"His Own Man, His Own Voice" - by Ron Watt, Sr.

“ . . . A tenor-wielding monster who stalks the southern shore of Lake Erie with the most virile saxophone sound around..." - David Dupont (OneFinalNote.com)

In a 2005 review, American Splendor icon, writer and jazz critic Harvey Pekar proclaimed Ernie Krivda to be “one of the greatest jazz tenor saxophonists in the world” and added “no one may know this because he lives in Cleveland.”

Ernie agrees. “It might be better for my career to live somewhere else but it’s better for my art to live in Cleveland.” His resolute position has always been, “I like it here, it’s home and it affords me the freedom to pursue my art and teaching in a special way.” He is his own man, and always has been.

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_004Still, Ernie is, after five solid decades of performance, a legendary figure on the world’s map. Sure, if he were stationed in New York, Paris or some other larger center, he might be more of a household name. But to those who follow jazz Ernie is a big name indeed, noted for his diverse and stellar live performances and recordings as a soloist, in small groups, big jazz band and classical orchestral configurations. Moreover, he is known and respected for his excellent clinician work, bringing to the fore the teachings he was given from the notable elders that he met and played with on the trail, his wisdom as a top player himself, and his keen interest in “passing on what was taught to me and I assimilated along the way” to a younger generation craving to feel a music that is entirely creative and streaming of consciousness.

Several pivotal events occurred almost simultaneously in 2009 to signal the start of Ernie’s sixth decade as a professional artist. First came the acclaimed Cleveland Arts Prize for career accomplishment. Segments of the nationally recognized Cleveland Prize honor the work of visual artists and noted writers as well as musical personages. Previous winners have included writers Herbert Gold, Toni Morrison, and Les Roberts and classical music titans George Szell, Lorin Maazel, and Christoph von Dohnanyi.

Next came Ernie’s long-planned, monumentally received solo album, “November Man,” a compendium of his own improvised compositions.  november_man

And the third brass ring of achievement later in the year was the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture’s awarding him their Creative Workforce Fellowship. Called “CPAC” for short, it is the Cleveland region’s new program to recognize the career contributions of noted artists and to assist them in advancing their already highly accomplished careers. Turning evil into good, this group converts cigarette taxes into cash to assist the artists and writers in mounting new projects. Notes from the judges in Ernie’s winning entry offered such citations as: “spiritual, holistic” . . . “so much character” . . . “can only be accomplished through years of playing” . . . “this applicant can blow [his] horn.”

In response to the two major awards in 2009, Ernie quipped “thank you, but you do know I’m just getting started.”

Respected jazz writer David Dupont in One Final Note, Jazz & Improvised Music Webzine describes, “[This] leader’s horn dominates the proceedings, so much so that the listener will never doubt who’s the boss. He loves to play lines that stretch over eight or more measures, injecting them with sharp melodic fillips just when they seem to be running out of steam. He fills out his solos with lots of notes; jamming double-timed phrases in the most unlikely places . . . Ernie Krivda is a tenor-wielding monster who stalks the southern shore of Lake Erie with the most virile saxophone sound around.”

“New York or L.A. may have been better for my career but not for my art,” Ernie says.

From Gypsy and Polka Bands to George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra . . . to the Nearby Explosive 105th Street 1960s Jazz Scene of Weasel Parker, Joe Alexander, Dave O’Rourke, Roland Kirk and Eddie Baccus.

Ernie’s potential showed itself at a very early age. Born Krivda Erno’ to a Hungarian/American father and a Sicilian/American mother, Ernie was the first child in a family that was musically endowed on both sides. His father Lou was a Coleman Hawkins-influenced tenor saxophonist and a Benny Goodman-inspired clarinetist. Lou was a jazz player on the burgeoning Cleveland music scene in the 1930s and 1940s and a lover of classical music, as was his violinist brother, also named Ernie.

The Krivdas’ Buckeye Rd. house (in the heart of Cleveland’s Hungarian ghetto) was filled with the sounds of Gypsy violins, Bela Bartok and jazz. Lou was Ernie’s major influence -- his eclectic tastes being passed on to his son in a variety of ways.

Ernie got his first instrument, a clarinet, at age six. His maternal grandfather Joe Costanzo had played clarinet in the town band back in Sicily and his mother’s cousin, Nick, was a jobbing reedman in Cleveland. All around Ernie was encouragement, and he was a young kid who took to music giftedly. The family later moved to the multi- ethnic suburb of Garfield Heights and by the time Ernie was an 8th-grader at Holy Name School he was playing with Polish polka bands in neighborhood bars.

“The Polish bands always needed good clarinet players because the parts were pretty demanding from a technical standpoint and there was always just a little room for improvisation,” Ernie relates. Though it wasn’t the jazz that he wanted to play, the five bucks a night made him well to do by 1959 junior high school standards. Every chance he could get he would use the money to buy records at a jazz shop on Kinsman Ave., located in the heart of Cleveland’s teeming black neighborhood on the east side. “My dad would drive me there on Saturdays and we would buy records we read about in the monthly Down Beat.

The pull of jazz was becoming stronger and stronger, but Ernie’s parents had a desire for him to pursue loftier goals. “Even though my dad was ‘a player,’ he had an overwhelming respect for the great European classical music tradition and sort of went along with my mother Grace, a marginal jazz listener, who came from a family of passionate opera lovers.

At age 16, Ernie’s cousin Nick gave him his old Buesher alto sax. Ernie was still playing in the band at Holy Name High School when he formed his first group. “It was a big band and we played for some dances at school. The book was made up of stocks that I got from my band director Bob Pattie and from a trumpet teacher at the school. The trumpet teacher was Bob Peck, a great player who had been lead trumpeter and an arranger with the Billy Butterfield, Woody Herman, and Claude Thornhill big bands,” says Ernie. “He was back in town recovering from a lung condition, and he gave me my first theory/arranging lessons.”

Ernie spent the summers of his high school years packing in as much study and experience as possible, even playing in the pit bands for local productions of Broadway musicals such as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Pajama Game: and “The Pirates of Penzance” at the popular Cain Park amphitheatre in Cleveland Heights.  And he also would take long bus rides to Phil Rizzo’s Modern Music School on E. 116th St. Phil was a major figure in the fledgling jazz education movement, having published several jazz method books and being a regular participant in the Stan Kenton Clinics. “I did not waste the opportunity and began studies with Phil. It was an eventful few months one summer meeting new musicians, which I began bringing into my big band. We got some valuable ensemble experience. I had found my next teacher, got exposure to musical theater and to Jewish girls who lived out that way,” says Ernie.

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_2_002He was now jamming on a regular basis with other fine young jazz players such as Chuck Findley, from nearby Maple Heights. Findley would later become the Los Angeles area’s first call trumpet man. Also in the Cleveland area at that time was Chuck’s trumpet-playing brother Bob, who later became part of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and an integral part of the L.A. studio scene. At that time Bob was part of Rick Keifer’s big band, a group Maynard Ferguson sideman Keifer had formed on one of his returns back home to Cleveland.

Sixteen-year-olds Ernie and Chuck were regularly in the audience at the band’s Sunday afternoon gigs at another Cleveland landmark, Paderewski’s Restaurant on Miles Ave. The Kiefer band featured some of the best jazz players in the region, and Ernie and Chuck enjoyed checking out the personnel. Veteran stylists such as saxophonists Dave O’Rourke and Weasel Parker, trombonists Jiggs Wigham and Mel Wanzo (the latter known for his oncoming long association with

Count Basie, along with trumpeters Gary Barone and Keifer himself, were all compelling soloists.

“This particular band swung hard. Dave and Weasel would play these long exhilarating solos and then engage in trading eights and fours. They were fantastic and most definitely rocked my world.” These experiences kept pulling Ernie deeper into the influence of Cleveland jazz and not much was needed to drag him all the way into the life. That came even before he graduated from high school in 1963.

Ernie was studying classical clarinet at The Cleveland Music School Settlement and playing on Wednesday nights in the Case Western Reserve University concert band. Both of these schools were located just around the corner from the center of the Cleveland jazz scene and black nightlife. The 105th and Euclid Ave. area of University Circle was home to a slew of jazz clubs and Ernie says “some of the best musicians I had ever heard – regional and national.”

Saxophonists Roland Kirk and George Adams were there. So were trumpeter Bill Hardman and organist Eddie Baccus, “some of the most powerful music personalities in the world.” Around the corner on Cedar was the Lucky Bar and its storied tenorist and former Basie soloist, the aforementioned Weasel Parker and his band.

“A trumpet player in the Wednesday night band, who also happened to be the local Down Beat correspondent, took me to the Lucky Bar and asked Weasel if I could sit in. Of course, I remembered Weasel’s magnificent playing from the Rick Keifer band and was scared to death, but I guess it went okay because Weasel, who was to become a good friend, asked me to come back – it was a life-defining moment,” says Ernie.

Around the same time, Ernie began classical clarinet studies at The Cleveland Institute of Music with Albert Setzer of The Cleveland Orchestra, under the guise of fulfilling his parents’ dream for him. “It was really just an excuse for me to be on the east side and the opportunity to be on the corner of 105th and Euclid and hang with the music. Every night found him and his young friends, soaking in the sounds, and sitting in at every opportunity with the greats of Cleveland jazz – his real music school.

 

The On-Fire Cleveland Jazz Panoply of the 1950s and 1960s

The Cleveland jazz scene in the ‘50s and ‘60s was on fire with activity and great players to take part in it. The Modern Jazz Room downtown would feature the likes of Stan Getz, Clifford Brown, Bud Powell, and Gerry Mulligan. The Loop Lounge on Prospect brought in Bird and Prez to play with great Cleveland rhythm sections. The Jazz Temple on Euclid at Mayfield had a name jazz policy with “dollar night” on Wednesday. “After my concert band rehearsal at Case Western Reserve University, I would walk up the street and catch the John Coltrane quartet, Cannonball Adderley’s quintet, or Miles’ group with Tony Williams, all for a dollar,” Ernie recalls.

Ernie_Arts_Prize_Photos_001There was a lot of work in Cleveland at that time and “the circuit” was very much in play. Groups and solo musicians would play a club for lengthy engagements then move on to another city and do the same thing. “I never made much of a distinction between ‘names and locals’ because in so many cases there simply wasn’t any. Because there were places to play, cats would come in from New York -- people such as Cleveland- born trumpeters Bill Hardman and Benny Bailey -- and stay for a while.” Organist Gene Ludwig came in from Pittsburgh and played the Club 100 for months. Roland Kirk and the fine blind organist Eddie Baccus came up from Columbus and played together in town for more than a year before Roland left for New York. To me, Roland was another terrific player throwin’ down on the corner.

 

"A brilliant, totally original saxophonist, making beautiful music where every solo seems new..." - Brick Wall (Los Angeles Weekly)

 

Kirk was just one of many superb tenor saxophonists playing in Cleveland at that time and the young Krivda, who was still playing alto sax and clarinet at this point, was both inspired and deeply frustrated. “I always wanted to play tenor. From the very beginning it was the horn I knew I was meant to play, but working-class economics and family mandates conspired in concert to keep the dream on hold. You had to have patience in those days. Instant gratification was not encouraged back then and I did not see it as an entitlement. I did feel lucky to be around so many talented tenor players who remain as powerful influences even today.”

“Cleveland was smack, dab in the middle of a region of large metropolitan areas that had deep jazz interests,” says Ernie. “You had Buffalo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Chicago in close proximity. Cleveland was a great place to play out of.”

William “Weasel” Parker, out of St. Louis, had come off the road when Count Basie disbanded his big group in 1949 and Weasel wound up in Cleveland, then known as “The Best Location in the Nation.” He knew it would be a good place to raise a family and he also knew there was plenty of work to be had. He was a swinging be-bopper with elements of Wardell Grey and Lucky Thompson in his style.

“Weasel was in the tradition of great jam session players and seemed to have a reservoir of ideas tucked away for those moments when the music and the competition got hot,” says Ernie. “In fact his nickname came from the warning that you didn’t want to get the Weasel in a corner.”

Weasel also had a big band and he asked Ernie to play lead alto in it. “I could read and having grown up on swing era big bands via my dad’s record collection, I knew how to play in the tradition of the great lead alto stylists such as Willie Smith, who had become famous with Jimmy Lunceford and Harry James, and I also was keen on Marshall Royal and Bennie Carter. We played Basie charts and though it wasn’t the tightest of bands, it was filled with fine jazz soloists. I got a chance to play with some tremendous players. Lawrence “Jacktown” Jackson was on drums and sometimes Ace Carter (who took over the piano bench in the later Basie big band following Count’s death) often played piano. The great trumpeter Benny Bailey passed through the ranks on occasion, and there always was Weasel.”

Dave O’Rourke lived in Garfield Heights where Ernie and his family lived and was perhaps Krivda’s most significant teacher in that he was able to articulate the theoretical and technical aspects of improvisation in a way that helped clarify issues on an intellectual level. “Dave brought reason to my intuition and set the stage for a great acceleration in my development,” says Krivda. “He was a deeply committed musician, curious about every aspect of this art that is also a craft. He was one of the best tenor sax talents I have ever come across and one of the most distinctive clarinet stylists.” Committing to a rigorous practice schedule, O’Rourke developed a whirlwind technique that was extending the range of the horn well before it became common practice decades later. He put together the influences of Johnny Griffin, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons and was even at a relatively young age a stunning musical personality. Dave was living large in the early ‘60s working by day in the band of the nationally televised “Mike Douglas Show” and playing jazz nightly, pulling up to clubs in his gold Cadillac. One of his gigs was at a place called The Castaways and it was in a two-tenor setup. The other tenor man was Joe Alexander.

Joe Alexander hailed from Birmingham, Alabama. He made his way to Pittsburgh and was a member of pianist Gene Harris’s quartet, which later would become the popular Three Sounds trio on the national scene. Joe himself missed out on large-scale fame, but his playing achieved a legendary status among musicians and remains so today.

Joe lived on 100th St., right at the epicenter of Cleveland jazz, and he would walk to his nightly gig at the Club 100. From that venue, “Alexander the Great” ruled the jazz scene in Cleveland. His powerful presence was the stuff of legends that inspired and intimidated the musicians with whom he played. When he first came to Cleveland he played at a club called The Tijuana, where the management placed a sign in the window that read: “We will pay $200 to anyone who can blow Joe off the stand.” The management never had to pay up.

When he first came across the veteran Alexander, Ernie was still a high school kid trying to sneak into Club 100. “I was under drinking age, so I kept getting thrown out of the spot. The bandstand was in the window so I would stand outside, whatever the weather, and check out one of the most commanding players I had ever heard.    He controlled the direction of the band with the strength and clarity of his improvisations. His timing was so strong and his phrasing so powerful that the music simply lifted the bandstand.” Cannonball Adderley took to Joe’s playing and would produced his debut album on Jazzland Records.

Joe was a great influence on Dave O’Rourke and their gigs together were a big reason for Dave’s rapid growth in the early 1960s. In turn, Joe’s influence on the young Ernie Krivda was also profound. “I hear music as a powerful, spiritual force that has the ability to change people’s lives if they are open to it. If I wasn’t able to articulate this principle back then, I could feel it in Joe’s playing and I wanted it for myself,” Ernie says. Krivda sat in with Joe and learned the hard way. “You simply had to have your thing together when you played with Joe or he would embarrass you. It was old school mentoring but I was committed to the music and grateful to be shown what I needed to learn.”

Krivda spent most of his time sitting in with Joe at the Club 100, with organist Eddie Baccus at The Esquire Bar, and with the notable pianist Spencer Thompson at one of his many gigs. When Ernie wasn’t jamming he was practicing the music he thought he might play at the sessions. “I wasn’t putting much time into the clarinet or my classical music studies. It wasn’t that I didn’t love that music; in fact, I was at Cleveland Orchestra rehearsals on a regular basis, which Cleveland Institute of Music students were able to do.” Many of the orchestra’s top players were also instructors at CIM.” Under the direction of George Szell, the Cleveland was a transcendental experience and at the time many critics thought it to be the number one classical organization in the world. “However, I knew that my expression was going to be found in jazz.”

 

Ernie Joins the Jimmy Dorsey Band

“Chuck Findley had gotten one of the trumpet chairs in the Jimmy Dorsey ghost band, which was under the direction of Lee Castle. There was an opening and Chuck recommended me. It was for the jazz tenor chair. This being an opportunity for work, which my family did understand, my dad broke open the piggy bank and helped me buy a tenor sax. It was a Buecher, which wasn’t my first choice, but I wasn’t going to argue and there wasn’t any time for that any way. I grabbed an Otto Link #5 metal mouthpiece, a box of Rico reeds and got on the bus for New York to meet the band.”

Ernie_Krivda_And_The_Art_of_The_Trio_at_Skyline_2009_008Ernie was just 17 and on the road playing one nighters with the Dorsey that was still riding their last hit, “So Rare,” which had been recorded six years earlier when Jimmy was still alive. “It was my first time out on the road, and I found out what I liked and what I didn’t. I dug hanging with Chuck and the cats and I liked experiencing different cities, and looking for places to jam after the gig. I was not particularly fond of life on the bus and I really hated playing the same charts – even the good ones – seven nights a week, especially when there was very limited chance to really play.

“I was at that point a bebopper, and I was looking to stretch out. This band, however, was not there to have me stretch out. In fact, had I done my big band history homework, I would have know that the Old Man (Jimmy Dorsey) ‘didn’t allow no bebop playin’ in here.’’’

Lee Castle was a fine jazz trumpet player. Coming out of the Louis Armstrong and Bunny Berigan schools, he was the quintessential swing era soloist. His role model for being a bandleader was Jimmy’s more famous brother, Tommy Dorsey, for whom he had played for years and idolized. Tommy Dorsey hated bebop, so Lee Castle hated bebop. Unfortunately, Ernie did not know this.

“There was a natural conflict between us but I could play the part and I had a good clarinet double, so I stayed on the band. I did learn things about being a working musician that with the passing years proved to be of real value, but at the time, all I could think of was getting back to Cleveland, getting on the corner and playing the music I wanted to play.”

 

"Haunting lyricism...creative purity..." - Tim Price (Tim Price Jazz.com)

 

In the summer of ’64, Ernie learned that he was going to be drafted, his student deferment no longer being operative. “So I left the road, got into the National Guard band and enrolled in Baldwin Wallace College, which had a student jazz band that wanted me in it.” This was during the heightening Viet Nam conflict and there was a long wait for National Guard inductees to go to basic training.

Meanwhile, Krivda was around Cleveland hitting the sessions on 105th and Euclid but also playing in the house band of the fabled Leo’s Casino, which was bringing in and helping to break all the Motown acts. The band at Leo’s was made up of a horn section of jazz players that played with the traveling Detroit rhythm sections. “We played for the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the other soon-to-be stars who were riding their first wave of popularity. My playing had grown considerably and I was starting to get a reputation as one of ‘the tenor players.’” In Cleveland at the time this was heady praise.” Ernie was working in a variety of settings and tearing up the sessions but not spending much time on his schoolwork.

“I simply could not get into classes that I did not think related to what I wanted to do. At the same time, I really enjoyed going to recitals, concerts and listening to classical music. For a theory class project I wrote a string quartet and I was really becoming interested in composition; I just wasn’t interested in going to class. What I didn’t realize is that I am an autodidact and would be compelled to learn in my own way. However, I did realize – and do realize today – that I was very fortunate early in my life and career to come into contact with some marvelous players and mentors who helped bring me forward.

“When I teach today at colleges and clinics I try to make it very clear to students that I am trying to make it possible for them to teach themselves, which is necessary for a personal approach and the process of being an eternal student.”

But the long arm of Uncle Sam suddenly interrupted “The Great Party” and a time of rapid musical growth. “Fort Knox and basic training were different from anything I had ever done before or since,” Ernie recalls. “The regular Army looked upon the National Guard as a haven for slackers and it was into this that my fellow Guard recruits and I rode into.

“I was not as physically prepared for boot camp as I should have been, and the drill instructors delighted in making the Guardsmen realize where they were -- prior to being spilled back into normal society. But what was worse was that for the first time in my life I was without music and without my horn.

“There was a snafu regarding my poor eyesight. They discovered that I was not really a candidate for any aspect of the military. As only the Army can do, I was put into a never-ending web of paperwork and waiting. I was told that I would be discharged. But I also was told to keep my uniform on and that they in due course would let me know when I would be able to leave. This went on for days and weeks. In reality I was in the Army but I was a nonentity – somewhere in limbo.”

As luck would have it, Ernie discovered an old buddy from high school who was in the camp band. “The guy was Walt Dembkowski, a drummer who I had played polka gigs with but who also was a good jazz drummer. He knew the ropes at Fort Knox. He said that in the service after basic training, you next are assigned to a post, basically an eight to five job. If you are in a band, the life is less restrictive.” Ernie had his horn sent to Walt and soon Ernie was jamming with Dembkowski and a New York City piano player named John Alteri.

“This was a welcome addition, spending time in the music barracks and a great therapy for me. Jerry Niewood, a tenor player from Rochester, was also at the post at that time, and he had serious intentions, and I missed being around people like that. He was a strong, swinging player in the upstate New York tradition.

Jerry went on to join his homey, Chuck Mangione.

“We would go into Louisville – keep in mind that I was not only in limbo as a soldier but also technically AWOL going off base – hit some clubs to jam and take advantage of a nice jazz scene there. So, I practiced, jammed, played officers’ club affairs, and finally found Army life tolerable. But, I was in truth a non-person. I was sleeping in a barracks, eating at a mess hall, and wearing a uniform but as far as the Army was concerned, I did not exist.” He was lost in the bowels of the military.

A call to an old friend, long-time U.S. Congressman Charles Vanik, revealed upon investigation that Fort Knox had lost all of Ernie’s paperwork. After that, Fort Knox hopped to it. Ernie says the Army, quite unbelievably, gave him a marksman medal – he of the bad eyes – and sent him on his way. He went back to Cleveland, a man free from obligations to the Army and school, but it was a changing scene to which he returned.

 

R&B, the British Invasion and Motown Put Jazz in the Back Seat

Toward the end of the 1960s there was a serious drop-off in the Cleveland jazz scene. R&B, rock n roll, Motown and the British Invasion of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones the Dave Clark Five and a variety of other factors had turned people off to the once widely popular jazz product.

Along with jazz’s own avant garde movement, much of which left people mystified, there were also strong ties by players (both black and white) to the turbulent, controversial but absolutely essential civil rights activities of the time.    Jazz players were becoming pariahs in the eyes of the confused and turned-off public.

All this was a dramatic change in the “on the corner” environment Ernie had found with the jazz stars of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The once fertile 105th and Euclid jazz area was becoming a wasteland. By the end of the decade it would become unrecognizable from what it was.

Ernie_Krivda_And_The_Detroit_Connection_001So then, Ernie found himself playing again in the pit bands for shows primarily at Leo’s Casino and The Versaille, both doyens of the new popular music such as Motown. But Ernie was also doing steady studio work in the thriving Cleveland jingle business. “At this time I was on the road with The Terry Knight Review and playing with the Eddie Baccus Quartet and singer Bobby Bryan’s band. I was playing funk gigs with bassist David Johnson and pianist Richard Shann, who were with the O’Jays’ rhythm section that played at Leo’s all the time. This was enjoyable and helped me expand my playing but the true jazz work was becoming more sporadic.”

The deeper he went into the decade of the ‘60s and into the early ‘70s the problem grew worse. “I landed with a show band out of Grand Rapids, Mich., Kenny Gordon and the Living Sound. The band had some good musicians who needed to work but the music was tedious and then to top it off we got stuck in Ft. Lauderdale playing for the door in a boondocks hotel off the beach.

“The place was real shabby, we had a place to stay and a little to eat, but we were playing all the wrong music to my taste. I was depressed about the music, being in some godforsaken place for endless days and nights, and not having any money. Then came divine providence.

“Some of us heard that Ira Sullivan had a regular gig at a place called The Rancher in Miami. We went in, and my life became whole again. He is a multiple horn man who just plays from the heart. He was a breath of joy in the most dismal time of my life. You have to remember at the time in the late 1960s jazz was about as low on the totem pole as it ever got. People actually hated jazz, and there were just a few places to play that form.

“But here’s Ira doing his thing in the way I wanted to live my life. The beauty and strength of his playing was a revelation and gave me a renewed faith in my aspirations.”

Ernie continues, “The communicative power of his playing turned a bunch of ordinary people into a hip jazz crowd every night at the Rancher, and made me understand that if you do it right you don’t have to play dumb shit."

He says Ira taught him a lot about the ability to communicate with his band mates and the audience. “The people who came into the Rancher were not so much jazz fans but after hearing what they heard they became Ira Sullivan fans and that was a profound lesson.”

Ernie hung out in Miami and began sitting in with Ira Sullivan regularly. He was getting back to his game. “Ira’s playing gave hope to my commitment.”

And Ernie headed back to Cleveland with renewed vigor.

 

From Bowling Alley to Jazz Den – The Smiling Dog Saloon

In the early 1970s Ernie began an association with the pianist Bill Dobbins, who he had met at a late-night jam session at The Highlander Night Club in Warrensville Heights. They had a quintet with Val Kent on drums, Tom Baker on electric bass, and Skip Haden on miscellaneous percussion. Haden was a profound influence on another young Cleveland musician, the man who today is the international percussionist Jamey Haddad.

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_2_004“We were playing mostly original music by Dobbins but I had also begun to compose and was also contributing pieces,” says Ernie. “Composing was now becoming more of a factor in my expression.

Into the ‘70s Cleveland entrepreneur Roger Bonn had converted a West 25th St. bowling alley into a bar/concert hall. He called it The Smiling Dog Saloon. “ He started booking local bands. I had played there with a band I called Omnibus, which as the name implies, explored many directions and tastes in music. I had been interested in a more eclectic musical palate at the time and was combining different influences to my jazz core. Funk and folk rhythms were a source of interest and I was writing music as the basis for improvisation. But I lost interest in Omnibus because it was becoming a cooperative/communal entity and I was not big on that. It was becoming too inclusive – all things to all people -- and I wanted to be true to my own heart.    I needed to go in another direction.

“Then, Weather Report was booked into the Dog for a one-night show, and it was like magic. A huge crowd transformed the place, and The Smiling Dog era had begun.

The Ernie Krivda/Bill Dobbins Quintet played opposite all incoming jazz acts at the Dog on Sunday nights for the first year and beyond. Ernie also played with the legendary guitarist Bill DeArango, who was much the factor in New York in the late 1940s with Dizzy Gillespie in defining the bebop genre. This was a trio with the drummer Skip Haden and it was avant-garde. Many of the visiting artists remembered DeArango for his associations with Diz, Bird, Bud Powell and others on East 52nd St. – his clearly being part of the first wave of world-class beboppers. The trio, Ernie says, was controversial utilizing rock rhythms and volume. The group also opened for the national jazz acts during the week.

 

"Among the creme de la creme of tenor saxophonists..." - Glen Astaria (Jazz Review.com)

 

“I was doing more composing and I needed a group of my own to play my compositions so I formed a quartet and soon we were the regular house band. The list of musicians and bands that played The Smiling Dog Saloon five or six nights a week included: Cannonball Adderley, Eddie Harris, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Elvin Jones. Others included Roland Kirk, Grover Washington, Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band, the Maynard Ferguson big band, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, and more.

“It was in this company that I started getting recognition from the jazz media,” says Ernie. The late Bernard Laurait, at the time an important critic internationally wrote: “Ernie Krivda should be considered in the top rank of jazz musicians.”

 

Cannonball Adderley – One of Ernie’s Biggest Early Fans

Ernie began scoring more and more articles in The Plain Dealer and won the first Scene magazine reader’s poll in 1972 as best jazz musician. “I was sitting in with some of the main acts and there was talk of joining the Elvin Jones group.” During this time, Ernie also played with organist Groove Holmes’ band on gigs in Pittsburgh. He sat in with Cannonball, who became a good friend and mentor.

“I also was playing in a duo with Skip Haden on drums – sometimes we had to make due the best we could because the pay was so bad. We were opposite Ahmad Jamal one night when Miles Davis walked in to hear his friend and major influence. I got the word that Miles dug my playing and then Willard Jenkins interviewed him for his column. In the interview Miles said I was one of the best players out there, and he said he wanted me in his band. Roger Bonn, The Smiling Dog’s owner, passed that info on to me as well, but I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t my favorite Miles Davis band and Miles himself was not in good shape. But mainly I was having such a good time and learning so much in a dream school, in a situation that might never happen again – and it didn’t. I wanted to stay.”

Ernie was growing so quickly at this point both as a player and a composer that he wanted to remain planted on fertile ground. He had grown up listening to these musicians and now by hearing them on a nightly basis, observing their process of performance, encountering their triumphs and difficulties, he began to understand them better than he had ever dreamed, and he learned in a unique way. “At this point, a lot of people were coming to hear me as well as the headliners, and, frankly, I wanted it to go on forever.

His eclectic background on different reed instruments before turning exclusively to the tenor sax, and his experiences with classical and other modes of music, had led him to listen to the great trumpet players and to virtuoso violinists and cellists, along with some of the highly individualized singers such as Johnny Hartman, Sara Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and even pop vocalists such as Edie Gorme and Kay Starr, who sing from the great American Songbook. “They were all influential – and still are,” recounts Ernie.

Referring again to The Smiling Dog, Ernie recalls, “The main themes I got out of that five-year experience in the early to mid 1970s was that: One, if you have individuality, cultivate it. Two, if you can write original music, do that too.

“I was lucky for the multi-faceted serendipity of The Smiling Dog’s being in existence, the owner Roger Bonn’s vision for music and respect for jazz especially, the fact that the world’s greatest players of the day kept coming through for six-night gigs time after time, and my good fortune of being back in Cleveland and being offered to head the house band,” says Ernie. “You couldn’t buy that education, and it might not have been available at the time in the same way anywhere else.”

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_2_003He speaks in witticisms in recalling Sonny Stitt’s ongoing monologues about life, monologues that wildly resonated while they shared the same dank dressing room. “This was not a dialogue – he would just go off on any topic, not just music, and you would listen.” He says he also learned a lot about the penchant “to get it right” in his observations of Stan Getz and his methods of driving for perfection with players who were sometimes very good but not “getting it.” And he speaks of Adderley’s pure musicality as a second-generation bebopper and the art form with which he created his performances.

The notoriously bi-polar personality Getz, in an especially benevolent tone one night told Ernie: “You’re going to conquer the world with that horn.”

“These guys and others before them taught me about ‘the call’ . . . some people would call it ‘the muse.’ I guess I call it the distinction of what a true artist is versus just being a musician. You have to cultivate the spiritual nature of your relationship with the music and be ready for the inspiration when it calls. That’s what I always work on. I try to stay curious and observant about the things that cross my path in life and then turn an inspiration into a composition or a way to improvise.

“The guys also taught me about the chemistry of bands, and this is something I try to impart to my students every teaching day. Every band is different, or should be different, if you are going to be true to your own heart and really say something as an artist.”

 

"A fertile improvisational imaginaiton...a welcome gust of fresh musical air..." - Don Heckman (LA Times)

 

One of the great thrills for Ernie was sitting in and hanging out with Cannonball Adderley, who had been an inspiration to the young Krivda both on records and from a far away bandstand at concerts and clubs. Now he was up close and personal, talking music and life. Cannon’ told Ernie he “had better take something pretty soon” – referring to all the offers that were popping up for Ernie. “His theory was that nothing lasts forever,” Ernie recalls. “Cannonball, who had become a good friend and mentor, and Herbie Hancock as well, had recommended me when Quincy Jones was putting together his new band, the last touring band he had. That was an out-there gig that I decided to take.”

Now based out of Los Angeles, Ernie traveled, soloed and recorded with Jones. “This was 1975. It was a mixed bag for me. There were some great jazz players on the band, like [the trombonist] Frank Rossilino, and Q’s long-time friend and colleague the wonderful baritone sax man Shahib Shihab. Our road manager was none other than Ray Brown, who sometimes would play bass with us. Everyone knew Ray was one of the best bass players ever. Q himself was an inspiring musician and leader but the direction he was taking at the time had a much more commercial than a jazz mentality. The money was far beyond what I ever made before as a musician, and I was able to save a lot.”

 

After Touring and Recording with Quincy Jones, Ernie Heads for New York

The Smiling Dog had closed, and when the tour with Quincy Jones had ended, Ernie had a serious decision to make. There was much encouragement to stay in L.A. and get involved in studio work that is the centerpiece to the music industry there. “I had a lot of contacts by now and it was tempting to a point but I really wasn’t interested in being a jazz player occasionally. I also was determined to get into recording my own music. It was disappointing that Joe Alexander and even Ira Sullivan did not have representative discographies. I felt that recording was the key to a lasting impact in jazz, and so I took the bread from Quincy’s gig as seed money and moved to New York.

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_003Less than six months after hitting the Big Apple Ernie got a contract with Inner City Records, where he produced a trilogy of albums comprising his original compositions. The discography of these efforts is listed on Ernie’s website and obtainable on iTunes.

Krivda’s Inner City recordings garnered heady critical acclaim. Scott Yanow wrote in Record Review Magazine that this was a “major talent.” Bob Rusch, who was to become Ernie’s long-time producer, wrote in his own Cadence Magazine that Krivda “was one of the most important players of the decade (the 1980s)” and Downbeat Magazine carried the description of the “young tenor man playing on the changes with a verve that was flooring.”

All this boosted Ernie’s determination to play his music the way he wanted to play it. “I was no more interested in becoming a New York musician than I was in being a studio player on the L.A. scene. I was interested only in the call of that which inspired me.”

The means to do that were more available to him in Cleveland than in New York, so he moved his base of operations back to the North Coast in 1981 and began touring with his quartets.

“In Cleveland I have always been able to find the funding and the supportive people to help me realize the projects that I conceive. I had already established myself in the record industry, which was why I went to New York in the first place. Most importantly, for whatever the reason, inspiration has always flowed with more passion and consistency from my home, which is how I view the value of Cleveland.”

 

Krivda Inspires Lovano – Two Jazz Giants from Cleveland

Even in the 60s and especially through the 70s, Ernie found himself becoming the mentor -- hanging and playing with and becoming a major influence on another Clevelander, Joe Lovano. Not long ago Bob Protzman wrote in Showcase Music, “If you think critically acclaimed, poll-winning Joe Lovano is the one great jazz saxophonist from Cleveland, you are wrong , , , Ernie Krivda [is] the other great Cleveland sax player.”

Joe’s dad Tony, or “Big T” as he was known, was one of the top tenor players on the Cleveland scene and used to hold court at his barbershop where you could hear Trane sides being played and use the set of drums in the corner for jam sessions. “I don’t remember anyone getting a hair cut but I do recall great hangs and always there was the music,” Ernie likes to point out.

Joe was very close with his dad, learning the jazz business from him and inheriting father Lovano’s great joy in playing music. “Joe was always ready to play and started turning up at gigs and sessions when he was a teenager. He was a young cat that also started showing up at gigs at The Smiling Dog Saloon with regularity. Even when he went to Berklee School of Music he and his friends from school would drive in from Boston to sit in.”

One night the two young Cleveland tenors sat in with the great Sonny Stitt and inspired veteran saxophonist Andy Anderson, who happened to be in the house at the time, to say “the future of jazz saxophone is in good hands with those two (Krivda and Lovano).

Says Lovano about their long association and friendship: “From the first moments I heard Ernie Krivda's sound and incredible virtuosic technique I was drawn into his spell. I was a teenager and just starting to realize what it was all about to develop on my horn and in the music. To this day he is a constant inspiration. Knowing [him] and sharing the stage with Ernie through the years has given me a solid foundation to build on and become my own player, which he has always been.”

Upon his return his return to Cleveland in the early 1980s and through the ongoing years Ernie scored record album after record album and continued to play gigs not only in the Midwest, but from coast to coast and overseas. All the while his music and composing flourished.

One thing critics and fans always agree on is that with Ernie you get the Ernie voice. While influenced by many of the storied giants of the trade like The Hawk, Ben Webster, and Lester Young and much respectful of the next generation after them, Ernie thankfully is Ernie, and he encourages his students to do it in their own unique way as well.

New_Krivda_web_site_photos_2_005“ . . . Even at his most expressive there’s an underlying structural integrity to his improvisations,” says the blog site MASTER OF A SMALL HOUSE, which likes to refer to itself as “meditations on music of a mainly improvised variety.”

If you don’t know Ernie that well, just listen to the diversity of his music posted on this site. Much of it defies description in mere lexicon. It is better to sit back, listen and enjoy. Like his best progenitors, he has his own ways of stating himself – both with his own written works and with the standards and special bop and straight ahead chestnuts that make jazz the art that it is.

 

A Paean to Straight-Ahead and Bop’s Golden Years

His latest recording efforts, one called “Ernie Krivda and the Detroit Connection,” and another, “November Man,” his first solo album, speak to this notion.

Krivda and the Detroit Connection is homage to the relentless art of the straight-ahead and bop golden years of the late 1950s into the ‘60s, the music of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Rollins. Ernie feels “it is important for creative jazz to return to the influence of swinging because it is the mother groove and I don’t believe it is being taken seriously enough. I am not talking about re-creating the past, but using that which is fundamental to the music to express ourselves. Many musicians in Detroit are still in touch with that approach, which is why I have such a great time with them.”

There is no duplication or mimicry here. Just Ernie and the crew doing it in their way, a way that certainly gives credence to the special Detroit jazz scene, with the correlation as well of Ernie and a couple of other featured, Cleveland-bred artists. This album also speaks to the generational thing, in fact showcasing three distinct generations of performers playing together on this project.

New_Krivda_pics_Jazz_Fest_2010_008The artists, led by Ernie, include the 78-year-old (and still playing his ass off) Claude Black on piano, Renell Gonsalves (Ellington lead tenor sax stylist Paul’s son) on drums, and the lady who over years has emerged as the matriarch of the Detroit jazz scene, Marion Hayden, on bass. Claude represents an older generation, the other three the middle generation, and trumpeters Dominick Farinacci and Sean Jones, the younger crowd. Farinacci is a Julliard grad and Koch recording artist. Jones, a Mack Avenue recording artist, is the lead trumpeter of Jazz at Lincoln Center under Wynton Marsalis and the head of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra as well as an instructor at Duquesne University. Both Farinacci and Jones studied – and performed – with Ernie at a tender age. So the album represents exactly what Ernie invokes about themes and ideas of music being passed on from one generation to another to perpetuate the great American art form. Ernie, himself, was mentored by Claude Black’s generation of beboppers.

“Detroit never lost its reverence for this bop and straight-ahead form of the late 1950s and early 1960s; it’s part of their firmament,” says Ernie “Cleveland and other markets never had the same aggregate, long-time devotion to this period of jazz, although I never lost it, and always employed it, and now am very happy to collaborate with my friends in this talented Detroit contingent.”

The album was directed and engineered by multiple-Grammy Award-winning, multiple Platinum record producer Michael Seifert, who brought people such as “Bone, Thugs-n- Harmony,” Trent Reznor and his “Nine Inch Nails,” Marilyn Manson, Regina Spektor and Tori Amos to the front of the line. Seifert has also produced the recent albums of Dave Mathews, Carrie Underwood, and former “Faith No More” front man, rap rocker Chuck Mosley. The Ernie Krivda and the Detroit Connection album is one of Seifert’s rare excursions into jazz, but as he says, “That is one talented Dude,” referring to Ernie. The record was produced at Seifert’s capacious, state-of-the art studios called Reversed Image Unlimited/Ante Up on E. 36th St., bordering on Downtown Cleveland.

His first solo album, produced late in 2009 (CIMP LTD), speaks to Ernie’s ever-growing reputation as a unique and original musician. Not many sax players can pull off a full solo album. Ernie has done this one to peer acclaim. Fellow tenor man Joe Lovano, for instance, emphatically proclaims: “[I am] digging his solo recording -- ‘November Man.’ It [is] a pleasure to have his sound and ideas fill the room. It is truly a blessing and a reminder to me personally how much love and dedication he has and what it really takes to be constantly expressive as a solo artist.

 

November Man

The eponymous November Man introductory piece on this latest work refers to Ernie’s way of thinking that “if an artist can maintain his health and curiosity there is no reason he cannot sustain and even increase his power of expression as he grows with the seasons.”

"...Yeah, Ernie...Thanks for another amazing lesson!!!" - Joe Lovano (after hearing November Man)

CIMP’s Bob Rusch, who with his son, engineer Marc Rusch, produced November Man, says “[Ernie] expresses himself passionately, to please both himself and the listener. [Sax solo work] is, of course, a highly subjective art but one in which it is possible to find approval by both the presenter and receiver. Ernie was pleased. I was pleased. And it is our hope that [our listeners], the final recipient[s], will also be pleased and thus complete the circle.”

Respected jazz critic Scott Yanow says of November Man: “Solo saxophone albums are pretty rare and usually come from the avant-garde. His playing is in some ways reminiscent of an opera singer, with an emphasis on long tones in spots. His tone remains very personal and he takes his time in his improvisations, developing his ideas logically if unpredictably.” Yanow also says: “November Man is a solo recital that grows in interest with each listen.”

 

The Art of the Trio, Project Omnibus, Teaching and Learning

Another recent project, his “Ernie Krivda and the Art of the Trio” portrays his strong dedication to trio work and features his own compositions. And last year’s reissue of his trilogy of albums recorded during his New York years in the late 1970s and early 1980s on Inner City Records has received recent vigorous critical acclaim. The first two albums, “Satanic” and “The Alchemist,” about which writer Michael Nastos of allmusic last year said their reissues on CD demonstrate “the progressions of his music from recording to recording . . . stark and on display for all music lovers to note how he evolved.” Nastos noted “the wealth of ideas consistently streaming forth make ‘The Glory Strut’ [the third in that series] his best effort [during the Inner City years], a definitive album in modern jazz, and one well worth seeking.”

Further showing the diverse stuff of his fertile mind, Ernie a few years ago reprised a name from his past, “Orchestra Omnibus,” one that has his distinct signature on it. This iteration of Orchestra Omnibus features his original compositions and a few adaptations. Orchestra Omnibus is both a music ensemble -- peopled from eight to as many as forty members depending on purpose and need – and a concept. “When you hear the music you enter a constantly evolving landscape that will have you wondering how you got to where you are.  The music I have recorded to disk is from a live performance at the 2006 Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland, and this presented the maiden voyage for the project.” The work includes three original compositions – concepts and all of the scoring by Ernie – and an original adaptation of a Leonard Bernstein tune, “Some Other Time.”

“Here again, being in Cleveland affords me this liberal sense of freedom to express and experiment,” says Ernie. “Here you are not driven to be a certain kind of performer who gets a reputation in a certain kind of groove, and has to stick with that to be popular to make money performing live and especially in the studio. Orchestra Omnibus is a good example of this. You have the opportunity to get something as free-spirited as this the way it should be – the way you feel it, not someone else’s confection of what it should be. As an artist, if it does not feel right to you, it will never influence anyone else.

“I find that inspiration happens when you don’t expect it. Sometimes it happens in fifteen to twenty minutes and other times it may take twenty years. Being based in Cleveland provides me a landscape of imagination, much more so than I might find in more congestive, more cacophonous, more life-draining places.”

Some think the most remarkable work of Ernie’s career was his interpretation of the Eddie Sauter suite “Focus,” which had been performed only once before, by Stan Getz in a1962 album. In 1998 Ernie recreated Focus with about 40 strings and others, mostly from the Cleveland Orchestra, accompanied by former Getz sidemen Andy LaVerne on piano, Rufus Reid, bass, and Adam Nussbaum, drums. The concert was presented at the Orchestra’s world-renowned home, Severance Hall, and is available on record, “Ernie Krivda, Focus on Stan Getz: Live at Severance Hall,” Cadence Jazz 1165.

But ask Ernie, and he’ll say and as jazz writer Bob Protzman notes, “You like that you did those things, but jazz is about now, so you don’t look back that much. I’m excited about my new group [The Art of the Trio] and other new projects [such as the Detroit Connection, my solo work and Orchestra Omnibus] and after we’re finished talking, I’m heading to my basement to practice, and that will be the most important thing in my career.”

And we might add a couple of other important missions: His highly praised composition, arranging and scoring work that occupies his time more than ever before. And, too, the other element that drives him – that of being in the classroom and clinic setting “learning from my students” and, in turn, we would append, passing on his wisdom, wit, emphasis on individualism and ingenious artistry from more than five decades on the scene . . . to the Young Lions, and, yes, the Young Lionesses, who form the next generation of the jazz tradition, wherever their paths cross.

– Ron Watt, Sr., March, 2010


 

"Ernie Krivda almost blew the sun out of the sky (at the Detroit Jazz Festival)...Still at the top of his game." - The Detroit Metro Times, Sept. 2009

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"[Ernie] brandishes one of the most ravishing and distinctive sounds in music - a vibrant, rawboned tone colored by an impassioned vibrato."." - David Dupont, One Final Note, Jazz & Improvised Music Webzine

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"The Colossus of Cleveland..." - The Detroit Metro Times, commenting in January of 2010 about Ernie's Detroit Arts League performance with Marcus Belgrave

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"Ernie possesses an endless flow of melodic ideas that makes everything he plays sound fresh and alive.  Presented for evidence now is a consistent 70-minute set of solo tenor saxophone pieces, which is not an easy program to pull off.  'November Man' doesnt set out to present all aspects of the tenor's sonic possibilities (ballad here, growling overtones and high shrieks there) nor does it digress into a series of technical exercises that only sound like tunes inside the performer's head.  The album features fully developed pieces that just happen to be played without the support of a band." - Mike Shanley, JazzTimes, April 2010

(9,732 words)
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