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’ll be away from all things computer-related through the
holiday weekend, but wanted to leave up something fitting. Here’s a celebrated
set by Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars from July 7, 1958.
Pops wasn’t really born on the Fourth of July, but that’s
what everyone thought back then, and it still seems fitting enough to be true.
I love everything about this clip. The languor-turned-frenzy of the band. The
sociological crowd-reaction cutaways. Jack Teagarden. And of course the mighty
Armstrong, in frankly stupendous form. Set aside 10 minutes and watch the whole
thing. Or, if you don’t own it, track down a copy of Jazz on a Summer’s Day. (Start here.)
More to come on the blog next week. Happy Fourth of July.