On three occasions an album was burnt into my brain because I woke up to it in the middle of the night. There’s something about the state between sleeping and waking that enhances listening; even well-known material can be heard in a new way. Cream’s first release was one of my wake-up calls; Firesign Theatre’s first was another.
And then there’s Everywhere, Roswell Rudd’s first release under his own name.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but for years, my appreciation of jazz trombone was sorely lacking. I considered the instrument a vestige of earlier times. Roswell Rudd changed all that. In the middle of one humid summer night, my brother awoke me to hear the man’s trombone exhorting like Ian McKellen strutting a stage: barking, growling, teasing the language. All around him a conflagration was fed by high-pitched reeds, two string basses, and a drummer with six arms. The absence of piano sealed the relentless nature of “Satan’s Dance,” Guiseppi Logan’s tribute to Eric Dolphy. The free improvisation techniques used on Everywhere matched what was happening mid-sixties with cutting edge groups led by John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and others. But those early avant-garde outings rarely sported trombones.
Intriguingly, Rudd’s rough and tumble style seems to skip a generation or two backwards. The big trombonist of the mid-sixties, J.J. Johnson, was a bop modernist. Just prior to him, Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band trombone was smooth as silk. Rudd reaches back to Kid Ory’s “tailgate” New Orleans ‘bone heard with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. It’s a style that celebrates exaggerated slides between notes and proud brays to replace smooth elegance. To understand Roswell Rudd’s development, it helps to know he played with a Dixieland band, Eli’s Chosen Six, but also with the little-known composer-genius, Herbie Nichols, and all shades between, including Eddie Condon, Archie Shepp, Buck Clayton, John Tchicai, and Steve Lacy.
A musician with such stellar apprenticeship by rights should have become a jazz star in his own right through his years of hard work. Unfortunately, Roswell Rudd is not a household name, even in jazz circles. When he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion backing up a vocal band, Garrison Keillor seemed unfamiliar with the man’s career, and named him as a kind of also-ran.
You can begin to acquaint yourself with Roswell Rudd’s career right here, listening on this page to Everywhere’s Rudd original, “Yankee No-How.” It’s based on his experiences growing up in New England, including a song he sang with his family, “Three Little Fishes.” The fun melody gives way to a healthy group improvisation that flows organically, functions as single working unit and reveals the impromptu skills of his fellow musicians: Giuseppi Logan (flute and bass clarinet), Lewis Worrell and Charles Haden (each playing bass simultaneously), Beaver Harris (drums), and Robin Kenyatta (alto sax).
To good music fans Everywhere!