The great Sam Rivers has passed and what a big loss, what a human being, what an improvisor. And really...what do I know? I only got to see him a handful of times but each was better than a delight; it was actually transformative.
The first couple of times that I saw him in person was when he came out to a couple of New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars shows in Orlando, FL. At one of them he was dancing wildly and he made sure to come over and tell us how much he liked it. He was one of my heroes and I felt like i'd been given a fresh, strong, backbone.
When we would go down to Orlando, we were sometimes lucky to see his Rivbea orchestra; a great band- check out some of those hot clips on youtube.
The most important memory of Sam for me, and a number of my comrades in New Orleans, was when he came down to play with the Naked Orchestra. He had some music prepared but there had been a mixup with his management who had incorrectly communicated the Naked Orchestra's instrumentation to him. He felt badly about it and said that he had lots of music for such a project if he'd been told what kind of band it was. He dissolved the rehearsal and said he would have new music for us right before the gig and he did just that; the following evening he had worked up a complete piece for the orchestra. It was a very ear opening piece of music and I wish I had a recording of that evening.
Every time you saw Sam Rivers he exuded a shocking amount of energy and his multi instrumental trio of recent years was also something else to see.
My old friend, David Kunian wrote a poem inspired by the show that night with the Naked Orchestra . Here it is...
SAM RIVERS AND THE NAKED ORCHESTRA 3/8/02 ZEITGEIST THEATRE
Michael Ray is his own delay.
If he were going the speed of light,
Would he hear his instrument in the mirror?
Yeah, Einstein, I’m hearing things, All Right!
Tim Green’s blowing breath through the bass sax
Powering the band like a B-2 bomber.
Sounds like Operation Anaconda creeping
Through the mountains and then a big BOOM
As Eric Lucero’s trumpet and Rob Wagner’s horn
Drop the furious atonal BOMB. Sam the Man Rivers
Writing a new piece like a snake
Sousaphone in the hills, saxophones in the grass.
Mikiel Williams fingering like a snake charmer.
Sam has Hart McKnee adding flute
And interpretive dance stomps.
“Ooops, I brought music for an orchestra,
but not this kind of Orchestra.”
Maybe an Arkestra? A Dressed Orchestra?
Michael Skinkus is the tomato conga.
Matt Perrine on sousaphone is definitely pickles.
Doug Miller no offense slathers on tenor mayo.
Jonathan Froelich’s sharp guitar tones and crazy clusters
Shreds my lettuce.
Cacophony is beautiful
Chaos is beautiful!
It makes no sense, maybe not
Nonsense, gimme more,
More more more more Naked Sense!
Top it with Sam Rivers hip reeds, wild chords,
Flowing charts, and toothy smile.