[JPL] Jazz really is an international language now

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Mar 2 21:31:06 EST 2007

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - music

Jazz really is an international language now

John Fordham

March 2, 2007 03:08 PM

Last week at the Barbican, the great jazz pianist McCoy Tyner played half 
his concert in the company of a septet comprising five Americans and two 
Britons, trumpeter Byron Wallen and saxophonist Jason Yarde. The week 
before, the British saxist Tim Garland had deputised for a missing American 
in a powerful outfit led by Joe Lovano and won heartfelt applause from 
Lovano's regular players for the fire and dynamism of his contribution. On 
March 15, Garland takes to the road alongside classical composer Graham 
Fitkin, on a 
programme that joins UK symphonic players to an American jazz supergroup 
including Wayne Shorter's bass star, <http://www.johnpatitucci.com>John 

Great news, you might say, if you lean in a jazz direction. But what's so 
special about Americans and Brits sharing a stage? Isn't jazz supposed to 
be an international language?

A younger generation of listeners - and players - now takes this for 
granted, but not so long ago it was a very different story. When American 
jazz pioneers first began to regularly visit London in the early 1960s, 
their godlike charisma was occasionally tarnished by cavalier or downright 
patronising attitudes toward their British accompanists. The late Stan 
Getz, who some thought delivered the closest thing to romantic poetry ever 
attempted on a saxophone, would sometimes launch into public criticisms of 
his local rhythm section on gigs, to ripostes of "bollocks" from an 
unimpressed Stan Tracey on the piano chair. One American trumpet legend 
stopped a Ronnie Scott show to ask if anyone in the audience could play 
drums better than the local he'd been supplied with - who happened to be 
Phil Seamen, an inspiration to rock-drum giant Ginger Baker and one of the 
most creative percussionists the UK ever spawned.

For every egotistical international star who enjoyed humiliating fellow 
musicians deemed to be inferiors, there was of course an illustrious 
majority who wouldn't have dreamed of it. Americans Zoot Sims, Sonny 
Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Wes Montgomery, Johnny Griffin, Ben Webster 
and Dexter Gordon all had fruitful relationships with British players, and 
there were many more. But if the public abuses were rare, they were perhaps 
only the explicit manifestations of an assumption that was widely shared on 
both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s: that only Americans 
could play jazz creatively or possess the cultural, and possibly even 
genetic, wiring to conjure up the subtle mysteries of blues-inflected 
improvisation and swing.

Hearing British trumpeter <http://www.byronwallen.com>Byron Wallen's warm 
and ringing sound cruising on McCoy Tyner's famously percussive piano 
chords the other day, or the sax lines of Tim Garland or Jason Yarde 
zigzagging quirkily over the surge of American rhythm sections, 
conclusively dispatches such dusty dogmas now. The difference is that such 
events don't feel like the honourable exceptions to otherwise immutable 
laws they seemed to be when Ronnie Scott or Stan Tracey did something 
similar half a century back. It's been a long trip, but now jazz really is 
an international language. Most people sense it and a fast-growing musical 
community can play it, too.

Dr. Jazz
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