G. F. Mlely: A Trail of Endurance
In 1983, jazz pianist-composer G. Francis Mlely was on a solo
piano concert tour of Europe, when midway along he received
information that caused him to suddenly abandon the tour and,
because of subsequent events, to leave off playing
professionally for nearly two decades. Mlely's 3rd album,
"Trio," according to a "Jazz Times" survey, was among the Top
10 most-played record albums in U.S. radio airplay at the time.
He had just come from performing before an SRO crowd at BIM-
House in Amsterdam, the largest and most prominent jazz venue
in Holland, on his way to other venues in Europe.
Mlely's career was definitely on an upturn. Reviewers were
writing great things. "A tour de force of leading edge
pianists," wrote Dr. Marshal Stokes in the "Washington Post."
Michael Fishman, in "Jazzline," wrote that "Mlely is worthy of
the exposure granted our greatest players." Acknowledgments
of Mlely's originality came from such as John Simon in "The
Village Voice," Serge Loupien in France's major "Jazz
Magazine," Don Albert in "The Star," Johannesburg, South
Africa, the latter commenting "the future which is Mlely" and
accolades published from upwards of a dozen nations.
Long established jazz greats recognized Mlely's talent, Jon
Hendricks saying how he was in the line of the great jazz
pianists, and Earl 'Fatha' Hines considering becoming Mlely's
manager, interrupted when Hines succumbed to the illness that
ultimately led to Hines' death.
In that 1983 tour, following a sold-out performance in Mons,
Belgium, Francis Mlely, or "G.F." as he is also known
professionally and by friends, was scheduled into one of
Europe's largest jazz festivals, located on the Austro-
Hungarian border. Posters announcing his upcoming appearance
were appearing throughout the region, when, suddenly, he got
the information that caused him to immediately return to the
United States. The tour was cancelled. He flew to California.
The reason for doing so was to care for his son. The boy's
mother had died a few years earlier, when he was only five
years of age, and the child's care-provider, who had been
contracted for the duration Mlely would need to be in Europe,
unexpectedly and inexplicably declined to care for the boy any
further. She demanded Mlely return at once, saying she was
ready to put the boy on a train or plane as soon as possible.
Thereafter, upon returning to the United States, despite calls
for him to return to Europe, Mlely quit professional music, and
in order to keep his son from urban gang influence, moved to
rural California, where father and son lived for several years
besides Tuolumne River near Yosemite National Park. So far out
into the country that the boy went to an elementary school in a
building that contained all eight grades in its one room.
Year pass. When the boy grows up and leaves home to be on his
own, Mlely moves to Los Angeles. There he strives to get back
into professional music, beginning with songs, writing both
words and music, as well as ghost-writing for others. His work
gets recorded and produced by stars musically diverse from one
another as Freddie Hubbard and George Harrison.
But, there are yet more delays in his performing career,
unexpected difficulties, substantial physical injury. An avid
bicyclist and wilderness hiker, within a 2-year stretch he
breaks his left hip, breaks his left knee twice, and, most
significantly, breaks a wrist, all of which require several years
of healing. Worse for his morale are the doctors' prognoses that
he cannot expect the wrist to return to its former shape well
enough to perform professionally again on piano.
Mlely sets out to prove the doctors wrong. He moves to Hawaii
to heal; and he moves there, as well, to marry his fianc╚e of
their teen years, Billie Jean, herself a dancer. They had each
married others, survived the deaths of their former spouses, and
had raised children who were no longer living at home.
Mlely develops special re-training techniques, exercising daily
for hours. Too soon, however, he makes some precipitate
performance forays out into the public, failing to play up to the
level he had played at before, and far less than the level he is
ultimately to reach. He was still not ready. Promoters, agents,
even other musicians, begin to write him off. He is persistent,
continuing to combat the recurring disability with a level of
patience and endurance he admits was beyond any he thought
possible for himself.
To test, and perhaps to prove, himself, he embarks on a new kind
of venture, producing a video series for television, taking
advantage of Hawaii's up-to-date community-access television
facilities. The series is called "Jazz Piano," in which he
features, wherein he discusses and demonstrates "the art and
craft of Jazz piano."
Though still not at the top of his form, the series does
subsequently result in at least one of the audio tracks of his
performances on screen getting onto his first album in 20 years,
the then soon-to-be released CD "Re-Entry."
The TV series, consisting of eight segments, garners some
positive support. After a year-long run in its own weekly half-
hour time-slot, "Jazz Piano" gets an additional time-slot to run
concurrently each week, a decision made independently by the
studio, Olelo Television of Hawaii. The series, apparently, had
And, rare for community-access television, the series also gets
reviewed on the Web, on a prominent Industry eZine. Ben
Ohmart, Assistant Editor of MusicDish, wrote, "Mlely ... has that
annoying ability, like Chico Marx, to make playing seem so
insanely easy. No open mouth, no breathing hard or Bernstein-
like tirades: G just seems to stare at his fingers, and his
crawling, spirited fingers rush around the keys, finding the
blacks and whites with hardly a worry. A delight to watch."
The activity of producing the series also brings about a greater
focus that helps Mlely not only to conquer the physical
challenge of his injured wrist, but to complete tracks for his
first CD in 20 years, on the JazCraft label. It is also the first
of several CDs on JazCraft to come and to be released that
combine for an audio CD series entitled "The Fine Art Of Jazz
Given limited physical distribution, "Re-Entry" is released, but
sales are mainly by way of a web site on the Internet
(http://home1.gte.net/jazcraft). Without significant airplay on
certain urban stations, there is little chance commercially for
any recording. Media have a short memory. But, reviewers who
take the time to hear it are mightily impressed.
If only one thing were to be pointed out about Mlely's music, it
would be its originality. In "Form, Freedom, and Originality," a
segment of the video series, Mlely observes that originality
"must do two things; first, it must satisfy the tradition and,
second, it must make a difference that contributes to that
tradition." He applies this not just to original material but
equally to the performance of standards. A reviewer in Chicago
noted how hearing Mlely perform a familiar standard is like
hearing it for the first time.
His solo piano style, though occasionally referencing others', is
unlike any. It is solo jazz piano without resort to continuous
walking basslines, stride, steady chordal comping, or to any of
the usual devices. Yet, he utilizes those devices in parts.
Additional to standards, are his own originals, many of them
compositions which widen the musical landscape for jazz
harmonically; comprised of a complexity "that involves rather
than puts off the listener. He is as clear as a bell." So writes
Phyllis A. Lodge, co-author with McCoy Tyner of Tyner's
She also notes the differences Mlely is making. "G. Francis
Mlely's "Re-Entry" may be heralding his re-emergence into the
tantalizingly perilous world of music. It could just as easily be
talking about a Re-Entry into Earthly experience from a
different musical dimension - one that is best explored with an
insightful, powerful guide. Mlely is such a guide, and his "Re-
Entry" clearly harks to a streaming musical dimension."
It is worth noting here that Mlely is also author of a new theory
for jazz players, an advanced concept presented in manuscript
form currently under review by Prof. Willie Ruff at Yale
University, himself half of the acclaimed Mitchell-Ruff Duo.
Ms. Lodge is not alone among reviewers to note Mlely's singular
style. Mlely "has a unique way of moving back and forth
between the stated melody and his own improvisational ideas,"
writes Dave Nathan, longtime reviewer for AllMusicGuide.com.
"His compositions are filled with invention and bewitching
musical patterns which fit his style well. Very impressive
stuff, indeed." continues Nathan. And from Lee Prosser, Editor
of JazzReview.com on "Re-Entry" - "A standout jazz pianist
who shines in everything he plays ... The genius of G. F. Mlely ...
is solo piano at its best."
Jazz is a vast, amorphic field. From groove-riding, jazz˝light
widget to the aleatoric anarchy of Freeform, it just might be a
musical free-for-all where anything goes calling itself jazz.
Who's to say? No one owns the word. Generations emerge with
tastes for, so-called, new and hybrid forms of jazz. They make
it up for themselves.
What's it all about, Alfie? Is it about success? Achievement?
In America, success is not always about achievement;
achievement does not always result in success. In the
mercantile culture, success, regardless of achievement, is all
that matters, and that is measured at the bottom of the
financial statement. A field of human expression becomes an
industry, driven by marketplace economics, on "hot" product
doing the catchy thing - pop culture becomes the totality.
But, there are jazz musicians out there, heroically against the
odds, defying the market, pursuing the meaning of their art.
That is truth. Truth is what is rooted in the lasting.
This is a story of two achievements, one human, the other
musical. Mlely has in deeds proven the doctors wrong. "Call it
a testimonial to the power of Mlely's musical will," writes
Phyllis Lodge. It is a trail of endurance.
Music and the human, the wide possibilities of jazz - as it has
been, as it can be - fused into a pianist-composer who, by
working within and broadening the mainstream, creates
genuinely new and exciting music.
Tom Wiggins, owner of AmbassadorsofAmericanCulture.com
(firstname.lastname@example.org), which specializes in international jazz festivals, now
represents G. F. Mlely for festival tours. Wiggins has produced and
internationally marketed recordings for many artists including Laurindo
Almeida, Taj Mahal, Merl Saunders, Cal Tjader, and many others.
Mlely's next release, "88 Keys And Counting," 2nd in JazCraft's CD series,
"The Fine Art Of Jazz Piano," is shortly to be released, and will be
immediately available at http://home1.gte.net/jazcraft/fineart.htm.
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