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John TchicaiJohn Tchicai

John Tchicai, (1936-2012), saxophone, was best known for his time in New York during the height of the '60s free jazz explosion, but he actually spent the majority of his career advancing the cause of avant-garde jazz in Northern Europe. Tchicai was born in Copenhagen to a Danish mother and Congolese father; he began playing violin at age ten, switched to both clarinet and alto sax at 16, and focused on the latter at Denmark's Conservatory of Music. In the late '50s, Tchicai began making the rounds of the North European jazz scene, which was quick to pick up on the early innovations of the American avant-garde. In 1963, he moved to New York City to immerse himself in the epicenter of free jazz. He hooked up with Archie Shepp and Don Cherry, eventually co-founding the New York Contemporary Five with them; he was also a founding member of the New York Art Quartet with Roswell Rudd and Milford Graves. Tchicai also recorded with Albert Ayler (on New York Eye and Ear Control), the Jazz Composers Guild, and John Lennon (Life With the Lions), and -- most importantly -- appeared on John Coltrane's legendary free jazz landmark Ascension. After a whirlwind three years, Tchicai returned to Denmark in 1966 and founded a large workshop ensemble called Cadentia Nova Danica, which he led until 1971. Shortly thereafter, he cut back on performing to concentrate on teaching full-time. In 1977, he returned to the studio, leading a fairly steady series of recording dates into the '80s, when he switched to tenor sax and joined Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra. In 1990, Tchicai received a lifetime grant for jazz performance from the Danish Ministry of Culture; and the following year he relocated to California's Bay Area, where he and his keyboardist wife Margriet founded John Tchicai & the Archetypes and the John Tchicai Unit, which both recorded during the '90s. After the turn of the millennium he returned to Europe and moved to Southern France. (excerpted from Steve Huey at allmusic.com).       

Roswell RuddRoswell Rudd

Roswell Rudd, trombone; Rudd's first instrument was the French horn, which he studied from the age of 11. His father was an amateur drummer who introduced his son to jazz. In his teens, Rudd began teaching himself to play the trombone; Woody Herman's star trombonist, Bill Harris, was a particular favorite. He played Dixieland, while he attended Yale, with a band called Eli's Chosen Six. From 1960-1962 he worked with legendary pianist Herbie Nichols, who became something of a mentor to Rudd. From 1961-1963, Rudd played in a band with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and drummer Dennis Charles. The band would later be informally known as the School Days Quartet, after the 1963 Emanem album of that name. The group's repertoire consisted entirely of Thelonious Monk tunes. In 1962, he joined trumpeter Bill Dixon's free jazz group, which also included tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and drummer Charles. In 1964, he founded and co-led the New York Art Quartet (with saxophonist John Tchicai) and participated in the October Revolution in Jazz, an early free jazz festival organized by Bill Dixon and held in a New York City café. Rudd spent the latter half of the '60s playing in Archie Shepp's band, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and a group led by saxophonist Gato Barbieri. In 1968, he formed the Primordial Quartet (with saxophonists Lee Konitz and Robin Kenyatta and pianist/vibist Karl Berger). Rudd's compositions for the Jazz Composer's Orchestra were recorded in 1973 on the album Numatik Swing Band (JCOA). Although Rudd recorded occasionally in the '70s and '80s, he gradually became less visible, as matters of economic survival took precedence over creative concerns. He worked a variety of non-musical jobs and spent time teaching at the college level. After being denied tenure at the University of Maine in Augusta, Rudd moved to the Catskill region of New York state, where he worked steadily in a hotel resort band. The mid-'90s found him busy musically once again. At the turn of the millennium, Rudd performed with some frequency in Europe and New York, regaining his reputation as the father of free jazz trombone. In 2000, Rudd and Lacy reunited to record Monk's Dream for the Verve label. Rudd began delving into various world music projects including 2001's Malicool album, featuring musicians from West Africa, and 2003's Blue Mongol, recorded with Mongolian throat singers. In 2007, Rudd kept the world vibe going with the Afro-Cuban and South American-flavored El Espiritu Jibaro. In 2008, Rudd featured vocalist Sunny Kim on Keep Your Heart Right. A year later, he released the trombone album Trombone Tribe, featuring a bevy of players including Josh Roseman, Wycliffe Gordon, and others. In 2011, Rudd celebrated his 75th birthday with the release of The Incredible Honk. (excerpted from Chris Kelsey at allmusic.com).

Milford GravesMilford Graves

Milford Graves, drums, has been among the flashiest drummers in the free mode, known for skillful inclusion of Asian and African rhythmic ingredients into his solos. He studied Indian music extensively, including learning the tabla from Wasantha Singh. He has unfortunately not recorded much, especially on American labels. Graves played congas as a child, then switched to trap drums at 17 before his tabla studies with Singh. During the '60s, Graves worked with Giuseppi Logan and the New York Art Quartet. He recorded on ESP in the mid-'60s with Logan, and was an original member of the Jazz Composers' Orchestra Association. Graves also played with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in the early '60s. His appearance in the Bill Dixon-sponsored concert series the October Revolution in Jazz helped introduce Graves to a wider audience. He did two albums of duets with pianist Don Pullen at Yale in 1966. Graves worked regularly with Albert Ayler in 1967 and 1968, performing at the 1967 Newport Festival. He also played with Hugh Glover and worked in a duo with Andrew Cyrille. During the '70s, Graves participated in a series of mid-'70s concerts called Dialogue of the Drums with Cyrille and Rashied Ali, including several shows in black neighborhoods. Graves taught at Bennington College alongside Bill Dixon in the '70s, and toured Europe and Japan. During the '80s, he played in percussion ensembles with Cyrille, Kenny Clarke, and Don Moye. Philly Joe Jones later replaced Clarke. The late '90s found Graves enjoying a revival, collaborating with younger musicians, including John Zorn, and recording albums for his Tzadik label. In 2000, the New York Art Quartet's first recording in decades, 35th Reunion, was released by DIW.  (excerpted from Ron Wynn at allmusic.com)

Reggie WorkmanReggie Workman

Reggie Workman, bass, has long been one of the most technically gifted of all bassists, a brilliant player whose versatile style fits into both hard bop and very avant-garde settings. He played piano, tuba, and euphonium early on but settled on bass in the mid-'50s. After working regularly with Gigi Gryce (1958), Red Garland, and Roy Haynes, he was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet for much of 1961, participating in several important recordings and even appearing with Coltrane and Eric Dolphy on a half-hour West German television show that is currently available on video (The Coltrane Legacy). After Jimmy Garrison took his place with Coltrane, Workman became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1962-1964) and was in the groups of the New York Art Quartet (1965), Yusef Lateef (1964-65), Herbie Mann, and Thelonious Monk (1967). He recorded frequently in the 1960s (including many Blue Note dates and Archie Shepp's classic Four for Trane). Since that time, Workman has been both an educator (serving on the faculty of music schools including the University of Michigan) and a working musician, and has played with numerous legendary jazz musicians including Max Roach, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, David Murray, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill (Rivers and Hill joined Workman for the 1993 session, Summit Conference). In the 1980s, Workman began leading his own group, the Reggie Workman Ensemble. He also began a collaboration with pianist Marilyn Crispell that lasted into the next decade (the two acclaimed musicians reunited for a festival performance in 2000). During the '90s, Workman was not only active with his own ensemble, but also in Trio Three, with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, and Reggie Workman's Grooveship and Extravaganza. In recognition of Reggie Workman's international performances and recordings spanning over 40 years, he was named a Living Legend by the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum in his hometown of Philadelphia; he is also a recipient of the Eubie Blake Award.  (excerpted from Scott Yanow at allmusic.com)

Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka, (1934-2014), voice; poet, playwright, critic, and novelist (born Everett LeRoi Jones) is best known to the jazz community for his two books, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, published in 1964, and Black Music in 1967, both as LeRoi Jones. Long before this, however, Baraka was identified with the New York School of poets and the Beats (he was included in Donald Allen's seminal anthology The New American Poetry). His first book of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note was published in 1961. With Diane Di Prima he founded and edited the legendary Floating Bear newsletter. Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School and won an Obie award for his play Dutchman in 1964. He was an outspoken leader in the Black Nationalist movement in the late '60s and was a close associate -- as well as spiritual godfather -- to the Black Panther Party. He changed his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka, and later dropped "Imamu" (a Muslim word for "spiritual leader") in 1970. Remaining an activist, Baraka dropped his nationalist stance in 1974 and adopted a Marxist/Leninist one and is regarded as one of the most influential African-American writers of the 20th century. He read his poem Black Dada Nihilismus on the New York Art Quartet’s 1964 debut album. He recorded the wildly controversial play Black Mass with Sun Ra & His Arkestra in 1968 (issued on the Jihad label) and the amazing New Music New Poetry with saxophonist David Murray in 1980 on India Navigation. Baraka has added one more volume to his shelf of music criticism, The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues, which he and Amina Baraka, his wife, published in 1987. Baraka has taught at SUNY Buffalo and Columbia University, and he is currently a professor of Africana studies at SUNY, Stony Brook. He lives in Newark, NJ.   (excerpted from Thom Jurek at allmusic.com)

Steve LacySteve Lacy

Steve Lacy, (1934-2004), interview, is one of the great soprano saxophonists of all time (ranking up there with Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane), Steve Lacy originally doubled on clarinet and soprano (dropping the former by the mid-'50s), inspired by Bechet, and played Dixieland in New York with Rex Stewart, Cecil Scott, Red Allen, and other older musicians during 1952-1955. He debuted on record in a modernized Dixieland format with Dick Sutton in 1954. However, Lacy soon jumped over several styles to play free jazz with Cecil Taylor during 1955-1957. They recorded together and performed at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Lacy recorded with Gil Evans in 1957 (they would work together on an irregular basis into the 1980s), was with Thelonious Monk's quintet in 1960 for four months, and then formed a quartet with Roswell Rudd (1961-1964) that exclusively played Monk's music. Lacy, who is considered the first "modern" musician to specialize on soprano (an instrument that was completely neglected during the bop era), began to turn toward avant-garde jazz in 1965. He had a quartet with Enrico Rava that spent eight months in South America. After a year back in New York, he permanently moved to Europe in 1967 with three years in Italy preceding a move to Paris. Lacy's music evolved from free form to improvising off of his scalar originals. By 1977 he had a regular group with whom he continued to perform throughout his career, featuring Steve Potts on alto and soprano, Lacy's wife, violinist/singer Irene Aebi, bassist Kent Carter (later succeeded by Jean-Jacques Avenel), and drummer Oliver Johnson; pianist Bobby Few joined the group in the 1980s. Lacy, who also worked on special projects with Gil Evans, Mal Waldron, and Misha Mengelberg, among others, and in situations ranging from solo soprano concerts, many Monk tributes, big bands, and setting poetry to music, recorded a countless number of sessions for almost as many labels, with Sands appearing on Tzakik in 1998 and Cry on SoulNote in 1999.  (excerpted from Scott Yanow at allmusic.com)

Pierre DørgePierre Dørge

Pierre Dørge, interview; from Denmark, has gained some fame for his work with his New Jungle Orchestra, a band that plays fresh interpretations of some classics (particularly by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk) along with its leader's originals. Dørge led his first band in 1960, was a member of John Tchicai's big band (1969-1971), in 1978 headed a quartet called Thermaenius, and in 1980 put together the New Jungle Orchestra. Dørge has recorded several very interesting sessions (including a duo with Tchicai) for the SteepleChase label.    (excerpted from Scott Yanow at allmusic.com)

Ben YoungBen Young

Ben Young, commentary, is a jazz historian, and director of Columbia University’s renowned radio station and archive WKCR; A radio DJ, sound engineer, and occasional record producer, Ben is driven by an unwavering desire to spread the gospel of jazz music and to document the stories and sounds of its players. On air, he illuminates the music with an encyclopedic knowledge, and his enthusiasm, wrapped in a rich, authoritative radio voice, is contagious to anyone within earshot. He is the author of Dixonia: A Bio-Discography of Bill Dixon (1998), and a partner with Triplepoint Records, which released a 5 LP set of uncirculated music by the New York Art Quartet from 1964-1965. (excerpted from BaseNow)