Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, December 31, 2010

"Big Bands On The Edge-Video One" posted by Steve Provizer

In 1989, I got an irresistible urge to lose a lot of money and produced a concert called "Big Bands On The Edge" at the Emerson Majestic Theatre in Boston.  The bands were: the Either/Orchestra (Russ Gershon, leader), Orange Then Blue (George Schuller, leader) and Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra (Darrell Katz and Ken Schaphorst, leaders). Also featured was alto sax soloist Julius Hemphill. In all, over 50 musicians participated. In this particular video, some members from each group-about 25 musicians-are playing.

It ain't the Savory Collection, but it does capture a moment in jazz time and shows that even during a period considered neo-conservative, there is always explosive experimentation going on. 

Let me note that, apart from Hemphill on alto, the blazing tenor playing is by Rob Scheps.

Check out the list of musicians:

Tom Halter, John Carlson, John Allmark, Diego Urcola, Ken Cervenka, Dave Balou, John Carlson, Mark Taylor

Gary Valente, Peter Cirelli, Russell Jewell, Curtis Hasselbring, Bob Pilkington, Joshua Roseman

French Horn:
Marshall Sealy, Mark Taylor

Jim Odell

Matt Darriau, Stan Strickland, Allan Chase, Russ Gershon, Charlie Kohlhase, Bob Zung, Chris Cheeks, Rob Scheps, Jay Brandford, Douglas Yates

Tim Ray, John Medeski

Paul Del Nero, Michael Rivard, Wesley Wirth

George Schuller, Jerome Dupree, Ron Savage

Mike Noonan

John Dirac, Ben Sher

Sa Davis, Jerry Leake

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Lyrics to "Central Park West" Steve Provizer

There's a syllable for every note of Coltrane's soprano solo. I've tried to make the typography scan as close to the rhythm as possible. Play the song Central Park West and hopefully, you can follow.

Sun's last rays,
Filter shyly though a
Grey urban haze;
Close the day.
Streetlights now shed...ghostly light the way
To the
Place of which we speak...
Central Park, but not East or South but West, you can
Sense a difference, in the pace of this
Special place...
Secrets of its own, remain, unknown, but can
Be reflected in song, as John
Coltrane wanted to capture time and feelings and places;
Moments in time
Pass us by, but
Live again in song...
Breath of life and breath of peace;
Day's final breath, night's release.

[Piano Solo]

Black to grey and grey to white;
Birth of shadows, death of darkness, dawn of day;
Silence stilled by the
Rising sounds, of the city as it wakes...
The quickening pulse of a giant grown restless
Gathering, momentum,
Finding living rhythms...For each
Life, and for each
Place a melody hidden but waiting;
To be found, to be freed;
Let it sound;
Let its magic, be unbounded;
Secrets told, and hearts, that unfold with this song,
Central Park.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Music Publishing Sham, by Steve Provizer

On the more-or-less 143rd anniversary of the invention of the phonograph, the right to physically publish sheet music has become largely irrelevant-especially for jazz musicians. Yet "publishing" continues to exist as an anachronistic impediment to the recording careers of musicians.

The imposition of publishing into the process of making a recording is a vestige of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the sale of sheet music was the preeminent means of making money via music in the US. Millions of people had pianos and every entertainment venue had a piano player. Literally billions of sheets of music were sold. 

This was big money and all musicians but the most powerful ceded ownership of a song's publishing rights-essentially the copyright-to record companies. Victor, Okeh, Columbia et al held all the cards-or convinced musicians they did. 

Through the 20's-30's record companies closed down the cultural sieve by trying to make performers-especially "race" and "hillbilly" performers-record material they already held the rights to.        

Eventually, in mid- 20th century, the balance began to shift. Now, it's supposed to be a better deal, because songwriters are getting 75% of the royalties due, but the whole thing continues to stink.

The fact is, as soon as the songwriter either records or writes down the music on paper, that in itself constitutes a legal copyright. That should be it-end of story about rights.  Demand for reproduction can be handled by the musician. Or, if it a tune actually hits (see the 5% statistic below), the licensing process can be subcontracted out. And yet, the entire structure of "publishing" continues to be artificially supported by the musician. It fills ancient coffers and flummoxes musicians-another impediment to financial independence.

Then, there's the distribution of royalties by the licensing organizations. This is essentially an impenetrable morass, as even music lawyers admit. but any way you slice it, it dis-proportionally rewards those at the top of food chain. In any case, only 5% of artists ever see a royalty check.

Of course, there are good guys in this industry and yes, I know, I know-musicians have to be entrepreneurs-we've talked at B.C. about jazz musicians getting their act together. But why has the deck been stacked for so long against the-god help us-content providers?

The unexamined life, they say, is not worth living. Maybe the life, the entire creaky gestalt of the music publishing industry, needs a closer examination.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bass and Trumpet Duet

I was lucky enough to work with a great bass player for a couple of years. He masqueraded as a bookkeeper and I as a teacher. We were occasionally able to find a spot at the place we worked to blow together. Here are the results of one session. It's 18 minutes. Each section does have its own character. It's free and yet it still somehow makes sense.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"1st Annual Jazz Ghoul-athon" by Steve Provizer

Ah, the elevation of John Lennon to sainthood. He did co-write and write some great songs. He was also occasionally a creep and often ah, not what he appeared to be. That said, my teeth are set on edge by the "where were you when Lennon died" tweets, blog posts, etc.; a ghoulish piggy-backing on boomer nostalgia. Well, two can play at that game, I-gor.

Welcome to the First Annual Jazz Ghoul-athon. Answers are offered, but creative readers are encouraged to submit their own. Entrants become eligible to tour the Brilliant Corners Art Van Damme bow tie collection.

Where were you when Jelly Roll Morton got his nickname?
a. Ridin' the rails between Wichita and Joplin, MO
b. Stuffing twinkies for Hostess
c. Berating a scurrilous tailor

Where were you when Bix died?
a. Bathing in lime jello
b. Polishing my ocarina
c. Rafting down the Mississippi with Ferde Grofe

What were you doing when Miles first started to chew gum?
a. Beating up a cop outside Walgreen's
b. Reaming out Fats Navarro's horn
c. Surreptitiously cutting pages out of Errol Garner's phonebooks

What were you doing when the plunger mute was invented?
a. Spiking my breakfast muesli with prunes
b. Buying condoms in the Village Vanguard bathroom
c. Nuzzling a bottle of Jack Daniels

What were you doing when Chet Baker lost his teeth?
a. Trying to get a wine cork out with a churchkey
b. Experimenting with a Pepto-Bismal tablet
c. Looking for my zippo

What were you doing during the Bird "Lover Man" session?
a. Dodging cymbals
b. Swapping road-kill recipes w. the bus driver
c.  Politely declining a charlotte russe.

What were you doing when Lionel Hampton gave his whole band a raise.
a. Shtupping Anita Ekberg
b. Counting my bullion
c. None of the above

Monday, November 29, 2010

"When Money Comes in the Door, Duende Goes Out the Window" by Steve Provizer

Duende was first a fairy or goblin-like creature in Spanish and Latin American mythology. Eventually, it became a concept-something that you could have, or which inhabited you; a way of describing the passion inherent in flamenco or other folk musics. The concept has had two main popularizers: Frederico Garcia Lorca and George Frazier.

Lorca 's complex vision of duende was irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical. He said: "It is a struggle, not a thought."

George Frazier was a mid-20th century columnist for several Boston newspapers and wrote for Esquire, Down Beat and other magazines. He was sartorially-obsessive and smart-ass, and wrote often about jazz and about duende. He was not really useful as an exemplar of an era-more a cranky anomaly. He was a working-class kid who aspired to infuse Boston jazz's hemi-semi-demi monde with his Ivy-League-tinged bonhomie.

Frazier applied or denied duende to celebrities like Joe Dimaggio and Frank Sinatra. He also applied it to The Guinness Book of Records, the Army-Navy Game and Sydney Greenstreet. In other words, by dint of having to crank out thousands of words a week for half a century, Frazier cheapened the concept, but he did bring a personal, idiosyncratic analysis to celebrity-hood and gave us a framework in which to think about fame which is still useful.

Being a celebrity in America was never a picnic. Homosexuality was verboten. Sham personalities and trumped-up romances filled the pages of smarmy columnists like Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper. Sponsors, ad agencies, talent combines and film studios pulled all the strings. The only thing that may have changed over the last 40 years is more gender sexual-preference

What I would call Rebellious Compliance became the watchword and Justin Bieber is its current exemplar. In Bieber you find perfectly mated the illusion of accessibility with unachievable desirablility; an obfuscation possible so long as Bieber can be kept enshrouded in a cross-media-platform miasma.

The natural result of this ghastly press-agent potage is the papparazi-vulture, who feasts on the carcass of our projections. Technology and a growing culture-wide devaluation of privacy have made it worse, but it was always there: intercontinental cables and newspaper headlines followed the passage of Irving Berlin through Europe almost a hundred years ago.
Some celebrities may indeed have had duende at the outset of their careers and they may have charisma still. But duende requires courage. It requires dismissing self-image. In an upwardly mobile career, the sweet smell of success tends to begat the treacly putrescence of unbridled narcissism. Courage often gets replaced by hubris. 

The enemy is obviously us. We are the sheep whose judgment is susceptible to flackery and to the mass psychology of: "I accept you because you're already accepted." And, "I don't quite accept you because you're not famous;" brothers under the skin to "If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?"

Duende still exists, but you have to use your own nose to smell it. When you walk into a venue-large or small-resolve to make up your own damn mind. Don't let the sizzle get you off the scent. Caution, though. Side-effects may include: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"The Myth of 'The First'" by Steve Provizer

There's a guy who recently said he's identified the World's First Rock-and-Roll Song

Id'ing the first of anything is alluring; even better than finding the Biggest Spruce Tree or the Skinniest Model. Arguing about the First Of Something has the same kind of endless circularity you get in a stoned conversation about "Best Of's." It can be enjoyable as long as no dopey egotist who needs more sex (Hey, that's me-at least the dopey egotist part) holds tight to their own opinion about, say, what the Best Bird Solo is.

In non-art First Of's, taste is supposed to be less of an issue. Shouldn't we be able to tell who invented something? But it turns out to be very blurry, indeed. In science and industry, you often have multiple people finding the same solution, one of them getting it out first and the other disappearing. Equally often, the person who did something or discovered something is superceded by the person who successfully marketed it, bought the rights real cheap or simply swindled them out of the rights, the patent or the glory.  We always seem surprised when we learn about these episodes, even though they seem to be as much rule as exception. It's the Winners-Write-History thing. 

There's two directions I can take at this point. One is to make fun of the whole business by trumping up bogus Firsts. Say, The First Drip Painter to use Cyan, or the First Accordionist Who Didn't Play Lady of Spain.

The other direction is to question the whole premise of the "First;" at least in the case of popular music. To me, the First idea is of a piece with the Linear Development of Jazz theory. There may be one vector that is more energetic than others (New Orleans and Up The River), but there was simultaneous activity in many parts of the country-San Francisco, New York, Denver, not to mention that something like the blues was being sung and played in most of the South and tunes were being "ragged" all over the country.

In the same way, blues, boogie-woogie, jive, big band and small band swing, stomp, western swing, jump, gospel, were all spinning out by the late 1930's. No doubt a lot of the cross-pollination was not recorded, but it's insane to think that those threads were not being woven at the same time in many parts of the country into the skein that consensus would-in retrospect-call rock and roll.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charlie Shavers: Decided. by Steve Provizer

[I first wrote about Charlie Shavers a couple of years ago and since then, have noticed signs that increased attention is being paid to this great trumpet player (pure coincidence, I'm sure). I have expanded that piece, added new links and new commentary]

I first heard Shavers many years ago playing on Billie Holliday''s Verve LP "Solitude"- my favorite Lady Day record. Charlie's playing, both open and muted, was beautiful. I don't know why I didn't pursue his discography at that point; it just kind of spun out over time and I have grown to increasingly dig Shaver's facility, creativity and tone.

The only other swing trumpet players who could give Charlie Shavers a run for his money as both soloist and lead player were Roy EldridgeHarry Edison and Buck Clayton. If you happened to like the particularities of their sounds, you might say Harry James, Cootie Williams, Bunny Berigan or Red Allen were in his league. Shavers' tone was basically 'poppin', but rounder, slightly less edged and with a touch more vibrato than the others. His range was unsurpassed, except by Eldridge. He used mutes to great effect throughout his career.

Shavers was an alumnus of the Tiny Bradshaw, Lucky Millinder and John Kirby, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman bands and Jazz at the Philharmonic. He recorded and sounded perfectly at home in many styles-blues, traditional, swing, semi-bop.

There's a dearth of info out there about the man. There is one very cool interview with him here, and what he says about the trumpet will surprise you. In this interview with Bobby Shew, there is a reference to Charlie's having what seems to be narcolepsy.

Whether or not he had that kind of medical condition or not he seems to have been an extremely laid back possibly even passive, guy. It's interesting to speculate on how his personality interacted with his career-especially his recording career-as many of the recordings he made in mid-to-late career (he died at age 50) were not very good. Producers put him in settings they thought would make him appeal to a bigger audience. On some of these, he is simply a high note guy and on some, a "beautiful music" guy. He probably had neither the clout nor the personality that would have made him push back against any of these musical follies.

Here's Charlie with Johnny Dodds in 1938 playing the mistitled tune "Melancholy."

This is the Charlie Shavers Quintet in 1947 doing "Dizzy's Dilemna."

Here's Charlie and Lady Day, 1952, on "Moonglow."

Here he is in 1952 with Eldridge in one of the classic JATP "battles."

One of the few clips of Charlie has him here in another fantastic "battle" with Buck Clayton:

Here he is holding down the solo and first chair at the same time for the Dorseys:

Here he is with his first major gig-John Kirby. Sid Catlett is fantastic:

And finally, here he is not long before his death. Dig the violinist Svend Asmussen. You might also recognize the bass player and the tenor player:

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Jazz Cops on Patrol" by Steve Provizer

So, my band is working toward the out-chorus of "All of Me," when this stocky guy with a crew cut comes up to the stage. He's a tough looking mug, wearing a blue drum major hat with "this space for rent" written on his forehead.

"Alright," he says to the drummer, "Put those sticks down. You've traded enough fours for tonight. And you with the bass-drop that bow.  We take a dim view of excessive arco down at headquarters." Then, he takes a pad out of his pocket and starts writing out what looks like a ticket. 

Joe, our bass player pipes up: "Hey man, who the hell are you?"

"Jazz Cops," he says, and pulls out a badge with Sid Bechet's picture on it. "Boys," he explains, "you've broken more jazz statutes tonight than Boots Randolph."

He finishes writing the ticket, tears it off the pad and says: "Who's the supposed leader of this clown posse?"

I step up, take the ticket and try to decipher it: "02? 03? What the hell does all this mean?"

"Key for the violation codes are on the back, Bozo. I'd advise you to commit them to memory," and with that, he turns on his flat feet and flees.

"Oh, one last thing," he yells from the back of the club, "Fines are doubled on New Year's Eve."

Sadist... Well, here are those Jazz Code Violations, revealed for the first time:

01-Tempo Violation: Going 150 beats per minute in a Ballad Zone.

02-Erroneous Genre Miscegenation-Attempting to merge incompatible musical styles. 

03-Arrangement Creativity Deficit: Unimaginative, rote use of form [i.e., head, solo, solo, solo, repeat head].

04-Criminal Endings Abuse: Infinite drum rolls and aimless horn noodling over a protracted final chord. 

05-Arco-philia: Overuse of the bowed bass to achieve a dramatic effect. 

06-Vehicular Homicide: Inviting someone to sit in and then calling "Giant Steps" in Dflat. 

07-Playing while intoxicated: [with Bird, Trane, Miles].

08-Inspection Violation: Un-emptied spit valve, squawky reed or rattling snare.

09-Faulty Instrumentation: [Overuse of the soprano sax].

10-Cheap Trick Abuse: Arbitrary application of odd meters in a 4/4 Zone.

Dum, da dum dum daaah. A Mark LXVIII Production.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Jazz 911: Rescuing the Great American Songbook" By Steve Provizer

When you reach into the faux-velvet bag, there's a feeling of infinite possibility inspired by the virgin letters nestled inside. But you can only get that feeling after you’ve swept the last set of painstakingly-created words off the Scrabble board.

Oddly, I went through the same process when I read Peter Ven Der Merwe's book-Origins of the Popular Style. The intensity and detail of his musical analysis broke down musical structures to the point where they began to destabilize and eventually float free. More and more, I understood the weight of the baggage I bring to the act of listening to music. As obvious as the idea may seem, it was startling to actually feel that melody, harmony and rhythm are just raw material-free radicals-waiting to be recombined by creative musicians.

Living with this feeling for a while led me to realize just how radical an influence jazz has had on popular music, especially the Great American Songbook. It's not as big a leap as it seems.

There was always some dialogue between "popular"music (parlor, spirituals, blues, ragtime) music and "classical" music (opera, symphonic, etc). Classical composers sporadically infused their work with popular material while, for popular music, the appropriation and reconfiguration of musical raw materials has always been meat and potatoes.

But the way that jazz undertook this process of reconfiguration broke radically from the past.
Papa Charlie Jackson
Jazz began, as other new popular music genres had, with simple variations, ornamentation and new inflexions. Improvisation was moving toward the center and that in itself was new, but was just one part of the radical shift. With each new decade, the proper job of the jazz improviser increasingly became to disconnect a song from its original moorings. Each player needed to be a re-composer, listening to the musical flesh and bones of a song and then re-imagining, rearranging and filtering these through a jazz lens. What emerged was not a new "version" of a song, but a new song entirely, one with more flexibility, more elan and emotional weight. If this meant "disrespect" for original intent, so be it: Just Swing It@ (keep away, Nike).

The Ingenues
Because jazz musicians performed this alchemy, a repertoire survived that otherwise would have been consigned to the musical dustbin. Or, at best, occasionally resurrected as a cultural curiosity. This includes much of the Great American Songbook.

Radical notion? Look at the oeuvres of the great American composers- Kern, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Berlin, etc... Almost all their work was written for theatre-some for movies. If the only time we heard their songs was in the theatre or cinema, performed as they were originally intended to be heard, we would either engage with that material as nostalgia or, more likely, leave at intermission.

Over the past century, songs that would have otherwise been discarded as archaic and stilted have been continually resurrected by improvisers, who brought fresh ears and ideas, releasing a sophistication, subtlety and power that would otherwise have remain untapped. To use a "green" metaphor, jazz took in banana peels, lemon rinds and egg shells and turned them into rich dark compost. 

Of course, there were Great American Songs that even in their inception were not in need of reclamation. These were often written outside the theatre, for nightclub reviews, or specifically for or by jazz musicians (chiefly Ellington, Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael and Gershwin).

But there are so many examples that support my thesis. I give you a few here, but feel like my role is to lay the concept out and that many more examples will come from you:

What Is This Thing Called Love
What Is This Thing Called Love
What Is ThiS Thing Called Love

All the Things you Are
All the Things You Are
All the Things You Are

Look For the Silver Lining
Look For the Silver Lining


Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Vote With Your Ears-Dizzy for Pres." by Steve Provizer

Vote for Herbie
Herbert Hoover's advisers no doubt warned him that getting endorsements from Red Allen or Miff Mole might backfire. Ditto Harry Truman, who never sought the support of Bird-or even Tommy Dorsey. Ronald Reagan never thought that the backing of Archie Shepp would seal the deal.

Through most of its history, even in its mainstream swing heyday, jazz was considered dionysian enough to be vaguely disreputable. Eventually, you got jazz people invited to the White House and there was even a period when jazzmen were sent abroad as "ambassadors"-never a really comfortable fit, as exemplified by the fact that when Armstrong was photographed in full Ambassador's get-up, he was carrying a briefcase which happened to be full, as he said, of "that fine moota[pot]."

Listening to Brubeck's 1962 album (and unproduced musical) "The Real Ambassadors" wrestle with the wrongs and rights of collaboration with the US government is like observing through a one-way mirror as a group of confused psychologists scratch each other's van dycks. 

While there have been many jazz songs about civil rights, injustice, war-Trane's "Alabama," Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn," "Compared to What," by Les McCann-the only jazz title I know of that addresses politicians directly in any way-deprecating or not-is Mingus' "Fables of Faubus." That came at a point when rock and roll had pretty much usurped the mantle of disreputability from jazz.

Jazz musicians, subject to the whims of local, state and federal beaurocracies and law-enforcement, may have been reluctant to shake those trees. Whatever the reasons, the relationship between specifically electoral politics and jazz has been almost non-existent.

With these depressing 2010 mid-term elections upon us, I'd like to recall an odd and for me, lovely moment when jazz and electoral politics became strange bedfellows: Dizzy Gillespie's campaign for President in 1963-64.

Dizzy had marketed "Dizzy for President" badges as a laugher, to raise money for Core (Congress for Racial Equality), and other civil rights projects under Dr Martin Luther King's direction. But people responded so strongly that Dizzy let it happen and buttons and bumper stickers sprouted in hip enclaves throughout the land. Dizzy's response was perfectly modulated, letting us know in his sly way that he understood and shared with us the multiple layers of irony and seriousness that his participation brought to this mid Vietnam-era election.

Unfortunately, Dizzy's character sealed his fate as a candidate. Too funny, for one thing. Also too wry, too arch, too dedicated to music, weed and worst of all, too honest. Eventually, LBJ beat Barry Goldwater.

Dizzy may have dropped out of the 1964 race, but when I got old enough to vote, in 1968, I wrote his name in on my ballot for President and I was not alone. You may know who won that election: Tricky Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Jazz people: I know how hard it is to take this stuff seriously, but...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"The Institute's New Jazz Typology" by Steve Provizer

"...why is the Tristano school always shown as a branch of cool jazz? Those guys were hardcore bebop heads. Is it just that they were white and some of them wore glasses so people confuse them with Brubeck?"- Ian Carey

Mr. Carey, The Institute is here for you. Our first attempt at typology, utilizing shifting hair patterns, was primitive. Now, 6 months later, our staff has devised a truly scientific means of classifying jazz musicians in their proper schools, be it Traditional, Swing, West Coast, Bop, Cool, Hard Bop. Post-Bop, New Thing, Avant-Garde, Fusion, Retro. We call it: Spectacle Assessment Typology (SAT)*

*Please note the gender limitations of this process. Until the 1960's, female jazz musicians seem not to have been allowed to wear eyeglasses in photographs. 
Charles "Doc" Cooke

Frank Teschemacher
Very few examples of eyeglass wearers in early jazz could be found by our research staff: James Reese Europe, Miff Mole, Charles "Doc" Cooke, Fudd Livingston and Frank Teschemacher. Questions arise: Were photograph-ees in general warned to take off their glasses to avoid reflections from the flash powder? Was wearing glasses considered "namby-pamby" enough that jazz players of that era felt compelled to take their glasses off? Is good eyesight part of a genetic constellation that also includes genes dominant for improvisation? No clear answer emerges. In any case, white or black, as the above photos show, there was remarkable consistency in the style of the eyeglasses, thus simplifying SAT of early jazzmen (Primus jazzus sapien). 

Assessing the next generation, we still see very few eyeglass "users." However, those who did were among the most well-known band leaders. Trombonists Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller led the way, along with Benny Goodman. This group-Swingus Jazzus Sapien-made a dramatic stylistic purge and massed around a new, wire-rimmed style.  The Institute continues to research whether the domination of trombone players in this area reflects the relative difficulty of keeping a slide in focus. In any case, the stylistic consistency of the eyewear allows for easy SAT of this jazz sub-category.
Tommy Dorsey
Glenn MIller

During the 1940's, Mr. Dizzy Gillespie's protean, nay, cavalier approach to eyewear seemed designed to deliberately throw The Institute's researchers into cataleptic fits.
Gillespie opened up the floodgates for jazz musicians who felt that personal taste-including darkly tinted eyewear ("sunglasses")-should be the sine qua non for eyewear, rather than the Institute's more reasonable, genre-specific approach.

Happily, there was more consistency among white jazz musicians. While it's difficult for the Institute to create a flow chart that would show definitively who originated styles and who followed, we can see a strong black horn-rimmed lineage running from Misters Gillespie and Monk to white jazz musicians who adopted the style post-WWII. We feel it is here that the confusion cited by Mr. Ian Carey is rooted.

Some adoptees of this style include Lee Konitz,
Dave Brubeck and somewhat later, Bill Evans.

We at The Institute are confident of our methodology. So confident, in fact, that we believe the natural tendency to group these musicians together because of the similarity of their eyeglasses is well-founded and that the idea of wide stylistic differences between them is illusory. Our SAT analysis clearly shows that, not only is their music essentially congruent, they may actually be the same person. Is there a record of them all performing or recording together? We think not.

Next time: The Tell-Tale Cravat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Ellington on Art and Craft" by Steve Provizer

Duke Ellington said: "The wise players are those that play what they can master."

Indeed, a highly controversial thing to say, especially in light of the radical shifts jazz has undergone in the last 60 or so years. Let's say it values the "craft" in jazz more heavily than the "art." Art versus craft has been taken up in other guises here in the blog, but it's important to reapproach it through the words of someone as respected as Ellington.

The sound of Duke's orchestra-the arrangements, solos and colors-absolutely relied on the specific players in his band, making the musical equilibrium of his groups subject to a very fine balance. As Duke said, every musician has limitations. His musicians were "masters with limitations," but he knew exactly what those parameters of mastery and imitation were, and counted on their ongoing presence to build a superb orchestral foundation. This meant that, more than any other big band leader, Duke dealt with barely controlled chaos; a good reason for him to prize longevity, consistency and to let the boys be boys, as long as they ultimately got the job done.

On the other hand...

The boundaries of what it means to be creatively, individually expressive in jazz have been expanded.  If you are now alive, you may prefer Fletcher Henderson, Bird, Coltrane, Ayler, late Miles, or whoever, but you know who they all are. You know the degree to which they pushed against existing boundaries. You know the extent to which they more obviously built on existing frameworks or tried to break free of those. And the fact is, you have to choose which model to adopt-or you have the freedom to choose-or however you want to put it.

No doubt some easily make their peace with this. Personally, I find it an unending dilemma. If I simply choose to play what I know I can play well ("craft"), audiences are probably happier-there is something satisfying-and calming-about seeing someone trying to express something musically and succeeding. But for me, it feels too safe and as though something is missing. I find myself climbing onto tree limbs that can only occasionally support me ("art").

Now, if the ghosts of all those people who preceded me could occasionally just take five...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Horns and Hormones by Steve Provizer

Getting married tends to take a guy out of the blog loop, but like Freddie Kruger, I manage to stay alive for the sequels...
I just finished reading "Hotter Than That," sub-titled "The Trumpet, Jazz and American Culture." I might add-"That's Awfully Grandiose For A Book That Slices Off Such A Teeny Tiny Piece of It," but that's the kind of blurb and sub-title hyperbole that jazz books aimed for a general audience sometimes indulge in.

I realized after I read it that Krin Gabbard, the author, had edited two weightier tomes I read a while back when I was contemplating going to grad school: "Jazz Among the Discourses" and "Representing Jazz;" the kind of stuff that convinced me my place was not in the Academy.

There is interesting material in this book-trumpet history, the dangers/early deaths of trumpeters, some material on how the trumpet is made (albeit with too much conversation with and about Dave Monette),  a variably entertaining exegesis about Miles-but remembering Gabbard's academic inclinations helped me understand why he took such pains to introduce a "THESIS" into "Hotter Than That;" a thesis requiring significant mental contortions and sporadic leaps from a high, shaky scaffold into a shot glass-sized target.

Here it is: The choice of the trumpet signifies the need of the trumpet player to express his manhood. African-American players, starting from Buddy Bolden, were given few ways to express their manhood, therefore grasped eagerly at this opportunity and developed all the possible musical-and extra-musical ways (clothes, strut) to accomplish it. White players ("who unquestionably possessed a special breed of masculinity" saw this and, rather than becoming athletes or professionals, became jazz musicians. His case extends to saying that Goodman hired Cootie, Dorsey took on Shavers and Shaw hired Lips Page in order to "boost their (the band leaders) masculine presentation." Whoa.

Alright, we've talked enough about ego in this blog to not dismiss this thesis entirely, especially in the case of African-American musicians, who indeed had far fewer choices for anything. But why push it so far? (WARNING: amateur shrinkage ahead). Gabbard is an aspiring trumpet player himself, and I can't help but notice how longingly he talks about hitting the high C's and reaching that hyper-masculine, testosterone-riddled musical pinnacle: The Lead Trumpet Player.

He seems to be aware of the other pleasures of playing and also says that "a lead trumpeter might also be a nerd masquerading as a brute." He admits there are some great female players and also notes the fact that the guitar replaced the trumpet as our adolescent male's chief macho instrumental choice. None of this seems to derail him from his need to return to the masculinity leit motif.

So, you trumpet players out there, seems like the safest thing is just to fess up. You know you suffer from a lack of hormonal self-confidence, so wise up, cop to it and give it a gangster lean. Just repeat after me: "I'm too sexy for my Benge, too sexy for my Schilke, too sexy for my Bach..."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"The Marvelous Ego Labyrinth" by Steve Provizer

Too much of a bad thing, no doubt, but being unemployed has induced hyper-posting.  My Little Grey Cells, otherwise preoccupied for the last 12 years with idle strategies for world domination have lately been inspired by things people write in the comments. In this case, the ego posting.

The interplay of ego on the bandstand is a marvelous labyrinth-a combination of conscious and unconscious body language, visual signals and-whether playing music with or without harmonic guideposts-perceptions of how much and how well people are listening. 

The most successful collaborations calibrate egos through listening-active and intensive listening-which to me means an openness to allowing what someone else plays to effect your next musical decision. As with any kind of communications, this will be more or less conscious on the part of a given player. But somewhere along the line, the player has to decide that responsibility for the music's success is shared; that he or she is willing to be a part of a larger group that either delivers the goods or screws up.

Solo genius is not predictive of collaborative genius. Bruno may disagree, but when I listen to Bird playing fours with other horn players, I don't have the impression of a person who has made the decision to really share the space. While the other soloist plays his 4, Bird's next entrance seems to say that he had been listening less than thinking about what his next 4 bars would be.

I think that many of us have been in the position of sharing a bandstand with a musician who simply wants to get his own agenda across. This is acceptable if you've understood that your role is sideman, know the limits of your soloing, etc. But in any purportedly collaborative situation, it's alienating and disastrous. Amazingly, I'm not sure the audience always hears it. Visuals can be so important to an audience and musicians are oiten too well-mannered to let their irritation and frustration show. When I talk about a bad playing experience, this is at the top of the list, above audience size, response and finances.