Top 50 JAzz Blog

Monday, June 7, 2010

We'll Take the High Road

No one seems happy about the fact that consciousness-altering substances have been at the center of American popular music for the past 100 years or so-and have probably played a role in 'classical' music as well-no doubt our scholarly respondents will fill in the details.

The Silent Majority (still a great expression-thanks, Spiro) doesn't care for this. It represents a lifestyle that is-choose one or more: amoral, immoral, loathsome, sinful and, no doubt, too evocative of the Shadow Within... We won't dwell on the fact that bourbon also does a pretty good job of altering consciousness.

The Protectors of High Culture don't like it because it undermines their trope about art as direct, unmediated communication with the gods. Their Romantic Heroes must burn up all libidinous, social and political frustrations in the promethean fire of their work; not in a hash pipe.

But that just doesn't seem to be the way things actually work.

One single example: the universally loved Louis Armstrong smoked pot daily. This is, on its face, illustration enough of the tangled, unsightly web of cultural contradictions surrounding the issue.

I'm not about defending or attacking musicians getting high (as a guy looking for a job, at least that's my cover). I'm about removing the moral overlay, the cant and hypocrisy; recognizing that some of the greatest musical improvisation has been fueled by drugs and going from there.

I admit it is a tangled web. As a dad, I see the traps here; the fear of admitting you did what you probably don't want them to do-at least not yet. Probably no 'civilization' has had the courage to overtly display its propensity toward, even reliance on, intoxication. In fact, it seems to me that the creation of (narcotized) ritual may have been the most useful way ever found by a society to finesse the problem. "Don't bother daddy now, Junior. He's trying to see god. It's important for the crops."

I've always bemoaned the Western lack of cultural ritual outside the sanitized versions presented by organized religion. It's interesting to think that our musical 'icons' have always sought the space-spiritual space to me-that is made accessible by consciousness alteration. But shhh. Best keep it to yourself.


rob chalfen said...

New Orleans Rhythm Kings, "Golden Leaf Strut" , New Orleans, 23 Jan. 1925

Richard Henry said...

Drug use has been prevalent in about every genre of music. Classical musicians in colleges also abuse drugs. I also cannot attack or defend such actions. We need to listen to the music and judge the music only, not the performer or artist.

Richard Henry

Steve Provizer said...

Richard-I agree with you. People seem to insist on conflating the one with the other, but we need to judge the music on its own terms.

EricDoberman said...

I agree that music should be judged on its own terms, but am curious where the present-day complaints about booze/other recreational drugs are coming from.

Steve Provizer said...

There's nothing scientific about it. Am I saying there is the same issue with 'hard' drugs now? No-and I think that's been a trend since the 60's, which Trane's general influence had a lot to do with. As far as muggles goes, I was projecting outward from among the group of people I know and play with, who frequently smoke and working off widespread anecdotal evidence.

And whether or not people specifically get high before a show is only part of the question. A general association with drugs and their effects alters inbibers' perspective at several levels and can be assumed to interact with their musical lives.

Anonymous said...

I can't play well when I'm loaded. Bird, Bill, Zoot ... you name them ... they all used hard drugs that they would physically "function", not because of the inspiration they got from the drugs.

Bird himself admitted that he played better when he was clean. But then, when was he clean?

Short after Camarillo. Just listen to his happy takes with the Erroll Garner Quartet: Flowing ideas, a great sound, beautiful lines. The most happy Bird in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

P.S.: Drugs won't bring you any further. Only the music does.

You will need a clear mind for playing jazz.

Steve Provizer said...

It's actually a subtle question, I think. First of all, it is amazing that some people have the capacity to function at a high level when, well, high. There's also the question of releasing inhibitions, and drugs may be able to help you to forget there's an audience.

Of course, we can delude ourselves into thinking we're playing great things, but, because we're high, our filter may be off. On the other hand, a big part of communicating is bringing a high level of commitment and if you _think_ you're playing great, you can do that.


Anonymous said...

I’ve been listening to Jazz for nearly 60 years and I still can’t decide whether or not drugs made the musician. Parker was high nearly all the time. It became a question as to how high he was and at what point was he at his best. Getz finally cleans up in the late 1950s in Copenhagen and created a new image, but the real fire was gone from his horn. Dexter’s best work was probably the Blue Note sessions when he was high. After he cleaned up in Copenhagen, he returned and still cooked, especially on the Prestige sessions. Stitt and Zoot were better when they were not drinking. Zoot was loaded on most of the Pablo sessions, and it was obvious that he wasn’t at his best. Stitt showed up so drunk at a Muse session that the producer, Bob Porter had the rhythm section recorded separately from Sonny and had Sonny return when he was sober to re-record the session! I’ve stopped giving a crap and just enjoy the music!

Jazz from The Top, Zumix Radio

Anonymous said...

Yep, Steve, the saying is: "It feels better than it sounds." And this is mostly right.

I love Zoots duet with Joe Pass anyway, if he was loaded of not.

Going to watch soccer world cup again now. With some nice German pils (slightly bitter beer).

ASK said...

"No one seems happy about the fact that consciousness-altering substances have been at the center of American popular music for the past 100 years or so..."

i'm happy about it. i don't mind.

incredible talent + disinhibition = genius

some people seem to need a little something to take those walls of nerves down. self consciousness really can stop the flow, so i get why so many of the greats have used one thing or another.

BUT, i agree with the "feels better than it sounds" school of thought, too! sometimes that is so true!