Wednesday, November 29, 2006

story ville

The previously mentioned Reading Jazz, edited by Robert Gottlieb, has me up late in what has turned into absorbing the book from cover to cover, which at roughly 1,100 pages is somewhat ridiculous. But the great fact that is emerging from the Reportage and Criticism sections is perhaps somewhat best summed up by two quotes. "To the outsider, the aggressiveness with which the aficionados of one school of jazz attack another school may appear silly, a tempest in a teapot. It is far from this. Beneath the surface it is a defense, whether well- or ill-advised, of an attitude toward life." (William Grossman, Jazz Review, 1956). "After all these years, I find myself unable to avoid an unhappy conclusion: jazz criticism is a bad idea, poorly executed." (Orrin Keepnews, 1987)

For the moment, I'm still reaching for a broader understanding of the culture wars of the 1940's:

Leonard Feather's writing about the Esquire jazz polls of the mid-40s and the uproar between the "moldy figs" and the "progressives," yet another reminder that the lines were clearly drawn in the years before bop, even though it is now the fashion to point to jazz controversy as first arising with Parker, Gillespie, Monk. The black vs. white lines were clearly drawn as well. Here's a quote from Feather talking about the reaction to the first Esquire poll in 1943 in The Jazz Record, a specialty publication co-edited by white pianist Art Hodes: "But the most memorable statement was (the writer's) complaint that Joe Stacy, Joe Sullivan, and Art Hodes received only four, three, and two votes respectively. 'These men,' he wrote, 'are the three greatest small-band piano men on wax. To mention Art Tatum in the same gasp with them is blasphemous!'" Another quote from the same article: "If this isn't inverted Jim Crow, what is?"

The winners in 1943 (who went on to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House) were: Louis Armstrong, Teagarden, Goodman, Hawkins, Tatum, Al Casey, Pettiford, Catlett, Red Norvo and Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Artie Shaw. The second place winners were Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Earl Hines, Oscar Moore, Milt Hinton, Al Morgan, Cozy Cole, Leo Watson, Mildred Bailey, saxophonist Willie Smith and Dave Tough.

So these are the musicians signifying something catastrophic, impure, degenerate or at least questionable to an entire camp of jazz writers who seemed to have seen jazz's salvation at the time in Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davidson. Is it any wonder that when Bird and Dizzy et al were heard, a very few short years later, the reaction was what it was?

Also, coincidentally I just bought a copy of the recording of the concert at the Metropolitan in 1944, originally produced by the US Army and only available on shellac V-Discs. My first few listens reveal that something was going on among these highly disparate musicians within the supposed confines of...whatever genre they were supposed to be confined by. Partly I'm sure it's the "jam session" atmosphere, partly the "superband" syndrome, just too many voices trying to get heard. But even beyond these circumstantial reasons, I hear a music definitely in transition already. It's struggling with two competing organizing principles, for one thing (perhaps three): collective improvisation versus comping behind the individual soloist. The intense irony is that the radio announcer insists on saying the name of the individual soloists while they are playing, in the manner of a sports broadcast. The third conflicting strain on the efforts of the musicians is the "swing" style itself, which lends a kind of war-time desperation and frantically happy, happy, happy (who put the benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?) energy. There's more concatenating throughout the proceedings, including strange versions of "the blues," highly divergent instrumental styles, and probably more that I'm not even aware of.

Yet there are revealing moments from individual musicians. Lionel Hampton's extended solo over Flying Home is most amazing for the intense presence of his vocalizations, especially in the rests between his phrases. (Compare with Cecil Taylor's, on for example, The Great Concert of, Side 3, or less pleasantly, with Jarrett). Are there shades of bop already emerging from Hawk and Tatum? Absolutely. Could there be any starker contrast than that between Billie Holiday singing "I'll Get By" and Mildred Bailey "singing" "Squeeze Me"?

It's a terrible stew, really, and I can see why the moldy figs had an opening to be aghast, but only now that I am listening with an awareness of the turf wars and infighting that had everyone up in arms. What I heard before this was quaint, occasionally brilliant, energetic, but hearing with bop-through-21st Century ears meant feeling grateful that the music soon found more consolidated and "sophisticated" organizing principles. I have too often bought hook, line and sinker the "official" stories of whatever jazz is, and, lately, every time I turn around, I'm encountering new awareness of a much broader and much more messy picture.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

up to your boobies in white satin

"You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation." (Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues).

Jazz books on the floor next to my bed currently include Reading Jazz, edited by Robert Gottlieb and Visions of Jazz by Gary Giddins, as well as Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation, which I keep returning to over and over to find new ways to apply the studies not only to drumset work but music and composition in general.

Reading Jazz is a remarkable anthology heavily weighted toward the mainstream but still stuffed full of great material. The autobiographical section ranges from Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet to Cecil Taylor and others. The Cecil piece is from Len Lyons' 1983 book, The Great Jazz Pianists, and Gottlieb's comment says something like "sometimes the life of an interviewer is a difficult one." I suspect this is meant with a dash of humor and as a tongue in cheek commentary on Taylor's apparently combative and argumentative responses, but truly, although you can tell he's trying, Lyons' questions are superficial and idiotic. How little must the man have known about Taylor to begin his interview with "What approach did you use for developing finger dexterity, and what would you recommend that younger pianists do in that regard?" Not only does he open with that absolutely inconsequential question, but he persists doggedly. This is Lyons making his own life difficult.

It's also representative of a thread that keeps winding through these autobiographical texts, which is a white attitude that is clearly condescending, racist, patronizing and unconciously or blatantly infantilizing. The position of the artist in America, let alone the black artist, is laid bare repeatedly and it's ugly.

Giddins' compilation of short essays is a wonder to behold by comparison. Yes, it leans a bit toward hagiography at times, but his respect is welcome even if it borders on reverence. Giddins is so obviously a fan of the whole spectrum of genres and approaches, and in particular it's a lovely experience to read articulate and knowledgeable insights into the work of musicians as disparate as Budd Johnson and Roscoe Mitchell.

Acquisitive jazz slut that I am, I recently snagged Randy Weston's latest (at 80 years old!), Zep Tepi, as well as the odd Impulse reissue that combines Taylor's Into the Hot pieces (Pots, Bulbs, Mixed)with Roswell Rudd's Everywhere session. Every time I hear Weston I want to hear more, and it's too bad that I somehow managed to miss his work along the way. I only gave Taylor's sessions for Gil Evans a cursory listen when I was younger, largely because I had already been absolutely riveted by Indent, Silent Tongues, Dark to Themselves, 3 Phasis, etc. and too quickly dismissed Taylor's early work as unformed and quaint. With fresh ears these Taylor originals are absolutely mind blowing and yet again mark a whole range of possibilities that Taylor perhaps left behind too quickly. (That's my greed talking). There's something lush and humid about his orchestrations, the song forms, the dense and usually not reiterative themes. Amazing that Ted Curson was working with Mingus at the time. I wonder what he thought working his way through Taylor's Mixed?Not because it is different from the Mingus workshop, but because it launches off of so many similar strategies. (It's also instructive to hear Sunny Murray on these recordings; his odd 5/4 boogaloo beat, his leanings toward the concept he'd plunge into quite soon after).

Roswell Rudd is one of those rare musicians who intuitively understands sound. The trombone is a perfect fit for the man's ears and soul. My first impressions of the Impulse session is that it's unfortunate he wasn't surrounded by heavier players. Charlie Haden is too far behind Lewis Worrell in the mix and I don't get grabbed by Guiseppi Logan and Robin Kenyatta, really. I just want to hear Beaver Harris and Roswell Rudd do duets.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


today's show was...interesting.

Sahib Shihab Blu Around Jazz Sahib
Benny Golson, Phil Woods, Bill Evans, Oscar Pettiford and Art Taylor join Shihab in 1957

Miles Davis Blue in Green Kind of Blue
from the gussied up reissue that's pitch-corrected and remastered.

Thelonious Monk Mood Indigo Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington
Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke join Monk for this example of how jazz musicians lovingly make something their own

Hamiet Bluiett Tranquil Beauty Jazz Loft Sessions
Is there a better name in jazz than Hamiet Bluiett? Juney Booth, Butch Campbell, Olu Dara, Don Moye, Billy Patterson, Bobo Shaw, 1976

John Carter Sweet Sunset Night Fire
From one of Carter's "Folk Suites," underrated jazz classics that will probably get a lot of hype in 10-15 years

John McLaughlin Binky's Beam Extrapolation
astonishing first recording with McLaughlin as leader, 1969, with Tony Oxley, John Surman, Brian Odges

Billy Cobham Spanish Moss Crosswinds
How does Cobham manage to make 17/16 funky? The Breckers and John Abercrombie help, but it's Cobham's show

Sonny Rollins East Broadway Rundown East Broadway Rundown
with Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison. A centerpiece at 21 minutes, worth every second.

Billie Holiday/Esquire All Stars I'll Get By/Tea for Two
The First Esquire Concert, recorded and released by the US Army on shellac V-disks. Check out the announcer. 1944.

Charlie Parker Back Home Blues/Lover Man Swedish Schnapps +
This is what Parker was up to during the WWII recording ban

Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron Star Crossed Lovers Sempre Amore all duets, all Duke or Strayhorn. 1987.

Cecil Taylor Pemmican/Points Garden
I can hear the whole history in Taylor's playing. This is the last 8 minutes of a 103 minutes solo piano performance, November 16, 1981

I seem to be getting better at transitions that are relatively smooth between stuff that one would normally think of as widely divergent. I have no idea how it happened, for example, that the Tea for Two piece segued so naturally into John Lewis's piano intro to Back Home Blues. I think playing the entire 21 minute East Broadway Rundown may have rattled the daylights out of my station manager...and how ironic is it that Rollins/Hubbard/Garrison/Jones perhaps pushed the aesthetic limits the most out of all the selections on the above list?

I had forgotten how much I admire Extrapolation. McLaughlin sets up a fairly straight rhythm section concept with Oxley and Odges, but his guitar sound has rich shades of Brit "blues revival" and then astonishing jazz chording. One wonders if this was something McLaughlin jumped off too soon, after, say, Emergency! or some of the Miles stuff. Surman blows the everloving crap out of the bari, great gorgeous yawps.

And Spanish Moss, the funkiest 17/16 ever. Cobham plays more 8.5 than 17 which helps funk it up. This too is a kind of music that seems largely undeveloped. Fusion-esque textures and instruments, but great horn lines. Sophisticated yet accessible. Lose the fake wind sound and everything would be fine....

Mr. Taylor's last bit of Garden tied the whole thing up somehow. At least I thought so....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Only Music Worth Playing

I've been part of several tribute/homage/songbook projects, notably with Zimbabwe Nkenya, doing an Ornette Coleman project, a mid-'60s Miles quintet project, part of a Monk tribute; now the main thing happening musically for me is the Miles Davis electric project. So I've been involved with this experience where someone (maybe even me) loves the music of so and so enough to get a group together, try it out, do some of the favorite pieces. With some of Zim's projects it was a drag, ultimately, because he wanted to do OC's songs, he wanted to do the tougher material too from the MD quintet, some very nuanced Monk tunes too, and where were the musicians? Myself included! I always felt completely behind the curve there, exposed, unable to develop a statement of my own and left either poorly imitating Higgins, Blackwell, Roach, Jones (man, Broadway Blues is a bitch!) Williams or, well, generally, lost. With the Miles electric project it's different, because that grew out of players I had already heard here: DJ's, live and pre-produced samples, guitarists, keyboard, bass. It happened more organically, the sounds and approaches already fit before we started to shape pieces like Honky Tonk, Yesternow, Black Satin, etc. The end result is sometimes our versions are flat out close can we get to some of the suspense of Yesternow, for example...sometimes the versions, even of the same tune, are unrecognizable. It's filtered through a kind of freedom that was not available on the OC or Miles quintet projects, because the mastery and the understanding was not in the ensemble, was not in the sound. The tunes there were out of reach, some kind of Platonic eidos that we could only genuflect at the base of or stumble around within, offering our pale stabs, no matter how much we loved the originals.

The Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics Vol. 3: Six for Rollins" sounds like this to me. Both forced and lost. The format is head-solo-solo-solo-head, the arrangements seem desultory, and the overall effect lacks so many of the qualities of Sonny Rollins' music: daring, humor, space, fluidity, elan. The playing is superb, yet another example of unequivocally fine musicianship standing still, running in place, sounding contained and distant, even when the bar lines drop. It's as if the music is a museum piece, a simulacrum, with the homage not reverent enough or all too reverent, I can't decide which. There's a spirit joyless and formulaic in it. I love hearing Vandermark's bari, Jeb Bishop's bone, Kent Kessler's bass and Dave Rempis in particular (shades of Dolphy, Roscoe Mitchell...he is in my opinion the best soloist on the date), but Tim Daisy's drums are so literal. It's jazz drumming on music that I can't help but hear with Roach, Jones, etc. The elasticity of the tempos on The Bridge make me wonder-- are we hearing people play or think about playing while they play? The device itself is not at fault, it's the way it clobbers me over the head.

But for me the signature problem piece is East Broadway Rundown. The original of this recording has long been one of my all time favorite recorded performances in all of jazz, period. It somehow manages to be hilarious, ominous, introspective, playful, pandimensional, inside, outside, abstract, gutbucket, splatteringly free yet stompingly funky, all at once. The line itself is a deceptively simple, seemingly throwaway bit of classic Rollins-- conversational, arch, inscrutable, with a recursive jumpiness that doesn't take itself too seriously and with a hilarious switch to the major in its raggy tag. The best thing about the Vandermark 5 version is hearing Rollins' line. The rest of it just misses me.

I don't know any of the other work of the Vandermark 5 and I'm not qualified to say much about Vol. 4, Free Kings, based on Rashaan Roland Kirk's compositions, as I am way behind on my Kirk.

But the larger questions for me: why bring the repertory idea to so-called free jazz? And why Rollins? Rollins as sound innovator, structural innovator, one of a kind and absolutely original-- no contest. But free jazz? I'm not opposed, I just need more of a conversation around that. Why the self-consciousness in the packaging, the marketing, the use of the questionable phrase "Free Jazz Classics?" I wonder-- who is the audience for this music? Not that there is necessarily one audience.

In the liner notes by Vandermark he concludes with two very strange paragraphs:

"Maybe investigating the groundwork for the improvised music from the 1960's and 70's taught me that it was time to get off the shoulders of those artists in order to look in another direction.

Maybe the point has come when it's necessary to realize that the only music worth playing is happening now."

These statements seem simultaneously so thoroughly arrogant and benighted to me that I'm left (almost) speechless. The only thing I have to say right now about the last sentence is...when Monk played Duke's music, when Rollins played I Can't Get Started, when the Art Ensemble played Zombie, when Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy played A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, was that happening now?

Monday, November 13, 2006


Looking forward to writing more about the Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics Vol. 3: Six for Rollins" but for the moment, a bit of a gloat. The local chain media store (I know, it's strange, "local chain," but there are more startling oxymorons..."Free Jazz Classics," for example...) surprised me by having a ton of used jazz CDs. For less than 50 bucks I snagged:

1. The pitch-corrected remaster of Kind of Blue (mine was stolen out of my car by some impecunious Miles fan with a Flamenco Sketches jones)

2. John Carter's Black Saint recording, "Night Fire," with Bobby Bradford, James Newton, Roberto Miranda and William Jeffrey. Makes me want to get all of the other suites Carter did, especially recordings with Andrew Cyrille.

3. A CD compilation of the Douglas Wildflowers Loft Jazz series (now playing "Black Robert" by Dave Burrell, Stafford James and Harold White). It seems they culled the most "radio friendly" or close to the tradition cuts from the multiple LP series, several of which I have on sadly distressed vinyl. I had forgotten how much I loved the sound of Burrell's piano.

4. "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington," with Klook and OP. Man, I've thought of getting this about a million times. Can't wait to hear it.

5. John McLaughlin's innovative "Extrapolation" with John Surman, Tony Oxley and Brian Odges. Again, I had it for years on vinyl but now it's digital.

6. Jackie McLean's "New Soil," 1959 Blue Note in keeping with my recent re-evaluation of the late 50s through mid-'60s Blue Note catalogue. This one I picked up in particular because it has Pete La Roca Sims on drums, and I don't hear nearly enough of him, but there's also Paul Chambers, Walter Davis, Jr. and Donald Byrd.

The advantage of an amorous relationship with underrated music? Maybe. What kind of fool would hand over their used Monk to a chain CD store? Okay, maybe a fool with an iPod or whatever, but still.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

east broadway standstill

Latest "candle in sunshine" discovery that speaks volumes about the current state of things, The Vandermark 5's Free Jazz Classics, Volume 3, Six for Rollins. It's entirely possible that I'm benighted and quite out of line to suggest it's better not to make this recording *at all*. But before I go any further, mistrusting first impressions as I do and wanting perhaps to open my ears...maybe I'm missing something? Maybe it isn't fair to compare *even when the musicians beg the comparison* by calling something "Six for Rollins." Anyway, before I say more here, I'll listen more. If anyone out there wants to give me their own version of "glowing liner notes" to this or other Vandermark 5 recordings go for it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

parochial blues

The calendar entry I wrote previewing Wynton Marsalis's show here actually generated a letter to the editor, expressing dismay. Expressing a lot of things, including the strange opinion that it's parochial, calling Marsalis "largely derivative" and calling Jazz at Lincoln Center "backward looking." On the contrary, one could argue that calling Marsalis a "National Treasure" (as the letter writer did) just might be...something like parochial. What is especially of note is that I write all sorts of snarky, backhanded blurbs for this Performing Arts calendar every week, and it was the Sacred Cow that generated the first letter ever.

Also of note is the flurry of interaction with Outpost Productions, who booked the event. I've known Outpost's director, Tom Guralnick, for many years. He and I are in email dialogue now about my comments. By the way, if you can get your hands on the Tom Guralnick Quartet with Steve Feld, I highly recommend it. Or any other of a number of Guralnick's kickass electroacoustic Mobile Saxophone and Mute Unit recordings. There's old stuff of mine, 1990 or so, with unbelievable bass sax playing by TG on there.

Today's show as a substitute DJ was very strange. I decided to focus on jazz vocals in the first hour, including Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella, as well as the too-hip Babs Gonzales and a Dizzy Gillespie vocal number. Oh yeah, Billy Eckstine too. I don't really hear jazz vocals and it was interesting listening. The strangest of all was probably Rae Pearl with Tadd Dameron, a number called "Casbah" that one critic has called "the most extravagant three minutes in be-bop history."

Call me parochial, but a lot of jazz vocal music is just bizarre. Then again, I'd rather hear CT's spoken word epic Chinampas than Diana Krall or Kurt Elling, so I guess that says something....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

society of esoteric and arcane flamethrowers

Interesting what stirs the loins of internet gladiators. Destination-out puts up some Herbie Mann and the unexpected (or perhaps entirely predictable?) result is an argument about the significance of a certain Miles Dewey Davis. Analogous to the ridiculous Ornette Coleman "debate" of a few weeks ago. The theme is the same: "I know far more about cultural history than you do, and if you knew what I knew, you'd know more than you know. Miles is overrated, you are ignorant of the secret world of true artists, you have been duped."

If I didn't have to finish two pieces that are due tomorrow for SFR's Gift Guide (one on music to buy for people you love, the other on games to buy for people you love...) I'd make a project out of this Miles thing today. I'd also upload some of the Adrian Belew pics from last Saturday and write my take on that. I'd also write a few more 4th step pages. I might even eat lunch.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

trumpet unfanfare

I observe with some curiosity that Wynton Marsalis's visit to the City of Holy Faith gets very little press. There's my blurb in the performing arts calendar in SFR, (scroll down) but I fully expected a two or three page puff piece in the Santa Fe New Mexican, which did not appear in their "arts and culture" weekly magazine, Pasatiempo. What did appear was the best my friend David Prince could arrange with Marsalis's press people, a one page interview with Walter Blanding, Jr., who plays tenor in the band. On the one hand this may simply be a continued reflection of the shithouse coverage that jazz in general gets here. On the other hand, it could be a "conspicuous in its absence" indication of a more specific lack of interest. I'll be interested to find out what the house is for Marsalis's performance. Again, I expect it will sell out, but who knows?

What does it mean that Peter Nero got more coverage than Marsalis? I had a great time interviewing Nero for SFR. Personally, I would rather shoot myself in the kneecap than spin a Nero record, but he was unpretentious, funny, world-weary, honest and made no bones about who and what he is and what his music is.

Friday, November 03, 2006

elephant talk

Through an odd series of events (me to arts editor: do we have any comps for Adrian Belew's show? arts editor: not yet, I'll check it out. Arts editor calls venue (Santa Fe Brewing Company). Guy from venue calls KBAC during contest for free tickets, a meet and greet, and an autographed guitar, wins but can't accept prize, gives KBAC my name...) I get to talk with Adrian Belew, I get an autographed guitar, I get two free tickets. I think I'll review my Belew discography a bit...I know him from King Crimson's Discipline, Talking Heads Remain in Light, his own recent Side 3 and I guess that collaboration between Henry Rollins and William Shatner. (you know, "I Can't Get Behind That...," about which experience Rollins included a hilarious 20-25 minutes or so in his Shock and Awe monologue when I saw him here a couple of years ago).

The other odd thing about this is I already had comps to see Wynton Marsalis the same night. Typical Santa Fe log jam, nothing for weeks, Adrian Belew and Marsalis on the same night. I was set to go to the Marsalis show just to see what he's up to these days but I'll pass now.

Comps for shows have become not just a nice occasional fringe benefit of being a writer, but an economic necessity. I have no idea what ticket prices are like in other parts of the country but here they have bumped up faster than gasoline. The Marsalis show starts at $45 and goes up to $80. Belew, appearing at what is basically a pub without a stage, is $30-$45. Freelance writing rates here are in line with wages in general (in the sub-basement) so a lot of shows are prohibitive. This new ticket pricing deal here is a fairly recent development and would be interesting to do a story on.

Yesterday's show sparked more phone calls than I usually get, including from the 85 year old Meredith Fink who deeply appreciated my playing some '70s "fusion." The main impression that sticks with me is just how fresh and jagged Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head sounded next to some of the other pieces I played. That and how profoundly fascinated I continue to be by Miles Davis's electric trumpet/wah-wah pedal set up. So close in time to the big, brassy open horn sound he was using on Jack Johnson, etc., coming out of what one could call the peak of his technical proficiency as a brass player.

Speaking of which, have to check out a Roswell Rudd disc called Blown Bone handed off by station manager: "Here, this is the kind of thing you seem to like..." haha.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Last week, vaguely toying with the idea of putting together a Hallowe'en themed jazz show, I had a hard time coming up with ominous, frightening jazz. Lots of the listeners to KSFR would probably be frightened by lots of what I'd like to play...Brotzmann, Silva's "Luna Surface," CT's Indent, Zorn. But it's not frightening per se. Miles Davis occurred to me as a musician and composer who went into a sort of shadow-aesthetic that a lot of so-called jazz seems to lack. I'm thinking Bitches Brew up to Pangaea. (excluding the obvious).