Electric Jazz Orchestra
Let me set the stage first of where this band was coming from, because it wasn't a rock band or traditional jazz ensemble. Our goal was to do something very original, or at least similar to what the leading artist/composers of our time were doing. We were striving for something insanely great, like how the Beatles sounded to us in our pre-teens, or how great classical music moved us.
That period of the seventies was a fantasic time musically. We liked progressive rock, "jazz-rock", funk, and jazz fusion. The fact that it got rare or no play on the radio made it all the better to us. We didn't equate artistic value with its earning power.
Earning money playing music was a nice idea in principle, but that had several problems. One, to get gigs at bars, dances and weddings, you'd have to play hit radio music (99% of which was the opposite of "insanely great"). Two, you'd be spending your creativity channelling other musicians' energy rather than your own. Three, even if you worked for years to get a nice safe niche as a gigging musician, you'd be earning a barely above the poverty line income at best. Four, as your uncle might advise you at Thanksgiving, the way a musician earns a living is through teaching. Right: get taught by your high school band director, take four years of college, and then become him...not quite what we signed up for.
Instead, many of us took the "bohemian displaced labor" path: finding the highest paying part-time job that afforded the most free time to devote to music. We were in our late teens and early twenties. We figured that marriage, kids, a home, etc. were all several years down the road, and our musical energy was not something you could bookmark and pick up again later as a hobby. A Seize-the-Day kind of thing. We had hopes we could pole vault over all that earn-your-dues stuff, get discovered, and join the greats like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever with their big label recording contracts and concert tours. Naive? Sure. But better than the alternative.
For example, Jon might come to us with guitar riff or chord sequence where we could hear echoes of say, a Mahavishnu song. The drummer not only had the instinct for the song effect, but through technique and study, could create effects similar to those drummer Billy Cobham played. As the bass player, I might add a different element. Instead of mechanically covering the roots of Jon's chords, I'd invent a melodic bass line that crossed the bar lines of his phrasing, reminiscent of Chris Squire's bass lines with Yes, or Paul McCartney's playing on Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Each of those contributions would in turn create new directions, which created even more, and compositions grew as a kind of chain reaction of ideas.
To be the "electric jazz orchestra" we called ourselves, we needed to recruit strings and winds players, which are different creatures than guitarists and drummers. If they were any good, they probably got that way in school music programs: orchestra, marching and concert band, stage band, etc., and it was that repertoire that was in their ears more so than Weather Report's. Jon was, as now, a fantastic teacher, and spent hours with everyone helping them bridge the gap. A violinist who, to say the least, would never have played blues in a garage band or know how to improvise a solo, got taught and encouraged. If they wanted to try their hand at writing a song, and they had the ability to write parts, and the gumption to get the band to realize their vision, their song would go on the next concert.
One of the musical techniques we liked the most (along with everyone else in progressive rock and fusion jazz at the time) was odd time signatures: 5 or 7 beats to the bar, or even 11 and 13. We regarded them as having magical powers that represented nothing less than the arrival of the future in music, similar to the way Schoenberg believed in the 12-tone system. We also allowed ourselves the smug satisfaction that we were exploding the heads of musicians who weren't ready for that future.
We got gigs at colleges, benefits, art fairs and summer festivals. Once we even played for the mental ward of a hospital, and that's not even the whole story. We brought in our equipment, which included carrying our upright piano up a fire escape, did a sound check, and went to lunch. When we came back from lunch, we were informed that inbetween the time we left and returned, the building had become condemned! Somehow the gig happened anyway, and it was a gas. Some of the patients on the ward danced to us, in very much a "dance like noone's watching" kind of way.
Another funny memory is the period of time where we rehearsed in a gas station. Gas stations around that time were converting from service optional to self-serve only, and you'd pay (on the honor system!) a cashier sitting behind bulletproof glass. Jon had the cashier's job at such a station that previously had been a gas plus repair shop. Seeing an opportunity, the two now empty repair bays became our acoustically cavernous rehearsal space. We played our jazz fusion while the ghosts of Camaro oil changes and Pinto brake jobs swirled around us. That spot remains a working gas station to this day, on Holt Avenue in Pomona where it intersects with the 71 (Corona) freeway.
For the program we handed out at our 11/15/74 La Verne concert, we asked our alto saxophonist Dave Hindson, a gifted cartoonist, to draw some cover art. I remember Dave at a rehearsal with a little notebook, taking a look at each one of us and writing something down. When he came back with the art, we died laughing. Besides the hilarious likenesses, he had noted incredible specifics, like my boots and zippered shirt, Marc Hellman's tendency to face to the side and the muffling in his twin bass drums, Lori DeLong's manner of holding her flute when she wasn't playing, and Jon's intense concentration as he channelled the guitar Gods in one of his solos.
|Dave Hindson's cartoon for our November 15, 1974 concert at La Fetra Lecture Hall at La Verne University. Greg Sandell, Dion Sorell, Marc Hellman, Jon Rothe, Lori DeLong, Dave Hindson.|
Our concerts had some marketing elements to them as well. We had great posters and fliers, all of which can be seen in the video. The arrangement of equipment and players on the stage was conceived with the flow and symmetry of Greek architecture. Flutes and strings would each be on their own riser, which I refer to now as "peanut galleries." Drums, bass and keyboards would be arranged as the "back of the house," and two spots up front would be for lead instruments like guitar or sax, whose space was articulated by a beautiful oriental rug. Jon, who has a gift for concert logistics (including begging and borrowing cool instruments like Minimoogs, Hammond organs, tympani and gongs), would even recruit roadies for efficient setup and teardown.
The Songs of Waves
The History of Waves
|Standing: Marc Hellman, Greg Sandell, Karen Daughs, Jon Rothe. Above: Dion Sorrell. In Glendora, May 24, 1974.|
|Marc Hellman, Greg Sandell, Karen Daughs, Dion Sorrell, Jon Rothe. In Glendora, May 24, 1974.|
In the next iteration, both horn players were replaced with alto sax player Dave Hindson. Dave had an admiration for Paul Desmond, the smooth, golden-toned alto sax player who played with Dave Brubeck. While the fit with some of our rock-flavored fusion material was a little interesting, our more melodic material and slower ballads shone with incredible beauty under Dave. Meanwhile, Dion Sorrell had been developing more and more as one of Waves' front men, showing an ability to take electrifying solos, play some Stanley Clarke like sounds on the bass, and write some unique compositions (two of which can be heard on the video).
It's still 1974. We did a big benefit concert for Amnesty International at La Verne College on August 2. The following weekend we played at the L.A. County fair on August 9, and an hour before the gig, watched Nixon's resignation speech on a small TV we brought with us. For a concert in a La Verne College lecture hall on November 15, we added flutist Lori De Long (photos below).
|Dave Hindson, Jimmy Dunn (roadie), Greg Sandell, Marc Hellman, Jon Rothe, Dion Sorrell (out of shot). At Founders Auditorium, La Verne University, benefit for Amnesty International, August 2, 1974. You can hear this concert here.|
|Greg Sandell, Dion Sorrell, Marc Hellman, Jon Rothe, Lori DeLong, Dave Hindson. At La Fetra Lecture Hall, La Verne University, November 15, 1974. You can hear this concert here.|
|Liz Hangan, Dion Sorrell, Barbara Belmont, Claire Ann Sabino, Linda Jones, Jon Rothe, Greg Sandell, Martin Maudal, Andrew Levin, Jenny Black and Lorene Ivory. At Dailey Theatre, La Verne University, May 8, 1976|
|Andrew Levin, Liz Hangan (blocked), Barbara Belmont and Martin Maudal (cut off). At Pitzer College, Feb 26, 1976.|
|Claire Ann Sandino, Laurie Smith, Barbara Belmont, Liz Hangan, Dion Sorrell, Andrew Levin, Martin Maudal, Jon Rothe, Greg Sandell, Lorene Ivory (hidden by music stand), Jenny Black. At Memorial Park, Claremont, CA, July 26, 1976. You can hear this concert here.|
|Martin Maudal (out of view), Jon Rothe, Greg Sandell, Lorene Ivory, Karen Weinberger, Jenny Black, Laurie Smith, Andrew Levin, Anónima Desconocida, Kim Sigona. The Griswolds Art Fair, Claremont, CA, November 7, 1976. You can hear this concert here.|
|Barbara Belmont, Tony Sandell (behind on drums), Greg Sandell, Catherine Robinson, Martin Maudal (hidden, on drums), Jon Rothe. The Griswolds Art Fair, Claremont, CA,November 7, 1976.|
|Poster for December 18, 1976 concert.|