Liner notes for the New York Art Quartet’s album “Mohawk”

by John Tchicai, 1965

John Tchicai, aerophone with single percussion lamella, keys, and conical bore
Roswell Rudd, slide aerophone, cylindrical bore valve aerophone, conical bore
Milford Graves, idiophones or membranophones (stamped, scraped, struck, shaken, rubbed + scraped)
Reggie Workman,vertical chordophone (plucked, bowed, + struck)
(Classification of instruments by Professors E.M. von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs)

The NEW YORK ART QUARTET came into existence in 1964 in New York City, sometime in the Summer months. I had for some time been talking to the trombonist ROSWELL RUDD about joining forces and forming up a Quartet together. After having travelled in Denmark and Sweden in 1963 with the group called “The New York Contemporary Five”, consisting of Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Don Moore, J.C.Moses and myself, I came to the decision that from now on, the Quartet would be in many ways the ideal way of performing one’s music.
I first met Rudd in 1962 in New York’s Judson Hall, across the street from Carnegie Hall, where he was playing a concert as a member of a group led by musician composer and arranger Bill Dixon. Other members of the group were people as Archie Shepp and Dennis Charles.

Ever since that day, I have been very enthusiastic about Rudd’s playing. He is in my opinion and to my knowledge the only trombonist in the avant-garde today that has originality and really is developing his own personal way of expressing himself.

Originally Rudd and I had plans about using bassist Don Moore and J.C. Moses as the 2 other persons in the Quartet, but after the first rehearsal with Don Moore and J.C.Moses we were playing with percussionist MILFORD GRAVES and bassist Louis Worrell. Graves was -together with altoist Giuseppi Logan- present at our first rehearsal and played with us for about half an hour, and I must confess that this was a very pleasant surprise and more than that, because Graves simply baffled both Rudd and I in that w e, at that time, hadn’t heard anybody of the younger musicians in New York that had the same sense of rhythmic cohesion in poly-rhythmics or the same sense of intensity and musicality. Bassist Don Moore became so frightened of this wizard of a percussionist that he decided that this couldn’t be true or possible and, therefore, refused to play with us. – After that I called up bassist Louis Worrell who was one of the first bass-players I played with after I came to New York, and asked him to join with us, which he was interested in doing. For the rest of that year the group was intact, until bassist Louis Worrell around Christmas 1964 had to leave the group. Hereafter the group played with different bassists such as Harold Dodson, Eddie Gomez, Steve Swallow, and Buel Neidlinger.

The bassist REGGIE WORKMAN has always been one of my favourites, and I was fortunate that Reggie was in town at the time when we started rehearsing for this record. He is presently, I think, playing with Youseff Lateef.
Concerning the music on this record, recorded at Rudi van Gelder’s studio in New York on July 16th, 1965, I will not try to explain the music in technical terms, since I believe that for the average listener it is not really the important part of it. I can only say that the means we are using are the same as the ones that have been used for so long in Western-European and American music. I am thinking here especially of the 12 tone system which generally is the system being taught in the Western civilizat ion. Living in New York, one is exposed to music from other cultures, for instance from India, Asia, Africa, South America, and, therefore, what we try to do is to form a musical synthesis out of all these sources, out of the world of today and out of our selves. The important thing about our music is that it must be heard and listened to without preconceived ideas as to how jazz should sound – listen to it as MUSIC and let that be the only label!
You might call this tonal or atonal music, but that is just as meaningless as the terms consonants and dissonants: Schoenberg ridiculed “atonal”, saying that it means “without tone”.
It has been said about this music that it is too easy just to give up all the already accepted rules, and too easy to make funny sounds and meaningless noises – whereto I can only say to people and listeners who do not think that we are honest musicians trying to say things our way: “Isn’t it much more demanding on the artist to have to make up whole new rules and a whole new system, than to just build on a system that already exists?”
There is so much talk about the freedom of this music, but the musician still has to abide to the rules of artistical responsibility, and they should never forget that whichever way the technique develops: the content (the feeling) must always be there (passion, energy, lyric, strength).

John Tchicai (1965)