Monday, May 31, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Why "Best of" Lists Suck


The "Best Of" List Industry continues to grind out the sausages. Downbeat Magazine's recent listing of the 25 Favorite Big Band Albums is not the worst example, but it did snap this camel's back. Call it vain, call it ironic, but in an attempt to undermine this international conspiracy, I offer my own top ten list:


1. Usually there's no commentary at all to validate a listing. If there is, it doesn't.
2. Hyper-selectivity is anathema to discovery. Stumbling through a thicket of sound leads to real discovery, not following a road map.
3. Listing is something you do when you walk back to your cabin after drinking to forget that the ship is about to capsize.
4. Inclusiveness doesn't work. The more people you ask to help produce a list, the more the juice is sucked out.
5. The Net's about self-aggrandizement; no one argues with that. Can't ya be a little more subtle about it?
6. It may be possible that someone could go to a friend's house for a listening session and say "Play me your top 10 Zoot Sim's records." OK, but there are so many more interesting ways to go from one side to the next that if you actually did spend the night with these 10 albums, I'd recommend seeking treatment for OCDC.
7. By reifying the 'experts,' lists decrease, they don't increase, the flow of actual communication. Trust your friend's musical advice, not a stranger online.
8. At least keep the list short. The larger the list, the harder it falls.
9. Getting on such lists only misleads musicians into thinking their gigs will improve.
10. You've probably stopped reading this list by now, which only goes to prove my point.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Checkin' in With Mr. Shipp.


Jeff Schlanger. Music Witness.

1. How has the Vision Festival helped over the years to cohere the core community of artists through good times and bad? 

"I don’t know if a group of musicians cohering is the right way to put it-for every artists music must rise or fall on its own merits not on a scene. But the Vision Festival definitely gave a high visibility platform to a scene that had been ignored previously. People are slow to forget but in the 1980s there were two main currents in the media-the marsalis school and the whole bogus back to the tradition psuedo movement of young black boys and a kind of post Zorn school of white boys. 

That is not meant as an affront to Zorn-who is a friend of mine and someone I respect- or to any of those musicians many who I adore- but I am just trying to delineate a certain thing. Just remember William has been on the scene since the 1970s and did not really start recording until the mid 1990s. So William and some of the people around him where basically considered a bunch of fucking insurgent black punks on the lower east side that wanted to play free jazz by the jazz media back then.

Around the late 1980s a Swedish record label Silkheart Records was the first label who really started recording this scene as a scene--- of course Bob Rusch and cadence records had recorded some of us before but that is a different stream within the business his contribution to the whole thing we can deal with later—but Silkheart was one of the first people to even acknowledge that there was a vibrant scene here. 

Then you have people from the punk rock and alternative music world who started to profess their love for jazz-like Thurston and Henry Rollins etc etc and we were the people they gravitated towards which gave us a lot of visibility in different types of media.

Then around that same time the Vision Festival developed –it was a new extension to the Sound Unity Festival and other events that Patricia and William had done in the 1980s. So all this together added up to a specific core group of musicians getting an international profile. But just remember that before all this coalesced every one had been working very hard for years in a sort of void.

The Vision Festival is not 100 percent responsible for this-Charles Gayle and David S. Ware had their own mojo and logic of their career development happening on a separate track-I had thrust myself into the middle of the jazz establishment as a huge antagonistic force and started really getting notice because of the aplomb that I could do that with –plus my distinctive style etc etc-but the Vision Fest was a big part of the mix."


2. What were some memorable moments for you in prior years?

"There are so many great moments over the years in the Vision Festival to pick some above others would not be fair—but one of my favorite things was not at the Vision Festival proper but when Rai Radio in Italy wanted to import the Vision Festival to Rome and they did a three day festival called New York Is Now of Vision Festival artists. That was really magical. All the sets where great from what I remember. I really enjoyed a solo piano set by Dave Burrell. That set elucidated the connection Monk’s style has to the avant garde and thrust Burrell into the position of the one who truly understands that real estate."

3. How did the small ensemble with Marshall Allen come into being?

"There was a festival in San Fran at Yoshis-they wanted me out there with a a trio but not specifically with my working trio –so we brainstormed to come up with an interesting 3rd person and Marshall was on my mind because he had been honored at the Vision Festival that year and when I brought him up they said yea-lets do it."

4. What were some highlights of your work with Mr. Allen?

"Well it's a trio-me-Joe Morris on bass and Marshall of course on reeds-there are only 2 highlights-they are the two projects we have done so far-the cd on Rogue Arts-’’Night Logic’’ and the gig we did in San Fran . We have an upcoming gig this summer at George Weins Newport Jazz Fest. This trio is really magic. For me to play with Marshall is beyond the beyond for I grew up worshiping the whole Sun Ra trip. But Marshall is such a natural player and he has no trip and no ego in his playing—it is actually almost impossible to fathom—he can make anything work.The energy and the taste that he plays with take me out every time I hear him."

5. How have the poets, visual artists and others contributed to the experience?

"Well Patricia’s whole vision with the festival is multi-discipline- and is meant to include dance-for she is a dancer-poetry and visual art. There has obviously been loads of collaborations throughout human history between different art forms and I don’t know what I can add or say that makes it any different here. It does bring the whole community together though. I personally love working with dancers and poets and I love having nice visual art around me when I play. But the community thing is Patricia's thing. I personally don’t give a fuck about community-I  basically care about Matt Shipp."

6. Describe your association and friendship with notable poets in the community such as Mr. Ferris and Mr. Dalachinsky.

"I don’t know where to begin-Ferris and Dalachinsky are two of my closest friends. I have known both since around 1984-have been through a lot with them-people in our world know about Steve but John Ferris might be an unknown to them. He is a lower east side legend—a cantankerous old black poet who is brilliant and a fucking crazy motherfucker-but everyone loves him. I could tell you many many stories of things I have seen with John that would stretch credibility-many around 4 in the morning and after many things where absorbed into our systems. But you get the idea –he has been around and seen everything and is a walking repository of a lot of history. He was a bodyguard for Malcolm X but the thing I like most about John is supposedly he beat the shit out of Stanley Crouch years ago-from what I have heard.Oh I forgot-he is a great writer. He wrote liner notes for my first cd, "Circular Temple"." 

7. How was your two day engagement in Novosibirsk with Mr. Mateen?

"Well those two days were two days out of a two week tour of one nighters-so the whole two weeks where tremendous musically- Sabir and I have really developed into a team and it is so natural to play with him. At this point in my life if a situation is not natural then fuck it. Sabir is playing on a very high level now-it is easy to look at him and just classify him as a certain thing —but if you really check him out he is making a stand to bring this whole thing somewhere different. 

Of course no person is symmetrical and it depends on what situation you hear him in. But he has the inspiration at this point in history and though he cannot be easily pigeon holed he is really coming up with some new lines and things on his instrument. Plus historically how many people can you say played in both Sun Ra’s band and Horace Tapcotts band-sort of an east coast west coast panorama. Anyway, Sabir is a unique and it is great fun to make music with him."


8. How is the year ahead looking in terms of performances, releases, etc?

"Good."

9. Has it been an improvement over prior years? 

"My situation in the scene has definitely improved over the years. It has been a slow process of having to build our own eco system in which to thrive and we have had to build it brick by brick-of course we still have to deal with vulgar jazz society but that is so dead that it makes us stand out to be positioned against that even at the expense of misunderstandings which  I court. Of course this is all still very hard- even though some of us are doing alright make no mistake, no one is getting rich off this. However it is a great privilege to be able to play and to do alright.


The one thing that has really changed is that at the beginning of the 1990s there really seemed to be a whole culture of Europhile critics that viewed black American creativity in a suspect way when compared to what was coming out of Europe but even though some of that still exists, we have been given a fair shake in the media and a lot of writers have dealt with us on our terms and for that I am thankful. Of course there are still a couple of writers out there who in my opinion are racist and have an agenda-like Downbeat critic John Corbett-in my opinion—but all in all we have been given a fair shake." 


10. Do you have any particular aspirations for the near term that look to be fulfilled?  

"The only thing I want to do is to keep pushing notes down on the piano and when I push enough of them down then one day I want to drop the fuck dead."



Saturday, May 29, 2010

MUSICAL KUDZU


An Oscar Wilde quote worth knowing: “There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what one wants. The other is getting it.”


Case in point: “Kind of Blue;” a wet dream for the Mile Davis Estate; maybe not so great for jazz.


In the last 50 or so years, jazz has had an uneasy relationship with popular success. There is always a lot of talk about how Bop moved jazz from dance music to art music and, being less tied to the functional needs of the culture, moved into a smaller corner of American life. Vocalists could have a foot in the jazz and popular camps and succeed, not so modern instrumentalists.


Occasionally, something hit: Errol Garner’s “Concert By the Sea”-1955, “Ellington at Newport”-1956, Brubeck’s “Take Five”-1959, “Getz Gilberto”-1964. The success of these, amplified a hundred-fold in the case of “Kind of Blue,” takes a toll, as the material is increasingly used for essentially nostalgic purposes. There's less space in the American musical brain for jazz anyway. A phenomenon like Kind of Blue hogs what's left.


No doubt my patience has worn thin as a result of living long enough to hear several generations of jazz DJ’s “discover” K.O.B. In any case, the phenomenon resurrected thoughts I’d had on the way repetition created musical monsters of 3 songs: "Satin Doll," “Blue Bossa” and “Misty.” All of which have suffered fates akin to that befalling “Kind of Blue.”


First, “Satin Doll.” It’s to the good that this song provided solid income for Ellington. Unfortunately, like musical kudzu, it has crowded out the many works of genius he created in the mind of the average music consumer. His great work lay elsewhere-Bartender: another Black and Tan Fantasy-but the psychic space is taken up by Satin Doll. The pseudo hip lyrics only make things worse:


"Cigarette holder which wigs me
Over her shoulder, she digs me.
Out cattin' that satin doll.
Baby, shall we go out skippin?
Careful, amigo, you're flippin',
Speaks Latin that satin doll."



And: switch-a-rooney. Johnny Mercer, how could you?


Everyone plays this song, no matter how scant their credentials for playing jazz. In wedding party rooms, pizza parlors, church basements, rehearsal rooms, even in recording studios, this tattered tune is infinitely resurrected.


A second song suffering a similar fate is Kenny Dorham’s "Blue Bossa." KD was one of the finest jazz trumpet players of the 1950's-early 60's. He was musically adventurous and wrote a number of interesting tunes that pushed harmony, time signatures and explored 'free' and classical concepts. Not so, this song.


It was born in an era when ill-conceived mash-ups resulted in tunes like: 'Bossa Nova Baby,' 'Soul Bossa Nova' and 'Bossa Nova USA.' Like “Satin Doll,” it is played by anyone who can recognize a D minor chord. I understand its value as a learning tool that can be used to addle the brains of aspiring musicians at Berklee and like institutions. All well and good, if it had been quarantined to quarters. However, it has continued to leak out and infect the wider listening public. Evaluating Dorham’s composing skills via Blue Bossa is like using Satin Doll to evaluate Ellington. Their ubiquity warps judgment.


Number 3 on this list: "Musty," er, sorry, “Misty,” written by pianist Errol Garner.


As a musician, Garner was an interesting case: Couldn't read music, which in jazz by the 1950's, was getting to be rare; made a bunch of records, but only a few clicked; at 5'2" (nickname: The Elf), he needed to put phone books on the bench to get up to the keyboard. To my ears, he does attain one of the classic jazz goals-you can recognize it's Garner right away, largely because of the stretching of time, the independence of left and right hands and the frequent use of octaves and tenths, a la Stride players like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Jackie Byard was a similar eclectic stylist a half-generation later.


A composition like Misty served Garner well, allowing for the kinds of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic digressions he liked to make. However, as this song seeped more and more into the popular repertoire, it came under attack by kitch-a-coccus, began to age badly and lost its appeal. Its fate has been remarkably similar to that of Blue Bossa and Satin Doll. Every wedding in every Elks hall in American resounds with its opening descending arpeggio.


Note, please, that I make no claims about whether it did or didn't gall these musicians to have to play these songs interminably (KD died too young to have to), merely that crossing over into long-term, popular success has not only neutered these songs, it has sapped, in some way, the creative strength of jazz. There are those who have used these songs as raw material and tried to transmute them into something original, but for the most part, they are used for nostalgic purposes; to try and re-create a feel-good feeling that can be used to sell the song itself, and an idealized version of sophistication.


A moratorium should be declared.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jazz Pseudonym Prison


In looking at Coltrane's 1961 recording Ole, one sees Eric Dolphy listed as "George Lane." I guess he was under contract with Prestige at that time and had to go through the charade of using a pseudonym. Who was kidding whom? Dolphy! Probably the single most easily identifiable musician in jazz. For god's sake, Charlie Parker listed as Charlie Chan?


Somehow I don't think Dolphy or Bird was afraid of having Green Room Dom Perignon privileges taken away. How serious was the potential of other threatened punishments? Of actually being suspended, blacklisted or having royalties withheld?


Pseudonym use is a ludicrous, adolescent ritual and one that I think only musicians in the recording world of jazz have been subject to. It positioned jazz musicians somewhere between individuals with fully-vested rights and indentured servants. Yes, Hollywood had the "studio system," but look at the difference in financial rewards! And, at least that system seemed to be conducted along business lines-you can have Gable if you lend me Nelson Eddy. Such exchanges happen in jazz: "so and so performs under an arrangement with," but taking a wider view, that process has at least a grudging quality to it, if not the odor of collusion.


Also, is this same kind of contractual nonsense the reason why so many jazz albums didn't list the names of the freaking players? Did these labels at least have the excuse of having to cover their butt legally, or did they simply not deem the people who recorded the music SIGNIFICANT enough to credit?


As far as I have seen, labels of '78's were always clearly marked with the names of the musicians-at least in small to medium-sized ensembles. (Was there rampant mis-appropriation of composing credits? Yea, but that's another story, one as old as show biz. Jolson was not a songwriter and neither was Irving Mills, but you'd never know it from their ASCAP checks). Does this pseudo-contractual nonsense go back to the 20's? I rely on our panel of '78 experts to tell us.




Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Got the Military-Blues Brass Band Blues




Thanks to M. Chalfen for his Wilbur Sweatman, W.C. Handy and Victor Military Band citations (see comments at "Twelve Bars That Died for our Sins." Just for good measure, I'll throw in James Reese Europe's band in 1919. All tunes taken at a stately tempo-Reese pushes a little bit harder... Yea, the Sweatman swings most. Smears, breaks, clarinet obligatos are the order of the day, all happening within the tight arrangements and performances of trained musicians (Victor Military Band: mama, you're just too tight). Much attention is also paid to dynamics.


In style and instrumentation, I hear this music fusing two brass band traditions; representing, once again, our friends "uplift," and the dreaded "devil's music."


Civil War bandsmen who wanted to continue to be musicians post-war could either move into "civilian" gigs-minstrelsy, circuses, medicine shows, informal parade bands, etc. The strain we know best is the New Orleans version-Eureka, Eagle, Bolden Brass bands etc.). Of course, this dangerous direction led to jazz. Find a good overview here.





The other possible direction to take-more 'legit'-was to maintain a relationship with the military, or to move into the disciplined circles of Tuskegee and Hampdon, Gilmore and Sousa; all institutions associated with 'uplift.' A brilliant article concisely summarizes this.


For reasons cited before, these military-blues brass bands served up blues the way America knew them before "Crazy Blues." This hybrid style culminates here and basically ends here as a popular-music form. It is, however, preserved in community bands all over the U.S.; serenading picnickers on summer nights, entertaining in senior citizen homes, or marching down the street in haphazard formation at the Allston-Brighton Day Parade, shifting easily between The Stars and Stripes Forever, medleys from The Sound of Music and arrangements of St. Louis Woman. Oh, don't they ramble...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twelve Bars That Died For Our Sins






C.R. recently opined that the "African Diaspora aesthetics of sound...breathed life into hackneyed and stagnating forms." There's a story hidden in there about form and blowing and it has to do with the blues.


A Rough History.


Pentatonic (5-note) scales seem to be among the first musical discoveries made by every culture. Ancient cultures organized their reeds, made their flutes and tuned their stringed instruments to play them. Getting from note to note was always a local issue, although, of course, there were commonalities. Flatting the third and the fifth was widespread and this scale and these inflexions infused the music brought to the US with slavery. Once here, it was reproduced vocally, on banjos and then on brass. Its identity was as a raw and expressive medium of story-telling. It was simple in structure, especially in comparison to Ragtime, which took some ideas from the blues, but introduced more formal compositional elements.


I've always found calling W.C.Handy "Father of the Blues" a little weird. His compositions, including the Memphis, Beale Street, and St. Louis Blues, had bluesy elements, but were elaborately constructed-much more ragtime/blues hybrids. In fact, I think of him as part of a professional music crowd that sidetracked and temporarily hijacked the blues in the first 20 years of the century. The idea seemed to be to make it more sophisticated, while sneaking in just a little bit o' the other (nudge, nudge). The word 'blues' was used in many tune titles in the teens, but the recorded evidence-Chinese Blues, Ghost of the Terrible Blues, etc.-would not prepare you for what happened in the 1920's, when recordings finally revealed the soul of the blues.


What seems to have happened was the buying power of African-Americans became sufficiently established that the actual needs of that community began to be met by the recording industry. Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter had all been on the road for many years singing the blues and all went unrecorded until the 1920's. Mamie Smith was in the right place at the right time and had the honor of starting an explosion.







Unlike the ill-fitting forms that attempted to defuse it, the form that the blues really needed in order to tell its story became available in recordings. This form found a deep place in American culture and still does.


Next time: Why?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Without Form-No Function






The importance of form in jazz is grossly under-appreciated. It’s the vessel that jazz is poured into. It shapes the music overtly and subtly and if there is no synergy between the blowing and the form, the music won’t resonate.


Form is a kind of grammar, which means it may work in one circumstance, but not in another. One rule is: don’t end a sentence with a preposition (“…the vessel that jazz is poured into”). Well, that’s the arbitrary superimposition of a rule on a thought. The formation of a thought can transcend that rule and rearranging your sentence just to avoid that grammatical no-no results in a different thought=bad communication. In jazz, the creation of different forms would seem to be have been necessitated by changes in thought. And yet, is it so?


The revolutions of the 50’s-60’s blew the doors off the most-used jazz forms: blues variations, “rhythm” changes, some Latin vectors and well-worn modal pathways. The stretching of harmony with chord substitutions, bitonality, dropping chordal instruments, solos spun off in endless linearity, finally, free blowing; these pounded against the walls and threatened to blow down the house that Duke, the Great American Songbook, Dizzy and others built. And yet, the traditional forms more than survived. They persisted-and continue to dominate. Is it just that these forms are so flexible that they can absorb this kind of brutal buffeting? Are other, newer forms so singular to the creator they can’t be adopted for wider use? Whatever the reason, these venerable forms have the capacity to create an intense bond between audience and musician.


I’ve been having a strong bonding experience myself, with a recording called “Locking Horns,” recorded in 1957, featuring Zoot Sims and Joe Newman, with O.P. on bass, Adrian Acea piano and Osie Johnson-drums. The compositions on this LP fall squarely into the forms I described above. There’s a rhythm-changes based melody, a Mambo with latinized “A-Train”-type changes, a minor blues, a “When Sunny Gets Blue”-type ballad, an up-boppish “Tune Up” type and so on. Actually, all the tunes are originals, which is pretty unusual and ambitious for a mainstream recording of that era. But the point is, the forms used and the playing of the musicians fit perfectly. Essentially, it’s a swing-bop fusion which is right in the musicians' groove, but which also stretches them. It’s a creative melding that allows this recording to still be intensely satisfying some 50 years later.







The vocabulary of improvisation has changed since Sims/Newman, but our brains still crave stories. The great jazz improvisers found not just the right notes, but the right form for the notes. In an era of “meta,” this may be more difficult than it once was. Maybe it’s more rare; maybe not. Navigating the shoals of novelty-for-novelty’s-sake on one end and this-seems-to-sell-well on the other has always been difficult. In the end, to make the link between composition and improvisation powerful, you must understand how a form allows or makes it harder for you to tell the story you can tell-not someone else’s.




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Back to Bird: Compositional Territory


Got about a month's-worth of sidetracked there...So, back to the thread of whence cometh Bird, what he played that catapulted him onto the top of the jazz heap and the extent to which our perception of all that is colored by Parker's role as Tragic Hero.


If you're interested in this thread, you might want to check out my previous posts, but here's a precis: Unlike his more stable musical brother Diz, Parker's lifestyle was extreme, magnetic and polarizing. His drug habit and creative genius seemed to fuse in people's minds. Diz stretched the sheer technique of trumpet playing. Bird less so on alto. Parker's playing velocity was extreme, but matched by others. The range (high to low) in which he operated was 'normal.' However, Bird's tone was markedly different than that prevailing on the alto-sharper and more brilliant-and marked "modernism" for young players.


So, what's left to look at? The compositions and the improvisations themselves.


One way to look at the compositions is, again, to compare them to Diz's. Both broke from the past, but in different ways. The creation of new melodies over the harmony of older tunes is well known and in this, both are represented, with tunes like Groovin' High and Hot House (Diz); Donna Lee and KoKo (Bird). Both created melodies that are more complicated and chromatic than the originals. but the bulk of their compositions are very different.




Diz was a prime mover in bringing Afro-Cuban and other "exotic" influences into jazz. Compositions include Night In Tunisia, Tin Tin Deo and Manteca. He builds more minor and major-minor elements into the melodies. He also uses more contrasting sections, often going from the "exotic" section to a more straight ahead bridge. Diz also uses long tones held while harmonies shift underneath.


Name That Tune

Bird's original tunes, when not based on standards harmony, are almost always 12-bars blues that build in more sophisticated chord changes. These include Billie's Bounce, Blues for Alice and Now's The Time. He also based several songs on Honeysuckle Rose; not a blues, but not far away. The lines that Bird writes tend to be involuted and/or convoluted. They often use _all_ the notes (9th, 11th, 13th, etc.) that he and Dizzy had found in the harmony. The sophistication lay in those melodies, not in any expansion of compositional form or structure. If you want a closer look and are up for a dense read, go to an analysis of Bird's compositions by John Miles


So, we've staked out a compositional territory (subject, naturally, to course corrections initiated by knowledgeable respondents) and next time, we'll look at the extent to which these compositional choices are reflected in improvisations.


By the way, I'm hoping there's something in here that is not just about jazz history, but which speaks to musicians now, who can find in this exploration some connection to their own creative process. Please pipe in about this.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Cost of Everything, The Value of Dean

First cousin to the " Tubes versus IC's" discussion concerns those poor folks who care nothing about the creative aspects of a performance and everything about how it was recorded, or, the fact that it completes their collection of Sophie Tucker recordings. We all know these guys (I never met a woman who did it) and the tedious discussions they try to suck you into: who sat in the second trombone chair in the afternoon-not the evening-recording session of June 5, or how clear the sound is of some execrable vaudeville piece of cheese.

To these people, I have 2 words: Dean Benedetti. Jazz people know that he's the saxophone player who followed Bird around two coasts, taping him with a portable Sears disc-cutter, then a tape recorder with paper tape. He recorded from any precarious perch he could find, including a crawl-space under a bandstand, into which he drilled a hole to stick a microphone (Granted, Benedetti only recorded Parker's solos and no one else's, which is a bit strange).


Yes, the sound quality stinks, but, the recordings are absolutely priceless. The wonder of Bird's playing renders considerations of the audio quality immaterial.


I'm a strict anti-nostal-giast, but if I have a weak spot, it's that the snaps, crackles and pops I hear off vinyl, acetate, shellac etc, bring me emotionally deeper into the experience of listening. When I turn on the pristine, mistake-free recordings I hear on jazz shows, my ears glaze over and the poor musicians on the recordings have to work that much harder to hook me. However, let me hear a spinet with some tuning issues and I perk up my ears. It resonates with that lobe in my brain stuffed with audio of Tatum, Monk and Bud working on pianos that are more junk than instrument and making them speak in glorious tongues.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ProTools.



We are supposed to respond to every new technological googah with a gleeful ejaculation. Huzzah! A new phone that will wipe your butt as it dials up Skype and recycles your used kidney stones.


Have misgivings, you Luddite? Well, no doubt those will be washed away in the tide of history. Move over, Keats, cause you'll have to share space with millions whose names will also be writ in water.


Alright, let me gently steer this tirade back to jazz. To wit: when it comes to jazz recording, put me squarely in the Luddite camp. As far as I'm concerned, the simplest approaches to recording are the best. Increasingly intensive engineering intrusion has, to me, simply debased the experience of listening to jazz recordings.


Let me interject that I'm not talking here about the evolution of microphones or sound reinforcement techniques. (It's hard for me to say when mastering began to really alter recordings). Our friends at Neumann and others, partnered with innovators like Van Gelder, gave us a much clearer audio picture of what was actually being played. No, the problem lies elsewhere.


First of all, it stands to reason that the diminution of 'alternate takes' runs parallel to the increasing manipulation of recordings through technology. At first, this was probably just a razor blade and an editing block, but even this meant that the ensemble performance experience had been-as the boys in the quarterlies would say-mediated. The first time I noticed this was in the late 50's Gil Evans/Miles collaborations. It was clumsily done, in a way that became really irksome to me in the recording "In a Silent Way." I mean, christ, "Ascension" was done in 2 continuous 40-minute takes.


I remember a time when there was a debate about whether jazz should adopt the "track layering" approach that swept the rock industry. The debate has been over for a long time. When- around 1980? After that, jazz recording became largely bifurcated. Either an album was recorded "live on location," or it was a studio production, meaning all the gizmos in the engineer's tool kit were trotted out. Yes, there were exceptions, but they have become increasingly rare (I look forward to readers bringing these and other historical recording details to light).


Let me simply wrap up by saying that, if the disc is in decent shape, the experience of listening to the 'crudest' technology-78's-can be at least the equal of the most sophisticated multi-track digital recordings. In fact, I contend that the immediacy of a great 78 has not been equaled by any format yet created by those who would capture sound for later consumption.


You can have your IC's. Give me a tube anytime.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

When Quote Changes to Interpolation


The Fabulous "Extend-O-Quote"


We said it-quoting is rampant. Usually it's a snatch of melody-a few key notes from "Laura," say. Sometimes it's a chorus that's etched in marble-the piano chorus from"Parker's Blues" and sometimes quotes are memorialized in orchestrations.


The ilk of quote that seems to me the rarest falls into neither category. Call it interpolation (or, for you Vegematic fans-"extend-o-quote").


The notion arises because, a few choruses in, I just heard Bird-from the Carnegie Hall '49 Disc-quote almost the whole of Armstrong's intro to "West End Blues;" displaced off the beat, of course. Amazing that it hadn't stuck in my brain the first time I hear it.


Keep a sharp ear out. I'm anxious to see what people come up with as examples.