This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking an introductory workshop at the Gestalt Center for Organization & Systems Development in Cleveland. The workshop was run by one of the preeminent figures in the evolution of Gestalt OSD, John D. Carter, along with his wife Veronica Hopper Carter, and, as I sat in the room throughout the weekend looking over at his name tag, I kept hearing clarinets! Of course, John Carter was also the name of one of the greatest clarinetists of the last 50 years.
Like John D. Carter, John Carter embodies a dual legacy as an educator and as a master of his field, a mastery that was actualized with his topical five album mega work on the African American experience called Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music begun in 1982. The licorice stick is primarily associated with pre-war music, from dixieland to Johnny Dodds to Benny Goodman's swing before it was pretty much outmoded by the lower register of the more "modern" saxophone. John Carter's position as the jazz clarinetist of the new thing is rooted in a deep sense of the instrument's history. Nestled within his taut compositions are dusty folk melodies, African elements, and constant references to the jazz past along with passages of free playing and typical '80s synth investigations. Like Muhal Richard Abrams or Jaki Byard or George Lewis, Carter's outside experiments acquire meaning and substance because of the hundred or thousand years of culture winding its way through his instrument with each breath.
Coincidentally, I've also been making my way through recordings from jazz critic Gary Giddins' "Post-War Jazz: An Arbitrary Road Map" a piece written for the Village Voice Jazz Supplement back in 2002 in which Giddins picked one representative tune from each year from 1945-2001. It's a decent summation and, if you can assemble the playlist, a pretty interesting auditory journey through the last half of the century. John Carter represents 1987 with a starkly intimate and technically nimble tune called, "No Country Home" from his album Fields, that begins like musique concrete and ends with a bluesy harmonica solo.
John Carter - On a Country Road (from the Fields LP on Grammavision, 1987)
John Carter Octet - Dauwhe (from the Dauwhe LP on Black Saint, 1982)
There's lots of info out there about Carter's early Texas affiliation with Ornette Coleman, his switch from saxophone to clarinet, his longtime association with great trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who shares a similar sense of total musicality. The excellent blog Destination: Out featured Carter twice last year with tunes from Dauwhe and his Castles of Ghana album, and while the tracks are no longer up, if you're interested in this stuff, the knowledge is worth peeping.