The Chance Music Of New Orleans’ Kidd Jordan

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New Orleans saxophonist Kidd Jordan said he once saw John Cage and Louis Armstrong perform on the same night.

(Photo: Eric Waters Photography)

Master improvisers can turn on a dime. So, when keyboardist Darrell Lavigne called Kidd Jordan in early March to set up a recording session while he was in New Orleans, the elder saxophonist sprang into action.

Joined by Jordan’s son Marlon on trumpet, Mark Lomax on drums and Eddie Bayard on saxophone, the quintet convened at McDonogh 35 Senior High School to record Last Trane To New Orleans, an epic live throwdown that’s due out digitally on June 15, and on CD and LP on July 15.

Immediately after the session—which was produced by Jordan’s daughter, Rachel Jordan—the city was shut down because of the pandemic. But the resulting career-capping masterwork marks Jordan’s 85th birthday, finding the saxophonist laser-focused on an uncompromising vision after helping to raise seven children and educating thousands of young musicians in schools and colleges, as well as the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, where he serves as artistic director.

Jordan has performed with a slew of jazz greats, too, from Cannonball Adderley and Ornette Coleman to Cecil Taylor and Lena Horne, and passed the torch to students like Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Trombone Shorty and Jon Batiste.

A Hurricane Katrina survivor—who lost his house and most of his instruments in the ensuing 2005 flood—Jordan spoke to DownBeat via Zoom from his daughter Rachel’s house, just around the corner from his own home in New Orleans.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Last Trane To New Orleans is a great album title for the patriarch of free-jazz improv in a trad-jazz town.

Yeah, well the whole trip for me, I’m playing the song in my head. I don’t work off charts, I’m not playing changes. And when [John Coltrane] came out, man, that changed things. When I first heard Trane play, I felt like I was getting ready to shout and get out of my body. Even today, when you put late Coltrane on, people start walking out like crazy.

Just like people used to do at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, when I first started seeing you play there.

And the more we emptied the room, the more we’d play! [laughs] That happened with everybody. Ornette Coleman was like that. He really stretched into some advanced stuff; I mean, it was all over. I loved Ornette’s music from the first time I heard it, back when he was playing with an r&b act. He was living down here for a while, and then he went on and did what he had to do to do what he did.

So did you. And now you’re the “Lion In Winter,” the opening track of the album. What were you like as a cub?

When I was young, I was always with an older crowd. Now, I’m the oldest kid in the crowd! [laughs] When I was coming up, I played a lot of baritone, but I was also listening to everyone else. And when Charlie Parker came to town and I heard him play at [The Municipal] Auditorium, I thought I met Jesus! Afterward, me and [clarinetist] Alvin Batiste were talking to him, and when his road manager said it was time to take a cab, Bird said, “No, man, I’m talking to some friends.” Being called a friend of Bird’s made me a little legit. And that same night, I met my wife. That was a humdinger, that night.

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