Tag Archives: Joe Alterman


The jazz library expands in rewarding ways: three different kinds of reading matter, each one an unusual experience.


Cary Ginell’s WALK TALL: THE MUSIC AND LIFE OF CANNONBALL ADDERLEY (Hal Leonard) is a refreshing book.  Reading it, I wondered why Cannonball had had to wait so long for a full-length portrait, but was glad that Ginell had done the job.

Even though Adderley was seriously influential in his brief lifetime — and the influence continues, although usually uncredited — his life was more businesslike than melodramatic.  WALK TALL is not a recounting of Cannonball’s encounters with the law, or self-destructive behavior.  It is a swift-paced, admiring narrative of Julian Adderley’s life and times, from his beginnings in Florida to his “discovery” at the Cafe Bohemia in New York in 1955 to stardom and a his death only twenty years later.

Ginell has had the cooperation of Adderley’s widow Olga, who contributes several personal narratives to the book, as does Capitol Records producer David Axelrod.  But the biography is compact (slightly more than 150 pages of text) with introductions by Dan Morgenstern and Quincy Jones — and its briskness is part of its charm, as the book and its subject roll from one recording session to the next, from Miles to Nancy Wilson to the famous Quintet.

Adderley himself comes through as an admirable character as well as a marvelous improviser and bandleader, and Ginell avoids pathobiography, so the book is not a gloating examination of its subject’s failings.  (Aside from keeping candy bars in his suitcase, Adderley seems to have been a good-natured man, husband, and musician.)

WALK TALL is also properly focused on Adderley, rather than on his biographer’s perceptions of his subject.  Ginell is at work on another book — a biography of Billy Eckstine — and I hope he continues to profile these “known” but underdocumented figures in jazz.  (I knew and admired Ginell’s work because of HOT JAZZ FOR SALE, his delightful book on the Jazz Man Record Shop, the music and personalities around it — read more here.)


MINGUS SPEAKS, taken from 1972-74 interviews conducted by John F. Goodman, is an invaluable book.  But the experience of reading it is entirely different from what one encounters in WALK TALL.

Reading MINGUS SPEAKS is rather like being dropped into hours of uninhibited monologue by Mingus on every subject that appeals to him, including race, the Mafia, Charlie Parker, sex, his own music, contemporary social politics, the avante-garde movement in jazz, Mingus’ colleagues on the bandstand and off, his emotional relations with Sue Mingus, theology, philosophy, his own fictionalized selves, and more.

It is as close as any of us will get to spending hours in the company of an artist we admire — and once again we are reminded of the distance between the artist and his / her creations.  Mingus comes across as a maelstrom of ideas, words, and theories, which is only apt, whether that was his reality or a self he inhabited for Goodman’s benefit.  (The book is, however, much more lucid and less fragmentary than RIFFTIDE, the transcription of Jo Jones’ swirling recollections published a year or so ago.)

Interspersed between the lengthy interview sections are commentaries by Sy Johnson, who orchestrated Mingus’ later music (he also provided some beautiful photographs), Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, Max Gordon, Paul Jeffrey, Teo Macero, editor Regina Ryan (who worked with Mingus on BENEATH THE UNDERDOG), documentary filmmaker Tom Reichman, and others.   The book has its own website, which is illuminating; here is the publisher’s website as well.

Journalist Goodman has done jazz history an immense service; would that there had been people with tape recorders following other heroes around with such energy and devotion.  I find it odd, however, that he is credited as the book’s author, not its editor: he asked the questions and recorded the responses, had Mingus’ words transcribed . . . but this is a book by Mingus, even posthumously.

DOCTOR JAZZI had not heard of the Dutch jazz magazine DOCTOR JAZZ, which I regret — it has been publishing for a half-century — but it is not too late to make up for the omission.  What might put some monolingual readers off is that more than half of the prose in the magazine is in Dutch, but its reach is wide, both in genres and in musical styles.

There most recent issue contains wonderful photographs of modern groups (Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) and heroic figures (a drawing of Ma Rainey and her gold-coin necklace, taken from a Paramount Records advertisement), reviews of CDs on the Lake, Rivermont, and Retrieval labels, as well as DVDs.  DOCTOR JAZZ reaches back to the “Oriental” roots of ragtime at the end of the nineteenth century and forward to pianist Joe Alterman, with side-glances at Dan Block’s latest CD, DUALITY, and the late singer Ann Burton.

Particularly enlightening are the profiles of musicians who don’t always receive the attention they deserve, from trumpeter Avery “Kid” Howard to gospel pioneer Herbert L. “Pee Wee” Pickard, as well as musicians new to me — guitarists Robby Pauwels and Cor Baan and string bassist Henny Frohwein.  There’s also the fourth part of a historical series on jazz in India.  Because my Dutch is poor, I haven’t made my way through the whole issue, guessing at cognates and intuiting meaning through context, but DOCTOR JAZZ appears to be well worth investigating: thorough, well-researched, and informative.  And it’s from the people who brought us the very satisfying DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, so I can vouch for their good instincts.  More information here.

May your happiness increase!



There’s a Stephen Sondheim song — BOUNCE — from the musical of the same name.  I heard it many times on Jonathan Schwartz’s show on WNYC-FM.  It’s a cynical paean to the ability to re-adapt, to get up off the floor, to reinvent yourself, sung by two brothers who have seen a great deal.

I thought about it, however irrelevantly, when the young jazz pianist Joe Alterman sent me a copy of his debut CD, PIANO TRACKS (VOLUME ONE).  Young?  He’s twenty-one.  Credit for my knowing about Joe is due to the energetic Marc Myers, of JazzWax: read his December 2009 post on Joe here: http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/12/joe-alterman-piano-tracks.html.

Joe admires the lyrical, singing, propulsive styles — they’re timeless — embodied by Hank Jones and other giants. 

Joe’s also got his own personal blog, where he writes about meeting Hank Jones and Jimmy Heath, studying with Don Friedman, and more — humble, funny, and to the point.  It’s http://joealterman.blogspot.com/

But back to the CD at hand.  It was recorded last year, and it is a comfortable kind of music: swinging without being self-conscious, embracing the past without being restricted by “repertory” conventions.  Joe is a melodic player — someone who respects the compositions he sets out to play (Arlen, Johnny Green, Styne, Gershwin, Mancini) and is also an adept composer.  I’ve heard some contemporary pianists recently who seem to believe that their improvisations must be aggressive to be compelling, so they rampage over the keyboard as if they were annoyed by it.  That’s not Joe’s style.  He knows the virtue of space, of letting lines breathe.  And he knows how to swing naturally in the fashion of Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal.  Some of the infectious bounce of this CD is due to bassist Scott Glazer and drummer Justin Varnes (on one track, they are replaced by Sam Selinger and Tiffany Chang), but with all due respect to them, I think Joe could swing on his own.  He understands the possibilities within “medium-up-tempo,” and the CD has its own rocking momentum.  And several of his originals deserve their own life — the moody THE FIRST NIGHT HOME, and the naughty blues (BEFORE YOU BRING ME MY CORNBREAD) SLAP SOME BUTTER ON THAT BISCUIT, which surely has lyrics waiting to be sung. 

You can hear some music from the CD at Joe’s site — click on http://www.joealtermanmusic.com/live/

Sondheim’s song urges us all to “learn how to bounce,” which I know is a commendable skill — but young Joe Alterman already knows how.  Welcome!