Rivers' Stepping Stones


This document is being stripped out and added to the Rivers Sessionography.

Tone Roads to Hong Kong '76

Fashion is no longer simply what you wear. Like music, fashion is a lifestyle in itself; reflecting the mood of an era. It is inspired by, and in turn inspires all aspects of the visual and aural media. And, as new fashion constantly evolves, so does new music.

In this presentation, the cross-stimulation and the cross-fertilization of the two separate elements—fashion and music—has resulted in an experimental and totally new artform... fashion inspiring music and music inspiring fashion. The result—"Four Movements for a Fashionable Five-Toed Dragon."

In this attempt, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is in the vanguard of not only expanding the form of fashion, but of also producing an avant garde musical form, which itself combines the classical symphonic, the traditional Chinese, and the modern rhythm-and-blues idiom. In a sense, it is the creation of an international atmosphere, an environment, in which many "art" elements stimulate each other; a dual mirror image of society—one visual and the other aural.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, as a patron of the project, considers that in its endeavours to promote the fashions emanating from its designers and its garment industry, it is launching a unique fashion statement. And this endeavour has presented an ideal opportunity for us to pay tribute to the United States of America"a country that has provided Hong Kong with a means to develop its fashion industry. And, having accepted the output of that industry so readily now as it has in the past, we hope that it will accept this gesture of goodwill in America's Bicentennial Year. We hope the music in this long playing record will be both a fitting and lasting tribute.

To emphasize our gratitude, two of America's exciting new musicians were commissioned to execute the musical element of the presentation... The choice of American musicians has a double significance as a great deal of the new music of this century has evolved from the traditional American musical idioms.

This year, in which America celebrates its 200th Anniversary, is an extremely auspicious year. For 1976, according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, is the Year of the Dragon. The Dragon, one of the four fabulous creatures of good omen, symbolises prosperity, fertility, and energy, expressions which typify our hopes for America. It is widely held that new projects undertaken in the Dragon Year will meet with great success, which we hope is prophetic for our venture. It is for these reasons we have chosen the title—"Four Movements for a Fashionable Five-Toed Dragon."

Almost as if celebrating the power and energy of this mythical and benevolent creature, the show presented is a synthesis of the dual artistic concepts of fashion/music and music/fashion. The project was conceived by Len Dunning, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Inspired by the creativity, the industry and the poetic imagination of the Chinese, composer Moore, in collaboration with fashion co-ordinator, Julius Schofield of London, created this new work, based on the colours, the designs and the feeling of the new fashions from Hong Kong's 1976 collection.

Chinese classical instruments and the traditional Chinese musical idiom are mixed with contemporary music and the symphonic tradition in this unprecedented new musical form. The complete presentation was first staged at the 9th Hong Kong Ready-to-Wear Festival in February 1976.

On this recording, conductor, Isaiah Jackson, the Associate Conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, is conducting the American Symphony Orchestra, which was founded by one of his mentors, Leopold Stokowski, in 1962. The ASO is one of the world's only major self-governing orchestras. Based at Carnegie Hall, the orchestra is noted for its interpretations of new music. The five soloists joining the orchestra in this work are each highly-acclaimed throughout the world for their mastery of improvisation in contemporary music forms.

A festival of Hong Kong fashion inspired the "Four Movements for a Fashionable Five-Toed Dragon." The clothes, representing four different feelings, four modes of fashion, complement and in turn are complemented by the four movements of Carman Moore's music.
—From the uncredited liner notes

May, 1976, The "Wildflower" Sessions: ...the loft jazz era preserved.

Peter Gershon's "REWIND" column, May/June 1999 issue of "SIGNAL to NOISE: the Journal of Improvised & Experimental Music.

Last summer one of my fellow DJs at WRUV tipped me off to the fact that a MAJOR collection of avant garde jazz records had been sold to a funky little used bookstore here in Burlington. I hustled down to see what might be left, and approaching the dozen or so stacks of vinyl, the very first thing I laid eyes on was the Alan Douglas and Michael Cuscuna produced Wildflowers: The NYC Loft Jazz Sessions... all five volumes! Twenty minutes later my stack of almost 50 LPs included Cecil Taylor Unit Cores, some obscure Strata Easts and a couple of Roscoe Mitchells on Nessa. "I'd love to see the stuff the guy decided to keep," I told the guy at the register.

This grand re-introduction to the mildew-scented world of vinyl provided me with fresh listening for months, but it was the Wildflowers set that I kept plopping on the turntable again and again, the ultimate cross-section of the period's finest free music, including the groups of Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell, Marion Brown, Andrew Cyrille, Leo Smith, Sunny Murray, Anthony Braxton, and of course Sam Rivers, whose Bond Street loft "Studio RivBea" (actually a large storefront with high ceilings) housed the proceedings in May of 1976. The records contain 22 performances in all, featuring over 60 different musicians.

"Alan Douglas contacted me to do this project with him because I was friends with most of the guys on that scene and recording many of them for Freedom Records," remembers Cuscuna, who's had a hand in producing or reissuing many of the last half-decade's greatest jazz albums. "He was reviving his label to be distributed by Casablanca, Neil Bogart's disco money machine!"

"[Douglas] wanted to just put machines in all the lofts, let tapes roll and then review them a few weeks later," describes Cuscuna. "I wanted more focus so we settled on Sam's which was best suited to recording. I booked three or four groups per night to capture as many people as possible." The lengthy tracks meant that even with ten sides to work with, a few artists who played and recorded were necessarily left off the collection. Some, like Roswell Rudd and Charles Tyler, issued their sets on other labels (Freedom and Nessa, respectively). Other material has languished or been lost, as the master tapes were returned to the musicians after the records were pressed.

While Cuscuna says he can't pick out any favorites, and admits he hasn't listened to Wildflowers in a while, he recalls "the Ken McIntyre set being particularly outstanding and I remember thinking throughout the days of recording that Eric Dolphy was now more the primary influence than Coltrane on the scene at that time."

Take for example McIntyre's craggy alto solo in "New Times" or elsewhere, the exchanges between Byard Lancaster and David Murray with Sonny Murray's Untouchable Factor."Somethin's cookin'", indeed! The flavors continue to burst through, side after side: Kalaparusha's funky "Jays," which leads off the set, the bluesy swing of Hamiett Bluiett's "Tranquil Beauty," Roscoe Mitchell's "Chant," a tour-de-force of circular breathing and zig-zagging pitch, with minimalist saxophone squeak over Jerome Cooper's quivering saw inserted in the middle.

"Attendance was great," Cuscuna also notes. "The word was out on the project, so lots of musicians were drifting in and out. Sam's loft was spacious and the working conditions were good. The atmosphere was relaxed and, like a jazz festival, musicians had a chance to check out what each other was doing."

While he suggests that there was no immediately noticeable impact on the loft jazz scene, he also points out that at the time, the scene was "doing just fine on it's own" and that more than anything else, Wildflowers was an attempt to share what was going on in downtown New York with jazz fans coast-to-coast.

Two decades and change later, the music's as strong and vital as the day it was taped. As far as a possible legitimate re-release (a couple of abridged import versions have cropped up on CD over the past decades), Cuscuna says he's looking into it, but that while Polygram ended up owning Casablanca, the ownership rights to the Wildflowers set in particular remain ambiguous. In the meantime, you may need to look a bit harder than I did, but these legendary volumes are worth the search.

—Peter Gershon, reprinted with permission.

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The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

Review by Chuck Berg from Down Beat Magazine August 11, 1987 / contains complete info on the LP configuration.

The New York loft jazz movement continues to grow. Eliminating the middlemen of the music biz (agents, managers, club owners, concert entrepreneurs, etc.), musicians have seized control of their destinies by producing their own music in environments unfettered by commercial considerations.
To a large extent, the music represents an extension of the pioneering by Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane. Emphasizing spontaneous improvisations based on expansive open-ended structures, the music tends to be a free-wheeling, rough and tumble affair. This is both a virtue and a limitation.
It is a virtue in that the sounds of surprise are many. Just as a particular direction seems to have evolved, bang, the flow changes to take us to new and unanticipated vistas. The obvious limitation is that self-editing seems to be lax. Collective and individual improvisations are often just too long and repetitive.
Another problem is that the revolutionary avant-garde syntactics of the '60s have gradually become the mannerisms of the '70s. Saxophonic honks, blats and squeals, for example, are now commonplace conventions.

Nonetheless, the infusion of musical materials from various cultures and from the traditions of jazz have helped much of the '70s music retain an inherent vitality. Thus, with the eclectic incorporation of diverse styles and a renewed awareness of structure and form, many of today's free-oriented players are making substantial advances.
Up to this point, little of the loft music has found its way into the record bins. Therefore, the appearance of the five volume Wildflowers series is a welcome documentation of an important part of the contemporary musical landscape. Recorded in May, 1976, at saxophonist Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea, Wildflowers presents a comprehensive cross-section of the New York loft session movement.
Wildflowers is destined to become an important benchmark of '70s music. By documenting the work of many of the most important exponents of black oriented free music, it presents a fair picture of what's currently happening in lower Manhattan's lofts. It is also significant because it clearly displays the music's strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, Wildflowers should stir much speculation on improvised music's future by forcing assessments of where we've been and where we are today. Listen!

Wildflowers 1—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7045
Rating: * * * * *

  1. Jays / Kalaparusha  —Kalaparusha (ts), Chris White (b, el-b), Jumma Santos (dr)
  2. New Times / Ken McIntyre  —McIntyre (as), Richard Harper (p), Andy Vega (cng), Andrei Strobert (dr)
  3. Over the Rainbow / Sunny Murray & the Untouchable Factor  —David Murray (ts), Byard Lancaster (as), Khan Jamal (vib), Fred Hopkins (b), Murray (dr)
  4. Rainbows / Sam Rivers  —Rivers (ss), Jerome Hunter (b), Jerry Griffin (dr)
  5. USO Dance / Air  —Henry Threadgill (as), Fred Hopkins (b), Steve McCall (dr, perc)
Volume I opens with tenorist Kalaparusha's "Jays." With a steady rockish undertow and alternating 4-bar sections of C minor and G major, the implied A:B:A structure includes a free-spirited collective interaction sandwiched between mantra-like meditations. Ken McIntyre's "New Times" finds the altoist soaring above the charged keyboard patterns of Richard Harper. The Sunny Murray rendition of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" showcases the brilliant inside-outside perspectives of altoist Byard Lancaster. Sam Rivers, Studio Rivbea's mastermind, steps forward with soprano for "Rainbow," a daring expedition through mysterious, primordial realms. Air (the dynamic threesome of altoist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall) Breezes through an intensely manic "USO Dance."

Wildflowers 2—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7046
Rating: * * * 1/2
  1. The Need to Smile / Flight to Sanity  —Byard Lancaster (ts), Art Bennett (ss), Olu Dara (tp), Sonelius Smith (p), Benny Wilson (b), Don Moye (cng), Harold Smith (dr)
  2. Naomi / Ken McIntyre  —Personnel same as Volume 1, track 2
  3. 73°-S Kelvin / Anthony Braxton  —Braxton (as, cbs, cl), George Lewis (tb), Michael Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (perc), Barry Altschul (dr)
  4. And Then They Danced / Marion Brown  —Brown (as), Jack Gregg (b), Jumma Santos (cng)
  5. Locomotif No. 6 / Leo Smith & the New Delta Ahkri  —Oliver Lake (as), Smith (tp), Anthony Davis (p), Wes Brown (b), Paul Maddox and Stanley Crouch (dr)
Volume 2 commences with the funky "The Need to Smile" by Flight to Sanity with impressive solo grins by sopranoist Art Bennett, pianist Sonelius Smith, and saxophonist Byard Lancaster (this time on tenor). Ken McIntyre's group returns with "Naomi" and includes a poignant outing by pianist Harper. Unfortunately, the leader's lovely tune is decimated by his painfully out-of-tune flute work. (This is a track that should not have been included.) "73°-S Kelvin" has Anthony Braxton switching among clarinet, alto, and contrabass sax in a series of episodes that range from dry pointillisms to rumblings that conjure up Godzilla's destruction of Tokyo. Altoist Marion Brown exhibits a big swinging sound and pinpoint control of harmonics in "And Then They Danced." Leo Smith and the New Delta Ahkri use Anthony Davis' "Locomotif No. 6" to delve into coloristic and textural elements.

Wildflowers 3—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7047
Rating: * * * *
  1. Portrait of Frank Edward Weston / Randy Weston  —Weston (p), Alex Blake (b), Azzedin Weston (cng)
  2. Clarity-2 / Michael Jackson  —Oliver Lake (ss, fl), Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  3. Black Robert / Dave Burrell  —Burrell (p), Stafford James (b), Harold White (dr)
  4. Blue Phase / Abdullah  —Charles Bracken (ts, ss), Ahmed Abdullah (tp), Mashujaa (g), Leroy Seals (el-b), Rickie Evans (b), Rashied Sinan (dr)
  5. Short Short / Andrew Cyrille & Maono  —David Ware (ts), Ted Daniel (tp), Lyle Atkinson (b), Cyrille (dr)
Volume 3 starts with the mature, disciplined pianistics of Randy Weston. His Monkish "Portrait of Frank Edward Weston" is one of the undisputed peaks in the Wildflower series. Guitarist Michael Jackson's "Clarity" features lyrical altoing by Oliver Lake and masterful arco work by bassist Fred Hopkins. Pianist Dave Burrell, like Weston, effectively reflects the heritage of Monk in his "Black Robert." The performance, however, is marred by wobbly rhythmic support suggesting that further rehearsal was necessary . Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah's "Blue Phase" is a jazz/rock flow underpinned by gurgling interactions among electric and acoustic basses. Drummer Andrew Cyrille flays his cohorts in an explosively volatile performance of "Short Short." Wildflowers 4—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7048
Rating: * * * 1/2
  1. Tranquil Beauty / Hamiet Bluiett  —Bluiett (cl, bs), Olu Dara (tp), Butch Campbell and Billy Patterson (g), Johnny Booth (b), Charles Bobo Shaw and Don Moye (dr)
  2. Pensive / Julius Hemphill  —Hemphill (as), Abdul Wadud (cel), Bern Nix (g), Don Moye (perc), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  3. Push Pull / Jimmy Lyons  —Lyons (as), Karen Borca (bsn), Hayes Burnett (b), Henry Maxwell Letcher (dr)
  4. Zaki / Oliver Lake  —Lake (as), Michael Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  5. Shout Song / David Murray  —Murray (ts), Olu Dara (tp, flg), Fred Hopkins (b), Stanley Crouch (dr)
Volume 4 finds baritonist Hamiet Bluiett playing clarinet in "Tranquil Beauty," a loving homage to the New Orleans tradition which is another of Wildflowers' undisputed highpoints. Saxophonist Julius Hemphill's "Pensive" juxtaposes alto, cello and guitar in fine-lined combinations which draw out apropos allusions to the emotional essence suggested by the title. Altoist Jimmy Lyons plunges into a stimulating "Push Pull" session with bassist Hayes Burnett and bassoonist Karen Borca. In "Zaki," altoist Oliver Lake storms through the repertory of avant garde effects. It is guitarist Michael Jackson, however, who really breaks new ground. David Murray's "Shout Song" is another lexicon of "new" saxophone gestures accompanied by predictable percussive swells and falls.

Wildflowers 5—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7049
Rating: * * * 1/2
  1. Something's Cookin' / Sunny Murray & the Untouchable Factor  —David Murray (ts), Byard Lancaster (as), Khan Jamal (vib), Fred Hopkins (b), Murray (dr)
  2. Chant / Roscoe Mtchell  —Mitchell (as), Jerome Cooper (perc, saw, dr), Don Moye (dr)
The first side of Volume 5 returns Sunny Murray's group with a 17-minute exercise called "Something's Cookin'". Here it's finger-wigglin' time. While agitated cathartic purations may be useful for the performers, the impact for the listener is one of numbing tediousness. Roscoe Mitchell's "Chant," a 25-minute etude occupying side 2, is a much more satisfying event because of the provocative conceptual grid undergirding the performance. The three basic sections include a minimalist examination of subtle fluctuations in pitch and timbre; a pointillistic exploration of dynamically charged space with a segment devoted to Jerome Cooper's quivering theremin-like saw (as in "a portable tool having a thin metal blade with a sharp-toothed edge for cutting wood, metal, or other hard materials"); and an audacious aural storm evoking images of an X-rated orgiastic congress of computers.

—Chuck Berg

Wildflowers The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

©1995, Gravity Sarl (made in France by MPO) Gravity / Douglas Music

CD 1
30 00 332 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 70:18
  1. Kalaparusha - Jays (6:11)
  2. Ken McIntyre - New Times (7:45)
  3. Sunny Murray & The Untouchable Factor - Over The Rainbow (5:48)
  4. Sam Rivers - Rainbows (10:24)
  5. Air - USO Dance (8:26)
  6. Flight To Sanity - The Need To Smile (10:45)
  7. Ken McIntyre - Naomi (6:31)
  8. Anthony Braxton - 73°-S Kelvin (6:41)
  9. Marion Brown - And Then They Danced (7:14)
CD 2
30 00 342 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 63:02
  1. Leo Smith & The New Delta Ahkri - Locomotif No 6 (6:24)
  2. Randy Weston - Portrait of Frank Edward Weston (9:17)
  3. Michael Jackson (aka Michael Gregory Jackson) - Clarity (6:09)
  4. Dave Burrell - Black Robert (5:43)
  5. Abdullah - Blue Phase (12:35)
  6. Andrew Cyrille & Maono - Short Short (6:57)
  7. Hamiet Bluiett - Tranquil Beauty (5:45)
  8. Julius Hemphill - Pensive (9:54)
CD 3
30 00 352 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 60:50
  1. Jimmy Lyons - Push Pull (5:32)
  2. Oliver Lake - Zaki (9:52)
  3. David Murray - Shout Song (2:45)
  4. Sunny Murray & The Untouchable Factor - Something's Cookin' (17:02)
  5. Roscoe Mitchell - Chant (25:22)
Note [In both LP and CD configurations] tracks JAYS, AND THEN THEY DANCED, BLUE PHASE and TRANQUIL BEAUTY are presented here in their entirety. They fade rather than end with applause because they are both part of a continuous set where one composition followed into the next. Due to technical live recording problems, the beginning of THE NEED TO SMILE was not properly recorded. The producers felt the performance strong enough to include it with a logical beginning at the soprano saxophone solo. 73°-S KELVIN and SHORT SHORT are each excerpts of continuous performances.

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"Studio Rivbea Spring Festival"

[The New York Loft Jazz Sessions]

[Event Review by Vladimir Simosko from CODA magazine, July, 1976, pp. 8-10.] The scene at Sam and Bea Rivers' Studio Rivbea, at 24 Bond Street in New York City's East Village, has been the ultimate listening environment for the best in current jazz for some years now. Sam and Bea have converted their pad into a sounding board for creative music, where for a small entrance fee one can relax on folding chairs, or sit up close on the floor, or mill around talking with musicians and hardcore afficianados in a generously relaxed atmosphere. Over the years the activity has come up from the basement to street level where the floor has taken on the aura of a recording studio. In fact, the seven nights of music making up the 1976 Spring Music Festival was meticulously recorded by Douglas Records, the loft platform at the front of the studio being occupied by a master control board, tape recorders and recording technicians, while the recessed box-like bandstand became a maze of wires, microphones, and (between sets) technicians adjusting microphones and levels for the next group. Some conversation with Michael Cuscuna, who was in charge of the recording operation, revealed the music was not intended to be released intact, but rather, a series of albums were planned which would contain the best of the performances by most of the groups appearing.
The variety and quality of the groups on the program was very impressive, virtually a review of many of the most intriguing contemporary jazz figures, as each new group took the stand for its set. The first night of the festival, Friday May 14, the opening set featured a sextet led by the excellent drummer and percussionist Philip Wilson, which included altoist Julius Hemphill, tenor an David Murray, Michael Jackson doing intriguing things with various guitars and bamboo flutes, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Olu Dara on trumpet. Their music was lose, free and abstract, in a fine opening which helped set the tone for the entire festival; but while the group worked well together, and many nice things happened in the improvisations (solo and collective), it was after all the opening set and the music never quite seemed to achieve the level of creative inspiration of which it seemed capable. Murray, Dara and Hopkins were joined by drummer Stanley Crouch for the second set, led by David Murray and including some good unaccompanied tenor explorations. Grachan Moncur's group, which included altoist Phil Lasley, Ronnie Boykins on bass, and a vocal group of three young women, one pf whom, Tamam Moncur, played piano much of the set but was later replaced by John Patton on organ for one number, performed New Africa and Exploration from Moncur's 1969 Actuel album "New Africa" before Patton joined the group. This group did not seem well rehearsed but the music was nevertheless good, with Moncur's trombone work especially fine. The vocal group was used unobtrusively, mainly for texture, although the balance may differ on the recording, of course. The final group of the evening was by far the heaviest, a quintet led by the phenomenal drum master Sunny Murray, including Byard Lancaster on alto sax, David Murray once again for his most impressive work of the evening, and Kahn Jamal on vibes and bassist Fred Hopkins. Sunny drove the group into some strong, potent blowing, with Lancaster also impressive and exciting.
Saturday May 15 was, by a good margin, the most musically rewarding of the three evenings of the first weekend of the Festival. The Randy Weston Trio featuring his son Azzedin on congas and bassist Alex Blake was first up. While Randy Weston did not really stretch out, interaction between congas and bass was consistently stimulating, making for a pleasant set of interesting music. The Westons were followed by Oliver Lake, playing alto and curved soprano saxes and flute, with Mike Jackson, fred Hopkins and Phil Wilson, for one of the great sets of the Festival, the music and musicians being first rate, together and inspired. Lake's quartet provided some of the most passionate and beautiful original creative music to be heard at Rivbea that weekend, and that is saying a lot. Sam Rivers was up next with a trio including Jerome Hunter on bass and Jerry Griffin on drums and vibes, but it was Sam's show all the way. The group played four short pieces featuring Sam on tenor, flute, piano and soprano respectively, instead of his usual extended set in which he would move from one to the next as the improvisation unfolded. While Sam's tenor spot was, as usual, brilliant and stimulating, Sam did not really stretch out and that piece was the shortest of the set. On flute and soprano Sam was fortunately more expansive, and his piano spot was also of special interest due to the way he seemed to bow to Cecil Taylor and Dollar Brand in the course of his excursion. The last set of the evening spotlighted Anthony Braxton with a septet including George Lewis, an exceptional young trombonist whose conception and technique seemed remarkable, even in such a remarkable context; Anthony Davis on piano; Barry Altschul on drums; and once again Mike Jackson, Fred Hopkins, and Phil Wilson. Braxton played bass sax, E-flat soprano, alto, clarinet and contrabass clarinet, and typically for Braxton's music the performance was a mind-bending and incredibly beautiful composition. All members of the ensemble contributed beautifully, with the consistently impressive Mike Jackson producing some of is best work of the weekend. It was my first in-person exposure to Braxton's music, and meeting this intense and remarkable musician briefly was also a rewarding experience. One could only wish the group had played more that night.
Sunday May 16 featured for openers Kalaparusha (Maurice McIntyre) backed by Chris White on bass and Jumma Santos on drums. Unfortunately the trio did not seem to have rehearsed and for most of the set failed to blend effectively, although both McIntyre and White were individually impressive. Kalaparusha played mostly tenor, but also used clarinet (an Albert system model by the look of it), the rarely heard C-melody sax and what looked like a home made axe made from a large end-blown bamboo flute with a clarinet mouthpiece taped on, which produced an odd bassoon-like sound. By the end of the set the group had begun to blend better and Kalaparusha was blowing some very rewarding tenor lines. More should be heard from this remarkable musician. The second set featured Julius Hemphill's quintet with Don Moye, face painted Art Ensemble fashion, on drums, Phil Wilson doing percussion, Abdul Wadud on cello, and guitarist Bern Nix, who unfortunately did not seem to fit in with the rest of the group most of the time and seemed over-amplified. Hemphill really cut loose nevertheless, playing a stimulating and rewarding set. Next up was Marion Brown. Chris Henderson on drums and Jumma Santos on congas provided a solid, if relatively stiff, rhythm; but the bassist and two electric guitarists left much to be desired from a jazz viewpoint. In fact, guitarist Butch Campbell singlehandedly turned the act into a rock show, effectively drowning out Brown's alto as well. Brown could only be heard clearly during a lengthy unaccompanied solo, during which he seemed to be producing the same squeaks and bleats occasionally audible through the loud guitars, and for parts of a bossa nova piece which sounded off key and concluded the set. Part of the crowd loved the rock show, but those interested in creative music who had been tuned into the rest of the weekend's offerings were very turned off by the departure from the proceedings as a whole. In fact, learning Campbell was also to appear with the fourth group of the evening inspired us to leave, missing Hamiett Blueitt's set. This turned out to be inappropriate, for by all reports Campbell played quite differently with Bluiett's group. A fifth group had been scheduled-- Arthur Blyhte-- but word was out early in the evening that he was not to appear after all.
Thursday May 20 was the fourth night of the Festival, with the Last Poets, Charles Tyler's group, and Monty Waters' band scheduled to appear, but I was unable to attend. Up to this point all first sets had gone on after 10 p.m., but we arrived Friday the 21st at about 9:30 to discover the second set had just begun. Roswell Rudd's group with Enrico Rava and Dave Burrell among others had actually started at 8:15, and by all accounts played a superb set. The second set featured Jimmy Lyons' quartet with Karen Borca on bassoon, Hayes Burnett on bass and Henry Letcher on drums. Their music was intriguingly abstract and cerebral, but again the group never quite seemed to achieve the level of inspiration of which it seemed capable. Ken McIntyre was up next with a quartet including Rich Harper on piano, Andre Strobert on drums, and Andy Vega on congas. The lack of a bass was notable, and McIntyre chose to play six short pieces featuring himself on alto sax, bass clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute, and finally returning to alto, respectively. Unfortunately he only seemed to let go on the final piece (announced as New Times), seemed merely a pale reflection of Dolphy on bass clarinet, and sounded not fully confident on the double reeds. McIntyre has certainly played much better on LP than at Rivbea that night. The fourth set of the evening featured George Braith, the man who plays soprano sax and stritch simultaneously, obviously inspired by Roland Kirk, with a group including Richard Davis on bass, plus piano, drums and congas. However, the uninspired nature of the evening's proceedings and the delay in remiking the group for a recording was a bit hard to take and again I regrettably missed a set despite being interested in how Braith's group would play.
Saturday May 22 was an uneven night which nevertheless contained some of the best and most exciting music of the Festival. The first group up, "Abdullah," consisted of Achmed Abdullah on trumpet, Charles Brackeen on tenor and soprano saxes, Mashujaa on electric guitar, Rick Evans on electric bass, Leroy Seals on upright bass, and Rashid Sinan on drums. I was left feeling strongly that the presence of electric guitar and electric bass detracted from the impact of the group's music, and again full inspiration seemed lacking, but Abdullah himself saved the set with some brilliant trumpet work indicating he is more a descendant of Clifford Brown via Booker Little than most contemporary trumpet men. The second set was another highlight of the Festival, the group called "Air" which consisted of Henry Threadgill on alto sax, flute, piccolo and bamboo flute; bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall. Starting out with soft, subtle interactions, the trio built gradually as McCall produced some absolutely stunning brush work, into a dynamic, tight, brilliantly inspired and powerfully executed stretching out which was one of the more rewarding musical experiences I have witnessed. If that performance is not released intact, it would be a great loss. The third and final set of the evening featured Roscoe Mitchell on alto sax, backed by Don Moye (again in war paint) and Jerome Cooper on drums. For the first ten minutes or so, Mitchell played the same repetitive three-note riff at peak intensity over and over, while the two drummers thrashed and cooked at similar peak intensity, a spectacle which seemed embarrassingly boring. Then abruptly the trio dropped to a soft, spaced out level of textural interplay, Moye using mallets, Cooper on musical saw, Mitchell restrained. Catching fire once again, the group built into a powerful excursion with Mitchell really cutting loose, providing a greatly rewarding conclusion to a set which began rather oddly. Sam's Winds of Manhattan group, originally also scheduled to appear that night, unfortunately did not go on, and the evening ended relatively early.
Sunday May 23 was the final and perhaps most consistent night of the Festival, the four groups appearing all playing very well out of the same general conception. First up was "Flight to Sanity" consisting of Olu Dara on trumpet; Byard Lancaster this time on tenor and soprano saxes; Art Bennett on soprano sax and flute;a poorly miked Solenius Smith on piano, who was incredible most of the time; bassist Benny Wilson; and Harold Smith on drums and flute and Don Moye (without war paint) on congas. Their music was loose, free and abstract, with many interesting textures and solo efforts, Moye being especially interesting and exciting. Next up was the "Human Arts Ensemble" directed by Charles Bobo Shaw on drums, with cornetist Earl Cross, Julius Hemphill on alto and soprano sax, David Murray on tenor, Hamiett Bluiett on baritone, Francois Nyomo on guitar, Arthur Juney Booth on bass, and Don Moye and Phil Wilson on congas and percussion. Their music impressed me rather more than the Human Art Ensemble's LP "Under the Sun" which of course featured radically different personnel but a similar conception, including Shaw's tendency to lapse into a backbeat on occasion. The third set brought Andrew Cyrille's quartet on the stand, with Ted Daniel playing flugelhorn and trumpet, tenor man David S. Ware, and bassist Lyle Atkinson. Cyrille's drum kit included a gong and a cowbell tree, and he also performed intriguingly on a large African thumb piano. Although Atkinson was merely routine, the rest of the group performed with rather more fire and imagination than most groups at the Festival, with Ware's strong tenor solos among the highlights of the evening. The final group of the Festival was Leo Smith's "New Delta Ahkri" including Smith on flugelhorn, trumpet, cornet, a large set of gongs, bamboo flute and a homemade horn with six or eight bells; Oliver Lake on alto and curved soprano saxes and flute; Anthony Davis on piano, which fortunately was well miked for this set; bassist Wes Brown; Stanley Crouch on drums; and Paul Maddox on drums and miscellaneous percussion. Although their music seemed interesting, reflective and very cerebral to me, some felt Smith's careful and deliberate approach to be pretentiously controlled. Certainly the group never seemed to ignite to the level of passion which some of the other performances offered, despite the two drummers, and even Lake seemed restrained. Like Smith's album "Reflectativity," which also included Davis and Brown, there were moments of lyrical beauty and exquisite texture, which the larger group here expanded. This set, like many at he Festival, left me feeling that additional hearings were needed for a full grasp of the group's music. In fact, an additional hearing of the group's first pieces was provided, as they repeated their opening selection at the close of their set, performing it somewhat differently the second time.
Studio Rivbea's Spring Music Festival 1976 could not be considered an unqualified success, since the atmosphere lent by the circumstances of the open recording session and long delays between sets seemed excessive and may have been responsible for the less than fully inspired performances given by several of the groups. However, it must stand as a historic event in presenting so many vital, current musicians together, playing for the most part what can only be identified as creative music of the mid-1970's, being recorded for LP issue. More and more LPs of contemporary creative music have been appearing recently, and if this series of recordings is released as planned, much will have been accomplished in defining the state of the art in the mid-1970's and bringing greater exposure to both the younger musicians and the established but still underexposed pioneers of the contemporary scene. Now, it remains to wait for the records planned for release from these sessions to learn whether that promise is fulfilled.

Back to Rivers Sessionography.

Back to Ware Sessionography.


Liner notes by Robert Palmer: "I was thinking in terms of forces of nature when I titled these compositions," says Sam Rivers, "the motion of waves, changing currents, changing flow." These are probably the most appropriate metaphors anyone has come up with for Rivers' extraordinary music, and it is typical of Sam that he thought of them first. He has never been one to sit around and wait for someone to do something for him. He has gone out and done things on his own, whether the task before him was organizing a small combo, assembling and rehearsing a big band, or establishing and operating the most important musician-run performing space in New York, Studio Rivbea. He has mastered the tenor and soprano saxophones, the flute, and the piano, and those who have heard him play viola, which he was performing on back in the fifties, say he is formidable on that instrument as well.
Sam comes from a family of achievers. His grandfather notated and published a collection of spirituals and black folk songs in the 1880's. Both his parents were college graduates, and when he was born in El Reno, Oklahoma in 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Rivers were there because they were on the road, giving concerts of spirituals.
When Sam was seven his father died in a highway accident and his mother raised him in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught at Shorter College. After a stint in the Navy, Sam went north to Boston, where he studied at Boston Conservatory and worked steadily for around fifteen years, seven nights a week, with people like Gigi Gryce, Jaki Byard, and, later, the young Tony Williams. There were also reed gigs with Billie Holiday and T-Bone Waker.
In fact, Sam was on the road playing the blues with T-Bone when he got a call to join the Miles Davis quintet. He replaced George Coleman and lasted six months, and even a casual listen to the one album he made with the group, Miles in Tokyo, tells why. It was 1964. Miles and the rest of the band were doing finely crafted but polite versions of "If I Were a Bell" and "My Funny Valentine" and Sam was soaring off into the stratosphere, playing lengthy solos of gut-wrenching intensity that stuck out like sore thumbs. Later in the sixties he worked in the volcanic bands of McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor, situations in which he was more at home, and recorded his first albums for Blue Note. During the early seventies he slowly built a devoted following in New York and recorded some remarkable albums for Impulse. On the first one, Streams, and in many of his live performances, he simply improvised, backed by bass and drums and switching from one of his instruments to the other, for an hour or more at a time, without planning anything in advance. On the other hand, his big band music, captured on the Impulse! album Crystals, was rigorously structured.
Lately Rivers' small groups have been purveying the best of both worlds, and this album, the first with his current quartet, strikes a particularly judicious balance. It is free and controlled, passionate and lucid. A few days before Rivers made the record, I visited him at Studio Rivbea, and he said something that might serve as his credo, if he believed in such things: "You can come out here and be an intuitive musician and be really happening, but your dreams and visions won't last forever. If you don't get into the books and get your technical thing together while that intuitive thing is happening, you won't survive."
Rivers' great strength is that he has so much of both, so much technique and so much imagination and fire. On tenor he is practically without peer, with a sound and style that are wholly his own. "I listened to everybody I could hear to make sure I didn't sound like them," he says. "I worked out my own chord substitutions, wrote my own exercises to practice." On soprano he has an equally personal sound and style; even when he is looking Eastward for inspiration he sounds nothing like John Coltrane, as his performance on "Pulse" corroborates. He is a virtuoso flutist, and one suspects he would have become a major jazzman had he confined his activities to the piano.
"Shockwave" begins with the piano. Sam's playing is reflective but sinewy, and as the shockwave spreads the group charges into a full-tilt collective improvisation. "Actually," Rivers notes, "I don't think in terms of solos with accompaniment; I consider that we're all playing together in a situation where everyone is complementing everyone else. At times I may be the dominant voice but I consider myself part of a group; it's complete ensemble playing at all times." It takes a particularly resourceful musician (with an unusual amount of stamina) to cut the mustard in a Rivers band, and it only takes a few minutes of this first composition for the listener to realize that in this group, every man is equal to the task. Dave Holland, the bassist, who makes solo records for ECM and has been heard with just about every important musician in contemporary jazz, from Miles Davis to Anthony Braxton, has been with Sam the longest. He has said that he considers working in Rivers' bands a particularly stimulating challenge, since he has to create at all times, without falling back on predetermined riff patterns or clicheés. Joe Daley, who is the most astonishing of a whole new generation of virtuoso tuba players, has also been heard with Rivers, often in a trio context in which he functioned simultaneously as the bass instrument and a second horn. Thurman Barker, who comes from Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, is the newest member of the group. Sam says he is probably the most sensitive drummer he has ever worked with.
Daley gets a chance to prove his mettle after Sam's opening piano solo, playing sassy baritone horn along with Holland's inventive bass until the drums and Sam, on tenor, re-enter. Appropriately, "Shockwave" ends with Barker's drum solo. But the side ends with a delicate flute reverie that nevertheless picks up a head of steam and is called "Torch". Side Two is ushered in by a bass and tuba duet. Sam was the first of New York's more progressive jazz musicians to regularly use the tuba in his small groups, and here the instrument participates with the string bass as an equal. The soprano saxophone improvisation that follows snakes over a rhythm that refers to a rock groove without getting locked in. On "Flux" Sam is back on piano and Holland is on cello, an instrument from which he extracts a lovely bowed sound. Barker is heard on chimes. "Surge" is an apt title for the magnificent tenor saxophone solo that concludes the album.
Sam Rivers is on the cutting edge of jazz, but he has never been one of those musicians who commune primarily with their own muse. His music communicates, and as he says, "I still feel like swinging; I'm still into that." Waves is food for thought but it's foot-tapping music too, and there shouldn't be anything shocking about that; the best, most mature jazz has always been about both.

--Robert Palmer

Back to Rivers Sessionography.

Winds of Manhattan: Colours

[Liner notes reprinted with permission of Lee Jeske:] There is a fascinating little museum in the section of Manhattan known as Soho-- the Museum of Holography. Don't ask me how it works, but what this museum exhibits are amazingly realistic three-dimensional images and artworks that seemingly just float on thin air. Just like those cheap old science fiction movies-- you see something sitting there as large as life, yet when you try to grab it, all you come up with is nothing. And to make matters worse, for somebody like me who is still amazed that a wireless radio can actually make music, the images move. They tell me that holography is a thing that will be quite common in the future-- you might telephone your Aunt Martha and end up with a full-sized, life-like Aunt Martha sitting in your living room.
Now you might think I'm setting you up for one of those liner-note writer's analogies: holography is modern and fresh, as is Sam Rivers; holography is based on simple and traditional methods, as is the music of Sam Rivers; holography is mind-boggling, as is Sam Rivers. Well, you're right, in a way, but what brings to mind that Soho museum in conjunction with Samuel Carthorne Rivers is much more obvious: you can enter that museum, lay down your money, and leave with your very own holograph of Sam Rivers working out on the soprano saxophone. You have a choice of sizes and prices (I, cheapskate that I am, bought a teeny-weeny one), but there it is-- a Sam Rivers holograph for your very own.
Okay, what's the point? The point is: if there's something that's advancing art, that is new and unique, it shouldn't be surprising to find Sam Rivers somehow involved in it.
There is no end to the facets that make up Sam Rivers and this recording of his Winds of Manhattan ensemble adds yet another new dimension to his recorded oeuvre: an entire herd of smoking reeds and woodwinds.
About the music contained herein, Sam Rivers says, "When I had my studio (Studio Rivbea), one of the reasons I had it was because I had all this music and I needed a place to rehearse it and perform it. I had most of this music then, and a lot of musicians played it. I'd say I wrote most of this-- except for "Lilacs", which is new-- about 1973, or even earlier. And some of the members of the World Saxophone Quartet-- Hamiet Bluiett and Julius Hemphill-- were part of the group that played that music then. I want people to know that this music has been around for some time and no one's heard it for lack of record exposure.
I tell Sam that the music here reminds me, at times, of a pipe organ or calliope. He says, "I noticed that. The closeness of the sounds of the instruments does make it sound like that. I was surprised at some of the things that happened on it-- it wasn't altogether experimental, but there were some things that I didn't think would work when I wrote them, because of my knowledge, earlier in my career, of so-called traditional harmonies. But then I did them anyway, and they really work. A lot of the things that I was always taught weren't correct for arranging-- like the clusters with the same timbre instrument-- were not supposed to happen at all. But they do, they sound very good. And there are times when these things sound like trumpets and trombones. All these things surprised me."
I ask Sam why there isn't any soloing on the album, and he explains, "These are all very long pieces with the improvising. I wanted to get the music in rather than the improvising and that's why I took that out. I knew that each composition would fit on an album itself. It didn't matter to me because I know that I've got too much music to get it all recorded, so I can afford to be extravagant. And I did have some good soloists. I know they're going to be quite perturbed that I took out all the solos."
What we are left with is high-caloric music with Sam Rivers' typical intensity and brilliance. There are rave-ups of counterpoint; joyous, sassy honking and testifying; and bright bouquets of lushness. When you hear writing of this calibre for a reed section, only one name comes to mind and Sam Rivers acknowledges, "Duke Ellington is my role model." It is clear to see.
About the specific music on the album, Sam Rivers only wants to point out that "Colours" is a completely written piece-- 136 dense bars and every one of them is notated. I'll also add that "Lilacs" is part of a 24 song suite, "The Flower Suite".
"I consider myself to be a pretty well-rounded musician in all styles," says Sam Rivers. "Just not 'free,' which is what I'm known for. That's pretty much the latest part of my thing. There's no such thing as having music without chords or harmony. Even though you say you're playing 'free,' if you put that stuff down, you can put the chords right with it, whether the player knows he's doing it or not. That's the point."
The point here is that Winds of Manhattan adds another dimension to an immensely talented, determinedly individualistic musician. Sam Rivers is a force in contemporary music. There ain't no moss on Sam Rivers. And, for yet another dimension, set up your Sam Rivers holograph before you put this album on.
The future, here we come!!

—Lee Jeske

[Anyone have a Sam Rivers Hologram for sale? Rick Lopez ]

Back to Rivers Sessionography.

Dizzy Gillespie and Sam Rivers, 1988

Dizzy Gillespie and Sam Rivers, 1988.

[Photo courtesy Sam Rivers]

SAM RIVERS Interview taken and transcribed by David Mittleman.

DM: You wrote music for Song Poems while in Boston?

SR: I stayed in Boston because I was very secure there. I was doing well and I was writing all these songs, I was ghostwriting for a lot of people. So I was making an extremely good living. As a matter of fact, it was at a loss that I left to go to New York.

DM: What was it like to work for Song Poem companies. How many songs did you write?

SR: I wrote one or two songs a day. It was up to me, I was pretty much the only one who was doing it because I guess I had a knack for doing this kind of thing. Just looking at lyrics and putting music to it. I can still do that, but I don't do it as a profession anymore. If someone has lyrics and they want music, I can knock it out in about an hour or so. I hear a lot of music now that I ghostwrote. I also ghostwrote jingles and those sorts of things. I really didn't want my name put on those things anyway. I was making a really good living doing this kind of work. Those kinds of jobs pay excellent money for doing really nothing.
I really left Boston because I had been composing. I had been composing since the late '40s, and now it was the early '60s, and I was writing four or five compositions a year. So I had at least 50 compositions before I moved to New York. I had already been to New York with Miles Davis, so I was established there. I really didn't need to move to New York. I moved there because I needed other musicians.
All the musicians on the scene today, pretty much, even a lot of the older musicians, since the late '60s on, I've had some sort of musical experience with them; some kind of musical collaboration. Just about every musician. Except Ornette Coleman. I talked to him all the time, and I called him. All the musicians who have made some kind of contribution, I have had the pleasure and good fortune of performing with them, some time in the past.
DM: You lived in Florida in the late '50s?

SR: Yes. Actually, it was at exactly the same time as Castro took Havana, 1957, or something like that. My brother was working down in Havana at the time. And I just came down to visit. He was working with a band in Havana.

DM: You went to Havana?

SR: No. I didn't go. I was staying in Miami. He was in Havana. But I was talking with him when he was in Havana, over the telephone. And he was telling me that Castro was coming into Havana, with gun-fighting. And he put the telephone out of the window so that I could hear the gunfire. I told him to take cover some place. But they didn't bother any of the foreigners. I don't know how much longer he stayed. Castro didn't want the people to leave. He just wanted the Mafia out of there. He didn't want the musicians and people to leave. As a matter of fact he made an ideal place for musicians, and athletes, and scientists, and doctors. There weren't any Cubans down in Miami when I was there. There were no Cubans in Miami at all in the '50s.
I was working down there with Chet Baker too, by the way. Doing some gigs with him.

DM: Didn't you work with Billy Holiday at this time as well?

SR: I was also working with Billy Holiday. She was doing tours there; around the state, as a matter of fact. She did a lot of performances. Also at Miami Beach, which was doing very extravagant things at that time. When I was in Miami, Nat King Cole had his show, it was the first time in that town that any singer had his own show. Count Basie was out there, singers were Dina Washington—this was all at the same time. Other singers too. And George Kirby, comedians—Cab Calloway's band was out there. In different hotels. And then the musicians would come over to one of the clubs there, in Miami proper, and play until 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, 10:00. That's when I first met Billy Holiday. She hired me to go on this tour. You know, in Key West and places further down.

DM: What brought you back to Florida later in your life?

SR: I was traveling with Dizzy Gillespie in the late 80s. I traveled with his band for 4 years. We traveled all over the world. And I was looking for a place to get out of New York because I was tired of fighting New York winters. I had choices. I could have moved to AZ, NM, CA, anyplace. I just chose Florida. because of the weather. Another reason, I was down here and I was talking to some of the guys, I was telling them I how was wanting to get out of NY, and they said we have a lot of musicians down here, you could come down here and it would be very easy for you to put a group together. And a matter of fact, we'll help you. And that's the reason I'm here, because they pretty much put the group together that I have together now.

We've been together ten years down here. I've been playing with the same musicians for 10 years. Doug Matthews and Anthony Cole. Doug is a native. And Anthony came down here at pretty much the same time that I did. Anthony came from Detroit and I came from New York. We are the nucleus of the Orchestra, too. They play with the Orchestra. Our new CD is entitled "Inspiration." And the other one is "Culmination." It was a double album. And the company considered the music so great that they said we'll put it out as a two singles. For me, I would have put it out as a double because I have like 300 compositions, and I would prefer that they put it out as a double.. so I could put out 8 or 9 doubles as quick as possible.

I would like to get the music out there. I want it to be heard. The reason why I've written it this way is so it can be used by students at universities so they can have some interesting music to perform.

I have plans to do many more albums as soon as I can. In fact, I have masters already done with the Orchestra down here. I'm just going to put the whole thing together myself and then just give it to them as a package rather than going in and doing something. I'd rather do it myself, rather than having the supervision of somebody at the record company; telling me what I can and cannot do. I'll just give them the whole complete product and say, this is it. Take it or leave it.

The next album, "Culmination" is coming out on BMG. That's why I can't put out any other Orchestra things. Because there's one contract that I've signed. I signed for 2, and they're putting them out 6 months apart. Which doesn't help me because I'd prefer to market my stuff.
DM: Could you tell me more about the Orchestra in Florida?

SR: I have a rehearsal over at the union every Wednesday. The students at UCF, they come and sit in. Every Wednesday I bring in something new. The musicians are so good that I have to write something new because tedious rehearsals are not a part of our thing. We go in and we rehearse things, it's like reading a newspaper or book. You go down the first time and then play it down the second time. We hardly ever play anything down the second time. We rehearse it one time. We have an hour rehearsal and may go through 3 or 4 compositions. And that's it. 9 to 10 and we're out of there. I'm looking for a place to perform once a week and try to record performances every week. Because I have all of this music. And I really am putting it together so that, like symphony music, any orchestra can play it, any jazz orchestra can play it. And mostly for schools because professional jazz orchestras, like mine, have their own original material so they wouldn't be interested in doing anything like that. It would only be the schools, which would be a couple of 1000. Each one has some kind of a jazz band.

4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes, bass and drums. No piano or anything like that because the Orchestra accompanies itself. If I wrote a piano or guitar part it would be it would be clashing. In my music, the Orchestra accompanies itself. So I just let it go. In most jazz orchestras that you see, the band is just sitting there most of the time with one guy standing up soloing. And mine isn't like that. The musicians are playing pretty much all the way, all the time, like they do in the symphony. It's a real orchestra. It's not just a jazz band with one guy standing up and everybody else is just sitting there, twiddling their thumbs or reading newspaper, it's not that kind orchestra. Everyone participates pretty much all the time. It might be overdone, if anything, but none of the musicians are falling asleep up there.

DM: Could you tell me about the music you play with your trio and your theory of "spontaneous creativity?"

SR: Spontaneous creativity, that's pretty much for my trio. It could be done with larger orchestras, but then it would be a little more chaotic the it is with maybe 2 horns or a trio doing it.

If there is any contribution that I've made to the music, I'd say that it would be spontaneous creativity that you mentioned, just then. Because, I would say that in my record Streams, I'm not sure, but I'm pretty much a musicologist, in a sense that I've checked out the history of the music, and I've done some teaching as well, at Dartmouth-- I haven't been invited to teach down here, which is great, I would teach a few, it's a compulsion, but I'm not invited in this state. But I am invited at Dartmouth, I am invited up at Wesleyan, I am invited there, I'm invited to Harvard. I'm not invited to any schools in Florida, which is great, don't invite me. They know I've been here 10 years. I'm not even sure I would accept an invitation now; I've been here this long. I sympathize with teachers. They are very much under paid, and their not really appreciated. The teacher is the most valuable thing in our society, and everyone looks down on them. And it's a very draining occupation. I've done it and I admire anyone that does it. No one in this society appreciates the teachers. Exactly the opposite from Japanese society, where the teacher is the most prized possession and prized part of society. But now, I really don't teach, I might give some kind of a lecture, or something like that, but teaching is sort of an impediment to creativity.
DM: What was it like teaching at Wesleyan?

SR: I taught composition there. Three days a week I was teaching. But I was still living in New York and running my performance space. The dean of music, he didn't like the idea of me coming up, he wanted me to stay on the campus. He told me that he wanted me to do more than just teach music. I'm supposed to be like a psychology mate for the students. It seemed like I was supposed to help the students with their personal problems. I wasn't sure about that. I had kids of my own, I wasn‘t sure about taking care of kids. I taught a couple of years there. It was mainly because the dean wanted me to live on the campus. And I'm only an hour and a half away, yet he wanted me to live on the campus, where I was living was an hour and a half away.
DM: Who were some of the other jazz teachers at Wesleyan at that time?

SR: Jimmy Garrison was on bass, Clifford Thornton.

DM: Was Marzette Watts there too?

SR: Marzette, yeah, he was there too.

DM: In an interview, Marzett said, "So Clifford Thornton said [to Wesleyan University], why don't you have Black music, it's the only truly American art form. And he drummed up more support, but they told him they didn't have the money for it. So they blew one of the building up, it was never in the papers, but they dynamited one of the buildings there." Do you recall this incident?

SR: No, that was before I went in. About a year or so before. I heard about it. I'm not sure if they burned down a building or not, they did some strange things. But it wasn't music students that did it. It was the political people. I wasn't there then, Marzette came after I did, maybe it was after I left, because I didn't stay, like I said, the dean wanted me to live on the campus. Jay Hoggard was studying at the time I was there, he was a student. Leo Smith. Anthony Braxton is there now. After I left, Ken McIntyre was there. Ed Blackwell was there for his whole life. We went in together too, Ed Blackwell and I, Ed Blackwell and Jimmy Garrison and myself, there was a piano player, and Clifford Thornton, and Cole, what's his name, a writer? Cole, the writer that was at Dartmouth? He was teaching up at Dartmouth, he did a lot of things there. I don't remember his last name.

DM: You worked with Bill Dixon in the 60s with the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra?

SR: Yes, Bill Dixon was the organizer of the group, it was an organization to protest the actions of the record companies. The main reason for the group was not record for any of the record companies out here, do all of the recordings for ourselves, and keep the record companies out of it because all they do is pollute and corrupt the music. And it was working. Cecil Taylor was there, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Michael Mantler, Gato, Pharoah, I remember all these guys, John Tchicai, myself, we were all sitting there, so many, Steve Lacy, just about anybody that was in the modern or contemporary avant-garde music. Archie Shepp was there. So, it broke up because the record companies got worried, so they went in an offered a couple of the guys nice fat advances. So they broke ranks, and that broke it up.

DM: Do It Yourself- JCGO, Studio Rivbea, own record label?

SR: That's only because I haven't been offered anything. I don't know, it's strange. I was just thinking, as far as my contribution, I was the first musician that was out with spontaneous creativity. Most of the musicians come out, and they have a theme, and then they play on the theme. We came out with my trio, with Dave Holland, and we created everything on the spot. I would say, that if I've made any contribution, that was the contribution that I've made- spontaneous creativity. I don't know of anyone else that did that. I don't know of anyone else that came out and played like 2 hours with nothing set. Nothing. Everything created. All the musicians that I know, from Cecil Taylor all the way, they have had thematic material, and then they improvise on the thematic material. Everyone. 100%. I am the only musician that I know that went out there with nothing planned, and played for 2 hours or more. Spontaneous creativity.

For awhile back in my career, I used to be very depressed about why I wasn't getting the consideration, and then I grew out of that, and said, well, I'm not going to get any consideration, there's no need to stop, I'll just go ahead and write this music and have it ready because I know that I have some of the most unique music of the time, and I know that I've done some very unique things. The critics would rather ignore me, but it doesn't really matter anymore. I have no bitterness. There's no bitterness in me. It's just a matter of, I know that I'm no going to be given my credit. So I just do it anyway.

Musicians know that the critics have overblown some musicians and ignored others. I don't know why they do that. There are musicians out there that if a critic says something about them the guys have tried to change the subject rather than say anything good, because they know that he's a phoney. There's a lot of phoneys out here now. They are more imitators than phoneys. Most musicians are imitating somebody else. Like the most popular musicians today are imitators. Important musicians are not popular, and popular musicians are not important. If you are recording for a major label, chances are, more than likely, that it's not important music. And you waste your $ if your buying jazz on a major label. It's imitating. So the only good jazz music is on foreign labels and labels you've never heard of. So if you've heard of the label, chance are, it's no good, or it's just a copy. That's not only jazz, that's rock, it's everything else. If it's a major label the chances are the music's repetitive and no good.

DM: How did the "Wildflowers" series of records come about?

SR: That was from a friend I knew in Boston, Alan Douglas. He's still a major producer with record companies. He decided that he wanted to memorialize, make a note of, what I was doing at Studio [Rivbea]. And so we did those things like that. It was out of his concern that the music at least have a legacy, or proof that the studio existed. Because Downbeat never mentioned it, Downbeat didn't say anything about it. All the musicians that are out there now, you know, Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, just about everybody. They all came through my Studio. But they never mentioned anything that I was doing, like I didn't exist. And I was wondering why. What did I do, what did I say to someone. Did I tell someone to kiss my ass that I should have and they really took offense to it? It's probably something like that, you know? It's probably some critic that I insulted. Because he asked me something stupid, or said something stupid. I ignore that now, and go ahead and do what I-- because I know-- I listen to everyone that's playing and I know what's going on out here, and I know that the people that are popular and getting all the gigs are pretty much-- don't represent what's going on in music today. It's a very sad situation.

DM: You played with Miles Davis?

SR: He was always, for me, with the free style, but he didn't want to go out there and scream, and stuff, like Cecil Taylor. But then the music he played with the rock beat in it, that was all free music. He did free in a different way. Let the horns be free and the rhythm be static. He did it like that. It's pretty much free. It's all very fluid, other than the drums, which are playing a modern rock beat. Other than that, everything else was free.
DM: The title of you newest record is, "Inspiration." How do you inspire other musicians?

SR: The way I try to inspire is-- one of the main ingredients in jazz is improvisation. That is, without improvisation, you don't really have jazz. Which is one of the reasons I leave a lot of things open. I could write everything, like a symphony. But I can't write everything because I'm writing a jazz composition. And with jazz compositions, you are more or less writing backgrounds for improvisers. That's what a jazz composition is- a background for the improvisers, for the soloists, to create over. It's to stimulate the creative impulses of the improviser. That's what jazz is all about, a jazz composition. So I keep this in mind at all times.

Because, I know that if you have a creative part of a program you're interested in moral, you are wanting-- you have more incentive to produce and be a part of it, because you are an integral part of the whole process. That's the way that I inspire younger musicians when they are playing, when they come out to hear-- if you play in Sam Rivers' Orchestra, you are going to be an integral part, and you are going to be a soloist.

Because, Sam Rivers wants young musicians to know that jazz is about improvising. A jazz musician is an improviser. I mean, that is 100%. So when you say that you're jazz, that means that you can get up and take a solo, and improvise creatively. That's what it means. It doesn't mean anything else but that. It's very narrow, what a jazz musician is. He's an improviser. That's it. He creates on the spot. This is what a jazz person is, a jazz musician. So I mean, I try to tell all young musicians that you have one thing-- you are a jazz musician because you have a particular individual statement to make. You don't imitate. Imitation is a way of learning. OK, you get crutches and you learn how to walk. After that, you throw your crutches away and you're on your own. Copying someone else is not a very honorable jazz position. It's not honorable. It is not right. I'm a traditionalist. A traditional jazz musician means that you go up, and hear any jazz musician they're supposed to be playing their own style. And not copying anyone else. Imitation is the worst thing that you can do in jazz, if you're a professional. Imitation is good for students. "He sounds like somebody else." That is the worst thing that you can say about a musician, jazz musician. "He sounds like somebody else." That's the gravest insult. The greatest compliment for myself is when I read, "Sam Rivers does not sound like anyone else." That is the greatest compliment.

That's the traditional stance of all jazz musicians. You wanted to make a personal statement. You are making your personal statement. The musicians that I hired were making a personal statement. It wasn't whether I thought that it was that technically flawless or something, no it wasn't, but they were making a statement. I'd rather hear someone making a raggedy statement that's there's, than to make a perfect statement that's copying someone else. Most of the musicians that have come through my Studio have gone on to make really significant contributions in their own right.
I have musicians in my orchestra right now that are in their 20s that are really, really good. The musicians that go to New York aren't really the best musicians; they're the musicians with the most intense ego. There are much better musicians all around the USA.
-- David Mittleman


[The original working list for this discography via Matt Gorney (RivBEA),
Sam & Beatrice Rivers, Dante Sawyer (Jazziz), and Vladimir Simosko.]

Assistance, Direction, and Encouragement has come from
the following gracious individuals--

  • Mr. Sam Rivers
  • Matt Gorney, RivBEA Sound Company
  • Brian Carpenter and Jazz Pop Online, a site with info on Mr. Rivers' current activities.
  • Michael Fitzgerald and his Jazz Research Center, a kind of "Discography Central," including documents
    on Art Davis, Woody Shaw, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Henry Grimes, and many others.
  • Anthony B. Rogers, above and beyond.
  • Alan Saul and his Dolphy Discography
  • Gerrit Stolte, European correspondent
  • Lonnie Sherman, for the whole world as discography
  • Vladimir Simosko, author (w/ Barry Tepperman) of Eric Dolphy, A Musical Biography and Discography.
  • John Chacona
  • Marcel Glen Safier and his Andrew Hill, David Murray, Odean Pope, and Von Freeman Discographies
  • Ken Waxman
  • R. Lynn Rardin
  • Jan Lohmann and his "The Sound of Miles Davis" Web-site and Discography.
  • Sybil Golden, Postcards, Inc.
  • R. Shapiro and his Cecil Taylor Discography.
  • Damon Short and The Music of Cecil Taylor.
  • Alec Cozens
  • Edward M. Michel, producer of the Rivers impulse! sessions.
  • Stephen Miner and his Lee Konitz Discography, and Stephen's friend RUFUS.
  • Bill Sakovich
  • Henry Loess
  • Rohan James Parkes
  • Sheri Margrave
  • Stefano Zenni
  • Christopher Anderson
  • Dane C. LaBarr
  • Chuck Eschweiler
  • Dan Serro
  • Yoshiyuki Suzuki and Kazue Yokoi for info on poet Kazuko Shiraishi.
  • Hugo van Ginhoven
  • Tom Stoudt
  • Heinrich Smejkal
  • Alice & George Russell
  • Todd Jenkins
  • Stuart Kremsky
  • Patrice Roussel
  • Richard Goodkind
  • Lazaro Vega
  • Ray Stadt
  • Jay Soule
  • Pete Gershon
  • Graham Connah
  • Arjen Gorter [Arjen & Estrella Acosta's Homepage]
  • Allan Sutherland
  • Dan Given
  • Kevin Whitehead, author of "New Dutch Swing."
  • Joost Buis
  • Sean Bergin
  • Dick Griffin
  • Allan Chase
  • Sean Wilkie
  • George Scala
  • Heinrich Smejkal
  • Tom Storer
  • Michel Ménard
  • Thurston Moore
  • Byron Coley
  • Alain LeRoux and Le Jazz.
  • Guy Berard
  • George Scala
  • Randy Aranson of MCA/Impulse!
  • David Wayne
  • Guillaume Bregeras
  • Tim Nees
  • Forti Giorgio
  • Generous Producer Jean Rochard of the Nato label.
  • Michael McLaughlin
  • Tosiyuki Nomoto
  • Jens Brasöy
  • Andrew Galloway
  • Chuck Berg
  • Rick Wallach
  • Lloyd Haber
  • Wolfgang Kraus
  • "The Blue Note Label:" A discography compiled by Michael Cuscuna and Michel Ruppli
  • Mosaic Records. E-mail: mosrec@ix.netcom.com
    Phone: (203) 327-7111
    FAX: (203) 323-3526
  • Cadence Magazine and reviewers Robert L. Campbell, Richard B. Kamins, Chris Kelsey, Steven Loewy, Robert Spencer, and Jerome Wilson.
    The indispensable "Review of Jazz & Blues: Creative Improvised Music."
    For subscription info and much more visit the Cadence website. CODA Magazine.
Back to Rivers Sessionography

Comments, additions, corrections to: Rick Lopez