Thoughts on Stefan Wolpe by John Carisi

Ben Heller and Nicholas Kelly, of Columbia University, invited Roy Campbell and myself up to WKCR (“The greatest radio station in the world,” so said Don Cherry in a famous PSA) last night to talk about the Symphony for Improvisers performance this Saturday.

We played a lot of new and old trumpet music and had a great time. I learned a lot from Roy — especially last night hearing him talk about the importance of Hannibal Marvin Peterson on his music and life.

Anyway, after it was all over I was thinking about a Shorty Rogers track we had played called Three On A Row. It’s from a Shelly Manne record called The Three and The Two. This piece, written by Shorty Rogers, is played by the composer on trumpet, Jimmy Giuffre on saxophone and Shelly Manne on drums. Just the trio.

Sonically it made me think of a piece by Stefan Wolpe that I hadn’t heard in years: the Quartet No. 1 from 1950. Wolpe supposedly wrote this piece after having been taken to see Charlie Parker and other jazz concerts by his student, John Carisi (composer of the song Israel). It is scored for trumpet, tenor sax, piano and percussion.

I got to thinking about how Carisi would have gotten to someone like Wolpe in the 1940s. After a few searches I came upon this interview with Carisi:

I had come out of the army and had worked for a couple of bands including Ray McKinley, where I met Eddie Sauter, and that’s how I got to Wolpe. I told him that I was scrapin’ the bottom of the barrel. I’m stealin’ from myself and I keep writing the same things. [Eddie] was funny. He went through a whole string [of teachers]. “I studied with Marion Bauer,” and he named all of these big East Coast teachers. I’m not saying that that’s who he said, but names like that. “But don’t go to any of them. Go see a man by the name of Stefan Wolpe.”

[Stefan] was living in 110th Street then, the big huge apartments they used to have. The first thing he wanted to know was what I did. So I showed him some of these scores, and I played some of these things. I remember him saying, “Aha, Prokofiev,” which I was unaware of at the time. I said, “Oh, yeah?”

Great stuff. To read the rest, go here.