John Carter: Some notes about ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’s
John Carter grew up in the country way out on the grassy prairie outside Fort Worth, mostly small farms and fishing holes.
He was a bright and precocious kid who graduated high school early and onto college taking a degree in music (1949) by age 19 at Lincoln University, Missouri, followed by his M.A. (1956) from University of Colorado at Boulder.
By the time this record was made he had been living in Los Angeles 15 years. Arriving in 1961 he worked around town with a Ray Crawford Quartet that included Philly Joe, he joined the union and tried to find work in the Hollywood film, tv & pop music machine, he played all the woodwinds: flutes, saxophones, double-reeds, and when that didn’t come to pass he took employment with the L.A. public school system as an itinerant music teacher responsible for half dozen elementary school’s music curriculum, traveling to a different school each day of the week in his Porsche. May 1967 Ornette hired him to conduct his “Inventions of Symphonic Poems” at the UCLA Jazz Festival, it was during this residency that Ornette brought to John’s attention that Bobby Bradford had recently relocated to Los Angeles and was out there somewhere in the vast 300-square-miles of suburb that make up greater Los Angeles metropolitan cosmology. Ornette had the telephone number and John called Bobby who was living in Pomona at the time and working in San Bernardino. A long stretch of road: Culver City (where John lived) to Pomona to San Bernardino, but these guys were used to the long stretches of road in Texas. This was 1967, the Civil Rights Movement had made itself fully felt, as well, the philosophy of self-determination was the watchword, racism was at an all-time high, or all-time low depending on how you looked at it. John and Bobby were young men with families and a vision of what they wanted to do in music and so they got together and formed The New Art Jazz Ensemble. (You cannot leave race out of the picture when considering this music. The Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 were still reverberating in a great big way.)
In the 60s & 70s jazz was all about New — not that jazz hadn’t always been expanding in all directions over its history, but in the 60s there was an element of anarchy, because you must remember, by the 60s the pop music industry had grown into a behemoth (and some good music was being made in that field) but they smothered all other forms of musical expression. For those interested “serious” music you were working against this giant elephant in the room, and it was quite daunting. Jazz almost died in the 60s because of it. So the anarchy was reactionary. There was a lot of bombast . . . . John and Bobby kept their cool. Their music was always considered and intellectual and deeply about culture.
Rudolph’s Fine Art Center (aka Rudolph’s Chamber Music Recital Center) was at 3320 West 50th Street just off Crenshaw (less than 2 blocks from where Horace & Celia Tapscott lived). It was a small place, used to be a dentist office, you parked in back or on the street and either walked along a skirt sidewalk from the parking lot, or up the stairs if you parked on the street, entering from the front was the recital room with a few rows of folding chairs, counting the band and Rudolph (who lived there) there would be no more than 30 souls in attendance and some Sundays much less than that. It was my first encounter with such low expectations, a music of a limited audience, so different from the mass convocations of the rock world I grew up with, here was intimacy, you could actually talk with the artists after the performance, that would never happen with Joe Rock Guitar God, and there were no drugs, it was purely wholesome, and deeply about the music, it was at Rudolph’s that I learned about recital spaces designed for presenting an uncompromised music, that was so outside the direct focus of money, that it took a minute to readjust, this was L.A., after all . . . . Piatigorsky and Quincy Jones lived in spacious abodes up in Brentwood and Stravinsky lived above Sunset Blvd and Nelson Riddle lived in Larchmont Village and all the rock stars lived in Bel Air and Beverly Hills and Laurel Canyon — the Hollywood pop world could not imagine that down here in Watts a saxophonist was transforming himself, on his own terms, into a clarinetest, and on his own time, taking his time to do it right (John wasn’t fully committed to the clarinet until at the age of 49 in 1977 he added the solo track on RUDOLPH’s that marked that evolution).
The raised stage (6 inches) was at one end of the room and at stage right was the green room, which must have once been the doctor’s office. At stage left was the door to individual rooms and the bath. In between was the little table for the wine & cheese. John wore denim a lot these years: pressed blue denim pants with a center crease with a Levi jacket with sailcloth buttons. He’d park his immaculate yellow 1963 bathtub Porsche in back and once inside start getting his horns ready, he was very relaxed, that was his nature. I was there with my crew almost every Sunday during it’s 2 1/2 year reign and happen’d to miss the Sunday that Burt Lancaster, the Rainmaker himself (!) showed up. (Burt’s daughter had been flirting with the idea of getting into artist management and she had brought her father.) When I walked in the following Sunday, John said, “Where were you? Burt Lancaster was here wearing his sailor cap.”
In fact, there was no way John could have known, even as thoughtful as he was, that he was becoming a supreme clarinetist, it happen’d to him naturally, as he stripped away elements he no longer needed, as he poked around modes and scales (having long since dispensed with chords) the last saxophone he’d play was the soprano and then one clear smogless day it hit him like a bell that the only horn left to him was the clarinet, and he had the resolve to know that that was the way it was to be. And then set to work boiling everything out of the clarinet, long roiling solos ten fifteen minutes running up & down, testing corners, learning where the cul-de-sacs were, finding the sweet spots, the alternate fingerings, the overtones, the echoes of culture that reached back to Africa, all of everything that reverberated in his memory under a Texas sky out in the country, maybe it was a dirt road sound he found? I remember he once told me about the MG he had before he graduated to his dream car Porsche, how it had been in an accident and thereafter never tracked right until one afternoon on the highway it caught fire and John said he pulled over, calmly grabbed his briefcase and saxophone and stepped away and watched it burn, didn’t bother one inch to stop it, and in Texas, out on the highway could mean miles away from anywhere, standing under all that sky. John said it takes a long time to find out what horn is suitable, but he seems to be the extreme, having run through a lot of woodwinds over the years, but once he got there he went right to work, and what a torrent emanated from his pen, the Roots & Folklore suite and hundreds of individual pieces, he was quite prolific, and all the younger players were starting to come around and warm to his fire, John never wavered, he went straight into it, and this record ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S shows that interesting time within mysterious self-knowledge and transformation, if he was Arthur, then he had just pulled Excalibur from the stone. This record is within the very cusp of that transformation.
ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S was released late October or early November 1977 in an edition of 550 copies + ten test pressings on John’s own label Ibedon Records. The word Ibedon is a southern idiom in Black culture from Bobby and John’s time. Bobby explained that it translates to: “I be done” as in: I be done go upside yo’ haid. Etcetera. John used it tongue-in-cheek because out of context it had an exotic ring to it, maybe African.
I should also mention that the summer he started his weekly Sunday series at Rudolph Porter’s place (Rudolph is a bassoonist) John on summer break has traveled to Paris on a reconnaissance mission, to see what his possibilities were for Europe. He sat in with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. When he returned to Los Angeles it was later in that summer of 1973 that the series began it’s two and half year run.
Regarding this music he played those years at Rudolph’s: “Amin” was played many Sundays at Rudolph’s — this was before we found out Idi Amin was a tyrant and a homocidal maniac — I believe John looked to Amin as a return to sovereign rule in the African countries — (John wasn’t overly political) —- but you can tell by the time of this release the bad news was out and John says in his one-liner: “What can you say about Amin . . .” Elipsis dots were his and no question mark.
As to the track “To a Fallen Poppy” that Melba sings and John’s youngest son Chris plays finger cymbals. John wrote the lyrics “To a Fallen Poppy.” I did not know John to write poetry — and I’ve never completely understood what this poem was about, and embarrassed to reveal where some of my thoughts have ranged as to its meaning. I suspect that it was something he wrote when he was in high school (this is only a guess) and means all the things a young man means at that age. What is that thing we say in poetry?
: It means what it means at the time that it is saying it.
TO A FALLEN POPPY
My sweet, sweet poppy
It grows and grows
From first its start, one
To steal my heart . . .
My sweet, sweet poppy
Its fragrance warm and bright as day
Melts all my cares
And floats away . . . .
My sweet, sweet poppy
Other tunes played on Sundays were: A vastly different version of “Enter from the East” than what eventually appeared on album DAUWHE (1982) —- Stanley would play this on electric bass with an ostinato figure.
“Come Softly” – “How About a Little Dance” – “Sunday Afternoon Jazz Society Blues” – “Ballad of Po’ Ben” – “Wonderlust” – “Run John” – “In a Pretty Place” – “Over the Rainbow” (all tunes by John except this and Bobby’s “Love’s Dream” one Sunday when BB showed up) “Blues for Ruby Pearl” — this tune was a composition for soprano saxophone and on the original acetate master for the album — the album was minutes away from being pressed with this track included when John decided his path was with the clarinet and returned to the studio on July 14, 1977 to record the solo clarinet piece that replaced “Ruby Pearl” and signaled his decision.
Another memory: As John worked on this album he gave both Bradford and I each a cassette of the master as it came along — I was still somewhat unsophisticated in the ways of making records — Did I say “somewhat”? Let’s be honest: I was totally unsophisticated in these processes. So, my only contribution was enthusiasm. Although, when John said he was intending to add a little reverb I was quite dismayed and voiced my apprehensions about the inorganic idea of reverb, John said, “I only want to add just a little to warm it up.” Of course he was right. This was the first record I was ever involved with during its coming into existence, pretty heady stuff. That’s the way John was: Very generous to allow a young guy like me be a part of his thing.
*My generation had grown up with the relative starkness of ESP records. They sounded cold & of the big city scuffle, instilling romantic visions of penurious dedicated artists living in 4th floor walk-up cold water flats in the East Village — there was nothing warm about those records, they were stark.
A lot of other musicians came and sat in at Rudolph’s but mostly it was just John and his trio. I do remember one Sunday he had surprised us with a young adult orchestra he had assembled to play a few sketches of what was to become his magnum opus, the Roots and folklore suite.
Mark Weber | June 2o15 Albuquerque
John Carter — January 3, 1978 — Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber + Chris Carter who plays finger cymbals on the track “To a Fallen Poppy” — photo by Mark Weber — May 1977
John Carter & Bobby Bradford — April 24, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter at The Little Big Horn — April 17, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber — it must have been cold that April afternoon for John to be wearing his knit cap.
Stanley & John Carter in duet at Ibedon First Annual Festival in the Performing Arts, Studio Z, 2409 W. Slauson, Los Angeles — May 22, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber
William Jeffrey & John Carter in duet (we have a recording of this afternoon and it is incredible) — October 3, 1976 at The Little Big Horn — photo by Mark Weber
Melba Joyce & Ernie Andrews — Watts Towers Jazz Festival — July 16, 1983 — photo by Mark Weber
Azar Lawrence & John Carter at Ibedon Festival — May 20-22, 1977 Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber
I was out of circulation for awhile and John decided to write me a letter and catch me up on all that was going on —- June 22, 1982