Jazz Standard, May 14
Jazz Standard, May 14
From: Peter Hum
Hi Nate, Greg, Gio and Jim,
First, thanks to Nate for asking me to chip in from the Canadian jazz hinterland. Is there freezing rain pelting down where you are too, turning cars into giant ice cubes?
Let me give a jazz-related shout out to my Ottawa Citizen colleagues. Good on them — good on us, the major daily newspaper in Canada’s capital — for putting the obit for Dave Brubeck on the front page of last Thursday’s arts section. I didn’t even have a hand in that bit of stellar news judgment, I swear. Granted, Brubeck had played twice in the last five years at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, packing Confederation Park in the process. But judging from the chitchat in the newsroom, and from what I saw on Twitter and Facebook (where news, alas, happens first), I think that Brubeck’s passing really resonated at large, and not just with people like me who heard “Strange Meadowlark” decades ago and were forever hooked on jazz by that Ab7#11. What I saw spoke to the power of great jazz — especially when it’s a gateway into the music for an impressionable mind — to lodge itself, inextricably so, in someone’s memory as a treasured, sentimental favourite.
I’d love to extrapolate from the outpouring of attention to Brubeck’s passing — and, for that matter, in response to Austin Peralta’s sad, sad death — that jazz, whatever that means to everyone else, still matters beyond the jazz bubble, despite all the nay-saying. It’s not that the music’s dying yet again (Seriously, The Atlantic?), or riven by feuding clans, as if the Hatfields and McCoys were in some kind of tradition-vs.-innovation cage match. Brubeck’s death might remind civilians and us alike that jazz, while admittedly large, loose and even monstrous (as Henry James famously said of 19th-Century novels), can indeed inspire a sense of renewed wonder (as Nate almost as famously wrote in his kick-off letter).
In case you’re thinking that glasses in Canada are overly rose-coloured (sorry – colored), I’ll add that yes, it’s a drag that Taylor Swift is worth two Ottawa jazz festivals. It sucks that as much as everybody we know loves Vijay Iyer, someone else might write him up as a poster boy for jazz-that-can’t-be-popular. It’s a kick in the jewels that Café Paradiso, the leading (some would say only) jazz club in my city of a million or so — the way station for folks like Dave Liebman, Ben Monder/Theo Bleckmann, Sheila Jordan, Marc Copland, John Abercrombie and Steve Kuhn, not to mention innumerable Canadian players I’d love to hip you to — shut its doors in June after a dozen years or so of fighting the good fight. It pains me that when they name a street after Monk in New York, they can’t spell Thelonious right. It can be rough out there for jazz, but how significant are these setbacks and slights? I’ll side with Lee Konitz, who affirms that “as long as there are people trying to play music in a sincere way, there will be some jazz.”
My highlight reel from 2012 won’t be the same as yours. To get to the Vanguard or the Jazz Gallery, Korzo or Carnegie Hall, it’s a seven-hour drive from my house. But as admittedly very anecdotal evidence that great music is taking place beyond the coverage of the New York Times and the jazz periodicals, I’ll mention that, for example, I saw Dave Douglas play his ass off twice this summer. He was ass-less and practically leaping off the bandstand with the Sound Prints group he runs with Joe Lovano at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and then igniting things in a decommissioned church’s basement with a quartet that includes Steve Swallow and two Canadian youngbloods, Chet and Jim Doxas, at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival.
This summer, I twice saw the Fellowship Band turn a big park audience into a Vanguard-like congregation (although in the second instance I had to travel to France). I almost saw Dave Holland three nights in a row, playing pristine duets with Kenny Barron, with the sublime Thimar trio, and the inaugural gig for his visceral, molten Prism group with Craig Taborn, Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland. Take that, bifurcating traditionalists and innovators.
Oh — I twice passed on Chris Botti.
I was able to catch Jack DeJohnette’s hard-thrashing group without having to go to Newport, hear two burning sets of Liebman’s group without going to the Deer Head Inn. (Aside: does Lieb, even with his NEA Jazz Masters award, get all the love he deserves?) At jam sessions in Ottawa, I saw Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti and Dan Tepfer (on melodica) put “Solar” through the wringer, and I saw Kneebody play “Epistrophy” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” If someone were to come up to me after hearing any one of these concerts, and say, “Ah yes, but I pined for more tradition or innovation in that music,” I would have smacked them for completely missing the point, which is the wonderment.
I want to ask you about two recordings that dropped this year and that I thought were wonderful. No points for guessing that I have in mind Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper and the Gil Evans Centennial Project release from Ryan Truesdell. How did you gauge those discs with the best of 2012, given that Jarrett’s European group made its incandescent music in 1979, or that some of the Evans material was older than Birth of the Cool?
What I’m inclined to take away from these delayed gratifications is that arguments about jazz styles evolving or decaying themselves shrivel up when time-defying music is pulsing through the Sennheisers. The power of those discs makes me hopeful that in 2042 or 2062, some freshly unearthed music by Iyer or Rudresh Mahanthappa, or Brad Mehldau or Kurt Rosenwinkel, or Ambrose Akinmusire or Robert Glasper, or someone none of us have heard yet, will be making heads spin.