Well, not a whole year -- at least, I hope not -- but I am putting this blog on hold for the next couple of months as I enter crunch time for some upcoming projects. In addition to the Secret Society hits at the Jazz Gallery on April 5 and at the BPC on May 19, as well as the new Pulse project, Shir Halal (at Roulette May 5 and Makor May 7), I am deep in the throes of sweaty preparation for a couple of concerts on May 11 and 12 featuring Lizz Wright with the Atlanta Symphony, with orchestrations provided by yrs trly.
There being, I'm told, "only so many hours in the day," I'm afraid the blog will have to wait patiently for all of this activity to subside. But wait -- before you all start angrily demanding a refund, I'm leaving you in excellent hands. Behold the proud new additions to the Society's list of allied operatives, pamphleteers & advocates:
Matana Roberts is blogging for real now -- not just on MySpace. Shadows of a People is intended as a forum for Matana to talk about issues related to her current project, the epic blood narrative Coin Coin. The new blog has only been live for a couple of days now, but already Matana has contributed several reflective, incisive, and brutally honest posts grappling with issues of race, identity, economics, culture, and jazz. This is some of the most powerful writing you will find anywhere. Check out her most recent offering, an epic post called Jazz, Blackness, Shame:
My maternal grandmother pulled me aside every chance she could get to tell me that the kind of presence I had was one that only a high powered lawyer could posses. I would just smile at this, but frankly sometimes, when i'm freaked out about how exactly I'm going to make my rent, I wished I would have listened to her for purely economical reasons, as my last argument with a somewhat nasty student loan collector went something like this:
collector: so ms. roberts , what exactly is it that you are doing with your life?
Me: "Well sir, I'm making a contribution.
collector: (insert smirk here) by playing in a band ms roberts!?
Me: um... well if you want to put it like that, then sure.
collector: "you should be ashamed of yourself...
thats basically where my shame has come from so far in this lifetime in relationship to music. Isn't that something? I'm pretty sure my ancestors were not betting on that scenario. My shame has come in the throes of trying to get a college education in the U.S.. In America where descendants of the folk that actually helped to build some of these financial empires from the bottom up can't afford to finance their own education.
(Do you think if the debt collection agency that employs that asshole were to go into Chapter 11, that someone will call the CEO at home and tell him that he "ought to be ashamed of himself"?)
NOLA trombonist Jeff Albert has added a spiffy new redesign to his worthy blog, Scratch My Brain. He brings the incredibly depressing news that King Bolden's, a relatively new jazz club on Rampart Street in New Orleans, has been shut down due to noise complaints:
Leo Watermeier, the same moron that has been busting WWOZ’s balls for years, had this to say later in the piece:
Watermeier said he doesn’t lament the loss of another jazz club in New Orleans.
“I don’t think there’s a huge market for more jazz places,” he said. “Even Donna’s struggles. It’s mostly a tourist thing. Locals don’t go sit and listen to jazz bands.”
Every time I have played King Bolden’s the crowd has been mostly if not all locals. King Bolden’s has been the site of some really great music. Vibrations that can make the world a better place. I’ve blogged about a few of them.
(The idea that a jazz club in post-Katrina New Orleans could be shut down due to noise complaints breaks my fucking heart.)
Jeff also talks sense about the manufactured psuedoscandal of the Habitat for Humanity "Musician's Village" for not discriminating against nonmusicians:
It seems to be in vogue lately in New Orleans to find anyone who is trying to help, and give them crap about not helping “fast enough”/”the right way”/”the way we used to do it”, etc. This approach obviously makes everything run better (where’s that sarcasm emoticon again?). Why don’t we find everyone that wants to do some good in New Orleans and f*** with them until they get fed up and leave? Then we wouldn’t have any more carpetbaggers like Harry and Branford coming in here and trying to provide affordable homeownership for a city that has a dire housing need.
To even suggest that we should discourage non-musicians from receiving Habit for Humanity assistance is ludicrous. That is in no way different from saying that you can’t live here because you are black, white, straight, gay, or a writer for a mediocre music magazine. To make Harry and Branford defend this issue is appalling. It is a non-issue, and should have been from first glance. Those guys don’t have to do what they are doing. We should be thanking them, not giving them the 60 Minutes treatment.
As previously mentioned, guitarist Mike Baggetta has launched a little blog of his own, using the only logical title: Bloggetta. Check out his reflections on the Fryeburg Academy in Portland, Maine, where he was recently a guest artist:
I remember telling my girlfriend on the phone from the airport that evening that I felt so sad to be leaving that place. It seemed a little silly to be so sad for a place. I mean, there are millions of places all over the world, every one of them holding some amazing secret. But, for whatever reason, I just felt like I wanted to stay and just be there. And, frankly (reaffirmation), with guys like that to play with, along with other opportunities I know of around there, I would probably be fine with it.
Another blogging guitarist is the pseudonymous Improvising Guitarist.
He uh... s/he... hmm... "TIG" has an amusing reaction to this curious post by Dr. Yusef Copeland over at freejazz.org (a group blog whose existence I had not previously been aware of):
I try and stay away from freejazz.org (life is far too short), but I was perusing the pages and I came across this ridiculous piece: ‘Percentage Analysis Free Improvisation/Jazz Incl. Free Jazz’. Here’s an example:
SUN RA 21% Free Improvisation 79% Jazz
I marvel at how neatly free improvisation stops at the 21/100 mark and jazz begins there.
Maybe I’m missing a joke here, so, if this is some kind of a conceptual art exercise, why not go further and propose a package label for each musician?
(The "Tradition Facts" label is 100% brilliance.)
TIG also has an interesting take on the perennial "Jazz: Dead or Just Resting?" debate, folding in some commentary on Wynton's recent appearance on The Daily Show:
The other issue is the ‘official stories’.
…It [jazz] was seen as that [subversive and culturally corrosive] a long time ago because of race. That’s the only way you could see Louis Armstrong as a subversive figure, or Charlie Parker, or Duke Ellington. Their message was always one of humanism….
Wynton Marsalis on The Daily Show, March 7th 2007 (watch the video).
So Marsalis claiming that, once stripped of its historical, political and, yes, racial specificity, jazz can stand for a universal humanhood. But is Marsalis also arguing that, having developed colorblindness, we can now appreciate the colorless message underneath the black faces? And isn’t this identity-free, discorporate, humanism a luxury of the wealthy? the white? the male? the heterosexual? Is Marsalis in fact saying that underneath the black faces is the music of/for whites?
(I think that last sentence is perhaps a wee bit uncharitable, but honestly, Wynton's comments perplexed me as well. I think the only way you could possibly not see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, etc as fundamentally subversive artists is if you deliberately and perversely decide to pretend that race did not play a significant role in shaping their artistic sensibility. And I know that's not what Wynton means, so... what does he mean?)
Daniel Melnick's Soundslope is a scholarly and thoughtful blog dealing with all things intellectual and aural. His most recent post leaps from a discussion of Muhammad Yunus's book Banker to the Poor to a query about home recording:
What it really made me think about and wonder is if jazz has moved towards having more home based recording environments, as many rock musicians and producers have, and if it hasn't, why is that the case? Recording technology keeps getting cheaper, so why is the studio even in the equation? I wonder if it has something to do with the technical difficulties of recording jazz. I would assume, based on my own rudimentary knowledge of microphones and recording technology, that making a good jazz recording requires a higher level of mastery than the average home recordist possesses. Nevertheless, I think it makes sense for jazz artists to look beyond the traditional studio environment as a means of making records if there is really value in being able to spend more time recording.
(A few factors that may partially explain why home-recorded albums don't happen more frequently in jazz:  Lo-fi, as an aesthetic, lacks widespread acceptance in jazz circles -- when you're recording acoustic instruments, there really is no substitute for a good recording engineer using good mics in a really good space.  The buy-in and setup costs for a home studio, while falling, are still well beyond the means of many jazz musicians, especially young artists (cf. Matana's comments above).  In New York, at least, many if not most musicians do not live in spaces where they can play (especially when there is a drummer invovled).  As a corollary to , many New York musician apartments are barely large enough to serve as functional living spaces as it is. Where are you going to put the home studio?)  The number of home-recorded commercially-released nonjazz CDs is vastly exaggerated -- unless you count things like Prince records as "home recorded," which is obviously absurd. The overwhelming majority of successful and semi-successful albums are still cut in professional recording studios.  When someone actually does release an album recorded on a shoestring budget, reviewers inevitably gripe about it.)
The Wordless Music series is definitely one of the most exciting things to happen on the New York scene this year. So far, I've only made the inaugural event, but I've talked to a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds who have made some of these shows, and the reaction has been uniformly positive. I'm thoroughly bummed I can't make tonight's show (featuring Polmo Popo, Toca Loca, and the Social Music Work Group, performing individually and then joining forces for Terry Riley's In C, (a work I have never seen performed).
The people behind Wordless Music have a blog. It is called Good Vibrato, but don't hold that against them. It is, I'm pretty sure, the only classical music+indie rock MP3 blog where each post is accompanied by a painting. Sort of like a tasting menu/wine pairing kind of thing, but with music and art. Check it out.
Also on the classical music tip is Steve Hicken's listen. -- Steve is an old buddy from my Salon Table Talk days, way back from before the Great Purge. (Think they regret killing off that once-vibrant community by requiring people to pay to talk to each other?) Anyway, in a post called Class Divide, Steve comments on another perplexing statement made by another prominent member of the musical establishment (it's short, so I hope Steve doesn't mind if I reproduce it in full:
Daniel Wolf wants to start a campaign to get publishers to make study scores available on the web for free. That's a very good idea. An indication that publishers would not be the only roadblock to this open source conception of music comes in this article (from The New York Sun) by Fred Kirshnit (h/t to Robert Gable):
Copyright and royalties are a major issue as well. Mr. [John] Corigliano recalled encountering a student in Beijing who is writing her thesis on his Symphony No. 2, a work neither published nor commercially recorded. She possessed on her computer not only the score to the piece, but a pirated recording as well.
I'm assuming here that Mr. Corigliano was not celebrating this as a triumph of the internet's ability to spread our music all over the world, and if I'm wrong about that I'd love to be informed about it. (I'm less thrilled about a pirated recording, but I don't know the specific circumstances of that, either.)
My point in quoting this is to say that there is a class divide between the haves of the composition world, represented by Mr. Corigliano, and those of us who struggled to be heard and studied. Mr. Wolf's idea, even if it were to be implemented on a modest scale, would be a step in the direction of getting more of us studied, played, and heard.
(This reminds me that I need to upload more of my scores -- "Desolation Sound" and "Transit" are already up, but that's it so far. I always intended to add all my music, but I've never quite gotten around to it, as many of my scores still need to be updated to incorporate my hand-scrawled revisions, etc. Sometime this summer, I promise I'll make some significant additions.)
(BTW, I finally got around to getting the Phases box set last month -- obviously, this is old hat for everyone who picked up the Reich/Bang on a Can record when it came out, but man... how great is Evan Ziporyn's version of New York Counterpoint?)
Of course, these are just the latest additions to the blogroll. There are many more worthy interweb pamphleteers to be found in the right-hand column. If you've never explored the blogroll before, now is the time. And if you are newcomer to this blog, there's lots of material squirreled away in the archives -- just put something in the Search box and see what comes up.
Anyway, that's all for now... if you're in New York, hope to see you at the Jazz Gallery or Bowery Poetry Club hits, or at one of the Pulse Sihr Halal concerts. If you're in Atlanta and you can make one of the Lizz Wright hits, please grab me afterwards and say hello. If you're just out there somewhere at the other end of this infernal series of tubes -- many, many thanks for reading and I hope to see you again in late May.