Bridging the two projects
There are two main themes that bring together my forthcoming Herbie Hancock/Mwandishi band book with the new project about 1970/71 New York: musical boundary crossing and a search through and beyond the music for personal identity and one’s place within broader society. These themes played out in the emergence of bands and musicians who refused to have time for time-honored lines between forms of music.
Anthony Braxton, playing solo and in his own ensembles, as well as with the band Circle, saw every reason to bring to bear every resource he could muster from the European and American avant-garde, alongside Charlie Parker, new developments emerging within the AACM, the lessons of Ornette Coleman, and on and on. For Chick Corea, whom Anthony Braxton joined in forming Circle, angular abstractions, Impressionist lyricism, and Bartokian modes and dissonant intervals were all part of a unified sonic pallet. Herbie Hancock saw no meaningful lines to respect dividing the “controlled freedom” to which he contributed within the Miles Davis Quintet, from elements of rhythm and blues, the aesthetics and techniques of electronic music he heard in college and in the early 60s, to name a few. Tony Williams, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and others, bridged the rhythms, sonic values, and other elements of rock and jazz, Indian and other musical forms. I could go on and on. For some, the music was suffused with indicators of black cultural identity, but even there, the musical elements drew from multiple roots. Why not simply be whom ever one was, grounding oneself where one most deeply identified. Yet, from within that place build a personal form of expression using everything available from our broad and shared American cultural heritage?
The connection is also personal: 1970/71 was my musically breathless sophomore year in high school that opened many doors; having discovered Jimi Hendrix the previous year, I left Julliard, saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer at one of many concerts I attended at the Fillmore East, experienced the death of Hendrix, joined a rock band with a horn section, discovered John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, heard Bitches Brew, saw Herbie Hancock’s Sextet in transition to Mwandishi, traveled to London and heard King Crimson perform at Watford Town Hall, and then took a year’s break from playing the piano. Much of this is now a blur of images in my mind.
Three years later, now in college and back at the piano, I first heard Anthony Braxton, Weather Report, Chick Corea’s band Return to Forever, through which I discovered Circle, discovered the loft scene in Soho and the Village, began to compose electronic music, heard the Mwandishi band and early Mort Subotnick records, formed my own band building upon what I loved about Circle, played in a live electronic ensemble… and we’re off and running, well, with a delay of a few decades.