Happy 30th Birthday, Jazz Passengers!

Here’s a video of “Can’t Afford to Live,” the fifth track of Still Life With Trouble(Thirsty Ear/Yellowbird/Enja, out March 24), an album that marks 30 years since the formation of the Jazz Passengers, a band that grew out of a partnership between saxophonist Roy Nathanson and trombonist Fowlkes, after the two had played with John Lurie’s band and in the Lounge Lizards.
“I wanted something rougher around the edges, more oddball and genuinely funny,” Nathanson told me for a 2011 Wall Street Journal piece. “And closer to real jazz.” Duets with Fowlkes grew into the Jazz Passengers, whose fine recordings and noteworthy shows quickly earned the group a reputation for high musicianship and a freewheeling sensibility.
The new album reflects the group’s manifold influences and qualities—funk, fun, hard truths, early jazz, later jazz, even later jazz, stuff that isn’t quite jazz, stuff that ought to be jazz, a mastery of improvisatory instrumental language, a love of the English language and the history of spoken-word performance, good singing, passable yet savvy singing, collective improvisation, what rock used to be, what blues has always been, and wisps of Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and other heroes (this is a partial list).
All that comes through, plus some fascinating new wrinkles; for instance, these are some of the strongest arrangements in the group’s long catalog.
The Passengers will celebrate the release and mark 30 years at Brooklyn’s Roulette on March 28.
The current personnel is Nathanson, Fowlkes, violinist Sam Bardfeld, vibraphonist Bill Ware, bassist Brad Jones, drummer Ben Perowsky and percussionist EJ Rodriguez. The group’s got a fascinating history that spans much of what’s been best about downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn since the late 1980s.
This video summarizes all that lovingly and with style (around 2 minutes in, when Nathanson and Fowlkes improvise together, you can sense the friendhip that is the group’s spiritual center):

If you see Nathanson on the Q train, head down and pen out, he’s working on a poem. “I can only write poetry while riding the subway,” he said recently from the living room of his house in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park. “It’s the strangest thing.”
Even his version of a press release, penned for the new CD, takes on literary dimension. It’s a nice history to a band you need to know:

In 1986, when my friend Ray Dobbins suggested we call our new band “The Jazz Passengers,” I thought, “that’s kinda funny!” The name felt like a clever take on the alpha nature of the great iconic names: The Jazz Messengers and The Jazz Crusaders. The self-deprecating irony of the term “The Jazz Passengers” seemed about right for our eclectic crew.
Most of us had been playing in the Lounge Lizards and several of us blended our appreciation for jazz with a deep affection and involvement in the east village culture of those late 80s early 90s days: punk music and poetry, gender bending theatre, and avant musics of different types in the context of venues that allowed for real experimentation with the support of cheap rents. Somewhere in this  “downtown” universe we found a political/cultural/psychological world that valued stupid jokes and serious commitment to various types of exploration equally, and it was from this world that the Passengers emerged.
Then like the rest of our money infused global city and the world, the guys and guise in the band got shoved along in a variety of separate directions. But we liked each other enough, and valued these influences enough that somehow we hung in there. Somehow we stayed deeply connected and continued to evolve.  No longer centered in a geographical location we managed to nurture and grow a collective sound and sensibility that has imbued quite a list of projects, which I recently digitized and got a chance to watch and listen to.
The Fire at Keaton’s Bar and Grille, 2000 (the song cycle about a mythical bar with loads of mythical guests), The Rock Concert, 2005 (commissioned by the University of Wisconsin Science Museum to contextualize their discovery of the world’s oldest piece of geological material), You’re the Fool, 2003, (my semi-autobiographical Radio play for NPR), Jazz Passengers in Egypt (our own 1990 Marxist – as in the brothers – musical comedy featuring members of the downtown Ridiculous Theatre community), and tons of our live performances from 1987 to today.
Seeing all this work – all these crazy solos and stories, jokes and nuts arrangements was something of an epiphany. What struck me most was how the work sung of community and  shared language, the weight of a collective life’s work. It is in that spirit we carved out time in these last 2 years to work on this 30th Anniversary CD, “Still Life With Trouble”.  Thankfully, deep into our late 50’s and mid 60’s we’ve managed to record a CD that is a pure representation of this very particular Passengers language. It contains nine musical stories about trouble and the passage of time that describe a Still Life of odd birds native to these parts whose calls employ a variety of pitches, words, harmonies and rhythms that collectively translate into the following sentence: If there’s still life, there’s certainly still trouble!
With the help of our longtime producer/engineer/friend Hugo Dwyer these nine tracks represent a new path in the Passengers journey.  The original members of the band, Curtis Fowlkes (who started the JPs with me while playing for dancing elephants in the Big Apple Circus), Bill Ware, Brad Jones, EJ Rodriguez and myself are supplemented here with newish (last 10 years) violinist Sam Bardfeld and a second drummer, the wonderful Ben Perowsky.  Original member Marc Ribot plays on one track. After years of trying other guitarists in Marc’s absence, we finally found a different way to broaden the band’s palette in this recording by adding Ben as a second drummer.
This new CD finds inspiration in the intuitive abandon that characterized our first two CDs recorded in the late 1980s. “Paris,” which opens this recording, is a blues dedication to the great city whose beleaguered banlieus has been a home to our band through the wonderful Banlieus Bleus Jazz Festival. “Everybody Plays the Fool” is a rearrangement of the great R and B classic.  I was always so touched by the first verse when Cuba Gooding of the Main Ingredient asks, “I hear you’re even thinkin’ about dyin’ / but before you do anything rash / dig this!”. Such a thing to say in a pop tune! I thought we should try to make our sense of that.
“Trouble” is a multi-meter piece of mine with a blues head that moves between solo set-ups to give several of us a well-organized opportunity to complain with some eloquence.  Brad’s tune “Gleis, Spoor, Binario” is dedicated to all these years of European touring that have enabled so many of us to continue to play this eccentric heartfelt music. Next is my Passengers style pop tune, “Wake Up, Again,” an off kilter groove in 5/4 featuring Curtis’ mellifluous voice.  Curtis wrote the next tune, “Where’s Lonely Junior” and it features his distinctive loping trombone, one of the great delicacies of this peculiar world we all live in.
The seventh song “We’re All Jews” references Lenny Bruce’s perfect description of New Yorkers. True, no? The last two tunes are by Bill Ware whose vibes and arrangements have provided a whole lot of sheen on all of our work.  Bill claims that the first of the two, “Friends”, was given to him in a dream by Louis Armstrong, and who am I to quibble?  The last tune, “Spring Flowers” celebrates the miracle of chemical enhancement.
Simply put, I’d like to share the joy and enthusiasm I feel about this CD – and about being a passenger on this 30 year ride with these very special odd musicians – and to offer you a seat.

45 Replies to “Happy 30th Birthday, Jazz Passengers!”

  1. Pingback: tamoxifen
  2. Pingback: emkartofun
  3. Great – I should definitely pronounce, impressed with your website. I had no trouble navigating through all tabs as well as related info ended up being truly simple to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it in the least. Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or something, site theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Nice task..

  4. I have to verify along with you right here. Which is not one thing My partner and i often carry out! My spouse and i take pleasure in reading a post that can help make individuals believe. Also, appreciate your allowing me for you to remark!

  5. Hey, how’s it going?

    I want to pass along some very important news that everyone needs to hear!

    In December of 2017, Donald Trump made history by recognizing Jerusalem as the captial of Israel. Why is this big news? Because by this the Jewish people of Israel are now able to press forward in bringing about the Third Temple prophesied in the Bible.

    The Jewish people deny Jesus as their Messiah and have stated that their Messiah has been identified and is waiting to be revealed. They say this man will rule the world under a one world religion called “spiritualism”.

    They even printed a coin to raise money for the Temple with Donald Trumps face on the front and with king Cyrus'(who built the second Temple) behind him. On the back of the coin is an image of the third Temple.

    The Bible says this false Messiah who seats himself in the Third Temple will be thee antichrist that will bring about the Great Tribulation, though the Jewish people believe he will bring about world peace. It will be a false peace for a period of time. You can watch interviews of Jewish Rabbi’s in Israel speaking of these things. They have their plans set in place. It is only years away!

    More importantly, the power that runs the world wants to put a RFID microchip in our body making us total slaves to them. This chip matches perfectly with the Mark of the Beast in the Bible, more specifically Revelation 13:16-18:

    He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

    Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

    Referring to the last days, this could only be speaking of a cashless society, which we have yet to see, but are heading towards. Otherwise, we could still buy or sell without the mark amongst others if physical money was still currency. RFID microchip implant technology will be the future of a one world cashless society containing digital currency. It will be implanted in the right-hand or the forehead, and we cannot buy or sell without it! We must grow strong in Jesus. AT ALL COSTS, DO NOT TAKE IT!

    Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11).

    People have been saying the end is coming for many years, but we need two key things. One, the Third Temple, and two, the technology for a cashless society to fulfill the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *