Part Four 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: Jennifer Odell
Wow, it’s pretty cool when writers agree on something, whether it’s that this was the year of the pianist or that naming a beer after a Miles Davis record is the jazz version of Katy Perry selling music to tweens by wearing nothing but candy. But since we seem to have a consensus on Ten and Dirty Baby, I’d like to swing the conversation in a somewhat different direction.
I actually do see a narrative thread in the story of jazz in 2010. In the Mtume-Crouch video, Mtume says that fusion was Miles’ way of battling “technical exhaustion.” In some ways, 2010 was a year when the jazz industry acknowledged its own technical exhaustion and tried new things: from Orrin Evans’ jam sessions in Philly to broader booking habits by George Wein, to New Orleans music finding a platform for promotion on TV. In each case, the common denominator was a locavore aesthetic.
2010 began with Wein boasting online about how he was hanging out late at night in Williamsburg, trying to get a handle on Brooklyn’s music scene so that his reincarnated CareFusion festivals would be more accessible to a younger demographic.
Sure, Wein was “discovering” acts like Brooklyn’s Mostly Other People Do the Killing, which topped critics’ best new artists lists back in 2008. And yes, MOPDTK got an early New York CareFusion slot that coincided with the NBA playoffs, while Herbie and Wayne headlined at Carnegie. But I’d argue that Wein’s overall interest in representing local music, offering it for lower ticket prices and collaborating with Brice Rosenbloom, the Jazz Gallery and Revive Da Live still signaled a change from the norm.
On the label side, this year’s buzz was focused more around Clean Feed than Blue Note and Verve. You even got the sense that Brad Mehldau’s output smacked too much of the establishment for some critics. The author of a post exemplifying the Mehldau backlash Chris referenced felt that Bill McHenry and Trombone Shorty, both of whose followings used to be pretty localized to New York and New Orleans, respectively, delivered better albums than Highway Rider this year. Just like what’s happening in restaurants (has anyone visited Portland, OR lately?) we’re seeing a shift to the more nationalized celebration of what’s happening on local levels.
Shaun, I’m willing to bet this can be traced in part to the explosion of Facebook and Twitter, which has made geography less of an issue than ever before. (For the record, I haven’t logged into my Twitter account in a year or two, but probably will re-up the account now because this conversation’s made me curious.) If there was an ethical quandary two years ago about having artists you might review as Facebook friends, that issue was diluted in 2010 by sheer numbers. George Porter and I are online buddies but the “likes” I send his way gets lost in the massive fold of his ever-rising number of “friends.” (I’m skipping over a response to the Bad Plus dialogue because Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson are, unlike Porter, real-life friends.)
Another artist whose local following grew a little more national this year wasMary Halvorson, whose graceful nods to pop and rock earned Saturn Sings top billing on Shaun’s Top 10. I’d also put some of the year’s most head-turning sax players in that category: John Ellis, JD Allen, Andrew D’Angelo and Tony Malaby.
There was also Chris Lightcap’s addictively gorgeous Clean Feed release, Deluxe, which year-end critical praise hopefully brought another wave of attention to the New York scene staples in its lineup. Finally, it can’t be a coincidence that all of these artists gave top-notch performances at the new Undead Jazzfest, produced by boomBOOM Presents and Search and Restore.
Robert Wright for The New York Times
Which brings us to December, when the big underdog story was Adam Schatz’s successful push to raise $75,000 for Search and Restore to expand the jazz audience and, specifically, to get younger listeners involved. The fact that Schatz on one end of the spectrum and Wein on the other, share the goal of bringing jazz to a younger, more localized crowd tells me this is a mobilized effort.
2010 was also a huge year for the New Orleans music scene. John Ellis’ Puppet Mischief was a creepy, groove-infused yet cerebral experiment in sonic joy, which I’d rank high in my picks of the year. By the spring, a former child prodigy from the Crescent City named Troy Andrews debuted his Backatown release at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts, where it stayed for nine weeks (it’s been in the Top 10 for 27).
Troy probably had some help in the sales department from his recurring role as himself on HBO’s Treme, which also debuted in 2010 and turned out to be like “American Bandstand” for the New Orleans music scene.
National audiences never sang the lyrics to John Boutte’s songs the way they did this year when Big Easy bands regularly broke into renditions of the HBO show’s theme song at shows across the country. Donald Harrison, Davis Rogan, Kermit Ruffins and his drummer Derek Freedman (also a bandleader in his own right), Terence Blanchard and John Cleary also made appearances on the show. Depending on when season two wrapped shooting, I’d be willing to bet there will be scenes involving jazz funerals for a great jazz photographer and a legendary member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
As for where a modern day Miles cameo might turn up, let’s not rule out the silver or small screens -- the guy was in Scrooged, after all. I like to think that in a year when even the industry bigwigs were trying to get down with the underground, Miles would have rejected a major label offer from Kanye so he could sit in with Trombone Shorty’s band on Treme. And with that weird visual... I hand the baton to David.
George Wein is at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola this week, with the renewable resource known as the Newport All-Stars. The occasion doubles, belatedly, as a birthday celebration. (“This is my 85th October, and I’m glad to be here,” Wein quipped at the start of Wednesday’s early set. “But the truth is, I’m glad to be anywhere.”) It also serves as an intergenerational experiment, by purposeful design.
Before I go any further: full disclosure, etc. Now, you may know that Wein has recently taken a keen interest in younger musicians, stopping by the Jazz Gallery or the Stone or various points in Brooklyn to hear what’s what. This week he decided to welcome a slew of guests he’d encountered on the scene. During the set that I caught, it was Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is 39. (The late set featured Miguel Zenón, another alto saxophonist, a handful of years younger than that.)
A while back, I interviewed George Wein for a 14-minute segment on the BBC radio show Jazz on 3. It aired and was archived online for a week, though I forgot to check for it. My producers kindly dropped a disc in the mail, and the conversation struck me as worth sharing.
One thing that may strike you about the interview -- as it struck Jez Nelson, the host of Jazz on 3 -- is just how much credit Wein gives to the emergent generation, musicians like Darcy James Argue, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenón. Some of this, for an audience-seeking promoter, is merely a matter of adaptive survival.
But some of it reflects a recent change in Wein’s outlook, which Ben Ratliff hit upon earlier this year. “It’s the way you listen to music,” explains Wein in the clip above. “I’d go out and hear musicians and I didn’t think they were playing the real jazz. I was looking for something I wanted to hear. I stopped doing that. I stopped looking for something I wanted to hear; I started looking for something the musician wanted to play, which I should have been doing years ago.”
If that last part sounds familiar, perhaps you heard Wein say it at some other point over the last 60 years. He said something awfully similar at Newport in 1956, as Sam Stephenson recently reminded us in his Jazz Loft Project Blog. (By the way, Sam: I am fairly certain George would chuckle at those other comments today, especially the one about Armstrong playing at less than one-tenth of his potential, a common, misguided view among connoisseurs at the time.)
I’ll leave it at that, except for the usual disclosure about my relationship with Wein. That of course is one reason why I haven’t weighed in on the value of his festivals, though it hasn’t prevented me from passing judgment on individualconcerts.
P.S. -- Thus stipulated, the CareFusion Jazz Festival Newport, which Wein addresses toward the end of our conversation, will run from Aug. 6 to 8. More here.
P.P.S. -- And if you’re seeking more recent commentary from Wein, he also spoke with Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition. This clip aired in June.
Part One of a year-end email conversation with Andrey Henkin, Peter Margasak, Ben Ratliff and Hank Shteamer. (Jump to: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7| 8)
From: Nate Chinen
Dear Andrey, Ben, Hank and Peter,
Thanks for taking time out of your perennial list-making to kick around a few ideas about the year in jazz. (I’m not going to capitalize that phrase.) I’ve always been a big fan of the Slate Music Club, as spearheaded by Jody Rosen, and after complaining for some time about the absence of a jazz equivalent, I thought it would be fun and fitting to cobble one together. Just one thing, guys: this is a No Lady GaGa Zone. Unless you also mention Sun Ra.
Thus stipulated, I’ll open with a rhetorical question. Which did you expect to see first in this lifetime: Barbra Streisand at the Village Vanguard, or Esperanza Spalding at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony? Somehow we got both this year, and I’m not sure which event had the tougher guest list. At the Vanguard, Streisand made a nervous quip about the tight dimensions of the stage. In Oslo, our 44th President made a (nervous?) comment about being “at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.” Can’t help but wonder whether Spalding felt a twinge of recognition there. Also, can’t help but share this, courtesy ofJimmy Kimmel Live:
Tabloid angle aside, this was a gate-crashing year, whether we’re talking about the White House, where Spalding has appeared at least twice, or the House of Swing, where I witnessed several thunderous ovations for the eminent Ornette Coleman, a once-unthinkable season opener for Jazz at Lincoln Center. (It was his first-ever JALC concert, a so-what fact except that it seemed to mean something to all parties involved.) And up in Newport, George Wein effectively crashed his own festival, or at least that’s how it felt.
This was also the year that George Lewis, from his perch in the music department at Columbia University, finally published A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, a book about the challenges to convention made by a highly individualized collective. (Or maybe that should be “highly collectivized individuals” -- past a certain point, the distinction blurs.)
My two top jazz releases happened to be by Steve Lehman, an occasional teaching assistant to Lewis, and alto/flutist Henry Threadgill, a member of the AACM’s first wave. Coming in at a close third was Vijay Iyer, who could safely be pegged as part of the association’s extended family. (And I know that as regards admiration for Iyer’s record, I’m not the onlyone here.)
Maybe I’m just thinking about institutions and incursions because of another big piece of reading: Last week I popped into the Strand and bought Pops, Terry Teachout’s long-awaited Louis Armstrong biography. Really good so far, as expected, but I find it striking that Page 1 presents a survey of New York’s changing “cultural map” in 1956, vis-à-vis high-art complexes like the Guggenheim and Lincoln Center. It’s a strange way to begin a Satchmo book, except as a form of orientation: Teachout really knows that landscape, and he understands the tensions inherent in Armstrong’s presence there.
Speaking of important jazz books and once-inscrutable jazz heroes, you could argue that the year began and ended with revisionist Monk. Back in February we all braced ourselves for Jason Moran’s In My Mind, a conceptual gamble that turned out to be soulful as well as smart. Moran gave us a Monk of lucid ambition and shrewd humor and tangible Southern roots -- a humane vision of the man that Robin Kelley has now articulated evenmoreclearly.
What else? Ben, as you’ve noted, there was also something in the water this year that gave us one outstanding saxophone trio record after another. Marcus Strickland and J.D. Allen both found admirable focus in the format (though on further reflection, Allen’s entry was the sequel to an analogous 2008 release). I reviewed both Allen and Strickland live, and damned if I know which show wins. I do know that another tenor trio, FLY, which earned a spot in my Top 5 album berth, practically levitated at the Jazz Standard during an April stand. (That set made yet another list of mine: Top 10 gigs, for JazzTimes.)
I haven’t mentioned jazz’s incipient rhythm revolution, or the crumbling media infrastructure (and attendant blog awakening), or the postmillennial big band renaissance, or the great jazz audience debate. I haven’t mentioned any Norwegians. But take this in whatever direction you like, guys. No one will be calling the Jazz Police (not literally, in any case).
I haven’t heard much noise around the recent news that
Wolfgang’s Vault, the online concert repository, has acquired the rights to recordings from the most glorious years of the Newport Jazz
Festival. This surprises me a bit. The initial batch of music, available as a
free stream or reasonably priced download, consists of full sets by Dakota Staton, the Count
Basie Orchestra (with Joe Williams and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross), and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, all from
50 years ago. As Ben Ratliff notes in the piece linked above: “There are chillingly good performances in the 1959
crop, from half-inch three-track tapes mixed for stereo, made with stage
microphones that pick up the nuances of the drums and the growls of the band
members.” And more, much more, is apparently on the way.
The news is
sure to spread in more polished form once we’re finished gawking at the Jackson
memorial, but in the meantime here’s the gist of today’s announcement by George
Wein: he has a sponsor not only for this year’s Newport festivals, but also for
a series of events that includes New York in June 2010.