One of the strangest recordings I own is Process and Reality, by the English saxophonist and free improviser Evan Parker. It ends with a performance called "Lapidary," which consists of Parker tapping the keys of his soprano saxophone in loose counterpoint to a recording by Steve Lacy. Shades of Charlie Parker in a Chicago hotel room in 1943, improvising over 78s by Hazel Scott and Benny Goodman? Not quite, because the practice-recording chosen by this Parker—"The Cryptosphere," from Lacy's 1971 LP Lapis—was an overdub to start with, and you'll never guess whose record was on Lacy's turntable.
Lacy's unassenting duet partner was Ruby Braff, a cornetist whose acceptance of swing as holy writ would seem to put him at the opposite end of the musical spectrum from avant-gardists like Lacy and Parker. I like to think their enthusiasm for him is testimony to their ability to spot a fellow original, whatever his stylistic affiliation.
Braff was a rebel of the 1950s, almost a prototype for Wynton Marsalis, minus the latter's celebrity and the race card he takes every opportunity to play. (In the person of John Hammond, Braff even had his own literary champion and propagandist, à la Stanley Crouch.) At a time when a young musician was expected to be either a progressive or a moldy fig, Braff shook the status quo by opposing both camps. Though not given to sweeping pronouncements (that was Hammond's job), Braff held that jazz had achieved perfection with swing, and that most of what was being called "modernism" amounted to self-indulgent tweaking. However short-sighted this position was, it worked for Braff—a magnetic soloist