Friday, June 19, 2015


Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr, Myra Thompson. Victims of a terror attack while praying at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. Peace to them & their families.


Six black women & three black men are murdered in the traditional American style (premeditatedly, by a racist white man who targeted them at their most vulnerable) & in his response US President Barack Obama says "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."

I wonder at what vague point in the future such a reckoning will take place, because the man who made this statement oversees (I do not use the verb accidentally) a kill list from which, every Tuesday, he & a few other men choose which extrajudicial mass murders to commit in what I suppose he believes are "non-advanced" countries. Weddings, funerals, search parties. Places of worship. Torture chambers (literally, torture chambers). Thousands of people. Hundreds of them children. (To say nothing of the brutal injuries, the deaths by grief, the conventional murders through the regular prosecution of wars, the deaths, years on, attributable to landscapes made toxic & food systems burned to ash.)

Here in the "advanced" United States, there have only been a few days this year on which police in the United States did not kill someone in their soulless work of protecting private property & serving the interests of capital. Police in the United States kill a black person every 28 hours. They killed 400 people in the first five months of this year. While cops might not commonly murder people in church, they do break into homes at night & murder black children (like Aiyana Stanley Jones & Ramarley Graham), the elderly (like Kenneth Chamberlin Sr & Kathryn Johnston), & everyone in between. But this is not the mass violence with which Barack Obama wishes to reckon. The daily killings of black people by police, their proxies, & their copycats somehow do not register as mass murder, any more than do the far away drone strikes on residents of "non-advanced" countries.

At some point we will have to reckon. But not now. No. Much as the racist flag of the Confederacy flies over the state house in South Carolina (where Dylann Roof carried out his terrorist act on Wednesday), weaponized remote-controlled aircraft emblazoned with the American flag fly over any non-advanced country in the world where the US President chooses to kill somebody. American cash & weapons flow freely to state & non-state regimes that engage in mass murder, kidnapping, torture, & rape. At some point we will have to reckon with mass violence, says its perpetrator-in-chief. By reckoning with it, he no doubt means sweep it under the rug. And thus do violence as well to language: no reckoning will take place.

The actual reckoning that we need to have is with these basic facts: that the United States was built on theft & violence. The theft of indigenous land & the theft of African labor. The de facto state-protected right of men to rape women both enslaved & "free." The attempted genocide of indigenous tribe after indigenous tribe, their forced expulsion from ancestral lands. Medical experimentation & forced sterilization. The criminalization of race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality. The incarceration of ever-increasing & historically unheard of populations of adults & children. Their forced labor. The state-sponsored kidnapping & murder of the politically inconvenient.

And the narrow exemption from all of this horror: white supremacist patriarchy.

So integral was this theft & violence to the creation of the United States that it has remained structural; theft, violence, & incarceration are definitional to the nation. You cannot have a "United States of America" absent this theft & violence. No one would recognize it.

Theft & violence. Not liberty. Not democracy. Not equality. Not justice. Not its diversity. Not its occupied landscapes. Not apple pie. The United States is its theft & violence. That's what its flag represents. That's what its political offices represent. That's certainly what its military & police represent. (And cultural manifestations like jazz & blues & hip hop - created by black people whose stolen labor built the country - are crowning achievements in the movement to liberate from, not assimilate into, a culture so irredeemably bonded to mass theft & genocidal violence.

It comes to this: we can bring an end to continued mass murders, forced labor, & the farce of civil rights applied selectively & at whim. Or we can have the United States of America. But we can't have both. And given this understanding, let those who would cast their lot with the persistence of the former reckon with the inherent evil of their allegiance to the latter.

Monday, June 08, 2015


Eric Casebolt, one of the twelve McKinney, Texas police officers who responded with force on June 5th to the apparent crime of black youth at a pool party has been suspended.

One of them. Suspended.

Many black commentators are adding "attend pool parties" to the growing list of things black people cannot do in the post-racial, post-slavery, democratic, 21st Century United States. Cannot breathe. Cannot cross the street. Cannot shop. Cannot play. Cannot walk home. Cannot be at home, sleeping.

Casebolt is seen in a video that has gone viral doing all kinds of unstable and utterly typical cop shit. He shouts expletives and threats at black children. He makes authoritative statements about "the law" that aren't actually true. He points his loaded gun at children -- children -- who pose no threat and break no law. He singularly targets people of color. These are all well-worn practices of police in the US. His violence toward a 14-year-old girl is particularly nauseating (and elucidating) in its depiction of both racial and gendered hate.

White neighborhood adults look on with approval. Fellow white cops run support. Cue CNN speculating whether race was indeed a factor.

Wait. Suspended?

This happens so often I imagine it is impossible to keep track: a cop murders or otherwise terrorizes black people (primarily, and others as well) and the police department, as a temporary stop-gap, face-saving measure, suspends that cop. Puts the cop on administrative leave. Sends the cop home to receive full pay and benefits.

This practice is really an escalation of the initial act of violence perpetrated by the police department:

1. It's a reward. In any other profession, when a person is away from the job and collecting salary and benefits, it is known as a paid vacation. This practice essentially rewards cops who murder and terrorize black people with free time and no responsibility. It communicates, to those targeted, that a "win" has taken place in the white supremacist struggle to utterly dominate and suppress black people.

2. It exacerbates the trauma. How must it feel for the targeted community to know that the cop who has just terrorized them is home, with freedom of movement and travel, with full pay, and with free time to think all the thoughts that led him or her to engage in the terror in the first place?

3. It adds economic violence to the physical violence. Paying belligerent cops to do nothing but relax and collect pay, organize their defense in the rare instances that they are prosecuted, and chat with their pals at the Fraternal Order of Police, quite literally takes resources out of the communities that cops target with their terror. Public money is placed into the hands of killer cops (who almost always have the full backing of the state for their defense anyway) and is thus not being used to address the immediate and long-term needs of those targeted, terrorized, and traumatized.

4. It's violence against language. See Orwell's 1984 or contemporary American news media for further examples. Given the frequency of police terror* (police kill a black person an average of once every 28 hours -- to say nothing of other forms of terror, and other identities targeted), public response only very rarely demands a response. A suspension soothes liberal concern trolls. When the police and the media call a reward a punishment -- a paid vacation a suspension -- it actually works its way into people's heads. Not only do some folks think punishment has been meted out, some feel the offending cop has been unfairly "victimized" with "suspension."

5. Regarding the asterisk above: the very existence of police is police terror. That's why it's not enough to disarm the police. They need to be disbanded as well.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Email Exchange with Peter Evans

[Note: my last writing, concerning the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, generated a lot of conversation, both in private emails and on Facebook. Below is an email I received from Peter Evans, who co-founded and formerly played trumpet with the band. I include my email response to him as well.]

On Feb 24, 2015, at 12:59 AM, Peter Evans wrote:

Hey Keir

I've been following all the internet activity over the last few days about MOPDTK. I am sorry I didn't respond sooner but I'm glad I didn't since, it seems like you and [bandleader] Moppa [Elliot] had a really productive conversation. I still very much feel like there is a lot to say and I'd be happy if you put this entire thing on the facebook conversation which I is still going on. (I'm not active on facebook). Some of the directions the facebook conversation took frustrate me and and there is a lot I think is distracting and a lot I disagree with. It's important stuff to talk about, for sure though, all of it.

So, as a starting place I guess I'd say that I am totally in line with where you are coming from politically. There wasn't anything in your blogpost I disagreed with in principal or didn't understand. I read your blog from time to time, keep up with your music and I appreciate you are out there with a fire in your belly. It's sadly rare. These issues are really important for everyone in our society to be thinking hard about, and I don't think I am alone in wondering how we can and must try harder to make our scene something that reflects the change we'd like to see in society instead of a depressing reflection or microcosm of it's problems. 

I have no need to argue with you about the general racial or social issues you've brought up, or the way you have framed them. But I think you might be barking up the wrong tree here, and all I'd like to do is talk about the band and the music. Since that what this is about centrally. The music, and the values in the music. That shit is audible, I really believe that. 

I was a member of the band for many years. As time went on, I noticed that there was a persistent problem we had of intention versus perception. It wasn't on the level of your accusation (not that I know of), more just people just finding the band obnoxious, annoying, or in the case of really straight-ahead jazz people, thinking we couldn't play our instruments, didn't know the music, etc. The latter issue is a battle many great musicians have been fighting harder than us for a long long time, so that didn't bother me so much. What did start to bother me over the years was the constant description of the band as ironic. I played tons of concerts with these dudes, spent hundreds of hours in trains, cars, planes on the road, very often talking about music. I am being completely serious when I say that we didn't use the word irony or talk about irony as a musical concept in the making of our music a SINGLE time. Never. As far as I know it's not in any of Moppa's words to the press as a descriptor of the band. The only time it would come up was when some journalist dude would come backstage after a show, do an interview, ask us why were making "ironic jazz", or some other variation of this question. Then we would argue with these people, tell them time and time again that using familiar materials in new ways that yield (to us anyways) surprising and new musical results is actually a pretty normal process. That we really loved all the musicians and materials we were drawing from and had studied and practiced seriously and reverently in order to be able to play like this. We also had an unusual (and often visible) amount of fun on stage doing it.  

I have devoted my life to music and particularly to a practice of music that while very hybridized, works with improvisation of many types, and often pretty directly with the improvisatory, black american tradition of music that unfortunately keeps being called "jazz". When I would be on stage with Mopdtk, playing a blues, one of Moppa's tunes (which were deliberately stylized and familiar sounding to serve as good launching points for improvisation), or "A Night in Tunisia", pretty much all of my heart, mind and physical energy went into creating something deeply felt.  And actually I don't have a lot of other opportunities to deal with that material so flexibly so it was really something positive to be able to bring in everything I've learned from checking out Roy Eldridge and Rex Stewart and combine it with stuff I've explored in solo or electro-acoustic contexts.  Also having [saxophonist] Jon [Irabagon] as a sparring partner in the front line was great- he has an insanely demonstrable knowledge of so many types of improvising, he knows Coleman Hawkins and he knows Evan Parker and can do both at once. He has played with tons of really straight ahead masters, and studied with Roscoe.  And he loves all of it. I mean, clearly; it has pretty much taken up his entire life.  

It was all very experimental for me, but I never could imagine that someone would listen to me play a solo in that band (or any other) and thought I was taking a dump on Roy's grave for lulz or something. It takes a lot of work to learn how to play like that! There really wouldn't be energy left over to like "make fun of" that stuff even if I wanted to. The group dynamic was usually about figuring out how to improvise our way from thing to thing, sometimes in really disjunct, unexpected ways.  We would try to find new and surprising (again, for us) group interactions every gig as a way to propel the music to new places and not get bored.  Very often the vocabularies we would use would come from music we love: post-Trane 70's burnout stuff, placid 1950's West coast textures, super sparse almost Cage-ian soundscapes, the obligatory post-Sidewinder Blue Note bugaloo, etc. It was never about "improving on" or making a joke out of these different (by now) and heavily stylized kinds of music. The idea was often about amplifying their qualities, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and seeing what happens. I mean, this is a brief description of what we were doing when you saw us play at Zebulon back in the day, as was my understanding as a steady contributor to the band. So just talking about myself for a moment, stating that the band is a mouthpiece for racism, and following the logic that I'm not a different player or person when I play in different situations, this would mean that musical decisions I make in my other groups which also deal to a extent with the transformation of historic or traditional material are ALSO "ironic" or even racist. Like this  

or this

.... and that's an implication I have a real problem with. Do you really think that? Have you heard Jon's record "Foxy", the Rollins homage? It's insane! It's the most moving, weird, (and yes at times even funny) tributes ever. This is the man I shared the stage with. I actually really love your playing and music, (the duo with [Rafal] Mazur is sick) but how much of this more explicitly black american music have YOU tried to engage with in a creative way- use some traditional shit to build something new? It's not easy man!

So I have to ask you- since this is about MUSIC and a band that made a lot of it- what do you hear in the actual music as being explicitly racist or offensive?

Here's the thing though. The intention versus perception problem DID become more acute and more depressing for me over my last few years in the group, and I was open about this with Moppa. Especially on the humor angle. When I would play some sound that I've spent years working on and some Belgian guy in the front row would just laugh immediately because he contextualized the group as a "funny jazz band", I would want to go down in the audience and physically assault him. Not a good feeling to have on stage!! And I love comedy but I'm not fucking Jerry Lewis with a trumpet. So I felt that, among a few other reasons, whatever I personally was putting into the music wasn't getting heard, and possibly neither was the improvisational interplay, use of timbre, and yes, exploration of traditional forms that I cherished so much in the experience of a Mopdtk gig. At least not the the extent I wanted. But it's not my band.

It's definitely a fair question- "Why, if this music was actually coming from a sincere place, did so many people think it was annoying, ironic, or in the case of Keir Neuringer, racist"?? There were definitely musicians (I'm thinking here actually of older free improvisors in the predominately white scene of european free improvisation) I respected who were quite open with me about not liking the group. I think the presentation of the band, the "brand" that developed around the music invited a lot of grief but it also invited attention that materialized into gigs (I mean, there were (unaccepted) invitations from jazz promoters for us to play "Blue"). Regardless, it became a problem for me. So I do get it, I really do. And the teeth kicking quote, even in context reads badly. I agree. But it's been on the internet since 2004 and I'm not sure what Moppa can do other than publicly disavow it.  

Lastly, about the bandleader. Moppa as you might know now has devoted his professional life to teaching. A lot of his students are black and brown kids from Queens. I know for a fact he initiates discussions about race and politics in his classes all the time. He paid his dues playing straight ahead jazz in Cleveland several nights a week in a scene that at least in the late 90's was still a lot of older, working black jazz musicians. Also, some of these guys were the guys that taught at Oberlin when Moppa and I were students. It just doesn't seem like the right person to make an example out of in the context of these issues that you, like many of us, are so deeply concerned about. I see that you revised the post and that's cool. I don't know where this thread is going... but I made a lot of music with that band, I think it's within my right to at least articulate what was behind it, for me personally at least.

Thanks and hope to see you in Philly or NYC sometime soon!


On Feb 24, 2015 2:54 PM, Keir Neuringer wrote:

Thanks for getting in touch Peter. I appreciate how you and Moppa and Amirtha have all been able to talk about this with me in a tone I didn't start out with. I've read your mail several times. I hope this response speaks to most of it.

I feel bad about the way I started out. I dialed back the personal accusations from my blog post and have since tried to center the conversation on my FB wall on the issues, not Moppa or the band. I hear what you all are saying, that you and Moppa (and presumably the other guys in the group) genuinely understand structural racism and feel aligned against it. I hear that in what is being said to me. Of the guys in the band, I've only ever spoken with you and Kevin, and I've only ever had good conversations. And I respect everyone's musicality.

I want to be accountable for what I started. That's part of why I dialed down the language on my blog. And I'm down to continue to be accountable. No one has taken any accountability for the really racist shit that was used to promote the band, however. That language was not a review, but was excerpted straight from the liner notes for the band's first record. It's still up on the Ars Nova website, for example. But even if taken down, that's not accountability. The damage was done when it was made clear who was welcome at the concert, and who was not. Moppa told me he does not intend to disavow the quote, which I regret.

In our cities, and especially in Philadelphia, white supremacist values are waging a very tangible, visible war against black people (the majority demographic here). A lot of what I do in the world is activist/volunteer work that addresses this and associated oppression. The violence here comes from Washington and Harrisburg, Wall Street, the mayor's office, the D.A.'s office, it comes from the police. But it also exists everywhere. And when I see it in my own scene, it fucks me up. And it doesn't seem to be going anywhere on its own.

Since we (you, me, Moppa) recognize structural racism, since we recognize white supremacy, I think it's necessary to see ourselves not as benign, neutral entitites. Challenging white supremacy demands of us not merely saying we're against it but also interrogating the effects of what we do and what we participate in.

On the two ocassions that I heard mopdtk live I was really turned off. It wasn't that I just wasn't into it. I felt there was something wrong going on. There's more than one way to show disrespect to the tradition, and my read on the band was that instead of disrespecting it by over-reverence (i.e. participating in the Jazz Industrial Complex, which, for what it's worth, I know and loathe), the disrespect was through over-irreverence. I'm not opposed to irreverence. I hear it in the work of Dolphy and Schepp and Sun Ra and Carla Bley and Mengelberg and Bennik and Threadgill and and and. I'm also not opposed to having fun onstage. That's important too. But something felt - both times (at Zebulon and at Judson Church, I think) - really out of whack.

Understand that I felt that way already knowing your solo work and admiring it. I have since heard Kevin and Jon in other contexts and admired them. Something about mopdtk just reads wrong. And it isn't merely onstage. It's the whole package. Apparently I'm not the only person who has this reflection. I imagine many folks either love what they read as a send-up, or attack you from the vantage point of the Jazz Industrial Complex. My reflections come from neither place.

Should the tradition be respected at all? Many of my comrades see black liberation as a condition for collective liberation. And they see jazz as a music of black liberation. This may be a little old-fashioned for some, but I largely agree. In that spirit, I see the tradition as something to honor and respect when we play with it. Many black people in America have a very different notion of ancestry than do decendents of Europeans. Lester Bowie's notion of Great Black Music - Ancient to the Future, speaks to this.

You say the band has never intended irony. And yet people keep saying this sounds like irony to them. I recognize art's not made by taking polls. And I recognize that irony is the way some people communicate (I have a deep aesthetic aversion to it). And I know irony is different than racism. I mean I think you know this: if I say something terrible and someone calls me out on it, I can keep saying that's not the way I meant it. But if I keep saying the same thing, and the response is constantly the same from lots of different people, then I may suffer from lack of self reflection. It's one thing for people to say you guys can't play your instruments. That's a lot of ignorance. But the band has built a reputation (like with the Belgian guy laughing at your first note) that it seems to have capitalized on, or at least that you recognized clearly enough to decide to leave the project. So irony, regardless of intention, is there. And I found that the irony crosses over into racism in the total presentation - presence, packaging, music, promotion.

Again, I take issue with the project, and I don't hear the issues showing up in your other work that I'm familiar with. That said, I think white supremacy is utterly prevalent in our culture, and it is literally impossible for us to take any work, to put out any music, without being caught in its web in some way. The question for me is where one's efforts fall on a spectrum between embracing it outright (hoods or badges) and fighting it outright.

I have been thinking a lot about how much racism there is, but how seemingly few racists there are. Taking that tack, at first, with my response to the mopdtk show in Philly was heavy handed and wrong. Again, the question is about participation in racism, since the whole structure of our society is racist. And in my rush to call out, I was not as clear as I wish I had been.

Briefly, to answer your question about me: I have wrestled with my relationship to black american music for most of my musical life. I made some atrocious moves as a high school and college student and I am so glad that youtube and myspace did not exist back then, and that it was more difficult to put out music independently. My college jazz training (North Texas, then Ithaca) was so terrible and damaging that for years after I insisted that I did not play jazz, while continuing to reflect the inspiration of black musicians in my work. George Lewis set me straight, thank god. He and others. I used to think that unless I can burn like Johnny Griffen or Sonny Stitt, I can't play jazz and thus my improvising was definitely not related to the jazz tradtion. I've been able to open up to more specific references to the tradition in my playing over the last few years, and have been writing tunes lately as well, for whatever that's worth. And I hear you, it's not easy to build on. I think a lot about structural issues though - the music is going to be personal and there's no accounting for taste, but who gets work, who feels safe and welcome in a space, who sees their identity reflected onstage, all that really matters to me and really does not seem to matter to a lot of people in the scene. 

Thanks again for writing to me. I'll see you around soon.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Slinging Mud & Kicking in Teeth: MOPDtK & When Irony Becomes Racism

[UPDATE 2/22/15: The following piece was written two days ago, in response to the promotion of the band's performance in Philadelphia. After writing this, I got more context about & from the bandleader. One thing I learned in particular is the bandleader's sincere reverence for the music he parodies. But such sincerity neither appears in the way the band is promoted, nor the way the music is presented. Some of this is in the band's control, some of it perhaps less so. At any rate I have changed the title & some of the language of the original text to reflect the conversations I have had in the last few days. I still think the problem discussed herein exists. I hope that the conversation this has instigated encourages the band, & those who promote them, to demonstrate respect toward the culture to which they are indebted for the content of their music.]

I need to talk about a band from New York City that I am loathe to name because they don't deserve any more attention. Yet I know that it does no good to address racism without naming its perpetrators. This band is called "Mostly Other People Do The Killing." They credit themselves with making "terrorist be-bop" and their m.o. is churning out frenzied, ironic pap that mocks jazz idioms and jazz history. The bandleader, Moppa Elliott, is a conservatory-trained bassist and music educator. They are probably best known for their note-for-note rendition of the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, which created some controversy for a few people. They have been on the scene for more than a decade. None of the band members are African American.

A relevant excerpt from the promotional text for their concert in Philadelphia tonight:
"MOPDtK formed in 2003, although founding members Elliott and trumpeter Peter Evans began playing together in 1998 as students at Oberlin Conservatory. In the liner notes to the band’s 2004 self-titled debut, Elliott states the band’s philosophy: “I would rather make music that uses jazz’s identity crisis against it, piling as many nonsensical musical associations together as possible to create music that is aware of its own inconsistencies, ironies and contradictions and likes it that way”. Elliott makes it clear he is avoiding the idea of “jazz as repertory” - “I like my jazz with some dirt on it,” he says before adding, “Bring out the mud. Standing on the shoulders of giants makes it easier to kick them in the teeth.”

To which I want to respond: black lives matter. Black cultural legacies matter and jazz is a black cultural legacy. Here is a white musician making light of centuries of cultural appropriation and theft under the cover of "irony." Here he is claiming to stand on the shoulders of giants, the easier to "kick them in the teeth." Here he is slinging mud - mud, y'all - at black cultural history.

This is the language of racism. It doesn't matter if it's an ironic gesture, such language engenders real violence perpetrated by white supremacist culture against black people. To state it another way, real violence is founded on language that often seems (to white people) to be innocuous. I don't know this person. I don't know what he's like in other areas of his life. But in the text above his own appraisal of the band's work is in conflict with the notion that black lives matter. To kick black culture in the teeth is to say black culture doesn't matter. It is to say black people, thus, do not matter.

Who are these giants at whom he's slinging mud? They are Armstrong and Ellington, Mingus and Monk, Parker and Coltrane. They are the elders of the music, the grandfathers, the ancients. They are the inheritors and carriers of what W.E.B. Dubois called the Sorrow Songs, the music that gave a people - against whom an attempted genocide has been perpetrated for centuries - their life. Cultural forebears such as these are meaningful in ways that many white folks cannot understand. Yes, some of us lost our family trees escaping persecution in Europe, but we don't continue to face persecution walking to the store.

For a people whose family histories are twisted and lost amidst white violence - kidnapping, enslavement, enforced poverty, mass incarceration, cultural appropriation - playing ironically with their legacy is deeply offensive. It is menacing, threatening. It is unconscionable. It is also not new or novel, and black people in America have continually created globally significant cultural currents despite this legacy of white violence.

The giants whose shoulders Elliott claims to stand on are musicians who reinvented and advanced the music not by slandering and dishonoring their forebears, but rather by respecting and building on their heritage. Folks with a deeper knowledge of jazz and its repertoire will understand that Cecil Taylor's music is not a kick in Ellington's teeth; Albert Ayler's music was not a kick in Lester Young's teeth; William Parker's music is not a kick in Mingus' teeth; Matana Roberts' music is not a kick in Charlie Parker's teeth.

I recently read something that author Junot Diaz had to say about Toni Morrison, who just celebrated her 84th birthday. He said that the best writer in the world is of African descent. He said that despite the ills of the world, this fact allows him to sleep well at night. (Let's add: the world's finest living author is also a woman.) Now: imagine Diaz writing "standing on the shoulders of giants makes it easier to kick them in the teeth." You dig?

To my ears, Elliott's music does not have the stature or quality of Diaz's writing. But the point I want to make is a question of degree, of reach. If someone were to come into my home and talk about kicking black culture in the teeth, such racist speech wouldn't become excusable - or ironic - simply because it is said behind closed doors. Or simply because the speaker doesn't intend to act physically. I'd call the motherfucker out on it, and show him the door.

People of conscience, people who want to challenge the power dynamic that maintains white supremacy and all of the physical, cultural, and emotional violence it brings with it, have to prevent racism from reverberating throughout the culture. I note with continual disappointment the lack of commitment from my peers to challenging oppressive power structures. If the band and its members don't intend to maintain a stance of violence toward black culture and, thus, black people, the language that is used to speak about their work ought to reflect that. Otherwise, the language (and thus the notes) reverberate racism. And if that's the case, I propose to turn it off, shut it down, and call them out on it.

Philadephia 2/20/15

Monday, April 21, 2014


Ceremonies Out of the Air, a double album of saxophone improvisations recorded in August 2013, is released on New Atlantis Records on April 22. A tour begins in New Haven the same day. Current dates and locations are below, and updated at

Ceremonies is available as two 12" vinyl LPs in a gatefold jacket, as a single, 79-minute CD, and as an MP3 download. All five tracks (and a few more, which are not being released at this time) were recorded in a single session at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. The audience was comprised of some of the folks who helped fund the making of the album through a crowdsource campaign. The album art was painted by Erin Rice. The recording was made by Eugene Lew, and mixed by Kato Hideki.

The project is a dedication to my mother, Esther Neuringer, an avid new music supporter who died of lung cancer in March of last year. There is a quotation that frames the work and lends it its title, from Cormac McCarthy's The Road: "Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them." The text of my eulogy is the liner note for the album.

The titles of the improvisations are:
1- okay we can go now
2- Japanese Maples
3- i dreamt there was nothing wrong with my chemistry
4- The Dogwood Circle (round and round, round and round)
5- we had mostly good times

Ceremonies can be purchased via New Atlantis Records, or in a special edition through, or from independent record stores and mail orders, or from online retailers like iTunes. For anyone interested in supporting this album beyond a purchase: ask your local independent record stores to carry it, and request it on your local radio stations.

4/22 NEW HAVEN: Uncertainty Music Series at Never Ending Books + Cretella/Matlock
4/23 MONTREAL: La Vitrola + Clarinet Panic, Goddard X Pelchat
4/24 OTTAWA: Gallery 101 + Clarinet Panic, Solina String Ensemble
4/25 KINGSTON: The Artel + Clarinet Panic, Salle Sella
4/25 GUELPH: Silence + The Vertical Squirrels
4/27 TORONTO: Oz Studios + Clarinet Panic, CCMC
4/28 BUFFALO: Hallwalls + Kevin Cain
4/30 ITHACA: Angry Mom Records
5/01 ALBANY: Upstate Artists Guild
5/04 PHILADELPHIA: Archer Spade Series at Rotunda + Devin Hoff

5/15 DETROIT: Trinosophes
5/16 KALAMAZOO: Corner Record Shop tbc
5/17 DUBUQUE: Monk’s + Bucko/Berns
5/18 IOWA CITY: Public Space One + Oren/Hurlin
5/19 CHICAGO ?
5/20 COLUMBIA MO: houseshow
5/21 ST LOUIS: Cafe Ventana + N.N.N. Cook
5/22 LAFAYETTE IN: Black Sparrow tbc
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5/25 CLEVELAND: Guide to Kulchur

Saturday, May 18, 2013



it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, but I didn’t know how it ends, I never knew how it ends until recently, everything is in the lungs, before I could breathe my mother breathed for me, she breathed and then I could breathe, and not long ago I watched and I listened and I held her hand as she breathed her last breath, so I know how it ends, it ends as it begins, with breathing

early on an August morning in 1947 my mother began to breathe, and early on a March morning in 2013 she stopped breathing, her life could be measured in breaths, in years (the years she breathed), in days, in the number of children she gave birth to, or the number she lost, or the things she made with her hands, or the dogs she kept as companions, or the places she lived, or the places she visited, or the songs she loved, or the cigarettes she smoked, the pain she endured, such could be the parameters of her life as a work

and is this a strange introduction to a performance of the work of her son? I don’t think it is, I want to situate my music in a context that is meaningful beyond the parameters of pitches and rhythms, for which, even as a musician of many years, I have limited understanding or objectivity, my work is not about sound phenomena, I have only a cursory interest in sound phenomena but a great interest in social phenomena, I have written it before, elsewhere: music is not (merely) about organizing notes, it is about organizing ourselves, and I ask myself as I perform or write or record, how do I organize myself amidst others, with others, what do we do when we listen, what do we do when we write, what do we do when we perform, what is the music that my particular body makes, a particular body my particular mother made (not to suggest there is anything special about either of us, or others, any more than any others, just that we are all particular and it follows that the music one makes will be particular too), I think about the social phenomenon of breathing in tandem with the breathing of others, it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, and it ends with breathing, I am certain of this, and why should it be anything else in between?

does this sound complicated? because I don’t want it to sound complicated, I want it to sound simple, it is simple, as simple as breathing, an act you do without thinking about it, or you do and you focus on it, or it is labored, difficult for you and so (simply, without complication, without obfuscation) it outweighs all other things you might do or think about doing, I watched and I listened and I held her hand as my mother breathed in her last hours, now faster, now slower, now louder, now softer, I watched and I listened and I held her hand and surely she did the same when I was born, so I think I understand something about breathing, but sound phenomena confuse me, and in a world of confusion why add more confusion?

this is not a manifesto, I am trying to situate my work in a context, and what I am thinking about as I write is what kind of music the sound of my first breaths must have been for my mother, because perhaps this is music that all children and all parents can understand, and we are all one if not the other, and I can approximate what my mother felt, if not in the details, then at least in the awe and the humility, by contrasting it with the kind of music my mother’s last breaths were for me, something I knew I would never hear again, but to ask what kind of music I am thinking of is to think about the parameters of this music, I don’t know, it is not delineated by temporal durations, or spatial dimensions, or structure, or word count, and there are no words to describe this gift my mother gave to me, to let me hold her hand and let me listen and let me watch as the work that was her life ended, as she died

but there is a metaphor: it was like breathing


when I was very young I told my parents I wanted to be a fire engine -- not a fireman, but the actual vehicle, it was the sound of the thing, the spectacular sound of the siren that I wanted to be, and I imitated it often, but by the time I was four years old I had changed my mind and I told my parents that when I grew up I wanted to be “a mommy”, I had learned to appreciate a social phenomenon, perhaps sirens have a social function but they don’t have an inclination, but mothers do, at least my mother did, she wanted me to be good at what I do, and for others to care for it, and for me to be “happy” doing it, and she taught herself, late in life, to appreciate the odd sounds and odd social phenomena of whatever scenes my music found a home in, experimental or avant-garde or contemporary classical or free improvisation or noise or jazz or rock and roll or whatever you want to call these attitudes toward music making and the social behaviors that develop around them, she went to all the strange concerts and talked to all the musicians and bought their recordings and invited them to her home and fed them, and she asked me what I thought and she told me what she thought, and for someone who never played an instrument or wrote a song she breathed this music deeply, and maybe the dying process began earlier than we thought, maybe it was when she stopped being able to go to concerts and see her beloved musicians and speak with them and support their work, but I will tell you this last story it was perhaps ten days before she died and I was so busy taking care of her that I hadn’t played or practiced any music or slept in weeks but I put on a Bobby Darin LP and we never really listened to that record and it held no special meaning for us but fuck, music is music, so she in her wheelchair and me in my exhaustion and deep, deep sadness at the devastating loss I was about to endure we danced a little to that music and the joy in the room was intense and now I don’t want to speak of her in the past tense I want to breathe into my saxophone, this after all is the ability she gave to me, to breathe, this is where it began and this after all is where it will end, with breathing

[note: written for the program website of Kate Moore's 'Handmade Homegrown' concert series in The Hague, for which I gave a performance on May 16.]

Friday, March 22, 2013


(eulogy for my mother 1947-2013)

When music played, she would look out a window, see tree branches swaying, or people walking, and note the choreography. I would send her recordings of my music, and she would listen to them, again and again and again, and she would treasure them as if they were her grandchildren, and play them with pride for friends, and memorize their every vibration, and know them as though she herself had written them - and hadn't she? with her own body and her own soul, thirty-six years ago - and tell me that she heard great choirs singing my work, she would orchestrate greater versions of it than I could imagine, in the time it took for a bar of a piece to play, she would orchestrate lavish versions of the music and the production and the publicity, she would describe the immense productions, already clear in her mind, the dancers, the elaborate set designs, the lighting plans, the colors swirling and telling stories within stories in their intermingling. And her orchestration would extend to the accolades and success it would bring to her son, because hard work and risk-taking will always bring great rewards, how it would permit me to travel and buy a home and raise a family, and how that family would thrive and honor the toiling and risks and sacrifices of her dear parents, parents whose adventures she memorialized with such reverence that their very kisses to each other became legends as sacred as any other to the ears of her children. She would hear a note and it would extend from a fine, small molecule of air that she would capture gently between her thumb and one of her long, brightly painted fingernails, out in a flourish full of grace, to the heavens, the stars, through whole solar systems, to the furthest reaches of being itself, and with a wave of her head and an "ah" or two clicks of her tongue, she would catch herself, remembering something, the corporeal, the belly, she would ask "is it lunchtime?" and always, always, always, before she would eat she would offer you up the world to fill your own belly, and if the world didn't satisfy you she would offer you another, or another, and if three whole worlds would not satisfy you she would find another again, anything, and what else, and you would have ice cream covered in hot fudge and whipped cream for dinner, or a spectacular meal of many courses made from scratch, or your choice, anything you wanted, of the town’s finest dining, there is no modesty in matters of the belly, but she would teach you how to grow in the garden, how to grow fruits and vegetables and herbs that nourished you, and how to grow flowers that delighted you, with strange names she would always know, as though these were names she herself had chosen for them, and she would always know their season, their particulars, like a mother knows what foods her babies like to eat, there were whole taxonomies of flowers and plants in her head, and everything was a sprawling taxonomy, mountains of beads and jewelry and ribbons and fabric and paint and glue pouring out from makeshift workspaces, arranged into families and groups as precariously and with as much poetry as any really living life, and the ups and downs of the stock market and the ins and outs of real estate were arrayed in her mind and upon the slightest slivers of paper, the backs of receipts and envelopes and matchbooks, mysterious ciphers in her careful, lovely scrawl, populating reams of scratch paper that curled around her house like vines, full of lives of their own, flowing from every surface, and each calculation coming with a mathematics and a lesson on self-sufficiency embedded in it, and recipes, oh recipes, as though recipes were a kingdom unto themselves, and tuna salad begat egg salad, and egg salad begat devilled eggs, the kitchen at once a sacred shrine and a restless artist’s tangled workplace, and back out in the garden she would teach you how to pull up the weeds, not just which ones to pull, but how to do it as a discipline, as an aesthetic, as the sun rose, when the rest of the world was asleep, with a good dog at her side, and a cup of too-sweet coffee in one hand, and the new day full of possibility, full of opportunity, the early bird does not catch worms, she opens up her own restaurant, she teaches you how to eat, how to cook, how to present food elegantly, because the table is a canvas, the good spirits of her many guests are canvases to paint upon, generosity is a thing to paint with, everything is adorned, everything is arrayed, every thing is part of a collection of things, and because her bright green eyes were prisms, and her long hands were factories, every thing can be made to be some other thing, turned around, painted, put in a new context, given to a school or a church for children to make new art with, or sell it and sell it and sell it until you can buy a house and sell a house and save enough to give away so her grandchildren will never be cold or hungry or sick and the things she labored greatest over, the pains she suffered most for, the love that just flowed and flowed and flowed out of her because she had no beginning and no end as long as she loved, and her love was out in the world, here we are, with names she gave us, doing her proud, seeing, hearing, feeling this immeasurable limitless potential of a world she dreamt up for us, to travel over, to sing to, to entertain, to build upon, to find love on, always to find love, to find someone to sing to, to travel with, to entertain, to build with, to dance with, to laugh with, to cry with, to cook with, to fill the belly and the heart with, to dream dreams with, to breathe with

and I was there with her as she breathed her last breath, her hand in mine, her no-longer seeing eyes looking through me to a new world, her sweet face young again, poised, mischievously to the end, in the vaguest suggestion of a smile, with the lines of life and care and her prodigious, idiosyncratic folk wisdom smoothed over in her departure from this place, that last breath pure and calm and full of peace, even in her last instant of life a lesson to hand down to me, her son, her friend, and a hope that this world, this world without her, would be like this world with her, a place where to wake up and breath is to dream without limitation