Thursday, December 5, 2019


(Yes, it crosses boundaries judiciously)
-Sarah Bernstein
-Jason Kao Hwang
-Sana Nagano

-Melanie Dyer

-Tomas Ulrich
-Lester St Louis

-Wallace Roney
-Wadada Leo Smith
-Thomas Heberer

-Steve Swell       
-Howard Johnson
-Joseph Daley

-Nicole Mitchell
-Robert Dick
-Cheryl Pyle

-Patrick Holmes
-Ben Goldberg
-Guillermo Gregorio

Bass clarinet:
-Josh Sinton
-Michael Lytle

Soprano saxophone:
-Lee Odom
-Dave Liebman

Alto saxophone:
-Marty Ehrlich
-Kendrick Smith
-Chris Pitsiokis

Tenor saxophone:
-James Brandon Lewis
-Ras Moshe Burnett
-Evan Parker
Baritone saxophone:
-Clare Daley
-Dave Sewelson

-Ava Mendoza
-Marc Ribot
-Mike Baggetta
-Julian Lage
-Anthony Pirog

-Bill Ware
-Patricia Brennan
-Steve Nelson

-Ran Blake
-Aruan Ortiz
-Mara Rosenbloom

Upright bass:
-Ken Filiano
-William Parker
-Adam Lane

Bass guitar:
-Jamaaladeen Tacuma
-Steve Swallow

-Ronnie Burrage
-Ches Smith
-Kenny Wollesson
-Michael TA Thompson

-Warren Smith
-Cyro Baptista
-Newman Taylor Baker

-Zeena Parkins

Multi-instrumentalist (winds):
-Daniel Carter
-Scott Robinson

-Jay Clayton
-Christine Correa
-Shelley Hirsch
-Kyoko Kitamura

Poet/Spoken Word Artist:
-David Henderson
-Tracie Morris
-Yusef Komunyakaa
-Puma Perl

  • 2.    ENSEMBLES:
Large ensemble:
-Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra
-Slavic Soul Party
-Go Organic Orchestra
-Hungry March Band

-Ran Blake and Christine Correa
Sarah Bernstein and Kid Millions

-Harriet Tubman
-William Hooker Trio with Mara Rosenbloom and Adam Lane
-Rocco John Trio with Chris Forbes and Charlie Sabatino
-Free Form Funky Freqs
-the Messthetics

-Zodiac Saxophone Quartet
-Todd Capp’s Mystery Train

-Truth Revolution
-Alternative Tentacles

-Wall to Wall Coltrane, June 9, Symphony Space, NYC
-Arts for Art Tribute to Steve Cannon, September 6, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, NYC
-Ronnie Burrage:Tribute to Hamiet Bluiett, May 25, Sista’s Place, Brooklyn NY

-Lady Stardust (East Village)
-The Bar Next Door (West Village)
-Jazz at Kitano (mid-town)
-Union Pool (Williamsburg)
-Downtown Music Gallery (LES)

-David S Ware, Theatre Garone (AUM Fidelity)
-Mike Baggetta/Mike Watt/Jim Keltner, Wall of Flowers (Big Ego Records)
-Ben Goldberg, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic)
-Green Dome, Thinking in Stitches (Case Study)

-David S Ware, the Balance (AUM Fidelity)

-Charles Mingus, Mingus at Antibes (Speakers Corner; originally released 1976, Atlantic)
-Thing, Thing (Cultures of Soul; originally released 1972, Innerview)

-Ben Goldberg, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic)
-Charles Mingus, Mingus at Antibes (Speakers Corner; originally released 1976, Atlantic)

-Death of Steve Dalachinsky

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


NYC Jazz Record, November 2019

Performing my poem for Bern "Dancing to Incessant June" at the
2019 Bern Nix Jazz Festival accompanied by Charlee Ellerbe.
Photo by Robert Sutherland-Cohen
 By John Pietaro

As the Bern Nix Jazz Festival wrapped on September 28, Charlee Ellerbe crouched at stage-right, packing up his Steinberger 6-string. “The truth is”, he said sans irony, “I’ve never called myself a guitarist.  This is a vehicle for the melodies, the arrangements I hear”. Ellerbe, esteemed guest artist of this event honoring Prime Time’s other guitarist, held the audience in a state of fixation as he crafted melodic assaults and agitational pulsations on this vehicle he played 14 years with Ornette Coleman, time with Sun Ra and for the Coleman memorial at Lincoln Center and beyond. And then there is Matrix 12:38, which Ellerbe pridefully cites as wholeheartedly Harmolodic. “Each note can be everything to every other note”.

Born in Philadelphia, 1950, Ellerbe was inspired by the R&B and pop sounds in his midst. Seeing a guitarist friend perform in 1964, he delved into the instrument, listening closely to Kenny Burrell but, “I was more interested in what non-guitarists did, how McCoy Tyner juggled keys”, he explained. “And I loved Burt Bachrach; the arrangements gripped me”.  Drawn to rock music, his propensity for loud volumes and distortion grew along with the genre’s development. “Jimi Hendrix changed everything. And (Chicago’s) Terry Kath. His playing was creative, so unpredictable. What matters most is that the instrumentalist speaks from their soul”

Ellerbe studied composition at Philadelphia’s celebrated Combs College of Music, preparing for a career as a studio arranger. “I played in Top 40 bands and worked as a spot-welder. Caught fire a couple of times when the sparks flew!” A friend then playing trombone with the Trammps, whose “Disco Inferno” was a mass hit, advocated for Ellerbe’s hiring over months. “Finally I got the call and was touring within two weeks”.

His tenure with the band continued, but he was also recruited by organist Charles Earland, via his friend, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. “Earland liked Jamaal so much he asked, ‘Are there more like you at home?’ I was in that band for a season, then Earland fired me one minute before I was going to quit! His ego was like too much oatmeal in a pot that bubbles over. The following summer, Jamaal got fired too!”, he added, laughing. But by then, Tacuma was already a member of Ornette Coleman’s latest aggregation and immediately recommended Ellerbe. “I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to play rock. I had my distortion pedals and I figured Ornette would be playing acoustic jazz”. Arriving at Coleman’s legendary Prince Street loft, Ellerbe saw Bern Nix already present. “Ornette wanted two guitars and two basses to cover the lows and highs of the orchestral string section. I plugged into the amplifier which was set on ‘5’ and after several songs he approached me. I thought here it comes—but he asked me to turn UP the volume. When I next looked over, hours had gone by”. At session’s end, Coleman simply asked Ellerbee if he had a passport. “I reminded him that I don’t play jazz. Ornette nodded and said ‘Okay’. So, I said it again to make sure he understood: ‘I really don’t know any jazz’ and he again said ‘Okay’. So, I said ‘Ornette, I play hard rock’. Finally, he just said ‘Well, play that then’.

So, what was Prime Time like for a hard rock guitarist and wishful arranger? For Ellerbe, nothing short of total immersion. “It was like driving on a highway: anyone can change lanes at the last minute, but the cars also paved the highway they drove on. After the melody, there’s nothing on the page. Ornette wanted to hear what he couldn’t predict”.

Still, the pace seemed insurmountable and three years in, Ellerbe offered his resignation. “Harmolodics is a bootcamp, a university without walls. I didn’t think I could keep up”, but instead, Ellerbee came to hold the title of “Ornette’s henchman”, so close was his approach in performance.
Listening to the band’s recordings, one is struck by the orchestral scope, the impossibly intricate lines like Escher staircases leading to a common destination. It’s said that Nix doubled the melody and Ellerbe played rhythm, but they morphed roles and Ellerbe’s chordal patterns became banshee howls, industrial crunches and trademark lamentations. “I needed to play aggressively. I’m not a sight reader, I’m basically a soloist, so I beat those strings up”.

By the ‘90s, Coleman reached into directions beyond Prime Time, so Ellerbe taught at Philadelphia cultural center the Clef Club before joining Sun Ra’s Arkestra for several years. “It taught me a whole other responsibility. In the 1940s, big band guitarists held down the rhythm and I’d never done that before”.

However, the lure of Harmolodics proved lasting, moving Ellerbe to form the riveting ensemble Matrix 12:38, “We’re the only band branched off from Prime Time which fully perpetuates the Harmolodic concept.  I write the melodies and they bring in everything they know”. With a line-up of Ellerbe, drummer Anthony Matthews, bassist Kenny Jackson Jr and percussionist Ready Freddie, with various horn players, the extension of Prime Time is apparent, but so is the relationship between music and atmosphere. Ellerbe is planning a recording through Philly radio station WRTI, with the goal of New York dates, followed by Europe. “Out of the Prime Time band, the public has heard from everyone but me. When I come out, it’ll be brand new. Unpredictable”

Poetry: 5:03 AM (for Steve Dalachinsky)

5:03 AM
Photo and lay-out by Sherry Rubel; excerpt of my poetry

(for Steve Dalachinsky)

3:15AM. Shhh. Speak nothing now.
Speak not.
There’s a fading din beneath the well of silence.
It turns envious the darkling.

The sun now rises later than it once did,
Doesn’t it?

4:37. September’s torrid dampness cedes to nothing
Here in Brooklyn, but
The chill of the Long Island Sound
Steve and I performing together, Brecht Forum approx 2014
Freezes the poetry in time, like
Burroughs in Morocco,
So far from home.

4:55, this day which bordered no sleep,
Mind festering, precious pain.
The sun must rise later than it once did.
Tell me it does.

The call of gulls falls deaf on hospital walls,
Where strange machinery turns, tabulates,
And sways through
Cross-rhythms of tap, scrape,
And sob.

My photo of Steve, Bowery Electric, June 2019
A dancehall of wire brushes ignites
Booming skins and shimmering bronze,
Gassing the flame of sauntering yesterday,
As after-hours haze covets
A thicket sound in vivid black

The call of Gayle in the wild, he, Streets the Clown
Seething through tubes and drips, submerged in
The unfettered, busking improvisation.
And the final night erupts joyously, leading you
South of Houston.

The colors, the shapes which fall from your pen
Cast a reflection of then into tomorrow.
Many tomorrows,
Poet Laureate of Outside.

5:03AM. The sun halts in its place, as
The mist purples
Over Spring Street.

The clouds are but a
Painted backdrop.

-John Pietaro, 9/16/19, 11:52pm,
Brooklyn NY

"5:03 AM" was first published in  John Pietaro's chapbook SMOKE RINGS (2019)

Performance review: TRIBUTE TO STEVE CANNON

NYC Jazz Record, NY@Night section, October 2019 issue

Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, NYC

Performance review by John Pietaro

The crowd which overwhelmed the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (September 6) came to celebrate Steve Cannon, LES poet, elder, teacher and cultural organizer, whose June passing remains grievous. Downtown creatives who’d come of age through the decades, many at the behest of Cannon, filled both stage and auditorium. Among the performing poets were Steve Dalachinsky--whose unexpected passing but a week later has leveled the community, his partner Yuko Otomo, Lydia Cortes and Edwin Torres opened the concert with moving works. Later, Anne Waldman performed with saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Devin Bajha Waldman blowing cyclical, interlocking phrases around and through her poetry. “You may welcome all the strains”, Waldman dramatically advised. Cleveland poet/vocalist Julie Ezelle Patton’s piece drew on stirring melisma, spoken word, blues and a world of vocalization. Another gifted poet and vocalist, Tracie Morris, with cornetist Graham Haynes and downtown icon Elliot Sharp (guitar), movingly performed with Cannon’s recorded voice. The powerful ensemble What It Is?, fronted by Arts for Art administrator Patricia Nicholson Parker (poetry, dance) also boasted William Parker (bass), Melanie Dyer (viola), James Brandon Lewis and Devin Bajha Waldman (saxophones) and Val Jeanty (electronic percussion).  Closing off this magical evening was Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra which soared, wailed and softly sang through captivating originals, quaking free segments and an utterly compelling “Stranger in Paradise” with vocalist Tara Middleton’s rich alto welcoming all strains as Allen’s saxophone work, filled with the spirit, utterly belied his 94 years.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Essay: RONNIE BURRAGE: Music of Reckoning and Awakening

Published in The Wire August 2019 (with subtitle "Drumming up support")

RONNIE BURRAGE: Music of Reckoning and Awakening
by John Pietaro

Ronnie Burrage sits at the house drumkit of Sista’s Place, the noted jazz haunt in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, leading eloquently from behind. A multi-instrumentalist wielding formidable piano skills, the kit bears an electronic keyboard hovering over its floor tom. Burrage tosses right-handed chords into the harmonic structure while maintaining a torrential rhythmic onslaught across three limbs. The evening, one of several the drummer crafted in honor of the late Hamiett Bluett, ignites the capacity crowd. The band’s riveting take on Bluett’s classic “Oasis” culminates in a tireless montuno peppered by crushing accents which threaten, it seems, the very foundation of the room.

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Ronnie Burrage came of age during the height of the Black Artists Group (BAG) which forged a unified mission for the arts and African American liberation. But BAG only furthered the path the drummer had largely been born into. “My paternal grandfather was Allan David Mahr, a rather unknown literary giant”, Burrage explained. A pioneering poet of color, Mahr was a predecessor and close associate of revolutionary writers Amiri Baraka and Shirley Le Flore. “My new album Dance of the Great Spirit includes ‘God’s Only Black Man’, a poem he wrote 90 years ago. It’s in the archives of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. It’s become a mantra for me”.

Burrage’s mother and five uncles were musicians and great uncle John Sanders, a saxophonist with Bessie Smith. Jam sessions were regular in the family home, exposing even the youngest to creative inspiration. “As a toddler, I was banging on pots and pans, then before age ten, began picking out melodies on piano”. He also sang with the St. Louis Cathedral Choir and, at age 9, was chosen among hundreds of hopefuls to recite ‘Sonnet of the Apple’ with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra at Washington University. “I recall sitting on Mr. Ellington’s piano bench. He was so kind”.

Following several years of piano studies, Burrage joined the local drum corps., but engaged in no formal drumset lessons. “I initially learned by watching St. Louis’ great drummers up close. Joe Charles taught me how to play “breakneck”, which means swinging extremely fast and intense without exerting too much energy. Joe was known by Coltrane and, as he never left St. Louis, subbed for Elvin on many Mid-Western gigs”.

Under the guidance of BAG, a cohort organization of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), St. Louis developed a creative community reflecting the wider Black Liberation Movement. Following a 1968 production of Jean Genet’s the Blacks, BAG began presenting concerts, readings, dance and theatre works, exhibits, screenings and extensive tutelage in the arts, history and civil rights. “BAG programs taught us the words of Malcolm X, King, Baraka, Angelou. It taught about the Black Panther Party and other organizations that were not radical but, rather, humane, just and egalitarian. They exposed many to beautiful Black art, inspiring a sense of newness, fight, pride and standing tall”, Burrage reminisced. “Both BAG and the AACM were forged of the resistance against oppression, racism, control and stigma. They both were (and are) outlets for innovative artists needing to express themselves without limitation or stereotype. They both did work in the community to uplift people of color and essentially anyone who wanted to be free and open about humanity”.

BAG was largely founded by Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, saxophonist-flutist JD Parran and trumpeter Floyd LeFlore whose ensemble Third Circuit & Spirit featured trumpeter Baikida Carrol, guitarist Kelvyn Bell and trombone player Joseph Bowie. “And every show included the radical, socially conscious poetry of ‘Mom’ Shirley LeFlore”, he recalled. “Mor Thiam, the great Senegalese djembe player, was there too. He worked with choreographer Katherine Dunham, later with Freddie Hubbard, BB King and Don Pullen”.

It wasn’t long before Burrage found his way onto BAG’s stage. “I became involved as a youth, perhaps 10 or 11, playing at poetry readings that featured Shirley LeFlore. Her husband Floyd, along with J.D Parran, gave me opportunities to play in their ensemble. Papa Glen Wright, an amazing percussionist, played drums, vibes and timps. I started subbing for him as a kid”

By age 13, Burrage was leading a club date band and a year later, became the regular drummer with Third Circuit & Spirit, performing music from the avant garde to post-bop and R&B. “Fontella (“Rescue Me”) Bass was there too. In addition to a great singer, she was an accomplished pianist and organist”. For all of its accomplishments, by 1973, BAG experienced dubious defunding and its erosion followed soon after.

In 1978, on a North Texas State University music scholarship, Burrage made the decision to move to New York City: “I know racism. So that led me out of Texas, right to New York”. Residing in the South Bronx in a turbulent time, as the city struggled through a crushing economic crisis, he saw the rise of hip hop along with the burnt-out landscape. “I lived where they were doing rap jams in school yards or on the street, so would take my drums out and jam with the rappers. This saved me several times when I was almost jacked in the neighborhood”.

But he was compelled by Manhattan’s nightlife, traveling in frequently to meet the leading jazz artists. “I was also hanging out with Charles Bobo Shaw, then running the La Mama Theatre in the East Village. He introduced me to Billy Bang and Frank Lowe” whom he’d later work with. The theatre was/is an underground hub for cutting-edge artists. Burrage and his drums traveled back and forth by subway (“I took the bottom heads off so I could stack them in duffle bags”) until, following Kelvyn Bell’s arrival in town, the two moved into an upper floor of La Mama and were soon in the employ of Arthur Blythe.

In this same period, Burrage became a founding member of Defunkt, an original downtown band fusing improvisation with free jazz, funk and rock. “In 1978, Defunkt was a collective of Joe Bowie, Melvin Gibbs, Kelvyn Bell, Martin Aubert and me. Joe’s had many iterations since then, but we composed that first album collectively. Joe began to dictate a certain sound, but the initial concept was to be free”. Burrage left Defunkt to join McCoy Tyner’s band, simultaneously, developing a close relationship with Amiri Baraka. “The book, Blues People was the beginning for me. As a child, trying to understand Baraka’s words and writings, I often had long conversations with my grandfather, asking him to explain. Later, Amiri became a friend I could call 24/7 for advice, guidance and mentorship. I performed many times at his home nightclub (Kimako’s Blues People) and my band played for his “celebrity roast” in Newark, New Jersey. Many luminaires were there including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Bill Cosby, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou and James Earl Jones. Amiri and I performed in concert multiple times, he was a guest lecturer with me at Penn State University and advocated for my professorship. I miss him like mad. Amiri was an incredible truth that I needed and need to better myself”.

In this flurry of activity, Burrage began his association with Archie Shepp and became a regular drummer at Seventh Ave South, the legendary Greenwich Village club run by the Brecker Brothers. Ronnie performed frequently with either or both Brecker, also making frequent appearances at SOBs, Lush Life, the Bottom Line and Studio Rivbea and playing dates with Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius (“double drumming with Rashid Ali”), Sonny Rollins and Pat Methaney. Burrage in 1983, founded Third Kind of Blue “and then I started getting the buzz that I was going to be in Weather Report after Peter Erskine left. Jaco wanted me, Wayne too, but Joe wanted Omar Hakim. (laughs) I understand that it was because he liked his name!”

Work with Richard Davis, the Mingus Dynasty ensembles, Courtney Pine, Joanne Brakeen and Jack Walrath (including the Grammy-nominated Master of Suspense) followed. Throughout the 90’s, Burrage played with Bluiett, Eddie Gomez, Billy Bang, Bobby Watson, David Murray, Carlos Ward, Joe Zawinul, the World Saxophone Quartet and Reggie Workman’s Coltrane Legacy, as well as his own band, initially founded in 1979. Simultaneously, he taught at JazzMobile and the New School.
This rapid-fire lifestyle ultimately led to the need for solace. Following a divorce, Burrage left his East Village flat for Florida, and life as a single father. “I also did a lot of soul searching”. Within a few years, he moved with his children to Pennsylvania to teach at Penn State where he met his current wife, Chanda, a science professor. World Rhythm Academy, the non-profit the two founded, serves people with addictions and children at risk through expressive arts. “Our vision is bridging the gap between youth and elders, incorporating social justice toward real change”. The organization produced a program for community organizing around the case of Michael Brown, the African American college student murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the haunting series of other Black youth deaths at the hands of local police. “So many young Black people were being killed and my response to it was a series of videos for my graduate project at Goddard College, incorporating documentary-style footage and original music. We also established a performance series to quell brewing racial tensions on campus, Java Jam, which featured music and the Penn students’ topical poetry and artwork”.

After Burrage successfully completed his Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (music, composition and history), the couple and their children relocated to Brooklyn. In addition to becoming re-immersed in New York’s jazz circle, the drummer became a professor at State University of New York, Old Westbury, on Long Island. True to his social justice roots, lectures incorporate life lessons. “We talk about people’s struggles around the world and how changes in society start with young people. Recently, we were discussing ‘45’ --I won’t say that man’s name”, referring to Trump, “and I asked them to challenge the norms of their grandfathers”.

Burrage, the composer and band leader, also continues to forge a new way. Dance of the Great Spirit explores cultural fusions through his fiery international trio, the Holographic Principle, with bassist Nimrod Speaks and Polish pianist Michal Wierba. They’re preparing for an autumn tour, seeking out a higher power at each performance. “We share a passion for changing the world through music, a tool of reckoning and awakening to tell our stories of truth”.

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

  Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation , Let’s Save the World Suite (Composers Concordance 2022) --originally published in The NYC Jazz Recor...