E-Net News

Erdmann has two articles on jazz legends published

The professor of music had two articles published in the professional saxophone journal.

Thomas Erdmann, professor of music, has had two articles published in January/February 2017 issue of "Saxophone Today," a professional saxophone journal.

Thomas Erdmann, professor of music

The first article is on jazz legend Sonny Rollins. Born on Sept. 7, 1930, Theodore Walter Rollins was known as “Newk” because of his resemblance to baseball great Don Newcombe and grew up in New York City surrounded by Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Art Taylor. So accomplished before his 20th birthday, artists like Babs Gonzales, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell and Miles Davis were hiring Rollins to join them on live club dates and recording sessions. 

Having Thelonious Monk as a musical mentor helped Rollins develop his bebop, straight-ahead and continually progressive jazz skills to the highest degree. Those legendary early gigs and recordings with Miles Davis gave way to Rollins moving to Chicago to escape the excesses of the New York jazz scene. In 1955, as a member of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, Rollins again was part of a fabled band making even more historically important recordings.

Rollins's first recording as a leader was released in 1953, and the list of his advances to the art of improvised music began shortly thereafter. His amazing compositional sense led him to craft tunes like "Valse Hot," a bebop composition in triple meter, "St. Thomas," which introduced calypso patterns into jazz, and "Blue 7," — well, just listen to it. 

His stellar outings in development of the tenor saxophone, bass, and drums trio have scarcely been seconded, and this particular ensemble format has become the yardstick generations of saxophonists use to measure themselves, often falling short. Another innovation was performing concerts as a solo saxophonist without the crutch of any backing ensemble; where here again saxophonists have found themselves falling well short of Newk.

As Rollins’ extreme popularity was rising at a meteoric pace, his humble nature led him to take a sabbatical from live performing in 1959. “I felt I needed to brush up on various aspects of my craft," he said. "I felt I was getting too much, too soon.” He had a desire to “do it in my way.” His practice sessions on the Williamsburg Bridge became the stuff of legend. A series of recordings with artists like Paul Bley, Don Cherry, Jim Hall and Coleman Hawkins gave way to a second sabbatical in 1966 which included time in Japan, India and a monastery. 

A series of legendary recordings on the Milestone label found Rollins to still be, simply, the master. Among his countless accolades include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recordings Arts and Sciences, an honoree of the Kennedy Center Honors, the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art First Class, induction into the Academy of Achievement, the Medal of Arts and the first jazz composer named an Edward MacDowell Medalist, not to mention two Grammy awards. Rollins’s latest recordings, "Road Shows," are a series of critically acclaimed live recordings. Noted critic Bob Blumenthal sums up Rollins the best, “(He is an artist of) “aggressive virtuosity, searing energy, caustic humor, and boundless imagination… his achievement… justified the album title Saxophone Colossus.” 

Rollins is, and always will be, the greatest.

The second article is on Michael Brecker. Born on March 29, 1949, in Philadelphia, Brecker and his older trumpet-playing brother Randy (born November 29, 1945) were raised in a family where the father took his young sons to see jazz legends Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Smith play live.  

After starting on clarinet and alto saxophone, Brecker eventually switched to the tenor saxophone while attending Cheltenham High School. After studying music at Indiana University, Michael followed his older brother to New York City in 1969. There, both brothers became involved with a group of free-jazz thinking musicians known as the Free Life Communication. This group, a swirling mix of about 25 musicians, was led by saxophonist Dave Liebman and keyboardist Richie Beirach. The culmination of playing jazz in the free environment set up by Liebman, along with Brecker's own mixing of pop and jazz influences, led Michael and Randy, along with a few others, to form the group Dreams.

Further apprenticeship for Michael and Randy included work with Horace Silver, before taking their consummate musicianship to the New York studios where they still reign as first-call session musicians.  Next up for the brothers was co-leadership of the highly influential Brecker Brothers group.  A lethal mix of pop-rock rhythms, incredible musical virtuosity and strong heart-felt emotions made the group the vanguard institution of the jazz-rock community for many years. 

At the end of the 1970s, Michael Brecker began to work with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri in yet another highly influential group, Steps Ahead. This ensemble demonstrated just how forward thinking the jazz-fusion movement could still progress. 

In 1987, Brecker released his own first solo recording. This album, perhaps more than any other late 20th century recording, shows how fertile the harmonic ground still is in the post-Coltrane years of jazz without having to move in the direction explored by free-jazz saxophonist Evan Parker. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brecker toured with Paul Simon and for a short time became a household name due to the feature role Brecker was given by Simon during a string of concert and television appearances.  Brecker passed away in 2007.

Thomas Erdmann,
Faculty
1/3/2017 12:10 PM