Friday, April 27, 2007

clazz or jassical?

The Ornette Coleman Pulitzer Prize news on the web is fascinating. The original AP wire service story by Jake Coyle has the following opening:

"Ornette Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for music on Monday for his 2006 album, Sound Grammar, the first jazz work to be bestowed with the honor.

The alto saxophonist and visionary who led the free jazz movement in the 1950s and 1960s, won the Pulitzer at age 77 for his first live recording in 20 years. The only other jazz artist to win a Pulitzer is Wynton Marsalis, who won in 1997 for his classical piece, Blood on the Fields."

Apparently uncomfortable making the jazz versus classical distinction, several publications used the AP article but changed the lead to something like this, from the International Herald Tribune:

"Ornette Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for music on Monday for his 2006 album, "Sound Grammar," the second jazz artist to receive the honor."

The Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler ran a strange piece under the headline "Classical Music has Nothing to Fear from Pulitzer Going to Jazz Artist." Yehudi Wyner, a classical composer who recently won a Pulitzer, and who was on the nominating jury, is quoted as saying, "Classical music is very much a minority art, and in some sense, recognition by an august agency helps keep it alive, or keeps its prestige alive. But the idea that jazz, this most vital and participatory American art form, was in no way recognized and was actually shunted aside, it's scandalous. It's unconscionable."

Several writers indicate that Coleman "blends classical and free jazz" techniques in his creative process.

The struggle continues, even among certified professional experts, to make sense of American culture.

snow. mud. spring.

The view from my motel room in Chama, Tuesday morning, 7 a.m.

By Wednesday, the day of the performances of the Chama and Tierra Amarilla student operas ("Dallas Stadium Fan Fight" and "A Blast of the Past," respectively) it was sunny and warm enough for the ice to turn to water. Water that saturated the clay bog at the bottom of a driveway off a dirt road about 7 miles from Chama where I tried to turn my car around in the break between dress rehearsal and performance. A clay bog that ate my car. An hour and a half before set up for the shows. I tried the old trick of jamming rocks, sticks, dry dirt under the front wheels, to absolutely no avail. In fact, the more I tried to rock the car out of the saturated and colloidal clay, the more the front end of the car sunk. By this time there was about 10 pounds of mud in the car itself, from the bottom of my shoes.

However, not only was there a cell phone signal out there (Verizon comes through) but also: I called information, got the number for the hotel my teaching partner had gone to (checking in early for his parents), called the number and got through to him. So he headed out to rescue me. I stood up on the road's shoulder, waiting, when a huge F350 pickup approached. The fine gentleman and his wife were on their way to a meadow to watch deer. Instead, he went back to his house and got a Polaris 4-wheeler, enough rope to reach into several bogs, and in no time the car was hauled back to navigable road. I think his name was Bob Marshall, and he'd just retired to Chama from Tallahassee. "Lucky we came this way," he said. "There's nothing up this way at all."

The students did a great job performing their operas too. Nearly 300 people came. There are 1,200 residents of Chama. Let's see...if I could get 25% of Santa Fe's residents to come to my next show...that would be about 17,500 people.

Played a lot of Andrew Hill's music on the radio show yesterday. I realized that the best way to listen to Hill is with headphones, eyes closed, no distractions. Just how extraordinary his work was comes through clearly that way. Especially the dense, dissonant altered chords, suspensions and twists and turns.

Also played some Roscoe Mitchell in preparation for his performance in Albuquerque on May 19. Tnoona, The Key, the version of Line Fine Lyon Seven from his Black Saint Sound and Space Ensemble recording. A brief alto solo from his three CD solo release on Mutable Records. Looking forward to working more Roscoe Mitchell in over the next few shows.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


A group of flowering cacti from last week: right side, top to bottom, Strombocactus disciformis, Echinocereus russanthus, Escobaria organensis, Stenocactus vaupelianus; left side, top to bottom, Echinocereus russanthus "weedinii," Escobaria sneedii, Mammillaria viridiflora. Lophophora diffusa off to the side.

So I'm in Chama for the next 4 days, doing two 4th/5th grade opera projects...10 and 11 year olds writing their own operas in a total of ten hours. Chama's project involves football players, aliens and superheros. The big problem: a superhero and an alien both fall in love with the same football player. At Tierra Amarilla, the story includes secret agents, knights and outlaws of the old west. The big problem: a secret agent has created a hole in the time space continuum by using her gadget; a knight falls in love with her and a cowgirl falls in love with the knight. What is up with all this love business? I've done 5 other operas with kids and not one of them involved even a hint of love.

Chama is at about 8,000 feet, along a road (US Highway 84) that turns into NM 17, heading directly for the snowy passes of the high Rockies. An elk, just one, lumbered along the road just outside of town yesterday. Mule deer, Canada geese, huge pine trees. Only a handful of people. The big news at noon yesterday on the local radio station: next year's middle school basketball program is lacking funds, which will mean having to combine Chama and Tierra Amarilla students onto one team.

Tierra Amarilla, by the way, is most famous for the Land Grant rebellions of the 1960s, including the raid on the US Courthouse.

Just outside the town, there's a billboard that says "Tierra o Muerte!"

It's no wonder the knights and the cowpokes in the TA opera get in a fight over who owns the land.

It seems quite a few people have stopped by to download the Duology files (a couple of posts down) but there's been an eerie silence afterwards. I expected some sort of critical feedback (though I didn't explicitly ask for any) and I guess I envision someone downloading them, listening, and being too enraged, disgusted, bored or embarrassed to comment. This is the neighborhood my mind wanders in when it encounters a lack of information.

I don't watch television, so a stay at a motel is always fascinating. Wednesday and Thursday night I mostly watched The Twilight Zone and The X Files, avoiding the incessant and harrowing coverage of the Virgina Tech shootings. I did see some of the shooter's video. Maybe the only clip that I saw of that was when he said "So this is it. The end of the line. What a life. Some life." Or something like that. And I guess the only thought I had was "where is everybody? All along the way, as someone becomes submerged in psychopathic grief, rage, loneliness...where was everybody?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

long time no see

Pediocactus simpsonii in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, near Tesuque, NM.
It's right there, under the pine cone. The top one has 15 flower buds; the shiny object to the lower left is a quarter for scale.

Yesterday was the first day in a while that fell on a weekend and was suitable for heading out into the mountains. At least we didn't get 8 inches of rain. My sympathies to our east coast readers.

Thanks to all who stopped by and downloaded the Duology files. The usual post-event wasteland syndrome (pews) has set in out here in the Rockies. It's as if all my musician friends have gone to law school or had major surgery. (which is worse?) Actually, Ruth Zaporah and I will be setting up a monthly series of improvisational performance events here, I think. Monthly might be far too frequent, however, given the lack of staying power of the typical Santa Fe audience.

I'm in another one of those periods where I'm sick of music. Sick of people writing about it anyway. The great conversation on the internet also involves encountering arrogance, quibbling, oneupmanship (is that a word?) and all sorts of bizarre posturing. There's still fresh and engaging (and sometimes disturbing) stuff such as Stanley Zappa's site
and Chris Rich's refreshing blasts, etc. But I haven't had time to really engage and when I hurry, the cumulative effect is one of only picking up on the annoying or benighted comments (such as a few of the comments on the Larry Young post at Destination Out).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

duology links

Now, for a limited time! Absolutely free! No obligation to buy!

Each file is about 10 megs so take your time. Don't listen in your browser, but download.

duets with:

Mark Weaver, tuba

Ruth Zaporah, movement/voice artist

Chris Jonas, soprano and tenor sax

Jeremy Bleich, percussion and oud

Paul Brown, bass

Mike Rowland, drums

These are in the order presented during the concert (which was derived by drawing names out of a hat). I'm on piano each time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

taxonomy, jazz death III, language games

The above two cacti are considered the same species by most botanists. Echinocereus russanthus. The blonde on the left is sometimes called Echinocereus russanthus v. weedinii. But usually the two forms are lumped into synonymy.

Which brings me to another series of thoughts about jazz death. Jazz taxonomy is a nightmare. In botany, there's two opposed camps: the lumpers and the splitters. Basically, the lumpers look for similarities and the splitters look for differences. In the cactus family, the lumpers acknowledge something like 1200 species. The splitters, 3,500. There's clearly jazz splitters and jazz lumpers as well.

The best thing of all is when musicians and critics get rid of the term "jazz" altogether. It's the best thing because it squelches the discussion at the root. Can't claim jazz is dead if there's no such thing as jazz. haha. It's just music. But this isn't satisfactory at all for those who hold to phrases such as "the jazz tradition" or "jazz history." Or even tyros who have the balls to use a phrase like "Free Jazz Classics." It's as if some people would rather have a clearly defined form that is, in fact, dead, than not have a category at all. Lots of "jazz organizations" talk about their mission as one of "preserving the rich heritage of America's unique art form." Preserving. A fetus in a jar. Well, a young adult anyway. According to Professor Darius Brubeck jazz started to die in 1959, at about 39 years old.

Splitters want all the genres as specifically identified as possible. The extremes take what most people with passing familiarity would hear as one genre and atomize it. Free jazz, for example. What an idiotic name for a form of musical expression, first of all. Free jazz splitters go with experimental, avant garde, free improv, modal, creative music, third stream, modern jazz, collective improv, free fusion, harmolodics, new music, etc. Probably a bunch of apparent "types" that I'm forgetting. Every one of these categories is vague and linguistically unsatisfactory. All music is new, for example. Neoism is easily fetishized. Neoism is as much of a suffocating ideology as "preservation."

One of the comments appended to a YouTube video of the Miles Davis Quintet circa 1969, with DeJohnette, Holland, Corea and Shorter: "It's too free for me." Who gives a rat's ass? What makes people feel compelled to displays such as that? Or the following comment in the wooly threads under one of Cecil Taylor's videos: "He's been playing the same song for 30 years." It's endless. The most abundant element isn't hydrogen, but stupidity. etc.

Looking back at the racist, fascist and tragicomic history of jazz itself, the plantation/exploitation system, the pathetic co-optation by white hipsters in search of street cred, the ridiculous narrow mindedness of the American arts consumer in general, the internecine warfare among musicians and critics alike (Max Roach assaulting Ornette, rich white boys John Hammond and Leonard Feather arguing about Duke in the 1940s, Wynton's cabal gutting the amazing music that was already going on contemporaneously with the rise of the "neo-mainstream" movement), Chris Botti and Candy Dulfer and Sophie Millman (among the worst) and the Young Pussycats not far's a sickening spectacle, really. Jazz, word and ubergenre, die, die, die. Haven't we heard enough of what people think jazz is?

On KSFR, where I host a weekly show, there's another weekly program called "Giants of Jazz." Last fall, when my show was new and causing some raised eyebrows (specifically, playing The Artist in America from OC's Skies of America back to back with Jump Up from Jimmy Lyons/Sunny Murray/John Lindberg) "Giants of Jazz" featured two hours of...Bill Charlap. Yeah. Bill Fuckin' Charlap. Die, jazz, die!!