Don Cherry's photo booth excursion

Current Obsession No. 1

I recently had the great fortune to visit the family home of Moki and Don Cherry in southern Sweden, in preparation for a show of Moki’s work at Corbett vs. Dempsey. It’s an old red schoolhouse at the crossroads of a couple of wee country lanes – in the States we’d call them “rural routes” – that the two of them transformed in 1970 into the headquarters of the Organic Music Society. To say it was mind blowing would be like calling a tsunami “choppy.” It was beyond. Beyond beyond. Part of the two afternoons we spent going through archival materials included a trawl through a huge cache of Don Cherry’s photographs – mostly those of the trumpeter himself, a handful of others including a beautiful portrait I’d never seen before of Eric Dolphy. Exhaustively working our way through them, we came upon a photo-booth strip with four images of Cherry. In the top panel, sporting a sparkly skull-cap, he was super relaxed, looking straight ahead; panel two, Cherry was wide-eyed, looking up and to the right; in the third panel, he looked hard to the right; and in the last one he glanced hard to the left. In itself, it’s a cousin to another photo-booth strip we found, a three-panel job, in which he looked straight, to the right, and to the left.

But in the prior strip there’s another figure who – this is the only way to describe it – photo-bombs his session. I looked closely at the tiny figure in the background, who looked back directly at the lens, and thought I recognized him: Peter Brötzmann. Fresh-faced, with a slight grin, he’s in perfect focus. So, I thought, this must be from 1966, when Cherry had invited the young enfant terrible of Wuppertal to play with him in Paris. I know of no other photos from those concerts. Then something else dawned on me: it was in Paris that Don Cherry gave Brötzmann his nickname, the one he would two years later adopt as the title of his monumental LP, Machine Gun. Here is a tiny shred of evidence from that brief instant, in a pile of photographs. Later that day, we found one more piece of crossing between the expatriate American and the German, a poster for Cherry’s band with Karl Berger, Jacques Thollot, and Kent Carter, the New York Total Music Company. The poster comes from a concert in Aachen in May 1968, and I’d bet a lot of money it was designed by Brötzmann. Think of this: May of ’68, that fateful passage in European history, six months before the first of what would be many festivals under a strikingly similar name in Berlin, the Total Music Meeting, which commenced in November. Coincidence? I don’t imagine it was. But an intrepid Instagram pal set me straight on the photographs: it’s not Brötzmann, it’s Berger. The two men looked quite alike in the period, before the saxophonist grew out his full beard and put on some weight. In the same set of photos we found two more photo booth images, one in which Cherry completes the sequence that Berger had interrupted – eyes forward, to the right, and to the left. And one very beautiful set with a young Eagle-Eye. A big smile with daddy Don.

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