Don Cherry. Photograph by Roberto Masotti
This one was heavily circulated a few years back, but it’s summertime, the sun is shining, and the world is going to shit. There’s no better moment for bit of Don Cherry at his best. If nothing else, this is one of those rare artifacts – Cherry playing live on Italian television in 1976, with Moki Cherry, Giampiero Pramaggiore, and the incomparable Nana Vasconcelos, which no one should be able to get enough of. You can watch it again and again.
Don Cherry has, since my mid teens, remained among the artists closest to my heart. I cherish his work like that of few others. It has brought me incalculable joy. There’s never been anyone quite like him, before or since – a stone cold genius who continuously pushed music into uncharted, higher realms. When I think of beauty, he and his music are among the first things which spring into my mind.
Cherry was a rare bird – an artist of astounding skill who reportedly could play anything back, note for note, after hearing it once. Had he retired in 1965, the year before his solo debut, he would been assured a towering place in history for his work with Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Sonny Murray, and Albert Ayler, alone. In the end, carving out one of the most remarkable and visionary bodies of 20th Century music over the coming decades, there’s an argument that he bested them all.
For my money, the peaks of Cherry’s creative heights – his true singularity as an artist, appears over a handful of records which were released over the course of five short years – 1969 – 1974, Mu – First Part, Mu – Second Part, Blue Lake, Eternal Now, Relativity Suite, Orient, Eternal Rhythm, and 1973’s Organic Music Society – a precursor to the roving, visionary explorations which appeared on Italian television in 1976.
Of all my favorite Cherry records, Organic Music Society has always topped the list. It is the trumpet player at his best – a philosophy realized in sound. It is the image of roving, restless and ambitious creative mind – an artist pushing into unknown territory, drawing on a diverse number of musics – Minimalism, as much Indian Classical and Brazilian traditions, and others from across the world. Coltrane and Pharaoh went spiritual. Miles got funky. This is were Cherry went. New generations rose in all of their wakes, but to my mind Cherry’s image of fusion and expanded musical consciousness dates the least, remaining as moving and relevant as the day it was made. If any dating comes, it’s likely from the tragic fact that artists making music this ambitious now, would never be asked to play on national TV.
With that, I leave you with the sounds and images – Don Cherry, Giampiero Pramaggiore, Nana Vasconcelos, and Moki Cherry, weaving a stunning tapestry of sound, live on Italian Television in 1976. Few things get this good. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. May it bring light into your day.
Don Cherry with the Organic Music Theater (Moki Cherry, Giampiero Pramaggiore, Nana Vasconcelos) Live on Italian Television, 1976