Preview: Charles McPherson
Pizza Express Dean Street, Wednesday March 30th-Saturday April 2nd
Alto saxophonist and composer Charles McPherson, who has a residency at Pizza Express Dean Street this week, is an intrinsic part of the jazz heritage. Newsletter readers can email me try to win a pair of free tickets as this week’s PRIZE DRAW.
From my experience of hearing him and reviewing him (complete with a terrible pun in the third paragraph) last year is playing with an energy and conviction which belie his age: he is in his early seventies, but you wouldn’t know it.
I talked to him on Sunday afternoon at his home in San Diego in southern California, and he reminisced briefly about two early formative periods. Born in Missouri, his family moved when he was nine to the same street as the legendary Bluebird club in Detroit.” It was within two blocks.” The club is associated with pianists such as Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Kirk Lightsey.
He describes the early fascination, what it was that had him completely hooked: “I would see people walking in that direction,” he told me. “these people looked different, they were jazz fans. Jazz fans ARE different, a special type of person, there was something civil, classy about them. They were racially mixed, which at that time was unusiual, to see black people and and white people together. Sophisticated people, I thought, with some kind of street-wiseness about them.”
As a twenty year old, he moved to New York. The dominant figure for the next twelve years was Mingus – “He was a charismatic and bigger-than-life personality – there was never a dull moment. Misically I learned a lot, especially about composition. He was a towering figure, a hard task master who wanted his music played a certain way. But he always pushed the envelope. Indeed Miles got the credit later for some of the things which Mingus had already done.”
McPherson is known for having followed closely the Parker sound and vocabulary in his early career, but what has increasingly emerged is his complete mastery of bebop language. As the late Richard Cook wrote in his Jazz Encyclopedia , he is “fully and engagingly his own man.”
McPherson continues to write and to play in a style he calls “neo-bebop,” but it is now nine years since his last recording, Manhattan Nocturne. Why, I asked? He expressed disillusion with the recording industry in general, but would definitely be open to the possibility of working with a small label, and swap the big marketing budgets of old for greater integrity……if the terms were right.
Charles McPherson will be with a top British trio: Barry Green, piano, Jeremy Brown, bass, and (Irishman) Stephen Keogh on drums. The dates are from Wednesday March 30th until Saturday April 2nd. There are late (10pm) sets on Friday and Saturday.