The Seattle jazz scene, insofar as such a thing can be responsibly encapsulated, is the subject of this feature in Arts & Leisure, due out in print this weekend. A few days ago I also sat down for a conversation with Ben Sisario, for the NY Times Popcast (via the ArtsBeat blog).
My focus was on the high school, collegiate and post-collegiate level, where I see real changes taking place. (The photo above is from a scene depicted in the piece: Riley Mulherkar earning some comically expressive respect from a certain fellow trumpeter. Shaky video here.) I won’t expand much further on my basic thesis, since it’s all up in the piece. But some additional context might be nice. Shall we?
That’s me interviewing singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham at the Beacon Riverfest a couple of weekends ago, for this profile in Arts & Leisure. I think it’s the only image of its kind that I’ve seen. (I didn’t know we were even being watched until Tony Cenicola, the excellent New York Times photographer assigned to the piece, sent me a copy.)
A big part of the story here involves life after the majors. Bonham had a monster radio hit in 1996, which sent her debut into gold-album territory (and resulted in “a lot of baseball caps in the crowd” at her concerts). These days she’s running the equivalent of a shoestring operation -- or a sustainable organic farm, if you want to flog a metaphor more suitable to her Hudson Valley homestead. Here she is talking about the adjustment; as a bonus, the clip ends with a Metro-North train whistle (and the voice of the aforementioned Tony):
My column in the July/August JazzTimes (not online, alas), concerns music publishing, an issue of stealth importance today. To parrot a dry but earnest line from my own self: “At a time when most jazz musicians are composers, and other sources of income are dwindling, music publishing may be the one area with growth prospects.” Given the thrust of some recent bloggery, it seems a good notion to revisit.
Jazz musicians have long paid the price for inattention to their publishing. In some cases, it’s a matter of ineffectual policing. You may know, for instance, what happened with Thelonious Monk’s most oft-recorded composition, “’Round Midnight.” After it had been introduced to Cootie Williams, the song was filed for copyright with three names on the certificate: Monk, Williams and lyricist Bernie Hanighen. “Consequently,” writes Robin Kelley, “Hanighen and his estate receive a third of the royalties from every version of ‘’Round Midnight’ produced. And in turn, the original composer and his estate receive only a third of the royalties -- to this very day.” Got that?
But let’s set aside the Big Fish example from a bygone era. Most present-day jazz musicians will never write a “’Round Midnight” -- and that shouldn’t at all diminish their interest in the publishing game. In the column, I seek illumination on that point from Dan Coleman, whose publishing-administration company, “A” Side Music, works with the likes of Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau and Billy Childs. (More on him in the comments.) I also consult with two publishing-savvy musicians, bassist Ben Allison and keyboardist Larry Goldings.
So what do I do, then: coin a new term of disparagement?
Please, don’t let that be the case. I embarked on my mossy trail with open
heart and earnest mind. (Of course I also hope the damn thing is a fun read.) The recent spate of jazz obituaries -- for guitarist Herb Ellis*, pianist John Bunch and critic/trombonist Mike Zwerin, if we’re keeping to a
two-week radius -- has only renewed my conviction as a mossy-stone adjunct, a sympathetic soul. But not, I suppose, a true believer.
Forty years ago this month, Miles Davis opened for Neil Young at the Fillmore East. I wrote about their intersection a while back for an EMP Pop Conference, and now the piece has finally been released into the wild, thanks to the intrepid online magazine At Length.
One animating idea in the piece is the power of unknowing. At one point in Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, by Jimmy McDonough, Young offers probably the single best analysis of Crazy Horse:
Brad Mehldau and Jon Brion fit the definition of a mutual admiration society. That much is probably evident in this story, about their new collaboration, Highway Rider. It was certainly evident in the studio last spring, as they were mixing the final tracks of the album.
“There’s nobody else like him,” Mehldau said of Brion then. “Because he’s got those ears on the level of engineering, and detail, and his approach to recording. It’s creative, like a jazz musician.”
And here’s Brion on Mehldau: “For my money he’s the single most influential jazz musician going. If you want to talk about the ripple effect, I don’t see anybody else out there doing anything that is so permeating in its nature on other people playing the instrument. He has certainly to my ears become the de facto standard-bearer.”
Their previous collaboration, Largo, was striking in its calibration of the spontaneous and the meticulous: a balance crudely formulated as jazz + pop. Its influence has been serious (see yesterday’s post), and its legacy enduring. Considering it in light of Highway Rider, though, you come to the issue of the cover tune. (The new album doesn’t have any.) As it happens, the cover tune is one more point of agreement between Mehldau and Brion. Consider this exchange, which is mostly Brion:
A few years ago I had the idea to take a look at the issue of jazz record producers. I made some calls, attended sessions, and wrote several drafts of a big-picture piece. It sat a while, because it was an inside story written for an outside perspective. I just couldn’t make it compelling for a general-interest readership.
Good thing we still have jazz magazines. This month an updated version of the piece appears in Down Beat; here’s the digital edition, for all you non-subscribers. I was happy DB decided to run it, as my byline hasn’t been in those pages since early in the last decade.
I’d be curious to hear thoughts on the piece. My inbox this morning included a note from Marco Valente at the Italian jazz label Auand Records; I won’t quote from it here, because it may be going into the next DB. But the basic point was a philosophical alignment with the Pujol school of producing (or non-producing), rather than the Eicher school. (If those names make no sense to you, read the piece, Jack.)
So what do you think, jazz internets? Is there still a role for the conventional jazz producer? Or have the artists themselves -- like Christian Scott, above -- more than picked up the slack?
When I first met with Pat Metheny in preparation for this feature, it was the day before Thanksgiving, and he was ready for me. I entered the front parlor of his rehearsal space, we sat down, and within a minute or two he had opened a hardcover copy of The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments, by Arthur A. Reblitz. I can’t remember the illustration he indicated -- this one, perhaps? -- but I do have his comments on file. “People were essentially doing this same kind of thing in that wacky period before people had recordings,” he said. “And I mean, this in particular [pointing] sort of parallels the specific kind of thing that I’m doing.” (Here he made eye contact.) “So it’s not like this is something I came up with out of the clear blue sky.”
Pat Metheny is not a crazy person. Far from it, in fact. Spend a couple of hours in his presence, as I did that afternoon and again in December, and this whole robot-orchestra idea begins to seem rational, if not exactly normal. At the time, word wasn’t really out about Orchestrion, though select folk -- like David Adler, now hard at work on his second Metheny cover for JazzTimes -- had seen a demo. The air of secrecy was thick, as Team Metheny counted down the days to its 16-week tour. I couldn’t help but think of a Bond villain in his lair, preparing to unleash his diabolical creation on the world.
Photos courtesy of Peter Gannushkin / DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET
For the composer and multireedist Henry Threadgill, music is momentum, and anything else shouldn’t even be an option. This and myriad other convictions emerged during a long talk in advance of this Arts & Leisure profile. We met at the same Italian pastry shop that Threadgill had chosen for interviews with a couple of my colleagues (whose work is linked at the end of this post). Every once in a while, another café regular walked by, and pleasantries were exchanged.
Threadgill has just released a brilliant and intriguing new album, This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi). He’ll also be the focus of a sure-to-be-epic Mosaic box, The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air, which probably drops in March of next year. But when we spoke in person, Threadgill was more focused on the impending premiere of a Roulette commission called “All the Way Light Touch,” for a cello-enhanced version of his band Zooid.