Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Inside Out, Over but not Out

For the past two years, I've been producing a weekly radio show called Inside Out for KSFR, Santa Fe NM's local, community supported public radio station. I was brought on as a volunteer producer after the station made the switch from an afternoon "classical music" format to "jazz," a bold move to be certain. Not only that, but the station manager at the time, Tim Pemberton, did his damnedest to bring in local "jazz" musicians as producers, a truly remarkable effort. The switch resulted in KSFR featuring nearly 24 hours of "jazz" programming every week, most of it in prime morning and afternoon slots, in a national market of commercial radio featuring zero of same (largely, let's ignore execrable "smooth jazz" shall we? at least until the coffee wears off) and public radio featuring largely endless talking heads, news, political commentary and interview shows. Another remarkable aspect of the programming switch: Santa Fe isn't a "jazz" town. Or at least, wasn't, so much, when the switch was made. I hear that the recent New Mexico Jazz Festival had a mostly sold out run (never mind my acidulous take on this year's bookings, save it either entirely or for another post)-- perhaps KSFR could be credited with slowly building a real breathing audience for "jazz" in a town better known for opera, chamber music and alt country.

(yet with a growing reputation for creative music and emerging artists as well, thanks to High Mayhem Emerging Arts, but that too is another post).

Last year, I moved to Tempe, AZ. I've been recording the show at home and ftp-ing it to KSFR's server pretty much every week. The station decided this week to pull me from Thursday afternoons and get some warm bodies in the studio, an excellent idea for an outlet so connected to Santa Fe's local scene, events, people and culture. Who among the loyal listeners to KSFR would prefer a guy in a can? Not even me.

Inside Out emerged as an attempt to illustrate musically a very basic premise: "jazz" (which I usually call "creative improvised and composed music" on the program) is a complete, living, breathing continuum. It's damned sure not "dead" and it's for certain not neatly divisible into camps, schools, movements. Thus the title. Listen even a bit more closely to the best of the "inside" and you hear the perpetual innovation at the heart of great creativity. Listen with open mind, heart, ears to the finest of the "outside" and you hear with clarity the deep roots or flat out overt incorporation of the history of the music.

Most of my programming decisions were made in an attempt to reinforce this theory, repeatedly, sometimes pointedly but most often without comment from me. Spineless, gutless, predictable, formulaic, derivative, insincere, imitative, boring, blandly palliative, overly produced, insipid and insincere music was always (I'd like to think) checked at the door.

A handful of the "inside" artists with solid gold "mainstream" cred who provided endless examples of in your face (overt or subtle; yes, music can be quite subtly in your face) links/precursors/engagements with the "outside":

Duke, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Booker Little, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Pepper Adams, Randy Weston, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane, etc.

A handful of artists marginalized (to varying degrees) to the "outside" whose roots and branches are so obviously continuous (usually seamlessly) with the "inside" that it's amazing the boundary lines were ever drawn:

Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julius Hemphill, The World Saxophone Quartet, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Bill Dixon, Jimmy Lyons, Leroy Jenkins, Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, David S Ware, Matthew Shipp, Tim Berne, etc.

If you're not nodding your head, you're not listening. You've bought hook line and sinker some line of BS about the "great death" of "jazz" in 1959, or 1969, or 1979 or whatever. You've read too many Wynton Marsalis/Stanley Crouch/Albert Murray interviews and curricula, or maybe admired the Ken Burns/PBS patina without digging, or maybe you've been to "jazz school" in the great cookie cutter Jamey Aebersold music factories. Or you've too ardently embraced Be Bop as the be all and end all of "jazz."
(Without examining very closely that Be Bop itself was construed for a good long while as the End of Jazz). Or, I suppose, you just don't care. In which case, if we ever have a conversation, I'll ask (maybe sporting a shark-like smile) "why not?" This music is the backbone of American musical art. Never mind that the category "jazz" (and God only knows what's actually included in that category) currently enjoys a mere 2% of the record industry market share in the US. Never mind that "jazz" is perceived by many as "old people music." Never mind that the attitude expressed by an actual "jazz" music presenter in America's midwest, that "jazz" is "irrelevant," actually came as no surprise to me. Never mind all that.

What's more, the above lists are merely handfuls. The examples are in reality much more vast. I've only scratched the surface of musical illustrations of my theory in nearly 100 hours of programming over two years. One of the great weaknesses of my program was a paucity of new releases, due largely to budgetary constraints. If I had been in residence at KSFR, I would have had access to many more current examples, such as The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, etc.

The theory and my programming, by the way, was never intended to exalt either "inside" or "outside." Nor was it intended to "make the world safe for the avant garde." Fundamentally, it was intended to reveal the utter beauty at the core of a bunch of great music, period.

I'm grateful to KSFR for the opportunity to engage in such risky, perhaps one of a kind programming during an afternoon weekday slot. I was given complete leeway in programming decisions, even after a bumpy start. In either my first or second show, I went from Andrew Hill/Dolphy to Jimmy Lyons/Sunny Murray (Riffs #5) to Ornette (The Artist in America), at the top of the hour, leading into Democracy Now, one of the station's most popular programs. Yikes! Tim Pemberton and Sean Conlon unreservedly went to bat for my "dial changers," and that's amazing these days. I'm also grateful for the opportunity to interview Jane Ira Bloom, Roscoe Mitchell, Sonny Rollins and Oliver Lake. Sad that Rashied Ali didn't pick up the phone for a scheduled interview last year and that Pharaoh Sanders declined, but you can't win 'em all. I'm also grateful for the many regular listeners who called or emailed with complaints, suggestions, information, requests, etc. Gratitude as well to my friends at Destination Out for providing a ton of music for the program through their remarkable MP-free blog.

I'm intending to continue producing Inside Out on a weekly basis, moving into the 21st Century by making it a podcast. Stay tuned while I figure out this whole new-fangled podcast thing.

The penultimate show tomorrow:

1-2 pm
Randy Weston- Blue Moses, from Zep Tepi, 2006 (Weston will be 83 years
old next April)
The Art Ensemble of Chicago- Uncle/Peter and Judith, from Urban
Bushmen, 1982 (extended bass sax solo from Roscoe Mitchell)
Sonny Rollins- Sonny, Please!, from the eponymous CD, 2006
Horace Tapscott (with John Carter, Cecil McBee, Andrew Cyrille)- The
Dark Tree, 1989

2-3 pm
Horace Tapscott, conclusion
Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop- MDM, 1960 (w/Dannie Richmond, Lonnie
Hilyer, Ted Curson, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Booker Ervin, Jimmy
Knepper, Britt Woodman)
Ornette Coleman- What Reason Could I give/Civilization Day/Street
Woman, from Science Fiction, 1971
Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach- Money Jungle/Fleurette
Africaine, from Money Jungle, 1962

Not sure yet what the last KSFR show will be, but you can listen in (or out).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Git Offa Mah Yard! part x

My girlfriend thinks I should start a blog called Get Off of My Yard! that features rants the likes of which might be delivered by an angry old man, shaking his fist at the neighborhood children, worrying his two remaining teeth with his yellowed old tongue. Apparently, I sometimes embody this character as I fulminate regarding pop culture, advertising, politics, music, education, the driving habits of Arizonans, etc.

So perhaps instead of launching a whole new blog, I'll just occasionally rant right here, in a charming series called, of course, Git Offa My etc.

Enough with the BS already! But where to begin?

How 'bout with an inspiring little card inserted between plastic wrapper and kale-green cigarette pack brought to us by the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Natural American Spirit cigarettes. I smoke roughly a pack a day of their admittedly high quality menthols. The menthol flavoring, by the way, comes from mentholated crystals embedded in the filter, maintaining the virginal purity of their tobacco. These are fine, tasty, high-powered smokes, my friends. I felt not a twinge of guilt as Cecil Taylor bummed them off of me, one after the other, during a post concert party in his hotel room in Albuquerque. My pals, who are non-smokers generally, cadge a smoke or two off me without remorse, savoring the "100% Additive-Free Natural Tobacco." A friend who writes screenplays and directs movies calls them "Pimp Daddy Smokes," combining the somewhat shady sleaze of menthol with a kick of nicotine and carbon monoxide mule-like in its oxygen denying ferocity.

But the company's greenwashing is ridiculous.

Text of inspiring inserted card, front:

Bold heading: DIFFERENT Company

"It's refreshing to know a company that produces a product we use actively supports human rights, the environment, and other charitable works."-Scott W.

Never mind the Oxford comma.

Further inspiration on inserted card, back:

"Our people...We believe that the way we do business is as important as the way we grow our tobacco. That's why being earth-friendly is a part of our everyday lives. Whether it's using wind power to run our offices, or contracting directly with organic farmers who grow tobacco using earth-friendly practices, we're dedicated to reducing our footprint on the earth." (followed by the company's logo, featuring an altered zia...symbolism is heavy all around, including an Indian in a full head dress holding up a peace pipe and a handy little gold Thunderbird printed on every fag).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for reducing footprints on the earth.

But it's the epitome of balls for a tobacco company to jump so hard on the green bandwagon, really. Hey, I have an idea-- maybe my respirator someday can be wind powered? Or perhaps half my lower jaw can be removed using entirely *earth-friendly* recycled bone saws? Or perhaps the radioactive elements used in my lung therapy can be obtained from direct contracts with organic, *earth-friendly* mining companies?

Some small print on the side of the pack seems perhaps too little, too late. Or maybe just so utterly obvious as to be unintentionally hilarious: "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."

The stub Wiki article is highly revealing:

"The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company is a tobacco manufacturer, best known for its production of the Natural American Spirit cigarette brand. However, "Natural American Spirit" brand cigarettes are currently owned by (since 2002) the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Inc. There is controversy surrounding this brand, both for its use of a 'native American' logo (citation needed), and for its claims to be natural, which many consumers misconstrue as meaning that the product is healthier for you."

I'm fully prepared, obviously, to admit that the only SAFE cigarette is an unlit cigarette. I'm also sheepishly ashamed to have such deep brand loyalty to a company that has obviously gone completely off the deep end of boomer, yuppie PC marketing nonsense.

And so, with gravelly voice and at a nicotine-ratcheted fever pitch, I crow to the marketing department at RJ Reynolds/Santa Fe Natural Tobacco: Git Offah Mah Yard!