Connie Crothers – A New Jazz Language

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Connie Crothers – A New Jazz Language

New York pianist Connie Crothers is pedigreed, having attended Berkeley in the 1960s: though she has spent her jazz career extrapolating from unsung heroes. Her odyssey started with her study under early modern jazz piano icon Lennie Tristano, and culminated in her long-term love and creative partnership with Max Roach, who revolutionized jazz drumming—and world culture itself—beginning in the late 1940s, stretching up well into the end of last century.

Crothers is a pianist who works best in the foreground, with a dominant strain, and many fine solo efforts. Effective collaborations include Swish, with Max Roach (New Artists, 1982); Primal Elegance, with guitarist Bud Tristano (New Artists, 2001); Hippin’, with singer Alexis Parsons (New Artists, 2012); and her masterpiece, Spontaneous Suites (Rogue Art, 2011), a two-piano duet with David Arner that lasts four hours. She has a romantic, eccentric style, like she’s teasing wool, or pulling snarls out of long, curly hair. It can be as funky as Thelonious Monk, or spacier than Sun Ra. In a very real way, she has extracted a new tongue out of an ancient language, jazz, in the way the poets of Dante’s time brought Italian out of Latin.

Crothers has been a friend of mine for three years now. When I first saw her perform at The Stone in November 2010, with upright bass legend Henry Grimes, she told me that playing a good solo is like “finding a wormhole in space.” She is continuously searching, from a long sojourn in the shadows of recognition in the United States, to the love and celebration she now receives here, and all over Europe. She never stopped believing in her art, anymore than the men who inspired her – or in the men who inspired her, for in her new jazz language, the past is as palpable as the present.

 

Spontaneous Suites

for two pianos (Connie Crothers and David Arner)

A hard surface cracks like dry mud

the cracks become water, flowing

like music through a desiccated

valley

Now the beat is warm and strong

a singer strutting her stuff in New Orleans

riding up the river and hopping

a train to Chicago, spilling the history

of jazz into Lake Michigan

The wind is rough on the waters

the skies metallic gray

propellers are soft and fast on moving boats

the party boats with the dances

The night is soft and the clouds

are like pillows, starlight sending

seesaw symbols riding and crashing

like the ships on the water

The tone is cool and even now

with a bounce in the step then a stop

and a zombie beat down the sidewalk

as the ghostly town reflects

the funhouse miracle of the night

Now descending a staircase

into the fray of the ball

the step hard and heavy

breaking into freedom

Mad rush of people

popping down the street

Stopping and going in slow motion

Succumbing to the shock of the shady night

Gentle and soft again, trinkling

and tinkling, thin lava flowing

Modal vamps brief, and new

ornate flurries baroque and benign

flourishing like purple flowers on a bush

Tense pleasures under the sun

beach weather on the porch

the shade eases its way

into the secret heart

Cracked stained glass

shattering on the cathedral floor

low hum of the organ

leading to silence

the glass settling into the soil

shattered kingdom

washed over by the river

until the mud cakes again

in the dry bed,

and the ruins rise again

soft and gooey under the spade

viscous sounds

to salve the skin down to the soul

for another century’s children

breathing down the hole

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