NPR logo Sam Rivers: Like The Rest Of Us (Only Much Better At Music)

Sam Rivers: Like The Rest Of Us (Only Much Better At Music)

Sam, I know you're 85, but you could use a new set of press photos, eh? RIKU hide caption

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Sam, I know you're 85, but you could use a new set of press photos, eh?


You may have missed the profile on Sam Rivers which ran this Sunday on Weekend Edition. You should not have.

I'm a little bit of a huge Sam Rivers fan. I once interviewed him for over two hours about his career, and helped put on his trio in concert (a reunion of the 1970s group with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, FWIW). His music is a complete universe within itself, and that he's experienced a career rebirth since moving out of New York — what a great story.

But in seeing his life's work summarized, one is reminded very clearly that jazz musicians are but human beings, subject to all the same socio-economic-cultural forces that everybody else is too. Two prominent examples I can note:

1. The closing of Studio RivBea
When Rivers opened up his downtown Manhattan loft for performances, it was a response to a declining economic climate for jazz. If the clubs weren't into this stuff he and his colleagues were putting out, why not put it on yourself? Of course, downtown lofts became fashionable, in large part because of the creative energy in places like Rivers' Studio RivBea. And in the way of gentrification everywhere, rent got to be too high, and Rivers was forced to move to New Jersey. Ah, the culture industry.

2. The move to Orlando
Sam Rivers spent most of his adult life in the North: Boston and New York, mainly. But he always hated the cold winters. So when he got to be of retirement age — but certainly not retired — he did what many older Americans do: move to Florida. Duh, right? Except when you're Sam Rivers, you can show up at the local musician's union and say, "Hey, I'm starting a big band. Who's in?" And you can get dozens of people who make their livings doing repetitive, mind-numbing Disney World gigs — or what-have-you in Central Florida — to play your new music with you.

Here's a poor-quality clip, but a fascinating little glance, into what the new Sam Rivers RivBea Orchestra looks and sounds like, circa 2005:

Finally, Sam Rivers may not be a bad choice for Jazz Now. Check out what a new jazz listener thinks of Sam Rivers' music:

Valencia Community College Student D.J. Severence came out to hear Rivers for the first time — because it was a requirement for his music appreciation class.

"I just wanted to check him out, really," Severence says. "It's pretty crazy — it's like, I don't know, it just changed my opinion on music in general. The way he puts out jazz convinces me to look more into jazz."

Live jazz in Orlando, folks.