Brian Harkin for The New York Times
Jazz Standard, July 17
Brian Harkin for The New York Times
Jazz Standard, July 17
Richard Termine for The New York Times
Village Vanguard, March 20
From: Angelika Beener:
Dear Nate, Aaron, Joe and Kelvin,
What a panel. Nate, I’m very humbled to have been invited to discuss this year in jazz with such an awesome group of folks. Hi, everyone.
I know that the older we get, the faster time flies, but 2011 was a whirlwind, and particularly so as it pertains to jazz. A couple of years ago, during my break from working in various capacities within the “industry”, I realized that what I really wanted to do was write about jazz full-time; unabashedly, free of politics, egos, and high-handed outside opinions (based on ego...did I mention ego?). The idea of finally having that kind of freedom was super appealing to me. Then it was just a matter of the right time to launch something. If 2011 wasn’t a blogger’s dream, then I don’t know what would ever be.
This was most definitely a year of groundbreaking happenings and ideas. My first interview of 2011 was with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots, and it happened on the heels of the 31-category axe from the Grammy board, or as I fondly refer to it, punishment for a Black woman with a ‘fro and a bass taking one of the highest honors.
Seriously, though. Steely Dan over Eminem. The Herbie win over Kanye West (though most opposers were smart enough to grit their teeth and clench their fists, rather than say something stupid or step out of line), and now this?
I guess we should have seen a temper tantrum coming down the pike. Steve Stoute’s whining open letter to the Grammy board, where he complained that they had “clearly lost touch with popular culture,” was like a glass of cold water to the face. Not the wake-up-call splash kind, but more like the extremely humiliating and embarrassing kind. Further, that a Black guy of his alleged status could be so unknowingly ignorant and disconnected from his cultural and artistic heritage spoke to a much larger issue. An issue that has, in some form or another, ironically been the hottest debate on the table over the last couple of months. (Insert shadow lurking).
I know what you mean, Nate, about hopes being stirred up by the Esperanza Spalding win. Mine were. I remember getting into a big hullabaloo via Facebook with folks who were appalled by her win. My argument being that whether or not the Grammy board got it right (I happen to think they did), the point was the great symbolism a win like this had.
Ten months later, I kind of feel like that’s all it really amounted to. A lot of symbolism for people who want to see it, but not much more. It’s like the Grammys quarter-backed jazz a great pass straight toward the end zone, but it’s a little too early perhaps to tell if it will result in a touchdown. Hopefully it will pay dividends beyond what the Norah Jones shake up produced some years back, which is likely since there seems to be more of an acknowledgement from Spalding, and less overall denial from the community at large that Spalding is a jazz musician. I guess time will tell. I love Norah Jones, by the way.
On the subject of the recent jazz debates, Aaron, I totally understand the desire to want to stay above the social media jazz face-off fray, and though the argument is age-old and perennial, I think the cast of characters made it compelling this time around.
To my recollection, it started during the summer with pianist Orrin Evans, who received a lot of backlash for saying (amidst yet another club shut down), that there should be more Blacks participating in business aspects of the jazz industry. Then on the musical side, you had Nicholas Payton challenging his peers, the younger generation, and critics alike to respect a certain level of non-manipulatable, fundamental aspects of jazz (or what he was calling “so-called jazz”, before recently settling on Black American Music) established by African Americans. This Evans/Payton one-two punch caught a lot of folks off guard. As it morphed and developed, it even caused contention between Black musicians.
Overall, I thought the whole thing was great. For the first time in a long time, the scene looked less like Black folks watching along the sidelines while the Ken Burns-esque, self-congratulating, so-called experts psycho-analyze them as if they are behind plexiglass, and more like a big family fight which happened behind closed doors, but the neighbors heard through the wall, if that makes sense. Never have things been so seditious, interesting and thought-provoking -- not in my generation. But then again, never (in my generation) has the dialogue been inclusive of so many perspectives. I think we have social media to thank in great part for that. From musicians challenging critics on diversifying their subjects, to critics challenging women to jump into the dialogue in larger numbers (thank you, Nate), to musicians challenging each other to renounce “jazz” as a colonialist concept, I think the broad inclusion of participants made all the difference in 2011.
Incidentally, have you guys seen this?
Inclusion creates a broader perspective and frankly just more stuff to talk about. I think that’s why folks who are casual or non-jazz fans are intrigued by all this. It’s tangible, it’s relatable to something outside of itself. I think jazz desperately needs this kind of flexibility in its dialogue. If we’re trying to gain new supporters of the music, the last thing we can afford to be is rigid in our conversations. No matter how intricate the music, if the talk around the music is interesting and inclusive, I believe people will give it a shot. People will give anything a shot if it’s presented in a way that has some familiar tent poles, and that’s where we come in.
Aaron, I could not agree with you more about where things stand creatively. Jazz is definitely on the upswing, and I think this notion will continue to manifest in 2012, like, majorly. I also love Jason Moran’s recent move to become the Kennedy Center’s artistic advisor. I think if anybody in this business of this generation understands the dire situation of jazz and lack of funding for education, it’s him. (His parents set up the Jason Moran Scholarship at his high school alma mater, HSPVA, very soon after his graduating, and it’s still going). Anyone with that type of personal understanding is an asset to any arts organization. I’m really excited to see where he takes things. There are also so many great albums coming out next year! But I won’t skip ahead, guys. But I will say this: If jazz is in need of a savior, I think Esperanza will end up being just one of them.
All the best,
From: Shaun Brady
Dear Nate, Chris, Jen, and David:
A happy holiday of choice or lack thereof to each of you. Can’t think of better company to be huddling around a virtual Yule log with.
Nate, you led with the seeming lack of narrative to this year’s jazz developments, but perhaps it’s the absence of story that is the story. My year-end blizzard of list-making and poll-taking also involves film, and many of this year’s slots are taken by works that are at least ambiguous if not downright opaque in their storytelling. So why shouldn’t our music of choice reflect this non-linear reality? You and Chris both raise the specter of those perennial arguments about what we’re allowed to call jazz or whether the genre still has a pulse, but it seems that even within the more expansive definition that I think we all subscribe to, the boundaries -- between jazz and rock, inside and outside - are being blurred in increasingly thrilling ways.
Take those guitarists who made such an impact this year, for instance. Nels Cline’s output was nothing if not sprawling, from the epic landscapes of Dirty Baby to the deliciously skronky excesses of Inititate, which deserves its spot on my Top 10 jazz CDs list but may equally deserve the top perch on a 2010 rock wrap-up. Once upon a time there was such a thing as an instrumental hit -- classic rock radio can still be counted on for regular spins of “Frankenstein” or “Hocus Pocus” -- and if we still lived in that world, Wilco may well be opening for the Singers these days.
Mary Halvorson snagged the first slot on my list this year with Saturn Sings, a prime example of a new generation of jazz that has the lessons of rock burned into its brains, revealing itself through an emergent pop sensibility in compositions, band interaction, a certain aggressiveness, without having to strive consciously for so-called “fusion.”
None of this, of course, would please the Crouch-Marsalis faction, the latter represented this year by Jason’s “Jazz Nerds” screed, a somewhat more nuanced argument than that usually associated with his rearview-fixated older brother. If the Marsalis name is too tainted by the tired old “Jazz Police” arguments, a similar line in the sand between “emotional” and “intellectual” approaches in other camps. As its members will eagerly point out, the provocatively-named Tarbaby is meant to provoke just such a discussion, one involving tradition, swing and race that pianist Orrin Evans delights in provoking.
You can add Evans (pictured at top) to that list of pianists who dominated the year, by the way. Besides the fine sophomore Tarbaby disc, he released Faith In Action, a tribute to mentor Bobby Watson, and assembled his Captain Black Big Band with the bandleader’s equivalent of spit and chewing gum. A recording is on the horizon, but here in Philly we got to watch the band evolve in real time through a months-long residency last winter at Chris’ Jazz Café, from a raucously skin-of-their-teeth ensemble to a still-raw but cohesive ensemble. Evans is also a dedicated exponent of the dying art of the jam session, having hosted several in the city in a willful attempt to recreate the conditions in which he came up (under, I should add, the guiding presence of pianist Sid Simmons, a sad addition to the year’s obituary list).
But an equal part of Evans’ output this year comes through his intentional provocations on Facebook, in which he has, among other no-punches-pulled rants, called out musicians playing what he refers to as “metrosexual jazz” (roughly equivalent to Jason Marsalis’ “Nerds”). Though his voice doesn’t have quite the reach, if you’re looking for the outspokenness of a Miles or Kanye in today’s jazz, Evans is as good a place as any to start.
Nate, it’s been about two years since your JazzTimes column regarding Facebook, and how friending musicians offers an ethical quandary for a critic. I’m wondering how you weigh in on that debate now, and how everyone here handles it, as the site has become an increasingly interesting locus for conversation, debate, and sharing of thoughts, videos, et cetera. I haven’t built the wall around my Facebook that you wrote about, Nate, though I see your point and think it might be ideal to maintain separate professional and personal identities (advice I haven’t taken, as the thought of checking two separate Facebook profiles horrifies my antisocial soul).
As I glance over at your Twitter feed, I notice that mine is the sole name amongst our round-tablers who lacks an “@” symbol next to his name, and it’s true -- I’m a curmudgeonly holdout on the Twitter front. So for those of you who dwell within the jazz Twitterverse, how that has impacted the real-time conversation for you, and are you dealing with similar moral minefields there?
I mentioned some of the advantages of being in Philly with regards to Orrin Evans, and I’ll also take up your suggestion to celebrate the decade of Ars Nova Workshop. David and Nate especially, you know how much bleaker the jazz landscape would be here without Mark Christman’s efforts, and as other programmers have come and gone it’s especially impressive that he’s stuck to it for so long. Beyond simply bringing the avant-gardist du jour, ANW’s programming has gotten increasingly inventive, especially via its Composer’s Portraits series, which early this year saw Ken Vandermark, Trevor Dunn and Karl Berger all presenting unique Don Cherry-inspired programs.
Sorry, Chris, didn’t manage to sample a bottle of Bitches’ Brew, despite Dogfish Head’s brewpub being as close as I get to beach in Rehoboth, Delaware these days. Maybe I’ll go hunt down a bottle as I pass the baton.