A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Creative music: The St Louis school

After the AACM in Chicago, the other collective that introduced influential innovations in the history of jazz was based in St Louis, centered around the multidisciplinary arts collective Black Artists' Group (BAG), formed in 1968, and included the three great saxophonists Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiett Bluiett.


A reference point of the St Louis scene was the Human Arts Ensemble, founded by drummer Charles Bobo Shaw in 1971. They released Whisper of Dharma (october 1972) and Under the Sun (july 1973). The latter (with Smith, trumpeter Lester Bowie, alto saxophonists Marty Ehrlich and James Marshall, a reed player, a tuba player, a cellist, a bassist, a percussionist and a vocalist) contained two side-long improvisations, A Lover's Desire and Hazrat the Sufi, that contaminated free jazz with funk music.


Texas-born alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill moved to St Louis in 1968 where he became a leader of the Black Artists' Group (BAG). He staged multimedia events such as Kawaida (1972), The Orientation Of Sweet Willie Rollbar (1973) and Obituary (1974). His status as one of the leading composers of his time was established by pieces in which bluesy melodies became the scaffolding of complex geometric architectures. It started with the three lengthy pieces of Dogon AD (february 1972), featuring Baikida Carroll on trumpet, Abdul Wadud on cello and Phillip Wilson on drums: the 14-minute Dogon A.D., the 15-minute flute solo The Painter, the eight-minute Rites. The Hard Blues, from the same session, appeared on Coon Bid'ness (january 1975), that included new compositions for a sextet with baritonist Hamiet Bluiett, Wadud, altoist Arthur Blythe, drummer Barry Altschul and conga player Daniel Zebulon.
After relocating to New York in 1973 and performing in Anthony Braxton's saxophone-only ensembles, in 1976 Hemphill formed the World Saxophone Quartet with fellow saxophonists Oliver Lake (alto), David Murray (tenor) and Hamiet Bluiett (baritone). The original intention, as displayed on the freely improvised Point Of No Return (june 1977) and in particular with the 24-minute Scared Sheetless, was to pursue a bold program of dissonance. Steppin' With (december 1978) contained Hemphill's Steppin' and R&B as well as Murray's P.O. in Cairo.
The double LP Blue Boye (january 1977), entirely performed by Hemphill himself on alto, soprano, flute and percussion, was perhaps Hemphill's most eloquent aesthetic statement: eight elegant, intricate mid-size excursions into the secrets of sound from the perspective of an art that began with the blues. Pieces such as the 11-minute Countryside, the 13-minute Hotend, the 10-minute OK Rubberband and the 12-minute C.M.E felt much more "dense" than solos. And somehow Hemphill's jarred, fractured phrasing crafted mellow, romantic atmospheres, like a shy, nervous lover. Roi Boye and the Gotham Minstrels (march 1977) refined the concept in a series of performances for overdubbed instruments (alto, soprano and flute), while Raw Materials and Residuals (november 1977) added a lyrical element thanks to Wadud's cello and Don Moye's percussions (particularly in Mirrors, Plateau and G Song). The intellectual phase was closed by Flat Out Jump Suite (june 1980), a four-movement suite Ear, Mind, Heart and Body) for a chamber-jazz quartet with Wadud, trumpeter Olu Dara and percussionist Warren Smith.
In the meantime, Hemphill also composed the four-movement suite for seven woodwinds Water Music (1976) and the soundtrack to a multimedia installation, Chile New York (may 1980).
During the 1980s the World Saxophone Quartet absorbed most of Hemphill's energies. Hemphill continued to be the main composer of the quartet's music through W.S.Q. (march 1980) and Revue (october 1980), but the quartet soon began to play more accessible music (and often covers).
After leaving the World Saxophone Quartet in 1989, Hemphill, who had already displayed his restlessness with an album for Big Band (february 1988), invested more into highbrow compositions such as the multimedia opera Long Tongues (1989), that also debuted his saxophone sextet, the ballet The Last Supper At Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land (1990), Plan B (1993) for jazz sextet and symphony orchestra, the theatrical piece A Bitter Glory (1994).
His saxophone Sextet (with Marty Ehrlich, Carl Grubbs, Hames Carter, Andrew White and Sam Furnace) recorded a surprisingly fragmented album, Fat Man and the Hard Blues (july 1991). His health rapidly deteriorating, Hemphill organized the Sextett (altoists Tim Berne, Marty Ehrlich and Sam Furnace, tenors James Carter and Andrew White and baritonist Fred Ho) of Five Chord Stud (november 1993) to play his new compositions, including Five Chord Stud. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


A ten-piece unit helped St Louis' alto saxophonist Oliver Lake on his dissonant debut, Ntu - The Point from Which Freedom Begins (august 1971), but glory came with the various experiments of Heavy Spirits (february 1975), notably the 11-minute While Pushing Down Turn for a quintet with trumpeter Olu Dara, pianist Donald Smith, drums and bass, and the nine-minute Rocket for a trio with trombonist Joseph Bowie and drummer Charles "Bobo" Shaw. Relocating to New York, Lake created his own "creative" style, at the border between hard bop and free jazz, via Holding Together (march 1976), Life Dance Of Is (february 1978), the neoclassical Shine (october 1978), that juxtaposed electric guitar and a string quartet of three violins and cello, the live Zaki (september 1979), with the free improvisation of the 24-minute Zaki for a trio with electric guitar and drums, the Eric Dolphy tribute Prophet (august 1980), and Clevont Fitzhubert (april 1981) for a quartet with trumpeter Baikida Carroll, pianist Donald Smith and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff. Lake was one of the first improvisers to cross over into popular music. He did so with a reggae-oriented band that debuted on Jump Up (september 1981). Expandable Language (september 1984) presented Lake's quintet (guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist Geri Allen, bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Pheeroan Aklaff) in a setting that shunned the most radical dissonance while remaining consistently challenging. Ditto for Gallery (july 1986), that featured the same musicians minus Eubanks, and Impala (may 1987), also for a similar piano-based quartet. Otherside (august 1988) applied the same principles to Whitestone for a piano-based quintet (Geri Allen on piano, Anthony Peterson on guitar, Fred Hopkins on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums) and Dedicated to Dolphy for big band (six saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, two French horns, piano, bass, drums). Again And Again (april 1991) returned to his specialty, the postmodernist ballad for piano-based quartet (now pianist John Hicks, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff), a format that was further refined (albeit with a less cohesive line-up) by the lengthy pieces of Edge-ing (june 1993). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


St Louis' baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett moved to New York in 1969, where he refined the huge, grandiose sound of his instrument. While co-founding the World Saxophone Quartet, he recorded Endangered Species (june 1976) with a quintet featuring trumpeter Olu Dara, Jumma Santos on balafon, bassist Junie Booth and drummer Phillip Wilson, and the solo tour de force Birthright (june 1977), subtitled "a solo blues Concert", whose Doll Baby, My Father's House and In Tribute to Harry Carney established the threatening, deafening and challenging style of his playing. SOS (august 1977) contained just one 37-minute jam (Nali Kola/ On A Cloud) with pianist Don Pullen, bassist Fred Hopkins and percussionist Don Moye, probably his classic setting. The live Im/Possible To Keep (august 1977) contained a live 40-minute version of Oasis - The Well for a trio with Hopkins and Moye, a 37-minute version of Nali Kola/ On A Cloud for the quartet with Pullen and debuted Pretty Tune in a 35-minute version. Resolution (november 1977), a quintet with Don Pullen, bassist Fred Hopkins and percussionists Don Moye and Billy Hart, contained Happy Spirit. Orchestra Duo And Septet (december 1977) tried different combinations of players (cellist Abdul Wadud, trumpeter Olu Dara, pianist Don Pullen, balafon player Andy Bey, flutist Ladji Camara, bassist Reggie Workman, oud player Ahmed Abdul-Malik, drummer Thabo Michael Carvin, etc): the 14-minute orchestral Glory - Symphony For World Peace, the eight-minute duet Nioka, the 20-minute Oasis - The Well for septet.
Bluiett also formed an ensemble of eight clarinetists (plus bass and drums) that debuted with The Clarinet Family (november 1984), and a baritone saxophone quartet, the Bluiett Baritone Nation, documented by Libation for the Baritone Saxophone Nation (june 1997). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.