I think it was late ’63 when Don Cherry suggested I check out an altoist named John Tchicai performing with his group in a midtown (NYC) Tchicai soon after. We just started playing and it sounded good right away. Then not too long after that John asked me to write some arrangements of music by Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk for a band involving himself, Don Cherry & Archie Shepp (which I did and I’ve been told some were recorded.) The next thing that happened John arranged for himself, me and Milford Graves to work out in a loft in my neighborhood = lower lower west side. Again, we first started playing and it sounded good right away and it got better. Next time we got together I asked bassist Lewis Worrell to come along and we just started playing, and it took off again.
The name New York Art Quartet was something John ran by us, and my first impression was “too uppity, not funky enough for a jazz band” but damned if I or anyone else could come up with anything better. And the more I thought about the total improvisation that we had been doing (no prestructure of any kind up to that time) the more sense the word “art” made…even “the jazz” I had been playing all along was based off tunes, compositions, arrangements, suggested formats, etc. With the NYAQ we started, we listened, and responded to what each other was doing as we played and that was “the composition.” Of course written and head compositions were inevitable but all that free playing from the inception of the band was always the predominant thing. Over the summer of ’64 we kept rehearsing periodically and there were a few gigs.
In the fall we made our first recording; for Bernard Stollman’s ESP label . In addition to heads by John and myself, and a great deal of free playing, John invitted Amiri Baraka to join us and he did a reading of his work Black Dada Nihilismus on the Sweet V. track which is a gem of the times and made that ESP date particularly special. We also performed as part of the Bill Dixon/Cecil Taylor brainchild October Revolution in Jazz at the Cellar Cafe. This evolved into the Jazz Composers Guild and Four Days in December at Judson Hall with periodic performances at the Edith Stephen dance studio up over the Village Vanguard which lasted well into the spring of ’65. With help from abroad, John organized a recording at Rudy Van Gelder’ s studio… Lewis Worrell was unavailable and Reggie Workman very capably filled his shoes. John also invited Amiri Baraka to sit in with us and we did “Black Dada Nihilismo. ”
This was soon sold to Phillips Fontana and became Mohawk. John then returned to Denmark and by the Fall ’65 had set up a short tour beginning at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen and included performances for Danish Radio on the same bill with Oliver Nelson and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam opening for Ornette Coleman. (Milford Graves and Lewis Worrell could not make the trip, so the band at this time consisted of John, myself, a Danish bassist Finn Von Eyben and Louis Moholo on drums.) Later on that year back in the States two concerts stand out: one at the New School with Richard Davis on bass and a collaboration with the great avant cellist Charlotte Moorman at Carnegie Recital Hall. But by the beginning of ’66, John had returned permanently to Denmark …he did however make all of us a final offer to incorporate permanently and go into the future with him, but I at least could not make the commitment to exclusive contract at the time, as beautiful as the offer was; I wanted to keep myself as open as possible to a variety of experiences. In sum I wish to stress more than anything else the phenomenal blend and complementarity that was there from the inception with John & the other great players. It was simply: great preordained organic chemistry.
Roswell Rudd, October 27, 1998