Sam Rivers is another of those musicians who’s profile is huge among musicians and almost non-existent among non-musicians. His contributions to jazz as a player, composer and host of jazz “loft” shows cannot be overstated. He was an early adopter of free jazz and combined very outside playing with compositions with structure in new ways in the ’60s and ’70s.
Rivers, along with his wife Beatrice, opened one of the first and most successful jazz lofts in New York in the ’70s. The loft scene was a way for the musicians of the time to present mostly free jazz in a way that made them self-reliant and self-sustaining. The venues in the area were not very receptive to their music, so they decided to put shows on themselves, starting Studio RivBea, which became a hotbed and important incubator of the music for many years.
Rivers moved to Orlando to continue writing for his big band, the RivBea Orchestra, where he put together a group that remained largely consistent for years, until his death in 2011.
Signed to Blue Note records in the ’60s, Rivers put out his first album, Fuchsia Swing Song, in 1964. Featuring great “inside-outside” playing from Jaki Byard on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums, the album contains Rivers’ most important and popular song, the ode to his wife “Beatrice.” The song has become a standard, played by countless others over the years and to this day. Here is the original version:
Here’s a tune with the RivBea Orchestra, called “Pulsar.” This is a fine example of what it sounds like when a free jazz musician writes for big band:
And if you’ll indulge a self-serving bonus, here’s my band, The Jason Parker Quartet, performing “Beatrice.” It’s one of my favorite songs to play, and features Josh Rawlings on piano, Evan Flory-Barnes on bass and D’Vonne Lewis on drums.
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.