Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Critically Endangered

Echinomastus erectocentrus v. acunensis, exactly where they said it would be.

So I became obsessed with the above rare Arizona endemic, in one of those genera that features a very few species almost all of which are obscure and occupy fairly restricted niches. The genus is Echinomastus, which certain cactus conservatives have recently sunk entirely within Sclerocactus, thus effectively removing the distinguishing characteristics of both genera. (The degree to which I can be incensed by recent boneheaded renaming is remarkable, but I have perhaps wisely avoided ranting about it here....)

It took me three nearly full days of searching over the Thanksgiving holiday to find two plants. I found this population at the very end of the third day, near sunset.

Part of the fascination is actually that the low Sonoran desert doesn't really have all that much biodiversity, botanically. The plant species that have adapted here have adapted extraordinarily well, to the point where there's a kind of formulaic monotony to the botanical situation. Sometimes huge areas are stunningly massed with dense cactus forests, but quite often this represents the great success of about 5 species. So it fascinates me that this well-camouflaged, highly restricted plant is also present.

The other aspect that got me obsessed was to see a plant that taxonomists don't even recognize as existing. The somewhat more common, though also rare, Echinomastus erectocentrus has largely survived the recent taxonomy by the blind absurdity (except for being called Sclerocactus erectocentrus). But ssp. acunensis has disappeared from "recognized" lists, in the aftermath of Mr. Magoo rewriting the books on cactus systematics.

Anyway, I had the GPS navigator with me and got coordinates so I can pretty much get back any time, without former long hours of searching. It's cattle country, and very accessible to people out ramming around on ATVs, so it'll be interesting to check in periodically.

This brief interlude brought to you from the cactus side of things...back to Rex Harris and 55 year old jazz purism soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed

Thus Orrin Keepnews on the fine art of "jazz criticism."

Case in point: a fascinating volume published in 1952, written by Rex Harris (no, not Rex Harrison) titled quite simply, portentously and of course arrogantly, Jazz.

Harris was an intense British dude, born in Kent in 1904. The author blurb indicates that he was introduced to ragtime at the age of 8. There's this unintentionally hilarious sentence: "...he has achieved the seemingly impossible by combining a professional career of consulting optician with that of a jazz authority." One of his ambitions is to "help dispel the prevalent misconceptions regarding the word 'Jazz.'"

Whether fair or not, I'll be spending some time in Rex's world as a way of highlighting the absurdities in "jazz" writing: the anachronisms, howlers, ax-grinding, cultural misconceptions, time lags, racism, cultural imperialism and demonstrably just plain ignorant judgments. This spotlight isn't poor Rex Harris' fault, really. I could have chosen Stanley Crouch...who, by the way, really is a terrible writer. Have you read any of his editorials lately? (From his New York Daily News editorial of November 5: "Instead, American Gangster proves, yet again, that Hollywood is much less interested in aesthetic grandeur than it is in profits. In that sense, it is often no better than the lousy gangsters it makes into well-dressed entrepreneurs rather than the glittering spiritual vomit that they actually are.")

But I digress.

In a strange inside cover blurb, the joys that lie ahead in Rex's book are immediately revealed:

"After the long and wearisome years of 'swing' which overlaid the traditions of jazz there has arisen a new generation which is anxious to learn of the roots and growth of this fascinating folk music. So much confusion exists in the public mind regarding the word 'jazz' that it was felt necessary to trace its ancestry and present a genealogical table which would make the subject clear."

Oh man.

Let's skip the several prefaces to *three editions* of this book between 1952 and 1954 (noting only in passing the charming holdover from salad days of yore: "My thanks also to my wife Mary for her attention to the tedious work involved in checking the index") and jump instead to the foreword.

"Some of the conclusions I have reached after many years of interest in jazz will no doubt cause lifted eyebrows among some of my friends in the dance-band world, but I would hasten to assure them that I have no wish to denigrate their valuable and excellent work in that sphere: it is only in the use of the word 'jazz' to label their music that I have any difference of opinion. Many of them hold the same opinion on the subject as I do, and some few have sturdily tried to live up to their principles....This book is an attempt to vindicate the integrity of those who have kept jazz alive during the long years of its eclipse behind the meretricious blaze of artificially exploited swing."

In love with longer titles as I am (One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, for example) may I add, entirely as a good natured aside, hopefully without causing any eyebrow strain, that perhaps the next Marsalis or Brookmeyer or Charlap or Krall outing could be titled The Meretricious Blaze of Artificially Exploited Swing? I'd buy it.

Get ready for eyebrow altitudes perhaps hitherto unprecedented as Rex concludes his foreword:

"Whether jazz musicians are able to read music or not is immaterial. Whether they gain financially by playing jazz is beside the point. The vital and essential crux of the whole question is whether they express themselves in their music because they have something which they must express. In other words it (sic) must be an art rather than a craft."

There seems so much unspoken counterargument behind this last salvo. As always when a passionate author is arguing against ghosts and absent interlocutors, there's a lot of rail jumps. One of the aspects of Rex's prose that immediately seduced me was his obvious, burning passion and sense of righteousness. I enjoy reading books that have an ax to grind, especially when the author is unabashed about his or her florid indignation. It's refreshing to read someone who isn't at all tainted by the meretricious blaze of Universal Approbation that has descended on much critical writing these days. "It's all good" can hardly be a motto to sustain the well-honed critical mind.

Jaw dropping spectacles of masturbatory vapidity have recently passed before this writer's eyes, such as people who know better defending Norah Jones (against whom?) or presenting a distinctly brown proboscis after sniffing the latest wunderkind's derivative hindquarters or arguing that the Pulitzer Prize winning Blood on the Fields (which has all the punch of a B-section news story about the groundbreaking for a new commemorative plaque) would have fared better with critics if it had featured David Murray. These are merely innocent examples, mind you. I don't want to stir up old bitterness. Let me hasten to assure my friends in the "jazz blogosphere" that I don't mean to denigrate their important and valuable work. My only objection is in the application of the label "criticism" to such efforts.

But, again, I digress.

Clearly, the central thesis of Rex's book is that there is a Real Thing deserving of the label "jazz," and that there are those who have struggled valiantly to keep the Real Thing going against the odds, and that there is an emerging generation of young musicians who want to revive The Real Thing in the midst of a disturbing cultural trend that is meretricious, artificial, exploitive and definitely *not* the Real Thing.

(A brief etymological aside on the delicious word "meretricious." It's one of those words that originally had a very narrow meaning, deriving from the Latin "meretrix," i.e., "prostitute." By extension then, courtesy of Dictionary.com:

1.alluring by a show of flashy or vulgar attractions; tawdry.
2.based on pretense, deception, or insincerity.
3.pertaining to or characteristic of a prostitute.

How Rex gets away with fawning over his friends in the "dance-band world" yet essentially calling them whores says more about his rhetorical skills as a consulting optician, and an acidulously polite Brit, than anything else. Perhaps.)

Moreover, the Real Thing is quite separate from techne (Reading music? Immaterial) and economic factors (Making a living? Beside the point...perhaps it's only those rarefied few who have achieved the seemingly impossible, such as combining being a consulting optician and jazz authority, who can so boldly assert that the exigencies of the marketplace are unessential). The Real Thing is, in fact, Art. Which Rex defines as "expressing oneself in one's music because one has something which one must express." A quaintly Romantic formulation for Art Music. Quaintly tautological, charmingly both obfuscatory and completely empty of any content whatsoever. But the Jazz Hero (a figure who will appear time and again in Rex's narrative) is a distinctly Romantic, spontaneous and brilliantly untutored fellow.

My central thesis is that Rex's book gathers energy from exactly identical underlying assumptions, prejudices and shrouded ideologies that continue to fuel "jazz criticism" right now. The hilarious juxtaposition of The Real Thing against whoreish "swing" only serves to highlight how equally absurd is the current wave of self-appointed Jazz Saviors and Jazz Police. The great service my careful analysis of Rex's book will provide to you, dear reader, will be that you won't have to wait 55 years to enjoy the ironies.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Duology 3

Two headed Astrophytum capricorne v. senile.

Duology 3, Saturday, Nov. 10, 8 pm, O'Shaughnessy Performance Space, The College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe NM. Made possible by The Contemporary Music Program at the College of Santa Fe.

Improvised duets with yours truly on piano joined by Lauren Camp, language; Katie Harlow, cello; Dan Pearlman, trumpet; Sam Rhodes, bassoon; Gary Sherman, low brass; Dave Wayne, drums.

The third in a series, which started with Jeremy Bleich, Paul Brown, Chris Jonas, Mike Rowland, Mark Weaver and Ruth Zaporah and continued with "Dino" JA Deane, Ross Hamlin, JSA Lowe, Carlos Santistevan, Molly Sturges and Milton Villarrubia III.

Check back here for complete mp3 downloads of the performances soon after Nov. 10, courtesy of Steve Schmidt at Fly on the Wall Productions.

Some bios for 5 out of 6 of D3's participants (Gary Sherman.....tell us about yourself).

Lauren Camp is a visual artist. Her writing entered through the back door – a way to complete certain works, sometimes to obscure them. When it first showed up, she didn’t even know she was writing poetry. When her artwork traveled around the country, the writing traveled with it. People surprised her by asking who wrote the “poems.” Soon she found herself writing more and more. Since then, her poems have been published in Brilliant Corners, The Magazine, Santa Fe Literary Review and other journals. She appears on Zerx, vol. 20 with a crazy rendition of a pantoum she wrote, and has performed her poems in duet with jazz musicians from the stages of the Albuquerque Museum to St. John’s College. In 2006, she won a New Mexico Discovery Award. Last March, she was part of a collaborative improvisation, called “ARTiculations,” at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque with sound artist CK Barlow and musician Rufus Cohen. Lauren’s newest series of artworks is a collection of self-portraits made in fabric and thread that incorporates her words and history with those of other women. She is currently creating a 60-minute audio soundtrack with narratives, anecdotes and poetic ramblings to accompany the series as it travels to museums. Every Monday morning, Lauren hosts and produces “The Colors of Jazz” for KSFR 101.1 Community Radio, Santa Fe, NM, a weekly 3-hour mind-bending romp through the facets of jazz and poetry – yet another way to keep her mind on rhythm, sound and words. You can see Lauren’s artwork and read more of her words at www.laurencamp.com.

Catherine Jean (Katie) Harlow, cellist, has a Bachelors Degree in Cello Pedagogy and a Masters degree in Music Education from the University of New Mexico. For the past 35 years, she has performed in numerous symphonic, chamber, folk, and improvised music ensembles (Out of Context and Playroom) throughout the southwestern United States. As a teacher, she has been on the Performing Arts Faculty at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1997. Katie is an active composer and arranger; recently completing a collaboration with Iraqi oud player Rahim AlHaj to release the CD Friendship. For productions at Albuquerque Academy, she has composed original music for Shakespeare's As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. She often collaborates with Albuquerque director and playwright Laurie Thomas and composed music for Barry Kornhauser's play This is Not a Pipe Dream, directed by Thomas. In Spring 2007, Katie collaborated with other members of Playroom (Mark Weaver, Dave Wayne, and Joseph Sabella) to create music for Thomas's original play Mad Hattr, which premiered at Albuquerque's Cell Theater.

Dan Pearlman studied trumpet and composition at the Oberlin Conservatory. He graduated from Oberlin in 1968, and has been improvising (in every sense of the word) ever since. Dan moved to New Mexico in 1983, and has been very active in the Northern New Mexico jazz and improvised music scene. He has performed several times at the Outpost Performance space as well as numerous venues in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, with Zimbabwe Nkenya, Dave Wayne, Chris Jonas, Ori Kaplan, Alan Lechusza, Mark Weaver, Anthony Braxton and many others. Heavily influenced by Indian, African and Gypsy music as well as by the jazz greats, Dan's tastes and musical interactions have been diverse and always rewarding.

Sam Rhodes was born in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory. He has played with numerous symphony orchestras in the southwest. For the last 14 years he has served as the principal bassoonist with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra .Sam plays regularly with Out Of Context, a conduction ensemble formed by J. A. Deane

Dave Wayne took a step back from the Santa Fe music scene in October 2004 to concentrate more on being a father & husband. And also to add on to his house, mess around with his vibraphone & comb through his luxury-sized LP and CD collections. Dave played frequently with bassist Zimbabwe Nkenya until Nkenya left New Mexico in January 2006. Other past collaborators include Bing, Stefan Dill, Rob Brown, Alan Lechuzsa, Ori Kaplan and Anthony Braxton. In the past year or so, he has played with Peter Breslin’s ‘Miles Davis Project’ (also his first live appearance as a conguero), Mark Weaver’s ‘Rumble Trio’, in a duo with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, and with a quartet led by trumpeter Jeff Kaiser. Current projects include Playroom (improvised & composed new music with Mark Weaver, Joe Sabella, and Kate Harlow); Maya Mundi (ethnic & folk music from all points east), funky jazz with the jaw-droppingly great keyboardist Robert Muller, and an as-yet unnamed progressive rock trio with guitarist Mike Shepherd & bassist Tom Lantieri. Wayne also writes CD reviews for the on-line music site www.jazzreview.com.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


A group of Ariocarpus retusus with maybe a little bit of trigonus thrown in, flowering at a nursery in Chandler AZ yesterday. On sale for $60-$70 each, sadly out of my price range. Probably at least 50 years old, perhaps more like 75 or 80. Obviously, at a dollar a year, a bargain. Growing cacti makes me reflect on time scale and perspective.

We think of the music Jelly Roll Morton created as having happened a "long time ago." As in, perhaps, the year the seeds of the above plants germinated....

In fact, I tend to think of the 1980s as a "long time ago."

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix. What happens in Central Arizona in the summer: it's too hot for cacti. Most species go to sleep, usually completely full of water, unable to respirate at night because the temps stay around 80-90F. Cacti (except for a few oddballs) photosynthesize via Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, a system where the stomata open only at night. If it's too hot, the stomata don't open at all. When temps finally cool off in October, you can almost hear all the cacti breathing. So fall is like a miniature spring, lots of growth, lots of flowers, lots of catching up to do.

This fall has also been like spring for me, as my itch to get out and see the environs had to be stifled when it was 115F outside. In Santa Fe, I used to dream about getting out into the wilds all winter. When spring would finally arrive, I'd pretty much bail on everything and just hang out in the mountains. I hear it's freezing in Santa Fe now, with snow in the Sangres already.

Anyway, survival involves picking one's spots. Tempe Arizona is definitely a challenge in this regard. Endless strip malls, cavernous big box retail outlets absolutely everywhere, fast "food" on every corner and in every direction, all the traffic of a city and very few of the arts and culture highlights. A brief walk past the brand new multimillion dollar Tempe Center for the Arts emphasized the bizarre vacuity of this quick-buck town. "Let's invest a gazillion dollars in a state of the art theater and arts center and then...let's program the blandest, most vapid crap we can imagine for the inaugural season!" (The underlying assumption in the programming seems to be that locals are morons, unused to anything with cultural dimensions beyond your average Boston Pops or regurgitated television sitcom). It's a beautiful facility, pretty much a headstone on the freshly dug grave of vitality and risk. Adding to the forlorn contrast: it's on the waterfront of the ridiculous Tempe Town Lake, a manmade puddle full of the Salt River, created by floating inflatable rubber dams that are already at risk of collapsing, after a scant 9 years. Surely, someone has a devilish sense of humor, some billionaire somewhere with greedy fingers in a pie of "waterfront condos" and "lakeside resorts." If these contrasts don't somehow point to the End of the World, I'll eat my laptop.

The general attitude toward water here, where there's about 8 inches of rain in a good year, is simple. Obviously, there's an infinite amount of it. Every now and then a brave hydrologist (who obviously hasn't been hired by the above-mentioned billionaire) comes along, ruining the water party with absurd predictions of eventual catastrophe. No one pays any attention, perhaps waving away this party pooper, maybe muttering "Liberals! Democrats! Always trying to ruin our fun."

A quick thought spurred after the fact: Why is it that art these days in America usually only gets public funding if it is already perfectly suited to the commercial marketplace?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Perpetually Yours

Dan Melnick at Soundslope linked to an article that is a shining example of some honesty and clear perception of this music people insist on continuing to call "Jazz." The author, Salim Washington, tenor saxophonist and professor at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, gets so many things right, in my opinion. Reading the essay is like inhaling gulps of fresh air.

Washington's detailed analysis of Mingus' All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother and overviews of other performances from what was originally Candid's Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus shed light on the formalist strategies of Mingus the composer and arranger, in balance with his daring and innovative risk-taking. The Candid recordings in general, reissued or released for the first time in a miraculous box set by Mosaic about 17 years ago, are landmark performances in the history of the music. Washington frames the astonishing range and expressiveness of these sessions as "oneupmanship" with Ornette Coleman, which I'm not entirely sure I buy. But it doesn't matter. Washington insightfully chooses these dates as examples to support his central thesis:

"The entire history of jazz, with its rapid advancements of styles and genres, could be understood as an avant-garde movement. As historians attempt to frame jazz as the quintessential American music, it has become a symbol of United States culture, and is beginning to gain some of the intellectual prestige and institutional support previously reserved for the European art music tradition. As the more celebrated cultural and educational institutions of the country help jazz gain the reputation of a respectable, bourgeois art, its official face accepts an increasingly restrictive view of what is ‘real jazz’ and what is not. This is not only a matter of personnel and repertoire, but also of aesthetic criteria, and social/political orientation. The emerging canon of jazz history frames jazz as an American music rather than as an African-American music. No widely accepted jazz history text denies that the music is an African-American creation, or that most of its innovators have been black. In many dominant narratives, however, certain black social and aesthetic practices are routinely marginalized, if not rendered invisible. One way that these important emphases tend to be lost or misrepresented is by severing the avant-garde character from the mainstream of the music. Rather than explain avant-garde aesthetics as a primary principle of the music, jazz writers and critics have often chosen to isolate the avant-garde as a style practiced by a fringe element of the jazz community."

Important to note that on the same date for Candid that produced Bugs, Lock 'Em Up and a searingly stark and lovely version of Reincarnation of a Love Bird featuring Lonnie Hillyer, Booker Ervin, Dannie Richmond and Paul Bley, November 11 1960, 5 other tracks were laid down with the amazing line up of Roy Eldridge, Tommy Flanagan and Jo Jones, with Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Knepper added on three of them.

Canonical approaches to either so-called mainstream jazz or so-called free jazz often simply ignore these cross-fertilizing events. Outliers or anomalies. Curiosities. It's so much easier to construe a manageable history of the music by emphasizing aberration, by pathologizing the avant garde, or by formalizing the mainstream. Washington's thoughts center on certain socio-economic reasons for this willful ignorance.

Washington accurately speaks to the "litmus test" of be-bop as a reified, formalized style, and takes dead aim at the subtext of mainstream snobs everywhere (including on occasion the formidable Mr. Mingus himself) when they use the coded phrase "playing changes." Washington's reference to David Murray as an inscrutable figure in this regard is another shining insight. There are small quibbles (referring to Murray and Threadgill as "free boppers" misses something essential, namely the loving transcendence of be bop's hegemony altogether that this innovative period represents, especially standing on the cusp of the emergence of the regrettable "jazz repertory" movement of the '80s).

If I didn't have to get to my day job I'd write more, but it will have to wait. For now, another quote from Professor Washington's essay, which I'm rendering in 24 point type, printing, and nailing to the wall in my studio:

"Jazz at its best has always been a perpetual avant-garde movement."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Back in Tempe after a scattered and scattering week in Santa Fe for the High Mayhem Festival. I pulled out of the driveway in AZ at 9:30 in the morning and arrived on the dot for the 6:30 rehearsal with Chris Jonas' Rrake ensemble (Paul Brown, Jeremy Bleich, Milton Villarrubia III, Josh Smith, Mike Gamble and CJ) which went until about 11:30. Immediately afterwards drove up the mountain road and pitched a tent at the Black Canyon campground in Santa Fe National Forest, where I spent two nights. The second night, buckets of rain fell, of course. Just fine, really, and still exactly the edge of the wilderness I needed to shake out the endless stripmalls of central AZ. Besides, a few nights housesitting for JG and taking care of the sweetest dog in the history of the entire known quadruped universe took the only slightly rough edges off the camping experience.

The High Mayhem Festival itself seemed a huge success. Carlos Santistevan, the "curator" of the annual event, chose a new format for this year, with groups of similar performers clustered on each of the three days. Friday was "acoustic day," including the Cleveland Trio with Bleich, Smith and beautifully intense yet musical Cleveland drummer Carmen Castaldi. Rrake went on at about 12:30 am and played for a packed house until about 1:30.

The Traps event, originally planned for 6 drummers on 6 drumsets, benefited from the addition of Quinn Kirchner (who, as usual for a drummer these days, is involved in a billion projects, including Grilly Biggs). The performance was one of those oddly vanishing experiences: I remember going onstage, and leaving. What does Vijay Iyer call it at Destination Out...autoscopy. Al Faaet, Quinn, Mike Rowland, Dave Wayne, Joe Sabella and Milton Villarrubia III all played with extraordinary and deep listening. The array of 7 drumsets was a wonder to behold, especially in the load in area.

Great to be there, great to be a part of two wonderful performances. Some of my other highlight shows: CK Barlow and David Felberg doing Boulez' Anthemes 2, Mute Socialite from San Francisco (the buzz was all about Moe Staiano, quite rightly, but the other drummer, Shayna Dunkelman, completely tore it up as well. And what's not to love about guitarist Ava Mendoza?) The Late Severa Wires with JA Deane and Molly Sturges was also mind blowing.

There were, as usual, so many performances that grabbed me by the short hairs, packed into a measly three days, that I was definitely feeling overwhelmed by the time I hit the highway to return here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Not the Radisson, daddy-o

So it's that time of year again. Oh man.


Dan over at Soundslope swears it's totally cool to still say "stoked," so okay then, I'm stoked. There's been a certain amount of pissin' and moanin' around here lately, a certain perhaps overly Jeremiah-like ululation and wailing and renting of liner notes and gnashing of CDs. The annual advent of this uniquely extra-planetary, supernally and sempiternally wicked rad blast of searing sonic and visual adventure generally tends to restore my faith in...things.

I trek to The City of Holy Faith Tuesday, rehearse with Chris Jonas' Rrake ensemble, perform at midnight (just like a real crazy musician) on Friday, meet with the Mad Drummers for my "project," Traps, Saturday. The six of us get to our six drumsets at the magic hour of 6 PM on Sunday. There are so many xenophiles I'm looking forward to hearing and seeing at the fest as well as offstage.

Check out the unbelievable list of performers, among whom it is more than an honor and a privilege to be counted.

Anyone who reads this broadside and can get to Santa Fe for the weekend needs to go. Go, go, go. Go to the High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival. Go. To the High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival, go. Go.

If you live too far away or are infirm or do not, for some other reason, GO, print out the poster and put it up all over your town. It will, at least, confuse the no doubt already-addlepated citizenry.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Stapelia gigantea, a milkweed-family succulent from Africa, growing in a neighbor's front yard. The adaptation: carrion-scented flowers, pollinated by flies.

When my brother was a Midshipman, he told me the Marines had a saying: "Adapt and improvise."

His Naval Academy buddies also frequently used an acronym: "Bohica." It stands for "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again."

Speaking of sayings: the unreliable narrator and I have one that summarizes an approach to the music people still insist on calling "Jazz": "Real Book at the Radisson." Maybe you can already hear it. If not, imagine the typical upscale cruise ship atmosphere in any lobby bar in any business/upper middle class tourist oriented hotel in any town or city shooting for swank, imagine the piano trio with guest vocalist or guest alto player, imagine the setlist ranging from What's New? through maybe Wave to perhaps the adventurous arrangement of Green Dolphin Street or the blunt-force literalness of the sax feature of maybe Ornithology or the late night wild and crazy straight-six-eight of Footprints or even the jazzed up Beatles medley.

I've played these gigs. One of them was New Year's Eve, '85 into '86, at the King of France Tavern (I think it might be called The Treaty of Paris Tavern, actually) in Annapolis, MD, with the stunningly talented pianist and arranger Stef Scaggiari (perhaps best known for his brief, impeccably arranged variations of the All Things Considered theme on NPR). Stef used to host an open mic night there and I once jumped into the fray with a piano improvisation, sort of equal parts Gershwin-lite and ham-fisted ersatz Cecil Taylor. Scaggiari was nicely supportive and ended up calling me for the drum chair for the following New Year's gig (his regular drummer, a very talented DC session man, had bigger holiday fish to fry). Imagine my astonishment that the 4 hour gig paid $300. I figured I was finally launching my career as a professional musician.

Sadly, my bass player friend Steve Singer (on the gig on my recommendation) and I didn't really play very well at all. Actually, Steve played well. I pretty much stunk up the joint. Maybe I had a few too many free, very dry martinis; maybe I just had an "off night." But I insisted on wheeling out my less than integrated Elvin Jones chops, and some of the unevolved Tony Williams flourishes I had bastardized in a horrific overlay on my suburban white boy Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson roots. Not realizing how thoroughly inappropriate these half-assed references were for the setting, I pretty much bashed and busied my way out of any future gigs with Stef, and seemed to confuse everyone involved, including myself.

Unanchored by any wise elders, mentors, teachers or tradition, and coincidentally not very skilled at self-reflection and accurate self-assessment, I conveniently avoided learning anything at all from the experience. In fact, I remember feeling frustrated that Stef and Steve were so fuckin' square and couldn't go to all the multi-layered, polyrhythmic and envelope-pushing outlands in which I was so obviously completely at home. My immense ego could grasp that something wasn't working, musically, but that's as far as things could proceed.

One of my favorite Proverbs of Hell, from Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise."

And so it was, dear reader. Many more Real Book at the Radisson gigs before that fateful New Year's Eve and after, virtually every one of which was a study in everyone involved having chosen poorly, in reference to and including me. Another standout was a string of gigs one languid summer at a hotel in Santa Fe called, at the time, The Picacho Plaza, which is now, believe it or not, actually a Radisson. These gigs were a couple of nights a week, organized by a "jazz vocalist," whose name I have forgotten, with the impeccable musicianship of Santa Feans Sherman Rubin on piano and Spin Dunbar on bass. This was the summer of 1990, when I had left a 5 year relationship for a siren named Petra, a performance artist and dancer. She came to one of the gigs and yawned a lot. Sherman and Spin eventually tired of my showboating and got me fired.

Perhaps it is this string of utter artistic failures "in the tradition" that makes me want to eat my own arm off at the shoulder every time I hear "BeBop 2007" or "The Young (aging) Lions Play Exactly In The Style of Blue Note Circa 1966," or the "jazz repertory" sadness that gets all the surfaces right and completely misses the meaning (pace Eliot) or the irredeemably miserable Diana Krall, or the pale, millenial fireside warbling of Norah Jones. Those who can't do, criticize.

Yes, but in my own defense: I am completely and totally sent by, for example, the Herbie Nichols trio stuff with Max Roach and Al McKibbon. Or Miles and company coyly working over some idiotic fluff like If I Were A Bell. Or Elvin masterfully picking his spots on the Sonny Rollins Night at the Village Vanguard sessions. Or Sarah Vaughan, even on something as thin as Black Coffee.

I also want to gnaw madly at my extremities when I hear "Free Jazz" a la 2007. Ken Vandermark, for example, despite being well-funded and even immortalized now on the big screen, just misses the entire boat for me. Pick your poison and all that, of course. But the self-consciousness of it all completely bypasses the original vitality of the approach. "How to Take a Vital Tradition and Turn it Into Various Clunky Shapes Cast Entirely in Lead."

Cecil Taylor/Tony Oxley/Bill Dixon in 2002...a snapshot of part of what the "wise elders" are up to. Unrelentingly stunning, authentic, urgent, assured aural conjuring. Utter magic. Completely different: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's recent release, Hot 'n' Heavy, with Corey Wilkes. Bam, wake up. Wachet auf! Roscoe Mitchell, Harrison Bankhead, Corey Wilkes, Vincent Davis live a few months ago in Albuquerque: clarity, fire, roiling intensity, freshness, joy, depth. High concept music underpinned by earthy power as deep as you'd want to take it.

The contrast is absolute. The New Thing on CD is Real Book at the Radisson in a thousand thousand forms. It's nice. It's entertaining. It's a display of obviously highly crafted musicianship (usually with very tasty drumming). And if it weren't nailed to the perch it would be pushing up the Stapelias.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pushing Plastic

So Columbia has launched yet another Miles Davis marketing campaign. Surely someone could do a PhD on the various MD marketing campaigns from start to the current day. This new-ish one is peculiar in a lot of ways.

The insert included with both Miles Smiles and Round About Midnight yells: The Top-10 Must Have CDs of Miles Davis.

In a little box underneath: "Miles Davis recorded many masterpieces aside from Kind of Blue. Explore his rich, diverse musical world with the following CDs. (In alphabetical order.)"

A Tribute to Jack Johnson
Bitches Brew
In A Silent Way
In Person- Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk
Kind of Blue
Miles in the Sky
Miles Smiles
On The Corner
Round About Midnight
Sketches of Spain

This list is (like many lists) fascinating to examine. There's a lot of ways to take it apart, but I'm particularly interested in the marketing angle itself. 6 of the 10, surprisingly to me, were released from '67 to '72. It seems wild to me that On The Corner is included, surely a recording that can still give Kind of Blue fans serious indigestion. I'm personally pleased that so much of this late MD, pre-retirement, is being sold. To whom though? What's the target demographic?

Here's the blurb for On The Corner:

"Having turned around the jazz world and cracked the realm of progressive rock with such benchmark fusion albums as In A Silent Way and, especially, Bitches Brew, Miles Davis went for broke with On The Corner, perhaps the nastiest, streetiest (sic), most in your face "jazz" album of all time. Influenced by Sly Stone, James Brown as well as certain aspects of Indian music and the revolutionary modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, On The Corner remains a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. But there's no denying the raw power of its clattering, world-party grooves."

Is this high praise? It's funny, in my opinion. Love the neologism "streetiest."

Friday, September 07, 2007

The New Thing

Disclaimer: I almost never buy new releases and I am almost completely out of the loop regarding what's happening "now" in the strange music people still insist on calling "jazz."

Here's the list of new or recent releases that the radio station where I do my show, KSFR, just got in:

  1. Soulfive - No Place Like Soul (2007)
  2. Debbie Davies - Blues Blast (2007)
  3. Bobby Floyd - Notes to and From My Friends (2006)
  4. New York Voice - A Day Like This (2007)
  5. Charlie Hunter - Trio (2007)
  6. Carl Allen and Rodney Whitaker - Get Ready (2007)
  7. Diana Krall - The Heart of Saturday Night (2007)
  8. Knoxville Jazz Orchestra - Blues Man from Memphis (2007)
  9. Omer Avital Group - Room to Grow (2006)
  10. Jeff Hackworth - How Little We Know (2007)
  11. Illinois Jacquet - Swingin' Live (2006)
  12. Nine - Bring Back Pluto (2007)
  13. Armand Boatman - BeBop Revolution (2007)
  14. South 9 Ensemble - The Llama
  15. Charles Gatschet - Step Lightly (2007)
  16. Curtis Stigers - Real Emotional (2007)
  17. Ali Ryerson - Jammin' at the Jazz Corner (2007)
  18. The Shook/Russo Trio featuring Bob Butta (2007)
  19. Chris Potter - Follow the Red Line (2007)
  20. Mike Longo Trio - Float Like A Butterfly (2007)
  21. The Dan St. Marseille Quartet - Swinging with the Saint (2006)
  22. Wendy Fopeano - Raining on the Roses (2007)
  23. The Wonderful Jazz Ensemble - A Wish (2005)
  24. Sonny Fortune - You and the Night and the Music (2007)
  25. Christian Scott - Anthem (2007)
  26. Dale Fiedler Quartet - Plays the Music of Pepper Adams (2007)
  27. Bob Hamilton Trio - WixWax (2007)
  28. The Omer Avital Group - Asking No Permission (2005)
  29. Ted des Plantes Washboard Wizards - Thumpin' & Bumpin' (2006)
  30. Allan Harris - Nat King Cole: Long Live the King
  31. Grant Stewart - In the Still of the Night (2007)
  32. Joe Locke and 4 Walls of Freedom - Dear Life (2004)
  33. John Vance - Dreamsville (2007)
What the hell is all this stuff? I wish I had time to check it out and write some kind of incisive summary of The World of Jazz Today, but, for one thing, I'm 530 miles away from the station and for another, I just used some old Barnes and Noble Gift Cards from former students of mine, totaling $125, to pick up the following:

Miles Davis, Round About Midnight, the Legacy reissue with previously unreleased live recordings with the first quintet at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, as well as bonus tracks that are among my favorite sort of hard boppish MD, including Little Melonae and Budo.

Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, which I've had on vinyl since 1976 and it basically went completely smooth.

Duke Ellington, Newport, the amazing Phil Schaap reissue with the real live recordings released for the first time in stereo.

Ornette Coleman, Free Jazz, including First Take...I got lazy with this one because I had it on cassette for years (no First Take).

Art Blakey, A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1 and 2, the great band with Brownie, Donaldson, Horace Silver, Curly Russell. This, I also had on cassette, recorded in about 1974 from the vinyl I borrowed from the Bethlehem Public Library.

Cannonball Adderly, Somethin' Else, a recording I somehow never heard before.

Someone, anyone, name one title from the above radio station list that a). you will still want to hear 33 years from now, b). will be coveted in reissue by people like me approximately 20 years after that, c). that you are likely to be able to listen to over and over again at recurring intervals for the next 50 years and hear something thrilling or new nearly every time. Oh I know, it's not fair to compare the above artists to Miles, Duke, Blakey, Cannonball, Ornette. Or maybe it's not fair to compare the radio station list with such classics as I picked up at Barnes and Noble. Okay, maybe you have a point, sort of. Except that I'd probably be excited if the radio station suddenly got the entire Blue Note catalogue, for example, from 1957. Or maybe even every Columbia Jazz release from 1967.

So why isn't it fair? And even if it's not fair, what does that in itself say about what has happened to this ugly stepchild of American musical culture that people still insist on calling "Jazz"?

Talk about leading questions. You know and I know that we all know the answer.

By the way, Sonny Fortune and Illinois Jacquet are incredible musicians, but I'm skeptical of the above releases. Chris Potter's disc might be worth a whirl. And one of the groups unknown to me, The Dale Fiedler Quartet, playing the music of Pepper Adams, sounds like it's worth a listen. But let's say I can still hear in 2057, let's say I quit smoking and take up yoga and don't get hit by a bus...what then, when I'm 96?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are You Glad to be In America? vol. 1

Okay, maybe an easy target. So sue me. This (sadly broken) CD was at the corner thrift store, Gracie's, for 25 cents. Except it was the monthly half price day, so I guess it was 12.5 cents. Did you know there was a Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders? Did you know there was both "Beginner's Music" and "Advanced Music"? And then the Spirit Mix. I wish the CD itself were playable, as it gets my imagination going. But I guess I'll just have to imagine that perhaps the "Beginner's Music" is in some sort of duple meter, the "Advanced Music" is maybe in five and uses a few microtonal flourishes and the "Spirit Mix" is something like Ayler.

A friend of mine who requests anonymity teaches Comp 101, you know, freshman writing. On the student questionnaire for the happy, relaxed, get-acquainted days of the early semester, one of the questions was: If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be? A few students put Jesus; one student put Ronald Reagan. Many students answered the "ethnic background" question by writing "white." Or "American."

If I could meet anyone from history, it might be the graphic designer of the FCC Cheer Mix CD, so I could ask: why the dancing mouse?

On another front entirely, yet somehow still from within the borders of this Great Nation of Ours, this excerpt from Katherine Stubblefield's moving account of Max Roach's funeral:

"If I recall correctly, at around this time Stanley Crouch spoke... it was amusing to hear a few groans from our position in the balcony...and one person called out that he only has five
minutes... anyway, thank you Stanley Crouch for speaking well of Max Roach."

I wonder if Crouch was before or after Bill Cosby? Or the reading of Bill Clinton's letter? And thank God that Crouch spoke well of Roach, thank God he didn't say something like "You critics would have totally ignored a Wynton album with Roach on it but you practically sainted the man for playing with Braxton."

As to what may or may not have been discussed in the foyer of Riverside Church either pre or post memorial, only the hallowed walls can tell.

Maybe as a karmic offset for buying the FCC Cheer Mix for 12.5 cents and eagerly ripping it open only to find it unplayable, a lot of kind folks have been sending me music lately. The wonderful free improvising saxophonist from down under, Massimo Magee, sent me his recent recording, "To Those for Whom No Time Exists." Kevin Frenette sent me a CD I haven't had time to listen to yet. Ditto Stanley J Zappa. Ditto guitarist Lily Maase. Massimo's title more appropriately for me could have been "For Those Who are Chronically Out of Time." Double or perhaps triple irony intended.

And I've sent the extraordinary duo recording of Paul Rutherford/Paul Lovens from '76/'77 to the fine fantabulists at Destination Out, so maybe we'll see parts of that up there soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Max Roach

There's a wealth of Roach tributes pouring out, quite rightly, all over the web. What jumped into my mind on first hearing the news of Roach's passing was his solo on Valse Hot, a Prestige recording with Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and George Morrow. This was one of the workouts that Andrew had me try to cut my teeth on when I first started lessons with him. I'm reminded also that I had started drums at about age 5 or so, and had been studying and playing, sometimes fanatically, for roughly 23 years by the time I worked with Andrew. And I had heard Roach's solo on Valse Hot maybe 50 or 100 times by the time Andrew put its architecture in front of me.

I had never tried to work through it, had never approached 3/4 in the absolutely literal way that Roach deadpans his way through it. The experience absolutely kicked my skinny Irish ass. It's not conceptually very difficult, really. The idea: boom chick chick, boom chick chick. Right foot, left foot, left foot. Then just layer patterns over the top. But in the way that Roach's conception was always deceptively simple, capturing this pattern in a convincing way, with musicality of phrasing, with his sense of absolute confidence, proved highly challenging for me. The process of transcribing the solo was eye opening and deeply humbling in many ways.

And this goes to so many different layers of musicology and beyond. The drums, in particular, attract a lot of wankers. There were some street drummers out last night at the corner of Mill and Fourth Streets in the execrable (supposedly hip) "downtown" area of Tempe. (More about that in another post). These 3 young drummers had some moves, for sure. They had choreographed some pretty slick stuff and executed some impressive sticking, some flashy acrobatics. I admired their flash and the ways they worked together. I also admired their mastery of the rudiments and their stick control. But there was not much music in the end result. I have nothing against flash. And Roach had plenty of flash himself (his hi hat solos, for but one example). But Roach also made music. Always.

He was an artist first and a drummer second. And I can clearly hear that the end result of this sort of priority is that one becomes massively expert on one's instrument. But the technique is in the service of some sort of statement. Roach was always saying something. Some great drummers are sometimes simply saying "look at how great I am."

One of my growing up moments was moving from Buddy Rich to Max Roach. (and Elvin Jones, and, perhaps oddly, regaining more appreciation for Gene Krupa). The public library where I grew up had a record called "Rich versus Roach," and the role of that record changed over time...from justifying my Buddy Rich fetish to highlighting my newfound respect for Roach. There's a lot I still admire about certain Rich performances (especially excerpted from the cornball contexts that Rich often stooped to). And no matter how much Rich's snare technique can still floor me, if I want to hear the drums as an instrument capable of making music, I'd rather hear Roach in a heartbeat.

What's echoing in my head now is Roach on Bemsha Swing, from Monk's Brilliant Corners. Roach on tympani. Then what piles in is the extended duet with Cecil Taylor from 1979. That this same artist confidently spans these styles and is instantly recognizable is a miracle of American musical culture.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Valley Fever

At first, I figured Valley Fever was just a catchall name for the crazy behavior one sometimes sees exhibited by residents of Central Arizona, probably caused by the searing heat and overexposure to strip malls, strip clubs, road construction and big box retail. Turns out that Valley Fever is an actual fungal infection.


Strange: landmarks here are constituted by a bewildering array of drug stores, supermarkets, chain restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse and Chili's, gas stations and department stores. Problem: It would seem simple enough to remember that Trader Joe's, for example, is located in a plaza at an intersection with a huge Walgreen's. However, it's an identical plaza with a huge Walgreen's, maybe 5 blocks south of the one closer to the house.

Beautiful: the saguaros and other cacti in people's yards.
Ugly: Just about everything else.

I started work as a part time High School algebra 1 teacher last week, rumbling through endless orientation and set up activities. Classes start Monday. I'll be teaching about 50 (mostly) 9th graders at a charter school that focuses on the arts. The pay is unbelievably low and the hours are actually relatively long, as well as the professional requirements being fairly detailed. Call me crazy, but I'm stoked.

Also stoked about the High Mayhem Festival next month. The schedule isn't completely finalized, but I know through the grapevine that Chris Jonas's Rrake project (I'll be on drums) is Friday, 9/21 and my own Traps performance (with 6 drummers on 6 drumsets) is Sunday, 9/23. I don't think I'll be able to get to Santa Fe this month so it's especially exciting to have this in the offing.

Also stoked about an "audition" for The Phoenix New Times, writing one of their arts and culture event previews for the section called Night&Day. The paper devotes an entire page to every day of the week, with short pieces of about 150 words for three or four events each day.

Do people still say "I'm stoked"? If not, let's just say "I'm old" and leave it at that. Maybe it's all of the Hawaiian shirts I bought at Gracie's Thrift Store last week. Dude.

I notice checking out the blog rounds that there's been a recent flurry of commentary on Kieth Jarrett's recent outburst in Perugia. I don't have any strong opinions on any of it yet. The only thing that comes to mind is my recent hour-long telephone conversation with Sonny Rollins and attending a wonderful Meet the Artist event where Rollins was interviewed by AB Spellman, as well as the stunning Rollins performance the following Sunday night. Without saying a word, Rollins exudes dignity, humility of a strong and centered spirit, a sense of humor, a sense of perspective and gratitude. There isn't one molecule of kow-tow nor any shred of the submissive in Rollins. Yet, at the same time, there is no sense of brittleness nor of self-seriousness. In describing to a friend of mine how solid Mr. Rollins seems, he said "Man, if I had accomplished even one tenth of what Rollins has, I'd be the biggest prick in the world." Interesting perspective.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Into the Hot

Apparently, the Hohokam name for Phoenix was "Hoodzo," which literally means "the place is hot." So far the biggest surprise is the humidity, actually. I had no idea that this area received an influx of monsoonal moisture every summer. It feels and looks tropical outside, palm trees towering over the apartment buildings behind our back yard.

Music? I still haven't discovered much. Well, I've only been here 5.5 days. These things take time, like at least 8 days or so. I checked out the Phoenix Creative Music Movement's web site again and sent an email but it got kicked back. So I'll have to see about it some other way. We took a drive into downtown Phoenix last night and saw a few blues clubs here and there, but nothing particularly interesting yet.

Meanwhile Chris Jonas' Rrake project goes up again in preparation for the '07 High Mayhem Festival Sept. 21-23, so I'll be headed back to Santa Fe for some rehearsal, hopefully dovetailing with a rehearsal for the Traps project.

Friday, August 03, 2007

front yards, insane and otherwise

The top photo is our front yard in Tempe. The bottom photo is a neighbor's front yard. We've had to mow the front yard three times since July 20th thanks to flood irrigation. The neighbor just gets to be awe inspired by completely xeric cacti.

It's not fair, nor is it sane. Grass grows in Kentucky. In the Sonoran, do as the Sonorans do.

selling out

My blog is worth $9,032.64.
How much is your blog worth?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What the?

well hey, here I am in Tempe. How strange is that? Listening to Corey Wilkes play two trumpets on the title track of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's Hot 'n' Heavy. It's playing on my own radio show, which I recorded last Thursday...streaming on the web from www.ksfr.org.

AND I finally managed to put together a workable home studio to record the show here, putting August 16th's show in the can this morning. I was all set to use the MBox2 but the sucker wouldn't power up from the USB so I ended up just running the stereo into a mixer and the mixer (mic included) directly into the 1/8 mic input on the back of the Mac G5. Recording using the free recording software Audacity, which seems to work just fine. The mic sound isn't so great, but it's a loaner mic, a loaner mixer...the whole deal ended up costing me $15 in cables and adapters.

Job offer: full time middle school math teaching with an additional high school algebra I class for about half what my last full time teaching position paid. Great school, great people. I just can't do the deal anymore...I might be teaching part time at the same school, maybe music theory. It was interesting to note my reaction to being offered the job, which was a sort of kneejerk "great, when do I start?" Only after I slept on it overnight did some clarity come my way.

Generally: the feeling is I have fallen into a vortex of disarray. I'm sure everything will sort itself out after a bit more time.

The internet fortune tellers at astrodienst actually back me up this time:

Favorable results**
Your energies are high, you feel good, and you believe that you can do twice as much work as usual, which you probably can. This time is also favorable for most business activity, for your actions are blessed with insight that helps you succeed in business where others might fail. For the same reason, this is a good time for making decisions. You have a very clear sense of yourself and your needs, so that you can make decisions according to your best interests, in the largest and most enlightened sense of the phrase. If you must take chances or do something that you can't foresee the outcome of, this is as good a time as any. Your optimism now creates a positive energy that will attract favorable results from your gamble. Besides, you have the sense at this time to avoid any real risky ventures.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Duology Two Links

Canned improv available here, with me on piano on all tracks:

rosS Hamlin
guitar, invisible hand puppets

Molly Sturges
voice, effects

Carlos Santistevan

JSA Lowe

JA Deane
samples, live samples

Milton Villarrubia III

Recorded live at The College of Santa Fe, Friday, July 6, by Fly On The Wall Productions. (Thanks again, Stephen Schmidt).

Much gratitude to the performers for bringing so much to this second Duology. Some performers bringing what they brought despite recovery from serious illness, impending marriage, moving 500 miles away, leaving for Verona the following day, having just returned from a two week tour, etc.

Many thanks, also, to a certain indispensable person for hosting on her server (you know who you are). It took forever due to the file size, transitional internet unavailability, the downloading of Fetch, etc. A long time that could otherwise have been spent on packing, wrangling with utility companies, etc. My gratitude is suffused with sheepish guilt.

The technology thing had me in its jaws also much of yesterday, doing the regular radio show and then back in the studio at 6:30 to produce the Sonny Rollins interview, not done until 11:30. It's actually still not done: the segment of East Broadway Rundown came out too hot, with distorted peaks during the opening head, and I would like to put a Lester Young mix behind Sonny's comments during a brief section. Don't know if I'll have time before the interview airs on KSFR, Thursday, July 26, from 1-3 Mountain Time. I did get a condensed text version into the Santa Fe Reporter for publication on July 25, a record 13 days in advance.

Mr. Rollins is a very thoughtful man who does not jump immediately into responses to questions, at least not on the phone. The first go through the interview involved a painstaking edit of the plain voice file, tightening up the pauses, removing both his and my own ums and so on. Splicing musical selections, both on their own and as backgrounds, took the rest of the time. The total time with music ends up at 63 minutes, so I'll have to broadcast it in two sections during the 1-3 time slot. (remarkably, the total time of the raw voice recording is 60 minutes, and I added perhaps 12 minutes of music yesterday, which means I edited out roughly 9 minutes of ums and pauses.....)

Enjoy the above *free music* and let me know what you feel about it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Excavation/Two by Shepp

Going through vinyl in preparation for the move to Tempe, I found a couple of Archie Shepp albums I haven't heard in a long time. One, Pitchin' Can, on America records, contains an extended blowing piece called Uhuru (Dawn of Freedom) with Shepp, Bobby Few, Bob Reid, Clifford Thornton, Mohamed Ali, Al Shorter, Djibrill, Ostaine Blue Warner and Lester Bowie. The other piece on the record is the title track, with Shepp, Sunny Murray, Clifford Thornton, Julio Finn, Noah Howard, Leroy Jenkins, Dave Burrell, Earl Freeman and Chicago Beau. Apparently recorded in Paris in 1969 and 1970, the album is yet another outgrowth of the exodus (whether temporary or more long term) of creative musicians to France near the end of the '60s.

The other record unearthed is simply titled Archie Shepp/Philly Joe Jones, and has Anthony Braxton, Chicago Beau, Shepp, Julio Finn, Leroy Jenkins, Earl Freeman and Philly Joe Jones. This one is from the same brief period; Paris 1970. (I notice some of the other vital extended sessions Shepp participated in from this time, including Alan Silva's Luna Surface and Sunny Murray's BYG sessions and work with Grachan Moncur III). The two performances recorded here: Lowlands and Howling in the Silence. Apparently, Philly Joe Jones was teaching at a school in London from 1967-1969, although he was prevented from working there because of the British musician union rules.

I can't hear much Braxton on this recording, with Shepp very hot in the mix and Chicago Beau's vocals an urgent and also overly hot scream. There's a lot of Leroy Jenkins though, which is a pleasure. Philly Joe Jones brings some serious muscle to the loose 6/8 of much of Lowlands. His approach is completely different from Max Roach's ferocious fluidity on the duets with Cecil Taylor from 1979; much more metrical and articulated. The overall effect is free jazz blues tinged with hard bop and not particularly integrated. It's a mad swirl of chaos, especially when Julio Finn's (or Chicago Beau's?) harmonica comes through. Braxton's soprano sax sounds more like a Middle Eastern reed instrument than a sax.

Howlin' in the Silence starts with some piano from Shepp (sounding very influenced by another of his collaborators of the time, Dave Burrell). Leroy Jenkins states a sweet, minor theme and Braxton finally gets some angular, sere time on alto that quickly morphs into screams and guttural shards, with Philly Joe dancing on the brushes. The spoken word seems to work better here. (The consensus among Vision Festival attendees this year seems to be that free players should dispense with spoken word, but I usually find it an affecting mix. There's something about language brought to the swirl that has always seemed a fitting contrast to me). Leroy Jenkins gets some stretching time on this piece, and this may be why I had avoided spinning the disc much when I was younger. It took me a long while to get next to free jazz strings in general; I guess I was assisted mostly by Ramsey Ameen's work with Cecil Taylor's late '70s Unit. Now Philly Joe Jones has launched into a melodic excursion in 6, brushes mixing snare and toms in his trademark way. Now we're back in the blues, well a sort of cubist blues. Shepp is also back on tenor; Braxton in flights on alto as well. It's great to hear Braxton with Philly Joe Jones behind him. Surreal, but lovely.

Pitchin' Can bears some resemblance to the above recording, except that the approach of Uhuru is nonmetrical, roiling and shimmering in the archetypal "energy music" style. Shepp gets more of his signature full-toned blowing time, and Clifford Thornton is particularly effective on valve trombone , coming in and out. Some of Shepp's phrases here are reminiscent of one of my favorite recordings of all time, The Magic of Ju-Ju. Thornton gets some butt-kicking solo time. He's one of the players from this time by whom I am always surprised, and when I hear some of what he did, I always want to hear more. Alan Shorter takes an all-too-short solo on flugelhorn. Sadly, stepped on by the ululation of the word "Uhuru" by Shepp. Burrell's playing is full and dramatic, awash with chords and sparkling lines. Oddly, yet again, as I'm just getting next to what Burrell is doing, it's overpowered by more shouting.

The title track comes as a surprise after the ferocity of Uhuru. It's a sort of uptempo All Blues riff, that stays in the tonic. Sunny Murray keeps impeccable time. I would have liked to hear more Noah Howard . In general, on both recordings, I want to hear more from the remarkable personnel. Not that I am not always inspired to hear Shepp.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Inside Out

Interesting conversation at Settled in Shipping spurred by Dave Douglas and his reflections on Ethan Iverson's '90s post. Interesting to me anyway. I could examine the question of "inside" versus "outside" endlessly, and seem to have been doing just that for many months now.

The whole conversation originates from the wonderful Jazz in the '90s series of posts at Destination: Out. Here's an interesting quote from Ethan Iverson's blog:

"There was very little Branford in D:O!'s final tabulation: in fact, the only mention was Crazy People Music on Nate Chinen's list. This was only to be expected, since the wonderful D:O! site focuses on free jazz, and its readers would probably be generally not interested in the music of the Marsalises and other players who made such a point of bringing back earlier styles of jazz. Further, Branford is a loudmouth who has said dismissive words about Cecil Taylor and 70's jazz. If you love the kind of music that is hosted at D:O!, it is only natural to be skeptical of him, his brother Wynton, and other musicians associated with that circle."

I'd like to write at some length about this so-called "skepticism," eventually offering some other far more appropriate (for me) terms.

I think, for me, I'm actually "skeptical" of the music itself. You know, Miles Davis was a loudmouth who said dismissive things about more than a few of my other heroes, but that hasn't prevented me from holding almost everything he ever did in very high esteem. Musically. If Davis had been unable to make unbelievably compelling and ridiculously innovative music for 50 straight years, then I'd be skeptical. Who cares, really, what who says about Archie Shepp or Ornette or Cecil Taylor or Eric Dolphy? When I get right down to where my resistance comes from, it has absolutely nothing to do with these politics, nor does it have to do with "bringing back earlier styles of jazz." I think Sonny Rollins playing Mack the Knife on Saxophone Colossus is just fine, thank you (for example).

More on this later. Probably more than most people will care to read.............

Sunday, July 01, 2007

work in progress

Sonny Rollins on the phone yesterday: "I'm still learning. I'm still trying to find the way to express myself. I'm still a work in progress." 77 years old, a monumental figure, a nearly 60 year recording career, a resume that stretches from Harlem to the outer reaches of the galaxy. A work in progress.

Many other memorable quotes which will be distilled in a 550 word piece in the Santa Fe Reporter Wednesday, July 25. The entire interview (after some serious editing) on KSFR Thursday, July 26, 1:30 MT.

My own experience one of enormous stress, a state of fairly high anxiety. I only realized this after the interview was over. I'm such a noob at this, having only interviewed Jane Ira Bloom, Roscoe Mitchell and Sonny Rollins for the radio. (Print interviews with the somewhat less intimidating, for a variety of reasons, Peter Nero, Quincy Troupe and JA Deane). I imagine what it would be like to interview an artist and not know anything at all about him or her. Actually, it's not knowing about the career or the work or whatever, it's the personal hero factor. It came up also when meeting and spending a few hours with Cecil Taylor a couple of years ago in Albuquerque. The feeling for me is the surreal collision of a formerly exclusively private, personal universe with the outside world. It's an experience of meeting or conversing with an archetype. As if one of the major arcana from the tarot, or one of the planet gods, were to have a phone number. Significant figures who have not been introjected so thoroughly would not lead to such discomfort. Like who? Cormac McCarthy, Derek Walcott, Yo Yo Ma, for a few examples. Or the ease and "no big deal" experiences I had when I would meet celebrities who were parents of students when I worked at the swanky school in Los Angeles. Admittedly, it was still surreal when, for example, Bruce Willis would come to a parent-teacher conference, but just humorously or curiously so, not (for me) intimidating or paradigm shifting.

Where this collision is heightened says a lot about my spiritual values, about my experience of "art." About a belief system that ascribes great power to authorship, to the individual person "behind" the work itself. "Hero worship" in a variety of forms, lending great energy to the belief that certain artists are more than human, or have a mythical power of some kind. Interestingly, I think a part of this is the co-existing belief that I lack that power myself. Maybe waking up to some of these dynamics is just another in a huge tidal wave of opportunities lately to gain some perspective and proportion.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

free form

Been digging around this morning for as much sense as I can muster in preparation for the conversation with Sonny Rollins later today. Bret Primack's videos on YouTube, linked from Rollins's website, are recommended. It's especially interesting to hear a little more about Rollins's experience of popular culture (movies, radio) in his youth in Harlem.

This conversation between David S Ware and Rollins is definitely worth reading, too.

The more I approach Rollins as musician and person the more I am reminded of the "Inside Out" ethos. This is something along the lines of music as a totality, a continuum, in particular with the so-called avant garde and mainstream forms of jazz as highly artificial and unfortunate distinctions created by a so-called "free market" economy in order to limit freedom and limit choice (as always, by creating the illusion of choice). Musicians who have themselves bought this line of bullshit hook line and sinker (on either side of the illusory divide) seem to me to be legion these days. Rollins captures something about it, having spanned nearly 60 years in performance and recording. There's a sound I hear in his playing that's pure of this self-consciousness, burning bright without worry about where the music "fits" or what "it is." The saddest thing about "post-modern" "jazz" is its referential, stylistic obsession, its endless catalogueing of various styles and approaches from the past, but in a distanced way that has not absorbed the spirit. The leading edges of this approach in its earlier days in the 80s had not only the formal and stylistic elements and mannerisms but also the heart that transcended style in the first place. It seems a fear of simply being oneself in one's music permeates the "industry." Rollins is a wise elder now who captures this very freedom, a kind of relaxed and unconcerned phosphorescent brightness and immediacy with neither backward looking conservativism nor "neoism."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Listen, Sonny

I've got an interview with Sonny Rollins scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, in advance of his appearance here and in Albuquerque as part of the New Mexico Jazz Festival. Rollins is a true "cultural exception," whose nearly 60 years of recording (if I have it right, his first session in the studio was with Babs Gonzales in January of 1949, when he was 19 years old) includes a series of remarkable and risky maneuvers. I suddenly, however, feel like I know next to nothing about Rollins, despite listening to his music since I was about 9. Some serious homework is in order.

In the spirit of blind ignorance, I ask my readers: what would you ask Mr. Rollins if you had him on the phone? Here's my initial ideas, aided by my old friend Emery: Why the pianoless trio at VV? What about East Broadway Rundown? The brief period with Don Cherry, Henry Grimes and Billy Higgins, what was the impetus behind that? Any solo tenor performances in the works? I wonder if Rollins has heard the Vandermark 5 Free Jazz Classics? New band, new CD?

I gave Sonny, Please! a first listen this morning. Rollins's playing is stunning; his tone, his phrasing, his spirited and playful, utterly relaxed yet energized statements. It amazes me sometimes how the masters can deliver thoroughly satisfying work for me in settings and styles that otherwise are not so much my cup of tea. (I feel this way about Miles Davis on Aura and Amandla, for example, or Elvin Jones in some of the settings he's been in, or Lester Bowie on David Bowie's Black Tie/White Noise).

Off to lucubrate, any and all suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Echinocereus fitchii and Coryphantha scheeri (top) add their ephemeral glories to summer '07.

Cecil Taylor's For Olim in the background (actully, really frikkin' loud) on a 90 degree day.

The small flashes and sparks around here have to do with MONEY, BABY. That's right....bread, scratch, cold hard cash. Because what is money really? I ask. The school I used to work for had a generous donor who used to say "Money is just energy." I've known plenty of people who think money is bad, except that they wish they had more of it. I don't know very many rich people who think money is bad, but Santa Fe does have them: "Liberals" or "progressives" who are all chagrined and conflicted and embarrassed about having money.

If money is just energy, how can it be bad? Energy is neutral.

I guess I'm not really thinking about money as much as I am thinking about transactions. The exchanges that get us money or in which we lose it. A transaction is based on some sort of explicit or tacit agreement that both parties are a means to some sort of end. The ends in an employee/employer transaction are significantly different for both parties. As an employee, I'm agreeing to provide some sort of labor or service in exchange for money (energy) that I use to survive (shelter, food, clothes, etc.) As an employer I agree to pay an employee because, for whatever reason, I need that employee's labor or service.

But here's one way the transaction gets strange. The employee needs to survive, whereas the employer simply needs a particular task done. The stakes are much higher for the employee, and the pay can't really match how high those stakes are. The stakes are low for the employer, because the employee can be anyone, anyone at all, really (even in specialized fields it doesn't seem to take all that long to find a "replacement.") The dispensable employee is relying on the agreement for indispensable means of survival. This is probably why employees seem to set out to make themselves indispensable somehow, always a losing a game. In an employer/employee situation, no employee is indispensable. Having been one of the founders of a private school in 1994 and fired by the Board of the same school a short 7 years later teaches that kind of lesson. My father, who was in labor relations at Bethlehem Steel for 32 years, found himself forced into early retirement in the 1980s. One imagines that a 32 year commitment to a corporation entitles one to some generous treatment, but the agreement was never about that to begin with.

Maybe this is particularly clear to me as a drummer in a small town with about two dozen working drummers. How it is that a particular musician becomes "in demand" and manages to stay in that position for any length of time is a real mystery to me. It's certainly not chops; life as a musician has taught me that no matter how hard I woodshed, there's always some phenomenal player out there coming around the corner, setting fire to his snare drum with a faster single stroke roll, or whatever. It seems to me to be an ineffable quality of combined personality and ear that gets musicians hired in any reliable way. But it's a mystery.

From a larger perspective, it's strange making music within the framework of an employer/employee transactional economy. As a sideman, or even in a "collective" situation where everyone makes the same amount of money, it's hard for me to equate the actual music making with the transactional situation. I have played unbelievably cheesy, easy gigs that paid a relatively large amount, and very very tough and challenging gigs that didn't pay a dime. I've had great fun and gotten paid well and had a miserable time and gotten paid well, or poorly, or not at all. I've been told by leaders that I was exactly what they were looking for and then not gotten a call back; I've been on rockier ground and had steady work. It seems that my music life is an exaggerated version of my overall work life: a series of odd mysteries and strange transactions over which I've had very little control. The single constant has been the desire to survive, a rather bare naked animalistic thread on which to hang one's dealings with the world. But in all of its forms, no matter how elaborate-seeming, it is what it is.

The desire to make music is somehow separate for me from the desire to survive. Sometimes feeling even "in spite of" the desire to survive. I'll have to puzzle over that. And my apologies to readers for whom the above all seems entirely rudimentary and transparently obvious.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Facts and Honesty

"we bring the civilization of the universe to a decadent anti-civilization. I don't have to point out to you, a very intelligent young man, the signs of decadence that abound, the destruction, carnage that abounds, the wars, the greed, man's inhumanity to man that abounds. That is the opposite of what the music is about, and most people are starved for the opposite of those things. Therein lies the power of the music: enlightenment, awareness, uplifting, inspiration, never be the same, clarity, vision, heightened, senses heightened; facts and honesty."- Walt Dickerson in part one of a great interview I'm slowly digesting over at Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches.

Be sure to download Dickerson's solo vibes performance, a post or two above the interview at Dark Forces, and give it a close listen as well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

aesthetic orthorexia

A brand new disorder I hereby claim as my own little invention. First, check this out for background.

But surely, man cannot live by no bread alone!

I hereby swear off all forms of human expression that are not raw. I am henceforth on a Raw Art diet. No art for me that's been sullied by the greasy fingers of commerce. No artificial ingredients in my art. No derivativists, preservationists or genetically modified lineages. Only pure, raw art. By restricting my soul's exposure to only these empyrean expressions, perhaps someday I too will become a Raw Artist.

Processed art? Bah! Raw Artist Manifesto! Raw Artist Manifesto! Raw Artist Manifesto! etc.

Into the Fire: Miles! Trane! Rollins! Monk! the first to go. Then Cecil, Art Ensemble, Braxton, Ornette! impure, impure. Sullied by long-antiquated structures! Even Henry Grimes! Away! (if he had stayed off the scene, then he would have been RAW, but his triumphant comeback is a total disgrace). And all the ones influenced by the above, all who have so much as admired for the briefest moment the false prophecy of their seductive siren songs!

Let's see....who is left? It's awfully quiet on a raw art diet. True, but perfection, absolute purity of motive, of presentation, of the very soul itself...these refined realms require sacrifice!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Links/New Video

I have been visiting several blogs by improvising musicians and add them to the sidebar. More to come. There's also a new link section, "Televising the Revolution," inspired by small business visionary Marc Choyt, where I'd like to gather links to sites questioning the 19th Century economic models that still consciously or unconsciously drive people's thinking (not to mention Feudalism, etc.) Choyt applies Native American ideas to economics; any and all suggestions for other creative approaches are welcome.

Adding links is a really tiresome and cumbersome process for me, involving an elaborate dance of cutting and pasting. I do not know how to just sail through html, although I suppose I could at least learn the peculiar little string of code in the template and maybe make the process more facile. I develop idiosyncratic work-arounds with technology all the time and sometimes wonder what it would be like to actually learn how to use it.

For those who haven't checked out YouTube in a while, I highly recommend a revisit. I only had time to search Anthony Braxton and Miles Davis, but found several new multipart videos of wonderful performances from both. I might have time to do another YouTube tour soon; otherwise, my suggestion is "Go thou and search!"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Beast at Trough

My 14 year and 2 month old mutant black lab, Fiona, enjoying my nanny-like largesse.

An odd thread has run through recent days regarding torture. I had a dream the other night that I just remembered earlier today about a torture device that was a body-sized stainless steel grill with gas jets for heat, on which people who were enemies of the State would be fried alive, one side at a time, with the heat gradually being turned up. This dream was followed by reading an article wondering if "horror films have gone too far," examining the delightful (supposedly new) genre "gorn," spurred on by the release of the movie Hostel II. Apparently, among other varied and creative depictions of intense suffering, this bit of summer fluff features a long scene in which a woman is hanged upside down, blindfolded, poked with some sort of implement and finally sliced open in various degrees and bathed in cascades of her own blood. Today, thanks to be-jazz linking to Brian Olewnick's blog, I was treated to a John Zorn CD cover image of some sort of unbelievably gruesome torture from somewhere in Asia.

What does it all mean, I ask?

No answer yet. So what about John Zorn anyway? The article and commentary Mwanji links to is from The New Republic. A writer named David Hadju offers up one of those "spurned lover" pieces that pretends objectivity of an odd sort but is in fact dripping with sour-grape-i-tude. I know next to nothing about Zorn's music, having only heard the delightfully punk-infused, rambunctious Spy vs. Spy, Zorn's set of covers of Ornette Coleman compositions, and a few of the ultra-brief tracks from Torture Garden. (Yeah, I know, there it is again). But I know Hadju's style of snark quite well, having lived with the inside of my own head for nearly 46 years now.

One thing: at some point in the trajectory of every admired, respected, opinionated, stubborn and iconoclastic artist it becomes fashionable for members of the press (which now, in the age of Web 2.0, includes me, and you, and everyone we know) to pile on. Read some of the original reviews of, for example, Miles Davis's recordings from 1969-1975. (Ron Brown, in Jazz Journal, "reviewing" On the Corner: "I'd like to think that nobody could be so easily pleased as to dig this record to any extent.") I was astonished, years ago, to find a short "review" of a Cecil Taylor performance in The New York Times, acidly penned by none other than Peter Watrous, castigating Taylor for his precious Romanticism and aimless, self-indulgent noodling. I had to dig out my copy of CT's splendid solo piano set on For Olim and double check to see if, in fact, it was the same Peter Watrous who wrote this in the liner notes, published perhaps two years earlier: "Taylor touches the piano like no one else in the world, eliciting a tone that is at once steely and fragile. He draws on a frighteningly extreme range of emotions in his performances, making him perhaps the most unabashedly candid performer alive. Devoid of any simply defined attractiveness, his playing moves into areas of raw intensity which, in their straightforwardness, take on a singular beauty."

So maybe you're wondering what this has to do with my new obsession, JAZZONOMICS? Well, there's this: hip writers revel in the obscure and the undiscovered, revel in the role of having esoteric knowledge of outsider figures doing strange new things, revel in their own self-constructed role of Messianic tastemaker for the ignorant consumer. Many music writers are like the guy we all know who seems to always have that legendary bootleg or out of print recording that is always "better" than the one we admire. (I encountered this guy yet again recently when I was innocently enough expressing my admiration for the opening section of MD's Black Beauty; said individual finding it necessary to rave on and on about a series of cassette bootlegs of the same band that are "infinitely better." I politely feigned benighted ignorance of these tapes, despite the fact that I have a few, thanks to generous souls on the Miles Davis boards I used to frequent. I feigned ignorance because I have found it is "infinitely better" to let this particular type have his or her delusion; it just makes things go by more quickly).

This is writing that is not one whit about the music itself, but about the writer. Sad figures, many commentators and critics. Many are either closeted or failed musicians. ("Failed" used here in the sense of a "dream deferred," not as an aesthetic or, God forbid, financial judgment). Stanley Crouch comes to mind. Incapable of sustaining some sort of musical path of his own, Crouch gained some sort of odd cred by offering up all sorts of opinions on figures in this music next to whom he could not even hold a candle in sunshine. Somehow it has also become fashionable to be sort of snarky and unimpressed by The Vision Festival, which surprises me in my naivete, because when I look at the lineup my first thought is "Holy Shit! What an amazing bunch of inspiring and inspired programs!" There's a dart throwing impulse. All I see is the darts; I don't see the background. Of course, all sorts of political and economic controversy has to surround someone like John Zorn, someone like William Parker. Someone like Miles Davis. But I wish I could get a clearer picture of exactly what the dissatisfaction is, exactly where it resides. I suspect it's rooted in consumer culture and the lie of the "free market" more deeply than I had ever imagined.

From other. more generous perspectives, how could it not be enough to have had the sorts of cultural and musical impact and influence the above three figures have had? What would respectful but not slavering and worshipful criticism look like? And what relationship between "becoming a beneficiary" (to quote Agee again) and becoming a dartboard is there? If the only thing the music press is looking for is the hip esoteric outsider stuff and someone formerly with that cred suddenly wins a MacCarthur or Pulitzer, then what? Will we now see perhaps the 4th or 5th round of dart-throwing at, for example, Ornette Coleman?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Snake Oil Symphony

Do you know it? A truly remarkable tape composition from 1982 by DS Crafts, who, of course, lives in Rio Rancho, NM. (Ties in to the free-forming conversation last night with drummer Dave Wayne, who has worked with Rob Brown, bassist Matt Deason, who has worked with Brian Hardgroove and John Kurzweg and keyboardist Robert Muller, who knew and studied with Andrew Hill, among others: New Mexico is like some sort of strange ark for creative souls who have much deeper background than you'd guess). Thanks to Sean Conlon at KSFR for the tip.

The above photograph is a Do It Yourself attempt at offloading a typical ranch-style Santa Fe house, perhaps 4 bedroom 1.5 bath, a block east of where I live. Look closely at the price.

A fragment of last night's conversation was Robert's oblique reference to a quote from Forces in Motion from Sun Ra, about commerce and beauty. This third hand account: commerce and beauty are kept entirely separate in the American milieu. What's not viable in the commercial market is utterly dispensable. Whether this is an accurate representation of Sun Ra's quote or not, it got me thinking.

Just what constitutes the commercial market? We casually use the phrase "market forces" without really reflecting on what it is we're actually referring to. The more unexamined Libertarian viewpoint takes at face value certain principles of self-determination and "popularity." Artistic value in this context is completely commensurate with financial viability. Ideas of cultural value that extend beyond what's being sold and bought are , at best, simply empty ideals, impractical and ultimately without worth. But these sink-or-swim attitudes misconstrue the essential nature of so-called "free markets."

Nothing is free. The market itself has a vested interest in control. Buying and selling is the creation of means as an end in itself. The constant re-establishment of the impermanent as if it were reliable.When Michael Moore's main thesis for the reform of health care in the United States is "There is no room for profit when it comes to the well being of people!" I get a sinking feeling. Of course there's room for profit. What else is there, really? Unprofitable people die. Who cares? Everything is for sale. To single out health care as one area where this principle of means doesn't apply is ridiculous and unconvincing and flimsy. How about "There's no room for profit in making films!" Now that would be a more revealing attitude.

To expect that "cultural exceptions" are worth sustaining despite the amoral wasteland of endless means is to expect the world to operate on a level of fairness akin to that in the worldview of a 5 year old. Or maybe it's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The point is not that the arts, or medicine, or the environment, or food and farming, or the prison system or whatever are broken and need to be fixed. There's no such thing as a society not based on means-creation. It does not matter in whose hands the real or apparent power to create these means resides. Blake: "I must create my own system or be enslav'd by another man's."

James Agee, curious figure that he was, once received a survey from Partisan Review. Thanks to the unnarrator for the following excerpt (from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men):

In 1939, Partisan Review sent writers "SOME QUESTIONS WHICH FACE

Question 4: "Have you found it possible to make a living by writing
the sort of thing you want to, and without the aid of such crutches
as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in
our present economic system for literature as a profession?"

Agee: No; no living. Nor do I think there is any place in our etcetera for
'literature' as a 'profession,' unless you mean for professional
litterateurs, who are a sort of high-class spiritual journalist and
the antichrist of all good work. Nor do I think your implied desire
that under a 'good system' there would be such a place for real
'writers' is to be respected or other than deplored. A good artist is
a deadly enemy of society; and the most dangerous thing that can
happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a
beneficiary. No society, no matter how good, could be mature enough
to support a real artist without mortal danger to that artist. Only
no one need worry: for this same good artist is about the one sort of
human being alive who can be trusted to take care of himself."

"A good artist is a deadly enemy of society; and the most dangerous thing that can happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a beneficiary."