[JPL] Re: Younger people on the radio

Lazaro Vega wblv.wblu.fm at gmail.com
Sat Mar 10 00:23:01 EST 2007

Jae: "the musicians...that could play....wanted something more
interesting and challenging to solo through."

That need continued, and Ornette showed a compelling way out of
traditional pop song form, but absent an agreed upon methodology
following that breakthrough the music became ever more personalized,
and that powerful stream continues to this day, and it is jazz. An
important part of the music.

The whole "what is jazz thing?" and the attempts to pin it down,
especially, as "blues plus swing equals jazz" are about the most
destructive tendencies in and around the music right now. Let the
artists show us what they're doing and go from there. Trying to hold
music to some kind of community standard is here today gone tomorrow.

There's never been an agreed upon community "standard" to which jazz
is defined "properly." There may have been, but it always changes.
Think of how Jelly Roll Morton, recognized today as the great pioneer
and proselytizer he was, was rejected as having corny attachments to
ragtime by the emerging swing era musicians of the 1930's. Or how Bud
Powell was grumpily accepted though he "only used one hand" after the
great stride tradition right up through Tatum. All the way back:
Creole or uptown? They were political forces which pushed them
together and combined those widely varying approaches towards music
into jazz. (Trained or playing by ear is the Creole/Uptown dichotomy).
In jazz the goalposts are always changing. To try and formalize them
into one place makes the present less dynamic than it's history and
evolution have been. Maybe young people aren't drawn to jazz because
of it's shift from a music of exciting individual experimentation and
consolidation to one of mere professionalism.

Yes, racism did play a huge part in the image of jazz as a subversive,
yet on an musical/artistic/aesthetic level jazz is subversive: Louis
Armstrong's choice to play solos against the wishes of older musicians
who saw the "correct" way of playing jazz as an ensemble effort
subverted a long agreed upon "way." Bird playing altered changes and
so fast (recall the famous story of Ben Webster taking Bird's horn and
saying the saxophone wasn't meant to be played so fast). Coltrane
throwing out all of Oscar Hammerstein's music except for the melody
and a couple of chords...then Ornette and we're not in Kansas City
anymore. The energy school, the AACM, electric Miles. There's more
going on there than textural variations. Sure that's part of it,
especially for the AACM's most visible and active musicians, but it's
more about what is going to hold your improvisations and how are you
going to get there? So many different answers to that question.

To me, it all seems driven by the spirit of Jae's quote. But none of
it has been easy and "settled."

Was Nina Simone less a black woman because she studied classical
music? Was Jelly Roll because of the prominence of opera in New
Orleans?  Teddy Wilson? Was Serge Chaloff less a jazz musician because
his father was a conductor and his mother the famous classical music
teacher Madame Chaloff? Should early jazz musicians have rejected
French dance music and never recorded "Tiger Rag," let alone
Ellington's many variations on it because "Tiger Rag" is at heart
European? That argument doesn't hold for the tradition of jazz and it
does not hold for the present.  To say Taylor or Braxton don't play
jazz because they're influenced by classical music is about as
sensible as saying Dodo Marmarosa wasn't a jazz pianist because of his
familiarity with 19th century classical piano literature. I mean,
James P. and The Lion used to say the stride pianists could play
Chopin faster than any musician alive. To say, as Stanley does with
Iverson, which is a great conversation, btw, that Cecil is Messiaen
with drums is whack. Cecil's music is elementally a collision between
creation myth and the blues, structured in his "units" theory and
highly influenced by dance and poetry. All personal yet without a
doubt African American.

Try to get all of that into a radio program and then we're getting
somewhere. The media is not the message, the music is. And to
commodify it in the "blues plus swing equals jazz" formula is to seal
it up as a thing and not let it be free as a way.

Those philosophical arguments have tied jazz and jazz musicians up for
too long. Wynton's music doesn't need them to stand secure and the
people who don't play song form certainly don't need any more help in
being misunderstood. An art form which ditches, marginalizes, ignores
or rationalizes away the artistic veracity of it's most experimental
practitioners is an art form in trouble.

Was glad to see Cecil played at Lincoln Center this month with Henry
Grimes and Pheeroan Aklaff. Would like to have made that.

There's plenty of interesting jazz coming out of Europe, as there is
out of New York, Chicago, L.A., Seattle, Denver, North Carolina -- and
the best of it is still wanting "something more interesting and
challenging to solo through." That's a great way of putting it.

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