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17 July 2008


"But you won’t hear much about post-Miles developments in rock-influenced electric jazz or the post-Cecil avant-garde at most leading conservatories or in college jazz studies departments"
and it is not just the college level, but at all levels. My children could all hum several Sun Ra tunes before they started school, but the curriculum gradeschool bands always reverted to the swing-era cliche. Even in the otherwise very excellent Japanese film "Swing Girls", highly recommended, they study Cannonball and pay lip-service to electric Miles ... but they play Benny Goodman for their dazzle number.

But who is to blame here?

I live on the very northern edge of civilization; out here on the perimeter there are no stars, out here we are stone alone -- so where do I go to learn the modern nuance of post-Coltrane jazz? It is a forensic exercise: I scour snippets in the press, I try my best to reverse-engineer recordings, read biographies, puzzle over bootleg charts (I bought my berkeley fake book in a dark cafe from the same mysterious guy who sold us drugs; yes, it was that long ago)

These days there's a few more resources, but only a few. I've listened to every interview the FileSharez could find and stop-frame the closeups on YouTube, and I picked through every one of your scores you've graciously shared here -- thank god for the Internet because without it?

Where is the Amazon Book/CD, "Harmolodic Arranging for Small Ensembles"? I can still buy Tommy Dorsey's book, but where is "Beyond 2 1/2: Unleashing the Saxophone by Kenny Garrett"? You won't find them. So don't bother.

I think we take this "Our music is a secret order" too far. The reason all the bars only play bebop and cool is largely because of Jamey Aebersold -- Like the old 'secret orders', we need a young Aleister Crowley wizkid who masters the art and then says damn the self-defeating secrecy, let's just let the cats out of the bag. And for the very same reason: to sustain the tradition.

Two years ago I saw a film-maker following the Sun Ra Arkestra, "making a documentary" he said; please, I said, please show us how they do what they do, show us how we too can get to the edge of space. He thought I was from Mars; I never got a reply from later emails.

One thing I'm nearly certain: I don't think you will see any New Thing enter the curriculum of mainstream conservatories, not until there's no one left alive who remembers the old-school. Gunther Schuller's legacy in Boston maybe; Ran Blake's successor there recently had grad students studying Sun Ra. And Banff and some others in NYC (listed in the SATURN-L archives) but that's only a handful of geo-local and basically master-class schools -- students won't get that far if they haven't had access to the pathways to get there.

When Dizzy Reese had his short-lived blog I wrote to him and emplored him, "write about composition, about arranging, about technique, about keeping the band together, about growing as a musician." because so few people know that stuff and fewer still will teach it. He never answered.

For a while I had some correspondence going with Ran Blake, but I got the impression he found the whole "secret society" thing (no offence intended Darcy) to be his retirement nest-egg, his cash-cow. Berkeley Shares at least pretend to share information, but from the Boston school you can only get taunting brochures.

Where are the people who are trying to keep the tradition alive? Early Coltrane years in the Village of 1962 was all pass-the-hat in empty warehouses with no electricity. Ra and others did whatever it took to educate. Like Gil Evans before him (and Amram before him?) Cecil's apartment was once a free centre for sharing and growing the art. Ra preached on the streets! There is a wonderful Ron Mann documentary "Imagine the Sound" with Cecil and Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp and Paul Bley; in one scene they lament the loss of the free and open exchange of ideas that existed before everyone became so star-struck by the cash-carrot of recording -- maybe the current economic collapse of The Market will shake folks up, tell them what is important about this music is not the prospect of a BMW in the driveway; the cocaine-days of Miles are as long gone as Bird's smack habit, and today Hypnotic Brass get the cool threads from corporate patron sponsorship. Darcy, I love your story about the founding of SS in that Big Band Circa 2005 film, because that's what its about, necessity. It's about survival.

Maybe the cold slap of the bills will wake them all up. they'll realize how this music came out from folks who'd been bought and sold in The Market, and respect that.

It's about culture. And it's getting sold out. I'll bet there's more lawyers who own rights to jazz royalties than there are jazz musicians who still do. Certainly more lawyers who make more profits from it. There's all this I-Me-Mine and clamouring for Copyright Royalties (cf Carla Bley's tune of the same name ;) and very little concern for Let My Children Hear Music -- Sue may be business shrewed, but at least she makes school-level band arrangements available!

I hear Marshall Allen and the crew now run the Philadelphia House as a kind of free academy of jazz, a drop-in tune-up turn-on school where anyone willing to shave their head and don the monk robes can sit in on the meditations and learn to fly.

I think we need more of that. I want to see franchise Arkestra Jazz Academies in strip malls where gradeschool kids can sign up for Pharoah Sanders Method instruction. Any fool with a guitar can call up the music store and ask "Were can I learn Eric Burdon's changes to 'House of the Rising Sun' or the solo on 'Smells like Nirvana'" but if you ask about learning the Rascher method for top tones, they just look at your really funny and change the subject.

Confucius say, "The way out is by the door. Why won't anyone use this method?" and I say the way out for jazz is over this free no-permission-required self-publishing media called Internet and embracing the CreativeCommons as an instrument of cultural education. We need more free online seminars by Ethan on what makes harmolodics work, more talks by Darcy on the greasy mechanics of getting a big band aloft; these things should be on a Ted.com, but I'd be happy with YouTube, or on WikiPedia

or even on a blogspot somewhere.

Mr. Bacon

Enjoyed reading the article a lot. This war that's over that some still try to wage parallels the atonal/tonal war, that's also long gone but has still scarred many composers who grew up in it, and who don't want to let go of their side... I feel lucky to have gone to schools that don't teach this dichotomous attitude towards music.

I'm glad you attacked the educational institutions (same thing in most classical departments/conservatories). In addition to education, venue needs to be addressed...expensive jazz clubs and JALC aren't great, but cats like Sonny Rollins who stopped playing in clubs long ago - only performing in concert halls - are alienating the fans who feel at home in clubs, the same people who made him famous in the first place.

How about instrumentation? There's lots to complain about with orchestras that won't incorporate alternative instruments or electronics because it doesn't make financial sense - are big bands having the same problem? I wonder if the same instrumentation that's been used since the early-mid 20th century may restrict the type of music that's being written for the ensemble.

I certainly agree that these concerts and albums that combine talent from the former warring jazz factions are evidence that the divide is not nearly as drastic as it used to be, but I wonder how much of this trend is a result of jazzers needing as many opportunities as they can because there's not a lot of money in the genre today, or people like Wynton taking on different kinds of projects because they know they will make money?


Very good article, Darcy. I liked the evolution from caricatures of each "side" to the more nuanced, lines-blurred view. Still, I think there are more "sides" to take into account.

Sure, "progressive" jazz has kind of become the dominant kind (at least in mindshare), but not just because the traditionalists mellowed, surely.

What about the inroads Afro-Cuban, (non-Electric Miles) Fusion, M-Base, Ken Vandermark and the rest of the current Chicago scene and European stuff from Evan Parker to E.S.T. have made? They're all more or less part of the canon now. I get the feeling there was just too much for the dichotomy to contain. And, as you say, Wynton's own music contradicted his words. The centre could not hold!

David Adler

While agreeing wholeheartedly with Darcy's observations, I'll just note there's a Rashomon aspect to all this. If you talk to the real, honest to goodness neoboppers, the cats who record for labels like Smalls and Sharp Nine and get no Wynton-coattails recognition whatsoever, you'll find they feel *they* are the ones being marginalized. And in terms of the jazz crit press, there's truth to that. We've developed this awful arm-folder mentality, tuning out musicians who play the shit out of this music but aren't knocking our socks off with newness. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a newness freak as anyone out there. But I think respect for the fine old-school players we have out there really needs to be encouraged. And in a post-culture-war kind of way — that's the challenge.

Chris Becker

"I get the feeling there was just too much for the dichotomy to contain."

I studied jazz harmony and composition in Columbus Ohio at a conservatory that had and still has excellent jazz musicians on staff. Later I lived in New Orleans and collaborated with great jazz musicians Charlie Miller (Dr. John's long time music director). I now work with a collection of musicians mostly from New York's rock scenes as well as musicians like Flip Barnes (William Parker's trumpeter), saxophonist Mike McGinnis, and pianist Daniel Kelly.

And I don't write jazz. And I don't teach, but I have good friends who are professors in music conservatories.

I say all this so my comments are in some kind of perspective.

This "jazz war" dichotomy presumes a level of insensitivity and a lack of intellect that isn't a part of the make up of the players I've encountered as a young student and now as a slightly (ahem) older artist. And any time I myself embrace these prejudices - my head gets turned upside down by an experience with a fellow musician. For instance, I remember being surprised when a New Orleans drummer friend of mine - a very forward thinking musician - told me how blown away he was by Wynton Marsalis' performance of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" at jazzfest - I had assumed (don't ask me why) my friend didn't like Wynton PERIOD because of his reputation - but this was about music...

A great jazz guitarist and composer I know from Columbus told me with a straight face that he likes playing jazz but he doesn't like listening to jazz.

Well, what do you do with that? Where does that fit in this jazz "war"?

I'm not trashing the article or its thesis. But I know a lot of players who would simply scratch their heads after reading it wondering what the problem is (or was).

However, Flip has told me there are musicians on some more straight ahead gigs that are surprised he enjoys and plays the "avant-garde" and vice versa. So there are some dopes out there. But I'd like to think they're in a minority.

It also may be that being in the street as it were instead of the academy, I myself am not privy to the level of divisiveness that exists in higher education. I do find it interesting that we are in a time where college education and jazz are almost synonymous - and THAT has made a significant (though perhaps not always positive...) impact on this art form.



No offense, but your comments make me wonder if you actually read the piece, the entire thesis of which is "The truth is that while a lot of critical ink was spilled on both sides of the Jazz Wars, few musicians actually took up arms themselves."

Chris Becker

I did read your piece a few times. And my initial reaction was that you were basically dredging up old news. I was wondering why an essay was even necessary if we as artists have always transcended such thinking in the first place.

I guess you can add my breadth of experiences as I describe above in support of your thesis.



Again, the point of the article is that while the end of the Jazz Wars may not be news to you or me, those divisions are still very much entrenched in conservatories and college jazz curriculums.

Chris Becker

That makes sense - I guess what I was trying to say is that my experience before the "jazz wars" you describe in a conservatory (and later on the street) was in fact this inclusive multidimensional approach to the history and contemporary creation of "jazz" we take for granted. Columbus, Ohio (where I studied music composition) has a reputation for being a "cowtown" - but I met some incredibly progressive artists there when I was a student.

I wonder if a handful of interviews by Wynton and liner notes by Stanley Crouch (read those too...) really amounted to "war" - you know what I mean? Was it really that big of a deal? I mean, who got killed? Nobody. Was this "war" really shaping the programs in conservatories across the U.S.? Or instead the attitudes of the incoming freshmen? I do not know - someone else can speak to that.

I remember vividly interviews with people like David S. Ware who did connect the "ink" you speak of directly to their own limited opportunities for playing and recording their work. So please don't think I am being glib about people's craft and their lives.

You also make a lot of other points in your article besides the one we're going back and forth on...that's one reason I reread it a few times.

John Guari

I took both Undergraduate and Graduate level Jazz History at UNT. Undergrad was a presentation of the "standard jazz narrative" with the caveat resembling: "this is one specific, interpretation of jazz history. There are much broader and deeper things to know, but in 15 weeks we can only cover so much."

The Graduate course focused on historiography (study of the writing of history), myths and metaphors of the standard jazz narrative.

I'm not exactly fully aware of the reputation UNT has from others' perspectives, but from the inside, most of the students here have vastly varied interests. We like the old, and generally have to study it in our classes, but we also enjoy the new. The small group forum class has students performing things as diverse as verbatim-except-solos recreations of Soul Station and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross tunes, and new, original, difficult-to-categorize jazz influenced by contemporary artists.

James Hirschfeld

Nice article, Darcy. I was basically Switzerland in the "jazz wars," but that doesn't mean I don't love a good shouting match (or boxing match) between Stanley Crouch and whomever he disagrees with.

I agree that many schools (certainly Eastman) treat jazz as a performance practice, like a collegium musicum or a baroque ensemble. That is probably because the faculty prefers to teach what they are familiar with, and in general, these professors are way behind the students when it comes to newer music.

So---what can be done?

Here are a couple ideas.

1. If you are a student, keep an open mind, but demand a curriculum that you feel is worth the $20k per year. Tell the teachers what you are interested in learning and if they just keep telling you to "get more blues in your playing," then go to the Dean. If you find it a hopeless situation, then transfer. No reason to pay to go to a school you don't like.

2. If you are a student, look to other areas of the school for inspiration, like the "classical" new music ensembles, or the gamelan ensemble. Try and generate cooperation between the classical department and the jazz department. Often times, the classical curriculum is much more progressive than the jazz side (that was the case at Eastman).

3. If you are an alum, get a small residency at your alma mater. Set a good example for the students. Tell them (even in front of the teachers) to pursue their interests without prejudice and to get the professors in on it.

4. If you are a bit older and more experienced than myself, apply for a job at a college. It makes sense that the faculty of a school would be more conservative than the students just because the faculty is older. Once the profs get tenure, there might be little motivation for them to grow and develop with the times. Sure, a professorship at Juilliard probably isn't going to happen for most people, but how about a smaller school?

In general, I feel like I fought with certain profs at Eastman about what qualified as "jazz," but in the end, I kind of think it was a healthy arrangement. There was a sense of rebeliousness about "playing free" or covering an '80s tune. You knew it pissed them off. 90% of what I learned in school was from the other students anyway. I loved Eastman, (and it would have been great to have been there when Alessi and Michael Cain were there), but the truth is out there---you can't hide it from the minds of a wide-eyed freshman. Maybe that's a fucked up way of looking at it (and I admit that it might very well be fucked up), but despite the fact that I found it to be conservative and restricting, the people that I went to school with are musicians that I have the highest respect for, beyond straight-ahead stuff, etc...

(I know this doesn't have a lot to do with the article, but it seemed to be where the discussion was going...)

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