here: http://www.allanchase.com/musical-autobiography-part-2