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."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

cultural exceptions

I finally found the full text of the Marc Ribot essay excerpted on be-jazz, thanks to The Improvising Guitarist linking to Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, who in turn linked to the complete piece at All About Jazz. I bet I could have just gone directly from Mwanji's excerpts, but I'm an adrenaline junkie and enjoy a challenge.

My interpretation is that Ribot isn't primarily talking about "state subsidy" as he is the principle of "cultural exception." "Cultural exception" is the idea that art that doesn't enjoy popularity in the market still ought to be financially supported. A natural consequence of this philosophy is that it is a legitimate role of governmental agencies to offer this support. Specifically, Ribot speculates on what things in Manhattan would be like if the city itself were to provide a venue for new music.

It's interesting for me to reflect on new music as a strange beast that can only barely stay alive through the largesse of various societal nannies, a beast that would wither and starve otherwise, last in line at the great trickle down trough of commercial enterprise. The strangest thing about the great (dare I say obscene?) wealth of the US is it's shadow: scarcity. I will boldly suggest that, in fact, the wealth is propped up by a culture of scarcity. By a deep-seated conviction that there's NEVER ENOUGH. By some sort of lurking horror of a sudden collapse, starvation in a society obese with food, brownouts and gas lines in a society that uses 80% of the world's energy, dreaded limitations descending on the Land of the Free. These fears bring tremendous energies to what Ribot calls "free market neo-liberalism."

I'm reminded of strange public statements that either consciously or unconsciously come directly from this Culture of Scarcity. Our military, for example, suddenly isn't big enough. Not if we want to have the suddenly absolutely necessary capacity to engage in three separate conflicts around the globe while at the same time providing National Guard troops in the event of something like Katrina. Our media outlets just don't have the money to take a risk on cultural "products" that might not "become a hit." Our venues "just don't have enough" money to keep their doors open. The public radio station where I do my little show "just can't risk alienating donors." Speaking of which, I have to go do that show momentarily, so further thoughts on this series of illusions and lies will mostly have to wait.

I also have some thoughts stirring on the distinction between "capital" and "labor" that Ribot mentions.

I think I'll leave off for the moment with a quick anecdote: I used to fundraise for a non-profit and had the occasion to schmooze with people who had a net worth of $100 million and more. Many of these people spoke about their depth of admiration and support for the non-profit and its mission. With rare exceptions, when it came time to put pen to check, there was great chagrin, an apologetic smile, and a statement like "I wish I could do more, I really do. But we just can't afford it."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Duology Two

A pianist in search of brave collaborators.

Duology Two, 8 pm Friday, July 6. O'Shaughnessy Performance Space, The College of Santa Fe, 1600 St. Michael's Drive, Santa Fe NM

with JA Deane, live samples; rosS Hamlin, mystery instrument; JSA Lowe, language; Carlos Santistevan, bass; Molly Sturges, voice; Milton Villarrubia III, drums.

Brave indeed.

This Do It Yourself stab at gaining listeners brought to you by Peter Breslin, an unincorporated, definitely non-profit, unaffiliated, locally owned person.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

free jazzonomics

Check out Marc Ribot's thoughts up at Mwanji Enzana's blog.

I'm not sure if the comment I left there makes any sense. I guess I'm reading Ribot offering three sources of capital for new music: market forces, state subsidy and self-promotion. And I think he's saying that people are perhaps too quick to dismiss or take for granted the value of state subsidy. I run into some confusion, not fully understanding what Ribot means by "state subsidy." I assume he's referring to local, state and federal grants funded by tax money, funneled back to the arts. But Ribot seems to be addressing the crisis in venues at the same time as problems with funds for individual artists.

I'm thinking now that these are two different topics. Venues are particularly problematic. Santa Fe is at a low point in the venue cycle in some ways. Most of the clubs that offer live music of any sort are unrelentingly lame, treat musicians poorly, offer lousy sound and cramped quarters and have about as much sense of adventure as a Methodist grandma. (A couple of venues offer "alternative" live local and touring acts that seem to be "alternative" only to the extent that they aren't yet rich and famous with a major label deal; the music itself is often approximately as alternative as white rice with butter instead of plain white rice). Performance venues with a concert setting are somewhat more rare for local music, with the exception of Wise Fool, High Mayhem, The College of Santa Fe. Club venues rely on market forces perhaps more than any other arts presenting component in a local economy. Alcohol sales and door charges.

On the concert level, Santa Fe doesn't have a dedicated concert hall, despite the rabid passion among the wealthy and aged for classical repertory. The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, one of the most respected in the world, schedules shows in several different venues around town. One great addition over the past few years has been The Santa Fe Opera opening itself up to live performance in the off season. The Opera has also made the Stieren Orchestra Rehearsal Hall available more often; it's a top of the line small performance space with impeccable sound. Strange venues have increased their visibility, such as The Unitarian Church and The Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Also, FanMan Productions has revived the summer series at the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater.

With a few occasional exceptions most of these venues host imported culture.

Making a living in Santa Fe as an improvising musician is impossible. Of course it would be, considering it's impossible in New York or Los Angeles. But I don't think a lack of venues is the reason. I think it's because creative composed and improvised music is feared, hated, misunderstood and dismissed before the fact as pretentious, intimidating, boring, ugly, unlistenable and amateurish garbage. Americans ever have been philistines, even when they have been correct. The majority of so-called avant garde music is apparently self-indulgent and disturbing. Music for an American is his or her little anodyne, his or her little sentimental pillow of middle class dreams, his or her little soundtrack for the more important business of getting and spending. "Getting and spending" meant in the broadest possible sense as a life of means, a life of goals, a life of tit-for-tat, a life of bland, inconsequential trade offs.

The ability of most Americans to hear sound has been lobotomized, amputated, castrated.

The outlying territories have long been abandoned (if they were ever actually even briefly visited) in favor of white picket fences and streetlights, well marked streets and police cruisers, diet soda and processed cheese food and beef by product sloppy joes.

Economic struggles in the world of new music are a laughable flyspeck. Injustice and oblivion and willfully ignorant consumerism runs its sticky befouled and befouling fingers over everything, not just new music. Is it any wonder that "the state," itself now at the beck and call of corporate materialist commercialism, the government itself now an advertisement for infinite petroleum and douches and sugar free gum, would begin to abandon arts funding? Or throw its hefty ass behind arts that are already doing just fine in the so called free market?

As my friend Zimbabwe Nkenya recently emailed, when I asked him about Arizona where he briefly lived and mentioned that I had heard it was very "conservative:" "Conservative is a code word for backwards and racist."

When actual practitioners of new music look back and characterize earlier periods as "Crazy Experimental Freedom" and claim it needs to be "harnessed," haven't the terrorists already won?

It's a great game, extracting money to fund activities that are blatantly subversive from the entity one is hellbent on subverting. I have nothing against it. I would take gummint money in a heartbeat if I could finagle it. I would take a grant from The Old Fart Society To Preserve 32-Bar Song Form and Jamey Aebersold Jazz Vomit if I could. But it's far more often ourselves who are forced to act against our own self-interest by the vast bloodsucking machine, not the other way around.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


This was the scene to my right as I drove just southwest of Santa Fe yesterday, at about 3:30. I haven't checked the news today for more info, yet. Readers from the Great Plains or Tornado Alley might shrug and say "So what?" But the general Santa Fe area rarely experiences this. It was quite surreal. Many people were parked along the highway, taking pictures. Several emergency vehicles were all blazing in the general direction of the twister.

I was on my way to the independent media panel. I heard the promo spot for it on 101.5 on the way there, where I was described as a "long time local personality." My friend Jack Kolkmeyer, who has been on the radio here for 23 years, was also described thusly. We agreed when we met up at the event that such a description is like saying a movie was "interesting."

Anyway, the panel consisted of about 10 media types. I was perhaps the most radical ranter present, largely bypassing the specific issue of radio consolidation and spewing vitriol about the attack on the Constitution, on democracy and on free access to culture and information. I mentioned the Verizon Wireless/Jazz at Lincoln Center/National Endowment for the Arts Jazz in the Schools Curriculum, the Bush takeover of NPR, the FCC as a supposed watchdog for public airwaves being in fact a lapdog for huge media conglomerations. I got rather evangelically heated. Too much coffee. Brian Hardgroove, bassist for Public Enemy who moved here last August, backed me up 100 percent, which was a bit of a rush. DJ Rocque Renaldi told some hilarious stories about some of his commercial and corporate radio experiences.

I had to make absolutely clear that, while some of my activities for money and otherwise are with two local media outlets, KSFR and the Santa Fe Reporter, I was on the panel as a lone wolf, not a rep. I wish I had said "I am an unaffiliated, independently owned local person," but I only thought about that afterwards.

Most of the attendees were left urgently wondering what they could do. There were excellent suggestions from many panel members. I'm afraid by that time I was feeling so acidulously misanthropic that the only suggestion that popped out of my caffienated mouth was "talk to a bunch of rich people and put millions of dollars together. Can anyone here write a $3 million check right now to get things rolling?" Really obnoxious.

Actor Gary Farmer, from Canada, was in attendance. He mentioned a program there where the Canadian equivalent of the FCC requires commercial broadcasters to kick back 6 percent of their gross to emerging artists, public radio, public and independent media. He wondered if the FCC would ever consider a recharging scheme like this. I think that's when my bitterness reached hydrochloric acid pH levels.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

big box media

From the Indie 101.5 website:

Have you been hearing rumors around town about a takeover and consolidation of radio stations KWRP, KLBU, KBAC? Maybe you've also heard that KSFR is going to switch channels. Wondering why? Then come to the Santa Fe Brewing Company out on the patio this Saturday for a panel discussion about the consolidation of media that is threatening Santa Fe as well as other cities across the country.

I'm on the panel, and it will be interesting to be a part of this event. This Santa Fe Reporter story gives an overview of what's been happening here.

Here's a few things I don't understand. Independent radio here in Santa Fe plays music that is decidedly commercial. Music widely available on iTunes or in CD stores or at Amazon or whatever. It's mostly still a form of "branding." If anything it creates the opportunity for people to feel "hip," as they tune in to "alternative radio" under the illusion of being anti-corporate and anti-homogenization. But the reality seems to me to be that just about anything that ends up on a commercial radio station, no matter how "alternative," has as much of the full weight of the great mass marketing machine as, say, Garth Brooks or Classic Rock. (I'm reminded of Amercan Spirit cigarettes as an analogy. The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company is making millions, hand over fist, selling "all natural organic cigarettes." I smoke them like they're going out of business. This is the kind of odd "alternative"-ness I'm talking about, that is as much embedded in mass marketing and homogenization as Marlboros or Kools).

Santa Fe's one public radio station, where I enjoy doing my 2 hours a week, breaks this mold to a large degree. Except that listener pressure (which equals donor pressure twice a year during fund drives) shapes the aesthetic. It's not marketing so much as community taste/standards/listener preference. Check out most of the "jazz" programming on KSFR for an example of what I mean. It's a funny scenario: 24 hours of jazz programming a week, most of it during the day, a very rare format. Yet most of what gets aired is soft, easy, mainstream, non-threatening. The attempt is to appeal to the broadest possible audience. But the difference is that this appeal is not manufactured in a marketing office, whereas in so called "alternative" commercial radio, it often is. Playlists are playlists, after all. KSFR's great strength is in having independent producers, no playlists and a reasonable amount of freedom in what gets aired.

My last show a couple days ago is an example. Charlie Parker, Sonny Sharrock, Herbie Nichols, Dave Douglas, Henry Threadgill, Andrew Hill, Horace Tapscott, Marc Ribot, Malachi Favors, Abdullah Ibrahim, David Murray. From 1-3 in the afternoon on a weekday.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fortune Cookie

The usual post-Chinese-American-dinner (or it may have been lunch) mantic aphorism recently said "You have many opportunities." For what? I wonder. Well, for one thing, the fortune cookie gods may have been referring to the various glimmers of imagined possible activity in the Phoenix metro area. The Phoenix Creative Music Movement, Phoenix New Times, New School for the Arts and Academics, Desert Botanical Garden and even KJZZ...a strange beast, that last. The NPR station for 3.5 million people with a "jazz" format. Check out the playlists, but put on your gray suit and red tie first. Maybe, however, a slot or two a week for a show that stretches things might increase their demographics. As in attract a few listeners under the age of 60 who are interested in music made after 1960. Maybe not.

"It never hurts to ask" keeps running through my head, and yet I feel a certain amount of anxiety about the process. I vaguely remember times in my life when I've actually enjoyed the strange circus of resume writing, inquiries, interviews. The whole job search thing. This time is not, for whatever reason, one of them. Partly it's undoubtedly because I have led a somewhat sheltered life in Santa Fe, securing all of my employment through word of mouth and organically arising opportunities springing from longstanding friendships. It's been a while since I put myself on a job market through more traditional means. It's also a bit daunting to have to craft several different resumes. The same resume really doesn't apply for possible freelance writing, radio work, horticulture and high school teaching. I don't know; maybe that would be amusing. Ineffective, but delightfully eccentric. Right. ("Delightfully eccentric" in central Arizona looks to not be a highly cherished value....)

The other thing on my mind is balance. I have tended in the past to jump feet first into 50 hour a week jobs and not allow breathing room for sparse but important musical opportunities, radio shows and so on. Despite the fact that nothing is actually happening I envision myself in Dockers and a white oxford, "grading" papers, dreading Mondays, attending meetings and looking forward to vacation time (as soon as vacation time is over).

As my sponsor likes to say, I lack the imaginal capacity to get a clear picture of what might happen in a new setting. Lacking the imaginal capacity for anything clear, confronting a gaping hole and having no idea what will go into it, I'm left with old stories and old habits, old patterns and old assumptions. Despite this, unexpected things do happen. No matter what, the life we end up creating looks nothing at all like what we thought it would.

It occurred to me the other day that I have successfully (within reason) improvised the life I currently lead in Santa Fe. I returned with no employment, picked up work at a greenhouse when money ran out, gathered a few private drum students, picked up some paid gigs (a real rarity here), began working for the Reporter, picked up the Santa Fe Opera job. All of which I had not imagined before I returned here. None of which ended up being what I thought it would be. These sorts of events can only unfold if there's room left for them to unfold. If I had somehow come back to a full time job teaching English, for example, well, that would have been most of what would have been going on.

But then there's the tug toward security and stability. Paying off back taxes. The Holy Grail of health insurance, vision, dental. The distant possibility of saving money. The looming strangely fixed age of 65, a mere 20 years away. How nice it would be, I imagine, to knuckle under and get practical and trade a couple of decades for a few guarantees. This whole arena is a swirling morass of sirens and seduction. "Peter....Peter....get a real job....what are you doing?'ll be destitute, you'll be homeless in your old age, you'll never make any money as a musician anyway......why not just be realistic............" The whole culture whispers these siren songs.

When I first returned to Santa Fe from Los Angeles, people would ask me, "So, what are you doing these days?" I had a ready answer: "Nothing." Some people found this intriguing, or even laudable. Most were uneasy. Many perhaps thought (maybe rightly) that things were altogether too aimless for someone in early sobriety. But what about simply refusing to define ourselves by what we do? Extending even to the activities that our culture encourages us to feel "special" about, like making music? I am not that. I simply am. That's just....stuff. Like plot and characters in a novel that's really *about* something else.

The un got a more whimsical if somewhat odd fortune last night at the Thai Cafe: "There's beauty in your heart, let it out, let it beat, give yourself a treat."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tempe Times

Grass and trees courtesy of the apparently infinite amount of water supplied as if by magic to the Phoenix metro area. Rumbling down State Highway 87 into Mesa, one crosses a couple uncovered canals, brimming with water, slick-surfaced and sparkling. I guess the water comes from somewheres they got some sorta unlimited supply cuz, by golly, everywhere in Tempe and the whole area, sprinklers, hoses and car washes (for example) spew prodigious, profligate exudations of dihydrogen monoxide molecules. No end in sight. Even the restaurants on the strip adjacent to Arizona State University (P. F. Chang's, Chili's, Pizzeria Uno) mist the customers foolish and daring enough to eat outside in a constant cool spray of water. This in the Sonoran Desert heat sink, recipient of an average of 8 inches of rain a year.

The above happy shack is my future home, starting around the end of July.

There's a way in which a single image encapsulates the strangeness of Tempe, at least in some measure. Check it out. If you dare. (To be fair, the image encapsulates the strangeness of Jazz Studies programs all over this great nation of ours as well).

Meanwhile, back here in quaint Santa Fe, Duology Two is set for July 6, featuring duets with Carlos Santistevan, bass; Milton Villarrubia III, drums; J A Deane, live samples; Molly Sturges, voice; Jennifer Lowe, language; Ross Hamlin, guitar. Chris Jonas' Rrake ensemble is getting geared up again; I'm one of two drummers in that one, along with Milton. Apparently we are being joined by sound artist, violinist and Harry Partch scholar David Dunn this time around. (I had the pleasure of teaching David's daughter in a class at Desert Academy here, before I was aware of who Dunn was; I used to play music and have the students free write. Once I chose Partch's The Dreamer That Remains, and Dunn's daughter rolled her eyes and said "My dad is on there. He's the one yelling "help!")