From: David Adler
Dear Nate, Chris, Shaun and Jen,
Greetings, and what a pleasure to join you!
I’m finishing up a very atypical year -- yesterday marked the end of my first semester teaching jazz history at Queens College. Rewarding but stressful -- I need to sit down with a six-pack of that Dogfish Head. (Figured I’d get it out of the way.)
To answer the old question -- “Have you been living under a rock?” -- I have to say yes, partly. Just counted up my live show intake, and seems in the midst of juggling coursework and my one-year-old daughter, I was out hearing music 52 nights in 2010 -- down from a peak some years ago of well over 200 (and I’m sure Bill Bragin puts even my peak completely to shame).
Mostly, though, I was woodshedding prewar jazz. Anyone want to talk about John Nesbitt’s radical 1928 arrangements for McKinney’s Cotton Pickers? Seriously, heed Gunther Schuller’s advice in The Swing Era and check that shit out (“Put It There,” “Crying and Sighing,” “Stop Kidding”). I’m on a wild tangent but there’s a point: Nesbitt (pictured below, seated far left) was arguably a half-century or more ahead of his time, and yet he is completely, utterly forgotten. It got me thinking anew about canon formation, about winners and losers in the critical sweepstakes.
I did still manage to keep up on current listening -- my picks of the year are here, though I regret not giving list-props to Dan Weiss’s Timshel, the Claudia Quintet’s Royal Toast, Frank Kimbrough’s Rumors, certainly Fred Hersch’s Whirl and plenty others. And since Chris heaped well-deserved praise on the Bad Plus, and we all seem to agree 2010 was the year of the piano, shall I mention Indelicate, Dave King’s one-man piano/drums project? An item I’m itching to revisit.
I’m a big no-boundaries proponent, as much as anyone. But back to the teaching thing: I’ve always believed in some notion of canonicity in jazz, and after this year I believe in it more. The argument that jazz students are too wrapped up in the tradition -- maybe it was once true, but today I think it’s poppycock. More of them are palpably, howlingly disconnected from the tradition.
Shaun, you mentioned Jason Marsalis’s salvo in support of the canon, so I thought I’d quote Wynton on the “what is jazz” issue in 1994: “Because no single criterion applies doesn’t mean that no criterion applies.” That’s the kind of statement we wave away at our peril. (Oh, check out Wynton’s new and compelling Vitoria Suite, btw).
Which brings me to the Crouch/Mtume fight over electric Miles, cited by more than one of you. I don’t share Crouch’s view at all, and yet I found myself disagreeing just as much with the pompous Mtume. “Allow me the latitude of completion,” Mtume admonished Crouch, and yet the editor of this video allowed no such latitude to Crouch, whose responses were deliberately truncated while Mtume’s went on at length. And yet the video caption tells us that Mtume “destroys” Crouch. Uh-huh. In the age of new media, intellectual honesty still applies. We have to insist on it.
Mtume also erred when he stated that Miles, in turning to electric instruments, felt there was nothing left to be said on a saxophone. Miles continued employing saxophonists until the end.
As a teenager first coming into jazz I felt this, and I still feel it today: There’s no need to choose. You can find a place in between the stark partisanship of a James Mtume and a Stanley Crouch, and you can stand there firmly.
Who better to illustrate this than Ethan Iverson? In mid-October I had Ethan visit my class to talk about boogie-woogie, Count Basie and Lester Young (bouncing off his mammoth Lester centennial blog series). After demonstrating the finer points of boogie-woogie bass lines on piano, he dissected Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” and “Swingin’ the Blues.” To close, Ethan sang Pres’s classic “Lady Be Good” solo, but he didn’t just sing it -- he acted it out, like a piece of dialogue in a play.
Allow me the latitude of gushing: It was awesome. And it showed my students -- I hope -- that there’s no conflict between being a cutting-edge pianist and composer and a passionate student of the 1930s. The one feeds the other.
Prompted by Nate, I’ll close with a shout-out to my home during 2007-2008: the fine and underrated city of Philadelphia. Here’s to 10 years of Mark Christman’s Ars Nova Workshop. And here’s to the memory of Sid Simmons, who shouldn’t have been reduced to playing that hideous piano at the now-defunct Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus. Shaun, I miss you all down there. Hopefully this spring I’ll have more time to hop down the Turnpike.
That’s Round One. Back to you, General Nate.