All posts by Becca Pulliam

Foreign Bodies, Music on Fire .. Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in “Foreign Bodies” at David Geffen Hall, 6/9/ 18. Photo by Chris Lee

The three pieces on the June 8 concert were New York premieres in whole or part, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen composed two of them. Foreign Bodies opened on a full stage  and above it a giant screen, the canvas for live-feed images of colorful filaments, pick-up sticks, morphing boxes and flaming orange peaks. The orange above seemed to speak to the bold orange proscenium extension, so far unused. Later in the concert, it would be the setting for an awesome dance.

A Foreign Bodies mixtape from the NYPhil offers the entire composition as three separate files on Spotify.

The screen had vanished along with about 1/3 of the orchestra when young soloist Pekka Kuusisto entered. Kuusisto gently combined his instrument with his whistling to begin the Violin Concerto by Daníel Bjarnason. The music shifted like weather, stirring the space, becoming gauzy then gathering weight. This piece was my favorite. Until what came next.

“Watch for the orange stage,” says the Foreign Bodies brochure handed out at the door, “a possible representation of a volcanic eruption.” Two Boston Ballet dancers on the bright colored strip at the stage lip and opened “Obsidian Tear,” choreography by Wayne McGregor to music by Salonen. A single violinist in a First Tier box  played the first movement, Lachen verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt), energetically. When the music segued into Nyx for orchestra, half of dozen more male dancers appeared and the music grew massive with a wide trombone section that I loved. Very physical, this music! and the dance is powerful and athletic. It ranges from violent to tender with turns and leaps that in a romantic context would seem like pure grace.

David Geffen Hall can seem blank and boxy, but the colors and lighting transformed it for me. I sat in a great seat, nicely priced.

Two Francs in New York with Bechet Music

Last night saxophonist Olivier Franc and pianist Jean Baptiste Franc came from Paris to Triad with a Sidney Bechet (1897-1959) show. Born in New Orleans and died in Paris, Bechet was a musical original who played clarinet and soprano sax.

Triad  on W 72nd Street feels like Paris or maybe Berlin between the wars, ideal for Olivier’s magnificent tone and Bechet’s melodies — Passport to Paradise, Casbah, I’ll Be Proud of You/Sweet Louisiana, Petite Fleur and more. JB emerges as more than an accompanist. He dedicated his first solo of the evening, Anitra’s Dance, to Donald Lambert (1904-62), the barely-recorded, first-class stride pianist from Newark, NJ.

It turns out that over Memorial Day weekend, JB won first place in the Old Time Piano Competition in Oxford MS. A five-hour video of the finals is here. At 26:30 into the file, JB begins Anitra’s Dance at a sedate tempo. Do not be fooled. At 4:02:00 (yes, 3 1/2 hours later), he is back to play the Weather Bird Rag as a piano solo. Famously recorded by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, JB says that Armstrong composed it on a riverboat the Mississippi. Finally I highly recommend JB’s out chorus of a Chopin waltz just after 4:10:00. The audience can’t wait til the end to applaud.

At Triad the Francs invited New York pianist Allan Tate to the stage for a couple of tunes and a three-man encore. Mysteriously, every week Facebook sends me a tally of the visitors to Allan Tate’s home page so we have a connection, though he wasn’t aware of it, and I felt very happy to introduce myself.

After the show the Francs’ albums were for sale individually on CDs and all together on a thumb drive. Pull it apart and plug one side into a USB port and listen again and again. That’s what I’ve been doing. C’est ce que je fais et je l’aime!




BB King’s closes .. Jon Paris plays it out

On April 23, Jon Paris (bio here) and companions played their last Monday night of LIVE BLUES at Lucille’s at BB King’s in Times Square, the end of an 18 year run.

Paris came east from Milwaukee. As he said on the bandstand, “I’ve been in New York about ten times longer than I was in Wisconsin.” I love his evocations of post WWII Chicago blues, steeped in Vietnam. Here’s his first set of his last night at Lucille’s.

“Overhauled Cadillac” by Paris from his Blue Planet (2004) … refrain: “I just got a tuneup and an overhaul, my Cadillac’s ridin’ just like new …”

“The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll” by Muddy Waters … also on Blue Planet  and Waters’s Hard Again (1977), produced by Johnny Winter in whose band JP worked in the 80s and 90s

Two from Jimi  … “Castles Made of Sand” and “Up from the Skies” … I love this lyric “I just wanna know about the rooms behind your minds, Do I see a vacuum there or am I going blind?” … both from Axis Bold as Love (1967) … “Skies” melded into “On Broadway,” the location of the late Lucille’s … by Cynthia Weil and Mike Leiber

“Tryin Times” by Doug Yankus from JP’s Rock the Universe (1996)

Song by Stuffy Shmitt … could be “Til I Lost You” from Blue Planet … I’m not sure

Jon says, “It’s not a sad night. One door closes, another door opens” leading to a medley for/from Chuck Berry, Johnnie Johnson, “my mom” … “I Almost Lost My Mind” (Ivory Joe Hunter) –> a boogie “Blue Monk” (Thelonious) –>”Blues This Bad” (Johnny Winter)

“My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble” …  “my favorite Muddy Waters tune from Blue Planet” (JP) … with the lyric “I want women on my left, women on my right, women all day, women all night …”

“Talk to Me, Baby [on the telephone]” (Elmore James) with JP slide guitar and harmonica solos

“Johnny B Goode” (Chuck Berry) … “Maybe someday your name will be in lights, sayin ‘Johnny B Goode tonight’ …”

But not on Mondays at Lucille’s. The run with Amy Madden, bass, and Sam Bryant, drums, is over. On June 30 Jon Paris opens for Buddy Guy at Summerfest in … Milwaukee.


Corea Plays Monk

Chick Corea and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, April 7, 2018

Time is of essence in Thelonious Monk’s concise melodies, syncopated and swinging. Notes rub against each other. The music dances. Conceived for quartet, the pleasure multiplied as Chick Corea and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra delivered a concert of ten Monk compositions arranged by band members and Corea, who adapted “Work” (from 1951) specifically for this band and this concert.

Pianist Corea graduated from high school in Boston and came to New York to see Thelonious Monk perform. On one date, because the club owner had said “Play short sets,” Monk set an alarm clock – an old mechanical clock with two bells like mouse ears atop the face – to ring after half an hour. Corea pitches his close-handed tremolos so that they too ring like bells and almost clash. Improvising lines, he always keeps the band in mind as he supports and responds and prods and interrogates. I’m a better listener when I listen to him.

Trombonist Vincent Gardner arranged “Light Blue” – introduced by leader Wynton Marsalis as “unusual” in form and content – and Corea trilled near the top of the piece. A bit later, two trumpets trilled together, recalling the pianist’s moment, but in fact Chick had set them up. Gardner’s re-invention of “Trinkle Tinkle” featured a Marsalis solo. After an extended section with lo-o-ng tones (also trilled), the trumpeter came right back and punched out his phrases to rock the house. We the audience loved it.

The program was Four in One Think of One Light Blue Hackensack Bye-Ya Trinkle Tinkle Epistrophy Work (Chick’s arrangement) Ask Me Now (described by Marsalis as romantic but I’d say only in the closing fully orchestrated chorus) and Rhythm-a-ning.

As we focused on Corea and the LCJO in Rose Hall, pianist Helen Sung was playing small-group Monk a few steps away at Dizzy’s, and Herlin Riley was funkifying Monk in the Appel Room. So for every piece I heard, I was missing two.

Party! at The Met Museum

Spring arrived and The Met Museum celebrated the re-opening of The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments. At the entrance, a chosen few are suspended in a glass case, lit naturally.

Conch shell at entrance to André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments












Ceramic horn from late 18th, early 19th century
Archtop guitar, “Spring,” from The Four Seasons by John Monteleone, 2004

Deeper in the galleries, the light is lower.

This guitar and its three siblings starred in a special exhibit and concert featuring New York makers, a few years ago. I am happy to see it again.

Scroll to the next post, click and enjoy an informative, fun video tour. Hosts are Bradley Strauchen-Scherer and Jayson Kerr Dobney of Musical Instruments. They know the instruments and tell their stories.

Congratulations to my friend Marian Eines for her long run on the MI staff. Besides re-opening the gallery, the elegant party marked Marian’s retirement.

Celebrating the Re-Opening of The André Martens Galleries for Musical Instruments, The Met Museum, March 21, 2018

Photos taken on my iPhone 6S. Soon I hope to learn how to post photos in two columns.



Musical Instruments gallery at Met Museum reopens

Good morning from the newly opened Musical Instruments galleries at The Met. This morning we are joined by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P Rose Curator in Charge and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator.

Posted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York on Thursday, March 29, 2018

The video tour is animated! Authoritative! And responses roll in from Nova Scotia to Argentina, Romania to Thailand. Congratulations, everyone. I have some photos from the opening party, posting soon.

A Time Like This: Music for Change at Carnegie Hall

On March 11 young artist Noga Cabo (seen at the end of this post) performed her piece, “Stephen Said!” about scientist Stephen Hawking, who died three days later, on March 14. Here is a feature about Noga with excerpts of the song. — B.P.

From time to time I’ve attended celebrations in Carnegie Hall’s education wing, where the young participants including at risk youth in the Weill Music Institute songwriting program present their new material. Every student sings an original song with a back-up band. I can feel how the faculty has effectively nudged key phrases, word dumps and free verse into songs with beginnings, middles and ends. Creativity takes shape. The performances can be passionate.

A Time Like This onstage at Carnegie Hall .. (c) 2018 Richard Termine

Yesterday, March 11, the project scaled up – way up – with a concert featuring student and professional vocalists, the magnificent  Wadleigh High School Choir and Songs of Solomon inspirational ensemble, the A Time Like This Band, Future Music Project Ensemble, Free Verse Poets and more. Images, patterns and colors played on the walls. Hats off to conductor Kenny Seymour at the keyboard. He arranged and orchestrated every piece. To watch him is to know what’s going on.  Continue reading A Time Like This: Music for Change at Carnegie Hall

Timeless Portraits : Saturday at Harvard, honoring Geri Allen

After a long Friday night concert (the SATURDAY night concert is here don’t miss it), people came for second day of the panels, beginning with Geri Allen as Scholar and Educator. Ingrid Monson moderated.

Monson, Michael Heller, Aaron Johnson, Mount Allen, Yoko Suzuki .. Heller, Johnson and Suzuki were Allen’s colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh .. Mount Allen is Geri’s brother .. Melissa Blackall Photography, thanks to Hutchins Center at Harvard University

Mount Allen III is Director of Operations at SFJAZZ in San Francisco. He described “Geri and Mount Allen’s Scheme for World Domination through Global Literacy” – strategizing to synch up performers in distant studios and deliver a concert to audiences at minority-serving institutions. He calls it “the new underground railroad.” Geri was on board; she always wanted to bring opportunity to African-American students. High tech/low tech: she also loved working with tap dancers. As Michael Heller, her colleague at the University of Pittsburgh,  said “Geri could track so many things at once.” Together Allen and Heller acquired and processed the Erroll Garner Collection for U Pitt. Heller and colleague Aaron Johnson described Geri as a motivator. “She roped people in to doing things,” said Johnson. “She would make you speak your intentions,” said Heller, and then publicly restate them on your behalf. Saxophonist Yoko Suzuki was a fellow teacher and close colleague who described Allen as “inclusive, accessible . . . . She broke down music into parts.” Johnson chimed in “No graduate student left behind.”

Allen also created the summer jazz camp for girls at Montclair State University in New Jersey; it continues at NJPAC in Newark.

Bandmates Esperanza Spalding (moderator), Terri Lyne Carrington, Kenny Davis, Carmen Lundy, Kassa Overall discuss Allen’s Music and Vision

The Working with Geri Allen panel sat in a sunbeam! I think this photo shows bassist Kenny Davis telling us how he gave Geri a Zoom recorder to replace an ancient cassette device. It was as though “… I bought her a Porsche!” Carmen Lundy played a personal video compiled from phone-captured “footage” of Carmen, Geri and others traveling in Europe. For a moment we heard Geri speak, standing at the foot of Montmartre, commenting on Paris. Beautiful seat-of-the-pants production, Carmen! Citing “Drummer’s Song” (Open on All Sides in the Middle from 1987, Twenty-One from 1994), Terri Lyne Carrington noted Allen’s “layering of phrases so you don’t get tired” — “we became a band that’s real stretchy” in drummer Kassa Overall’s words — and described her music as having “the beauty of a rose and the aggression of a tornado.”

Monson, Vijay Iyer, Don Byron, Dwight Andrews

As a panelist for Geri Allen’s Place in History, Don Byron’s description of Tower Records on lower Broadway in the mid 1980s was accurate. The low-ceilinged jazz department, the politics of how LPs were sorted and filed, the knowledgeable salespeople, the stress when they put your album in the wrong bin. That’s the era in which Allen and Byron made their New York entrances. (Both eventually moved elsewhere.) The two are on the soundtrack to the 1996 film Kansas City and, coincidentally, share a 2004 NYT review of Byron’s Ivey-Divey (Blue Note) and Allen’s The Life of a Song (Telarc). Allen recorded on the Blue Note, Verve, Telarc and Motéma labels.

In 2013 and 2016, Allen musically directed two stage productions, “Celebrating the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo” and “A Conversation with Mary Lou Williams.” She asked actress S. Epatha Merkerson of Law and Order to direct the shows and Farah Jasmine Griffin to write. On the closing panel, Merkerson spoke of how the three brainstormed to develop scripts and staging, how Geri loved to incorporate new performers – an organist, a dancer – at the last minute, how working with Allen diversified Merkerson’s career. Allen’s long-time manager Ora Harris, saxophonist Tia Fuller, Carrington and Lundy completed this discussion. After dinner came the Geri Allen Tribute concert. The panelists became performers, and there’s a video on the WGBH Facebook page, here. Go see it! Below is the set list; neither songs nor performers are named from the stage. The music speaks.

Stage manager’s marked-up set list, photo by BP

Geri Allen was born and raised in Detroit. She graduated from Howard University and earned her Master’s in Ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh. She wrote her thesis about Eric Dolphy, and her composition “Dolphy’s Dance” is on the above  list. She composed from life. Allen had three children who are ever-present in her music. She led or played on at least 50 albums with several generations of artists. She performed internationally on esteemed stages. She actively sought  to play for children, older people, people at church. I wish we had more documentation of her in these community situations.

But I don’t want to wish, I want to pivot the narrative now and in the future. As Farah Jasmine Griffin challenged us in her keynote speech, it’s possible to “Imagine a story of jazz in which Geri is central from now on.” We should, we can and I hope we will.

Timeless Portraits : Friday

We who love contemporary jazz have been mourning the death of Geri Allen (1958-2018). Yet Geri Allen was always emerging, adding new dimensions. And it’s still true. Earlier this month at Harvard University, a free and open festival/symposium entitled Timeless Portraits gave time and space to celebrate her music, life, spirit and legacy. My friend Ingrid Monson was a conference organizer and I happily attended.

Keynote speaker Farah Jasmine Griffin, scholar and Columbia University Professor, wrote the notes for Allen’s Flying Toward the Sound solo piano album (Motéma 2010). The visual artwork came from Carrie Mae Weems who – later in the day, accompanied by Esperanza Spalding on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums – presented her still images and video of Geri. Flight is a metaphor for freedom, Griffin said. “Where Geri led, love and beauty followed.”

Panelists Jason Moran, Craig Taborn, Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer (left to right) addressed the topic of Geri Allen and the Piano. My notes contain their confessions – “I am fully influenced by,” “very directly,” “I have plagiarized” – and descriptive phrases for musical selections that they played for us – “as though she has three hands!” “flip[s] a phrase,” “wastes no time,” “she’s dancing!”

Excerpted at this panel: “Lonely Woman” from Etudes (Charlie Haydn, Paul Motian, Allen, Soul Note 1987), “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” from Allen’s Grand River Crossings (Motéma 2012), “Skin” from Twylight (Minor Music 1989).

At the night-time concert in Paine Hall, each pianist played alone and in duets with the other three. Practically no words were spoken. Jason Moran’s unbound interpretation of “Life Every Voice and Sing” made me think of war, of Syria. Of how Geri Allen – so self-possessed – made emotional and powerful music. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn concluded with Davis’s transcription of “Black Man” ( from Home Grown 1985). On paper Davis uses three staves, as though Allen is playing with three hands. “You hear her hands,” Vijay Iyer said, “… hear that mind at work” in Taborn’s phrase.

I do not have the Friday night set list. And the sequence of pianists alone then in duets is a brain teaser. Please, someone, send it! I will share.

In the next post, I’ll start with Saturday, February 17, 8:30am, the Symposium, Geri Allen as Scholar and Educator.

A Geri Allen discography is here.