I just spoke to Erik Lawrence, a reeds player who was in residence at Dartmouth in 2005 but has a longer relationship with Williams today for the first time and one of our probably 50 discreet topics was Don Glasgo, the longtime (30 plus years) director of the Dartmouth jazz band. I recall that at my 25th reunion earlier this year one of the 30 or so photos I carried back in my cell phone was of the poster from Sam Rivers guest slot with The Barbary Coast — sadly, perhaps metaphorically, since deleted — of course the actual poster is still there. I hope someone tagged it with a ribbon. Maybe I will ring Margaret Lawrence — probably not related to Erik — and suggest it to her. She books in recent years the arts programming at Hopkins Center. Maybe I can order from someone a copy. Erik Lawrence and I also talked about Arthur Blythe.
My headline is from a Dartmouth song called “Dartmouth Undying”. Also, I was pleased, having written about it, that Dartmouth marked recently it’s relation to Don Cherry with a concert, I saw notice of.
Erik Lawrence’s father Arnie Lawrence was a founder of the jazz program at The New School in New York. I figure our 63 minute session on the phone today was a type of social research. The writer of the below interview it seems is now a Wall Street type, but probably still knows more jazz than I do.
Regarding the fact that most Dartmouth jazz musicians go on to other fields, such as medicine, Lawrence related a story, by Lester Bowie I think he said, about how if Glasgo ever ends up on an operating table he will be glad that his surgeon may have once studied how to improvise.
(from The Dartmouth, also known as The Daily Dartmouth, or The D, for whom I wrote about 100 stories between fall of 1982 and spring of 1986 and was day editor, assignment editor, reporter training chief, sports editor, Literary Director, and for 10 weeks while the actual dude or chick in this case was schlepping for then Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, acting Managing Editor, and member, Board of Proprietors — but I think I only wrote one story about music, about a classical musician named I think Santiago Romero)
Saxophonist Sam Rivers discusses his life and his music
The jazz great will perform with the Barbary Coast at a concert celebrating 20 years under Don Glasgo’s direction
By Aditya Dutt
Published on Friday, February 7, 1997
Jazz great Sam Rivers will perform with the Barbary Coast, the College’s jazz ensemble, as well as with his own trio Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.
Rivers, who brings a diverse range of musical experience to the stage, has done it all — from playing with pianist Bill Evans to filling the tenor chair in Miles Davis’ quintet in 1963.
Even at 73 years of age, Rivers continues to break new ground in jazz and has indeed established himself as a unique voice in contemporary music. In an interview with The Dartmouth, Rivers discussed his development as a musician as well as his thoughts on the direction jazz is moving in today.
The Dartmouth: How would you describe the character of your music — as improvisational music with or without structure?
Sam Rivers: Well, we [the trio] try to cover the whole spectrum, so we do a lot of stuff that is just completely creative and then we’ll do music with changes, chords — something with harmonic variation. And then we’ll do purely improvisational music — and improvisation is a strange word for me because it means that you improvise with some kind of structure, and that’s something we do. But we also create with no structure, so you really can’t call it improvising. It’s just sort of a creative process. And I guess that’s my main contribution to American music — jazz music.
The Dartmouth: So your model for “free jazz” or creative improvising — is that in the same vein as Ornette Coleman’s or Don Cherry’s or Pharaoh Sanders’?
SR: I think it’s a little further advanced than that because, like I said, they were improvising on structures. I did some stuff, like “Streams,” which is just the trio and we just played together. But you do have to be a musician of some years of training in order to do this. I mean it’s not just an overnight kind of thing because it’s a combination of classical music and jazz and blues.
The Dartmouth: Tell us a bit about your background: how you started playing, your musical education and, basically, your development as a jazz musician.
SR: Well, my mother and father were musicians and they were coming up in Chicago, so I pretty much spent my younger years in Chicago. And while I was in school, I used to play the organ for mass. And I played in high school — in a band where the senior students used to teach all the younger students. And we had a big bandroom full of instruments, so if anyone wanted to play a instrument, they could just choose. So I picked up the trombone first and I didn’t like that so much so I went back and got the soprano saxophone, and then went back to trombone. Then, when I got out of high school, my college band didn’t have a saxophone player. And they wanted someone who could solo and I could solo but the tenor saxophonist couldn’t solo. So I started on tenor that way. So in the navy, I didn’t play because the band wasn’t too good. I was playing the whole time but I just didn’t play in the band.
The Dartmouth: So did you start studying at the conservatory after the navy?
SR: Well I went up to the Boston conservatory and I was already a musician — I already knew I wanted to do music. I was playing clubs at night and in Boston at the time, there were a lot of musicians who were studying, like Jaki Byard and Gigi Gryce, Quincy Jones, Alan Dawson.
The Dartmouth: So just place this in a time context — was this in the ’40s?
SR: Yeah, this was late ’40s — that’s when I heard about Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. And I enjoyed that music very much and I was playing things that were similar to bebop but we hadn’t really heard of bebop at the time. I heard them in the navy when the record companies distributed their 12-inch discs to the services. And while Dizzy and Charlie Parker were around in New York, Boston was a very, very creative and fertile scene.
The Dartmouth: What was the direction your music was going in at that time?
SR: Bebop, definitely. But I was also in school studying Stravinsky and Mozart and Bartok. I studied during the day and played jazz at night. And a lot of what I was hearing at the time was far out. And that’s an acquired taste — you just don’t jump up and say, ‘Oh, that music is great!’ — if you like it, that’s great. But if it is serious music, where you are trying to communicate something, it’s not that easy for your ears to get used to it.
edit to add: a Don Glasgo post fixing the date as 1980 summer for his residency. I guess the guest appearance in 1997 was a reprise but perhaps not as intense. Now I don’t recall whether the poster was for the former or the latter:
Nice to see Sam’s name come up. I had him up at Dartmouth as a guest artist
during the summer of 1980. It was a great residency, culminating in an
incredible three-hour concert (first hour consisted of Sam playing standards
with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble–the student jazz ensemble at Dartmouth
which I direct; second hour consisted of the Coast playing an hour-long suite
of Sam’s called “Shades,” with Dave Holland and Warren Smith sitting in; third
hour was a trio with Sam, Dave Holland and Warren Smith–amazing!!!!)
edit to add: The one arts story I wrote was about Santiago Rodriguez, a classical pianist who won second place in the 1981 Van Cliburn contest. My story was actually about the experience of going backstage with Brian Moore just to be sneaky and chatting ex parte with the artist and his actual fans. Also, I was telling Tommy Jordan that Jim Newton, Eisenhower’s biographer, LA Times Editorial Page Editor and my editor at The D has big ears and wrote a review of NRBQ and also would sneak Elvis Costello lyrics into the agate type and news digest headlines. Tommy and Jim went to high school together. Rodriguez story reminds me that my Dartmouth classmate Melinda Lopez has a play “Sonia Flew” I caught at San Jose Rep about escaping Castro’s Cuba — could she also have seen or met Rodriguez at Dartmouth; he was sent from Cuba to an orphanage in New Orleans in the 1950s.
“Dartmouth Undying” was written by Franklin McDuffee, ” ‘ 21 ” I believe that is referring to his class, 1821; the college dates to 1769. It is more likely that the song was taught to 190 classes of Dartmouth men and women and not merely 90 classes of us. He was a peer of Stephen Foster not Cole Porter. I wonder however if the be bop jazzbo’s who came through Hanover, first as part of Brown vs. Topeka kind of thing — Don Cherry, Willie Ruff, Lucky Thompson, — ever tried to riff on these old songs. I said to Austin Willacy regarding Dartmouth Aires recently on tv, and their version of Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” that I would like to hear a mash up of “Radio Gaga” and “Dartmouth Undying”.