Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Joe's Pub, Jan. 24
Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Joe's Pub, Jan. 24
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 was Mary 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.
My column in the July/August JazzTimes (not online, alas), concerns music publishing, an issue of stealth importance today. To parrot a dry but earnest line from my own self: “At a time when most jazz musicians are composers, and other sources of income are dwindling, music publishing may be the one area with growth prospects.” Given the thrust of some recent bloggery, it seems a good notion to revisit.
Jazz musicians have long paid the price for inattention to their publishing. In some cases, it’s a matter of ineffectual policing. You may know, for instance, what happened with Thelonious Monk’s most oft-recorded composition, “’Round Midnight.” After it had been introduced to Cootie Williams, the song was filed for copyright with three names on the certificate: Monk, Williams and lyricist Bernie Hanighen. “Consequently,” writes Robin Kelley, “Hanighen and his estate receive a third of the royalties from every version of ‘’Round Midnight’ produced. And in turn, the original composer and his estate receive only a third of the royalties -- to this very day.” Got that?
But let’s set aside the Big Fish example from a bygone era. Most present-day jazz musicians will never write a “’Round Midnight” -- and that shouldn’t at all diminish their interest in the publishing game. In the column, I seek illumination on that point from Dan Coleman, whose publishing-administration company, “A” Side Music, works with the likes of Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau and Billy Childs. (More on him in the comments.) I also consult with two publishing-savvy musicians, bassist Ben Allison and keyboardist Larry Goldings.
But being in Chicago and seeing sold-out evenings at the Umbrella Music Festival in November, seeing good crowds for complex music this summer in Vancouver and intense audience reaction in the Perspectives Festival in Sweden in March, I am generally encouraged by the health of progressive music (which really absorbs everything that we’ve mentioned in these posts, including jazz artists not having issues getting exposure). Ken Vandermark and I once spoke about the subject of audience and I made the comment that all it would take was LeBron James plugging Paul Bley and record sales would explode. Ken disagreed about that... who knows who is right (since I don’t see it happening). But probably what jazz needs is a continued stream of conscientious listeners, even if that stream is more like a trickle.
Jazz is certainly not ever going to reclaim its mantle as popular music (when was that again? ‘50s? ‘40s? ‘30s?) so a little bit of realism is necessary. AllAboutJazz-New York received over 2,000 CDs in 2009, which is a staggering number, even when considering that comes from all over the globe. So the musicians are still there and, to some extent, a support structure (labels, clubs, festivals, promoters) is as well. The audience is also there and while it might not be large in number, it is huge when it comes to enthusiasm and grass-roots energy.
I teach a class about writing on live music; one of my students was exposed to Han Bennink at 15 and has gone on to interview him for the Stuyvesant High School newspaper, invited William Hooker to her college and plays Sun Ra on her university radio program. I’m not patting myself on the back for this but it shows that jazz can gain new audiences as long as musicians keep being sincere in their efforts. I close with a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Warriors, which is germane to this conversation. Or maybe it isn’t...I just love this flick.
Happy New Decade!
Late in the second hour of Today this morning, there came a quick reprieve from pet stories and assorted other pageantry: a segment on the Jazz Loft Project, and the archival stockpiles of W. Eugene Smith.
I thought that Sam Stephenson -- the director of the project, and author of a book by the same name, out Nov. 24 on Knopf -- did a fine job of explaining a fairly complicated story here, even under the glare of studio lighting. And whoever wrote the script for Ann Curry compressed the message well. (The ethical question she raises is worth posing, and Stephenson parried it nicely.) Bonus points to everyone involved for sneaking a few moments of Zoot Sims onto network TV.
My feature about the loft, in February, reflected a particular emphasis on Thelonious Monk, who rehearsed for his Town Hall concert there. I haven’t yet seen a copy of The Jazz Loft Project, but I can’t wait to read it, and to pore over those photographs. Needless to say, this should be a contender in the category of “Holiday Gifts Suitable for the Jazz Fanatic in Your Life.”
As is often the case with appointment television, I came late to the game on Mad Men, the AMC chronicle of Madison Avenue in a martini-swilling age. At this point I’m done with the first season, and have yet to tackle the second. On Sunday night I cheated and watched the Season 3 premiere, which struck me as oddly unimaginative -- certainly less creative than this summer’s ad campaign, a fitting combination of bombast and finesse. (You may have noticed the bus banners, or the Banana Republic storefronts, or the retro-cartoonish Facebook icons of your pals.) But I’ll leave the reviews to the seasoned pros, and to amateurs with a deeper investment than my own.
One thing has been bugging me all along, though, and I wonder whether I’m the only one. The opening credits to the show, iconic enough to have earned their own Simpsons parody, ring stylish but hollow against the substance of the show. Every time I see them -- and that’s numbingly often, when you’re binging through a full season -- a part of me imagines how much better they could be.
Yeah, this is obsessive. But we’re talking about a show that takes period detail to fanatical extremes. From the fashion to the cocktails, nothing is left unconsidered here. In the world of Don Draper and his associates, image is everything, and so the show cleverly gives us a gleaming fabrication, an idealized and profoundly troubled milieu.
In a recent volume of The Gig (JazzTimes edition), I kicked around the idea of jazz on late-night television, with a specific eye toward the major spring changeover on NBC. At press time, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots had barely just begun at Late Night, and Conan O’Brien was still weeks away from taking the reins at the Tonight Show.
Check the column for my best attempt at nuance with the topic. Now that O’Brien is more than a week into his new gig, and Fallon a few months into his, it seems time for more stray observations.