By Pamela J. Marshall
- Musical Beginnings
- Early Jazz Career
- The Mark Harvey Group (The Aardett)
- The Aardvard Jazz Orchestra
- Other Jazz Ensembles
Peter H. Bloom (multiple flutes and saxophones) has been part of the Boston jazz scene since 1969. He has worked with acclaimed composer/bandleader/trumpeter Mark Harvey for almost 5 decades in a number of Harvey’s small ensembles and, most notably, with The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra.
Bloom performs regularly with The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (1976 to present); The Aardett (1970 to present, exploratory jazz); FiLmprov (1996 to present, live improvisation to the animated films of Kate Matson); The Aardvark Jazztet (2007 to present, jazz standards); The Modernistics (2013 to present, quintet with tap dancers and singers specializing in the Great American Songbook), and The Makrokosmos Orchestra (2015 to present, a New York-based third stream orchestra co-led by Richard Nelson and Tim O’Dell). Bloom leads various duos, trios and quartets, featuring esteemed colleagues Tim Ray (keyboard), John Funkhouser (keyboard), Ricardo Monzon (percussion), Mark Leighton (guitar), and Dave Zox, double-bass.
Peter H. Bloom has been a guest artist with the late great Charles Neville of Neville Brothers fame and with the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, among others. He played regularly from the 1980s to the early 2000s with the C&B Duo, which he co-founded with noted jazz and blues guitarist Larry Carsman.
In addition to his almost 50 years as a jazz musician, Bloom has performed for more than 4 decades as a classical flutist, with concert tours in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Far East. His repertoire ranges from historical performance, to masterworks of the literature, to original compositions written for Bloom and his diverse ensembles. The range and depth of his experience, and his versatility in moving across categories, are hallmarks of his career.
When asked about integrating what are sometimes considered very different, or even conflicting, genres, Bloom says, “All of the genres inform and support and enliven one another. The many modes of expression, and the different languages of music are all gifts from the muses.”
Bloom holds an MM with distinction in flute performance from New England Conservatory of Music and a BA (philosophy) from Boston University. He studied saxophone with Tony Viola and jazz master Andy McGhee, and participated in workshops with avant-garde composer John Cage and jazz notables Sam Rivers and Karl Berger as part of the Creative Music Studio sessions in Manhattan. He studied flute performance (modern and historical) with James Pappoutsakis, Robert Willoughby, Carol Hunt Epple, Sandra Miller, Stephen Preston, David Hart, and others. He also studied at The Longy School of Music, Aston Magna Institute, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, and Hochschule Mozarteum Salzburg.
Bloom did not come from a musical family, and he pursued a non-traditional path in music. His father, born in 1906, was a physician who had studied classical piano and occasionally played light classics for fun at home. As Peter recalls,
“I began piano lessons, at about age 9, with an ancient, stern, and impatient Roman Catholic nun who taught lessons in the parlor of the local convent, about a block from my home in Everett, Massachusetts. At almost every lesson, she suffered violent nosebleeds, which put a damper on my enthusiasm. Kids in the neighborhood were encouraged, by the local Catholic parish, to study music in preparation for a spot in The Immaculate Conception Church Marching Band. At age 11, or so, we were offered instruments to buy or rent. I chose the alto saxophone. I took weekly lessons for about a year but never joined the marching band. I did continue playing saxophone on my own.
“Around age 14, I had a year of lessons with Tony Viola, a distinguished jazz saxophonist who had played with the Glenn Miller band, among others. Neither middle school nor high school had any music or art offerings. I was a poor student and a mediocre athlete. Improvising solo, on the saxophone, was my refuge during my high-school years.
“Sometimes I joined my Dad for duets (Gershwin and the like), and I played off and on with pickup rock and roll bands. I loved listening to recorded music of all kinds, especially blues, R&B, barrelhouse piano players like Meade Lux Lewis (on my father’s 78s), and the Mozart 5th Violin Concerto in A (“the Turkish”). By the time I was a senior in high school, I was attending as many live shows as I could, often at the Club 47 in Boston, where I heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Jeremy Steig, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, and other greats. I didn’t know anything about music, really, but I was knocked out by these musicians.
“In 1967, as a freshman at Boston University, I continued playing with pickup rock n’ roll bands, and saw some excellent live shows on campus, including The Who and The Electric Flag (with Mike Bloomfield and Buddy Miles). The James Montgomery Blues Band was rehearsing in the basement of my dorm (Miles Standish), and I occasionally sat in with them. I also checked out some of the psychedelic clubs near the BU campus, like The Boston Tea Party, where I saw H.S. Lothar and the Hand People (they had a theremin).”
Early Jazz Career - Getting Started
Peter Bloom met the brilliant trumpeter/composer Mark Harvey in 1968, when the two of them were playing a BU mixer in a rock band called Fusion. They would form a life-long friendship and a musical partnership that continues today, more than 50 years later. In 1969, Harvey started The Mark Harvey Octet (a jazz-rock group) and asked Bloom to join. At the time, Peter was playing alto and tenor saxophone, sometimes baritone and bass saxophone. Mark was a graduate student completing his doctorate at the BU divinity school, and his music-making would ultimately become a far-reaching jazz ministry.
On December 28, 1969, Peter and Mark met at Boston’s Old West Church to play duets. Almost 40 years later, Mark Harvey described the experience in Jazziz Magazine:
I unpacked my trumpet, Peter his tenor sax, but we had no idea what to play. Our common languages were hard-bop and jazz-rock, both based on approaches we’d picked up by listening to Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, modal Coltrane and Miles. Although we had been gradually opening our ears to everyone from Ornette Coleman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago to John Cage, all of that seemed beyond our scope. Until that night. We simply began to create music. No tunes, no key, no tempo, no pre-conceptions of any sort. Just pure music. (“Spirit Soundings” by Mark Harvey, Jazziz, December 2007, page 74).
Peter recorded the session at Old West on his Sony cassette player/recorder, and the recording was later released on an LP called Duets. The piece described above, called “Intuition No. 1,” was given a nod by jazz critic Steve Elman in a retrospective (ArtsFuse, October 8, 2012):
“a meditative 11 minutes of long tones, chance consonance, considered dissonance, careful cooperation, and a very assured use of space, all of which lead to an unexpected and very satisfying resolution. There are a few freak effects, but they come across as atmospheric rather than provocative. This is remarkably mature, especially considering that it is contemporaneous with the first recordings of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, when that band was living and working in France, long before it had achieved significant attention in the US. Even at this early stage in their performing life, Harvey and Bloom have already achieved great self-discipline and seem to know what steps are needed next.”
In 1969-1970, while Peter was a philosophy major at BU, he took saxophone lessons with the late jazz master Andy McGhee. The experience was transformative, as Bloom recalls:
“Andy introduced me to the art of practicing, to the discipline of technique, and to the flute as an instrumental double. The flute, to me, was a revelation! Its resonance, sonority, immediacy, clarity, expressivity, range of repertoire, nuance, history; everything about the flute spoke to me.”
Meanwhile, Bloom and Harvey were busy with the octet. In the summer of 1970, the group was hired by the Boston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (under Mayor Kevin White) to play for “Summerthing,” an outreach program taking music to under-served neighborhoods. The Mark Harvey Octet played 42 shows from June 26 to September 4, 1970, driving from one venue to the next in a yellow station wagon, with a separate van hauling the sound stage. At night, the group recorded audio tracks for a theatre company.
The Mark Harvey Group (later called The Aardett)
After the frenetic summer of 1970, Bloom and Harvey decided to move in another direction, creating a smaller, more experimental ensemble called The Mark Harvey Group. The core ensemble was Mark, Peter, and percussionists Craig Ellis and Michael Standish. They played with notable guests like Tom Hall on baritone and tenor sax, Peter Kontrimas on string bass, John Damian playing guitar and various hybrid instruments of his own invention, and Bob Pilkington on trombone. The MHG was an avant-garde ensemble that performed what Peter dubbed “aural theatre,” playing without charts, pushing the boundaries of improvisation and experimentation.
In the early years (1970-1972), The Mark Harvey Group toured from Maine to Washington DC, performing at Bates College, Dartmouth, Harvard, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. They played regularly at Boston venues like the Hatch Shell, City Hall, Boston Center for the Arts, Old West Church, and Deer Island Prison (“the audience was not impressed,” says Bloom). The group performed twice on the “All Nite Soul” Concerts at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City, on shared bills with Clark Terry, Rashid Ali, Roswell Budd, Billy Taylor and other luminaries.
Arts writers and critics took note. Michael Malloy described “an unusual experiment and an exciting venture into a new sound of music” (Georgetown Spectator, Washington DC, April 15, 1971). Edwin Safford wrote, “It was about an hour-long improvisation developed from the players being keenly attuned to subtle changes of mood, tone color and rhythm…the level of performance was high.” (Providence Journal-Bulletin, January 5, 1972). Mike Baron wrote, “The Mark Harvey Group have achieved a group rapport which make their music homogeneous and approachable…When a group chooses to discard recognizable melody and standard repeating rhythm, they must engage their listeners in a commitment to sound-as-music. The Harvey Group has dealt with this challenge partly through a necessary theatricality and partly by using some very natural voices that draw the listener in through their human qualities.” (The Boston Phoenix, November 7, 1972).
Writing of the group in 1985, jazz critic Ray Murphy observed, “their unfolding free form improvisations, ever new and bold aural landscapes, provided fresh surprises and happy leaps of imagination.” (The Boston Globe, November 11, 1985, page D9). In a preview of the group’s 20th anniversary show, February 18, 1990, at Harvard Epworth Church in Cambridge, The Boston Globe Calendar Choice wrote,
“The trio of trumpeter Mark Harvey, woodwind player Peter Bloom, and percussionist Craig Ellis celebrate 20 years of making beautiful music together.” (The Boston Globe, February 15, 1990).
The Mark Harvey Group recorded an eponymous LP in 1972, at Harvard-Epworth Church in Cambridge, MA. The recording was re-issued on ReRelease.net in 2007. The Free Jazz Collective reviewed the re-release in February 2008: “It is totally free improv, with no sense of direction, just in-the-moment ideas which surface one after the other, but to the musicians’ credit, they manage to keep the whole concept very coherent, accessible and captivating.”
(Link to review: http://www.freejazzblog.org/2008/02/mark-harvey-group-mark-harvey-group-re.html)
The Mark Harvey Group is one of several ensembles profiled in The Boston Creative Jazz Scene, 1970-1983, a book by Harvey with accompanying CD/LP, which was released May 1, 2016 on the Cultures of Soul label. (See pages 7, 33-36 and 64-65 for the MHG.) James Sullivan profiled the compilation in a Boston Globe feature story (January 26, 2016) with an evocative 1972 photo of Bloom, Harvey and colleagues. The Vinyl District called the compilation “outstanding” and noted The Mark Harvey Group’s “unique rhythmic sensibility generally eschewing motions of swing in favor of space, abstraction, breadth, and silence... Most important is the level of exploration from calm to sweetly cacophonous as led by Harvey’s trumpet and Peter Bloom’s tenor sax. Craig Ellis’ piano and Michael Standish’s percussion lend dimension.” Cadence Magazine praised the Mark Harvey Group’s “inspired freedom” and cited “Harvey’s excursions on French horn and Peter Bloom’s passionate swirling on tenor sax.”
(Link to feature story:
The Boston Globe, “Box Set Illuminates 1970s Experimental Jazz in Boston” by James Sullivan, January 26, 2016
Link to review:
In the mid-1990s, The Mark Harvey Group renamed themselves The Aardett, after performing occasionally as the New American Music Ensemble. Original members Mark Harvey, Peter Bloom, and Craig Ellis continued their edgy explorations, joined by star improvisers like Tim Ray on piano, John Funkhouser on piano and double-bass, Phil Scarff on saxophones, and Harry Wellott on percussion. After Craig’s passing in January 2006, Harry Wellott became the regular percussionist.
The Aardett recorded improvised soundtracks for the National Film Preservation Foundation’s critically acclaimed DVD Series Treasures from the American Film Archives, released between 2000 and 2007. Peter Bloom appears on three of the DVDs: More Treasures from American Film Archives (2004), Treasures III Social Issues in American Film (2007) and Treasures V The West (2011). Annette Melville, then-Director of the Foundation, wrote to Bloom and the Treasures’ III Music Team: “Your glowing performances span the decades and make these silent-era films come alive for today’s audiences.” Peter and the Aardett were featured at The National Gallery in Washington DC on March 5, 2006, performing improvised music to silent films of the Dada era, in conjunction with the National Gallery’s major retrospective entitled Dada.
The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra
In 1973, Mark Harvey founded The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (a large ensemble of 18 to 20 players), dedicated to playing original compositions by Mark Harvey, familiar and lesser-known works by Duke Ellington, and other wide-ranging repertoire. Peter H. Bloom joined Aardvark in 1976, performing on multiple flutes and alto saxophone, and has been with the band ever since. Steve Elman wrote in ArtsFuse (October 8, 2012), “Harvey’s old stablemate Peter Bloom has been a regular with the band almost since the beginning, and his solos on flute and amplified flute are always highlights of a performance.”
Bloom appears on all of Aardvark’s CDs (15 discs from 1993 through 2018), has performed in the band’s more than 185 world premieres (chiefly works by Mark Harvey), and has shared the stage with Aardvark guest artists including jazz luminaries Sheila Jordan, Jimmy Giuffre, Geri Allen, and Jaki Byard, among others.
Every year since its founding, the orchestra has held an Annual Christmas Concert to benefit a worthy cause. The show on December 8, 2018 at Emmanuel Church Boston was the band’s 46th benefit concert. Aardvark gives Fall and Spring concerts every year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Mark Harvey teaches. Peter Bloom and the Aardvark woodwind section hold regular sessions with Harvey’s composition classes to read new works by student composers.
The 1970s and 80s. In the beginning, Aardvark was based largely at Boston’s Emmanuel Church, where Reverend Al Kershaw hosted the orchestra in concerts, jazz liturgies and other events. The band would collaborate with the church for the next 20 years, and would return to Emmanuel, after a hiatus, in the 2000s. The 1980s included Aardvark tours of New York and New Jersey, shows at Boston’s Hatch Shell and Boston’s First Night.
By this time, Mark Harvey recounts, “since Peter Bloom had become a virtuoso flutist, more and more pieces began to feature this instrumental color as well as his imaginative improvisations” (Aardvark at 25, The History of An American Orchestra, private printing, Mark Harvey, 1998).
The 1990s. In the 1990s, Aardvark released 5 CDs, and continued eclectic music-making in venues like The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Autumn Uprising Festival; and Old South Church in Boston, where the venerable Sheila Jordan joined the band for the 25th Annual Christmas Concert in 1998. Aardvark celebrated the Duke Ellington centennial in 1999 with a show at MIT’s mainstage, Kresge Auditorium. The live concert recording was released in 2002 on the CD, Aardvark Jazz Orchestra/Duke Ellington Sacred Music (Aardmuse). Cadence Magazine gave the disc a rave review, saying “The band is a tight unit, executing the charts with the precision of a fine watch while easily moving into the improvised solo roles with swinging, ringing facility... the band engages in upbeat jubilation on David Danced, backed by the Come Sunday theme, which features Peter Bloom and Phil Scarff flying high with solo efforts on the massive joint effort.” (Cadence Magazine, October 2003, page 118).
The new millennium. In October 2000, Aardvark won the Independent Music Award (Music Resource Group) for best jazz recording on an independent label. A distinguished panel of judges including Jose Feliciano, Joshua Redman, and Aimee Mann gave top honors to Aardvark’s recording of “Scamology” on its CD Aardvark Steps Out (9Winds-NWCD 0155). Aardvark debuted at The Regattabar in 2001 and Scullers Jazz Club in 2007. “Both shows were sold out,” says Bloom, “and we returned to both of these iconic jazz venues many times over the years.”
In November 2001, Aardvark was invited back to The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, this time featuring the premiere of Peter Bloom’s arrangement of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Bamboula for jazz orchestra. (The Boston Globe, November 18, 2001, “Sunday Best,” page 58.) Aardvark played Bamboula again at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium in May 2002.
Throughout the decade, Bloom and Aardvark played a number of high-profile festivals, including the Equinox Music Festival at Harvard Sanders Theatre in 2001, the Lake George (NY) Jazz Festival in September 2002, and the Boston Globe Jazz & Blues Festival in 2003. Aardvark played the 30th John Coltrane Memorial Concert Festival in 2007. In 2009, they performed under conductor Walter Thompson at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, using Thompson’s now famous “live-composing sign language” called Soundpainting.
2010 and beyond. In 2010, Aardvark marked the Mary Lou Williams Centennial with concerts at Stonehill College and Boston College. Bloom remembers, “Our guest artist at Boston College was the great pianist Geri Allen, one of the foremost interpreters of Mary Lou William’s music. With her at the keyboard, we felt like we were channeling the master.” The following year, the band played at the 50th Annual Conference of the Society for Arts, Religion and Culture at Saint Peter’s Church New York City, and gave a dual-celebration concert for the Charles Sumner Bicentennial and the MIT Sesquicentennial.
Aardvark celebrated its 40th season in 2013, and Bloom observed his 40th year with the band in 2016. Notable performances during those years included the premiere of Mark Harvey’s epic suite Boston JazzScape at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in March 2013; two shows at the storied Silver Center for the Arts, Plymouth NH in 2016 and 2017; and the Aardvark debut for Rockport Music at the gleaming new Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center in 2017.
FiLmprov, led by filmmaker Kate Matson and music director Mark Harvey, is a mixed ensemble of woodwinds, brass, and percussion performing live improvisation using Matson’s films as visual scores. Bloom has been a core member of the group since its founding in 1996. With the creative freedom that FiLmprov affords, he deploys the entire flute family as well as exotic woodwinds like ocarina, duduk and dizi.
Film critic Ed Symkus described FiLmprov this way: “It’s sort of a contemporary and slightly whacky version of a pianist playing along to a silent film.” (Ed Symkus, “Movies and Music Merge,” New England Arts, GateHouse News Service, February 5, 2009). FiLmprov has performed for more than 20 years at venues like MIT Kilian Hall, Harvard University, The Annie in Gloucester MA, Church of the Advent Library Concert Series in Boston, and Arts at the Armory in Somerville MA.
Other Jazz Ensembles
The Bloom/Leighton Duo. Since 1990, Peter Bloom and guitarist Mark Leighton have been performing cross-over concerts of chamber music, jazz standards, blues, and bebop at colleges, universities, museums, libraries, clubs, galleries, and other venues across the Northeast.
The Modernistics. In 2013, Peter Bloom and Mark Leighton teamed up with tap dancers/singers Ted and Pamela Powers to form The Modernistics, performing jazz and tap in New England and beyond. The group, often joined by veteran bassist Dave Zox, features hits from the Great American Songbook and bebop numbers by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and others. They have performed at venues such as Colby College, the Middletown CT Concert Association, Concord City Auditorium (NH), the Medallion Opera House, the Tillotson Center, and the Ocean Park Music Festival in Maine. “Ted and Pamela are tremendously charismatic on stage,” says Peter,” and audiences love the tap dance numbers. Mark and Dave and I have played jazz standards for decades, and it’s been a gas adding tap to the equation. Tempo, for example, takes on a whole new meaning when you’re accompanying dancers.”
The Aardvark Jazztet, formed in 2007, performs jazz standards in music festivals, historic sites, arts centers and other venues. The founding members are Peter Bloom and Arni Cheatham, woodwinds; Mark Harvey, trumpet and music director; John Funkhouser, piano; Jesse Williams, string bass; Harry Wellott, drums.
Makrokosmos Orchestra (2015 to the present). Bloom plays multiple flutes with this New York-based third-stream ensemble founded in 2015 by co-directors Richard Nelson and Tim O’Dell. The group plays charts by Nelson and O’Dell and features veteran New York players like Ken Filiano on bass, Adam Kolker on tenor saxophone and clarinet, and Alan Brady on clarinet and bass clarinet.
Bloom/Funkhouser Duo. Peter and Aardvark pianist John Funkhouser have shared the Aardvark bandstand for decades. Since 2017, they’ve been touring New England venues as a duo, performing jazz standards, blues, bebop, pan-Latin soundscapes and Duke Ellington celebrations.
C&B Duo. From the 1980s to the 2000s, Bloom played with the C&B Duo, which he co-founded with noted jazz and blues guitarist Larry Carsman. The two musicians performed for many years in the Post Office Square Concert Series in downtown Boston, gave concerts at museums and libraries, and played regularly for wedding ceremonies, receptions, corporate events and other gigs. In 1996, C&B released a CD called Amoroso, The Heartbeat of Brazil on the Boston Musicworks label, with an all-star cast of guest artists including Billy Novick, Ricardo Monzon, Mimi Rabson and Tod Baker.