Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Robinson, Perry (Morris)

Robinson, Perry (Morris) , clarinetist (Bb soprano and Eb sopranino), composer; b. New York City, September 17, 1938 (not 17 August 1938). His father was the songwriter/composer Earl Robinson (1910-1991), composer of "Joe Hill", "The House I Live In" and "Ballad for Americans." His mother, Helen (1911-1963), was trained as an artist. He also has an adopted younger brother, Jimmy (b. 1947). The family moved to Hollywood in 1943, where Robinson's father composed for films, but moved back to New York in 1951 after Earl Robinson was blacklisted, settling in Brooklyn Heights. Robinson currently lives in Jersey City, NJ.

Folk music was an important early influence on him; his father was friends and colleagues with Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, among others.  He also heard jazz from a young age, initially inspired by Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert recording and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but he later became an aficionado of tenor saxophone players (Rollins, Coltrane, Hank Mobley) and "cool school" musicians like Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond and Jimmy Giuffre. He began playing clarinet at age 9, eventually studying with Kalman Bloch, first clarinetist in the Los Angeles Symphony, and received classical training. He entered New York City's High School of Music and Art in 1953 as a classical player, but played jazz with several other students at the school, including bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Pete LaRoca, reedplayer George Braith and pianist Jon Mayer. Robinson was playing saxophone and flute at that time but eventually abandoned them to concentrate only on the clarinet, initially with a hard-bop conception.He met the clarinetist Tony Scott while in high school, and Scott became a mentor, allowing Robinson to sit in at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem. Scott was a huge influence in terms of sound production. Robinson also studied in high school with the clarinetist James Collis, who taught him the double-lip embouchure, which later became his standard method of playing, and partly accounts for his unique sound.After high school he briefly attended the Manhattan School of Music, and studied privately with the clarinetist Eric Simon. In the summer of 1959, on the basis of an audition tape that he made with Jon Mayer, Chuck Israels and drummer Arnie Wise, he received a scholarship to attend the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts, the same year that Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry were invited there by John Lewis. Both had a big impact on Robinson. He also met Jimmy Giuffre at Lenox, and studied composition with him for a few months afterward.Later that year he traveled to Spain to play with his group of Mayer, Israels and Wise. It was here that two of his compositions were written ("You Are Too Good" and "Margareta"). At the Whiskey Jazz Club in Madrid, Perry began applying the freer sounds that he had been exposed to by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. He lost his job soon after. He then joined the pianist Tete Montoliu's group, playing with him for a year and a half. In 1962 he attended the World Youth Festival in Helsinki, playing with Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon. When he returned to the states, the producer Tom Wilson arranged for him to record his first album, Funk Dumpling (1962, Savoy). It featured Henry Grimes on bass, pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Paul Motian, and contained tunes by both Robinson and Grimes.

Robinson was drafted into the army in 1963 and was stationed in Panama until early 1965. While there he played in the 79th Army band, and also played in a free trio with bassist Bill Folwell and drummer Tom Price. This"Uni Trio", as Robinson dubbed it, continued after all three returned to New York. Robinson's composing in a free style first flourished with this group.

Back in the United States, he appeared with Tom Price on Henry Grimes's album, The Call. He also became a member of the Jazz Composers Orchestra (JCOA), through which he met and played with Mike Mantler, Roswell Rudd, Steve Swallow, and other members of that association, and began appearing on recordings led by JCOA colleagues and others. He also performed and recorded in electronic settings with Paul Bley and Annette Peacock.He met the German musician Gunter Hampel (vibraphone, bass clarinet, flute) in 1971 and toured and recorded often with him throughout the 70's on Hampel's label Birth.  Robinson also joined pianist Darius Brubeck's group in the early 70's, and through that group recorded and toured with Two Generations of Brubeck, a collective of the groups of Dave Brubeck and his
sons Darius, Chris and Danny. He was active in the New York loft scene of the 1970's, particularly at pianist John Fischer's loft Environ, and he recorded with Fischer, and under his own name. In the early 1980's he put together a co-operative series of concerts with Mark Whitecage and Mike Morgenstern called Licorice Factory, which featured many other clarinetists, including Tony Scott, Kenny Davern, Eddie Daniels, Ron Odrich, Dewey Redman and Evan Ziporyn. In 1984 Robinson formed his first working quartet with drummer Ernst Bier, bassist Ed Schuller and pianist Simon Nabatov, touring Germany often and making occasional U.S. appearances. Nabatov departed after a 1996 recording and was replaced by Christoph Adams (on both piano and vocals). This band remains Robinson's personal favorite and most important project, and he plans for the quartet to record a collection of Earl Robinson's songs. Other projects from throughout his career include work with poets Allan
Ginsberg and Herschel Silverman, and two recordings with his father Earl Robinson. A Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra was written for Robinson and was premiered in 1985 with the composer, Gary Schneider, leading the Hoboken Chamber Orchestra (now the Hudson Chamber Orchestra). It has subsequently been performed several times, although never recorded for release. Recent projects from the 90's and 00's include several tours and CD's with pianist Burton Greene's Klezmokum, a project featuring lesser known and unknown Jewish Klezmer and Sephardic music; drummer Lou Grassi's Po band, a recording outfit which has done projects with Marshall Allen and Joseph Jarman. He has also worked with the folk singers David Bernz and Rande Harris, and has been artist-in-residence at the annual Freiburg, Germany music festival for many years. He is also a magician and he had a Sunday brunch at the Blue Note club for a while in the late 80's called Jazz Magic where he alternated music and magic tricks. Robinson has always been difficult to pin down as a player; his improvisational style melds components of folk, bebop, free jazz and ethnic styles, and his many compositions (best heard on his quartet recordings) reflect this mix.

Perry Robinson Quartet (1957); Funk Dumpling (1962); John Fischer & Perry Robinson: Duets (1975); Naughton/Smith/Robinson: The Haunt (1976); Solo Concert At Environ (private recording, c. 1977); The Traveler (1977); Kundalini (1978); Perry Robinson, David Izenson, Barry Altschul: private recording (1978); John Fischer & Perry Robinson: Live In Eastern Europe (1981); Nightmare Island (1988); Call to the Stars (c. 1990); German Clarinet Duo Featuring Perry Robinson: Materialized Perception (1991); Live At The Knitting Factory (private recording, 1995); Angelology (1996); Still Traveling (1999); 3 Much Fun (2001)
As sideperson:
Lenox School of Jazz Concert (1959); Uni Trio: two private recordings (1965); Henry Grimes: The Call (1965); Uni Trio: private recording (1966); Archie Shepp: Mama Too Tight (1966); Uni Trio: private recording (1968); Bley/Peacock Synthesizer Show: Revenge, The Higher The Love, The Greater The Hate (1969); Charlie Haden: Liberation Music Orchestra (1970); Jazz Composers Orchestra: Escalator Over The Hill (1968-1971); Gunter Hampel: Out Of New York (1971); Jake & The Family Jewels: Jake & The Family Jewels (1970); Gunter Hampel: Spirits (1971); Bobby Naughton Units: Understanding (1971); Gunter Hampel: Angel (1972), Broadway/Folksong (1972), I Love Being With You (1972), European Concert (1973); Roswell Rudd: Numatik Swing Band (1973); Brubecks: Two Generations of Brubeck (1973); Gunter Hampel: Out From Under (1974), Journey To The Song Within (1974); Jeanne Lee: Conspiracy (1974); Grachan Moncur III: Echoes Of Prayer (1974); Brubecks: Brother, The Great Spirit Made Us All (1974); Gunter Hampel: Celebrations (1974); INTERface (sic): Poum! (1974); Gunter Hampel: Cosmic Dancer (1975, Enfant Terrible (1975); INTERface: INTERface (1975); Brubecks: Benefit For Environ (private recording); Theo Jorgensmann: In Time (1976); Gunter Hampel: Transformat ion (1976), Birdfree (1976); Noah Young: Unicorn Dream (c. 1977); INTERface: Live At Environ (1977); John Fischer: 6 x 1 = 10 (1977); INTERface: Live At Berliner Jazztage (private recording, 1977); INTERface: Live At WDR Jazz Meeting (private recording, 1978); Gunter Hampel: That Came Down On Me (1978), All Is Real (1978); Don Rose: Close Opposites (1979); INTERface: JazzHaus Workshop Concert (private recording, 1979); Cool and the Clones: Mr. Playdough Man (1979-1983); Clarinet Summit: You Better Fly Away (1979); Gunter Hampel: All The Things You Could Be If Charles Mingus Was Your Daddy (1980), Life On This Planet (1981), Cavana, Generator, Inscapes, All Star Orchestra (1983), Jubliation (1983); Licorice Factory (1984-85); Licorice Factory (unreleased tapes); Gunter Hampel: Fresh Heat (1985); Licorice Factory: Live In SoHo (private recording, 1986); Various Artists: Folk Songs Of The Revolution; Earl Robinson: Alive And Well (c. 1986); Ray Anderson: It Just So Happens (1987); Gunter Hampel: Live At The Knitting Factory (private recording, 1990); Hoboken Chamber Orchestra: Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and String Orchestra (private recording, 1990); Becky Friend: All Nite Soul (private recording, 1990); Solar: Live At The Old Bay (private recording, 1991); All God's Children: The Guatemalan Suite (private recording, 1991); Gunter Hampel: Celestial Glory (1991); All God's Children: Zapata And Other Love Songs (private recording, c. 1993); INTERface: Live At Context Studios (private recording, 1994); The Clarinet Choir: Live At Context Studios (private recording, 1994); Klezmokum: Jew-azzic Park (1994); Lou Grassi: PoGressions (1995); Solar Featuring Perry Robinson:full length album (unreleased) (1995); INTERface: Live At The Cornelia St. Cafe (private recording, 1995); Solar featuring Perry Robinson: Live at Community Church of Hoboken (private recording, 1996); Space-Time Swing Band: Live At Biblio's (private recor ding, 1996); David Bernz and Rande Harris: Daffodils and Dandelions (1999); William Parker: Bob's Pink Cadillac (2001); Badal Roy: Raga Roni (2001); Lou Grassi ComPOsed (sic) (2002)

Radio broadcasts:
Uni Trio (Robinson, Bill Folwell, Tom Price) live performance on WBAI, New York, 1966.
WKCR musician profile (10 hours), June 18 and August 13, 1995.
With Henry Grimes, WKCR-FM, Manhattan, 2003 and 2004

Perry Robinson was continually a top contender in the annual Down Beat International Critics Poll from 1971 through 1990, placing first in the Talent Deserving Wider Recognition category a total of six times, and placing near the top in every one of those years except 1980.

Perry Robinson: The Traveler, autobiography by Perry Robinson & Florence Wetzel (2002)
"Perry Robinson: Still Traveling" in Coda, Sep./Oct. 1999 (cover story)
Palmer, Bob. "Perry Robinson: Clarinet Energy." Down Beat 39.16 (1972):16-17.
"Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" and/or "Established Talent", Down Beat International Critics Poll, 1972-79, 1981-90. (#1 TDWR in 1984)
http://www.eclipse.net/~fitzgera/perry/prhome.htm (complete discography including unissued recordings)

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