Judy Stuart - The Apostolic Session
The Free Jazz Collective 80
By Stuart Broomer
On June 5, 1969, an unrecorded singer named Judy Stuart went into Apostolic Studio in New York to record two demo tracks to present to Vanguard Records. Steve Tintweiss arranged, conducted and produced. At the time Vanguard was pioneering quadraphonic surround sound, so special care was taken to create a 12-channel tape in the hope it could be released in the new format. As it turned out, Vanguard wasn’t interested. By that time, Stuart (born Judith Pizzarelli) was 30 years old and had been singing publicly since childhood, following from amateur contests to singing standards, including work with the bandleaders Les and Larry Elgart. In his liner essay, distinguished historian and broadcaster Ben Young (he wrote Dixonia: a Bio-discography of Bill Dixon) remarks, mysteriously, “Stuart appeared on at least one published phonograph record.”
As popular music changed, so had she: she wrote songs and accompanied herself on guitar. In the late ‘60s she sang with rock bands, then later wrote music for plays produced by La Mama. A couple of years ago, Tintweiss decided to release the two 1969 tracks and made arrangements with Stuart. She died, around eighty, before ever hearing the test pressings. The two songs from the session have now appeared as the first release on Tintweiss’s label: it’s a 10” 45 rpm record, about as specialized a format as you could find to release 12 minutes and 14 seconds of music.
Why am I telling you all this? Because the music is startling, a direct window on the possibilities‒some real, some imaginary‒of what music might be or become 52 years ago: free, creative, previously unimagined and…popular.
You might recognize Tintweiss’s name if you’re an aficionado of the early ESP recordings and the ‘60s explosion of free jazz. He’s the bassist in the band with Burton Greene that accompanies Patty Waters on that extraordinary version of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” on her ESP debut. Tintweiss is also the bassist on Albert Ayler’s final tour recordings, Nuits de La Fondation Maeght. The backing band on Silver’s Apostolic Session is composed of musicians more familiar in advanced jazz than rock circles. Greene is the pianist. Calo Scott (who worked with Gerry Mulligan, Ahmed-Abdul Malik, Gato Barbieri and Archie Shepp, and appeared on Carla Bley and Paul Haines’ Escalator over the Hill [the most ambitious genre fusion/confusion of the era]) plays cello. Marc Levin, who made a record for Savoy in 1968 with Scott and Cecil McBee, plays cornet. & valve trombone. Dave Baker, who played trombone with George Russell and later became a cellist and famed jazz educator, was the recording engineer.
What does the music sound like? Crazy. Stuart’s songs come in broken, half-talked phrases, with sudden interval leaps, shifts in timbre, pitch bends, weird shrieks and yodels. The words to “Inspiration” and “Nickel Bag of Tears” are a struggle to understand (I came away from the former with “the wet collect the faded dead”; the latter has a great title) . . . almost Dylan sings Schoenberg. If I’d heard it fifty years ago, I probably could have made out the words (or just imagined them). The accompanying music is loopy, filled with high-speed collisions, compound dissonances and twisted solo episodes, held together by sometimes commonplace riffs. Paul Nash’s guitar is either fragmentary or high speed, haunted by strange, internal tensions. Scott and Greene are momentarily brilliant and strange, while Tintweiss, conducting, somehow manages to make all the disparate and far-flung bits, pieces and sudden impulses come together, in a way that may be more spontaneous if less magical than Captain Beefheart.
It summons up a time when music could be both brief and startling.