So Dark the Night

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Finally, at the very end of the lesson he challenged me by saying: "All my students sing solos, when I studied with Lennie he let me pick the first one, and I'll do the same with you. The assignment of singing a solo with a recording was new for me as I had not been "taught" this way before. This was liberating and also gave confidence over time in that I was learning and internalizing some of the great recorded jazz literature by ear and then would learn to play the same material.

In that two-week period I not only learned to sing the solo but also went ahead and taught myself to play it on the guitar and piano and felt I was well-prepared for my next lesson. The lessons with Sonny went on this way for some time and I felt I was making great progress as a result. I was also growing as a player through the weekly sessions we were having with Jim, and it was a standard practice then for us to spend a bit of time listening and conversing each week before we started playing.

The listening could be casual, such as when one of us may have heard a new recording and brought it with us, or it could be quite detailed when listening to classic jazz recordings. This was definitely the case with recordings of Lester Young and Charlie Parker I'll also refer to them by their jazz nicknames of Prez and Bird.

Regarding Bird, at that time the pre-CD era there still weren't a lot of his recordings available, and in fact a double-LP reissue of his Savoy Records master sessions from the 's including the take of "Billie's Bounce" that I learned had come out toward the end of my last semester at William Paterson.

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However, it was at the sessions at Sonny's that I first heard the set of famous recordings that Bird had made for Dial Records, also in the later 's. I was captivated by these recordings, and most especially Bird's treatment of the several ballads that he played. For myself and many others, his sensitivity, lyrical flow of ideas, and depth of feeling in playing ballads are unsurpassed. After we listened once through we were listening to a cassette copy Sonny sat next to the cassette player and rewound the tape. He then would stop frequently as he replayed the tape, highlighting and replaying certain phrases, singing the phrases, and sharing his thoughts on what made Bird such a great player.

Not only did my ears grow immeasurably through experiences like this, but on a deeper level I fell in love with those recordings and also with Bird as a jazz artist and musical figure. I learned several of his solos later in my studies, but to bring this story back around to Warne Marsh I had a similar experience through the course of with his recorded music and my appreciation of his stature as a jazz artist. Warne did become a favorite subject of our pre-session listening in , but let me first backtrack in my narrative timeline. After Sonny gave his recommendation that I study with Warne I thought about it and at home the next day again took out "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Making his debut with altoist Lee Konitz and leader Tristano on the celebrated Capitol sessions of , Marsh's work is characterized by great rhythmic subtlety, a pale sound, and long, looping lines that plait with those of Konitz. For many years, he recorded solely with other Tristanoites, preferring — like his mentor — to perfect his playing in isolation rather than compromise with the commercial world of the jazz club.

Sinuous, yet never declamatory in the currently fashionable style, Warne Marsh has yet to receive the recognition he deserves. I thought this was both an interesting and intriguing appraisal, and couldn't find a description quite like it pertaining to any other jazz musician in the book. I decided then that I needed to get to know Warne's playing for myself and went to the local record store to look for some of his recordings.

Technical notes

These are a little easier to locate currently, but in late there were not many of his records available. This is a spare setting, however it was obvious that nothing was missing in terms of other instruments. The first track is cleverly titled "Loco 47" Local 47 is the Los Angeles chapter of the Musicians Union and is an improvisation on the harmonic structure of the song "This Can't Be Love.

Beyond that, it just "sounds right" in a way that defies any verbal analysis or explanation, and shares this quality that I believe is inherent in all great jazz performances either recorded or live. One element I also noticed was a rhythmic command and freedom much like the first track of Lennie Tristano that I heard at Sonny's house, however it seemed that Warne went even further than moving the implied downbeat back and forth. There are phrases that he improvises in polyrhythm over the basic time that Jim and Nick provide, as well as phrases that toy with the overall sense of meter in a playful way but always come back to the correct spot in the form.

Finally, Warne's sound and 'concept' in some way revealed a healthy 'sense of humor' to me. This is a term that I used to hear in reference to jazz improvising, and while it is difficult to define I believe that "Loco 47" amply displays it. Over the years I have developed an internal personal "short list" of greatest recorded examples of Warne's playing, and "Loco 47" is definitely on that list. In contrast, the Jazz Exchange LP was recorded live in a jazz club in Copenhagen in December of and features a quintet of Warne and Lee together with three Danish musicians led by the well-known bassist Niels Pedersen.

Historically this time marked Warne's first visit to Europe, a reunion with Lee after about a decade of not playing together, and also the beginning of regular visits to Europe for the balance of his life. Once I had bought these records I brought them to our next session and remember asking Sonny as we listened to "Loco 47" - "Son, is that a head that Warne wrote? Warne can improvise a line that sounds like he sat there composing it for hours before he played it.


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However, to return to the account of our listening sessions, the one recording of Warne's that we ended up listening to for many hours was called "The Art of Improvising, Vol. When Sonny first brought out his copy of "The Art of Improvising" I was quite intrigued: in terms of format "The Art of Improvising" consists of twenty relatively short tracks that for the most part are edited jazz performances of Warne that were recorded live during an engagement at The Half Note jazz club in New York City in More specifically, on most of the tracks there is a quick fade in and out at the beginning and end and everything other than Warne's solo is removed.

There are a few tracks where Lee plays simultaneously with Warne. When we first started listening to this record I was somewhat mystified, as I had never heard any like this before. Some of my first impressions were that Warne's style at that time was entirely unique as it was throughout his career , and though his sound reminded me of some players notably Lester Young , it was unlike any I had heard. Also, his approach to the material was much the same as in the trio recording I had purchased, although he was a much younger man when these recordings were made and his sound or tone was lighter.

He had a very free approach rhythmically, but also exhibited a highly subtle sense of jazz swing. Since the "Art of Improvising" was unavailable Sonny let me make a cassette of it and I listened to it frequently. Prior to playing at sessions he also would go through a similar process as when we were listening to Charlie Parker of playing one track several times, and then replaying certain phrases for deeper listening. We also later used this recording in a playful way for "blindfold tests": since the tracks did not feature an opening melody statement and were frequently without piano we would try to identify the harmonic structures of the songs after we hadn't listened to the tape for a couple of weeks and our ears were a little fresher.

It was around that time that I also started wondering if somehow Warne's general approach could be expressed through the guitar, and decided to set myself on the path of finding out if it was indeed possible. In short, over the course of the first six or eight months of I came to regard Warne Marsh as one of the greatest living jazz improvisers, and though it took me many years to verbalize it I fell in love then with his playing and general approach to jazz. My life in continued on these various paths - playing sessions, studying with Sonny, practicing, listening deeply - on a daily and weekly basis.

The course of study that Sonny set for me definitely seemed to be yielding results, and I especially enjoyed the process of singing and playing recorded solos along with the other things we were doing. Along with the technical work we did in lessons Sonny shared stories of his background as a young musician in both Pittsburgh and New York. He was a gifted story teller and gave me a very real feeling and sense of "jazz lore" if you will, and made the jazz life palpable to me in contrast to reading about it in a history book.

Finally, along with my work in lessons I continued to acquire recordings of interest. There were two releases in that were significant to me: Atlantic records reissued major recordings of Lennie Tristano that were brought out originally in and as a two-LP set, and also released a two-LP set of live quartet recordings from that featured Lee Konitz with Lennie and had been previously unavailable.

I'll address these recordings shortly, however there was an event that occurred in August of that I still vividly recall and is important to this story.

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Sal Mosca was a prominent jazz pianist and had been one of Lennie's foremost students in the 's. At that time I didn't really know his playing, but Sonny always spoke highly of Sal and was personally very fond of him although they had not seen each other in quite a while.

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At any rate, I had not been to the Vanguard in some time, so I made plans to go into New York about a two-hour ride one-way on Thursday evening August 13 and stay for the entire performance. The format then at the Vanguard was that bands would play three one-hour sets beginning at 10pm, pm, and finally at 1am, so the total night would last four hours and groups were booked for six consecutive nights from Tuesday through Sunday Mondays were big band nights, at that time the Mel Lewis Big Band performed there regularly.

I think this kind of performing intensity has been somewhat reduced these days to less sets and less nights at many clubs around the US, however as a young player in training the fact that significant musical strength and endurance was necessary to perform in this setting was not lost on me. Some other things I also always enjoyed about the Vanguard were the sense of history and the intimacy of the room. I can't imagine that the club holds much more than a hundred people, and that is with all the tables spaced fairly close together.

August 13 turned out to be a typical hot and humid summer night in New York, and I arrived at the Vanguard and settled into a centrally located table before the music started. The band took the stage a small bandstand surrounded by red drapes in the corner of the room and Warne and Sal were accompanied by Frank Canino on bass and Skip Scott on drums. I didn't know anything about these players at the time, but both were young and capable and I found out later were significantly connected to the extended Lennie Tristano world — Frank was a student of Sal's, and Skip had grown up knowing Lennie his stepfather, Dick Scott, was a jazz drummer who had played with Lennie, Warne, Sonny, and other players.

I remember that the first tune was based on "There Will Never Be Another You," and opened with a jazz line that was typical of Lennie's approach to small group writing I found out later that it was "Smog Eyes," and was written by tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, a well-known player and student of Lennie's in the "early" days. I was struck immediately by Warne's presence: in such small quarters he occupied a central location and was a commanding figure.

He impressed me as a fully mature and capable statesman of jazz — he appeared to be around the age of fifty and clearly was a master. He also had some notable idiosyncrasies — one being a very relaxed persona and physical presence that incorporated a lot of free but subtle movement that expressed the music that he was playing. His dress was casual — a long-sleeve, horizontally-striped, dark colored polo shirt with the top button open, light-colored pants, and a wide brown leather belt with a large buckle.

He may have been wearing sandals with socks, and his sleeves were pulled up just below the elbow.

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He also had what I would characterize as a combination of aristocratic and 'beatnik' bearing — Warne had short-cropped graying hair that was slightly receding and he wore a goatee, also graying, and without a moustache. His eyes were active and piercing but he often kept them closed while playing. Musical thoughts or ideas would come along in the course of his playing; at times he would linger on a certain idea if it seemed to catch his interest, at others he would just keep moving, but to my ears he never repeated himself.

All of it was of exceedingly high quality, and also extreme virtuosity. Sal Mosca provided a striking contrast to Warne: in appearance he looked to me a little like the filmmaker Martin Scorsese and wore a light-colored short-sleeve shirt with buttons down the front. His shirt was outside his dark colored pants, and the top button was open. If Sal's dress was quite conventional and if he were in the "Little Italy" section of Manhattan it would have been his playing however was startling: to my ears it was highly abstract in just about every way, and yet struck a delicate balance of being firmly rooted in the jazz tradition.

It was clear to me that night and still today that I have never heard a player that sounds like Sal Mosca, and this is a very difficult feat to achieve.

One piece that evening that I still remember was a duet that Warne and Sal performed of the jazz standard "You Go to My Head," and it was extraordinary. It took me some time to recognize the underlying structure since the melody was never stated by either player, and the best description I can offer is that it sounded every bit as "contemporary" as the 20th century classical music I was studying in graduate school, and yet was an improvised jazz performance.

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There was also a personal element to the evening in that I had a brief conversation with Warne. I summoned up the courage to approach him on a break, and given the close quarters of the Vanguard the performers essentially have no refuge as they enter and exit the stage area. I think it was after the second set that I decided to introduce myself and engaged him as he was heading toward the kitchen.

I forget exactly what I said, but it was something very complimentary, and I believe his response was a quick and soft "thanks man" as he kept walking. I then said as he continued walking away from me, "by the way, I'm a guitarist and I play with Sonny Dallas.


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