Phillip Johnston and friends create music that’s unpredictable but rooted, surprising but deeply immersed in his own versions of the jazz tradition. I had the good fortune to sit right in front of his Silent Six (a whimsical monicker) at Smalls in Greenwich Village last November, and can share with you a number of wonderful highlights.
He began the evening by discussing his recent joyous study of the music of the Twenties and Thirties, focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman, and you will hear compositions by Louis and the Duke below, elevated by the same exploratory imaginative spirit that animated their creators. (Sometimes we forget that POTATO HEAD BLUES was a brand-new tune in 1927, rather than a hallowed artifact of Hot.)
Phillip described the compositions and arrangements of that period as “that amazing music,” completely modern, larger than categories. Hearing the Silent Six, you realize that he is also (without being immodest) describing what it does in this century.
The Silent Six is Phillip Johnston. soprano and alto saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Mike Hashim, baritone saxophone; Neal Kirkwood, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. Philip originally formed the NYC-based Six to perform live in WORDLESS!, his multi-media film/music/lecture collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator and graphic art historian Art Spiegelman that had its 2013 debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continues to tour worldwide.
And now for some music from Smalls. Attentive listeners will hear deep roots: blues, shuffles, variations on familiar harmonic patterns, all performed with vigor, looseness, and wit — over irresistible dance rhythms, the result a series of surprises that immediately become comfortable.
Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES:
Ellington’s AWFUL SAD:
Phillip’s DUCKET’S GOT A WHOLE IN IT (identified as a “deep shuffle”):
and his own LATER:
Phillip’s HOFSTRA’S DILEMMA (for stalwart string bassist Dave):
This post is for Maurice Kessler, gig-friend extraordinaire.
May your happiness increase!