Monday, December 26, 2005
Out of Nowhere, Warne Marsh
Warne Marsh (1927-1987)was one of the greatest unsung heroes of the jazz saxophone world. You can listen to 50 of of the top-selling or top listened-to jazz players today and you won't find anyone remotely similar to Warne. The common reaction of well-rounded musicians listening to him for the first is a kind of "Wow!" and then, almost simultaneously, a head-scratching "What the hell is he doing?".
What little I can make out is that Warne's improvised horn lines are a kind of continuous melodic thread that is growing out of itself, constantly shifting accents akin to waves breaking over rocks - something almost 'selfless' and naturally happening; not a series of cliched licks, patterns, or arpeggios, piled upon each other as is the norm.
Warne, along with Lee Konitz, was a disciple of the blind pianist Lennie Tristano who nurtured a deep appreciation of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Bela Bartok in his students. I had some guitar lessons with a student of Warne's in Santa Cruz and saxophone lessons from a student of his here in Phoenix - both spoke with reverence of his approach to learning standards, ie. singing the bassline of the tune first to learn it and so forth.
Of course Warne was never anywhere close to commercial success - he worked for many years cleaning swimming pools, or teaching. He would occasionally play at the Village Vanguard in New York and was very much appreciated in Denmark and England (so, what else is new?).
quote from Safford Chamberlain;
My favorite Warne Marsh story, included in my book,
"An Unsung Cat", is this: a student, Claude Alexander,
asked Warne if he had ever tried LSD. Warne said he
had. "How did you like it," asked Claude. "It makes
the notes too far apart," answered Warne.
Finally, for all of you film history fans out there, all -32 of you, Warne's aunt was Mae Marsh - the silent film heroine who starred in D.W.Griffith's major epics.
Recommended Warne Marsh cd listening:
Music for Prancing (Check out Playa Del Rey, Ad Libido)
Here's a Good One For You
Duos with Red Mitchell
or, way back in 1949,
tunes like Warne's composition "Marshmallow" with the Tristano Quintet