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«Don Cherry at Dartmouth»

Posted on April 20, 2011

(note: this is a version of something I was writing for Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 2006;
there is or was a revised version with a lead that referenced “The Pied Piper” myth. DAM ran
a condensed version making the lead my aside about the jocks calling Don Cherry’s class
“Pots and Pans” the way we also, even 15 years later called into Geology courses “Rocks for
Jocks”. I have a rather thick file that didn’t directly percolate or precipitate as cogent ideas or
praise for Don Cherry. Also, a side effect of this work was the re-isse I played a role in–and
think “role” in the French sense with a mark about the vowel — “Human Music”, for the
Cherry completist) I bought an extra copy of Brotzmann to present to one of my sources here,
the guy who moved to India. Yes, Fuck the Boer.)


By Mark Weiss (2006)

Don Cherry, African-American, avant-garde of the jazz avant-garde and Choctaw Indian
from Oklahoma, taught two ten-week courses at Dartmouth College in the winter and spring
of 1970. He came to the College at the invitation and instigation of Jon Appleton, a young
music professor and early adopter of electronic music, who was interpreting and acting on a
college-wide self-conscious and deliberate attempt to bring more black perspectives to the
faculty and curriculum. Cherry’s stint was actually part of a jazz recruiting trifecta that also
yielded short fecund sojourns on the rural New Hampshire campus from tenor sax legend
Lucky Thompson in 1973 and bassist/French horn player Willie Ruff in 1974. Cherry’s visit
was by far the most fruitful, leaving indelible impressions on his colleagues and students,
who can clearly recall that intriguing chapter of Dartmouth (and American: think Woodstock,
Kent State and Vietnam) history even decades later. ​Cherry’s offerings were by far the most
popular music department courses in Spring, 1970, their enrollment surpassed the combined
total of all other music classes combined.

When questioned about the story, Appleton retrieves from a file the curriculum vitae that
Cherry submitted at Dartmouth’s request. The two musicians had met the previous year at a
recording session in New York of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra [27 y 29 de
abril de 1969] (Appleton was an observer). Suitably impressed, Appleton put the wheels in
motion to bring Cherry to campus.



headlines the document which is typed on a manual typewriter with charming

hand-written addendum.

Although 33 when he wrote it, Cherry’s 1969 c.v. recounts an already legendary

In 1955 I won a scholarship to LENOX SCHOOL of JAZZ.

(“Boston, Mass” is handwritten in the margin).


I moved to New York in the winter of 1959 with Ornette Coleman’s ensemble.

In 1960 I began studies with Director, JOHN COLTRANE.

The five-page document continues to list other accomplishments such as his recording
contract with Blue Note – then, as now, the world’s most prestigious jazz label –, and studies
or collaborations with a pantheon of jazz greats such as Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, John
Tchicai, Thelonious Monk, Albert Ayler and Pharoah “Little Rock” Sanders. It also lists
travels, studies or commissions in Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France, and his
co-founding of an elementary school music program Arbetarnas Bildings Forbunde in

The last page – “1969*” – is written in quite legible cursive prose and mentions more Ornette
Coleman (Cherry’s original collaborator and band-leader, acknowledged as a pioneer of “the
new thing”, still with us and gigging at age 74), and lectures at Long Island University and at
five elementary schools “with small children ages 7 to 10.” The “essay section” here ends
with a note:


I hope this information is satisfactory. So sorry I was so long. Have a Happy summer.
Don Cherry (the signature includes a trademark doodle of three doves over the Y.).

Although Appleton had his secretary, reformat the document, it augurs a jazz course akin to
having a religion course taught by someone present at the Last Supper.

Cherry was accepted and came to campus. The following people have offered vivid and
animated recollections about the course: Fred Haas, ’73. He is a professional musician, a
saxophone player, living and teaching in Vermont. He actually took all three of the courses
offered by this initiative, those of Cherry plus Lucky Thompson and Willie Ruff. He
remembers practicing individually with Cherry in Cherry’s office. Cherry would make him
play a piece of music then flip the score upside down and make him play it backwards. Haas
remembers hearing that Cherry was coming to campus, going to the record store, buying
Symphony for Improvisers (1966) and being blown away by the lp. “It was the first jazz
music I had ever heard that did not take a traditional song format.”

Nelson Armstrong ’73, who has worked many years in the alumni office of the College, was
an undergraduate football player and music major, as well as one of the fews
African-Americans in the student body. Armstrong says that Cherry had a “Pied Piper” effect
on students – he developed quite a following. He said that Cherry was like “apple in a bowl
of grapes” among the other Dartmouth faculty of the day.

Steve Herzfeld ’73 took the course as a freshman, and eventually dropped out College to
travel to Europe with Cherry. He is either by far the best example of Cherry’s students, or the
worst. He, too, took Thompson’s course. (Thompson, by the way, recently passed away at
age 81. He was a legendary sideman, accompanying a dizzying array of luminaries like Count
Basie, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. He is famous for his disgust with the music
business – and American society in general. After leaving Dartmouth he taught one year at
Yale then dropped out of society completely. In the last ten years before his death in August,
2005 he was said to have lived as a squatter in Seattle; music-community members there
rallied to get him preferential treatment in Seattle social services and adult day care, but he
died pretty sad and lonely, and disoriented. Herzfeld remembers several outbursts and a
terrifying account of racism that Thompson claimed he and his band including his pregnant
wife experienced touring in the South in the 1950s. Herzfeld recalls these classroom sessions
as if they were TiVoed).

Jonathan Sa’Adah, ’71, is a professional photographer based in Vermont and Montreal who
others remember as copiously documenting on film Cherry’s course as well as several public
performances. He too traveled to Europe either with or for Cherry.

Many people, if they don’t know Cherry, may have heard of or heard songs by his children
Neneh Cherry and Eagle-Eye Cherry, both of whom had Top 40 pop hits on commercial
radio in the 1980s and 1990s. The Dartmouth Cherry students and Appleton remember the
very young Cherry kids crawling around on stage during classes and during performances, or
banging on the drumkits. Cherry moved to Europe in the sixties, part of a larger trend of jazz
musicians, especially blacks, who received better treatment there, and wished to protest
Vietnam War by their absence. Cherry married Moki Cherry, a Laplander from Sweden (i.e.
She was indigenous minority in her country; Neneh is actually Don Cherry’s step-daughter,
while Eagle Eye is the child of Don and Moki).

Appleton claims that more than 100 students took Cherry’s courses. In his letter to the dean
of faculty Leonard Rieser on January 23, 1970 he asks the College to extend Cherry’s stay an
additional term. Appleton pointed out that Cherry’s course had more students than the other
music courses combined.

“I feel that the retention of Mr. Cherry is highly desirable for the following reasons: 1) The
number of students enrolled in his courses during this term exceeds the total enrollment for
all other courses presently being offered by the department. 2) ​Having visited two of Mr.
Cherry’s classes I feel that he brings an entirely new dimension in musical instruction that
should figure prominently in the way all colleges and universities approach the teaching of
music in the future.​” Rieser wrote back to Cherry (cc: Jon Appleton) on March 5 stating that
he was “delighted” that Cherry would extend his stay, and that beyond their popularity the
courses “enjoy the high regard of your colleagues” in the music department.

Beyond his voluminous stories and expertise regarding Don Cherry, Herzfeld recalls his
relationship with a Cherry sideman, the South African bassist Johnny Dyani. Cherry
pre-arranged then used some of his teaching stipend to lure his international trio to perform
and teach clinics on campus. Herzfeld recalls Dyani making a point of extinguishing a
cigarette with his fingers to highlight the callouses that a committed bass player would grow
on his fingers. Summing up what is obviously a special memory to him as mentor, Herzfeld
said of Dyani: “What made him unique is that when he heard hoof-beats he naturally thought
of zebras.”

Another musician who Cherry brought to campus for his combo is the Turkish percussionist
Okey Temiz. An avatar of “world music” Cherry studied in Turkey with a trumpet player
with the irresistibly mentionable name of Muffuka Fallay (better known as Muffy Fallay —
Dizzy Gillespie met Fallay in Turkey and implored him to come to the U.S. Saying “People
will book you just for your name.”). Cherry was also known for travels in, an music mastery
of, Asia and Africa. Cherry’s relationship with the percussionist Temez came out of his
studies with Fallay but truth be told I only walk this factual tangent because I cannot resist
that name, again, that Muffuka Fallay.

Herzfeld remembers Cherry teaching a new way of listening. He would train his students to
continue listening to the “specific silence” that followed that particular sounding of an
in-class Chinese gong.

While on campus, Appleton and Cherry cut an album together that featured Appleton on
Synclavier and Cherry on horns and percussion. The two men gathered every morning for
two weeks for 15-minute improvisational sessions, eventually releasing a four-song album
culled from the sessions. Appleton described the session in a July 1971 article in Music
Journal. He said that he wanted to contrast the world’s most modern music – from a recently
invented electronic keyboard, a synthesizer that he helped design – with the primal sounds
that Cherry had studied worldwide and could bring forth. They also borrowed from
Dartmouth collections a rare African xylophone and a Native American flute from the Hood
Museum collection.
Cherry was so taken by the sound of the Hood wood flute that he borrowed it from the
college and took it with him to Europe in the summer of 1970. Appleton has correspondences
in which Cherry is apologizing for taking liberty with the loan:

Dear Carol:

We have finally arrived and all are well. Yes, I do have the Taos flute. I borrowed it
to use in radio shows in Europe.

I plan to return it in the fall for I am to return to the USA in September.

I hope that Mr. Whiting of the museum would understand How important it is that I
can play the flute and it must be heard and that the flute will be returned and taken
care of.

If necessary I will send it back immediately.

Miss you all.

Much love,

Don Cherry

June 25, 1970

In New York City, in October, 2005, there was a three-week, 20-show tribute to the music of
Don Cherry marking the 10th anniversary of Cherry’s death​. Blue Note in 2005 re-issued
re-mastered versions of ​Symphony for Improvisers (1966) and ​Where is Brooklyn (​ 1966).
Appleton is negotiating the reissue of “Human Music”, done at the Dartmouth computer
music lab for Flying Dutchman label. Although not an essential part of the Cherry’s catalog,
it is inimitable and unique and a sonic encapsulation of Cherry’s visit to Dartmouth, and the
era. The gong that Cherry struck years ago for Herzfeld, Haas and the other Dartmouth
students – and for many other musicians, fans and people – reverberates.

“Human Music” was re-issued shortly thereafter via Pat Thomas and Water Music. I also
remember suggesting to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine that they should put out a jazz cd
insert featuring parts of “Human Music” plus the Dizzy cd recorded live at Dartmouth, plus
various other Dartmouth related tracks.