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If I Could Be With You: John Sinclair with Ed Moss & The Society Jazz Orchestra  E-mail
John Sinclair
Friday, 13 January 2006 09:43
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If I Could Be With You
John Sinclair & Ed Moss with The Society Jazz Orchestra

Recorded in concert at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Cincinnati, Ohio
January 15, 1994

By John Sinclair


It was a cold, bitter, snow-bound Wednesday afternoon in January when I got off the plane from the sunny Southland to prepare for a concert with Ed Moss and his eight-piece Society Jazz Orchestra at the Cincinnati Hyatt Regency that Saturday night. The Queen City was frozen damn near solid, and Steve Gebhardt was doing a lot of slipping and sliding on the ride across the Ohio River bridge and up and down the hills of Cincinnati on our way to meet with the enigmatic Mr. Edward Moss.

It would get even colder--down to 5, and then 13, below zero--and even snowier, with eight inches more on Monday, before I got out of town and headed back to the relative warmth of New Orleans. But for four days, from Wednesday through Saturday, I had one of the warmest and most satisfying musical experiences I've ever enjoyed as a performer, and the evidence is right here in your hands.

I'd first met Ed Moss in 1988, when my friend Ron Esposito took me down to the old Blue Wisp Club on Madison Road in Cincinnati on a Thursday night to sit in with Moss's eight-piece band, the Society Jazz Orchestra. I was in the Queen City to attend yet another World Premiere screening of Steve Gebhardt's still-unreleased feature film, Ten For Two: The John Sinclair Freedom Rally, which had been shot at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1971, just three days before I was released from prison after serving 29 months of a 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence for possessing two marijuana cigarettes in December 1966, five long years earlier.

That's another story, but I d hooked up with Esposito in the mid-1980s in Athens, Ohio, where he ran an extremely hip used book and record store and hosted great jazz and blues programs at WOUB-FM, the voice of Ohio University. I d read some poems on the air for him there, and then performed live  in the studio with harmonica man Steve Tracy and guitarist Dudley Radcliff on Ron's Blue Spot program at WVXU-FM in Cincinnati, where he was working as program director for the Xavier University radio station.

When I came back to Cincinnati for the Ten For Two screening, Ron had kindly set up several opportunities for me to sit in with the local jazz cognoscenti. Before taking me over to the Blue Wisp for my first encounter with Ed Moss, Esposito regaled me with racy tales of the debonair raconteur, a gourmandizing, cigar-smoking, cognac-snifting pianist, composer and bandleader whose immense talent and relative longevity had propelled him to the top of the local music scene.

Lots of laughs were had by all when Moss and I were introduced during the band's first break, but there was nothing at all funny about the sounds coming off the stage after the Society Jazz Orchestra took its seats for the second show. Featuring a wide-ranging repertoire of Ed Moss originals and freshly-arranged jazz classics, Ed's little big band shouted and roared through the flag-wavers and performed its less frenetic material with great sensitivity and depth.

Veteran drummer Art Gore, son of former King Records recording artist Rufus Nose  Gore, swung the band with unflagging spirit and careful attention to dynamics, while tenor saxophonist Arthur Quitman cut an imposing figure amongst the soloists. But everyone played very well indeed, and Moss's music was some of the freshest and most exciting large-group jazz I d heard in quite some time.

Moss called me up to do a series of Thelonious Monk pieces over the band's exceptionally tasty chart on Blue Monk,  then launched into one of the most gorgeous versions of Round Midnight  imaginable. To perform my humble works in verse to the accompaniment of music like this had me walking on air, floating above the bandstand on a lovely fat cloud of delectable sound--a musical experience I ll never forget.

Not too many months later Steve Gebhardt and I began work on a new film project titled Twenty To Life, now nearing completion but then simply an idea to film some performances interspersed with testimony by my family and friends towards a sketch of my life and work to date.

One early concept was to bring Ed Moss and me together for a series of intimate duets which could be filmed and recorded for the movie. I insisted that we record a suite of my Monk poems titled fly right, Moss prepared the musical texts of Monk for the accompaniment, and we ended up, thanks to Ron Esposito, doing four recording sessions in the WVXU studios for the project--by now a full-blown album, initially commissioned by New Alliance Records--in the spring and summer of 1991.

This record of Monk works by Ed Moss and myself features a great deal of exceptionally fine piano playing by Mr. Moss and a reasonably coherent reading of his texts by the poet. Events have conspired to prevent its release for the past four years, but fly right: a monk suite is now scheduled to be issued later this year by Schoolkids Records. The duets with Ed Moss also furnished filmic portraits of two performances to be used in Twenty To Life: "rhythm-a-ning" and "i surrender, dear."

Gebhardt continued shooting footage for the film, mostly interviews and talking segments, as funds permitted, then began to devise a scheme to stage and capture on film a more elaborate presentation of my work in verse with musical accompaniment, at the same time showcasing and documenting the original compositions and arrangements of Edward Moss.

The omnipresent Ron Esposito was now in charge of producing the weekly Jazz at the Hyatt concert series at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. He was able to gain approval for a mid-January 1994 concert by Ed Moss & the Society Jazz Orchestra with myself as Ed's special guest in An Evening of Music & Verse. Then Gebhardt and Moss went to work--Gebhardt with his grant-writing and production-planning genius on full blast, Moss whipping his compositions into shape with the orchestra.

When I climbed out of Gebhardt's car and groped my way up the stairs to Moss's Over-The-Rhine urban hideaway that icy Wednesday evening, the maestro was more than ready for me, and we spent a very pleasant evening matching up my texts to his compositions in preparation for the first of two scheduled rehearsals with the full band.

Moss and I first decided to use only his own musical works, and preferably those for which rehearsed arrangements already existed, as the settings for my poems. Since the Monk poems are each written after a specific performance by Thelonious Monk, I almost invariably insist that the number they're titled for be played with the poem, but in this case I was able to select works from the Moss ouevre which were akin in spirit and tempo to the Monk recordings that had inspired the poems.

Schoenberg on Death Row  worked wonderfully with my text for in walked bud,  and A Doleful Tear  seemed tailor-made for friday the 13th,  an elegy for the late John Lennon which I wanted to perform for Steve Gebhardt, who'd been close friends with Lennon during his early years in New York City. Bird Droppings  went with bloomdido,  a paean to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, while Midnight Mood  and Rhythm Changes  took perfect care of round about midnight  and rhythm-a-ning,  respectively.

At this point another small artistic compromise was effected after Gebhardt reported that the hotel's management would almost certainly take offense if any of the characteristic "fucks" or "motherfuckers" which occasionally crop up in the heat of composition were to be uttered by the poet when approached in the texts during performance. "Goddamned" and "bullshit" might be okay, but the fucks had to go in the interest of industrial peace on the gig. "We must be flexible and retain our sense of humor at all costs," I always say, and there it is.

"The Screamers" was composed in 1965 and set to music by Charles Moore; the music sounded something like "Green Onions," as performed by the Detroit Contemporary 5. I still use the same arrangement with my New Orleans band, the Blues Scholars, but here the poem is set to Moss's "The Unexpurgated Blues" (identified in the concert program as "Blues For Conversationalists"), and it lends the text a jazzier edge.

I perform my verse in all sorts of musical settings, from duets with saxophonists, drummers, guitarists or pianists to jazz trios, quartets and big bands, rhythm & blues groups with horn sections, and my own band, which features tenor saxophone, harmonica, guitar, bass & drums. Each time the music changes, the text is changed as well, its delivery is altered, layers of musical and poetic depth are added or subtracted. It keeps the texts especially fresh for me and keeps things interesting into the bargain.

I've recorded "spiritual" in two different settings: as a duet with alto saxophonist Marion Brown, and in the oceanic Coltrane mode with the Blues Scholars for our Full Moon Night CD on Total Energy Records, where it's coupled with "consequences" over a riff from "A Love Supreme," the way we do it in performance. For our concert Moss contributed a piece titled "Strange Mood," and it recasts the verses into a new musical language with which they feel strangely very comfortable.

Between these arrangements and the Monk pieces we'd selected earlier, Moss and I now had enough material for two of the three sets we were to present at the Hyatt. Each of the sets in the program would feature the orchestra--billed as Ed Moss & His Improvissatori--with 30 minutes of original works by the composer, at which point I would come on and offer several works in verse accompanied by Moss and the orchestra.

For the middle set we constructed a special program including several works I'd rarely performed and a fancy new arrangement for three of my favorite courtship poems to my wife Penny. Inspired by the closing couplet to "double dealing," Moss pulled out his arrangement of an old Ellington song, "Chocolate Shake," and segued it up against a chart called "Pasticcio Promenade," over which I recited "when will the blues leave" and "double dealing." Then Moss sings the lyric to the Ellington song, and I finish with "i mean you," which normally goes with the Monk composition of the same name, but I dug the way Ed made it all work the way it does here.

We opened the second show with three piano poems--inspired and named after pieces by Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill--over Moss's tune, "Fat Man," which was chosen solely for its musical values. Here as throughout the concert the orchestra performed beautifully; the solo and ensemble work of Jerry Conrad (trumpet), Clarence Pawn (trombone), Tim McCord (alto sax and flute), Arthur Quitman (tenor sax & clarinet), Joe Gaudio (baritone sax), bassist Chris Dahlgren (who flew in from New York for the concert) and drummer Art Gore was everything one could have ever asked for.

The final piece in the set, "If I Could Be With You," is an investigation in verse into the McKinney's Cotton Pickers, a popular Detroit-based band of the 1920s and 30s which originated in Springfield, Ohio. I was eager to perform this piece with Ed's orchestra and especially wanted to offer it in honor of the occasion of this major concert appearance in Ohio. We set the verse against Moss's work "Mr. Gloom," and I'm very pleased with the result.

The rehearsals were held Thursday and Friday at the new Blue Wisp club on Garfield Place in downtown Cincinnati, and everything went according to plan. It's always a kick for me to rehearse or perform with people for the first time; the almost universal indifference of musicians to the idea of backing up a poet slowly changes to open interest and then strict attention as the texts unfold. The Society Jazz Orchestra was no exception, and by the end of the second rehearsal saxophonist Arthur Quitman was asking me for a copy of the manuscript to take home.

I'll never forget the Friday afternoon run-through at the Blue Wisp. We completed rehearsing the material and agreed on the order of performance, then Steve Gebhardt and I walked out of the nice warm club into the 8-below-zero weather and staggered five blocks to the car. It was so cold I thought I'd never make it, but the car started right up and we were soon on our way to a typically epicene evening meal.

The temperature leveled off at 5 below zero on the day of the concert, and it seemed kind of silly to expect a lot of people to brave the weather just to see our presentation, but that night the atrium at the Hyatt Regency kept filling up until there were few seats left for the second and third shows.

Gebhardt had a full film and sound crew on hand to capture the proceedings, and I was blessed with the presence of my mother, Elsie Sinclair, who was about to celebrate her 82nd birthday. My daughter Sunny, who'd driven down from Detroit with her grandmother for the occasion, took me around the atrium during our first break and proudly pointed out how many people were there.

Despite the sub-zero temperature outside, there was plenty of warmth on-stage that night, and by the end of our Evening of Music & Verse there were lots of smiles and good cheer everywhere one looked. The musical results can be heard on this compact disc, and the entire performance can be seen in the accompanying video, produced and directed by Steve Gebhardt.

I'd like to thank Steve and Ron Esposito once again for making all this possible, and Ed Moss for everything he contributed to this project: his music, his piano and orchestra, his humor and good sense, his warm and unerring hospitality. Thanks, fellas!


--New Orleans
November 15, 1995



Recorded "live" to 4-track DAT by Geoff Maxwell at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Cincinnati, Ohio, January 15, 1994 as part of Jazz Live at the Hyatt. Mixed & edited by Bruce Ellis with Steve Gebhardt & Ed Moss at The Corbett Studio, WGUC, Cincinnati.

Art direction & booklet production: Frank Bach & Associates, Detroit.
Cover design: Steve Gebhardt. Cover Photo by Tom Hayes.

This project was made possible by the generous funding of the Arts Allocation Committee, City of Cincinnati; the Media Arts Panel of the Ohio Arts Council; the Projects Pool of the Fine Arts Fund, Cincinnati, Ohio; and the Public Benefit Corporation, Detroit, Michigan. Fiscal Agent: Diverse Media Zone, Inc., Tom Hayes, President.

The poet would like to dedicate his performance to his mother, Elsie Sinclair, and his daughter, Marion Sunny Sinclair, with special thanks and appreciation to Jerry Brock & Barry Smith of the Louisiana Music Factory, 225 N. Peters, New Orleans, LA for their extraordinary assistance and support during the course of this project.


(C) 1996, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.


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