CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms, punk and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Concert review: Songs for Connie, Greenwich House, June 2018


-Originally published inn”The NYC Jazz Record”, NY@Night section, July 2018-



SONGS FOR CONNIE: Vocalists Celebrate the Life of Connie Crothers
June 15, 2018, Greenwich House Music School, Renee WeilerConcert Hall, NYC
Concert review by John Pietaro

The audience at Greenwich House filled the space this June nightbristling with enthusiasm for the late Connie Crothers. The linger of the pianist’s essence held court as eight female vocalists took the stage with songs of significancefrom standards to free-reigning tone poemsCrothers mentored a legion of improvisers over years but vocalists had a special affection for her concepts developed through the tutelage ofLennie TristanoMore so, Crothers fostered a creative community rooted in humanism and her progressive credoWith her 2016 passing, concerts celebrating her life were established(as Connie had done in honor of Tristano), with vocalists Linda Satin and Dori Levine at the helm. 

Jazz vocal legend Sheila Jordan headlined with a set that transported the room back through decades, deftly supported by bassist Adam Lane (ignited with Harvey Schwartz interplay) and pianist Tom Thorndike. At 89, her swinging, bop lines carry the verve and cool we’d thought were lost with smoke-filled rooms. Other standout performances included Jay Clayton, a hip veteran of non-traditional vocals with the uncanny ability to always be on pitch. Her duet with the extraordinary bassist Ken Filianoexpanded Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” into new, quite moving realmsFiliano was also present for Andrea Wolper’s bossa-filled set with Carol Liebowitz on piano; others included Cheryl Richards, Alexis Parsons, Lynne Bongiorno and the event’s producers. There’s not enough space to give proper due to the breadth of wonderful sounds, but suffice to say that Connie, looking down, must have been most pleased. 

CD Review: John Zorn’s The Urmuz Epigrams

-Originally published in “The NYC Jazz Record”’ June 2018-



John Zorn, The Urmuz Epigrams (Tzadik, 2018)
John Zorn – saxophone,piano, organ, sound effects, guitar, bass, game calls, percussion, voice
Ches Smith – drums, percussion, vibraphone, glockenspiel, voice

CD Review by John Pietaro 

The Urmuz Epigrams may be John Zorn’s most compellingconceptual album. The leader’s saxophones, keyboards and wealth of other instruments, is paired with the drums, mallets and percussion of Ches Smith. Though the eight compositions are the saxophonist’s own, the vision propelling the music and the album’s packaging is the work of the rather mythic Hungarian writer Urmuz. Born in Bucharest, 1883, his death came some forty years later by suicide. Urmuz foresaw the Dada movement, ushering middle Europe (and the rest of us) into the avant garde of rebellionThe writer had a prominent career in law, yet his continued activity among underground creativesa leading radical, he opposed the wealthy hierarchy and conservativacademia—saw the need for him to live secretdouble existenceIn 1923, just after Urmuz’s death, Dada founder Tristan Tzara attempted to stop his publication in France, fearful of diminishment to his own standingThat said, his resurgence now within today’s avant garde should come asno surprise. Particularly when spearheaded by John Zorn.
Designed as a faux 1920s collectionthe Urmuz Epigrams is visually stunning in both its simplicity and grandeur. And while Zorn released this on his own Tzadik labelan insignia akin to EMI’Parlophone imprint is evident (Beatles fans knows Parlophone, right, John?)--modified here to Pahuciphone for the writer’s rebel group the Pahuci BrotherhoodWithin, Zorn created a score to a Theatre of the Absurd drama that never was. His use of game calls, Cageian chance arrangements and the recording studio as an instrument signal a resurgence of Zorn’s own youth as much the concept is an homage to his target’s. The brief opening cut, “Disgusted with Life”, can only be described as slow-moving rapid fire, with sounds both acoustic and electronic dropping in and out as one motive seeps into the next. However on “This Piano Lid Serves as a Wall” the modal waltz music of Erik Satie (the godfather of modernist, absurdist musicians) is implied through Zorn’s piano and Smith’s touching vibraphone melody. Throughout, the musical offerings captivate and surprise and as is often the case with Zorn, one rarely knows where composition ends and improv starts. In fleeting bursts, powerful instrumental juxtapositions are heard. Smith’s thunderous timpani solos on “A Rain of Threats and Screams” is but one example. 
In recreating the lost legend of Urmuz, Zorn’s notable false ending is the full replay of his “surrealistic suite”, heard in its “original” as opposed to “reconstructed” form, complete with simple analog mixes and 78 RPM hissing and pops. If this is parody, Zorn has achieved a parody for all time, one built on dire respect for an avant pioneer born far ahead of his time.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Art: LEFT FORUM 2018, "Three Lives in Revolutionary Literature" panel discussion

    Ad design by John Pietaro

Art: ROD SERLING, "He's Alive"

    Prose: Rod Serling, digital art: John Pietaro

Art: BRECHT, "What Keeps Mankind Alive?"

    Poetry: Bertolt Brecht, digital art: John Pietaro

Concert review and essay: DAME ETHEL SMITH, "The Prison"


British Suffragette Composer Celebrated 

with Carnegie Hall Debut

Dame Ethel Smyth was an early champion of feminism and equality

by John Pietaro


Dame Ethel Smyth, “The Prison”
Text by HB Brewster
The Cecelia Chorus of New York with Orchestra
Mark Shapiro, Music Director and Conductor
Chelsea Shephard, soprano; Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone
Carnegie Hall, May 11, 2018

Dame Ethel Smyth, deceased some 74 years, has finally arrived to public consciousness in the era of #MeToo, Stormy Daniels and annual Women’s Marches. The bitter irony is that this spokeswoman of democracy, women’s liberation, LGBTQ rights and radical cultural work has stood, at best, as a footnote of late-Romantic period British music. In her time Smyth struggled against conservative music academics who sought to have her disavowed, as much as the flagrant sexism riddling paternalistic gentry. Born just outside of London, 1858, Smyth was formally educated in English music colleges before traveling to Germany where she embarked upon a close study of Brahmsian composition. Debuting several early works by the 1870s, Smyth earned critical acclaim and yet experienced the disdain of male musicians, culminating in the refusal by many to perform the works of “a lady composer”.

Smyth travelled throughout Europe over the last decades of the19th Century, ever independent, composing prolifically.  Her works in this period included an opera, Fantasio, and her noted piece for chorus and orchestra, the Mass in D. She conducted her own music in the concert halls of Germany, France and Britain, breaking new ground in this decidedly male forum. While in Florence Smyth first encountered Harry Brewster, an American expatriate with whom she’d hold a powerfully, visceral bond. She called “HB” her soul-mate and greatest champion and together they explored Classical Greek dramas, contemporary French poetry and philosophy. Brewster helped her write the librettos of several operas but also embarked upon his own literary projects. Among these was an 1891 work of fiction, the Prison: a Dialogue, which metaphysically portrayed an innocently convicted man living out his final days in solitary confinement. Brewster died in 1908.

Smyth became a central figure in the British women’s movement, composing the theme of UK suffragettes, “the March of the Women”, in 1911. Inspired by the leading feminist, Emmeline Pankhurst, she enthusiastically defied police orders during a rally for voting rights and was among a large group jailed for 60 days, convicted of throwing stones at the windows of Parliament. It is said that as her sister inmates sang the anthem, she conducted the proceedings through bars with a jail-issued toothbrush. Smyth was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, a particularly radical branch of feminists, and spoke openly of her lesbian lifestyle, no matter the Tory hysterics.

The composer suffered crushing blows throughout her career, none more so than the hearing loss which greatly curtailed her role as conductor. She found new inspiration in the writing of essays and books and it was through this medium that she befriended Virginia Woolf who also became a lover. In 1922, her artistic merits were finally acknowledged by the British government which granted her the Member of the British Empire honor and the title of Dame.

At age 72, in 1930, Smyth completed her last major composition, the Prison, a symphony for soprano, bass, chorus and orchestra, adapted from Brewster’s novelette. With this piece, she was able to symbolically realize the isolation she’d experienced throughout much of her life, but refused to be paralyzed by. And with advancing deafness, the remainder of Smyth’s existence was clouded by a more present inner world than that which was outward. Still, she was able to successfully conduct the world premiere of the piece at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in February 1931, an act that must have given her the greatest sense of accomplishment: the silence which rapidly encroached upon her was here confronted by Smyth’s own resolve and core strength, much as the Prisoner character (the bass vocalist) and his Soul (the soprano) interact to an end most powerful and moving.

With her Carnegie Hall debut this month, Dame Ethel is posthumously brought to the wider attention of what remains a male-dominated music industry. The Prison is composed quite squarely in the late Romantic style, classically aligned, meticulously plotted, but painted with emotional flourishes associated with the back-to-nature philosophy of the latter 1800s. Bits of programmatic music, character motifs, antiphon and flowing counter-themes offer an atmosphere that both represents the protagonist’s sense of urgency as much as the confined stasis of the singular setting. Throughout, the Prisoner and his Soul exchange thoughts which lead toward his realization of life’s beauty and majesty, even when marked by such repressive terms. “A great yearning seized me”, the Prisoner sings devoutly. “I would like to go out once more among the living! Can nothing of it all be good to others?” he ponders and asks what he would say to those existing freely. His Soul responds: “Tell them that no man lives in vain…” a concept well rooted in progressive, humanist philosophy.

The chorus’ role, as designated by the Greek dramatists Brewster so admired, is narrative and speaks more to the audience than the characters down front. Acting as an aggregate higher power or perhaps the conscience of society itself, the Voices state: “We are full of immortality/This hour that is with us now/Will endure forever”. More so, the protagonist’s growth is exemplified in Part II, the morning it would seem, of his execution. He exclaims: “I disband myself/And travel on forever in your scattered paths/Where ever you are there shall I be/I survive in you!/I set my ineffaceable stamp/On the womb of time”, an homage to collectivism, it seems, that holds an endearing similarity to the final writing of IWW labor organizer, journalist and songwriter Joe Hill, unjustly executed in Utah seven years after Brewster’s death. Hill’s “Last Will” alerted his followers to his wishes for cremation, “And let the merry breezes blow/My dust to where some flowers grow/Perhaps some fading flowers then/Would come to life and bloom again”. But John Steinbeck’s masterwork, “The Grapes of Wrath”, offers a still more poignant statement: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere you look. Where ever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there…”

And so Dame Ethel Smyth, whose music accompanied the oppressed women of England in their struggle for a truly democratic voice. A composer of great skill and talent, a bold visionary in a time of profound reaction, Smyth’s rediscovery may have occurred at just the right time to inspire a new generation of feminist activists. On both sides of the Atlantic.



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Performance Review: MARC RIBOT w Jay Rodriguez, Nasheet Waits, Nick Dunston, April 2018, Bar LunAtico, Brooklyn NY



MARC RIBOT with Jay Rodriguez, Nasheet Waits, Nick Dunston
April 3, 2018, Bar LunAtico, Brooklyn NY
Published in “The NYC Jazz Record”, May 2018

Performance Review by John Pietaro

The faux old world d├ęcor of Bar LunAtico encircled Marc Ribot judiciously. Under a corroded tin ceiling, the club’s shadowy lighting fed into the noir imagery that No Wavers and other creatures of the night have always eaten up. Clearly, such affections aren’t limited by generational bounds: the 20-somethings in black berets and leather weren’t born when Ribot pioneered new sounds downtown, but at LunAtico the guitarist and his searing new quartet were greeted by a cheering capacity house.

Saxophonist Jay Rodriguez emoted as if on a mountain top while young bassist Nick Dunston laid throbbing runs about him and drummer Nasheet Waits evoked a sudden storm over tom-toms. The guitarist leaned into his microphone to unleash radical lyrics on this socially conscious crowd, offering new visions of the material from his Songs of Resistance project. Adaptations of the Carter Family’s “When the World is on Fire” and the Civil Rights anthem “We are Soldiers in the Army” were stand-outs, but no more than Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”, its refrain of “the big fool said to push on” now a marked affront to Trump. Lost in the fog of free improvisation, Ribot played with a frenetic blueness, up-picking spiky motifs of a uniquely urban sort.

By the final piece, charging Latin rhythms and an explosive montuno section pumped the audience to exhaustion. As the final downtown groove burst forward, Bar LunAtico’s inhabitants were lost to another time and place, all the better for the journey.


Performance Review: William Hooker, the Great Migration, Roulette, Apr 5, 2018


Published in "The NYC Jazz Record", May 2018

NY@Night: WILLIAM HOOKER 
“The Great Migration”, Apr 5, 2018
Roulette, Brooklyn NY

by John Pietaro

The vision of master drummer William Hooker artfully extends beyond the fourth wall, through time and space, conjuring jazz’s socio-political foundation. With the multi-media piece “The Great Migration”, he traces the northward path of African Americans and through pre-recorded interviews, the lives of elders Nannie Lampkin and Alton Brooks, both pridefully present in the audience. Still, most of the action took place onstage.
The stories were intertwined with powerful music, mostly live but also through early recordings of spirituals and a haunting chain-gang song. Hooker’s ensemble of Ras Moshe (tenor saxophone), Eriq Robinson (electronics), Mara Rosenbloom (piano), William Parker (bass), David Soldier (violin, banjo) and Ava Mendoza (guitar) shook the sturdy house with searing improvisations that painted an aural manifesto of the Black experience; the band’s free jazz, the living embodiment of liberation. Moshe, as always, played with compelling passion, Mendoza’s features were downright gripping and the electronics of Robinson tore up the soundscape.
The leader’s composed melodies guided the action, particularly a blues hook so prominent in Parker’s bass, often varied fluidly by the others. The music, emotively directed by Hooker, recalled the rural south sans any trace of parody (Soldier’s fiddle was exceptional here but his banjo needed stronger amplification), while other sections were ethereal and expansive (Rosenbloom, yes!). Dancer Goussy Celestin’s majestic segments flanked the production and she, Jeremy Grosvenor and Hooker also acted as narrators. So vital is this epic work, right now, that a lack of future productions would simply be criminal.

CD Review: Patricia Nicholson and William Parker, 'Hope Cries for Justice'


Hope Cries for Justice, Patricia Nicholson and William Parker 

(Centering Records, 2018)

CD review by John Pietaro
Published in “The NYC Jazz Record”, May 2018

Patricia Nicholson- text, voice; William Parker- donso n’goni, bass

In times of political strife, musicians, poets, all cultural workers, have stood on the front lines of fight-back. Patricia Nicholson and William Parker, through the reach of their Vision Festival and community-building of Arts for Art, stand as leading radicals within jazz’s cutting edge.
With Hope Cries for Justice, the pair engage in an intimate portrait of “our present moment and the power of the spirit”. Parker, the noted bassist, is primarily heard on the West African dosno ngoni, a traditional harp. He uses the instrument’s modal stasis effectively, evoking the heat and breadth of sub-Saharan topography, peppering it with off-mic vocalization. Nicholson’s performances in contrast carry a strong theatrical component including an affected southern-like vernacular for some selections. And opening cut “Taken” finds the narrator bathed in numbing despair after witnessing a woman’s brutal abduction by authorities. There is something stunningly Kafkaesque about the piece, its dark imagery, its inward isolation, but the remainder of the album never quite matches this subtle urgency.
The album’s theme is the need for hope; in its absence, the pair remind us, “there can never be justice”, yet it also illustrates distance and aloneness (“My mother was standing there and we watched as her heart was breaking”). It’s unclear as to how many of these pieces are specific to contemporary Trumpian realities, but “The Wall Between” and “Wailing at the Lost Souls Department” offer strong responses to reactionary bravura. Mysteriously, within such vital messaging is “Granola”. Its stirring Orwellian refrain of “Words have gone missing” is affixed to a lengthy adoration of this breakfast condiment. Pondering symbolism, the confluence of the two remains unclear and unfortunately sounds trite.
As Nicholson and Parker’s festival hails improvisation, much of the work here makes fine use of the medium, yet some segments fall short. Nicholson often embellishes text with repetition, broken rhythms, diphthongs, plainsong and melisma, pertinent tools all. But such skills require nurturing, indeed a delicate rearing. When works appear strained by uncertainty in vocal expression--particularly when elongated by declarations of “You know. You know. You know-you know-you know-you know. You know”--the quality of dissent is endangered by its very liberation. James Baldwin, among the most revolutionary of writers, stated that a sentence should emerge ‘clean as a bone’ when edited. It’s easy to imagine the constituent strength that may grow of this project with multiple performances. As the battle rages.


CD review: CERAMIC DOG, 'YRU Still Here?'


Ceramic Dog, YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy 2018)

CD Review by John Pietaro
PUBLISHED IN "THE NYC JAZZ RECORD", May 2018


Marc Ribot- guitars, requinto, farfisa, bass, e-horn, vocoder, vocals
Shahzad Ismally-bass, Moog, percussion, background vocals, vocals in Urdu
Ches Smith- drums, percussion, electronics, background vocals

-With-
Rea Dubach (2,6,8) and Lukas Rutzen (2, 8)- background vocals
Curtis Fowlkes – trombone (2, 8)
Maurice Herrera – congas (2)
Broggen Krauss – sax (6)
Neel Murgai – sitar (9)
Doug Wieselman – sax (6), flute (2)


Marc Ribot’s career as Downtown guitar guru has found its natural place, some 40 years hence, fronting Ceramic Dog. This trio, with a variety of guests layered into the mix, realizes the guitarist’s current vision of this uncategorizeable genre—you know, the one he helped to forge when the East Village was affordable. Increasingly, Ribot has added vocals to his performance, raw, guttural, biting vocals, and his fluid, boundless guitar playing endeavors into hardcore effortlessly. In Ceramic Dog his kindred rhythm spirits, drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismally, happily wade waist deep into the big muddy of this thickened soundscape. Unlike other experimental ensembles that reach into punk for inspiration, Ribot’s pedigree gives license to overdriven rapid-fire crunch chords as much as acoustic finger-picking. And as Smith and Ismally are equally adept at alternating from pensive whisper to merciless throb, manifold artistry is on full display. Perhaps the only aspect of YRU Still Here? more apparent than its eclecticism is the decidedly radical stance Ribot thrives on. Like the ‘60s Free Jazz artists whose instrumental cries echoed Black Liberation, Ribot has always used his music’s core emotions as a gateway toward protest. Here, the call is for unity in defiance of oppression, with liner notes citing the Trump-directed Immigration raids on working-class communities as “tyranny”, and stating that musicians must “amplify the voices of rage in our community”. There are quiet moments to be sure, but Ceramic Dog is always on the hunt for agitation.

The album opens with the distortion-laden “Personal Nancy”, a brief, driving work, before moving into the more tempered “Pennsylvania 6 6666” (Glenn Miller allusion?). Things boils over with selection 8, “Fuck La Migra”, which sonically spits into the face of the current Administration. But it’s also about the music: a post-punk funky foray screaming with masterful Ribot guitar (McLaughlin fans will stop in their tracks), Curtis Fowlkes’ trombone, Mauricio Herrera’s perpetual-motion congas and Smith’s downright swinging drum break. Another standout selection, “MuslimJewish Resistance”, is a hip hop flavored solidarity piece excoriating the rightward forces that grow fat on Jewish/Muslim division. Revel in Briggan Krauss’s furious tenor saxophone solo signaling a call to arms. But then “Orthodoxy”, one of several instrumental selections, is a deft fusion of Arabic and South Indian traditions colored with boundary-stomping improvisation. With Ribot, there’s no room for hesitation; this ensemble draws on a heritage of fearlessness and YRU Still Here? is a vital recording for tumultuous times.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

PASSING SHADOWS IN NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT: an observation


PASSING SHADOWS IN NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT

   An Observation Underground 

by John Pietaro

Native New Yorkers regard the subway system as mere fact. A reality, an utterly necessary, invisible labyrinth beneath our feet. The winding, darkened terrain of electrified tunnels propels trains throughout the city, 24 hours of each day. Standing in a busy train hub, most ignore the mechanical earthquake ascending through the mass of concrete. In a city torn by real estate developers’ gentrification, that which pushes out the poor and working-class in favor of the very rich, our subway system is the equalizer: regardless of one’s status, the rider stands on a station platform until the train pulls up and the doors open. It’s quite simple, you see. Most of the ride is beneath ground but some lines hit the open air, offering an elevated view of the life of the streets. But in or above the inferno, the rider is immersed into a multi-cultural world of faces, voices, accents, experiences, ages, foods, languages and actions that represent the real New York. A special added attraction is the city’s own musicians, dancers and other performers that ride the rails seeking simple compensation for their art.

I’ve got sunshine/on a cloudy day

This past February, the 34th Street station played host to a performance that spoke soundly of the main attraction, a man singing through a yellow plastic microphone and loud, distorted amplifier, accompanied by a boom-box blaring tapes of ‘60s R&B and pop. With eyes closed and head back, the man emoted powerfully over the vocals of the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Beatles and Marvin Gaye and the emotional resolve in his eyes was evident to anyone who stopped long enough to look.
His voice was weather-worn, tired from the frigid dampness of subterranean winter, but somehow remained enthusiastic in its presentation. Not one of our most talented vocalists, but a special character that the uninitiated saw as laughable, the overly sheltered as threatening. No, he was simply a New York original; unique, singular, strong and engaging. Waving to the harried passersby, his outreach was met by those struggling only to avoid his eyes. He was a bearded man, big and heavy, a wall of a man draped in a long over-coat, colorful scarf and tall woolen red cap. He tightly held the yellow plastic mic in one chapped hand, emphasizing each declamation with full body gestures and fist-waving. The man’s boom-box and amplifier sat in a grocery wagon adorned with a professionally painted sign advertising his talents and credits. It seemed a prideful thing.

When it’s cold outside/I’ve got the month of May

‘CAPT. JACKSON’, the sign read. ‘WORLD FAMOUS SOUL SINGER AND ENTERTAINER: from the Ho Chi Min Trail to 42nd Street’. Beneath this headline was a large illustration of the man wearing a blue tuxedo, onstage, in the warm glow of a spotlight. The placard bore the years, the scratches, the pocks that seemed to have marred Jackson’s inner-most self. The fraying of his coat became more evident with a closer look, as were the lines on his face and the wiry gray usurping his once rich, black beard. In the drawing, he appeared thinner, vibrant, youthful, in a moderate Afro and hip sunglasses. Which nightclub had brandished this piece of his history? Which Vietnam raid had the Captain long ago survived but remained unable to move beyond?

As the train pulled into the station, a hissing cloud and distant shadow touched this pocket of underground Manhattan. Capt. Jackson sang the final repeats of “My Girl” through the fade and then took a deep, earnest bow to a rush-hour audience seeking to return to warm homes. The loud-speaker announcement of “Stand clear of the closing doors” cut through the moment and the memories. And while he was still facing downward, I left the Captain’s side, hurrying to join the others.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

feature article: REGGIE WORKMAN, UNSTOPPABLE


A slightly edited version of this article served as the April 2018 cover feature of
“the NYC Jazz Record” under the title ‘Reggie Workman, Working Man’


REGGIE WORKMAN, UNSTOPPABLE
By John Pietaro

Reflecting on a legendary career spanning six decades, Reggie Workman speaks with subdued restraint. Not one to dwell on past accomplishments, he tends to angle conversations toward the future—both the immediate and distant. Adding to an unparalleled resume, Workman’s history of mentoring young jazz musicians led to a long-standing Associate Professorship of the New School, yet, staring down 80, he’s as busy as ever. “Yes, there’s a lot going on. There always is”, he mused. And considering the discography cast, there always was. The bassist’s quietly prideful career remains nothing short of profound.

Born in 1937, just outside of Philadelphia, Reggie Workman’s early years were ingrained in musical activity. “Many musicians lived in that community”, he explained. “Lee Morgan and I grew up together. Archie Shepp lived around the corner”. Others in his immediate purview were Benny Golson, C-Sharp, Kenny Barron, Mickey Roker, Donald Bailey and Bobby Green. Workman’s father, a chef, owned a restaurant frequented by musicians who often visited the family home. The addition of a piano in their living room brought about an array of jam sessions. Jackie McLean was a regular when he played the area and after John Coltrane moved to Philadelphia, he too was drawn to the scene. “And Philly Joe Jones was a conductor on the trolley that passed the house”, Workman said. “He sometimes stopped his car, faking mechanical problems, just to come in and say ‘hello’ to the fellows”.

Through the visceral drive of the music, Workman’s role became increasingly active. “Archie (Shepp) went to college at Goddard to study drama and I continued playing the streets. We didn’t have universities to teach this; we sneaked into clubs. The Showboat and the Aqua Lounge hosted Charlie Parker, Billie, they all came through. The bouncer at one of the clubs would let us in; he’d give us fruit punch and sit us in a dark corner”. But by 1956, upon high school graduation, he began organizing performances. Once Workman took over the hearse his father used for restaurant deliveries, he could get to gigs out of town and transport the players with him. A first taste of success occurred when Workman joined the quartet of popular pianist-vocalist Freddie Cole, brother of Nat. “The music took me out of the brickyard and around the country. For me, this was also an education on the art of the ballad. Some years later, I worked with Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone too”.

Performances with Cole centered on New York, so Workman moved his base to Harlem. “My evolution happened in New York. Many of the greats lived there. Gigi Gryce started hiring me regularly. He was a really well known studio man who ran his own publishing company”. Calls too began coming in from Sun Ra, James Moody and Roswell Rudd. “I also played Minton’s with Chick Corea and George Coleman, and Babs Gonzales started hanging out uptown”, which led to gigs with the be-bop vocalist. “Then in 1958 Frank Gant and I went to San Francisco to work with Red Garland. It was a two-week gig we couldn’t turn down due to his Miles association. Red wouldn’t pay for plane tickets so we traveled by train”. Quickly, Workman became established as a first-call bassist within the music’s highest order. “Thelonious Monk was very particular about what happened on the bandstand, and he expected the bass to be in a certain place, at a certain time, regardless. It was like school. That was difficult for me because I was used to a more open setting. The band’s saxophonist Paul Jeffries was a great help to me, and Ed Blackwell too”. George Benson and Dinah Washington were also among the leaders reaching out to the bassist.

Increasingly busy--and aware of the rigors--Workman became a founder of a musicians’ support and referral organization which met at Warren Smith’s studio, however, the shadow of Jim Crow invaded the solidarity. “The group had conflicts because the Black musicians had different problems than the white ones”, Workman recalled. “The classical musicians were getting the Broadway pit work, not us. We needed to do our own thing”. Collective Black Artists grew from this reality. Though concurrent to the AACM, unlike its Chicago counterpart, CBA remains woefully overlooked. Artists including Amiri Baraka, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Owens, George Benson and Don Moore became central members. “We renovated a store front to make an office and organized classes taught by Leonard Goines and Owens. Our newspaper, ‘Expansions’, was filled with articles and poetry”. CBA also recorded an E.P. dedicated to Muhammed Ali featuring Babs Gonzales’ vocals, and ran a concert series at Town Hall with Ornette Coleman, Max Roach and Herbie Hancock among their features. Workman was elected to pitch the artists beyond the others’ reach, with Miles Davis as a primary target. “I was nervous, but went to his place and knocked. No answer. I knocked again and the door opened a crack. I hear (imitating Davis’ paint-scraping voice): ‘Who is it?!’ I told him who I was and he cuts me off, says he’s heard of me. Then: ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Miles, we have this series and…’, and he cuts back in: ‘Look man, I know your work, but you motherfucker, you’re comin’ here to ask me to play for NO money?!’”. Workman next approached Thelonious Monk: “Since I was playing with Monk at the Vanguard, I planned to ask him when I arrived, but he was dancing in the kitchen with a glass of wine in each hand. After the set he was in back again, dancing around, drinking brandy. I tried to talk to him but he kept dancing, so I start dancing with him—there’s no music but we were dancing to something. I finally bring it up. He’s not really listening, just keeps dancing and so I’m dancing and talking and he’s dancing and nodding. Then I say the series is at Town Hall. Monk stops suddenly and shouts, ‘Town Hall? I’ve done that!’”. The stars were hard to come by.

Within Workman’s tapestry, John Coltrane stands out as a luminary. “It was 1961 and the band included McCoy, Elvin and Dolphy. I was working with Jaki Byard and Roy Haynes, down the street from Coltrane’s band, and invited Eric to check us out. He brought John, but they left soon after, so I thought nothing of it. However they were going on the road and John called to ask if I wanted in. I said: ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’”. After stateside shows, Norman Granz paired the band with Dizzy Gillespie’s for a European tour. “We boarded the plane together but John, Dizzy and Norman sat in first class. The rest of us rode coach. Lalo Shifrin was in Dizzy’s band, Bob Cunningham, Mel Lewis and James Moody too. Bob and I were tight. Elvin and Mel were tight, so this was like a family trip. But the salary was miniscule and we had to pay for our own hotel rooms. Meanwhile, Granz got a suite”. However, the gig cemented a powerful relationship with Coltrane, then on the cusp of ascendency. “We recorded ‘Africa Brass’. So many great musicians were in Van Gelder’s studio. Dolphy wrote voicings for the horns. Cal Massey did orchestration too. He was sleeping on the bench waiting for us to get to his tunes”. ‘Ole Coltrane’ was out next, and within a year, ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ and ‘Impressions’ hit record bins. But for the bassist, it wouldn’t last. “This was a wonderful experience until my father got sick and I started going back and forth to Philadelphia. I couldn’t commit, yet leaving John is one of my saddest memories”, he said in pensive lament.
But by New Year’s Eve 1962, Workman was on a Japanese bandstand with Art Blakey. “That version of the Jazz Messengers was historic: Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton and Freddie Hubbard. Everyone worked hard and Blakey made sure of that. ‘Sgt. Blakey’, we called him”. The master drummer was dogmatic, but not as disciplined in his own life. “Buhaina (Blakey’s African name) would direct us to be at Blue Note’s rehearsal room on 84th and Broadway at 6pm. Then 8pm came; no Bu. He’d sometimes keep us waiting four, five hours. He was having problems and as his marriage fell apart, so did the band”. So moved were the Messengers by their combined instrumental strength that they made several fruitless attempts to remain together.

Workman joined Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon’s politically revolutionary ensemble for their eponymous album. Commenting on the natural connection between the music and the rising Black Liberation Movement, Workman states: “music means politics. Archie later wrote “Poem for Malcolm”, “Scag”, “Rufus” and “Attica Blues”. But we all spoke up. We had to. You can’t put your head in the sand; that leaves your ass sticking up in the air”. True that.  In 1964 the bassist toured with Yusef Lateef’s combo, hitting California during the Watts Riots. “We were being shot at as we drove from the highway so had to stay in the hotel. It was the Vine Lodge Hotel—where Sam Cooke was staying.” Herbie Mann, then holding noted commercial success, next hired Workman. “The Middle East conflict was going on and Herbie became increasingly involved in this. He tuned his music to his own roots, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict touched me differently as a Black person. I became very vocal. It may have hurt my career, but artists shed light”. Workman then joined the New York Art Quartet, an ensemble which sonically and politically realized radical culture in an urgent time. Baraka was a common addition to the line-up, threading spoken word through streams of improvisation. “I don’t like the term ‘avant garde’”, Workman clarified. “It’s about the music, not about boxes people put it in. We are Sound Scientists. With this band, every gig was beautiful”. Workman relocated to the East Village with Lee Morgan, whom he was regularly recording with. “Due to low rents, the area became a haven. Cecil Taylor lived nearby. 6th street was filled with music. Tootie Health and Don Cherry lived there. Elvin lived on 11th Street. There was a gay bar where Jaki Byard was playing standards. I had a gig opposite Rodney Dangerfield. There was the 5-Spot, Slugg’s, St Mark’s Place…”

In 1970 Workman became musical director of the New Muse Community Museum, an organization of African American arts. And with the fall of the Collective Black Artists, he founded Artists Alliance, a network wielding a Village Gate concert series. However, in the harsh economic decline to follow, Workman experienced recession fallout of his own. He took a day job with a Black-owned oil company and also with Crown Heights Community Service, guiding at-risk teens to college and Muse Arts Studio. In the 1980s, he hosted a jazz radio program on WBAI-FM and led record dates with the likes of Julian Priester, Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill, before forming Top Shelf, a band sporting David Murray, Arthur Raines, Steve McCall and others. “I’d been doing so many other people’s music and decided to finally perform my own. Top Shelf played the Tin Palace, the Cooler and the 5-Spot for months at a time”.

A natural teacher, the bassist mentored young artists through the African American Legacy Project and various colleges for years, focusing finally on the New School’s Jazz and New Music Program, which he’s currently immersed in. Trio 3, with Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille, a long-term project, will be performing later this year, and Workman also anticipates the release of a ‘70s recording by WARM with Rivers, Priester and Pheeron ak Laff. He’s also working on his biography and playing a variety of local concerts. “There aren’t enough hours for me to stop”, he offered. ‘Besides, who’s counting?”

***
Epilogue: Reggie requested the following information about the New School’s Jazz program be added to the article. It wasn’t possible to fit this into the NYC Jazz Record, but it’s all here in this unedited version:

This list of names I consider to be quite important since they represent students who have graduated from our program, and are now doing significant work in the Music community
 RoyHargrove - Trumpet
BradMeldau -Piano
JazzmiaHorn - Voice
RoseBartu Violin/Voice
LyndonAchee –Vibes/Steel Drums
MelanaeCharles = Voice
BeccaStevens – Voice/Guitar
Bilal– Voice
JoseJames – Voice
RobertGlasper
MollySkuse – Voice
CaseyBenjaman – Alto Sax/ Voice Keyboards
LukeciaBenjaman – Alto Sax
JamesFrancise – Piano
ChrisPotter – Tenor Sax
TomAbbot –Alto Sax
SteveBlum –Guitar
KevinRay – Bass Viol
JoelRoss – Vibes
GeremyDutton – Drums
MikeMareno –Guitar
MarcusStrikland
Enoch(EJ)Strickland
YayoiIkawa – Piano
JohnBeaty – Alto Sax/Rap
JoeBeaty – Trombone
JonnathanFunlason – Trumpet
RobReddy – Alto Sax
AndyBemky – Piano
ChrisWalker – Electric Bass
BrianSettles – Tenor Sax
JessicaBoykin – Voice
ThomasFujowara – Drums
SatoshiInoe – Guitar
GregKurstan – Piano (3 Grammys/Producing
WalterBlanding – Tenor Sax
LemarGillary – Voice
LarryGolding –Piano/Organ
JohnMedeski – Piano/Organ
TakyuaKurtado – Bass
BriannaThompson – Voice
BenFlocks – Tenor Sax
AlexanderClaffey – Bass
WalterBlanding – Tenor Sax == Moved to Isreal and started effective “Jazz Workshops”
JessieDavis – Alto Sax
***********ADDEDNAMES   addendum to previous listing***
JurmaaneSmith – Trumpet
CoreyCox – Drums
JackGlotman – Piano
BarryCooper – Trombone
SamuelMortellaro - Piano
MiriBen- Ari
ManuelVelera – Piano
AlanHampton – Bass
OtisBrown – Drums
TommyCrane – Drums
DameonReid – Drums
JamareWilliams – Drums
KeyonHarrel – Trumpet
EmanuelHarrel – Drums
StephamMutal – Tenor Sax
KennyBrohoowski – Drums
AdamCruz – Drums
EriYamamoto – Piano
AuthurTravers – Drums
AndrewHadro – Baritone Sax
YotamSilberstien – Guitar
NicoleGillian – Voice
AmitGolan – Piano == Returned to Israel and developed a Jazz School  `
LyndonAchee – Vibes / Steel Pan ********3/26/18
AlexeyIvannikov - Piano
 GregoireMarrete - Harmonica
JamalHanes – Trombone
ChrisTordinni – Bass
StaffordHunter – Trombone
PeterBurnstien – Guitar
VirginiaMayhew – Saxophones
AliJackson – Drums
CarlosHenriqez – Piano
**John I’d like to restate that students mentioned in this list are out in the “Jazz” community doing significant things, and the list of mentors who have been teaching them is really important to be mentioned as well.**
 MaryHalverson – Guitar
ChadTaylor – Drums
Thana Pavelic”  - Voice
AlexSkolnick – Guitar
Alexi                   - Piano
RioSakairi  - Voice
Catherine Henry - Voice
MathewJorgenson – Drums

-Reggie