The topic of race, in jazz as elsewhere, has often been framed as a binary: literally a matter of black and white. We saw this in many of our intraweb debates last year, though of course the issue goes farther back than any of us can recall. The implicit dualism is understandable, and there's obviously still much work to be done along that divide. I stand with both Nicholas Payton and Ethan Iverson, among others, in the conviction that we can gain something vital by talking about it.
In that spirit, I've been thinking a lot this week about what doesn't fit into the binary, and how we might enrich our jazz-and-race conversation by acknowledging it. Before we proceed, two quick homework assignments. First, watch the clip above -- one of the smarter, subtler pieces of sketch writing we've seen from Saturday Night Live in ages. And while I'm assuming that you need no briefing on the subject of Jeremy Lin, "Linsanity," or sports-media Foot in Mouth Syndrome, I'm also going to insist that you spent a few moments with this excellent essay by Jay Caspian Kang.
OK, done? Now bear with me; this will get a little personal.
Part Ten 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
I’m still mulling Nate’s Wall of Objectivity and thinking of the many journalistic standards that support his approach to social media networking. I’m also thinking about the misleading link I posted on my Facebook profile that appears to commend Time magazine for naming Herman Leonard their man of the year. Although the legendary jazz photographer’s death was simply mentioned in a long list of “fond farewells,” subsumed under Time’s annual “Person of the Year” package, I like how Facebook lets me distill the daily digital information onslaught down to the things that I find poignant -- and emphasize those things so that, hopefully my Facebook friends get exposed to a new idea or two.
I guess posts like that are tantamount to the general murmur you might overhear at a music festival or conference. And like those overheard one-liners, information we get from these sites can easily be taken out of context to create false impressions, as Nate learned the hard way. (But making Herman Leonard the Person of the Year on a site created by the actual Person of the Year has such a nice ring to it...)
To me, the mere fact that we’re having this discussion about the ethics of Facebook friending in jazz is a positive sign. Search and Restore’s movement to broaden jazz’s audience needs to reach a generation that expects everything about everything to be available on the web. Jazz isn’t quite there yet. Downbeat doesn’t publish the magazine’s stories online, iTunes does little to guide new listeners to the music, and there are about as many websites about jazz as there women critics (cough).
But jazz communities are at least thriving on Facebook and Twitter, so maybe our industry is finally climbing out of its much-maligned, proverbial ivory tower.
Speaking of which, did anyone else follow the Jazzfamoose this year? Before 2010, there was no jazz version of Gawker, launching snarky missives about controversies like the decision to name every Marsalis a Jazz Master -- or Phil Woods’ pursuant boycott of the NEA. But at some point in July, a mysterious, take-no-prisoners digital personality calling itself JazzFamoose appeared on Twitter and started lobbing 140-character grenades at everyone in jazz, from musicians to critics to genre-specific phenomena.
It would be a stretch to argue that this guy’s comments are making jazz more accessible -- but I do like to think that his existence means we’re all taking ourselves a little less seriously.
On the other end of the seriousness spectrum, Nate and Shaun both touched on Herbie’s Imagine Project, an album that raised a number of questions for me. While the cloying impression of Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up,” revisited in jazz form will not be easily expunged from the recesses of my brain, reading Herbie’s explanation of the project in Downbeat this month made consider his effort from a new perspective. His goal was to make a statement about the need for and potential of global unity. So that statement was obscured by a confusing combination of Irish fiddlers, African guitar riffs and Lisa Hannigan, but hey, he tried. I appreciate the message.
While working on an obit for Abbey Lincoln this summer, I had music and politics on the brain and found myself coming back to one politically-inspired track that worked better than anything on Herbie’s disc: Preservation Hall Band director, Ben Jaffe, Trombone Shorty, Mos Def and Lenny Kravitz’s recording of the brass band staple, “It Ain’t My Fault,” which they made to raise money for GulfAid.org. It was recorded while BP’s heinously unmitigated environmental disaster was still spewing untold amounts of crude oil into the Gulf. Mos’ New York rap-styled lyrical lilt sounds a little foreign in a brass band setting, but his tone echoes the frustration we all felt about so much responsibility-shirking.
There was also “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More,” a hip-hop-R&B jam by Shamarr Allen and Hot 8 Brass Band’s Bennie Pete. It’s got almost nothing to do with jazz, but Shamarr’s first teachers were Kidd Jordan and Herlin Riley, and he came up playing with Tuba Fats, so I’ll grandfather him into the discussion. And I’d be curious to hear more from Shaun about which issues are inspiring artists in South America to compose music.
Maybe these intersections between jazz and politics fascinate me because of my terrible addiction to Freedom Now and Attica Blues, but I resolve that in 2011 I’ll try my damnedest to spill some ink around more politicized music projects.
Anyway, thanks for the excuse to synthesize (sort of) these random ideas, guys. I’ll be looking for news about JJA, David (I’ll be at JEN in New Orleans that week) and about Panama’s rising stars, Shaun.
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.
You read that headline correctly: saxophonist Branford Marsalis was born half a century ago today. Some of us will want a minute to absorb that information. Take one if you need it.
Branford has a new album out this week with the Marsalis Family, which is naturally part of his claim to fame. That’s not what I want to talk about here, though. I’d like to talk about the specific achievements of Ellis’ eldest son: as a saxophonist, as a bandleader, and as a public figure besides. (Forgive me, folks, this may get a little personal.)