Part Five of a year-end email conversation with David Adler, Chris Barton, Shaun Brady and Jennifer Odell (Jump to: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10| 11)
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).
Highlights? Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion gig at Town Hall, Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer at Kitano, Fred Hersch/Nancy King at Jazz Standard (at right), Anthony Wilson’s furiously smoking nonet at Smalls.
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.
Esperanza’s Grammy nod, anyone? I think it’s huge, but I also think Chamber Music Society was a misfire. Kind of like, ahem, Highway Rider.
We’ve been batting around the idea of non-linearity and jazz, of the lack of clear narratives for the music in 2010. Jen pushed back against that, so I’ll continue pushing, in less specific terms.
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.
Part One of a year-end email conversation with David Adler, Chris Barton, Shaun Brady and Jennifer Odell (Jump to: 1 |2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10| 11)
From: Nate Chinen
Joe Kohen for The New York Times
Dear Chris, Shaun, Jen and David,
Well, here we are, closing the lid on another year in jazz, and I can’t decide what narrative to impose. Was this a time of mortal reflection, with the departures of Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln and James Moody, among so many others? Or a season of triumph, as we observed the endless vitality of Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Roy Haynes? Was this the year that proved, with a horde of hard-charging younger talent, that jazz is -- in the words of a certain upstart summer festival -- not dead, but Undead? Or was it just another 12 months of hustling, out in the clubs and concert halls, and in the cloistered spaces where we do our solitary listening? Maybe Option E, for all of the above?
Whatever it was, we tracked and chronicled this year in real time (or, as our social-media metabolism might have it, hyper-real time), and I’m wondering how it looks to you now, with a wisp of hindsight. So to keep up a tradition of sorts at The Gig, I’ve asked you all to engage in a bit of year-end banter. Thanks for joining me -- this should be fun.
At this point you’ve probably sent in your ballots and compiled your lists, and it’ll be fascinating (to some of us, at least) to see where consensus forms. My Top 10 will be posted later this week, so for now I’m going to change the subject slightly. I recently appeared on BBC radio to air my conviction that pianists came out in full force this year. It would have been startlingly easy for me to construct a Top 10 of just pianistic efforts. Others might do the same for guitarists, or drummers.
But consider: Geri Allen, Vijay Iyer, Benôit Delbecq and Matthew Shipp each released a provocative solo disc. Keith Jarrett took the duo route. For trios, try Fred Hersch, Dan Tepfer, Frank Kimbrough, Delbecq again, Kris Davis, Russ Lossing, etc. Larger concepts? Try Myra Melford, Randy Weston, Danilo Pérez, Brad Mehldau. And then there were Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson, each with a band commemorating a decade of strong, unmistakable work.
About that commemoration: we like anniversaries and round numbers. It’s a way of organizing time, reselling material and sifting winners out of the historical mess. (We jazzbos are notalonein this.)
There was nothing perfunctory or contrived, though, about Ten, the album released this year by Moran’s Bandwagon, or Never Stop, the one put out by Iverson with the Bad Plus (above). In both cases you heard the cumulative weight and wisdom of the last 10 years, and a clear sense of intelligent artists taking the measure of their art.
A similar sense of purpose lit up several other commemorative moments this year. (I refer you to the aforementioned Rollins and Haynes.) Shaun and David, I’m sure you both paid close attention to the 10th anniversary of Ars Nova Workshop, the nonprofit Philadelphia presenting organization run by my friend Mark Christman. (More on that in a future post, perhaps.) We commemorate because we care.
And, in some rare cases, because we can make a lot of money. (I’m using the Royal We, in case there was any doubt.) Remember Bitches Brew? Perhaps you know that it turned 40 this year. Perhaps you noticed the all-out promotional push, the shiny new product, the unreleased live footage, the licensed Dogfish Head brew. I never said I was opposed to all of this, by the way.
Why bring up Bitches Brew? I’ll blame Kanye West. (Stay with me here, people.) In the musical world beyond jazz, which most of us also cover in one form or another, this is shaping up to be Annus Kanyebilis, with his new-school media strategy a proven success and his recorded opus landing rave upon rave. No one in pop was more compelling to watch this year, whether you believed you were witnessing aesthetic genius or riveted by a car crash. At times West himself seems unsure about which is which; you all saw the Runaway movie, I presume.
Thinking about how West conquered every room he entered this year, I drew the only parallel that seemed really apt: to post-Bitches Miles Davis, another frequently bedeviled African-American sound-sculptor drawn to aggressive reinvention, unbridled ego and rococo indulgence. This parallel doesn’t entirely flatter either artist.
But jazzfolk often complain about how their music gets left out of the mainstream conversation. Miles would have none of that, for better or for worse. If the timing had worked differently, I suspect he might have put in a cameo on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even if that title is more Mingus-esque in syntax and scope. Look at how much steam can still be generated by Bitches Brew, all these years later. That level of cultural cachet seems to be precisely what West is reaching for.
Speaking of reaching, I believe this exhausts the air in the room, for now. I gladly pass the baton to Chris, out in Los Angeles. Take it in any direction you like, good sir, but just answer me this: was the Nels Cline Dirty Baby premiere as unmissable as it seemed? (Sub-question: how hard should I be kicking myself, still?) cheers to all, Nate