Roswell Rudd

By: Franklin Bruno
November 17, 2011

The trombone of ROSWELL RUDD (born 1935) may be most familiar as the rude, earthy foil to Steve Lacy’s tart soprano sax in the quartets the two co-fronted, off and on, for nearly forty years. Their first record together, 1963’s School Days, essayed Thelonious Monk’s thorniest tunes long before they were common repertory pieces; Rudd also befriended the luckless pianist-composer Herbie Nichols, later editing a print edition of Nichols’s unrecorded works. These explorations of bop’s eccentric outskirts were one reason that, in the late 1960s and 1970s, Rudd was among the few white players with whom such Black nationalist jazz figures as Archie Shepp and (in the New York Art Quartet) Amiri Baraka would share a bandstand. The other was his sound — brawny, guttural, and tremendously expressive — which fully exploited his instrument’s capacity to extend the human voice, and brought Dixieland-era techniques to bear on the post-Trane “New Thing.” Rudd barely recorded in the 1980s, but he’s had a remarkable resurgence over the last 15 years; his recent disc The Incredible Honk (Sunnyside) includes samples of his working quartet-with-vocals, his ongoing collaboration with Malian players, and one-off pairings with Cuban guitarist David Oquendo, sheng virtuoso Wu Tong, and Cajun legends BeauSoleil. It’s a sedate set by Rudd’s standards, but he hasn’t entirely given up his old ways: a Central Park appearance last summer found him in fine, gut-bucket form, playing and singing Shel Silverstein’s polymorophously perverse “At the Freaker’s Ball.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Voltairine de Cleyre.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music