Matthew Shipp on Jazz Teachers

Charles Demuth, Figure 5 in Gold (partial), 1927.

Ran Blake
Improvising Artists : 1976

RB, piano.

The Five Spot is our new feature where musicians, critics, and fans select five significant tunes or albums from a favorite artist. Pianist and composer MATTHEW SHIPP chooses FIVE TRACKS BY SIGNIFICANT JAZZ TEACHERS. 

Jazz history and mythology is populated by important teachers — usually a lone person with a charismatic personality who sets up camp in a particular geographical area and attracts a load of students, some of which go on a be names within the jazz universe. Often these teachers have zero or one album out — and their performance credentials are a part of legend; often they are not great performers but have a special genius for teaching. As a boxing fan, many of the great trainers had horrible records as boxers themselves but for whatever reasons could really train other boxers. In a few cases, these charismatic teachers also are know as jazz recording artists and performers of somewhat or extreme importance. — Matthew Shipp

1) Lennie Tristano, “Descent into the Maelstrom” (Descent into the Maelstrom, rec. 1953/rel. 1978)
Tristano is an eccentric who attracted a group of students that includes Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Sal Mosca, among others — but Lennie was in the vanguard of postbop piano experimentation also. This cut — an interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story — with its vortex structures and overdubbing set the way for a lot of things in the future.

2) Lennie Tristano, “Dream: Paris 1965″ (Descent into the Maelstrom, rec. 1965/rel. 1978)
This cut had a big impact on me — the dreamlike logic/illogic of the syntax makes it sound like it is rooted in Bop yet follows the dictates of some alien thought form. I once had a long conversation with Cecil Taylor about Lennie, and Cecil mentioned he did go to Lennie for what he called a consultation — but Cecil’s comment about that encounter was ”well, Lennie was wrong.” Marian McPartland also expressed to me once how difficult Lennie was with her the couple lessons she took with him — but every indication from his long-term students was that he was a caring and great mentor. Lennie definitely left behind a recorded body of work that has made a major impact on modern improvisation.

3) Dennis Sandole, “Threnody” (A Sandole Trilogy, rel. 1995)
In the past, I’ve done a piece on Dennis for this site — he is best known as John Coltrane’s major teacher — many other people have gone through his lessons, including me. Dennis was a studio and swing guitarist in his early days but then settled in Philadelphia and became known as a music thinker and teacher. This cut sounds very much like the literature he’d write out for his students on a weekly basis. I would, however, have no idea how to classify him as a guitarist.

4) Dennis Sandole, “Parody” (A Sandole Trilogy, rel. 1995)
Dennis at his most beautiful melodic figuration. Dennis also played on the CD Modern Music from Philadelphia with his brother Adolph Sandole — and other than that I think he might be on some Charlie Barnett CDs, but Dennis’ main gift to modern music was his unparalleled teaching methods.

5) Ran Blake, “Tea for Two” (Breakthru, 1976) 
I’ve tried to stay away from teachers in colleges because I’m trying to deal with charismatic eccentrics who set up camp in one city like a guru. But Ran fits the bill as a charismatic eccentric — and the Third Stream department that he and Gunther Schuller started at New England Conservatory is/was the most innovative thing in jazz pedagogy on a college level. A lot of diverse people have gone through that department and been inspired by cuts like this that show Ran’s modernist approach to the jazz tradition. Ran has a whole body of work behind him as well as being a teacher and his persona as a teacher does interact with his persona as a performer/recording artist in a way that is hard to untangle.

Matthew Shipp is a pianist who lives in New York. His new solo album Piano Sutras will be released by Thirsty Ear on September 24th.

Category Dennis Sandole, Five Spot, Lennie Tristano, Matthew Shipp, Ran Blake