Playing the detective
While I have been completing my final interviews for the book, with just a small handful to go (some of them will be real treats – stay tuned), two questions have continued to perplex me.
First: when did the composition of the band began to change – when did Bennie Maupin and Billy Hart join? Answer: Billy joined on July 31, 1970 for a show in NYC’s Central Park, and Bennie joined in Baltimore for a show at the Embassy Room, on August 2, and thus was also at the Central Park show. I had assumed both of these to be the case (although thought that Baltimore was slightly earlier), but I had no evidence; only questions about what was true. I now have a press report from the time to confirm.
Second: could I find people who were in the audience during the pivotal month-long stand in Chicago in November of that year? By that point in time, both Julian Priester and Eddie Henderson had joined, and the band’s composition would remain steady until the addition of Patrick Gleeson nearly two years later. It was during that month where things really gelled and some of the more intense and even numinous experiences of the band’s collective music making would emerge.
I spoke with about two dozen musicians, many connected with the AACM, writers and scholars (at that point, many were still – or not yet even – in college or in their mature careers). I knew that some of Chicago’s more experimental musicians had come out to see the band and that Mwandishi members went out to see the AACM Big Band at the Pumpkin Room on their night off. But I developed quite a list of illustrious people who never did go to the shows that month! The issue was that the venue, London House, was a musically conservative, expensive dining room that often attracted business people, not AACM members. Herbie Hancock’s Sextet was hired on the reputation of the softer, lush arrangements of music from ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Speak Like a Child’. But that is not where the band was at by November, 1970; the personnel had changed, Herbie Hancock was exploring new directions, and the chemistry of the group was taking a distinctly more experimental shape.
Let’s just say that I have finally begun identifying some of the people who were at the shows and I’ve been collecting some testimony about the experience of audience members. Case closed unless something surprising appears!
I am now editing some really wonderful interviews, some of which I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog entry, plus some newer ones. Many of these are with musicians who were young during the band’s lifetime, and some (also young) who sat in with them at various points. It’s all fascinating. Editing the manuscript is entering a new phase as I receive comments from preliminary readers, and things are moving ahead nicely. Again, stay tuned!