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Clifford Jordan Quartet The Highest Mountain

Here is the last of three performances by the late Clifford Jordan, recorded during a live broadcast from WBAI as the sun rose over New York City. The tune originally appeared on Jordan's Atlantic album, "These are My Roots," a tribute to Leadbelly, which was released that same month. He subsequently recorded it for the Steeplechase label. 

Clifford was also one of the many musicians who took command of a two-hour Saturday afternoon time slot that had a long line of guest hosts from the jazz scene. They could spend the two hours as they wished. Some came alone, with a pile of albums, others brought friends along—Eddie Condon dragged George Wettling in for an absorbing dialogue and some good music, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis shared the time, talking—among other subjects—about the big band they had just started, then there were afternoons with John Coltrane, Toshiko (then) Mariano, Zoot Sims, Blue Mitchell, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, and many others. Most of them played records or tapes, interspersed with reminiscences and opinions, but Bill Dixon spent the entire two hours ranting against WBAI, which he said had a policy of not playing "avant garde" jazz. He was very wrong and he wasted two hours of air time that he could have spent playing the most avant garde sounds ever heard. Oh, well.
I think we represented jazz better than any other New York station at the time, and when it came to helping us out, the jazz community was overwhelmingly responsive. Take, for instance, the night of December 27, 1965, when an amazing number of jazz performers showed up to play for us at the Village Gate. The crowd was so big that Art D'Lugoff had to open another room, the Top of the Gate, and each of these great musicians appeared in both places! Monk's manager, Jules Colomby, helped get it all together. Monk came early and fell asleep in the kitchen—it was a somewhat hectic but memorable night. They don't do that for WBAI anymore, and the station has only its management to blame for that. The spirit is gone, as is the energy that once was generated by enthusiasm and noble purpose.

Don't get me started on that! Click here and hear the Clifford Jordan Quintet do its thing for WBAI.


  1. Chris can you please expand what "avant garde" meant at the time for Bill Dixon, and what was the policy he thought that was against it?

    I'm curious as well to know did Jordan met Leadbelly/saw him in a gig at some point, maybe as a teenager?

  2. This was during a period in the 1960s when there was a so-called "avant garde" movement. Unfortunately, many of the avant gardists were musicians who chose that route to conceal the fact that they neither had mastery of their instrument or the music. At the time, I likened it to painters splashing a canvas because they lacked the technique or talent to do much more. I respected painters who did not splash out of necessity, and musicians whose squeaks and radical departures from the norm were deliberate rather than accidental. The real musicians survived, others fell by the wayside reserved for them.

    Bill Dixon was not a man whose own sounds came as a surprise to him. I cared little for what he was doing at the time, but I never thought that he was merely jumping over the fence at its lowest point. His complaint against my programing was, I believe, as unfounded as it was personal: we had not played his music. That's why I gave him the two hours and told him to play whatever it was he thought we were discriminating against. He chose to spend the 2 hours on a verbal rant that accomplished nothing other than to convince me that Bill Dixon would not have another stab at the Saturday afternoon slot.

    As for Clifford Jordan and Leadbelly, I suspect that his tribute album and "Highest Mountain" were more an expression of admiration and respect than anything else. Clifford was 18 when Ledbetter died, so they could have met, but I rather doubt it. I don't have the notes to the Atlantic tribute LP, but the connection between the two men is surely eplained by the annotator.

    Thanks for the questions.

  3. I'm Jules Colomby's daughter and I came across your site when I Googled his name. This is a wonderful blog. I'm wondering where you found the invite for the jazz benefit he produced?


  4. The invitational ad for WBAI's jazz benefit was drawn/designed by me for the station's monthly folio. Thank you for your kind words re my blog. I interviewed your uncle Robert (Bobby Colomby) for a Down Beat article in 1968, just before the first BS&T album was released. He was very excited to be interviewed for a jazz magazine.