Clifford Brown: the Man Behind the Music

This tribute to Clifford Brown by by Howard Gillis PhD is unique because it focuses on the man behind the music a genius and the psychological effects of tragedies during the course of his life. What comes across is a man as extraordinary as his talent, which was borne out by the many hours I spent talking with his widow LaRue Brown Watson.

-Michael Cuscuna

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Mosaic’s limited edition vinyl collection, The Clifford Brown & Max Roach Emarcy Albums is available as a four-LP box set. Go here for more info and to order your set.

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I've Got A Crush On You
  • I've Got A Crush On You
  • Ike Quebec
  • Easy Living

Ike Quebec - I’ve Got a Crush on You (1962)

From Michael Cuscuna’s liner notes:

As Rudy Van Gelder told me recently, “Ike always played beautifully, even at the end, when he was dying…I mean literally dying.“ 

The February 28, 1963 issue of Down Beat Magazine headlined its news section, "Two great losses within four days: Two Jazzmen Die in New York City.” on January 13, Sonny Clark died; the official reason given was a heart attack. On January 16, Ike Quebec died after five weeks in the hospital where he was being treated for lung cancer. Quebec was 44, Clark was 31, and the music on this album was a few days short of a year old.

Sonny Clark’s solo is simply this: one minute of piano-playing perfection. Don’t miss it.

Love Has No Pride
  • Love Has No Pride
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Give It Up

Just before the record started, the guy she was very deeply in love with at the time left her. And I’ve got to tell you that, with every take, I had tears in my eyes from the way she was delivering it. Even the takes that didn’t work, the way she wrapped herself around that song and delivered it was just extraordinary. That’s when I knew she wasn’t just great, she was a real artist.  

Michael Cuscuna, on recording Bonnie Raitt and “Love Has No Pride.”

"No Room For Squares"


In this video Michael Cuscuna talks about Francis Wolff and “No Room For Squares,” a new exhibition of Wolff’s iconic black and white photographs.

Francis Wolff made it to New York on the last boat out of Berlin in 1939. He got a job in a photographic studio by day and reunited with his boyhood friend Alfred Lion to work on Blue Note Records by night. Wolff took his camera to each Blue Note session, taking candid shots of the proceedings at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio while Lions produced the sessions.

Van Gelder says “At Blue Note sessions, Art Blakey was the thunder and Frank was the lightning.”

Miles for a Monday

Miles at the Fillmore: Michael Cuscuna’s Essay

On March 25, Legacy Recordings issues a new set documenting live performances by Miles Davis and his bands: Miles Davis: Miles At The Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3. For John Kelman’s in-depth analysis of this set, go here.

Michael Cuscuna wrote an essay on the times, the scene and the Miles Davis gigs at the Fillmore that culminated in this set. Here’s Michael’s essay:

The ‘60s are always characterized by either the peace movement or sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But there was a darker side. In 1963, the ‘60s (the era, not the decade) began in earnest with the assassination of Medgar Evers and Governor George Wallace’s attempt to block the entrance of two black students at the University of Alabama in June, the Civil Rights March On Washington in August, the church bombing in Birmingham which killed four children in September and the assassination of President Kennedy in November.

By 1970, the ‘60s showed no sign of slowing down. The White House and the F.B.I. were headed up by paranoid psychotics who after a full day of abusing power found time to work on their enemies lists. The Civil Rights Act had been law long enough to prove that one cannot legislate racism away. The debacle in Vietnam continued to claim a tragic number of American and Vietnamese lives. In May, four college students were murdered on the Kent State campus by the Ohio National Guard for walking by a peace demonstration.

Amid all this, there was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The Youth Culture continued to flourish with new drugs to try, new partners to bed and new bands to check out. Rock & Roll grew up. Gone were the Liverpool pop groups that thrilled 13-year-old girls; Innovative bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Sly & The Family Stone were emerging. This music organically gave birth to free form (underground FM) radio which became widespread and was contributing to the eclectic tastes of the baby boomers coming of age. All kinds of jazz and blues were being woven into the mix by music junkies programming their own shows.

It was in this world that Miles Davis began shifting the center of gravity in his own music in 1968. For the next two years, his music would undergo radical changes, often on a monthly basis. Because only a small percentage of the music he recorded during those years was issued in a timely fashion, the public only heard the music in quantum leaps from “Mademoiselle Mabry” to “In A Silent Way” to “Bitches Brew.” Even Miles’s opening theme “Directions” which he played every night in 1969-71 and which he recorded at a November 27, 1968 session (drummer Jack DeJohnette’s first with Miles) wasn’t issued until some 12 years later!

Ian Carr wrote in his excellent 1984 tome Miles Davis: A Biography wrote, “From August 1969 to August 1970, Miles had recorded enough material for two live double-albums (the Fillmores), a studio double-album (Bitches Brew), a studio single album (Jack Johnson), three sides of another studio double-album (Big Fun), and four tracks from another double-album (Live-Evil). It had been the most productive year of his career.” In fact, hours of unreleased music from this period have emerged slowly since Carr wrote that 30 years ago.

On March 6th & 7th, 1970, Miles’s sextet (with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Airto Moreira recently added as the sixth member) would take the stage of the Fillmore East on Second Avenue and 6th Street in New York’s East Village. Miles was booked at Clive Davis’s urging in anticipation of the release of Miles’s Bitches Brew which pretty much scared the hell out of everybody at Columbia Records with its 20-minute tracks and dense, shifting textures. Clive had belatedly discovered the power of music at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and rightly saw the future of music and profits in the Youth Culture. He thought that older artists’ careers could be jumpstarted if they were made relevant to the underground rock scene. The resurgence of Johnny Cash and Miles Davis made him a prophet.

Both Fillmores (East and West) usually had three acts on each show. These March dates also featured Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the Steve Miller Band. If this sounds like an unlikely bill, bear in mind that Young and Miller were as different from each other as each was from Davis. Bill Graham liked pairing diverse acts and incorporating jazz artists into the mix. Charles Lloyd’s quartet had played the Fillmore West a number of times and recorded there.

Rock palaces had sprung up around the country with great frequency in 1967-68. Most were converted warehouses or old banks or movie theaters that could be easily gutted and outfitted with a stage, a sound system, bathrooms, dayglo paint and a large floor where American youth was content to stand, nurture their buzz and listen to live music. The Fillmore East, however, was unique. It was built in 1925-26, when the Lower East Side was a low-income Jewish neighborhood, as a Yiddish theater. It was called the Commodore Theater and later was converted by Loew’s into a movie theater. By the time Bill Graham bought the venue, it had returned to live performances as the Village Theater where a series of jazz concerts that included John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler had been produced in December 1966.

It’s hard to imagine with such a bustling, creative rock scene, but before Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East on March 8, 1968, New York City just had a few cramped rock clubs like Café Au Go Go, Upstairs at Max’s Kansas City and Steve Paul’s The Scene. Bill wisely kept the seats, the lobby and marquee as he found them. The theater’s capacity was almost 2700, but it felt more intimate thanks to the interior’s warm colors, simple décor and straight-forward seating design. The stage was big and high with a large backstage area. Where most rock palaces had gaudy, psychedelic murals painted on the walls, Graham kept the theater’s look untouched and hired Josh White to fashion a projected light show above the musicians on stage.

Josh told me recently, “The acts were contractually committed to perform in front of The Joshua Light Show. Remember at the time there was no other stage production. It hadn’t been developed yet. We provided an exciting appropriate background which matched and complimented the music and enhanced the viewing experience. After the Fillmore found its audience, Bill know he could sell out the weekend. This empowered him to meddle with acts less known to the audience. Bill loved his music, especially Jazz and Latin. We were regulars on the bill; we did a light show for whomever he booked. We were respectful and tried to find a visual groove that worked with the artist. It was the early days of mobile eight track recording. The Fillmore had proven to be a good friendly house to get a sharp live mix with a hot audience..” When the Fillmore closed, Josh would become a television director, working on, among other things, the revived “Mickey Mouse Club” for Disney.

The Fillmore East was a comfortable place for performers and patrons alike. It was a great place to hang out and the staff headed up by Bill’s second-in-command Kip Cohen and publicist Pat Luce were all warm, friendly and helpful. Sometimes I had to run next door to Ratner’s Kosher Dairy Restaurant to get abused by a cranky old waiter just to remind myself that I was in New York.

Miles was reminded that he was in New York a few days before the March gig when he was arrested for the crime of being black and owning a red Ferrari (he was later exonerated of the charges). The band sounded great on what were Wayne Shorter’s final nights with the group. Columbia recorded it but nothing was done with the music until the second night’s sets were issued in 2001 as Miles Live At The Fillmore East (March 7, 1970). Most likely it was the group’s volume – which caught the recording engineers off guard and led to considerable distortion on the masters – that derailed release rather than the quality of the music. Backstage, I remember both Neil Young and Steve Miller being impressed about being on the same bill with Miles Davis. Young even expressed interest to me in having a feature story in Down Beat (I had done pieces on Jim Morrison and Buddy Guy among others in that magazine).

Vince Aletti covered the gig in the April 16, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, concentrating on Miles’s group and performance at the expense of Young and Miller. “Miles Davis’ first appearance at the Fillmore East….was a welcome chance to hear the Real Thing in a hall that’s given shelter to so much rock with jazz pretensions,” he wrote. “He came out looking and sounding tight and steely-hard, knees bent and horn raised, like a heavy spring under tension.”

It’s been written that most of the audience milled around in the lobby when Miles played. I was there and I don’t remember that to be the case. The Fillmore East audience was always open and appreciative. Certainly some abandoned their seats when Miles took the stage, but others did so when Neil Young took the stage. It was a revolving audience but always a respectful one.

Bill Graham would most often hang out in the front office during the shows so I don’t remember witnessing Bill and Miles interact. But I always thought of them as very similar personalities. Each was a self-made success with a wry sense of humor and warm, gracious personality that could go ballistic in a nanosecond if he sensed bullshit, lack of respect or an indignity.

Miles recorded the music for Jack Johnson on April 7 and immediately left for San Francisco. From April 9-12, the Miles Davis sextet with Steve Grossman now in the saxophone chair played the Fillmore West with the Grateful Dead and Stone The Crows. The second night was recorded professionally by Columbia, but released only on CBS Sony in Japan in 1973 as Black Beauty. It was finally issued in the US in 1997 as a two-CD set. Three previously unreleased tunes from the third night recorded by the Fillmore’s sound system are included in this set.

Meanwhile, the unique and quizzical Bitches Brew was released that same month. Wisely, Columbia put out an edited single of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” and “Spanish Key” to be radio-friendly. But the big exposure on radio came not from the jazz stations, which were dwindling at the time, but from underground FM rock formats. The coverage in Rolling Stone and appearances at the Fillmores was paying off instantly. The album created controversy among jazz fans, but it got a 5-star review in Down Beat. It would go on to become Miles’ first gold album.

Miles Davis came back to the Fillmore East on June 17-20, this time with Keith Jarrett on organ as the seventh added member. Although Miles had favored recording with three keyboardists in the studio from late 1968 to early 1970, this was his first working band to feature two keyboards. He shared the bill with label-mate Laura Nyro who considered herself one of his biggest fans (she had sent flowers to his dressing room on the occasion of his first appearance there). Columbia Records was once again recording the gig, but this time producer Teo Macero and engineer Stan Tonkel were prepared for the band’s rock ‘n’ roll volume, using safer micing techniques and recording on an eight-track rather than a four-track tape machine, giving them greater control. Having been exposed to Bitches Brew, the Fillmore audiences on these nights were fully engaged and enthusiastic.

The usually conservative John S. Wilson wrote in the June 19, 1970 New York Times, “The group that Mr. Davis is leading at Fillmore East is a compromise between his old quintet and his recording group…on Wednesday evening, this new combination seemed to give him the best elements of the smaller and larger groups – the expansive, atmospheric projection of the large recording group and the drive and bite of the old quintet. Mr. Davis was a commanding figure as he blew typically crisp, sputtering phrases, mixed with sudden, keen leaps over a rumble of exotic rhythmic patterns…”

This time the material did come out a mere four months later as a double album. Teo edited each night from 45 or 50 minutes down to 20-minute medleys. The double album received mostly favorable reviews in the jazz, rock and trade press. The reviewer for Variety wrote, “the only label that can be placed on this program is that it’s Miles Davis music.”

Clearly Miles was happy about his group and the gig. In a September 3, 1970 feature in Down Beat, he previews the album for Dan Morgenstern and says, “Did you hear what Keith was playing behind me? He’s a bitch. Chick, too…our music changes every month. We extend each other’s ideas. I may start a phrase and not complete it because I hear something else behind me that takes me to a different place. It keeps going further.”

In August, Gary Bartz replaced Steve Grossman and the band continued to appear in front of rock audiences, touring with Santana (the August 18 Tanglewood performance was recorded and issued on the Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition in 2010. On August 29, the Davis group appeared at the Isle Of Wight rock festival; the set was issued in fragmentary form at the time but released in full on the massive Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection in 2009 and Bitches Brew Live in 2011.

Miles returned to the Fillmore West from October 15-18 with Leon Russell and Sea Train and again on May 6-9, 1971 with the Elvin Bishop Group and Mandrill. He also played The Electric Factory in Philadelphia on November 15, 1970. The Electric Factory was one of the typical rock clubs with no seats. The audience would stand and sometimes dance when the bands played. But on this night, most of the audience sat cross-legged on the floor, mesmerized by the music.

Rock palaces were soon closing down in many cities and Miles returned to bookings at the larger jazz clubs like Washington D.C.’s The Cellar Door and concert halls. But the Fillmore gigs had a lasting effect on Miles’s career.

I was at his Beacon Theater concerts on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on July 20 and 21, 1971 and his audience make-up was decidedly younger than it had been just two years earlier. Just six days later, as a disc jockey on WPLJ, I was part of the live broadcast of the memorable final night of the Fillmore East, which ended at 5:30 in the morning.

By 1972, underground FM stations were becoming formatted and General William Westmoreland retired unscathed. Two years later, a busted and humiliated Richard Nixon crawled out of Washington. In 1975, the United States retreated from Vietnam none the wiser, and Miles Davis stopped making music for 5 years. By 1977, the film Saturday Night Fever did to music what termites do to a wooden house and the ‘60s (the era, not the decade) were officially dead.

Michael Cuscuna January 2014

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Michael Cuscuna's Blue Note secrets

money quote from a great Collector’s Weekly article with Cuscuna –

When you jump to the modern era, starting in ’47, the sessions with Thelonious Monk must have been fairly astonishing to hear. Even me hearing them 10 years later was astonishing. Monk was like this fully formed alien that had just landed on earth. The thing about Monk is that everything sounds wrong, but it’s absolutely perfectly right. It always sounds like it’s going to fall over the cliff, but it never does. Everything fits in place. It always works.

One of the reasons (there are many) why I like Michael Cuscuna is the tireless work he has done to bring to light the genius of many jazz greats that were never commercial success stories. Musicians that never got the accolades or recognition of the public. His label, Mosaic records continues to bring the work of many jazz greats to the conciousness of the public that would otherwise have been forgotten.

One of the unsung greats that Mosaic brought to light is Carmell Jones. Despite playing on Horace Silver’s ‘Song for My Father’ album, Jones never garnered much recognition beyond that. He moved to Germany in the mid 60s and stayed there for 15 years. Mosaic released a CD set of his work in the early 60s, much of it unreleased material. It’s currently out of print, but it’s not too hard to find from resellers, although there is a slight markup since most resellers know what they have is out of print. It’s worthwhile to get this release if you can find it. Carmell was truly a gifted musician who sadly never got the recognition he deserved.

Jazz in the 1960s: Searching for the New Land

Derek Walmsley uses Lee Morgan’s Search For The New Land as a tone for the ‘60s, when musicians were looking toward other musical influences and distant places that might not live under the spell of racism. Walmsley mentions, among other titles, Pete LaRoca’s album, Basra. I am reminded of a panicked call I got from Pete in 2003, when we were about to reissue his album at Blue Note. He begged us to change the name, because of what was going on with the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He said, “I just liked the sound of the word. I wasn’t even sure where Basra was at the time. Just my luck.” So much for reading too much into song titles.

Photo by Valerie Wilmer, New York 1971

-Michael Cuscuna
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Giving thanks to Fred Seibert. He, along with Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie from Mosaic are responsible for bringing forward many wonderful Francis Wolff pictures that never saw the light of day. I’m glad for all their diligent work. These pictures capture a historic moment in jazz. This is American history.

The backstory in Mr. Seibert’s words.

Blue Note Records was formed in 1939 by two German immigrants to the USA, producer Alfred Lion and photographer Francis (Frank) Wolff.

Mosaic Records is the brainchild of Charlie Lourie and producer Michael Cuscuna. Early on they focused on the music of Blue Note Records –Michael literally wrote the discography– though neither of them had ever met the legendary founder Alfred Lion.

A few years after they started the business Alfred, retired down South, started a phone relationship with Mosaic, giving them tips and an occasional session photo. When he died, his wife Ruth called Charlie and Michael and offered them custody of Francis Wolff’s personal Blue Note photo archive, which was stored in her bedroom in a trunk, having never been touched since Frank’s death in 1971.

Every Sunday for months, Michael, Charlie and yours truly would painstakingly go through the negatives and contact sheets to archive the stuff. We launched Mosiac Editions to distribute the best work, and eventually Mosiac published the two books of Frank’s work referenced above” - Fred Seibert

You can see some of the pictures here on Fred’s Flickr page. I’ve shared some of them here, but I’ve been seeing these wonderful pictures pop up on various tumblr pages without crediting the people who worked tirelessly to get them out there. The least we can do is give a nod for their contribution. That’s the least!

The two books Mosaic published that contain the rest of the Francis Wolff pictures are this and this. They are both treasured by me. Highly recommended. I don’t think they are in print anymore, so whatever is out there is all that is left.


The Modern Jazz Quartet, re-released by Michael Cuscuna and Mosaic Records.

John Coltrane: the Last Appearance

This article is a fascinating account of what appears to have been John Coltrane’s last public appearance on May 7, 1967 as part of Baltimore’s Left Bank Jazz Society’s Sunday concerts. Accounts differ but it appears that Algie DeWitt was added on bata drum and Alice Coltrane was home taking care of Oran, their newborn. DeWitt, incidentally had been on Coltrane’s final New York appearance a week earlier, recently issued as The Olatunji Concert and was on Coltrane’s last recording session ten days later (the master tapes of which are lost).

-Michael Cuscuna
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Wayne Shorter on Miles Davis and Freedom

This feature on Wayne Shorter, by Ian Hewett for The Telegraph, got Wayne talking about his earliest years of being seduced by music. It covers a lot of ground not covered elsewhere. One story, however, is a bit telescoped. Wayne was asked to join Miles Davis when John Coltrane left, but was committed to Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at the time. He would not join Miles for another three years.

-Michael Cuscuna

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Sonny Rollins Plays John Coltrane’s “Naima”

Here is a real surprise: A 1968 tape, from the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen, of Sonny Rollins playing a beautiful rendition of John Coltrane’s Naima. Kenny Drew, Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Tootie Heath are the rhythm section for this very tender and controlled Rollins performance.

-Michael Cuscuna

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Six Historic Jazz Clubs to Visit Before You Die

Well, the idea of six jazz clubs to visit before you die conjures for me clubs in Manhattan that are, with one exception, long gone. But this survey is pan-American, and even covers one that I am completely unfamiliar with in Los Angeles, the Blue Whale. San Francisco and Chicago remain historically great club towns. The definition of a great club is one that musicians look forward to coming back to.

-Michael Cuscuna

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Toshiko Akiyoshi: United Notions

Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was actually born in Manchuria in 1929 and studied classical piano there until her family moved back to Japan in 1946. Beguiled by jazz in general and Bud Powell in particular, she made her way to the United States in the early ‘50s and has contributed mightily to the music ever since with her own trios, the quartet she led with first husband Charlie Mariano and the quartet and big band that she still leads with husband Lew Tabackin. Marc Myers focuses here on the little-known Metro Jazz album by her 1958 International Jazz Sextet with Rolf Kuhn, Bobby Jaspar, Doc Severinson, Rene Thomas, John Drew and Bert Dahlander.

-Michael Cuscuna
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Charlie Parker Chats with Paul Desmond

This amazing dialogue /interview between Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker took place on a Boston radio station in 1954. It[‘s a fascinating window into the personalities of two of the major alto saxophonists of the 20th century.

-Michael Cuscuna

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Jazz in Manhattan: Why It’s Still Jumping

Michael Lydon’s tribute to the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village (past and present) speaks to the amazing amount of quality jazz in Manhattan on any single evening. Add midtown and Harlem and it’s like an international jazz festival every night, if you can afford the cabfare.

-Michael Cuscuna
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John Coltrane Documentary Nears Theaters

The documentary on John Coltrane entitled Chasing Trane has been in the works for over three years. It has finally been completed and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 3rd. Rolling Stone has posted a preview of the segment dealing with the creation and impact of A Love Supreme.

-Michael Cuscuna

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