Another entry in the lost-jazz-musician-now-found category, Ed Curran played clarinet and alto and was active in the '60s on the New York scene and then "disappeared," at least according to lore. He released one record under his name on Savoy, called Elysa, produced by Bill Dixon when Dixon was A&R man presiding over Savoy's New Jazz Series in the mid-60s. Ed contacted me after I put together a Beware of the Blog post about his former partner-in-crime Cleve Pozar, in an effort to get back in touch with Cleve (they've since rekindled their friendship). Ed and I have had some subsequent e-mail correspondence and he was nice enough to send me a few CDs, including a burn of Elysa.
The record's become a real treasure to me. The tunes show a small debt to Ornette Coleman, but where Ornette's compositions have a heat-centered intensity, Ed Curran's approach is wider, more cinematic, more benevolent. (Actually, Curran's compositional style reminds me of Grachan Moncur III on Evolution or the stuff Moncur did for Jackie McLean's bands in the mid-'60s.) On Elysa, it's the soloists that are intense. Both Ed (on alto saxopone and clarinet) and Marc Levin (on cornet, mellophone and flugelhorn) reveal laser-focus and a tough individuality, honed to a sharp point by the ecstasy of free jazz. I can hardly think of a brass player who does more with fewer notes, aside from Miles, than Marc Levin. Ed Curran sounds like a character of his time (stylistically, Bill Dixon comes to mind, actually). This is especially noticeable when he's on clarinet, revealing a molten modern phrasing, and, I might add, a clear refusal to transpose ragtime moves to the New Thing. The rhythm section of Cleve and Kiyoshi Takunaga on bass, is driving, flexible and inventive, as good as it gets. Elysa has been a stunning discovery: a seriously accomplished band, playing seriously good tunes with style. A lot worse has been reissued.
Ed Curran agreed to answer a few of my questions and also to allow me to post a couple of the tracks from Elysa. My original intention was to take Ed's responses and edit them to a reasonable length and for clarity, but, really, the whole banana is worth publishing, so I'll just leave it in Ed's words (links and extemporaneous parentheses are mine!):
During the early 60's, I was playing with a Third Stream group, which included bassist Alan Silva. Alan invited me to a meeting of the Jazz Composers Guild, where I met Bill Dixon. At the Guild I also met George Abend a noted artist who also played prepared piano. We put together a trio, which included Cleve Pozar on percussion. I think George and Cleve played every percussion instrument on earth, while I played alto sax and clarinet, making sounds with every part of the instruments I possibly could. It was a trio with a "big sound." We played a couple of times at the Composers Guild, but we never recorded which was a shame because we made some incredible music.
During this same time I was also playing with Bill Dixon and the Jazz Composers Guild orchestra. Bill and I became good friends and through him I met Marc Levin. Bill was also looking for a drummer and I put Bill and Cleve together.
Cleve also became my tutor. I couldn't read very well and Dave Horowitz was putting a group together and Cleve wanted me to join. Dave is a talented piano player and composer and his music was a challenge for me, but with Cleve's help I joined the group. This group was a showcase for Dave's compositions and the members' improvisational skills. Dave still has the recordings this group did in the '60's and I have been trying to pry them out of his hands for 20 years, maybe Cleve can do it.
Cleve, Dave and I became the base of numerous groups for a number of years. Marc played brass most of the time, but the bass players varied. Usually it was Bill Folwell (best known for his bass work with Albert Ayler) or Kiyoshi Tokunaga (who later played with Jimmy Giuffre -ed.) and on occasion Jack Bonus played tenor sax and flute (Jack Bonus later became a Grateful Dead affiliate, and released an underground hippie-folk record on Jefferson Airplane's vanity label, Grunt Records -ed.).
Cleve, Dave and I also became involved with a famous New York poet, Ree Dragonette. Ree had performed with Eric Dolphy and when she heard me play at the Guild, she thought that we would be good together. Over the years, we would perform numerous times.
In the mid 60's I became the Director of Jazz at St. Marks Church in the Bowery, which held the summer "Jazz in the Churchyard" concerts. At that time Cleve, Kiyoshi, Marc and I started thinking about putting a record date together. I had written enough music to fill an album and our playing was tight.
My first attempt for a recording, was at Columbia records where Teo Mecero was. Teo was an adventurous player and I thought he was my best chance with a big company. Teo liked the music but he didn't think Columbia would. He thought my best chance would be with Bernard Stollman at ESP-Disk. Bernard liked the music but he wanted me to replace Kiyoshi with Charlie Haden. I did talk to Haden and he agreed to play with the group, but it wasn't what I wanted. Kiyoshi had worked hard and his playing was equal to Haden's.
Relief came in the form of Bill Dixon. Unbeknownst to me, he was working with Savoy Records and wanted to produce the album. It was a no-brainer, Kiyoshi would stay and we would record with a jazz ledgend, Savoy Records. We played the recording date like a concert and because of the tightness of the group there was very little mixing and editing done. Our one problem was balancing, but the engineer got it all together and I was happy with the finished product.
The last time I saw Kiyoshi was about 15 years ago in Mendocino, California. He was playing some good jazz with a trio. I haven't been able to locate Marc. The last I heard, he was living in Europe.
When the Savoy record was released, things were going well for me musically. Dave Horowitz and I had a trio that was working on weekends. We did the music for an art movie, and I produced some concerts for the Gate Theater, with Valdo Williams (Valdo played piano and also recorded an album for Bill Dixon at Savoy, called New Advanced Jazz -ed.) and Sonny Simmons, and also with my quartet. At Saint Marks Church, I produced winter concerts in the church. One of the most memorable was the group that Cleve Pozar and Bob Moley put together. Cleve wrote an arrangement to "Carol of the Bells," where I played soprano sax. The arrangement was pretty straight forward, but the solos were pure free jazz improvisation. We almost blew the church down! Years later, when I was racing motorcycles in Baja, California, hundreds of miles across the open desert, scary and exciting things happened and no one was there to record it. I would be carried back and time and think about that church concert and wishing it had been recorded.
Unfortunately during this same time my personal life was falling apart. The Savoy record, Elysa, was named after my daughter, who was born when the record was made. Her mother, Nicole and I were having problems, not that it was anyone's fault. She had her problems, I had mine and there was no middle ground for reconciliation.
I decided to leave New York and go to Las Vegas, not on a permanent basis but to get my head together. I truly intended to return to New York. I felt I had a modicum of success in music and wanted to continue with it.
I had embraced Zen Buddhism years before and I decided that in order to be healthy I must obtain a balance between my spiritual and physical life. As a musician the only thing physical I did was walk. I put my horns in the closet, got a job at a bank and bought a motorcycle for the dirt. I trained in the gym, swam, ran and bicycled my demons away and after five years, I knew I would never return to New York or music.
My wife Hermalene and I got together in 1973. She was (is) a hippie chick and played folk guitar and sang a little. She would periodically make me get my horns out and play. I would do a semester or two at the college or city jazz band, but my heart was never in it. About fifteen years ago Hermalene started studying classical guitar, in 2004 she was eager to have me play with her and we formed, Interpolacion. Another expat living in Mexico, Bindu Gross (Google translation of a Spanish-language biography), gave us that name because we interpolated the classical and jazz genres.
Bindu and his lovely wife Beatriz own Cafe Uno-Dos-Tres in Colima, Mexico and have formed a wonderful duo, with Bindu on sax and Beatriz on piano (photo of Bindu and his wife Beatriz via tapiro's Flickr. We met in Melaque, Mexico. Both of our duos were playing at a great restaurant on the beach. Hermalene and I didn't have amplification and when the waves crashed on the beach no one could hear the guitar. My alto sang through just fine. Hermalene ended the show doing romantic music at each table.
Bindu arrived in New York just as I was leaving, in 1968. He played with a lot of the same guys I had played with and we had a great time talking about music and the characters involved. Bindu and Beatriz invited us to come and play at their cafe and we have been playing there every year since. This meeting with Bindu was when my desire to play came back. Not with the same intensity or drive, but just for the love of it.
(UPDATE: If any of the musicians mentioned above would like to get in touch with Ed Curran, he asked me to pass on his e-mail address, motodepo [at] hotmail [dot] com.)