Karen M Bennett
2 min readSep 21, 2021

--

Telling A Story

It’s a phrase musicians use frequently, and the ‘story’ happens on many levels (or not at all) depending on the night, their band mates, the mood, rapport with the audience, or a ‘je ne sais quoi.’ I have heard it happen, live and on recording. But one night stands out in my mind as the ultimate example. The storyteller was my friend, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan.

I now know the week during which this magical event occurred: the week of May 13–20, 1990. The night in particular was Friday, May 18. The band was led by trumpeter Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, and included Cliff on tenor, Connie Kay on drums, George Mraz (so recently gone: RIP, George) on bass, and Walter Davis Jr. on piano. Wow! Allow me to preface with this line from the review by Peter Watrous which ran in the Sunday NY Times afterwards: ‘Solos followed the melody of each piece, just like they do and have in countless jazz clubs across the country. But the audience was transfixed: enough music was played during the first set to last the month.’

I can’t recall the song, but not far into the set on Friday night, Clifford took a solo. I was transported, and at the same time, rooted to my seat. I was absorbing something rare, unquantifiable: as if I were suddenly able to spontaneously translate a foreign language. Yet what Clifford was articulating was not foreign to me at all, it was *central*. It was like the blood coursing through my veins. I was astonished that someone could put this into music. I ‘got’ it. I know I was staring. When the solo ended, I’m not sure I applauded, but I was still staring and Clifford stared me in the eye and nodded emphatically. He knew what he’d done. He knew I understood.

I have written about Clifford before, and I know I’ll be writing about him again, because the stories he engendered are endless. One time, for instance, I was sitting next to him at the bar at Condon’s, and a friend of his came in. He introduced me thus: “This here’s Karen Bentivenga, from Philly. Her Daddy was a boxer. She knows the lyrics to all the songs.”

He will never cease to amaze me!

(Thanks to Sandy Jordan and Noal Cohen for help with nailing down the specifics of this gig.)

Karen Bennett

--

--

Karen M Bennett

I am a freelance writer from Philly. I lived in NYC for 26 yrs; was contributing Ed. at Musician; wrote about jazz. Taught at New School U; NYU. Poet, essayist.