When Edward "Kidd" Jordan's band takes the stage at Jazz Fest, no one knows what to expect, even the band members.
"It's all improvised," Jordan explains. That means no tunes, no notation of any kind, nothing rehearsed. "Everything you hear on my albums is improvised. It's collective improvisation, but there are no tunes. I tried writing down ideas a long time ago but I don't do that anymore."
Jordan, an educator at Southern University at New Orleans, plays tenor, baritone, soprano, alto, C-melody and sopranino saxophones as well as contrabass and bass clarinets. There is no tone in the human hearing range he cannot summon on at least one of these instruments, and maybe a few we can't hear as well. Like many other New Orleans musicians who came up in the 1950s, Jordan appeared on numerous R&B, blues and bop jazz sessions, but resistance to playing avant garde jazz didn't come from the audiences, but from his bandmates.
"In the older days on every gig, you'd have a tune where everybody in the band got to play something," Jordan recalls. "When I started playing, it was the other band members who would object to me playing something different. Then during intermission I would always be practicing, playing something, and they'd be saying things like, 'Stuff something in his mouth, get him to stop.'"
Gradually, Jordan found people who could play with him, mostly younger players like The Improvisational Arts Quintet and his current band, with pianist Joel Futterman and drummer Alvin Fielder.
"I contend that a lot of people who play jazz don't improvise," Jordan argues. "Improvisation involves listening and reacting. They rehearse something and then play it the same way. They're not really improvising. The other day at school there was a grass cutter going around cutting grass. You know the kind of sound they make? Well I followed that thing all around campus, playing along with it. I've got a thing that I've been doing for years, playing with the birds. You hear the birds singing and you play that. "The last conversation I had with 'Trane," Jordan recalls, "I asked him how he came to make 'Giant Steps,' if he had written it out and he said, 'No, I had to play it over and over before it came out the way I wanted it.' After he died then they released all the alternate takes -- he was improvising."