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Sonny Stitt in Saginaw, Michigan

Below are a collection of documents from Sonny Stitt’s early years in Saginaw, Michigan. The first is a 1940 census document that shows his family living at 612 N. Franklin Street:


Photo #1 is looking south down Franklin Street. Sonny Stitt’s childhood home would have stood in the empty lot in the center of the photo:


Photo #2 is looking north at the corner of Franklin and Carlisle Streets. The Stitt house would have stood behind the trees.


A page from Saginaw’s Annual Reflector yearbook. Edward “Sonny” Stitt can be seen sitting front-and-center as the band’s first clarinetist. Stitt would go on to be the first black president of the Saginaw High School Band.

Sonny Stitt High School


Sound Teaching, June 2014

Here is the June 2014 issue of Sound Teaching. My article appears on page 5. Click the link below to view it.  Enjoy!

6.15.14 issue

The Society for American Music’s 40th Annual Conference


On Friday March 7, 2014, I presented a paper at The Society for American Music’s annual conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was part of a panel called Philadelphia Stories. My paper was titled Historically Overdubbing “Philly” Joe Jones: One of Jazz’s Most Recorded Musicians. The panel was chaired by Dr. Sherrie Tucker (University of Kansas). Below this text is an audio recording of the presentation. It is a little over 27 minutes in length (including the Q&A portion). Enjoy!

Muskap and Mahogany Frog: Two Reviews



Philosopher Lao Tzu stated that “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.” Using spontaneous music as a representative paradigm for life, the trio known as Muskap worked to create an intuitive music that was free from form and clichés. Deeply influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and his “Aus den Sieben Tagen,” Muskap’s sound draws from the experiences of life to create a conversational setting where three instrumentalists are free to discover human relationships on a new level. Although the liner notes give much of the inspirational credit to Stockhausen, it is Stockhausen’s mentor, Olivier Messiaen, whose influence can be clearly heard on these recordings. The rhythmic intricacies and birdsongs of Messiaen psychologically seep into the conceptual language of these musicians.

The first important strength of these recordings is the abundance of variety. Often, pure improvisation can sound like a random jumble of sound, but Muskap is careful to vary the theoretical model for each performance. “Violet” begins as a commotion of noise but gradually moves into melodic brilliance as each instrument finds its place in the order. The title, “Marche Militaire,” perfectly describes the jovial, dance-like presentation of another performance. The highlight of the recording comes from Doucet’s flute and piccolo mastery. Of all of the musicians, Doucet seems to have a largest penchant for this type of musical setting.

Each of these performances was recorded in July of 1976 and is just now being released to the public 36 years after the recording took place. Muskap stands as one of Norway’s earliest ensembles to explore this type of extemporaneous music-making. Spontaneity can be a double-edged sword. As Olav Thommessen’s liner notes state, “Occasionally, a musical situation emerges where nothing happens of much interest…This record is proof of what can emerge when things do go right!”


What do you get when cross the electronic sounds of a rave, the rock sounds of an arena, and the indie-beat of the underground? You get Mahagony Frog. Senna, their new album, was released on September 18, 2012, just before their Canadian tour. Please tip your hat to this album’s recording engineer John Paul Peters and mastering engineer Troy Glessner. Although Mahagony Frog is known for their superior production and album quality, this latest release raises the bar again.

The sound-warps created on this album are drenched with wet effects and drip with saturated electronic sounds that span the frequency range of the speakers they come out of. The compositions are formally somewhat similar. They usually begin and end with some sort of effect-laden sound manipulation. But the middle or crux of each composition is unique onto itself. The electronica beats of “Houndstooth Part 1” are contrasted by the pounding toms and punk-rock drum-fills of “Houndstooth Part 2.” The heavy organ sounds mix into a well of synthesized richness. The intervallic, dual melody on “Expo ’67” suggests the music of the 1980s besides the title’s reference to the 1960s. Although it is easy to throw an ambiguous word like “indie” around, the band’s influences break from this and clearly cross boundaries into the metal and the rock-guitar reverberations of the 1970s.

The palette of effects ranges from the common flanger (used on “Flossing With Buddha”) to a wide range of cymbal scrapes, low drones, delayed crackling, and other idiosyncratic sounds of the digital age. It should be noted that the assortment of timbres is largely created by the combining of instruments from manufacturers such as Moog, Korg, Farfisa, and others. On the surface, the compositions may seem simple, or perhaps a little superficial, but upon deeper listening there are many resonances buried in the simple progressions that can only be identified upon repeated hearings. The final offering of “Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service” serves up a 21st Century soundscape that blasts into the future before a final harpsichord slows the album to an end in the abysmal past.

The Life and Music of “Philly” Joe Jones

This Friday, November 30, I will be giving a presentation on Rutgers University’s campus in Newark, NJ on the life and music of drummer “Philly” Joe Jones. The presentation is part of a Jazz History Thesis Presentation Series produced by Dr. Lewis Porter. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. in Bradley Hall. It is FREE and open to the public. The itinerary is as follows:

4:30- Vincent Gardner- History of the Brooklyn Jazz Scene

5:00- Dustin Mallory- The Life and Music of “Philly” Joe Jones

5:30- John Petrucelli- The Life and Music of Warne Marsh

6:00- Ralph Russell- The Compositions of Randy Weston

6:30- Melba Joyce- (topic unknown)

7:00- Trevor Hudson- History of the Loft Scene

There will also be a second day of presentations on Wednesday, November 28. Topics that day will include Uri Caine, Jazz & Poetry, Freddie King, Eddie Sauter, etc. It should be a fun and informative series!

Sonny Stitt Junior High School Photo – 1939

Here is a rare item from my Sonny Stitt research: Sonny lived in Saginaw, MI during his teenage years and attended Saginaw Public Schools. Here is a yearbook photograph that shows Edward “Sonny” Stitt sitting in the 1st Clarinet chair at the very front. The photo appeared in a 1939 yearbook. Around the time this photo was taken, The Stitt Family was living at 612 North Franklin Street, Saginaw, MI.Image

History of the John Coltrane House – Philadelphia, PA

The home at 1511 North 33rd Street was once occupied by one of the most iconic figures in American Music: John Coltrane. Not only has the house had a rich history, but the neighborhood has also been a staple of cultural history in West Philadelphia. Although the house is currently a National Park Service (NPS) “National Historic Landmark” (note: the nomination form in the preceding link has much more information than the scope of this blog could encompass), the home has dropped into a state of disrepair. Unlike the Coltrane home in Dix Hills which has received a lot of attention, the home that Coltrane occupied during his years with Miles, Monk, and the early years of his own quartet has generally been forgotten in the most recent decade. Like the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood it’s part of, the Coltrane house was once a beautiful, vibrant living space.

The first documentation of the property’s existence is a series of forms from the Bureau of Engineering, Surveys, and Zoning (BESZ) that exists in the Philadelphia City Archives. The earliest form shows the large parcel of empty land being sold from Charles Rhoads to Israel Pemberton in October of 1872. After Israel’s death, the land was passed to Clifford Pemberton who held it jointly with real estate associates/speculators named John Neill and Frank Mauran. Pemberton acquired sole ownership of the land in 1895 and began to develop it sometime thereafter. The NPS’s landmark form states that the parcel was subdivided and developed with rowhomes around 1900. Dr. Michael Lewis, the form’s author, claims that the likely architect was E. Allen Wilson (a well-known Philadelphia architect).

Pemberton probably first used the house as a rental home. Philadelphia City Directories from 1905 and 1906 show that Blanche de Leary owned and occupied the home, but it ultimately returned to Pemberton in the following years (I assume that it became a rental home again). The records show that Clifford Pemberton sold the home to Anita LeRoy and Karl Konrad on December 8, 1919. Ownership would eventually be transferred solely to Karl Konrad. Upon his death, the home was moved into the ownership of his widow Caroline (Lena) and daughter Matilda on January 25, 1927. Matilda would eventually gain sole ownership of the house and keep it for the next twenty-seven years.

In 1952, an aspiring young saxophonist named John William Coltrane took an interest in purchasing the property… this is where the facts get sticky. The deed for the house is dated March 24, 1958 and shows the purchasers as John Coltrane, Juanita Coltrane (wife), and Alice Gertrude Coltrane (mother) and $100 was submitted for the $5,419.92 purchasing price. The BESZ form shows the deed date as July 21 and shows John as the sole owner. In Lewis Porter’s generally superior book titled John Coltrane: His Life and Music (you MUST read this book), he states that 10% was placed down on the home with the help of John’s mother. Porter’s citation is an article by Daniel Rubin from a June 14, 1992 article that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer to corroborate this statement. Unfortunately, the deed claims otherwise and there is no way to verify one way or the other. Porter does list a specific date for the transfer which also seems to be up for grabs based on the documented evidence.

Coltrane would own the home until his untimely death in 1967. Although he had rented space in New York and eventually moved to New York permanently, Coltrane would return to the Philly house up until his second home purchase in 1964. The Philly house would be occupied by his mother and his cousin Mary Alexander in the time that he was away. The NPS has cited a 1996 interview with “Cousin Mary” where she claims that John occupied the rear room on the second floor as his bedroom when he was living there permanently. Before moving to Dix Hills, Coltrane returned to the house for a short period where he occupied the entire third floor as his apartment (note: Mary also suggested that the added porch was already built when John purchased the house. I was unable to uncover a building permit that would give an exact date. My guess is that it was probably added sometime during the Konrad years). It is possible that many of his pre-“A Love Supreme” compositions could have been composed in this home!

Upon Coltrane’s death in 1967, the Philly house was inherited by his mother Alice Gertrude (Blair) Coltrane and the Dix Hills home was inherited by his wife Alice (McLeod) Coltrane. According to two documents (an indenture and a tax form) from April 11, 1985, Alice Gertrude Coltrane willed the home to Mary Alexander (now Mary King). The following is quoted from her will:

“I direct that Mary Lyerly King have the right and privilege to live on the premises 1511 North 33rd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during her lifetime. The cost of maintenance and expenses to be paid by Mary Lyerly King. Upon her decease all the furniture and personal property contained therin is to be given to my grandchildren John William Coltrane Jr., Ravi J. Coltrane and Oran Coltrane absolutely and in equal shares, share and share alike.”

Mary would also use the neighboring 1509 house as the headquarters for the John Coltrane Cultural Society in the years that followed. Although Alice’s wishes were that her grandsons would someday own the property, Mary decided to sell it outright before her death. In failing health, Mary sold the Coltrane House at 1511 North 33rd for $100,000 on October 27, 2004, to Norman Gadson. Repair work on the house began immediately after Gadson took ownership of the home. Unfortunately, Gadson died unexpectedly and left the house to his young daughter. Over the course of the last few years the house was not attended to and fell into a dilapidated state that included damage from a fire in a neighboring property. My 2010 and 2011 visits to the house were heart-breaking to say the least.

There may be a silver-lining to this story, though. Just last week an Associated Press article was released that states that the Gadson family has turned the house over to a non-profit organization that is trying to raise $50,000 to revitalize the house. The article can be found here. The organization known as The John Coltrane House-Philadelphia has created a website and a bit of buzz around Philadelphia including a speech from Mayor Michael Nutter on the steps of the house. Hopefully the home that housed one of America’s greatest musical minds will soon return to its place of glory.