Author, Village Voice jazz critic, and jazz historian. Gary discusses an overview of jazz violin: past and present.
Historic blues fiddler Howard Armstrong was the last of the blues fiddle legacy spanning over a century. He played in the group, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong. I had the opportunity to hear this group play a number of times at Philadelphia Folk Festival in the 1970s as well as other festivals.
The interview with Howard was an amazing experience. He was an extremely interesting, erudite, and entertaining man who really knew how to weave a story.
Dr. Billy Taylor
Billy was a phenomenal jazz pianist. He accompanied jazz violinists Eddie South and Stuff Smith early in his career. Later, he toured with cousin Joe Kennedy, Jr. I interviewed Billy for The Talking Violin and then realized that he would be the perfect host for the five shows. Always generous and supportive, Billy was a role model for me because he knew how to navigate the music business better than anyone I’d ever met in music, yet always did so with a big heart. His contributions to jazz are immense. He was the main force behind bringing jazz to national attention as the classic music of America.
When Lincoln Center invited Rob Gibson to become the Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center, I was invited to the celebratory party at Lincoln Center. I looked at the printed program for the year and noticed that Billy had not been included in the line-up of artists to perform that first year, nor had he been invited to the party. At the time, I was hosting a weekly radio show on WBAI called “Hear and Now.” I invited Rob, who I’d met years earlier while performing at his series in Atlanta, onto the show to talk about Jazz at Lincoln Center. I also invited Billy, and made sure to ask him questions on air that would reveal his role in jazz in America. I hoped Rob would realize the immensity of this oversight. Billy had shared with me all the things he’d done to help establish Wynton Marselis’ career, and that he felt betrayed by Wynton, who had just been appointed Artistic Director at Lincoln Center Jazz. Only young male jazz artists had been booked by Wynton for the launch of jazz at Lincoln Center. Even bassist Rufus Reid, while visiting me in my music studio on the upper West side, had looked at the lineup, and said, “Every bass player on this program studied with me.” At the end of the WBAI interview, Rob asked for Billy’s card and said he wanted to speak with him about participating. I never followed up to learn the outcome.
Milt Hinton started out as a young violinist. While carrying his violin to school one day in Chicago, someone yelled out their car window, “Hey sport, get a horn.” He quickly caught on that he could make a lot of money as a bass player. His dexterity as a result of studying the violin placed him on a completely different playing level than the old timers and he gradually took over all of their jobs. Milt went on to perform with just about every jazz great in the world, including historic jazz violinists Eddie South and Stuff Smith. His stories are amazing.
One of my favorite memories was an outing to his home in Queens. He’d invited me to look at some of his archival video footage. He was an avid photographer, and had pictures of some obscure jazz violinists. I invited John Blake, Jr. and Claude “Fiddler” Williams to join me. We spent an entire afternoon in Milt’s basement talking, listening to music, and eating sandwiches Milt’s wife had prepared.
John Blake, Jr.
L. Shankar performed at my Second American Jazz String Summit in 1986. By then, he’d toured with John McLoughlin and recorded with Frank Zappa. I had not been able to get news coverage for the first summit (1984, Symphony Space) but the combination of Shankar, Claude “Fiddler” Williams, John Blake, Jr., and Vicki Richards positioned the concert in The New York Times weekend centerfold. As a result, we were packed and even Paul Simon attended the concert. I was able to catch this interview with Shankar before he left town. The interview covered far more than the violin in Indian music and offers a deeper understanding of the Indian music culture in general.
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I first met David Darling while performing with Laraaji at a dinner in New Hampshire for the Paul Winter Consort in the early 1980s. I hired him to play at all three of my Jazz String Summits in New York City, included him in a project I produced for National Young Audiences, and became the reviewer for new recordings for his newsletter, Connections, for a number of years.
My favorite musical exchange with David was during an interview I’d arranged on John Schaefer’s WNYC show, “New Sounds.” I’d invited Darol Anger to join us and it was the first time the two of them had met. John recorded us in the afternoon for an evening show, and we all had our instruments with us because we were headed to various rehearsals, so John extemporaneously invited us to play together. The piece of music was wholly improvised and we changed tempi and keys instantaneously like a flock of birds turning a sharp corner. It was such a magical experience that John sat with his mouth open the entire time and aired the piece many times over the following years. I added an excerpt to the Talking Violin radio series on the “Violin of the 80s” show.
In this interview, David talks about his beginnings as a cellist, how he began to improvise and his entree into work with Paul Winter.
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