Giuseppi Logan Is Currently Active In Music

Since it was revealed that Giuseppi Logan had returned to a more public existence, we've been overwhelmingly eager to host him in Philadelphia, his city of origin. Now that pianist Dave Burrell has been added to the date, we're duly excited to present what should be a very special homecoming celebration. Giuseppi's story is pretty deep. ANW friend Elliott Sharp contributes today's post in preparation of Thursday's visit by this exceptional human being...

“Giuseppi Logan is no longer active in music,” claims a footnote in Valerie Wilmer’s politically-charged 1977 book on the new jazz, As Serious As Your Life.  After recording two stunning albums released by ESP-Disk in the mid-60s, Logan vanished just a few years later.  His whereabouts were unknown, myths circulated, and family, friends, fans, and collaborators reluctantly began to accept the very real possibility that Logan was dead.  It would take roughly 45 years for such speculations to be proven wrong, as Logan was finally discovered, homeless and performing for change in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park.  Proof of his existence disrupted these dreadfully, and thankfully, false conclusions in much the same way that his early playing ruptured established notions about the future directions and possibilities of jazz music.

Born in Philadelphia, Logan taught himself piano, drums, and reeds at an early age, eventually moving on to study at the prestigious New England Conservatory.  In the early-60s, Logan began performing in New York City with emerging artists on the free scene such as Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders.  His first release as a group leader, 1964’s The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (re-released on ESP-Disk in 2008) features Logan (alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, Pakistani oboe) stepping out on his own alongside Don Pullen (piano), Milford Graves (percussion), and Eddie Gomez (bass).  The five pieces the quartet laid down revealed Logan’s ability as a composer and ensemble leader, sounding just as enraged and challenging as John Coltrane’s OM and Sunny Murray’s Sunny’s Time Now.  

In 1965, ESP-Disk released More, consisting of a live performance captured at The Town Hall in May of that same year -- Albert Ayler’s group shared the bill that night, performing “Bells” --, and featuring the same quartet line-up with Reggie Johnson assuming bass duty on a few of the pieces.  The four improvisations here showed the group moving into further-out terrains, realizing a furious amalgam of aleatoric clangs, spinning piano lines, rumbling bass phrases, and Logan’s dizzying flute and reed work.  With these two releases, Logan and his team of improvisers proved themselves to be part of the vanguard of the new thing, incorporating non-Western sound-aspects and radically applying them to traditional conceptions of the jazz idiom.  Though, just as quickly as Logan began pushing these boundaries, he disappeared, leaving no trace but the sounds themselves.

Mystery ensued.  Where was Giuseppi Logan?   His sonically challenging and creative powers left an undeniable mark on his fellow musicians, greatly influencing the trajectory of experimental jazz in the years following his two monumental releases.  Logan’s history had its dark moments – it is known that he spent time in mental institutions due to substance abuse problems – and this is why some predicted the worst. 

In a short documentary film made by Edward English (available on youtube), in which Logan walks through Tompkins Square Park with his young son, he discusses the economic challenges that artists face.  Among other topics, Logan briefly speaks about his desire to be able to economically support his family with his art.  The monetary hardships that Logan’s generation of avant-garde jazz musicians experienced, and that current experimentalists continue to experience, are well known.  For, it is always already difficult to survive as an artist in a cultural world that values consumption and capital over artistic creativity, and being an outsider artist only exacerbates this difficulty.  There is no denying that Logan’s disappearance was at least partly the result of his being an artist with a unique and unrelenting vision in an age that punishes rather than rewards such visionaries.

But after years of being lost to the world, stories of Logan began to surface in 2008.  The rumors were validated when a series of videos, featuring Logan playing music in Tompkins Square Park, appeared on youtube thanks to fan, artist, and writer Suzannah B. Troy.  The details surrounding Logan’s 40 plus years off the map are still murky, but since his re-entry to the public world, he has performed several times and is currently off the streets and living in Brooklyn.  In addition, February of this year saw, in an interesting twist of linguistic fortune, the Tompkins Square imprint release Logan’s first studio album in 46 years.  Giuseppi Logan is back!

On The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, Logan (saxophone, piano) is joined by Dave Burrell (piano), Francois Grillot (bass), Matt Lavelle (trumpet, bass clarinet), and Warren Smith (drums).  The album features 5 of Logan’s original compositions and the quintet provide their own perspective to 3 standards.  While it is clear that Logan was without his instruments for quite a while, his atonal and surprisingly blue reed-work is undeniably compelling and deep.  Some might claim that it is simply his rustiness, but there is a fascinating deconstructive approach that Logan takes to the quintet’s version of Miles Davis’ “Freddie the Freeloader,” and it shows Logan embracing the same sort of irreverence for listeners’ expectations and the upkeep of traditional “purity” that made his past work so revolutionary and controversial.

In a recent interview, Logan speaks about his disappearance: “I was dead because I wasn’t playing…I didn’t have any instruments for about 30 years.”  For him, being able to create music and share it with others is the essence of being alive.  Ars Nova Workshop is incredibly honored and excited to bring Logan to Philadelphia and provide him the space to share his sounds with the world.  On Thursday, April 1 at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Logan will be joined by the full-lineup from the recent quintet recordings for what is sure to be a fantastic evening of celebratory, life-affirming sound.

This video was taken of an April 2009 performance at the Local 269 in New York City by Logan, Grillot, Lavelle, and Smith.

Elliott Sharp is a West Philadelphia resident who writes about music for Tiny Mix Tapes, Foxy Digitalis, and Biomusicosophy.

Photo: New York Portraits