Sunday, December 7, 2008

Blues in the Night...A Metaphor for Life

Those of you who know me well know that the past two years have not been the best for me...Every once in a while, true enlightenment and inspiration can come from the depths of despair...Sometimes this revelation comes through introspection; other times with the able assistance of external voices...
Music, especially live jazz, occasionally provides such inspiration...
Being a jazz promoter and "fan", I've heard many different remarkable performances, by very talented individuals and groups. Very few reach the level of enlightenment. Perhaps it has to do with how I'm feeling at the beginning of the show; or perhaps more importantly how the individual performer is feeling. So much of a musicians' life and mood can be heard and felt in the music...clarity and honesty.
So much more than playing runs of notes...or singing words. Clarity and honesty...
Music that allows introspection...views into the soul...
There was just such a concert last Wednesday night. Eddie Bayard's Quartet was holding court at The Redmoor (formerly Jaspers Music Complex). It was an elegantly simple set: two tenor saxophones, bass and drums. Deceptive in its simplicity, but exceedingly complex musically.
There is no one on the planet more technically gifted than Bayard on the tenor; and yet his playing revealed more of a sense of an urgent impassioned calmness; never hurried but direct and revealing.
The type of music that allows for the search for answers within to difficult, insurmountable questions. For me, this show was a needed respite from an uncompromising and unforgiving world...
The other members of the group; Dudley Owens on tenor, Nate Smith on bass, and Anthony Lee on drums, maintained the appropriate amount of respect and insight for the direction and feel of the music....
Music can be quite entertaining at times; a great comfort at other times. Music affects everyone differently; what I have described was my emotions on this night from my point of reference or view. This particular show assisted me in my understanding of some terribly difficult questions. Others most likely at the show responded differently...
There were many other people at the show; all with varied responses to the music. It was gratifying to see some of the diversity of opinions and outlooks enjoying the music in their own way...
For some, perhaps rock, classical, hip hop, or country can provide that type of window to the conduit is jazz. Given my current state of blues...Wednesday night was an oasis in an otherwise somber desert... giving able assistance to personal introspection...
Maybe, just maybe...some light at the end of a very long tunnel...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The State of Jazz Today

Being a promoter of jazz, I'm often asked the question: "Is Jazz dying?" I submit a resounding NO!
Of course naysayers point to the fact that jazz radio is virtually non-existent; and there has been a general emphasis on less challenging forms of musical entertainment.
The airplay issue is significant. Clear Channel, Radio One, and other radio conglomerates, thanks to lax laws, have managed to control and monopolize whole radio markets; thereby controlling the access for the type of music that is played.
Unfortunately, Jazz is not a high priority. These conglomerates will state that no one listens to jazz on the radio, thereby causing decreased ad revenue. I disagree; in fact there is a concerted effort to silence jazz throughout the entertainment industry and news media.
The recent changes in internet licensing laws, penalizing independent internet jazz radio stations by unreasonable fees, is a blatant attempt to suppress the music.
The media is also complicit. Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times announced they would stop covering jazz in their music section. Locally, the Cincinnati Enquirer has never been friendly to jazz efforts I have promoted. There are amazing musicians in this region; you heard four of them at Jaspers Thursday night. Yet, their world class music is not given the proper respect or media play in this city.

Those are the issues. I have stated that jazz is NOT dead; far from it. But that means nothing if I don't have answers to how the music can sustain itself in a hostile environment.
First off, I believe the fact that Barack Obama has been elected President is a boon for jazz and all arts. He has historically been very supportive of the arts; giving more exposure nationally to the musically will have enormous benefits locally.
Locally, we can model the effort to support jazz on the Obama Presidential Campaign. No, I don't mean canvassing door-to-door, or making phone calls. Rather reach out to your friends and associates to talk about jazz, and where you can hear top quality New York Style Jazz.
Third: talk to the young people, and expose them to jazz. On a personal level, I know this approach works. My son, age 14, is an avid Lee Morgan and Coltrane fan. I let him hear the music at a very early age; (18 months!), and he has grown to appreciate jazz as well as other forms of music.

Jazz music continues to evolve; that is the nature of the music. The popularity will increase as more people are constructively introduced to the music. Above all else, everyone needs to know that jazz is a living, breathing, vital, fun music that can be enjoyed by all!
See you Thursday at Jaspers in Mt Lookout!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York Style Jazz: More Than A Zip Code

I have mentioned that I'm bringing real New York Style Jazz back to Cincinnati at Jaspers Music Complex on Thursday evening November 6th, 2008. The Jazz Happy Hour starts at 5 pm; live jazz with the Mark Lomax Quartet starts at 730 pm.
I received several e-mails, apparently implying or disputing the fact that there are places in town that already have "New York Style" jazz; in fact one person sent me a schedule of musicians playing in town reportedly from NYC. After reading the e-mails, I believe a definition of "New York style" jazz is needed.
First of all, because you currently live in NY, or grew up there and play there, doesn't mean you can play or are playing "New York Style" jazz. There are many so-called jazz musicians that live in New York that do not or cannot respect the traditions of New York Style Jazz.
Second, because you leave NYC, and come to Cincinnati to play, it is unwise to assume that jazz fans here cannot discern the difference.
Real New York Style Jazz is based on independent improvisation. That improvisational technique has been passed down from musician to musician on stage. From the early stages of the bebop movement with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Bud Powell; to the subsequent hard bop movements of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Miles Davis and a host of others. The key ingredient was that the elder statesmen in the music played with the younger ones; essentially teaching them in real world terms how to play. Not just playing notes, but allowing their true emotions to be expressed through the music.
This kind of experience can ONLY be found on the bandstand with more worldly and experienced musicians.
For example, Art Blakey, the fantastic hall of fame drummer, led a group called "The Jazz Messengers", which was noted for training and influencing young musicians in the fine art of improvisation. Prominent alumni of The Messengers include Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Curtis Fuller, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Terrance Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Benny Golson, Bobby Watson, and Kenny Garrett. Even though the musicians listed have gone on to be involved in straight ahead and contemporary jazz, they share the underlying ingredient that makes them authentically New York Style: They play with a passion and fire that takes the music in new and innovative directions.
Miles Davis had a similar effect; prominent alumni include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Cannonball Adderly, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, George Coleman, John McLaughlin, Jack De Johnette, Bennie Maupin, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, and Michael Henderson.
John Coltrane also had a tremendous influence on musicians such as McCoy Tyner, Eric Dolphy, Rasheid Ali, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, among others.

The point is that when you describe "New York Style" Jazz, then it is implied that the musician has benefited from this type of experience that has been handed down from the masters of the music.
Fast forward to today. To state that a musician is from New York, and therefore plays New York Style jazz is a fallacy. This style of jazz cannot be learned exclusively in a music school; it MUST be supplemented by real world experiences with musicians who have learned the tradition. It is evident in the sound and quality of improvisation; those who have not had the opportunity to learn from the true masters of the art are doomed to mediocrity. Sure, technically, these musicians can play the notes, but they cannot play the music. The music from these musicians sound emotionally sterile.
Those true New York Style Jazz musicians constantly push the music to evolve; in the best traditions of Miles and Trane. This still occurs today, although in the current climate that is overrun with music of a bland, smooth variety, it is more difficult to find. Also, with most jazz in Cincinnati being mostly "cover" bands, or bands playing standards (to borrow rock band parlance), true innovation and improvisational music has been lacking. At Jaspers Mt. Lookout, you will ALWAYS hear true authentic "New York Style" Jazz, with musicians who respect and preserve the art. I cannot speak for the rest of the Cincinnati jazz community, zip codes notwithtstanding.