Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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FUTTERMAN, Joel

(b 30 April 1946, Chicago) Pianist, composer, leader. He was interested in music as a boy, but began studying formally only after his mother died, when music seemed the only comfort. He was inspired and influenced by trumpeter Clarence Eugene Shaw; he played with Roland Kirk at a Chicago jazz festival, met AACM people and practised so much that he forgot to eat and the neighbours complained. A social worker came to call who evidently recognized the quality of Futterman's obsession with music: she married him. They fled Chicago because the landlady kept turning the heat down and landed in Virginia in 1974, where he met drummer Robert Adkins.

His first album was Cafeteria '79, with Russell Scarborough on drums on some tracks; they had recorded some tunes on a cassette and Andrew White advised him to put them out. He took up with Adkins again '80 on The End Is The Beginning '81; he had also met Jimmy Lyons in Washington DC '80 and Inneractions '84 featured Adkins, Lyons on alto sax and Richard Davis on bass: these three were issued on his own JDF LPs. This quartet was going to tour; Futterman was the only pianist Lyons had played regularly with except for Cecil Taylor, and his death from cancer '86 was a terrible blow.

Futterman retired from the scene, then met Philip Egert, a musician/fan who made a living in the corporate world and wanted to do something closer to his heart; he talked Futterman into recording again and his Turning Point Music made Futterman's personal and demanding art more widely available by placing the recordings. Inner Conversations is a reissue of the third album with seven piano solos added from '88, and Moments reissued the second album adding a live track with Lyons and Karen Borca on bassoon, both on Ear-Rational; Vision In Time on Silkheart has two duos with Adkins and five quartet tracks adding Davis and Joseph Jarman, produced by Egert '88-9; In-Between Position(s) on Bellaphon is a live concert from '82 with Lyons and Adkins: all four came out '90, followed the next year by Passage on Konnex, a concert from '83 with Borca, Lyons, Adkins and Derwin Holder on bass, plus studio tracks; Berlin Images on Silkheart and To The Edge on Konnex featured Adkins and trumpeter Raphe Malik, both made '90 in a studio in Maryland. Naked Colours '91 on Silkheart was recorded at a club in Berlin, with Hal Russell on several instruments, Jay Oliver on bass and Adkins.

On first hearing Futterman one is reminded of Taylor, so intense and percussive are his tunes and his playing, but there is also a furious lyricism: Silhouettes '93 on Progressive was a departure, a solo studio album with seven originals plus Coltrane's 'Naima': beautiful, relatively relaxed but still unique. Nickelsdorf Konfrontation '95 on Silkheart was back to fascinating variations in density, made in Austria, a quintet co-led by Edward 'Kidd' Jordan on tenor sax. New Orleans Rising '96 on Konnex has Futterman playing soprano sax and flute as well as piano, co-led and produced by Jordan with Alvin Fielder on drums, Elton Heron on bass, free music titled after a poem by Egert. Futterman admires Taylor, but 'I haven't really studied his music, I really shied away from it because I wanted to develop my own individualism.' Clarence Shaw had spoken no more than the truth when he told Futterman, 'You'll always know where you are as a musician.'