By Christian Schaeffer
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Going on two years, Dave Stone and Eric Markowitz have been holding forth at the Cafe Mangia on South Grand Boulevard, playing their dense, ecstatic and, for all its elasticity, swinging jazz. They're not really young by jazz standards -- Markowitz is 30, Stone 28 -- but they're still in their jazz youth, curious and inventive about their instruments. Jazz partnerships that last a decade are rare; this duo's free but fluid approach to improvisation has evolved through 10 years of musical and daily friendship. "Eric puts up with me musically," Stone laughs. "We've been really close friends for a long time. We'd hang out every day for the first three years we knew each other, always listening and playing." For about as long as either has played jazz, they've played together. "I've played more hours with Dave than with anybody," Markowitz says. "We both take music pretty seriously. For some people, music is just a fun thing, and that's fine, but for both of us, music is one of the reasons to be alive. Underneath the music, how you feel about it, is really the most important thing."
Stone and Markowitz studied together at Webster University, but both hold most dear their apprenticeship in the '90s with two St. Louis jazz masters, Joe Charles and Jimmy Sherrod. Stone calls them "the source." Markowitz explains: "We used to go over to local drummer-slash-mentor Joe Charles' house. That's where we did our woodshedding. Charles is the reason I can play today. He's since passed away. He played with Grant Green here in St. Louis, and there are a lot of stories that Coltrane asked him to join his band, but no one knows for sure. He was a master musician, master teacher, one of the most beautiful people I've ever known. He shared all of his knowledge for nothing. If it was up to him, we'd have been over there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We'd play like crazy for hours on end. At the same time, we were rehearsing in another band, with Billy Teague on drums and with Jimmy Sherrod, a saxophone player who I consider my other musical teacher. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we'd go over to Joe Charles' house, then Tuesday and Thursday we were at Billy Teague's playing with Sherrod. For this learning period we were playing every night of the week."
Stone and Markowitz also share a common musical touchstone: John Coltrane. When Markowitz says he's a Coltrane fanatic, he's only half-joking. "There are days when I wonder if he was really human," Markowitz says. "It's really his feel, his aesthetic, and concept of music."
"Even from the very beginning he was an amazing musician," Stone muses. "He had his own sound, his own harmonic approaches. The whole time he played there was exponential growth. It's just exciting to listen to that total involvement. Not to get all goo-gah on you, but there's a spiritual nature to his music. I really appreciate that, because I don't have any specific religious beliefs. It's good to put on a Coltrane record and see that there's one guy who loved everybody."
Even when Stone and Markowitz address a tune like "All the Things You Are," a standard nearly every major bebop player but Coltrane recorded, you can hear Trane's presence. At one point, drums and vibes recede and it's just Stone and Markowitz, at opposite ends of the group, communicating their codes along the most elusive traces of melody, but with such concentration and empathy, with such harmonic regard for the other's instruments, that the code isn't difficult or secret at all. The improvisation sinks in like certainty.