ROSWELL RUDD'S SOUNDSCAPE
(feat. LAFAYETTE HARRIS)
North Pointe Cultural Arts Center
November 5, 2005
by J Hunter
When (and if) I grow up, I want to be just like Roswell Rudd.
Rudd was a founding member of Eli's Chosen Six; they were the guys in the 1959 concert film Jazz On A Summer's Day playing Dixieland as they drove around Newport in a convertible jalopy. (I didn't do that, Rudd informed me. I went to Europe.) Two years before, the trombonist was working with legendary saxman Steve Lacy on translating Thelonius Monk's music to horns; a few years before he died, Lacy & Rudd revived the concept, calling the music Monk-zeeland.
The early events happened almost fifty years ago. And yet there was Rudd last Saturday night, his chops as strong as ever, scat-shouting Misterioso from the stage of North Pointe Cultural Arts Center, his right foot stomping out the beat as he and pianist Lafayette Harris linked Monk to Fats Waller through Herbie Nichols, and had big fun doing it.
Since the diminishment of Dixieland, the trombone is rarely thought of as a lead instrument. At this year's Lake George Jazz Festival, SYOTOS leader Chris Washburne proved it can bring a new texture to today's jazz. But unlike Washburne, who is more of this jazz generation, Rudd dates back to before the 'bone was pushed to the back line. Not only did he use his instrument for construction of a great 90-minute set, he also used it for a surprising de-construction, as he opened (or, as he truthfully put it, warmed up) with an echoing solo outing on Autumn In New York. Then Rudd brought Harris out, and Three Degrees of Thelonius got underway.
Starting with a straight reading of Waller's Ain't Misbehavin', and ending with a roaring medley of Monk's Round Midnight/Maya, Rudd and Harris taught history the way it ought to be taught: By example, with a little interpretation, exploration, and a dash of humor thrown in. As he did in the pre-show talk, Rudd gave us insights and interludes between every song. He told us Cecil Taylor's take on Waller's touch as a piano player; he showed us how the Billie Holiday classic Lady Sings The Blues started out as Herbie Nichols' Serenade; he counted each bar of Herbie Nichols' 12 Bars out on his fingers as Harris played them; and Rudd made his trombone sound like anything he wanted throughout the night, from an alligator to a kazoo to Angel Gabriel shaking the windows with his new horn.
During the pre-show talk - which, I believe, has become as big a draw for the One2One series as the shows themselves - Rudd said he got together with Harris because he understood Stride, and brought an energy to it. That is an understatement. Along with understanding it, Harris used his own deconstruction tools to bring his own stamp to Stride. His solo rendition of Waller's Jitterbug Waltz danced on the edge of classical music, and Harris made me understand, for the first time, the connection between Monk and Stride. Chalk it up to a blind spot; you tend to think of Monk's style as one of his own making. But even with the dropped meters, the borderline-Eastern chord structures, Harris showed Monk was (in Harris' own words) one of the greatest stride players ever! You learn something new every day.
Rudd was surprised and pleased by the waves of applause and love he got from the near-capacity crowd. Kinderhook! he exclaimed. Who knew? Then again, he'd earned every ounce of that applause, from the moment he began to warm up to the moment he stepped off stage and walked around the audience in mid-solo during his last number, and Harris' stellar piano drove the 70-year old Rudd all evening long. If I can be half that energetic, half that funny, half that talented when I'm 70, I'll be all sorts of happy. Until then, we can all live by a great example.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.