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.

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