This is a good idea: A Blog Supreme has various notable twentysomething online jazz advocates to contribute lists of the top 5 "gateway drug" albums from the last 10 years -- records they'd recommend to other young listeners looking to get a sense of today's jazz scene. The series is called Jazz Now and it kicks off today with ABS head blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon's own list. (Yes, Infernal Machines gets an honorable mention nod but that's not why I'm linking.) These posts include streaming tracks from each record, and, in most cases, YouTube clips of the selected groups playing live as well.
More Jazz Now lists to come in the days ahead from Lucas Gillan (AccuJazz), Sebastian Helary and Justin Wee (Nextbop), Dean Christesen (RVAJazz), Alex Rodriguez (Lubricity), Adam Schatz and James Donahue (Search and Restore), Lars Gotrich (NPR Music), Mike Katzif (NPR Music), and the young-at-heart Josh Jackson, who hosts the must-listen jazz-in-the-present-tense broadcast The Checkout on WBGO.
Also: I was just lamenting to an interviewer yesterday about the lack of a two-way dialogue between current indie-rock-by-people-who-can-play-their-instruments-really-well and current jazz. It seems to me like groups like, for instance, Guillermo Klein's Los Gauchos would be a natural compliment to a bill headlined by, say, the Dirty Projectors. Turns out the DPs are already touring with British "post-jazz" band Polar Bear, whose self-titled 2008 release makes Patrick's Top 5.
Last night the 34-year old communications director at the National Endowment For The Arts was asked to resign. Why? Because he was trying to organize artists to support President Obama’s national service program, United We Serve. If your next question is: so what? That was ours too. But Glenn Beck compared the effort to “Nazi propaganda”.
(Just sick–especially since Sergant, a Jewish American, has worked as an activist for peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.)
This (from Ian Moss @ createquity, who happened to be a participant in one of the "Nazi" conference calls that had Beck so incensed):
The NEA “purportedly” wanted to commission art “within major areas of President Obama’s administration”? It would be kind of hilarious if it weren’t so disingenuous. As usual, Fox and facts don’t mix. For one thing, as far as I can tell, the NEA as an agency has no official role in the initiative whatsoever. Their logo is not on the serve.artsusa.org website; it is mentioned nowhere on the NEA’s website; and no one from the agency participated in the second conference call. Secondly, the push was not for artists to “create” work in line with Obama’s political agenda–the real push was to highlight work that artists are already doing that fits in with the overall United We Serve initiative. Finally, the push didn’t come from Obama–it came from artists: Sergant, and earlier, the group of 60 arts community activists who met with the administration in May and asked to get more involved. If there is a political agenda, it is perhaps that in involving artists explicitly in an initiative of this magnitude, maybe it will help build the arts’ public profile and help convince Congress to move this country’s level of federal arts support a notch upward from “laughably miniscule” to “embarrassingly paltry.” That’s all there is to it. Well, unless you believe that getting out of the house and helping people who are less fortunate than you is a partisan political act. Sadly, this conservative movement seems to believe that caring about anyone who isn’t yourself or directly related to you is something to condemn.
The consevative wing of this country and the GOP have made it their life's work to minimize the role of arts in public life. They have spent twenty-five years teeing off on the NEA, gutting it, in an effort to, as Grover Norquist says, make it small enough to drown in a bathtub. They do not have the best interests of artists in mind. Not to mention the fact that, if you read something about govermental overreach by the Obama Administration, double-check those facts. And then triple-check them. You're dealing with a bunch of liars. So there's that, to begin with.
And, as I said here, you're just reinforcing this notion that art shouldn't address real-world issues, shouldn't be involved in advocacy or the public sphere. Which just makes us all the more useless. Again, as I've already said, I'm against the notion of government-sponsored propaganda, but that wasn't what anyone was talking about here, except lunatics. You wanna listen to lunatics?
On some level, it's never going to be worth it to an American administration to stick up for the arts. There's always going to be "something more important" that we need to "move beyond this issue to address". This is going to be particularly true with the Obama administration because Obama has made it extremely clear that he's a very ambitious President w/r/t public policy. In one year, he was hoping to tackle a bailout, financial regulations, cap and trade, a stimulus package and health care reform. Two of those big ticket issues (the regulations and cap and trade) have been moved at least until next year and probably won't get taken up until after the mid-term elections.
This state of affairs w/r/t the arts is upsetting to me, and disappointing. And like 99, I'm pretty fucking pissed off. But being from the "Don't mourn, organize" school of thinking, my mind immediately goes to: It's going to take a lot work on our part to make sure the arts aren't just a convenient and controversial horse to trade. Or if they are, if that's going to be the arts' role in the legislative process, we need to get something out of it in return.
In the meantime, if this issue pisses you off, write a letter. A real one. You probably know the address already, but in case you don't it's:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Wasington, D.C. 20500
According to the website, they want you to include your e-mail address with your letter.
When I first heard Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers in freshman jazz history class, his music honestly didn't make much of an impression, probably for the usual reasons early jazz tends not to speak to 18-year olds. (Was I full of shit? I plead the Fifth.) All I can say is that the music felt completely alien to anything I'd checked out previously -- full of old-timey sound effects ("cha-ooo-gah" car horns, steamboat whistles, animal sounds) and played with a time feel I didn't recognize as having anything to do with jazz. Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, James P., and (especially) early Ellington were all much easier to hang with -- Jelly Roll felt like more of a historical curiosity, for all intents as distant from the music I really cared about as, like, Leonin and Perotin.
Also, the recorded sound was pretty much unbearable. I know that's shallow, but everyone has their limits. Some people won't watch black and white films. (Those people should, of course, be driven from the civilized world and left to forage for roots and tubers.) Some people draw the line at silent films. (For those, a concentrated dose of The Battleship Potemkin will usually suffice.)
The point is, though, is that it's difficult for kids who grew up in an era where literally the only thing they've ever heard is pristine digital recordings to then go back and learn to listen through the surface qualities of old recordings in order to get at the music. Listening to pre-WWII records is an act of imagination, and the further you go back, the more imagination it takes -- in order for you to really hear what's going on, your "mind's ear," so to speak, needs to fill in a lot. This is something that I think people who were born before 1960 or so don't fully grasp, because those people have completely different expectations when it comes to recorded music -- the technology was maturing at the same time they were. (I mean, the Beatles didn't fully embrace the radical concept of stereo until after the White Album.) Obviously, this is a vitally important skill that anyone who's serious about music needs to develop, but it doesn't come naturally to people who grew up taking flawless digital sound reproduction for granted. It takes a considerable amount of practice and effort to develop.
Regardless, something about those early Jelly Roll must have stuck, because when the digitally remastered Red Hot Peppers sessions came out a few years later, I picked that up. And when I put it on, something clicked. Stuff that I'd previously found weird and alienating I now found weird and awesome. Also, I started to listen a little closer to the construction of the music and realized there was something timelessly hip about the way Jelly Roll put the music together. (Also, the remastered sound was much better.)
The other thing that triggered my Road-to-Damascus conversion was acquiring Fred Sturm's Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging. This book tells the story of jazz arranging using just four tunes as case studies, examining how those tunes have been treated by arrangers over the years (in terms of melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic variation, voicing, orchestration, form, etc). One of those tunes is Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp."
On the CD that came with the book, the included version of "King Porter Stomp" is a modern re-creation of Jelly Roll's 1923 recording (played credibly by pianist Mark Flugge). Still, I was curious about the original so I tracked it down.
It had not been clear to me from the Red Hot Peppers records what a truly unbelievably badass piano player Jelly Roll was. Liberated from sidemen who couldn't always hear what he was doing, Morton just slays. It was instantly clear that the groove on "King Porter Stomp" (first recorded in 1923 but Morton claimed to have been playing the tune for 20 years) is the wellspring for, like, everything I care about in music.
This is all by way of saying that you need to stop whatever you're doing right now and get over to pianist Andrew Oliver's blog, where he has kicked off his new series on Jazz Pioneers with a fantastic post on Jelly Roll Morton -- specifically, "King Porter Stomp." This is especially true if you've never heard "King Porter" before -- Andrew has posted three recorded versions (1923, 1926, and 1939) for you to check out. Each is a revelation.
This isn't some weak Ken Burns historicist bullshit, or some slick Broadway show. This is the real deal.
The latest installment of the occasional Secret Society News-Letter has been conveyed to our subscribers -- you can also read it online. They go out more or less monthly -- plus the odd, brief same-day gig reminder. If this is something you would like delivered to your own personal in-box, you are cordially invited to join our mailing list.
I'm grateful to Greenleaf's Michael Bates for drawing my attention to practicesightreading.com, an incredibly cool random rhythm generator that supports multiple levels of complexity, and both single and mixed meters. As the name of the site suggests, it's intended to generate customized exercises for rhythmic sight-reading, but the compositional possibilities of a user-configurable random rhythm generator like this shouldn't be overlooked either.
My only quibbles so far is that it would be nice to be able to input any time sig instead of being limited to preset choices (also, I really want to turn off display of the metric subdivisions for 5/8 and 7/8), and everything is very downbeat-centric -- there are not nearly enough tied notes, even at the highest levels.
The ability to make a decision, to take responsibility for that decision, and to see it through, is a pre-requisite for a jazz improvisation. At the school I teach in we've noticed more and more that students want to be told what to do down to the smallest detail, are afraid to take a chance, and are often looking for a "magic bullet" that will allow them to get to where they want to be as players. The fact that there is no magic bullet and that the only way to get to where they want to be as improvisers is to work their asses off, practice like crazy, immerse themselves in the world of improvised music as listeners and players and use school as a resource for information rather than an instant provider of success, is something that seems to elude many of them. To return to Branford's quote, "the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that" -- the students want to be great players, but often can't seem to make the connection that much of the responsibility for being great players is [theirs] alone, not the responsibility of the teachers.