Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Coltrane and the Jazz Fracture-by Steve Provizer

Tom, one of our commentors, speculates about Coltrane's contribution to the fracturing of the jazz audience and the concomitant loss of jazz audience in the early 1960's. This fracturing was certainly underway before the early 60's; chiefly through Ornette and somewhat via Cecil Taylor and Dolphy, but for several reasons-and for better or worse- Coltrane was most responsible for this process. I would lay a few shekels on the notion that this era gave birth to the jazz expression: "You gotta be able to go inside the house before you can go outside." If the adage did exist, I'd say it alluded to being able to play the blues-not to the bop/free dichotomy. But whether or not the phrase was newly coined, it was in the air. And, of all those playing "free jazz" or "the New Thing," if you will, Coltrane was the only one who had obviously negotiated that transition (for the moment, let's suspend the large discussion that could be devoted to Dolphy and chord changes). Another factor is that, while he was pressing on the "outside," Coltrane continued to make "inside" melodic music: the Johnny Hartman and Ellington records, recording "Someday My Prince Will Come" with Miles; even as late as 1964's "Crescent." It's reasonable to think that listeners who loved 'old' Trane would be willing to expend some energy trying to follow and find the musical value in his new directions. This may have led some to a kind of limbo; possibly the place where our friend Tom found himself. The point I tried to make in Coltrane on Coltrane is that he basically just went about his (extraordinary) business. He talked about trying to be in tune with the Creator, but never proselytized; never tried to elevate his status as a "spiritual" person. Others, however, took him up for their cause; ridiculous in the case of people with political agendas (c.f. the Frank Kofsky interview); understandable in the case of people with a spiritual bent. Secular music-jazz-always had a bit of a shaky spiritual relationship with the culture at large. Coltrane changed that. His highly credible musical history, his nearly universal acceptance by other musicians, the widespread perception of him as an exemplary character and his early death, made him the exemplar of this change. In 1965, some thought you couldn't successfully pull the spiritual thread out of the jazz skein any more than you could the rhythm thread or the harmony thread. Others thought the most important thread was being given the primacy it deserves. This difference in perception continues.


gmoke said...

I wonder if Pastor John Gensel ever wrote or talked about the spiritual in jazz. He was a friend to Coltrane and Duke Ellington wrote a piece in one of his Sacred Concert series for him, "The Shepherd Who Watches Over the Night Flock."

The day MLKing was shot, I heard Pastor Gensel speak to a group of high school students, one of whom was me, before a benefit for Tuskegee Institute at Carnegie Hall of Ellington and his band playing a Sacred Concert. When they played Gensel's tune I was astonished to hear the cadences and rhythms of the Pastor in the music Ellington wrote for him.

If memory serves, Gensel was the one who announced from the stage that King had been shot. The whole audience drew its breath in. The Duke and his men kept on playing and the music rose to even greater heights. Somewhere there is a recording of that concert. I know because I heard NPR broadcast the announcement on a radio show sometime in the 1980s. I'd like to track it down sometime.

PS: Ravi Shankar once said that he heard such anger and pain in John Coltrane's music. I think it frightened him a little.

Chris said...

Coltrane was certainly the first free jazz musician who couldn't be discounted as a musician who couldn't play straight. It made it harder to discount the whole musical style though people still tried to.

But I do think that the fracturing of the jazz audience goes back farther than free jazz. Each change of style seemed to fracture the audience. The most obvious one to me was the bop revolution and moldy fig reaction. As time went on the hard boppers bridged the gap least between swing and bop audiences. Still jazz audiences of the fifties were never as large as the pre-bop swing audiences. And after free jazz there was some reproachment with jazz rock...which during its early days at least mixed in a lot of free jazz elements with rock and blues. But though the audience rebounded a little it never rebounded to pre 60s levels....and then there were the neo-cons and post -boppers of the 80s and 90s....but even they haven't managed to improve the audience....which is still awfully small. Most neo-cons have trouble maintaining an audience after their early years. Except for Wynton most all neo-cons have settled into journeyman status in an ever decreasing share of the audience.

I guess I just question the idea that Trane or Cecil or Ornette are responsible for the shrinking jazz audience. They did perhaps add to it....but most people have never heard of them and no longer associate them with jazz anyway...the fracturing of the audience I think is more complicated than one single movement or artist.

Just some thoughts....not sure if I'm right either.

Steve Provizer said...

George-Just bringing up MLK's assassination brings the hair up on the back of one's neck. To think about the concert you attended-it must have been, well, indescribable.

The relationship between black churches and jazz is complex, with Ellington seemingly right at the nexus. Trane himself came from a family where some members were deeply invested in the church (AME Zion) and some not at all.

If I was to generalize-and who's to stop me-no matter what their spiritual inclinations may be, jazz musicians don't seem to be much for overt religious participation.

Steve Provizer said...

Chris-I agree it's a mistake to "over-determine" the role Coltrane and company played. It may be saner to say they had a strong influence in a small subset of what was a maelstrom of wider changes. The moldy fig/bop thing was certainly a serious rift, but contexts were very different; in the way that the 40's were different from the 60's.

In the 60's, political movements-civil, woman's and gay rights, were in everyone's face. There was a lot of fracturing along political lines and musical choices-always political to some degree-were more so.

Also, there were no musical alternatives in the 1940's that approached the popularity achieved by rock and roll and then rock. So, the demographic group that might have been drawn to jazz (by knowing the tunes, being able to sing the melodies, understanding blowing styles within a continuum) were, instead, drawn to Buffalo Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, etc.

The responsibility of the artist, of course, is to follow the voice inside the head. To speculate, perhaps, but not be guided by the potential ramifications of his choices on the future of the genre.

Chris Albertson said...

The Moldy Fig/Bop thing was to a large extent artificially generated by people, like Leonard Feather, who exacerbated normal signs of idiomatic polarization in order to cash in. Like Cats versus Chicks, Hot versus Cool was a a gimmick and many musicians went along with the game, because it translated into gigs. I think Louis' publicly expressed distain for Bop was a reflection of his showmanship, and I don't recall ever hearing a musician of one stylistic bent put down a colleague based on his or her anachronistic or visionary approach to the music.

In 1959, when Ornette's music startled the staid, Elmer Snowden and I sat through one of his sets at the Show Boat in Philly. Elmer did not throw up or reach for the Bayer bottle—he tried to count bars and was amused when he couldn't.

Remember, too, that most of the players who led the music in a new direction, even taking giant steps, came from rather basic r&b environments.

Audiences were often more fractured by the music's shift from the feet to the intellect. In the Sixties, a college student listened to a Jimmy Giuffre college concert and asked where the rhythm was.

"It is understood," was Jimmy's calm reply.

Sometimes, understanding isn't instant, and sometimes the music is taken to such a different level that it should no longer be judged by old standards.

Steve Provizer said...

Chris A.: From your recollection, was the adage about 'being able to get inside the house before you got out' a creation in response to the avant-garde or something before that?

Chris Albertson said...

Steve, I don't recall ever having heard that adage until I read it here.

Steve Provizer said...

Yes-that expression was in common use-at least among us fledgling musicians.

Chris Albertson said...

Thanks, Steve. Goes to show you that we are never too old to learn. :)

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

The Moldy Fig/Bop thing was to a large extent artificially generated by people, like Leonard Feather, who exacerbated normal signs of idiomatic polarization in order to cash in.

Conflict leads to sales!

'being able to get inside the house before you got out'

Then of course there are those who get locked in the house and can't get out (I've fallen...and I can't get up!) Or get in the house, put on a pair of green sweat pants, order in some pizzas and slurpees, pull down the blinds and play video games all day. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you--they're "in" and that is "good."

Question: What sounds worse? Someone trying to get "in" and "failing" or someone trying to get "out" and "failing?"

Steve Provizer said...

SJZ asks: What sounds worse? Someone trying to get "in" and "failing" or someone trying to get "out" and "failing?"

Have you seen the clip of Frank Z. on Letterman from the 80's where he talks about the record he made w. the London Symphony Orch? He talks about not having enough money for rehearsing properly. They did as much editing as they could to hide mistakes, but he put a disclaimer on the album-kind of caveat emptor.

The above story may be an illustration of how hard it is to get inside the house completely, but that there can be value in getting your foot in the door; a reflection of the 'grey-ness' of your (admittedly rhetorical) question.

Chris said...

Actually I have always wondered why it was so important that people play in before they learned to play out. I can see the value if you want to remain connected to the jazz tradition, but if you don't care about that, or at least don't care about labels, then why should being able to play the blues make your AMM style music better.
I personally come from equal parts jazz and classical tradition and the music I want to make relates to those traditions....but I don't think all improvised music has to relate....or should relate. After 50 years in existence I think free improvisation has developed its own traditions and really doesn't require you to be able to play Charlie Parker omnibus lines.

I once found a recording I'd made when I was 11 or so and interested in becoming Arnold Schoenberg and well before i became interested in jazz. It was some improvisations I did on the technique has certainly grown but the musical approach was not substantially different than what I do now. Yes I have learned more since then but I have to wonder what all the bop licks I learned at the Chord Factory on Boylston St. Actually got me....

Eric Zinman said...

Steve I really don't understand the connection between what SJZ said and your story about Frank Zappa's piece with the LSO. What I get from what Stanley is saying is that there is no IN or OUT because the expression IS the FORM, not the other way around. That is what I've come to believe. In addition this expression changes how we perceive the past.

It is typical for critics to say that if someone does not choose to deal with a more familiar form, that they are somehow impoverished by some limitation, but I have chosen to believe that it is precisely their limitations and the particular way they adhere to them that makes that person an artist.

'being able to get inside the house before you got out'

This is the sort of reactionary language that Winnie the Pooh Marsalis uses, but real creation is the alternative to power.

This "inside outside thing" is the language of an academic bully who like a peasant going to the zoo for the first time sees his first elephant, picks up the trunk and says" I don't believe it?!?"

In a world filled with music and passion; it is impossible not to be influenced.

Artists start where they are. The only requirement is obsession.

Chris said...

May have gone a little overboard at the end of that last post....certainly I've.gained an enormous amount by listening to the great masters.....I think what is more suspect to me the the cut and paste jazz education that is prevelant at Berklee and.other jazz programs....I question any jazz program where exploring isn't a strong part of the.curriculum and at least when I was there it wasn't at Berklee....I suspect the same thing in the juilliard program.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Old Frank has a passage about that ordeal in his autobiography so if you haven't read it, it might induce puzzlement.

He was trying to rehearse some piece at the Albert Hall with a bunch of drunk slob union musicians from LSO and soon discovered they really didn't want to perform demanding new pieces.

They just wanted all Handel all the time so it would be easy and they could punch in and punch out and collect their gelt.

Of course they made an utter hash of his piece and probably started him on the road to being a disgruntled libertarian with no fondness for unions.

So they fucked up his piece, cheated him out of a shitload of money and then he couldn't sue because Albert Hall belongs to the queen. It made him loathe the UK forever.

So it was a handful to 'get in' and get your piece played right.

In Mass we have an old routine.."What's orange and black and sleeps four?"

"A Mass State DPW truck."

I am aware good old Zinman never tires of pounding the conflict between art and culture but missed a deft example of this collision right under his nose.

Obsession smesssion. Some people just do stuff because it's an intrinsic facet of their nature. See Blake and his summary of the war between 'the prolific' and 'the devourers'.

What if some people are just having fun as an antidote to whatever they end up doing to pay the bills? See Jim Hobbs.

The obsession part happens when you twist fun through some imagined trajectory of 'career', however shaped.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

This just set me to thinking about the whole other world that awaits a composer.

Few get large pieces performed at all and then good luck with having it come out right.

FZ had endless problems with his bands and the human element in general until he got a Kurzweil so he could test pieces without worrying about whether the drummer would make rehearsal.

That got old too and it was, in retrospect, those occasions when he was actually welcomed into that particular house that he got a decent reading.

Pierre Boulez eventually brought their long correspondence to some kind of fruition by finding ensembles that were actually avid to perform his pieces.

A late collection of works called Yellow Shark involved something called 'Ensemble Moderne' and they actually exceeded expectations.

His home town unit, The L. A. Phil, was generally more enthusiastic too.

Chris Albertson said...

Is anything wholly original? I don't think so. Ergo, everything we create comes from somewhere—it could be a thousand somewheres, but the components, no matter how small, were here before we used them.

That said, agree with Chris R when he suggests that there is no value, per se, in basing what we do on tradition—the tradition may not be all that obvious, but it is there, because we are mixologists, as it were. We take what's there and rearrange or eliminate. What we add may sound/look new, but the basic ingredients aren't. There is not a letter of the alphabet in my Bessie Smith biography that hasn't been used millions of times, but I rearranged them in a way that had not been seen before. Now, I could have gone a step further and rearranged them in a meaningless way, I could have written "Shwe owei cwded leehdas," but no memory would have retained it, no value could have been derived from it, no mind—however inventive—could have found the slightest inspiration in it.

Breaking loose from the norm is not in and of itself innovative, and it is of little or no value unless it can stand on its own.

You can tinkle through a fog of incense and shake a toe bell or two. That and organically grown weed might invoke a sense of spirituality, but it is an illusion, a green screen. There has to be more, there has to be a force from within. Bessie had that, so did Coltrane, Piaf, Bozie Sturdivant (I keep coming back to him), Carlos Gardel, et al.

Assuming that "outside" is square one for all of us, we can either stay there or move inside. In fact, if getting out is important, getting in has to be the first order of business. One is not possible without the other.

I have known musicians who thought they had made it to the inside, but really hadn't. I don't recall their names nor has my memory retained their sounds, but that is the nature of green screens.

Have I added enough confusion to this exchange? Am I forgiven?

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Confusion is our friend.

I've been listening to one of a batch of discs Brew sent me and it's from 92 and involves a fairly large ensemble. I have no idea who's on it but I'm struck by the way they breeze in and out of the entire continuum now conjuring some W. C. Handy chestnut and then shifting to something that could answer Muhal Richard Abrams large ensemble works or shift to the practices enjoyed when Stratusphunk was recorded.

And it's all just in some gin mill or concert hall and you can tell everyone is having fun. The applause is loud and easygoing. The ensemble is clearly enjoying it all and the storm and stress gives way to a touch of whimsy.

I'm still chuckling about Mr. Snowden counting the beats. That is so charming and speaks volumes about some solidarity beyond the contrivances of style wars.

Steve Provizer said...

Chris A-Sorry, but I don't think you've added enough confusion...

Each of us has sensitivities about inside/outside. As I admitted in a previous post, it's difficult for me not to compare myself with other trumpet players(metaphorically, the "inside"). The trick is always reconciling that with finding one's own voice (metaphorically, "outside").

rob chalfen said...

the jazz audience keeps fracturing because the social use of the music keeps changing. From the 20s through most of the 30s jazz was pretty much co-terminous with pop & dance music. There was some early jazz as art, but it was an elite taste (Davenport Blues, Boneyard Shuffle, Singin' The Blues, Stardust, Imagination, In A Mist, Weatherbird, West End Blues, etc). The big band era was a dance band movement primarily, with varying jazz content. The postwar moldy-fig anti-bop backlash actually began as a purist backlash against big bands as 'too commercial' in favor of small jazz combos beginning around 1936 with such phenomena as the publication of Jazzmen, the 1st non-bs jazz book in the US, the Bix Memorial album on Victor with accompanying liner notes (the first in jazz), the Goodman & Basie combos, Spirituals to Swing concerts, the Record Changer and other fanzines. Later the reissuing of 20s small group classics, the rise of 52nd St & the New Orleans revival established a purist 'Real Jazz' counter-force. When WW2 knocked the stuffing out of the big bands, the boppers became the next target of opportunity, and R&B peeled off the dancers. The bigger jazz audience in the 40s & 50s was partly a college crowd, so thank the GI bill.

Steve Provizer said...

Not so fast, R.C. You say "the jazz audience keeps fracturing because the social use of the music keeps changing." But that ideation sucks some of the internal life out of the music.

Obviously, many jazz musicians have climbed out on some very flimsy limbs to pursue their particular idiosyncratic musical directions; limbs that were not in tune with the prevailing social use of the music. Sometimes there was a co-relation. Sometimes the kind of revivals you mentioned were necessary to equilibrate that social function thing. Still other times, the debate rages on, as it has in these comments.

rob chalfen said...

it's evolutionary; there are many mutations but only a few endure to thrive under prevailing conditions. Boyce Brown, anyone?

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Now, I could have gone a step further and rearranged them in a meaningless way, I could have written "Shwe owei cwded leehdas," but no memory would have retained it,

What do you mean? I love Shwe owei cwded leehdas

no value could have been derived from it,

I'm getting use value out of it right now.

no mind—however inventive—could have found the slightest inspiration in it.

What makes you so sure?

You know what I like to do? Take books written in languages I do not speak--like Icelandic or Romanian for example--and make my own "translations."

If we were in the ensemble and you played
Shwe owei cwded leehdas

on your mellophone and I played

vkenwoo eivi39898sns,e sa[z98iiziizz vmdksiiez[z[[zi300znz00101k2001

on my thumb piano, would that be music? If not, why not?

Chris Albertson said...

Thank you, Stanley, I hear exactly what you are saying and it is inspiring me.

So, re my previous comment...

...never mind!

Matt Lavelle said...

Going all the way back to gsmoke,..Duke's sacred music needs to be really looked at more closely.The second Sacred concert one has some of the most,..spiritual,..moments in Jazz I have ever experienced.Not religious,.whatever Duke's intent.

Simply stated,.when Paul Gonsalves enters on "Praise God and Dance",.I end up crying.Cant help it.Every time.Am I a punk? over sensitive? maybe,.but its real,.and happens every time.

When Alice Babs,.a truly gifted singer sings T.T.G.T,.(to good to title),.there are no lyrics,.but it is hard to not see,..what is almost musical perfection!

Duke said it was not career,.the music was personal,.between him and God,..and all camps,..IN or OUT,.or both(like me),.sometimes agree,.that DUKE is as about as good as it gets.

In this way,.I always see connections between In and Out,.and as anybody has read my stuff, whole deal is that ITS ALL THE SAME THING.

Paul Gonsalves himself,.in an interview,.talked simply about tone,sound,and the ability to produce your ideas.If your ideas are OUT,.get good enough to play them,.and please,.I beg you,.have a SOUND.In or Out,..the sound is still paramount,.to me.The great free players all have truly original sounds and languages,.no different than Barney Bigard,.Cootie Williams,.and Cat Anderson.

As for the audience fracturing,and evaporating or whatever,.it's not done yet.

I just left a PACKED house in NYC,..a great friend of mine BURNED the local 269 to the ground!

Chris said...


I love the idea that in and out are really the same thing....I remember relistening to the Jazz at Massey Hall Concert after listening to some free jazz and being impressed that the energy was exactly the same to me....Bird and Diz were crackling with the same energy that I heard in Ornette and Don Cherry or Albert and Don Ayler. Language might be different but the energy is the same.

Steve Provizer said...

Matt and Chris are advocating an approach to listening that transcends inside and outside. If that means being open to both, I'm with you. I do both myself. But let's recognize that in some ways the energy is the same and in others, it isn't. A pianissimo sawtooth wave and a fortissimo sine wave are both energy, but they're very different. Each of our brains prefers different stories. Inside and outside just plain sound different.

Matt Lavelle said...

I'll take it a little further Steve and say that some free Jazz folks and some out folks,.are out people,.with stories and life experiences that push them into creating music that reflects who they are and the lives they are living.

That's what Jazz is!! If you've seen and lived some out things,.it may manifest in your music.If you have an out way of talking and communicating in your natural state,.it may manifest in your music.

Just my take,..based on how I came up.(I came up as a total straight ahead swing musician at the start.)

My favorite "Jazz",.(I know people hate the word),.is when it all comes together.


Anonymous said...

I plan to remain silent on this one, even if I may have provoked it! The great thing about Jazz is that everyone has their own choice and opinion. As an art form, it allows the listener to appreciate or dislike whatever he or she wishes to hear. Quite often, it generational, as those born in a certain era may have preconceptions as to what is "good" Jazz, as opposed to "bad" Jazz. I belong to the IAJRC (International Association of Jazz Record Collectors) and have been a member for over 30 years. Most of that membership never got out of the "Big Bands" of the 1930s and 1940s and considered myself and others the "Young Turks," as we preferred Be Bop and beyond. About 10 years ago, at one of our conventions, a friend of mine asked an interesting question: "Is Jazz a Twentieth Century phenomenon?" We never came up with an answer. Let's hope the answer is NO!

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

What we have here is an impressive discourse convergence from all over the map and that fulfills the purpose of this thing.

I value and like both the legacy side of the community and the striving side up to its ears in the problems of getting over with a form that isn't exactly mass appeal.

When we all try and cut each other a bit of slack and abandon our various purity worries we end up with something fairly laudable.

Chris said...

JWell said Chris. Purity has no place in least as a standard by which you judge others. It may have validity as an ideal that an artist chooses to strive for but the.minute its used to hold someone to an artificial standard it can become counter productive.

When I was coming up I read a lot of back issues of jazz magazines at my local library. I remember an issue of Melody Maker where this reader.wrote.a.long letter castigating Miles Davis.because he was too lyrical and that wasn't in the "Buddy Holden tradition". He basically felt that no music that fell outside this tradition was worth anything and shouldn't be called jazz. I remember finding this ridiculous on so many levels....first, none of us have a clue.what Buddy Holden sounded like so how can we posit a tradition from him. Second, why does a music have to stay within certain parameters to be valid and aesthetically good. Third, who cares what you call it anyway...jazz is just a more or less defined concept which we use as a shorthand for a style of music who's boundaries are pretty fuzzy at times.

Self imposed stylistic boundaries and purity requirements can rob you of the chance to experience some great music...especially if that music defies category.