Jazz Institute of Chicago

Out of Nowhere: The Musical Life of Warne Marsh

Out of Nowhere: The Musical Life of Warne Marsh
by Marcus M. Cornelius
Aurora Nova Publishing
P.O. Box 437, Mawson, ACT 2607, Australia
Distributed in the U.S. by Cadence Publishing and in Europe by NewThink!
305 pages. Paper.
Reviewed by George Ziskind

"The world has gone mad today and good’s bad today . . ."

Aside from the fact that Cole Porter wrote those words in 1934 as part of the bridge of "Anything Goes" (and the words are truer than ever in 2002!), this snip of lyric also can be connected to—I can still hardly believe it—one of my major heroes, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh. Surely the world must have gone mad in order for two wonderful and excellent books to have been published within a two year period about this elusive, hard for some to understand, vastly underrated master jazz improvisor.

First came "An Unsung Cat" by Californian Safford Chamberlain. (Chamberlain interviewed Branford Marsalis as part of the research for the book; at the mention of Warne’s name, Marsalis paused for a few beats and said, "Wow...that’s really an unsung cat!")

And now we have a second book, this time authored by Warne Marsh appreciator/devotee/expert Marcus M. Cornelius of Australia. Its title—rife with implied asides—is "Out of Nowhere: The Musical Life of Warne Marsh."

The barest of the bare bones of the Warne Marsh story could be put like this: he was born into a movie business family, met Don Ferrera while in the army who, seemingly as part of some pre-destined and other-worldly continuum, hooked him up with Lennie Tristano—and he was off and running on the path to posterity.

Though Warne remained a lifelong proponent of Lennie’s teaching methods, he added his own "melody" (he used that word to denote the totality of one’s musical conception), an original and highly unique method of improvisation that played hob with meter, with which notes were "legal" to use in one’s improv, and with the very tenor saxophone sound he produced—surely like none other on earth, yet the one sound to properly present the brilliance of his playing.

The very construction of "Out of Nowhere" echoes the complexity of Warne’s own melody. It drifts in and then out and then back in again to first person narrative. The writing is free-form. It is the printed-word mirror image of Warne Marsh’s playing. I asked the author about the method he used to tell this story. Here is some of what Marcus Cornelius said to me:

The form (I think) is unique, as is the style. It kind of imitates the music: take a phrase from an earlier section, or version, and rework it in a different context, which then creates a new facet to the gem. Life isn't linear, and things happen but no one knows what happened for some time afterwards. On the other hand, the energy for what does happen has been creating itself for some time beforehand, and so the event of the future already exists potentially in the past.

This same concept of 'form' I have used again and again, and will continue to use; there's a marvelous dynamic (as far as I am concerned) complemented (sp?) by the tension between poetry, inventive prose, matter of fact, drama, delusion and insight. And that's all I am going to say about that.

Intrigued? I suggest you run, not walk, to your nearest pad of paper or computer, contact the publisher, and place your order for this gem. Because I think I am safe in saying that next year won’t bring us a third Warne Marsh book.

Copyright ©2003. All rights reserved.

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