Tag Archives: Joel Forrester

IN AND OUT OF TRADITIONS: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (June 27, 2018)

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to see, hear, and sometimes record pianist-composer-inventer Joel Forrester in this summer of 2018, because he and Mary will be in France for much of the next year, from September onward.  If you take that as an undisguised suggestion to go to one of his gigs, none of us will mind.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Joel is a remarkable explorer: not only does he follow his own whimsies, giving himself over to them as they blossom in sonic air, but he also is curious about forms.  He casually said at this gig (last Wednesday night at JULES (65 St. Marks Place) that one composition came about, decades earlier, when he was deciding to be a bebop pianist or a stride one.  I think the two “styles” coexist nicely in him to this day.  Here’s some evidence.  And if “traditionally-minded” listeners can’t hear and enjoy his wholly loving heretical embraces, more’s the pity.  Or pities.

Joel is also full of various comedies, and some of them come out in wordplay.  So this tune, which makes me think of Chicago, 1933,  is called THE SPERM OF THE MOMENT.  Imagine that:

Celebrating a tender domestic return (as Joel explains), BACK IN BED:

NATURAL DISASTER, which happily does not live up to its title:

GONE TOMORROW, a meditation on the passage of time, which makes me think of 11:57 PM on my wristwatch:

SHELLEY GETS DOWN, complete with siren, in honor of singer Shelley Hirsch:

An entire tradition of improvised music passes through Joel while he is busily making it his own.  We’d be poorer without him.

May your happiness increase!

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TWO ORIGINALS PLAY THREE ORIGINALS: JOEL FORRESTER and DAVID HOFSTRA at JULES (May 13, 2018)

Another Sunday afternoon with pianist-composer Joel Forrester at Jules, 66 St. Marks Place in New York City.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

This afternoon, Joel brought along a dear friend and deep colleague, string bassist David Hofstra, who has been a mainstay of the Microscopic Septet for years.  Joel and David have been playing alongside each other since the Seventies, and their first recording is from 1980.

My readers have already heard or read me being seriously enthusiastic about Joel’s original compositions and his improvisations: they honor many traditions but fit neatly into no shoebox-sized category.  But since I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed Joel and David together as a duo, may I call your attention to the latter’s beautiful choice of notes, his steady unforced time, his gentle lyricism? David is no antiquarian (I’m older than he is, if the online data is right) but he harks back to a time when the string bass was both treated with respect and known as the harmonic and often moral foundation of the music in which it worked.  Just beautiful — and the two players here are in splendid intuitive harmony.

PHILLIP’S BLUES (which I presume is in honor of Microscopic Septet’s co-leader, saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston):

Gentle meditations on the finite, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER:

A compact Frolick, LOOK TO YOU:

Joel will be at JULES all summer — solo, duo, trio.  He and Mary are off to France for a year in September, so savor this music while he — and friends — are here.

May your happiness increase!

CINEMA FORRESTER: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (May 6, 2018)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades.  But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director.  Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen.  Soundtracks to our own imaginings.

Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways).  Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone.  JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff.  And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.

From May 6.  Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:

This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max.  I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:

Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:

Did you like Cinema Forrester?  More to come.  And come visit Joel at Jules.

May your happiness increase!

A SUNNY BLUES IN F: THE FINALE TO “FOREVER WEIRD” (The Kitchen, December 9, 2017) featuring THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET, THE JAZZ PASSENGERS, and THE KAMIKAZE GROUND CREW

For the story behind this riotous explosion of joys, please visit part one and part two of JAZZ LIVES’ exclusive multi-media coverage, where I posted all of The Microscopic Septet’s set.  Very little could follow Dave Sewelson’s passionate singing of I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, but saxophonist-visionary Phillip Johnston did not want us to go out into the snowy night feeling lachrymose.

He’d asked members of the other two bands, the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, to hang around for the finale if they felt like it (and no one wanted to miss anything the Microscopic Septet was playing) so at the end, he assembled a giant “JATP-style” jam session on a blues in F he’d written, DON’T MIND IF I DO, for the three bands.

It was clear that if everyone took even twenty-four bars apiece, we would be at the Kitchen well past closing time, so the musicians quickly arranged to play solos in tandem, trade choruses or parts of choruses — a heartwarming reminder that improvisation is more than simply playing one’s instrument, and a delightful reminder of the great players of the Thirties and Forties who could create a whole short story in eight bars.

Here’s the result, first a few minutes of jovial rustling-around, which I think is priceless, then ten minutes of rocking cheerful collective improvisation:

and a lovely postscript, an appreciative review by “TG” in THE NEW YORK JAZZ RECORD:

What a gift to everyone at The Kitchen, which (with the permission of the three bands) I am now able to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART TWO (Dec. 9, 2017)

Here’s Part Two of that glorious evening at The Kitchen in New York’s Greenwich Village with the Microscopic Septet and friends.  Part One, for those who want to review their notes (and the Septet’s) is here.  But here’s the personnel for those who, like me, need to know the names of our heroes: Joel Forrester, piano, composer, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, alto and soprano saxophone, composer, co-leader; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal on CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone, Don Davis, alto saxophone.  Incidentally, for some listeners who like their jazz only one or two ways, the Micros may sound “avant-garde.” I urge them to listen: this band loves the blues and has its own ferocious swing.  They seem to me to be taking traditional forms and approaching them with loving zealous individualities.

The Microscopic Septet, if they are new to you, is a long-lived improvising ensemble — devoted to “serious fun,” as my friend John Scurry terms it.

Phillip Johnston’s LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

From The Middle Period, LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

If you need directions, just TAKE THE Z TRAIN:

Finally, I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY (vocal Dave Sewelson) — originally performed by Joe Liggins but sounding eerily and happily like a Joel Forrester composition:

The Grand Finale, deserving of initial capitals, where the Micros, the Jazz Passengers, and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, jammed on DON’T MIND IF I DO, will appear in the last post of this series.  Look for it wherever better blogposts and videos are given away for free.

Extra!  This post is in celebration of Micros co-leader Phillip Johnston, who yesterday won the 2017 Johnny Dennis Music Award:

The 2017 winner of the Johnny Dennis Music Award, which acknowledges great achievement in Australian music composition, is composer/performer Phillip Johnston.

Outgoing Australian Guild of Screen Composers’ President, Guy Gross, said “The AGSC Board were delighted with the choice of Phillip Johnston as the 2017 recipient of this major award which carries a cash prize of $20,000.”

“This award gives the recipient the creative and financial freedom to work on a project of their choice. The project chosen by Phillip Johnston will expand the knowledge and understanding of the history of the Australian film industry, both in Australia and internationally, as well as create new and innovative fusions of film and music.”

The JD Awards were established in perpetuity through the will of Dennis John Mole, whose stage name was Johnny Dennis.

Phillip Johnston’s winning proposal was to conduct research at the National Film and Sound Archive with the purpose of creating new original scores for historical Australian silent films that would help to make the films accessible to modern audiences.

On receiving the Award Phillip Johnston stated “Receiving the Johnny Dennis Award will support my new original scores for silent film project, which involves both research into the rich history of Australian silent film and the creation of new musical scores to be performed live with the films.”

“After 25 years of composing and performing new scores for American, European and Japanese silent films worldwide, I’m very excited about turning my attention to a new exciting project combining two of my major interests: new relationships between music and film, and Australia’s great contribution to world film history.”

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART ONE (Dec. 9, 2017)

For me, 2017 has been a year of wonderful music, meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow, interviewing Dan Morgenstern, and more.  The “more” includes hearing and recording The Microscopic Septet twice.

I know I am late to the festivities, since the Micros have been changing the world one song at a time for more than thirty years, but I am certainly enjoying them.

The facts, or what they resemble: the Micros are co-led by pianist / composer Joel Forrester and saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston.  The five other nobles in the crew are Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone. They make uplifting, always surprising music.

The first time I had the pleasure was on June 6, at the Astor Room in Astoria, New York, and the results are here and heregloriously.

Six months later, I very happily found myself in a reserved seat in the front row of The Kitchen at 512 West 19th Street in the West Village of New York City, waiting for the music to begin.  Phillip had gathered the Micros and two other bands from the same time and place — the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, for what he called FOREVER WEIRD.

At times, the music was weird, but in the most friendly ways.  To attempt to “interpret” it would be an impudence both to the musicians and this audience. I will indulge myself in only one metaphor: imagine a train rhythmically moving through a constantly shifting multi-colored landscape, changing, morphing, returning.  Just as we’ve gotten comfortable with the purple stalactites outside the window, they are replaced with three (not four) upholstered kitchen chairs. And we are happy.

Not knowing the two other bands, I did not video-record them (although we might get to see the finale, when everyone gathered onstage and played DON’T MIND IF I DO — in a future post) but I devotedly captured the Micros. The premise of their hour-long set was a quick retrospective through their collective history — too rich to compress into eight performances, but what a satisfying jaunt.  Here are the first four:

Phillip’s A STRANGE THOUGHT ENTERED MY HEAD:

LIEUTENANT CASSOWARY, by Joel:

Joel’s SECOND AVENUE:

A “seasonal favorite” for the “generic holiday season,” recomposed by Joel:

The second half will come soon.  I know this offering is but a fraction — one-half of the closing third, but it’s a very rewarding sixth.

Thanks to Phillip Johnston, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, Michael Hashim, Richard Dworkin, Joel Forrester, Dave Hofstra, and to the kind people at The Kitchen, who couldn’t have been more welcoming.

May your happiness increase!

ORIGINALS BY ONE: JOEL FORRESTER, MICHAEL IRWIN, MICHI FUJI, DAVE HOFSTRA, MATT GARRITY at CLEOPATRA’S NEEDLE (August 3, 2017)

“I’m Joel, and these are my tunes,” is the way pianist-composer-bandleader Joel Forrester might announce himself at the start of an evening.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

He isn’t pugnacious in the way some musicians are, who assertively say that they are going to play their compositions all night long.  No, Joel says it quietly, mixing a wry offhandedness with just a touch of pride.  “Here are my children, and I like them myself, but you needn’t.  However, no substitutions are allowed, no ordering off the aesthetic menu.”  His quiet statement tells us that the pianist and the composer really occupy the same space, seamlessly mingled.

I was at one of Joel’s gigs where a woman — pleasantly but forcefully — told Joel that she wanted to hear him play TAKE THE “A” TRAIN.  Joel politely said no, and the woman, undeterred, pressed: didn’t he know it?  Joel played the first few bars of the famous introduction to show that his was a choice, not an inadequacy, and then politely explained to the listener that one of the reasons he had this particular gig was that he wouldn’t be obligated to play “A” TRAIN.  I don’t think the woman understood the distinction, but she stopped interrogating the pianist-composer.

Here are several of Joel’s “tunes” — more than that to my ears — as he performed them on August 3, 2017, at Cleopatra’s Needle, which occupies its own original space around Broadway and 95th Street.  The Players are Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matt Garrity, drums.  In form and in performance, Joel’s creations don’t contain cliches, nor do they inspire them.

Incidentally, a serious Joel-alert: he will be at Cleo’s on Thursday, October 19, 7-11, with bassist Hofstra and drummer Garrity, with Irwin coming by and even tenor saxophonist Vito Dieterle.  I will be sans camera for once, I think, so you will have to make the scene on your own.

But back to the August revelry and reverie, with three selections: KIRSTEN’S NEW MAMBO, YOUR MOVE, and a melding of FLIP FLOP and a very slow NO QUESTION.  This is music you could pensively, happily get lost in. I’ve retained Joel’s banter with the audience because it is part of the presentation, verbal preludes to the music.

A mambo (when was the last time you heard one) for the mysteriously inspiring Kirsten.  Explication du texte from Joel:

K’S NEW MAMBO, written for the Chicago wedding of my son’s best friend, caused Henny Youngman to exclaim, “Forrester, you got a hit on yer hands!” forgetting that he’d said that about an earlier tune of mine.

and a tune featuring Michi Fuji, YOUR MOVE.  Of this performance, Joel says, “Michi Fuji really hears it!”

A set-closing combination, FLIP FLOP, featuring Dave Hofstra, and Joel’s “break tune,” performed with new slowness, NO QUESTION.

FLIP FLOP arose out of a high school desire to pen a tune like OLEO or BILLIE’S BOUNCE: i.e., one that bites its own tail.  NO QUESTION has long been my break tune. It was dedicated to David Sutter of the band Fish ‘n’ Roses (and Creed Taylor’s biographer). Denis Charles used to tell people, “It’s a riff on Monk’s ‘Rhythm-changes.” As indeed it is:

Not the usual, and I am among others who celebrate that.  And I hope to see the Faithful at Cleopatra’s Needle on the 19th.

May your happiness increase!