Schwartz and his protégés play the music of Ornette Coleman
Most university music students, by the time they graduate, have already forgotten their professor’s names, and sometimes even what they taught. Some lucky graduates, however, get to collaborate with their former mentors to bring the music they studied in books and lectures to life in scorching onstage performances.
This is the case of percussionist Claude Lavergne, who along with his former professor, guitarist and Concordia jazz lecturer Gary Schwartz and nine other musicians, will present the music of Ornette Coleman on January 17th and 18th. The show, called Lettingo, will be no podium speech, as it promises a “multisensorial” rendition of the legendary saxophonist and composer’s music.
The group guarantees a fresh take on Coleman’s compositions, using arrangements by different members of the group and a unique collection of musicians, which includes many frequent contributors to Montreal’s jazz, experimental, and new music community.
The first performance of Lettingo at Théâtre Lachapelle in January 2010 even included pedal steel guitar, rarely seen in jazz. Another of Schwartz’s former students, Joe Grass, played the instrument. “Some players who did the show last time are not here this time, and this will yield new textures to the music,” says Schwartz. “The material is so strong that the instrumentation doesn’t matter.”
The first run of Lettingo was warmly received and sold out both nights, a success which came as a great surprise to Schwartz, since Coleman’s music seems mostly familiar to jazz enthusiasts and musicians alone.
Yet Coleman is famed as the pioneer of the free jazz movement of the 1960’s, when his use of unusual harmonies and weeping sound permanently revolutionized the music community. While he initially confounded some critics with his relatively unstructured arrangements and proclivity for plastic saxophones, his innovative efforts were eventually rewarded with a Grammy lifetime achievement award and the Montreal Jazz Festival’s Miles Davis Award in 2009.
His penchant for playing ‘in the cracks’ of the musical scale offended some of Coleman’s contemporaries, yet he also incorporated flowing melodic lines, and as Schwartz notes, “the blues are always in there somewhere. There are limits and no limits.”
When asked how he manages to coordinate a large ensemble performing long sections of free and simultaneous improvisation, Schwartz muses, “These are all top rate players… and we really have a connection… it’s like magic when that happens. I think it’s something people who play music are always looking for.”
Schwartz, an NDG resident, won a grant from Concordia to put Lettingo on again in 2011.
“The beauty of this music is that it is never the same from one performance to the next”, says Schwartz. “It’s gonna be a blast”.
January 17th and 18th! Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent, 8:30 p.m.