GOING HIGHER: Turner’s Zen serenity distinguishes his recovery from a potentially catastrophic injury as well as his work with Grenadier and Ballard in Fly.
Let's get the drama out of the way first. In November 2008, cutting firewood at his home in Brooklyn, Mark Turner, 42, arguably the most influential tenor-saxophonist of his generation, lost control of the power saw he was using, and it severed tendons and nerves in the index and middle fingers of his left hand.
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After surgery, doctors predicted six to eight months of rehab and no clear prognosis of how much use of his fingers Turner would regain. For two months, his fingers were in splints, and by time he could use them at all, the muscles had atrophied. There was slow rehab that included finger exercises every two hours all day long. Then he was allowed brief workouts with his horn — just moving his fingers on the keys for short periods, then playing for an hour or so once every three days. By the end of February, he was performing again, "hungrier and more technically together than I recall," reported critic David Adler in a blog post.
Turner's hand will probably not fully recover. "I'm never going to be able to make a full fist," he told an interviewer for Newark jazz station WBGO-FM. And the loss of flexibility means he's had to learn how to play flat-fingered. Turner is a practicing Buddhist, and he was reported by friends to be typically Zen following the accident. When I reach him in Brooklyn, he talks about his condition with an even affect: "The middle finger moves a little bit, but the index finger is definitely flat-fingered. Which is not optimal for a saxophone player. It's changed my playing, and I've had to learn how to replay certain things. So it's pretty much what it is. I can do it, but I have to learn and change things."
Boston audiences will have a chance to hear Turner's progress — and cheer him on — when he comes to the Regattabar as part of the trio Fly next Friday in support of their ECM debut, Sky & Country. (They also play special "Marsalis Jams" sets with Berklee students at Café 939 on April 15 and 16.) On the new CD you can hear what's made Turner such a sensation among musicians. In the early '90s, he began to depart from the Coltrane sound that dominated jazz tenor sax, opting for the light floating sound of tenor Warne Marsh, altoists Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond, and clarinet and alto player Jimmy Giuffre. It's a sound, wrote New York Times critic Ben Ratliff in a 2002 profile, that is "evenly produced from the bottom to the top of the horn, in long, chromatic strokes."
, Jake Shimabukuro, California State University-Long Beach, Jimmy Giuffre, More