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What’s on Your Playlist? DARRELL KATZ

Christian Wissmuller • ArchivesCurrent IssueMarch/April 2022What's on Your Playlist? • April 7, 2022

Musician-composer-bandleader-educator Darrell Katz is an artist of uncommon range and broad vision, able to weave influences from every musical sphere into his own unique voice. As director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA), an organization he helped found in 1985, Katz has documented his large ensemble work and premiered some 120 new works by its resident composers along with commissioned works by Muhal Richard Abrams, Marty Ehrlich and more.

Katz leads the JCA Orchestra and smaller ensembles such as Odd Song, featured on his acclaimed 2021 album, Galeanthropology, presenting settings of poems by his late wife Paula Tatrunis. Walking the line between classical chamber music and big band saxophone sounds with grace and flair, Odd Song is a perfect vehicle for Katz’s singular compositions and arrangements. Katz’s honors include awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the NEA, Meet the Composer, the Aaron Copland Fund, and the National Association of Jazz Educators. He is currently on the faculty at Berklee College of Music.

NOT in any particular order. – Darrell Katz

B.B. King Blues Is King

Coming up with a short playlist is a daunting task. I have a huge collection of music, including albums I love that I may not have revisited for years. When I do play something, I tend to play it regularly for a week or so. I listen to a large variety of genres, styles, and eras of music, and am always interested in hearing something new. Yet I know there’s music I haven’t explored that I might really like, music I should know more about, and so I’m always adding to my collection. After all this time, my listening encompasses albums I’ve had for decades, as well as new music I’ve just discovered.

One of my first musical loves was B.B. King. I have around 90 albums (at least) by him and have seen him perform six or seven times. I’m sure he could have been a great singer in many styles, but he stayed (mostly) with blues, though I think of B.B. King as his own genre. Like giants including Monk and Miles, he was a master of time and space. His phrasing was spot on, and his creative use of rests, his dynamics and expressiveness, and his soulful, powerful delivery make him truly one of a kind. He never seems to be mailing it in, even though he played his most famous songs hundreds or thousands of times. I first heard Blues Is King when I was in high school, in 1968 or ’69. I’ve never tired of it. B.B. King did great things over 50 years, but his music in the 60’s displays his essence. Blues is King features a smaller band than much of his output, and the more intimate group is a good setting for his talents.

Ornette Coleman Body Metta

I discovered Ornette around 1977, while in music school, listening to Change of the Century and The Shape of Jazz to Come. Then came Prime Time, Dancing in Your Head and Body Metta. This music is, amongst many other things, just absolutely joyful. Ornette plays beautiful, joyful melodies. His playing makes me think of Messiaen, whose music operates similarly: in the midst of dense, multi-layered textures, there’s always a sense of clear melodies full of love of life and music. OC with Prime Time made some of the most organic music I’ve ever heard. I was lucky enough to hear him several times, once with the Prime Time tour with Pat Metheny, and at an amazing concert where he had Prime Time and the original quartet. I chose Body Metta over Dancing in Your Head as it’s the one I played most recently.

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim West Side Story

My return to this music came about from seeing the recently released film. I saw the 1961 film version when it was new, and have watched it countless times, as well as seeing the musical on stage more than once. That music has been with me just about all of my life. After the new film left me feeling indifferent, I made a point to watch the early movie again and have been listening to the soundtrack album from that film as well as some other recordings. I like the movie soundtrack the best, and I just love the combination of Bernstein and Sondheim. If you listen to my music, you know that words are a big part of it, and Bernstein and Sondheim were such a great combination. Great music, great lyrics, and part of the soundtrack of my life.

Ron Miles I Am a Man

I’ve only discovered the music of trumpeter Ron Miles in the last few years. He writes music unlike anything I can think of that does a great job of blurring the line between improvisation and composition. The band working with him, which includes Jason Moran and Bill Frisell, is superb at helping him realize his unique vision. Equally great is Rainbow Sign.

Mary Lou Williams & Cecil Taylor Embraced

I don’t usually find describing music easy, and this astonishing recording is particularly hard to explain. I’ve been playing it a lot recently. Two skilled, creative, expressive figures, stylistically very different, playing together, each sticking to their own approach while creating captivating, compelling music. At times it almost seems like you’re playing two different recordings at the same time, but somehow, it fits together.


Fredrick Rzewski The People United Will Never Be Defeated

2021 was a bad year for composers. The world lost two of my favorites, Rzewski and Louis Andriessen, days apart from each other. This piece by Rzewski features 36 variations on the Latin American Revolutionary song of the title, and magnificently goes many places. I have albums with Ursula Oppens, Rzewski himself, and several others. Very exciting.


Duke Ellington Afro Bossa, Ellington Uptown, Ellington at Newport ‘56

I don’t much like the desert island question, but if I ever had to pick one thing to listen to, it would have to be the music of Duke Ellington. Which? So hard to say, he made great music in the late 1920s to the early 1970s. All of it is rewarding. My picks are selections I’ve played lately, although I always play Ellington Uptown, which includes A Tone Parallel to Harlem and the Liberian Suite. I think Duke is the greatest American artist that’s ever lived. He covered music, literature, visual arts, you name it. The stories this music tells are what’s most important, but at the same time, the sonic texture always instantly sounds like Ellington (even when helped by Billy Strayhorn). It’s a magical sound.

Wayne Shorter Emanon

This recording features Wayne’s quartet, one of the great groups in jazz, with the addition of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Wayne’s always fascinating music, which is so economical and so full of his unique vision of form, melody and harmony, lends itself well to the orchestral addition.

J.S. Bach Cantata No. 4

My recording is by The Monteverdi Choir conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. I love the Cantatas (not that I’ve heard all 225 of them) and this one is otherworldly beautiful.

Julius Hemphill The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony

A 7-album set of mostly unreleased recordings, with a wide variety of ensembles, by Julius Hemphill, one of my favorite players. Hemphill’s music for the World Sax

Quartet inspired me to start my own sax quartet, which I later expanded to become OddSong.

I could go on forever, but in addition to these, my playlist of the last year included a lot Joni Mitchell, Kokomo Arnold, Memphis Slim, The Band, Taylor Ho Bynum, Tim Berne, Sly and the Family Stone, Mike Gibbs, Mike Finnigan with the Phantom Blues Band, Gesualdo, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and a host of other things: jazz and classical music from every era, blues, rock, R&B, bluegrass and more. – Darrell Katz

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