• This Week In JazzSet History: Kirkland, Keezer and Caine

    March 6, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    JazzSet20LogoThis is the third installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet.

    This week in JazzSet history, we take a retrospective look at three remarkably individual modern pianists. Uri Caine has reworked and improvised material by Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Schumann and Mozart. For this week, Gustav Mahler is Uri Caine’s chosen muse.  We’ll also revisit a certain 21-year-old Geoff Keezer in a 1992 solo piano performance. That same year, Keezer performed Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra!

    But first let's listen back to one of the final professional live recordings of the late Kenny Kirkland (1955-98). JazzSet broadcast the dangerously bold Branford Marsalis Quartet from the Greenwich Village Jazz Festival, in a performance from August 24, 1998 -- Branford on saxophones, Kenny on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Jeff 'Tain' Watts on drums. It was a beautiful late afternoon in Washington Square Park. Duuke Markos was recording, and Branford's son Reese hosted the JazzSet that was made from this concert, the following February.

    The Program from the 1998 Greenwich Village Jazz Festival

    Ben Ratliff from The New York Times reveled the band's spontaneity. He reported that their performance of “Citizen Tain” got “as funky as jazz gets these days, without changing genres altogether…” There is no doubt that Kenny Kirkland (aka Doc Tone) was swingin' as hard as jazz gets, any day.

    Let’s check in with Geoff Keezer honoring Thelonious Monk with his improvisation on “Blue Monk” from the 1992 Newark Jazz Festival the Newark Museum, only a few blocks from WBGO studios, as heard in February 1993 on JazzSet.

    Last week, I shared Joe Henderson quoting “Scheherazade” over the chord changes to his own tune “Recordame.” Pianist Uri Caine takes quoting classical music to a whole new level with his Mahler project. He premiered it at at the 1998 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and JazzSet was on the scene. Caine was joined by David Binney, alto sax; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Mark David Feldman, violin; Michael Formanek, bass;  James Black, drums, and DJ Olive on turntables!

    The Program for the 1998 International Montreal Jazz Festival
    The Program for the 1998 Montreal International Jazz Festival

    First, here’s Mahler’s version. Listen to the theme from Symphony No. 1, Movement 3. Mahler takes an old children’s folk song and twists it into sinister harmonies. Different instruments in the orchestra trade the melody. This excerpt comes from the New York Philharmonic directed by Leonard Bernstein.

    Uri Caine twists the music into his own musical exchange. Caine preaches bluesy runs atop an abrasive gypsy groove. Binney and Feldman provide jagged counterpoint, giving an old melody a new eerie tinge.


    Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the connection between jazz and five American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.

    Note: These comment boards are available to the general public. Statements expressed in the comment boards do not necessarily reflect WBGO's views. The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed within them. For more information, please read our Terms of Service.