“The first time Kidd and I played together in 1974 it was like instead of a kinship it was a twin-ship,” remembers master drummer Alvin Fielder of saxophonist Kidd Jordan. “I understood Kidd right away because I had been playing with [creative jazz saxophonists] Roscoe Mitchell and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre.”
Jordan, who co-founded the Improvisational Arts Quintet (IAQ) with Fielder in 1975, recalls their initial musical encounter similarly. “His style of playing and the things that he was doing just accented some of the stuff I had in mind in the vein of what was going on at the time with [drummers] Elvin Jones, [Ed] Blackwell and some of those kind of cats. Alvin had been in Chicago with all those AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] cats and I knew a lot of those cats also. So he was in line with what I was doing. “It’s the fire he has in his playing,” Jordan continues on what makes Fielder so special and compatible. “He keeps the motion in the music. We’ve been playing together for so long that I can just relax and do what I want to do and he’ll complement what I’m doing or what the band is doing.”
Fielder’s pairing with Jordan was, and is, a natural as both explore jazz’s outer reaches. However, the longevity of this relationship remains remarkable as Fielder is a Mississippi native who calls Jackson his home and Jordan resides in New Orleans.
“We’re nearly the same age, we had listened to a lot of the same music and we were acquainted with the same musicians,” Fielder, who turns 83 in November, says to further explain his and Jordan’s instant connection. Jordan celebrates his 83rd birthday in May.
“I met Kidd directly through [Chicago saxophonist] Clifford Jordan,” Fielder explains. “I was working with him when he came down south and he played at Southern University [SUNO] with his quartet. Kidd was at a point where, I guess, he was searching for different things—he was even talking about just stopping playing because he didn’t have anybody to play with though there were some musicians available like [trumpeter] Clyde Kerr and [saxophonist] Alvin Thomas and a few more. So Clifford told me to come down and meet, talk and play with Kidd. So I did one Sunday and after that I came down every Sunday. We’d just go over music and enjoy each other.”
Fielder was born into a musical family in Meridian, Mississippi and began playing drums in his high school band. He says he was inspired to play drums on hearing the legendary Max Roach.
“He was my main influence,” Fielder offers. “I heard Max first, when you’re talking about modern drumming. I had listened to other drummers prior to Max like those in Joe Liggins’ and Louis Jordan’s jump bands. I heard Max on Charlie Parker’s album on Savoy, Koko.
“There’s probably some Max Roach in every drummer,” Fielder continues. “We’re all part of somebody. I’m sure there was a part of Kenny Clarke in Max and a part of Big Sid Catlett in Kenny. If you’re around somebody and you’ve heard them, listened and studied them, all of that is part of your DNA. Everything is in my head—everything that I’ve experienced in my life, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Fielder spent some time in New Orleans in the early 1950s while studying pharmacy at Xavier University. He took this opportunity to seek out instruction from master drummer Ed Blackwell who was referred to him by another New Orleans giant, drummer Earl Palmer. It was a relationship and friendship that would last a lifetime. “I learned a whole lot from him—musicality, technique and somewhat of a sense of humor,” Fielder says. “Blackwell was probably the most important drummer in my life personally. I probably studied with Blackwell until he died because I was always talking to him on the phone. I have his ashes, clothes and teaching books.”
In Jordan’s younger years, he too spent time with the remarkable and influential Ed Blackwell. “I used to go by Blackwell’s house all the time and play,” the saxophonist recalls. I also worked with [drummer] James Black, so playing with Alvin was a natural transition.”
Fielder transferred to Texas Southern University in Houston to continue his studies and while there dug into jazz, blues and rhythm and blues including working with saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. In 1959 he headed to Chicago, where he became deeply involved in the progressive jazz scene, laying down the rhythm behind notables like pianist Richard Muhal Abrams, saxophonist Fred Anderson and pianist Sun Ra. Fielder was a founding member of the influential AACM. After spending almost a decade in the Windy City, Fielder returned to Mississippi to take over the family pharmacy.
Isolated from the exploratory jazz scene he had enjoyed, Fielder found a way to bring creative artists like bassist Malachi Favors, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and saxophonist Dexter Gordon to Mississippi by establishing the Black Arts Music Society (BAMS). “There weren’t many musicians in the South working on the music of [saxophonist] Ornette Coleman and [trumpeter] Don Cherry,” Fielder notes.
Just across the state border in New Orleans, there was, of course, Kidd Jordan, who was investigating jazz’s far-reaching possibilities in a city best known for its traditions.
“A lot of things fell in place,” Jordan offers philosophically on his relationship with Fielder and the formation of the IAQ. “Things just developed in a certain way and as you get used to doing some stuff, it feels good. Alvin is just somebody I deal with. He’s a good drummer, I like what he does. A drummer is very important to a band and while often a group will change musicians, they’ll hold onto the drummer.”
“A lot of times, if I hear things happening between his [Fielder’s] bass drum, snare drum and the cymbals, sometimes I play on that,” Jordan continues. “Sometimes I can almost get a scale out of that. I definitely get a sound color.”
One day in 1994, Jordan introduced pianist Joel Futterman to Fielder at Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO). “Joel and I just sat down and played a couple of hours together—we played ballads and everything. When we first played together it was like family. Since then, he’s been a part of the group [Improvisational Arts Quintet]. Joel lives in one city [Virginia Beach], Kidd lives in another city and I live in another city. We’re lonely to play music together.”
Fielder’s affinity to New Orleans and his relationship with Jordan went beyond the bandstand and their friendship when, starting in 1995, the drummer spent six years teaching at the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp that was directed by Jordan.
“I just call it modern music,” says Fielder describing the style of jazz that he and his fellow musicians pursue. “Bebop was the foundation of all of our music. The music was created in New Orleans and everything is an extension of that.”
“When I hit the bandstand, everything is serious, everything,” Fielder concludes. “Even my silence is serious. Silence is part of the music.”
“I’m glad to be back,” Jordan says of performing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with the IAQ after several years of absence from the schedule. He, Fielder and Futterman will be together as usual to stretch the boundaries of jazz utilizing their mutual and in-depth knowledge of its roots and history just as they did on their latest release Masters of Improvisation, which they recorded live in January 2017 with, for that gig, the addition of trombonist Steve Swell. The ensemble worked bass-less that night at the Old U.S. Mint though Jordan anticipates, though he doesn’t promise, the arrival at the Fest of the great, like-minded, New York bassist William Parker.
Don’t expect track numbers on the recording or song titles announced at the Jazz Fest set. The forward-thinking, free-flowing Improvisational Arts Quintet impresses with its spontaneity and, quoting Jordan’s description of Fielder, its “fire.”
KIDD JORDAN & THE IMPROVISATIONAL ARTS QUINTET: SUNDAY, APRIL 29—WWOZ JAZZ TENT, 1:25 P.M