Before there was this obsession with jazz and hip-hop, there was a different intersection of music happening on the streets on New York, LA, and other cities around the nation. 24 hours after Jimi Hendrix played his first notes at Woodstock, Miles Davis called his musicians — Lenny White included — into the studio for what would become the ‘Bitches Brew’ sessions and that would be the beginning of a sound and approach to music that White would come to define. The marriage of these rock and jazz aesthetics brought us groups like Return to Forever, Tony Williams’ Lifetime Band, and more. Read along as we delve into the roots of this style, White impact on the history, and where he sees the music going today.
Few drummers so strongly represent a time in music more so than New York City native Lenny White. Coming out of Jamaica, Queens by 18, the left-handed drummer was picked up by serial bandleader and educator Jackie McLean with whom he gained his initial chops. Within two years White had already got the call to record the formative Miles Davis album Bitches Brew — alongside fellow drummer Jack DeJohnette — a record that would go on to become a staple of the jazz canon and ultimately jumpstart White’s fusion of jazz and rock, a style that he would come to help define.
I’ll admit I tried to interview Dezron Douglas for a Winter JazzFest preview. I even should have taken the hint that his group is called the “The New Jazz Workshop.” Little did I know, it wasn’t me who was interviewing him, but it was Douglas giving me a history lesson, and a great one at that. There are few artists who are as cognizant of their artistry as Douglas seems to be. Luckily for all of you I took notes. Check out what I learned below.
When John Coltrane’s blistering soprano sax led in on “My Favorite Things,” audiences were captured by Coltrane’s investigations into modal jazz and his complex re-workings of harmonies. More fascinating still, is that Coltrane chose to leave bop behind and explore this new musical territory- seen in hindsight as a pivotal turning point in the history of jazz – on an instrument that had almost become obsolete in jazz, the soprano sax. Seemingly out of nowhere, the soprano sax returned to center stage once again and proudly claimed its unique position in the story, tone and texture of jazz. Although Coltrane is one of the most famous players in jazz’s history and the history of the saxophone, there are countless more who made waves in different ways on both the alto and soprano. For this week’s Evolution of An Instrument we take you from Sidney Bechet, arguably the first jazz saophonist, through the beautiful alto tones of Lee Konitz, and up to the Carnatic intensities of Rudresh Mahanthappa. We talked with countless musicians to bring you a comprehensive list that reflects the scope of jazz history. We hope you enjoy this segment and stay tuned for Tenor and Bari next week!