“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht

July 8th, 2024

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photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Coleman Hawkins, c. 1946

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The Naked Jazz Musician

A Playlist by Bob Hecht

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…..Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy once described a jazz musician as, “a combination orator, dialectician, mathematician, athlete, entertainer, poet, singer, dancer, diplomat, educator, student, comedian, artist, seducer, public masturbator, and general all-round good fellow.”

…..Lacy’s description reflects not only the multi-faceted roles the jazz musician must aspire to achieve, but suggests the level of raw, public exposure required to do so—to create extemporaneously while under the glare of a spotlight.  And as Lacy also knew quite well, there is nothing that exposes a musician more than a solo unaccompanied performance. He was a master of such high-wire acts, often performing Thelonious Monk compositions alone, without the usual safety net of a rhythm section.

…..If jazz is normally a conversation between musicians, such solo performances truly represent a conversation with oneself. As a listener, it can be revealing, and quite fascinating, to eavesdrop on such interior monologues.

…..The following playlist, “The Naked Jazz Musician,” is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely. Nothing else in jazz compares to the transparent, unvarnished presentation of one’s talents, made without benefit of any harmonic or rhythmic support. It is, after all, challenging enough to play a stop-time chorus or a cadenza in which the rhythm section may briefly drop out, but to perform a whole piece in this manner is on another level entirely.

…..The very first such brave enterprise was taken by none other than tenor giant Coleman Hawkins, back in 1948, with his unaccompanied improvisation, “Picasso.”  Hawkins performed that ground-breaking piece not only ‘naked’ but as a ‘free’ improvisation reputedly not based on any pre-determined chord sequence.

…..The courageous souls in this category and featured in this playlist, include Hawkins, Lacy, Tom Harrell, Sonny Rollins, Ken Peplowski, Jane Ira Bloom, Chris Potter, Roy Hargrove, Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mark Turner, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Joe Lovano, Eric Dolphy, Lucky Thompson, David Murray, and James Carter. (Please note that while Spotify credits “Joy Spring” to Helen Merril, it is in fact a Tom Harrell solo track.)

…..Such vulnerable performances challenge not just the artist but the listener as well, demanding a high level of attention to discern and appreciate the artist’s ‘bare’ efforts. It is by no stretch of the imagination easy to make a complete musical statement without the usual accompanying support; it may not be easy for the listener either, but there can be special rewards when approached with an open mind and open ears.

…..As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide?

 

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This playlist was assembled by Bob Hecht, who frequently contributes his essays, photographs, interviews, playlists and personal stories to Jerry Jazz Musician. He has a long history of producing and hosting jazz radio programs; his former podcast series, The Joys of Jazz,  was the 2019 Silver Medal winner in the New York Festivals Radio Awards. In addition, he is a widely published fine art photographer, whose work has appeared multiple times in The Sun, LensWork, Black & White Magazine, Zyzzyva and other periodicals, as well as in the book, Dream of Venice in Black & White, published by Bella Figuera Publications. He lives with his wife in Portland, Oregon. His photo website is roberthecht.com.

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In addition to putting together great playlists, Bob has conducted several fine interviews for Jerry Jazz MusicianClick here to read his interview with Pepper Adams biographer Gary Carner.  Click here to read “Life in E Flat” – a conversation about Phil Woods – with pianist Bill Charlap and jazz journalist Ted Panken, and click here to read his interview with Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950’s Quartets.

Click here to view all playlists published on Jerry Jazz Musician

 

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Click here to read The Sunday Poem

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Click here to read “Ballad,” Lúcia Leão’s winning story in the 65th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

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In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

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Playlist

photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht...As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide? Bob’s extensive playlist is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely by playing….alone.

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photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
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