Neranenah Presents: The Joe Alterman Trio featuring Houston Person
December 16, 20218:00pm
Atlanta native Joe Alterman expresses a certain upbeat naivete, with a broad smile and bright eyes that make you feel welcome. One would not guess that this is a man hailed by greats; Ramsey Lewis describes his piano playing as ‘a joy to behold’, Les McCann states ‘As a man and musician he is already a giant’. Journalist Nat Hentoff championed three of Alterman’s albums, as well as his writing (Joe wrote liner notes to three Wynton Marsalis/JALC albums, calling one of Joe’s columns “one of the very best pieces on the essence of jazz, the spirit of jazz, that I’ve ever read, and I’m not exaggerating.”)
Joe Alterman began at NYU with a BA and Masters in Jazz Piano, followed by performances with Houston Person, Les McCann, Dick Gregory, and Ramsey Lewis. Downbeat describes his sound as "rooted in the blues, and with a touch reminiscent of the great pianists of the 1950s—Red Garland, Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans." It is clear Joe hits all of the necessary points for Jazz critics and fans alike.
But there is more to the story, of course. The twenty-first century has thus far seen yet another transition for this thing called Jazz. In one moment we see the push and pull between tradition and progression, and in another we see Pop and Hip-Hop musicians emulating and sampling. In Joe Alterman we find none of this struggle; the music just sounds good. Our conscious faculties are instantly disabled as we tap our feet, feeling the intent and joy of his playing. An old classic is new when you feel good in the moment.
This fresh and joyful intent is captured on Joe Alterman’s new release The Upside Of Down. Taken from two live shows at Birdland in November 2019 and February 2020, the album reminds us of a not-too-distant time when we gathered and danced. Joined by Nathaniel Schroeder on bass and Marlon Patton on drums, Alterman cruises gently and delightedly through timeless selections from Les McCann, Oscar Peterson, Henry Mancini and more, with some of his compositions in the mix.
Houston Person, born in Newberry, South Carolina in 1934, is the natural heir to the Boss Tenor crown worn so long and so well by Gene Ammons. In the more than twenty-five years that he has been a working bandleader, Person has taken his music to most points on the globe. A travelling Jazzman in an era that has found that particular species a veritable rara avis, Person does it all himself. He books his own tours, hunts up the new clubs, has the phone number of every major concert promoter on each continent and produces his own albums: truly the vertically integrated Jazzman.
If, given all this, he played mediocre tenor it would be easy to forgive him. But he doesn’t – he plays damn good tenor and it keeps getting better. One of the last proponents of the big sound, his tone has gotten bigger even as his delivery has mellowed and rounded out. And, of course, with Person you are likely to hear almost anything in terms of repertoire. He has recorded disco and gospel, pop and r&b in addition to his natural Jazz but beyond that he has an enormous and ever changing book. Nothing pedestrian or everyday for Person!
He grew up in Florence, S.C., studied at the state college there, was later named to the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999, and continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, CT. Earlier, in the U.S. Air Force, he played with Don Ellis, Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton, and Leo Wright. Contrary to popular belief, he was never married to the late singer Etta Jones, but did spend many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring.
Although he has performed in the hard bop and swing genres, he is most experienced in and best known for his work in soul Jazz. Person is also known for his distinctive sassy sound and his expressive style of playing. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.
He has more than 75 albums under his own name on Prestige, Westbound, Mercury, Savoy, Muse, and is currently with High Note Records. He has recorded with Charles Brown, Charles Earland, Lena Horne, Etta Jones, Lou Rawls, Horace Silver, Dakota Staton, and more.