“I’m here to see my husband,” winks the beautiful sister who is seated next to me and my squeeze for the second set last Sunday at the Blue Note. I know exactly what she means and who she means and it’s only because I’m with my real life love that I don’t gush too much in agreement. Some people have movie star husbands (“my husband Idris Elba”) or NBA husbands (don’t get me started), but in jazz? See photo above. ‘Nuff said.
Now to more serious and sacred matters. Happy Birthday Sir Ron Carter! 79 years young on May 4. And it’s all relative, right, because the age defying/denying, Roy Haynes was in the house last Sunday too, whose 91 years inspire us to repeat, “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” and glory be. Truth is, no one is studying the number 79 this year anyway. It’s all about 2221. The Guinness Book finally called it: with TWO THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED and TWENTY-ONE recordings, Sir Ron is now the world’s most recorded bassist. My my my.
So why title a post on Carter with a tune by Bobby Watson? Well I’ve had the deep joy of seeing both musicians live in the past few months, and that song links them for me in a special way. While watching Watson with Orrin Evans in Philly recently, I thought about the circle of that song and my own travels with this music and those musicians. I first really focused in on that song some time likely a decade or so back when Ron Carter was teaching a master class at the Monk Institute (when it was housed at USC) and my bass teacher, Curtis Robertson Jr, and I had a chance to feast on Carter’s wise use of the Watson tune as tool to get the Monk ensemble to play together and still commit to that life long quest of “finding the right notes” to signal one’s own unique, individual voice. Curtis scribbled notes, musical and spiritual, that filled our lesson later that afternoon, and this is why whenever I hear that tune, no matter the personnel, I zero in on that bassline. And before anyone wonders, sadly I did not stick with those magical lessons or the bass in general much longer (Insha’allah I will return to it one day), still my burst of joy the other night hearing Bobby Watson and Orrin Evans go “Wheel” on us at South, brought me back to that Monk Institute glory. It was only the second time I’d ever heard Watson live…the first was at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival with Ruth Naomi Floyd and James Newton for a sacred concert they performed the last day of the festival in 2008, a Sunday matinee, oh come Sunday, that’s the day.
Coming back to last Sunday night at the Blue Note, what touched me most was the moment Carter called “ESP” to Donald Harrison and Billy Cobham, his trio mates that evening. I thought of the relationship each musician must have to the Shorter tune first recorded by the second great quintet in 65, several years before Cobham would join later figurations of Miles’s working band. These wheels within wheels…these intersecting circles, orbits, moods and miles of smiles exchanged between teacher, leader, composer, arranger, soloist, ensemble, artist, audience. Carter ended the final set asking Harrison to lead a song he wrote for Charlie Parker…and tables away one of Parker’s greatest drummers, Haynes listened in. The 91 year young drummer darted out of the club after the set with a pace that had me wondering if he was rushing home to sleep or to play, inspired surely either way. Cassandra sang it best when she adapted “ESP” for Traveling Miles, “then and now, circle is never broken….” Circle is never broken.