Connie Crothers – What’s On Your Playlist?

January 6, 2014

Pianist Connie Crothers, a player championed by jazz giants such as Lennie Tristano, Max Roach, and Jemeel Moondoc, has long flown under the radar, but in recent years she’s become a prolific force.

Crothers made her recording debut as a leader with 1974’s Perception (SteepleChase) and hasn’t looked back. Max Roach sought her out for a collaboration as part of his duo series, and they ended up recording Swish (1982, New Artists). She’s moved into creative overdrive in recent years, releasing four albums in 2011 and  five in 2012. Her latest in a flood of recent releases is Live at the Freight, a duo session with adventurous tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones.

1. Wes Montgomery – Echoes of Indiana Avenue

I have always loved Wes Montgomery. I had the great privilege of hearing him perform at the Half Note. I had heard that his playing was extraordinary before he left his hometown, Indianapolis, to become the renowned jazz musician that we know. This recording is from that time in his life. I bought it as soon as I found out it was available. Hearing it, I was just stunned. This is required listening for anyone who loves Wes, or anyone who loves jazz.

2. Lester Young – Pres Box 

Through the years, I have listened to Lester Young a lot. Repeated listening is always new; the surprises go deeper. This box set presents live performances. His energy, always loose and open, could be even more expansive when the music was captured live. In these recordings, his presence is uncanny. You are there with the great master while he creates, instant by instant, his timeless masterpieces.

3. Roy Eldridge – “Stardust”

One of the ways I listen is to sing with records. I’ve sung with this solo before, years ago. I was drawn recently to sing with it again. Roy, to me, is like a conduit to an incredible other location in the universe. This solo exemplifies this beautifully. Every note reaches the saturation point for feeling. The differing sounds that happen with each note express a feeling that goes beyond what might seem possible. (I recommend singing with records. Doing this magnifies hearing awareness and causes the listening experience to be deeply personal.)

4. Richard Tabnik – Symphony for Jazz Trio, A Prayer for Peace

Richard Tabnik, alto saxophone player, is – to say it simply – incredible. I am fortunate enough to be in a working quartet with him. This two-CD trio record gives me a chance to sit there and concentrate on his great artistry. One CD is a studio recording, the other is a performance at The Stone. Both feature his composition, the title of which is the title of this CD. It is enlightening to have the two versions, very different. There are other tracks, all of them on the high level of spontaneous improvisation that characterizes his playing. I have it repeatedly playing on my sound system since it came out about a year ago.

5. Lennie Tristano – Live at Birdland, 1949

This is a recording of the very first set of the opening night of Birdland. Lennie, who seldom talked about his own recordings, appreciated his playing on this one. I have sung with his solos. Recently, I have been listening repeatedly to the amazing solo Warne Marsh plays on the first track, “Remember.” It’s 1949, and Warne was very young. His melody is so extremely advanced, not only for that time, but also for today. Besides being way ahead of the times, this solo is astonishingly beautiful, every note. Also, there are breakthrough levels of tenor saxophone playing; for example, he takes his melody down to the lowest part of the horn and plays it like it is purely lyrical, flowing, natural utterance.

6. William Parker – Centering 

This box set is a monumental record of an era and the great musician who expressed so much, musically and conceptually. William Parker was a founder and central figure of an artistic movement, documented extensively in this release. He has a tremendous range of sound and concept, both as a composer and an improviser. His associates recorded here include some of the most important musicians playing today – Roy Campbell, Jemeel Moondoc, Charles Gayle, Daniel Carter – plus musicians who are not with us but who are still with us in spirit – Billy Bang, Denis Charles, David S. Ware, and many others. It is a compendium of music of great intensity. This is my most current listening experience. I am immersed.

7. Jimmy Reed – I’m Jimmy Reed 

We need blues. I love to listen to the older generation of blues musicians – John Lee Hooker, Son House. Lately, I can’t stop listening to Jimmy Reed. I first heard his records when I was a teenager. I used to dance to them. I still do. His time and something about the feeling of his singing remind me a bit of Billie Holiday, but, of course, his singing is all his own. His harmonica playing is just thrilling to me. I do think that hearing “Going to New York” was an early influence on the course of my life.

8. Jay Clayton – The Peace of Wild Things 

I have all of Jay Clayton’s CDs. I have to listen to her in special moments. Jay is equally at home singing standards and improvising free. This CD is free improvisation, her way. It combines innovation with intrinsic beauty. I just now listened to the first track once again. She sings, “I wanna sing like birds sing.” She does.

9. Max Roach – Solos 

When this LP was released, it was nearly impossible to get, so it was very rare then, and it is even more rare now. This recording is a breakthrough, only drum solos. It wasn’t too long before it came out that it was thought that people couldn’t handle any more than four bars of a drum solo. Max makes an entire solo performance riveting. Every track has a unique musical logic. Each piece is entirely compelling. This is fascinating to me. Max was a master of the infinite permutations of sound.

10. Louis Armstrong – “West End Blues”

There is a special reason why I am listening to this track lately. I think the famous, often-quoted intro is free improvisation. Yes, there are two chords, but I don’t think that Louis had anything in his mind as a reference for his improvisation – no tune, no format, no tempo – he was just freely improvising.

Connie Crothers’ most recent album, Live at the Freight (with Jessica Jones), was released in September of 2013. www.conniecrothers.net.

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