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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Roswell Rudd (1935 - 2017)

Rosswell Rudd, at the Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn, NY, February 2016
Photo by Peter Gannushkin
By Martin Schray

It’s sad news that Roswell Rudd, the great avant-garde jazz trombonist, died Dec. 21st after a long battle with cancer. He was 82 years old.

Rudd, who also played french horn, started playing jazz in the mid 1950s in a dixieland band called Eli’s Chosen Six at Yale University. The sextet played feverish traditional jazz and even recorded two albums, one for Columbia Records .

At the beginning of the 1960s, Rudd became interested in the free jazz movement and collaborated with almost all the big names of the scene, for example Archie Shepp, Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy (to name the most prominent ones). Rudd immediately recognized that free jazz was closer to dixieland than one might think and he was able to use the trombone's natural sounds to the fullest. The slides, blurs, growls and moans that had almost disappeared during the bop era - he brought them back, transforming the horn into a human sound machine.

In the early 1960s, Rudd was part of the Albert Ayler group that recorded the soundtrack for the movie New York Eye and Ear Control, an extraordinary document of the New York free jazz scene. Around that time he also co-founded the New York Art Quartet with John Tchicai and Milford Graves, a ground-breaking ensemble and one of my all-time favorite bands. Mohawk and New York Art Quartet are just outstanding albums. When they disbanded in 1966, Rudd became a member of Archie Shepp’s band, among others the excellent Three For A Quarter One For A Dime was one of the results of their collaboration. In the late 1960s he was also an important part of two other great groups: the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and Charlie Haden’s Music Liberation Orchestra.

However, Rudd was more than a musician. In the early 1960s he also instigated the 'October Revolution in Jazz', and when Bill Dixon founded the Jazz Composer’s Guild, an organization that was intended to protect musicians from exploitation, he was one of the charter members. Due to financial straits Rudd worked as an assistant to ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, a job that would continue off and on for 30 years and ignited a fascination for world musical traditions. He and his producer and partner Verna Gillis went to Mali and Mongolia, and he released Malicool, a collaboration with kora player Toumani Diabaté, and Blue Mongol with the Mongolian Buryat Band. His last album was released last month on RareNoiseRecords, a quartet with Fay Victor on vocals, Lafayette Harris on piano and Ken Filiano on bass.

There are two albums I especially think highly of (except the New York Art Quartet ones): The first one is Everywhere with his sextet, consisting of Giuseppi Logan on flute and bass clarinet, Robin Kenyatta on alto saxophone, Beaver Harris on drums, and Lewis Worrell and Charlie Haden on basses (one of the first free jazz albums I bought). On a track like “Yankee No-How“ you can hear how Rudd includes his dixieland roots into avant-garde music. The second one is the Steve Lacy record Trickles (again with Beaver Harris and Kent Carter on bass), where he and Lacy explore their Monk roots again.

Roswell Rudd was a wonderful musician, he will truly be missed.

Watch him with Milford Graves and the NY HeArt Ensemble at the Vision Festival 2013:


Gennaro Z. said...

Years ago my love for free jazz was born just listening to the recordings of Archie Shepp & Roswell Rudd on Impulse Records.
In addition to the albums reported above, I would like to indicate the following:
- School Days, with Steve Lacy (Emanem)
- Numatik Swing Band (JCOA)
- Flexible Flyer (Arista-Freedom)
- Blown Bone (Emanem)
- The Definitive Roswell Rudd (Horo)
- Regeneration (Soul Note)
- Broad Strokes (Knitting Factory)
- Airwalkers (Clean Feed)
...and many others!
We can't thank You enough,
rest in peace Roswell.

Steve N. said...

RIP, indeed.

A super collab from Roswell with Sonic Youth:

Unknown said...

A master wwho will be truly missed. Condolences to family and friends.

Phil Freeman said...

I interviewed him just a month ago; here's a link:

Martin Schray said...

A very nice interview, Phil. Thank you very much for the link. He's very weak already, but it's so nice to hear him talk about his music, especially the collaborations with Mongolian musicians and with Puerto Rican guitarist Yomo Toro. You can hear the love for the music in every word.