Rivers' Stepping Stones


CONTENTS:

This document is being stripped out and added to the Rivers Sessionography.

99.09.26

SAM RIVERS Interview taken and transcribed by David Mittleman.
DM: You wrote music for Song Poems while in Boston?
SR: I stayed in Boston because I was very secure there. I was doing well and I was writing all these songs, I was ghostwriting for a lot of people.
So I was making an extremely good living. As a matter of fact, it was at a loss that I left to go to New York.
DM: What was it like to work for Song Poem companies. How many songs did you write?
SR: I wrote one or two songs a day. It was up to me, I was pretty much the only one who was doing it because I guess I had a knack for doing this kind
of thing. Just looking at lyrics and putting music to it. I can still do that, but I don't do it as a profession anymore. If someone has lyrics and they want
music, I can knock it out in about an hour or so. I hear a lot of music now that I ghostwrote. I also ghostwrote jingles and those sorts of things. I really
didn't want my name put on those things anyway. I was making a really good living doing this kind of work. Those kinds of jobs pay excellent money
for doing really nothing.
I really left Boston because I had been composing. I had been composing since the late '40s, and now it was the early '60s, and I was writing four or five
compositions a year. So I had at least 50 compositions before I moved to New York. I had already been to New York with Miles Davis, so I was
established there. I really didn't need to move to New York. I moved there because I needed other musicians.
All the musicians on the scene today, pretty much, even a lot of the older musicians, since the late '60s on, I've had some sort of musical experience
with them; some kind of musical collaboration. Just about every musician. Except Ornette Coleman. I talked to him all the time, and I called him.
All the musicians who have made some kind of contribution, I have had the pleasure and good fortune of performing with them, some time in the past.
DM: You lived in Florida in the late '50s?
SR: Yes. Actually, it was at exactly the same time as Castro took Havana, 1957, or something like that. My brother was working down in Havana
at the time. And I just came down to visit. He was working with a band in Havana.
DM: You went to Havana?
SR: No. I didn't go. I was staying in Miami. He was in Havana. But I was talking with him when he was in Havana, over the telephone. And he
was telling me that Castro was coming into Havana, with gun-fighting. And he put the telephone out of the window so that I could hear the gunfire.
I told him to take cover some place. But they didn't bother any of the foreigners. I don't know how much longer he stayed. Castro didn't want
the people to leave. He just wanted the Mafia out of there. He didn't want the musicians and people to leave. As a matter of fact he made an ideal
place for musicians, and athletes, and scientists, and doctors. There weren't any Cubans down in Miami when I was there. There were no Cubans
in Miami at all in the '50s. I was working down there with Chet Baker too, by the way. Doing some gigs with him.
DM: Didn't you work with Billy Holiday at this time as well?
SR: I was also working with Billy Holiday. She was doing tours there; around the state, as a matter of fact. She did a lot of performances. Also
at Miami Beach, which was doing very extravagant things at that time. When I was in Miami, Nat King Cole had his show, it was the first time
in that town that any singer had his own show. Count Basie was out there, singers were Dina Washington—this was all at the same time. Other
singers too. And George Kirby, comedians—Cab Calloway's band was out there. In different hotels. And then the musicians would come over
to one of the clubs there, in Miami proper, and play until 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, 10:00. That's when I first met Billy Holiday. She hired me
to go on this tour. You know, in Key West and places further down.
DM: What brought you back to Florida later in your life?
SR: I was traveling with Dizzy Gillespie in the late 80s. I traveled with his band for 4 years. We traveled all over the world. And I was looking for
a place to get out of New York because I was tired of fighting New York winters. I had choices. I could have moved to AZ, NM, CA, anyplace.
I just chose Florida. because of the weather. Another reason, I was down here and I was talking to some of the guys, I was telling them how I was
wanting to get out of NY, and they said we have a lot of musicians down here, you could come down here and it would be very easy for you to put
a group together. And a matter of fact, we'll help you. And that's the reason I'm here, because they pretty much put the group together that I have
together now.
We've been together ten years down here. I've been playing with the same musicians for 10 years. Doug Matthews and Anthony Cole. Doug is a native.
And Anthony came down here at pretty much the same time that I did. Anthony came from Detroit and I came from New York. We are the nucleus
of the Orchestra, too. They play with the Orchestra. Our new CD is entitled "Inspiration." And the other one is "Culmination." It was a double album.
And the company considered the music so great that they said we'll put it out as a two singles. For me, I would have put it out as a double because
I have like 300 compositions, and I would prefer that they put it out as a double... so I could put out eight or nine doubles as quick as possible. I would
like to get the music out there. I want it to be heard. The reason why I've written it this way is so it can be used by students at universities so they
can have some interesting music to perform.
I have plans to do many more albums as soon as I can. In fact, I have masters already done with the Orchestra down here. I'm just going to put the
whole thing together myself and then just give it to them as a package rather than going in and doing something. I'd rather do it myself, rather than
having the supervision of somebody at the record company; telling me what I can and cannot do. I'll just give them the whole complete product and say,
this is it. Take it or leave it.
The next album, "Culmination" is coming out on BMG. That's why I can't put out any other Orchestra things. Because there's one contract that I've
signed. I signed for two, and they're putting them out six months apart. Which doesn't help me because I'd prefer to market my stuff.
DM: Could you tell me more about the Orchestra in Florida?
SR: I have a rehearsal over at the union every Wednesday. The students at UCF, they come and sit in. Every Wednesday I bring in something new.
The musicians are so good that I have to write something new because tedious rehearsals are not a part of our thing. We go in and we rehearse things,
it's like reading a newspaper or book. You go down the first time and play it down the second time. We hardly ever play anything down the second
time. We rehearse it one time. We have an hour rehearsal and may go through 3 or 4 compositions. And that's it. 9 to 10 and we're out of there.
I'm looking for a place to perform once a week and try to record performances every week. Because I have all of this music. And I really am putting
it together so that, like symphony music, any orchestra can play it, any jazz orchestra can play it. And mostly for schools because professional jazz
orchestras, like mine, have their own original material so they wouldn't be interested in doing anything like that. It would only be the schools,
which would be a couple of thousand. Each one has some kind of a jazz band.
Four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes, bass and drums. No piano or anything like that because the Orchestra accompanies itself. If I wrote a piano
or guitar part it would be it would be clashing. In my music, the Orchestra accompanies itself. So I just let it go. In most jazz orchestras that you see,
the band is just sitting there most of the time with one guy standing up soloing. And mine isn't like that. The musicians are playing pretty much all
the way, all the time, like they do in the symphony. It's a real orchestra. It's not just a jazz band with one guy standing up and everybody else is just
sitting there, twiddling their thumbs or reading newspaper, it's not that kind orchestra. Everyone participates pretty much all the time. It might be
overdone, if anything, but none of the musicians are falling asleep up there.
DM: Could you tell me about the music you play with your trio and your theory of "spontaneous creativity?"
SR: Spontaneous creativity, that's pretty much for my trio. It could be done with larger orchestras, but then it would be a little more chaotic than it is
with maybe two horns or a trio doing it.
If there is any contribution that I've made to the music, I'd say that it would be spontaneous creativity that you mentioned, just then. Because, I would
say that in my record Streams, I'm not sure, but I'm pretty much a musicologist, in a sense that I've checked out the history of the music, and I've done
some teaching as well, at Dartmouth—I haven't been invited to teach down here, which is great, I would teach a few, it's a compulsion, but I'm not
invited in this state. But I am invited at Dartmouth, I am invited up at Wesleyan, I am invited there, I'm invited to Harvard. I'm not invited to any schools
in Florida, which is great, don't invite me. They know I've been here 10 years. I'm not even sure I would accept an invitation now; I've been here this long.
I sympathize with teachers. They are very much under paid, and their not really appreciated. The teacher is the most valuable thing in our society, and
everyone looks down on them. And it's a very draining occupation. I've done it and I admire anyone that does it. No one in this society appreciates
the teachers. Exactly the opposite from Japanese society, where the teacher is the most prized possession and prized part of society. But now, I really
don't teach, I might give some kind of a lecture, or something like that, but teaching is sort of an impediment to creativity.
DM: What was it like teaching at Wesleyan?
SR: I taught composition there. Three days a week I was teaching. But I was still living in New York and running my performance space. The Dean
of music, he didn't like the idea of me coming up, he wanted me to stay on the campus. He told me that he wanted me to do more than just teach music.
I'm supposed to be like a psychology mate for the students. It seemed like I was supposed to help the students with their personal problems. I wasn't sure
about that. I had kids of my own, I wasn't sure about taking care of kids. I taught a couple of years there. It was mainly because the dean wanted me
to live on the campus. And I'm only an hour and a half away, yet he wanted me to live on the campus, where I was living was an hour and a half away.
DM: Who were some of the other jazz teachers at Wesleyan at that time?
SR: Jimmy Garrison was on bass, Clifford Thornton.
DM: Was Marzette Watts there too?
SR: Marzette, yeah, he was there too.
DM: In an interview, Marzett said, "So Clifford Thornton said [to Wesleyan University], why don't you have Black music, it's the only truly American
art form. And he drummed up more support, but they told him they didn't have the money for it. So they blew one of the buildings up, it was never in
the papers, but they dynamited one of the buildings there." Do you recall this incident?
SR: No, that was before I went in. About a year or so before. I heard about it. I'm not sure if they burned down a building or not, they did some strange
things. But it wasn't music students that did it. It was the political people. I wasn't there then, Marzette came after I did, maybe it was after I left, because
I didn't stay, like I said, the dean wanted me to live on the campus. Jay Hoggard was studying at the time I was there, he was a student. Leo Smith.
Anthony Braxton is there now. After I left, Ken McIntyre was there. Ed Blackwell was there for his whole life. We went in together too, Ed Blackwell
and I, Ed Blackwell and Jimmy Garrison and myself, there was a piano player, and Clifford Thornton, and Cole, what's his name, a writer? Cole,
the writer that was at Dartmouth? He was teaching up at Dartmouth, he did a lot of things there. I don't remember his last name.
DM: You worked with Bill Dixon in the 60s with the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra?
SR: Yes, Bill Dixon was the organizer of the group, it was an organization to protest the actions of the record companies. The main reason for the group
was not record for any of the record companies out here, do all of the recordings for ourselves, and keep the record companies out of it because all they
do is pollute and corrupt the music. And it was working. Cecil Taylor was there, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Michael Mantler, Gato, Pharoah, I remember all
these guys, John Tchicai, myself, we were all sitting there, so many, Steve Lacy, just about anybody that was in the modern or contemporary avant-garde
music. Archie Shepp was there. So, it broke up because the record companies got worried, so they went in an offered a couple of the guys nice fat
advances. So they broke ranks, and that broke it up.
DM: Do It Yourself—JCGO, Studio Rivbea, own record label?
SR: That's only because I haven't been offered anything. I don't know, it's strange. I was just thinking, as far as my contribution, I was the first musician
that was out with spontaneous creativity. Most of the musicians come out, and they have a theme, and then they play on the theme. We came out with
my trio, with Dave Holland, and we created everything on the spot. I would say, that if I've made any contribution, that was the contribution that I've
made—spontaneous creativity. I don't know of anyone else that did that. I don't know of anyone else that came out and played like two hours with
nothing set. Nothing. Everything created. All the musicians that I know, from Cecil Taylor all the way, they have had thematic material, and then they
improvise on the thematic material. Everyone. One-hundred percent. I am the only musician that I know that went out there with nothing planned,
and played for two hours or more. Spontaneous creativity.
For awhile back in my career, I used to be very depressed about why I wasn't getting the consideration, and then I grew out of that, and said, well, I'm
not going to get any consideration, there's no need to stop, I'll just go ahead and write this music and have it ready because I know that I have some
of the most unique music of the time, and I know that I've done some very unique things. The critics would rather ignore me, but it doesn't really matter
anymore. I have no bitterness. There's no bitterness in me. It's just a matter of, I know that I'm no going to be given my credit. So I just do it anyway.
Musicians know that the critics have overblown some musicians and ignored others. I don't know why they do that. There are musicians out there that
if a critic says something about them the guys have tried to change the subject rather than say anything good, because they know that he's a phoney.
There's a lot of phoneys out here now. They are more imitators than phoneys. Most musicians are imitating somebody else. Like the most popular
musicians today are imitators. Important musicians are not popular, and popular musicians are not important. If you are recording for a major label,
chances are, more than likely, that it's not important music. And you waste your money if you're buying jazz on a major label. It's imitating. So the
only good jazz music is on foreign labels and labels you've never heard of. So if you've heard of the label, chance are, it's no good, or it's just a copy.
That's not only jazz, that's rock, it's everything else. If it's a major label the chances are the music's repetitive and no good.
DM: How did the "Wildflowers" series of records come about?
SR: That was from a friend I knew in Boston, Alan Douglas. He's still a major producer with record companies. He decided he wanted to memorialize,
make a note of, what I was doing at Studio [Rivbea]. And so we did those things like that. It was out of his concern that the music at least have a legacy,
or proof that the studio existed. Because Downbeat never mentioned it, Downbeat didn't say anything about it. All the musicians that are out there now,
you know, Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, just about everybody. They all came through my Studio. But they never mentioned anything that I was doing, like
I didn't exist. And I was wondering why. What did I do, what did I say to someone. Did I tell someone to kiss my ass that I should have and they really
took offense to it? It's probably something like that, you know? It's probably some critic that I insulted. Because he asked me something stupid, or said
something stupid. I ignore that now, and go ahead and do what I—because I know—I listen to everyone that's playing and I know what's going on out
here, and I know that the people that are popular and getting all the gigs are pretty much—don't represent what's going on in music today. It's a very
sad situation.
DM: You played with Miles Davis?
SR: He was always, for me, with the free style, but he didn't want to go out there and scream, and stuff, like Cecil Taylor. But then the music he played
with the rock beat in it, that was all free music. He did free in a different way. Let the horns be free and the rhythm be static. He did it like that. It's pretty
much free. It's all very fluid, other than the drums, which are playing a modern rock beat. Other than that, everything else was free. DM: The title of you newest record is, "Inspiration." How do you inspire other musicians?
SR: The way I try to inspire is—one of the main ingredients in jazz is improvisation. That is, without improvisation, you don't really have jazz. Which
is one of the reasons I leave a lot of things open. I could write everything, like a symphony. But I can't write everything because I'm writing a jazz
composition. And with jazz compositions, you are more or less writing backgrounds for improvisers. That's what a jazz composition is—a background
for the improvisers, for the soloists, to create over. It's to stimulate the creative impulses of the improviser. That's what a jazz composition is all about.
So I keep this in mind at all times.
Because, I know that if you have a creative part of a program you're interested in moral, you are wanting—you have more incentive to produce and be
a part of it, because you are an integral part of the whole process. That's the way that I inspire younger musicians when they are playing, when they
come out to hear—if you play in Sam Rivers' Orchestra, you are going to be an integral part, and you are going to be a soloist.
Because, Sam Rivers wants young musicians to know that jazz is about improvising. A jazz musician is an improviser. I mean, that is one-hundred
percent. So when you say that you're jazz, that means that you can get up and take a solo, and improvise creatively. That's what it means. It doesn't mean
anything else but that. It's very narrow, what a jazz musician is. He's an improviser. That's it. He creates on the spot. This is what a jazz person is, a jazz
musician. So I mean, I try to tell all young musicians that you have one thing—you are a jazz musician because you have a particular individual statement
to make. You don't imitate. Imitation is a way of learning. OK, you get crutches and you learn how to walk. After that, you throw your crutches away and
you're on your own. Copying someone else is not a very honorable jazz position. It's not honorable. It is not right. I'm a traditionalist. A traditional jazz
musician means that you go up, and hear any jazz musician they're supposed to be playing their own style. And not copying anyone else. Imitation is
the worst thing that you can do in jazz, if you're a professional. Imitation is good for students. "He sounds like somebody else." That is the worst thing
that you can say about a musician, jazz musician. "He sounds like somebody else." That's the gravest insult. The greatest compliment for myself is when
I read, "Sam Rivers does not sound like anyone else." That is the greatest compliment.
That's the traditional stance of all jazz musicians. You wanted to make a personal statement. You are making your personal statement. The musicians
that I hired were making a personal statement. It wasn't whether I thought that it was that technically flawless or something, no it wasn't, but they were
making a statement. I'd rather hear someone making a raggedy statement that's there's, than to make a perfect statement that's copying someone else.
Most of the musicians that have come through my Studio have gone on to make really significant contributions in their own right. I have musicians in my orchestra right now that are in their twentys that are really, really good. The musicians that go to New York aren't really the best
musicians; they're the musicians with the most intense ego. There are much better musicians all around the USA.
—David Mittleman interviews Sam Rivers



"A welcome documentation of an important part of the contemporary musical landscape... [presenting] a comprehensive cross-section of the New York loft session movement.
Wildflowers is destined to become an important benchmark of '70s music. By documenting the work of many of the most important exponents of black oriented free music, it presents a fair picture of what's currently happening in lower Manhattan's lofts."
[Chuck Berg Down Beat Magazine Aug 11 '87]
Wildflowers 1—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7045
  1. Jays / Kalaparusha  —Kalaparusha (ts), Chris White (b, el-b), Jumma Santos (dr)
  2. New Times / Ken McIntyre  —McIntyre (as), Richard Harper (p), Andy Vega (cng), Andrei Strobert (dr)
  3. Over the Rainbow / Sunny Murray & the Untouchable Factor  —David Murray (ts), Byard Lancaster (as), Khan Jamal (vib), Fred Hopkins (b), Murray (dr)
  4. Rainbows / Sam Rivers  —Rivers (ss), Jerome Hunter (b), Jerry Griffin (dr)
  5. USO Dance / Air  —Henry Threadgill (as), Fred Hopkins (b), Steve McCall (dr, perc)
Wildflowers 2—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7046
  1. The Need to Smile / Flight to Sanity  —Byard Lancaster (ts), Art Bennett (ss), Olu Dara (tp), Sonelius Smith (p), Benny Wilson (b), Don Moye (cng), Harold Smith (dr)
  2. Naomi / Ken McIntyre  —Personnel same as Volume 1, track 2
  3. 73°-S Kelvin / Anthony Braxton  —Braxton (as, cbs, cl), George Lewis (tb), Michael Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (perc), Barry Altschul (dr)
  4. And Then They Danced / Marion Brown  —Brown (as), Jack Gregg (b), Jumma Santos (cng)
  5. Locomotif No. 6 / Leo Smith & the New Delta Ahkri  —Oliver Lake (as), Smith (tp), Anthony Davis (p), Wes Brown (b), Paul Maddox and Stanley Crouch (dr)
Wildflowers 3—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7047
  1. Portrait of Frank Edward Weston / Randy Weston  —Weston (p), Alex Blake (b), Azzedin Weston (cng)
  2. Clarity-2 / Michael Jackson  —Oliver Lake (ss, fl), Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  3. Black Robert / Dave Burrell  —Burrell (p), Stafford James (b), Harold White (dr)
  4. Blue Phase / Abdullah  —Charles Bracken (ts, ss), Ahmed Abdullah (tp), Mashujaa (g), Leroy Seals (el-b), Rickie Evans (b), Rashied Sinan (dr)
  5. Short Short / Andrew Cyrille & Maono  —David Ware (ts), Ted Daniel (tp), Lyle Atkinson (b), Cyrille (dr)
Wildflowers 4—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7048
  1. Tranquil Beauty / Hamiet Bluiett  —Bluiett (cl, bs), Olu Dara (tp), Butch Campbell and Billy Patterson (g), Johnny Booth (b), Charles Bobo Shaw and Don Moye (dr)
  2. Pensive / Julius Hemphill  —Hemphill (as), Abdul Wadud (cel), Bern Nix (g), Don Moye (perc), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  3. Push Pull / Jimmy Lyons  —Lyons (as), Karen Borca (bsn), Hayes Burnett (b), Henry Maxwell Letcher (dr)
  4. Zaki / Oliver Lake  —Lake (as), Michael Jackson (g), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (dr)
  5. Shout Song / David Murray  —Murray (ts), Olu Dara (tp, flg), Fred Hopkins (b), Stanley Crouch (dr)
Wildflowers 5—Douglas/Casablanca NBLP 7049
  1. Something's Cookin' / Sunny Murray & the Untouchable Factor  —David Murray (ts), Byard Lancaster (as), Khan Jamal (vib), Fred Hopkins (b), Murray (dr)
  2. Chant / Roscoe Mtchell  —Mitchell (as), Jerome Cooper (perc, saw, dr), Don Moye (dr)

Wildflowers The New York Loft Jazz Sessions

©1995, Gravity Sarl (made in France by MPO) Gravity / Douglas Music

CD 1
30 00 332 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 70:18
  1. Kalaparusha - Jays (6:11)
  2. Ken McIntyre - New Times (7:45)
  3. Sunny Murray & The Untouchable Factor - Over The Rainbow (5:48)
  4. Sam Rivers - Rainbows (10:24)
  5. Air - USO Dance (8:26)
  6. Flight To Sanity - The Need To Smile (10:45)
  7. Ken McIntyre - Naomi (6:31)
  8. Anthony Braxton - 73°-S Kelvin (6:41)
  9. Marion Brown - And Then They Danced (7:14)
CD 2
30 00 342 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 63:02
  1. Leo Smith & The New Delta Ahkri - Locomotif No 6 (6:24)
  2. Randy Weston - Portrait of Frank Edward Weston (9:17)
  3. Michael Jackson (aka Michael Gregory Jackson) - Clarity (6:09)
  4. Dave Burrell - Black Robert (5:43)
  5. Abdullah - Blue Phase (12:35)
  6. Andrew Cyrille & Maono - Short Short (6:57)
  7. Hamiet Bluiett - Tranquil Beauty (5:45)
  8. Julius Hemphill - Pensive (9:54)
CD 3
30 00 352 [ARC 384]
Total Time: 60:50
  1. Jimmy Lyons - Push Pull (5:32)
  2. Oliver Lake - Zaki (9:52)
  3. David Murray - Shout Song (2:45)
  4. Sunny Murray & The Untouchable Factor - Something's Cookin' (17:02)
  5. Roscoe Mitchell - Chant (25:22)
The tracks JAYS, AND THEN THEY DANCED, BLUE PHASE and TRANQUIL BEAUTY are presented here in their entirety. They fade rather than end with applause because they are both part of a continuous set where one composition followed into the next. Due to technical live recording problems, the beginning of THE NEED TO SMILE was not properly recorded. The producers felt the performance strong enough to include it with a logical beginning at the soprano saxophone solo. 73°-S KELVIN and SHORT SHORT are each excerpts of continuous performances.



Waves

Liner notes by Robert Palmer: "I was thinking in terms of forces of nature when I titled these compositions," says Sam Rivers, "the motion of waves, changing currents, changing flow." These are probably the most appropriate metaphors anyone has come up with for Rivers' extraordinary music, and it is typical of Sam that he thought of them first. He has never been one to sit around and wait for someone to do something for him. He has gone out and done things on his own, whether the task before him was organizing a small combo, assembling and rehearsing a big band, or establishing and operating the most important musician-run performing space in New York, Studio Rivbea. He has mastered the tenor and soprano saxophones, the flute, and the piano, and those who have heard him play viola, which he was performing on back in the fifties, say he is formidable on that instrument as well.
Sam comes from a family of achievers. His grandfather notated and published a collection of spirituals and black folk songs in the 1880's. Both his parents were college graduates, and when he was born in El Reno, Oklahoma in 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Rivers were there because they were on the road, giving concerts of spirituals.
When Sam was seven his father died in a highway accident and his mother raised him in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught at Shorter College. After a stint in the Navy, Sam went north to Boston, where he studied at Boston Conservatory and worked steadily for around fifteen years, seven nights a week, with people like Gigi Gryce, Jaki Byard, and, later, the young Tony Williams. There were also reed gigs with Billie Holiday and T-Bone Waker.
In fact, Sam was on the road playing the blues with T-Bone when he got a call to join the Miles Davis quintet. He replaced George Coleman and lasted six months, and even a casual listen to the one album he made with the group, Miles in Tokyo, tells why. It was 1964. Miles and the rest of the band were doing finely crafted but polite versions of "If I Were a Bell" and "My Funny Valentine" and Sam was soaring off into the stratosphere, playing lengthy solos of gut-wrenching intensity that stuck out like sore thumbs. Later in the sixties he worked in the volcanic bands of McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor, situations in which he was more at home, and recorded his first albums for Blue Note. During the early seventies he slowly built a devoted following in New York and recorded some remarkable albums for Impulse. On the first one, Streams, and in many of his live performances, he simply improvised, backed by bass and drums and switching from one of his instruments to the other, for an hour or more at a time, without planning anything in advance. On the other hand, his big band music, captured on the Impulse! album Crystals, was rigorously structured.
Lately Rivers' small groups have been purveying the best of both worlds, and this album, the first with his current quartet, strikes a particularly judicious balance. It is free and controlled, passionate and lucid. A few days before Rivers made the record, I visited him at Studio Rivbea, and he said something that might serve as his credo, if he believed in such things: "You can come out here and be an intuitive musician and be really happening, but your dreams and visions won't last forever. If you don't get into the books and get your technical thing together while that intuitive thing is happening, you won't survive."
Rivers' great strength is that he has so much of both, so much technique and so much imagination and fire. On tenor he is practically without peer, with a sound and style that are wholly his own. "I listened to everybody I could hear to make sure I didn't sound like them," he says. "I worked out my own chord substitutions, wrote my own exercises to practice." On soprano he has an equally personal sound and style; even when he is looking Eastward for inspiration he sounds nothing like John Coltrane, as his performance on "Pulse" corroborates. He is a virtuoso flutist, and one suspects he would have become a major jazzman had he confined his activities to the piano.
"Shockwave" begins with the piano. Sam's playing is reflective but sinewy, and as the shockwave spreads the group charges into a full-tilt collective improvisation. "Actually," Rivers notes, "I don't think in terms of solos with accompaniment; I consider that we're all playing together in a situation where everyone is complementing everyone else. At times I may be the dominant voice but I consider myself part of a group; it's complete ensemble playing at all times." It takes a particularly resourceful musician (with an unusual amount of stamina) to cut the mustard in a Rivers band, and it only takes a few minutes of this first composition for the listener to realize that in this group, every man is equal to the task. Dave Holland, the bassist, who makes solo records for ECM and has been heard with just about every important musician in contemporary jazz, from Miles Davis to Anthony Braxton, has been with Sam the longest. He has said that he considers working in Rivers' bands a particularly stimulating challenge, since he has to create at all times, without falling back on predetermined riff patterns or clicheés. Joe Daley, who is the most astonishing of a whole new generation of virtuoso tuba players, has also been heard with Rivers, often in a trio context in which he functioned simultaneously as the bass instrument and a second horn. Thurman Barker, who comes from Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, is the newest member of the group. Sam says he is probably the most sensitive drummer he has ever worked with.
Daley gets a chance to prove his mettle after Sam's opening piano solo, playing sassy baritone horn along with Holland's inventive bass until the drums and Sam, on tenor, re-enter. Appropriately, "Shockwave" ends with Barker's drum solo. But the side ends with a delicate flute reverie that nevertheless picks up a head of steam and is called "Torch". Side Two is ushered in by a bass and tuba duet. Sam was the first of New York's more progressive jazz musicians to regularly use the tuba in his small groups, and here the instrument participates with the string bass as an equal. The soprano saxophone improvisation that follows snakes over a rhythm that refers to a rock groove without getting locked in. On "Flux" Sam is back on piano and Holland is on cello, an instrument from which he extracts a lovely bowed sound. Barker is heard on chimes. "Surge" is an apt title for the magnificent tenor saxophone solo that concludes the album.
Sam Rivers is on the cutting edge of jazz, but he has never been one of those musicians who commune primarily with their own muse. His music communicates, and as he says, "I still feel like swinging; I'm still into that." Waves is food for thought but it's foot-tapping music too, and there shouldn't be anything shocking about that; the best, most mature jazz has always been about both.

--Robert Palmer

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THANK YOU ALL [The original working list for this discography via Matt Gorney (RivBEA),
Sam & Beatrice Rivers, Dante Sawyer (Jazziz), and Vladimir Simosko.]

Assistance, Direction, and Encouragement has come from
the following gracious individuals--

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Comments, additions, corrections to: Rick Lopez