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Outer Avant-Garde Jazz at the Fourth Jazz Marathon in Groningen, May 1977


This program takes a look back at the 1977 Jazz Marathon, which took place at the Oosterpoort Cultural Center in Groningen.

The Jazz Marathons of 1974, ’75, and ’76 have already been covered in The Jazz Connection, so now it’s time for the 1977 Jazz Marathon. Later this year, The Jazz Connection will also make room for the Marathons of ’78, ’79, and ’80.

The organizers of the fourth Marathon made some significant changes to the format.

Firstly, the festival now lasts for three days; Friday is still a sort of warm-up evening, with the actual Marathon starting on Saturday, but now the first day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 29, 1977, has been added as a sort of extension exercise.

Secondly, the programmers had the courage to only program practitioners of avant-garde jazz, although it’s difficult to call the David Friedman Quartet, with its mellowness, avant-garde.

Thirdly, the share of Dutch avant-gardists in the program is extremely meager: only the Willem Breuker Kollektief is allowed to represent the Dutch flag.

Fourthly, the performances will take place exclusively in the small hall of De Oosterpoort, which easily accommodates about a thousand festival visitors per day. Moreover, this hall has much less reverberation than the large hall intended for symphonic music, making it much easier for sound technicians to achieve high-quality amplified sound in the small hall.

“Never before has such a topical jazz festival been organized in the Netherlands” (Rudy Koopmans in De Volkskrant).

I cannot give you a more concrete impression of the radical character of that fourth Marathon than by walking you through all the names per day:

*Friday, May 27 (the traditional warm-up evening):

Fred van Hove (piano)

Sam Rivers (tenor sax) + Dave Holland (bass)

*Saturday, May 28:

Charles Tyler Quartet: Earl Cross (trumpet), Charles Tyler (alto sax), Ronnie Boykins (bass), Steve Reid (drums)

David Friedman Quartet: David Friedman and Dave Samuels (vibraphone and marimba), Harvie Swartz (bass), Mike DiPasqua (drums)

Richard Abrams Quartet: George Lewis (trombone), Richard Abrams (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Bobo Shaw (drums)

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Lester Bowie (trumpet), Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman (saxophones, plus a whole list of other instruments), Malachi Favors (bass), Don Moyé (drums)

Willem Breuker Kollektief (photo): Boy Raaymakers (trumpet), Willem van Manen, Bernard Hunnekink (trombone), Jan Wolff (horn), Willem Breuker, Bob Driessen, Maarten van Norden, John Fischer (saxophones), Arjen Gorter (bass), Rob Verdurmen (drums)

*Sunday, May 29, First Day of Pentecost:

Cecil Taylor Quintet: Ralph Malik (trumpet), Jimmy Lyons (alto sax), David Ware (tenor sax), Cecil Taylor (piano), Beaver Harris (drums)

Yosuke Yamashita Trio: Akira Sakata (alto sax and bass clarinet), Yosuke Yamashita (piano), Shota Kayama (percussion)

Dollar Brand (piano) For the record: this South African pianist would later operate under the name Abdullah Ibrahim

Oliver Lake Quartet: Oliver Lake (alto sax), Michael Gregory Jackson (guitar), Fred Hopkins (bass), Paul Maddox (drums)

New York Saxophone Quartet: Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill (alto sax), David Murray (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone)

The many regional and national newspapers that the Netherlands still had at that time were already anticipating with great pleasure the prospect of such a flood of young, often hardly known musicians who would share the concepts that were then mainly developed and still tested daily in the lofts of New York warehouses for three days at the Cultural Center de Oosterpoort.

The Volkskrant wrote: “The program looks splendid; never before has such a current jazz festival been organized in the Netherlands.”

But not only the fans who had taken the trouble to buy a ticket and travel to Groningen could get to know these “loft jazz” musicians, also on many stages in the Randstad, performances took place of groups that were brought to Europe by the Marathon in close cooperation with the jazz festival of Moers. In any case, in 1977, both festivals did not use the exclusivity clause.

The admission prices are also worth mentioning: a day pass cost 10.- guilders (CJP 7.50) and a pass for all days 25.- guilders (CJP 15.-).

The Dagblad De Waarheid (mouthpiece of the Dutch Communist Party) was delighted with the arrival of all those American troublemakers in the Netherlands: the headline of the article read: “Avalanche of ‘loft-jazz’ from New York” and in the first paragraph: “The jazz marathon that took place in Groningen last weekend has brought our country (…) an invasion of young American jazz musicians. The radiation effect of the avant-garde festival in the north can be called overwhelming, now that so many places in our country are being visited these days by New York talent that has crawled out of the attic.”

Not only did the Netherlands still have many newspaper titles in the 1970s, but virtually every city of any size then also had a jazz stage.

I have listed the complete lineups of the participating ensembles above, and when I carefully went through all those names, I came to the conclusion that almost all those musicians who contributed to the success of that Marathon in 1977 have continued to play a significant role in the past forty-five to fifty years. Only a few have fallen into oblivion.

“Marathon to a Climax with the New York Saxophone Quartet” (Rudy Koopmans in the Volkskrant)

I further quote from the review of the missionary of the newest jazz, Rudy Koopmans: “The four saxophonists were completely unknown in Europe at the same time last year, and in New York it was not much different. They have immediately turned the entire jazz hierarchy upside down as representatives of the new New York jazz, which is very recently referred to as loft-jazz. Their names are: Hamiett Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, David Murray.”


Even Simon Korteweg (1938-2020), in his role as jazz critic for Het Parool, had traveled all the way from Amsterdam to Groningen: “The performance of the New York Saxophone Quartet was extremely fascinating (…). Their unaccompanied playing was often a masterful form of balance, both in terms of tone colors and rhythm as well as in their collective improvisation. All four seem strong enough as soloists to lead a group. Nevertheless, hopefully the quartet will stay together for a long time, because it seems capable of reaching unique heights. In any case, four names to remember, perhaps especially Murray’s, as he is only 22 years old.”

Hugo Nugteren in NRC Handelsblad focuses mainly on the Willem Breuker Kollektief, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the Cecil Taylor Unit, but he misses the enormous potential of the four saxophonists who form the NYSQ: “The New York Saxophone Quartet with stars David Murray, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill and Hamiett Bluiett is only moderately interesting in the unison ensemble parts.”

In a one-hour radio program, of course, you cannot do justice to the enormous wealth of music that was played at that third Marathon. Therefore, we will focus on the program as it sounded on that Sunday evening of May 29, 1977, in the small hall of the Cultural Center De Oosterpoort. After the afternoon program of that day had been opened by the sure-footed Cecil Taylor Unit, the trio of Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita followed in the footsteps of power pianist Cecil Taylor, after which the audience was ready for some possibly more peaceful portions of “loft jazz” (a frequently used catchword in the summer of 1977): first pianist Dollar Brand, followed by the Oliver Lake Quartet, and finally the New York Saxophone Quartet.

The playlist:

Dollar Brand (piano), with three original compositions:

– The Perfumed Garden Wet with Rain (1979)
– Ancient Cape (1991)
– Saud (1979), assisted by Johnny Dyani (double bass)

After Dollar Brand, we hear three compositions by Oliver Lake performed by his quartet with the same lineup that played at the Marathon:

– Hasan (1976)
– Usta B (1976)
– Machine Wing (1976)

Soon after the 1977 Marathon, the New York Saxophone Quartet was forced to take on a different name, as there was already a saxophone quartet operating under that name. In their youthful recklessness, the daring sky climbers then chose the name World Saxophone Quartet. Under that name, they celebrated triumphs all over the world for almost forty years, until 2016.

At the Marathon in Groningen, when the four saxophonists had only recently come together, their music must have sounded raw and unstructured. “Quite a screamfest” is what critic Scott Yanow called that early period of the quartet. Especially Julius Hemphill made sure that the cacophonous situations in which the performances used to derail were quickly resolved.

I have chosen four pieces from the Black Saint CD Revue, which was recorded in the prestigious IRCAM studio in Paris in 1980:

– Hymn for the Old Year (Oliver Lake)
– Revue (Julius Hemphill)
– Affairs of the Heart (Julius Hemphill)
– David’s Tune (David Murray)

The 1978 Marathon will be discussed in The Jazz Connection on Saturday, July 29, 2023.


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