Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Response To: Can Jazz Be Saved?

There have been many opinions over the past several months and years regarding the viability of today's Jazz. Just recently, in the Wall Street Journal (August 8, 2009 edition) the Journal's drama critic, Terry Teachout, asked that same question:
His conclusions were predictable; jazz needs to reach out to the youth, and it needs to be more accessible to the average listener.
All reasonable, but the $64,000 question is: How? Is it enough to have educational programs in schools, or making it more "palatable" to the general population by somehow "smoothing" it out, or making it more contemporary via rock or r&b beats?

The author makes a good point; in the days of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and even the hard bop era, there was more "feeling" the music rather "understanding" the music. Whether the audience understood the complexities of the music or not, they enjoyed the music because they "felt" it.

Case in point: This video clip is a cameo appearance of Duke Ellington in Jimmy Stewart's movie "Anatomy of a Murder:

OK, I know this is a movie. But the point is that in that era, there was a certain feeling that the music inspired. Fun.
I submit there is essentially no difference between the audiences of that era and now. The difference is in how the music is being marketed, and being performed.
There is a certain authenticity and feel to the music that the majority of today's artists, both straight ahead and contemporary, have lost. And even if the audience doesn't understand the complexities of the music, they respond to the difference.

How did today's music lose its relevance and "fun"? As I have stated in my previous blogs, there was a time-honored tradition of passing the music down from music generation to music generation, via the informal apprenticeship called the bandstand or stage. The musicians "learned" how to feel the music, not just play the music. There are literally hundreds of Jazz musicians who can play the notes, but don't feel the music; and thus have no individuality or originality. Audiences respond to that simple concept.
When the music lost the feeling, the music lost its audience.
To try to intellectualize Jazz is a noble and laudable concept; in the perceived world of "respect", the logical comparison was Classical music. In a sense, modern Classical music comparisons with Jazz makes political, and intellectual sense, but does not address the raison d'etre for the music from a historic standpoint: feeling.

In the 60's and 70's, in a certain sense, in response to the changing political and societal viewpoints of race relations in this country, respect was justifiably demanded and received for Jazz in this country. This respect was manifested by the positive comparisons with European-based elite music, Classical music. Jazz was subsequently taught in the major music schools in this country. Even today, it is a perceived badge of honor to graduate from Julliard, Berklee, or any number of institutions. The problem was and is to a certain extent, the respect for the older musicians who did not come out of the music schools was lacking by the younger established jazz musicians and public. Thus, the essential element of "feeling the music" has been lost on a whole generation of musicians. The audience has responded with their indifference.

Compounding the problem of the music's popularity, the current way of marketing the music is flawed. There was a time when the musicians would routinely tour the smaller towns and cities on a continual basis. The "Festival Concept", sponsorships, and free (no cover charge) jazz changed the dynamic for the music. The musicians routinely play in New York, Chicago, and in festivals, but rarely come to smaller venues. The economic realities are such that, buoyed by sponsorship dollars, the fees paid to artists do not accurately reflect the drawing power. Why? Well if the musicians were touring more for less money, there would be an opportunity to build an audience that would support local jazz stations. In turn, the local jazz stations would be able to play the music of these artists, so that the next time the artist tours, the demand, and therefore compensation would be better. This cannot happen in the current New York/Chicago/Europe/festival sponsorship cycle.

As a promoter, it is an extremely tough sell to convince an artist to play for less money in order for the system to work on a local level in smaller cities. Especially if there are festivals willing to pay higher fees not based on market forces, but sponsorship dollars. New York had a graphic example of this during the summer when the JVC Newport Jazz Festival was canceled. The audience by cover charges alone could not support the fees associated with the music.
It is clearly no accident that exasperated promoters of traditionally "Jazz" festivals have resorted to featuring Blues, Rock, Country, or any other musical genre other than Jazz. (Case in point, New Orleans Jazz and "Heritage" Festival).

OK, those are the problems as I see it. What are the solutions?
First of all, there has to be an acceptance that Jazz can be heard outside of a classroom. How do we do this? Those of us who love the music must take the time to expose everyone; kids and adults alike, to great Jazz music. Certainly not in an intellectually confrontational way (i.e school), but in a casual setting. There are many of today's Jazz fans who became fans by listening to their father's or mother's records that were playing in the house. No preaching about the intricacies or complexities of the music; just feeling the music. I always played Jazz in my car when my son was a passenger, (Lee Morgan, Miles, Trane) from early infancy. He is now a 15 year old Jazz fan.
When Jazz is played where people can hear it, there is a positive response. Invariably, when we have Jazz on the outdoor patio at The Cincinnati Grill, no matter who is playing, people who are walking by will invariably stop and listen. The variety of people stopping, if only for a moment, cuts across every age, and ethnic demographic. Surely the folks walking by are not all Jazz fans, but they respond to the music in their own way.
Secondly, the musicians themselves have to take an active role in preserving and nurturing the music. There has to be more to this than receiving the maximum sponsorship money per performance; in smaller cities the higher fees are not possible. The bottom line is that the musicians have to be more relevant than the latest CD. They have to appear live, at a price that is reasonable for all involved.
No one begrudges any musician for making as much as they can make, especially when compared with genres of lesser talented musicians making insane amounts of money. But there has to be a common ground; the music must be heard by a wider audience than it is now.
Third, the younger hot musicians from the established music schools need to take a page from the older musicians while they still can; they must be willing to learn how to "feel" the music, rather than just playing notes or reading charts. There must be a respect for the older musicians who have carried on the tradition outside of academia.

Bottom line: If Jazz is to continue to be a relevant musical form, it will take each one of us to make it so. Everyone, whether you are a musician or not, whether you are involved in the industry or not, can be an ambassador for the music. This will not be easy; but to chip away at the problem as outlined above will eventually lead to a solution, and new generations of Jazz fans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Health Care Reform

I don't know if any of you are following the ongoing health care debate, but what is happening over the next several months has the potential to profoundly affect all of us for generations to come.
There is much debate as to what is the best approach to handle this country's health care crisis. There is a general consensus that what is going on now with private insurance has failed. But there is no clear consensus for a solution.
If you are generally healthy, you probably have no idea whether your insurance is good or not. If you have been unfortunate enough to use your health care insurance, you know down to the last dollar how good your coverage is.
In my opinion, the ONLY way to achieve true health care reform is to remove the for profit insurance companies from the picture permanently. The big insurance conglomerates and HMO's have done more to diminish the quality and availability of good health care than any single force. Just how did they do that? Quite simply by diverting insurance premiums to CEO salaries and stockholder profits.
This is a link to the 15 top health insurers profits and CEO salaries in 2007:
Payola for congressmen:

The simple fact is that as insurance premiums have risen three times wages, the reimbursement for providers, and hospitals have steadily declined. Furthermore the overall reimbursement for needed tests and health care approvals for patients have declined. I'm sure if you have dealt with health insurance recently, inevitably you have been denied a needed procedure, test or surgery. You may even have an unacceptably high deductible, rendering your insurance worthless.
Don't take my word for it. Here is former CIGNA insurance executive Wendell Potter's testimony before Congress about the shell games for-profit insurance companies are playing with your health care:

The current fear tactic being carried by opponents of true health care reform (Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats) is that you will no longer have a choice in insurance; "Socialized Medicine"; you will lose your "great" coverage.
Now for facts:
1) There are over 45 million uninsured people in this country.
2) When the uninsured need health care, they usually wind up in the local emergency room; the cost of emergency care is fully three times standard care.
3) Your tax dollars already pay for those visits, believe it or not.
4) We have socialized medicine in this country already; it's called Medicare and it operates at 1/3 the cost of private insurance plans, despite having a decidedly unhealthier population.
This is due to low administrative costs.
5) There are many people in Congress who are profiting on keeping the system at status quo; in other words, they are getting paid to keep the for-profit insurance companies fat and happy.
6) Health care costs are the biggest reason for bankruptcy of families in this country.

The opponents of health care reform would have you believe that the US has the best health care in the world. But do we?
The truth is, while we have the most expensive health care system, we have far from the best system. In fact, among industrialized nations, we have the highest infant mortality rate, and the lowest ratings in terms of access, disease prevention, and equity. In other words, if you are wealthy, you can buy great health care. But if you make below $100,000 your health care is marginal at best:

So now what do we do about it?
The only true reform option is Universal Health Care. The For-profit insurance companies must be removed from health care. Health care needs to be provided for everyone.
Senator Bernie Sanders has an online petition for a Single payer (universal healthcare) option. If you truly care about your future healthcare (and life), you will support this petition:

Don't fall for the hype about a single payer option is costing too much. It costs too much not to have a single payer option. Write your Congressmen/Senators and the White House. We MUST have true health care reform. Anything less than a single payer program; taking the profit mongering insurance companies out of the mix is not reform.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The State of Jazz Today.

There has been a lot written about the health (or lack thereof) jazz in this country and around the world. This concern was heightened because of the news out of New York that The JVC New York Jazz Festival was canceled this year for the first time in 37 years. Coupled with the recent demise of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE), the cause for concern among jazz fans was understandably heightened.


Yes, the health of jazz should be questioned.
But...is it really a bad thing that the major festival in New York was canceled?
It is clear the current approach for jazz marketing/ promotion has caused the demise of the music. Unfortunately artists, critics, and promoters became very comfortable with the state of affairs; they were very comfortable with the idea that the "big names" could go to one or two major festivals a year either here or in Europe and be paid handsomely. They no longer needed to take road trips through all the smaller cities here in this country. The problem is that once the musicians stopped visiting all the smaller towns, interest overall in the music waned.

Radio stations started to change with the lack of exposure to live jazz locally; and there was no inherent fan base to protest. The festivals had become the major way for the "name" artists to disseminate their music. The problem with all festivals (and as was stated previously), is that it gave the artists and audience a false sense of security. The artists were paid exorbitant fees, and the fans saw the artists at reduced prices or free because of sponsorships. Well lo and behold, the sponsors controlled the music.
NYC just found out about that when the major sponsors pulled out of the JVC festival in NY; the first time NY will be without a major festival in 37 years. The fans will not pay the actual ticket price needed to pay the artist's fees. So the music cannot be supported in its current form and structure. The ticket fees paid must be able to support the artist. If 200 people are willing to pay $50 per ticket for a certain artist, then a $10,000 fee is justified. Unfortunately, with the lack of radio airplay, and lack of local media interest (for example, the Los Angeles Times recently dropped any coverage of jazz music or jazz musicians), there is a huge educational curve for the public in regards to the jazz artists that marketing techniques cannot overcome. Finding 200 people in a small market to pay $50 for an artist, no matter how heralded, is not feasible with the current state of the music.

The jazz musicians will state that the market in Europe is strong, and indeed there appears to be larger groups of fans in Europe. But let's examine the reason for this. It is clear that the arts in general and jazz in particular benefit from governmental subsidies; much more so than can be depended on in the US. If there were no subsidies, then the opportunities found in Europe would be much less. Concurrently, the opportunities to hear the music would be less, and the music there would be in the same shape as here. The same economic factors playing out here in this country are operating all over Europe and the world.

I submit there are still great numbers of jazz fans, only an increasingly smaller number willing to pay for the privilege to listen. What is the solution? Exposure. If this music is exposed to the young people, they will listen and appreciate it. It is a misnomer to think that the music is too complicated for the young people to understand; there is essentially no difference between the youth of the early 30's and today. (or of the 50's for that matter). Kids will listen if they are exposed to it. Bottom line, we have to develop a new market for the music.

Kids that most of America wrote off in this last election cycle propelled Obama to victory. The same thing can and must happen in jazz. Now before you consider me naive and out of touch with "the real jazz world", it is quite clear the current approach is not working. No one is too big to fail; not General Motors, Chrysler, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, David Sanborn on anyone else. There must be a fundamental restructuring of how jazz is funded; the days of $40,000 artists and festival money is over. The artists might still be able to command those fees individually, but if they are really about the music surviving, they would realize how important it is to perform in smaller venues for lesser fees. This will insure the music begins to become popular again. There is no overnight fix for this. But unless we continue to reach out to the youth, and show them that this music is vibrant, not ancient, we will lose this battle for good. Then you will have the proverbial "greatest solo never heard".

There is also a movement among some to provide alternative forms of Jazz in order to boost the popularity. There is inherently nothing wrong with that approach, as long as the music maintains the essential elements of jazz. Improvisation is a must, and the energy levels and "soul" must be preserved. The contemporary efforts of artists such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, and others have maintained the essential elements of jazz. Unfortunately so-called "Smooth Jazz", depending on the artist, fails in this fundamental test of the music.
In my opinion, jazz music in all of its valid forms can and will be embraced by new fans around the world.

Bottom line: the "stars" and other representatives of the music must make their music more accessible to fans around the country. Yes, this will result in smaller performance fees initially, but as the audiences rebuild for jazz in general, all of jazz will benefit from the increasing exposure and popularity.
The $40,000 question is:
Will the current "stars" of the music be willing to contribute to the overall health of the music by touring in venues that fans can afford?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rush Limbaugh and Jazz?

Ordinarily, there could be no obvious connection between the Rush Limbaugh, and jazz, specifically in America. But there is. And it's not good.

First, some background. Prior to 1996, the radio airwaves were tightly controlled by the FCC. There were provisions that prevented monopolies from forming; to insure diversity on the airwaves.
All of this changed in 1996. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act was signed into law. This law deregulated the industry; specifically it removed the statutes that prohibited one company from owning more than 3 radio/tv stations in any market. The original intent of the law was supposedly to spur competition and provide more diversity. In reality, the opposite occurred.
The old regulations allowed for smaller (niche) radio operators to be in the marketplace. The new rules allowed broadcasting behemoths like Clear Channel, Viacom, Salem Communications, Radio One, and other large operators to dominate a market. Instead of spurring competition, the large companies consolidated their positions, becoming bigger and bigger. bottom line is that deregulation has caused the lack of diversity on the radio waves:


(Cut, copy and paste links)

So what does have to do with jazz? Have you listened to your local radio choices lately? There is much more syndicated programming; the Dayton Jazz station just changed formats. That means there are NO jazz stations anywhere in the Cincinnati/Tri-state. (No, the "Smooth music station at 1480am Cincinnati doesn't count). The reason there is a lack of diversity is because three or four conglomerates dominate every market. So there is no chance for jazz stations to survive, even if there were listener and advertiser support.

One of the behemoths is Clear Channel. Clear Channel is going through profound financial difficulties; the local sports talk radio station (1530 Homer)fired all but one of their on air personalities. Radio One went through a similar consolidation with their talk radio; now programming more syndicated shows at the expense of the local on-air personalities.

Well, what does Rush Limbaugh have to do with it? At a time when Clear Channel is going through a profound financial crisis, causing more jazz programming to go off the air, they signed Rush Limbaugh to an exorbitant contract with a $100 MILLION Bonus!!!
(Cut, Copy and paste link)

So, while Clear Channel withers on the vine, canning local on-air personalities, and virtually eliminating jazz from the musical landscape, they are letting Limbaugh get fat (literally) off the resources of the company. That is deregulation in a nutshell; choking the diversity out of the musical landscape.
I suspect there is a certain amount of irony. Clear Channel has not only spawned Rush Limbaugh; they have spawned other "commentators" like Bill Cunningham in Cincinnati, and Michael Savage nationally. Now it seems that the king "commentator" of all, Limbaugh, may be directly contributing to the instability of the company.
Poetic justice.

What about the internet? Prior to 2006, there were a multitude of internet stations; allowing niche markets to expand exponentially. this all changed in 2006 with the institution of increased royalty fees; spurred on by the big Radio Companies. This essentially shut down most of the smaller internet radio operators; decreasing the diversity of music.

In some markets, NPR, (public radio) is an option. Not in this market, save for WGUC digital channel 2.

What is the solution? It is imperative that we as musicians, promoters, and fans reach the next generation; to introduce and encourage jazz music among our young people! Take the time to introduce as many young people to jazz as possible. Use iPods, other mp3 players, and other novel ways of distributing the music. But make sure the kids get the music.
During the recent Presidential campaign, President Obama reached out to the youth through the internet. Now it is documented that only 27% of the country call themselves Republicans. Younger people have decided to follow the Democratic party in droves; this portends to change the electoral landscape for years to come.
We can do the same thing in jazz. By getting the kids involved early, we can literally change the musical landscape; rendering Clear Channel irrelevant.

And, by the way, make Clear Channel, Salem, and others who are responsible for the reprehensible state of our music, pay for their transgressions by boycotting their advertisers. (especially Limbaugh advertisers).

Now...go out and hear some live jazz!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What If? (What Would Jazz Sound Like Today?)

While visiting friends last evening, and watching more jazz videos (Cannonball Adderley, and Sonny Rollins; (007 James Bond in between!)), A question came up. Since Cannonball Adderley died at a relatively young age of 47, how would jazz be different if Cannonball had lived and kept creating music on his last path.
Extrapolating that to other jazz musicians who died tragically young, it would be fascinating to look at other seminal figures in jazz who left us far too soon.

First some background. Throughout the history of jazz, there were several clearly defined periods or styles of the music.There was New Orleans or Traditional style jazz, of which Kid Ory, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong were the pioneers. Prominent features of the music were the front line which typically consisted of trumpet, clarinet, and trombone; and the rhythm section consisting of a guitar or banjo, tuba, and drums. In later years, the string bass was employed. Key features of the music was the main instrument played the melody, and the other front line instruments improvised around the melody.

The music subsequently migrated to Chicago and New York. The Chicago style jazz featured the guitar and string bass more prominently, and featured a more "Up tempo" pace to the music.
The "Swing" era started around 1930. This was characterized by large orchestras playing very regimented arrangements. Count Basie, and Duke Ellington were prominent during this stretch. This style featured large horn sections, tight rhythm sections featuring bass, guitar, piano and drums, and individual soloists. Prominent musicians in this style included Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Coleman Hawkins (Saxophone), Lester Young (Saxophone), Johnny Hodges (saxophone), Charlie Christian (Guitar), Buddy Rich (drums), and Jimmy Blanton (Bass). Blanton was the first bass player to take a solo; he was the bassist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

After World War II, a new, revolutionary music took hold. Be-Bop was characterized by intricate melodies and improvisation. There were changes in traditional timekeeping; the rhythm section as a whole were more involved with time. Instead of keeping time with the bass drum, the drummers of the day employed the hi-hat for that function. There was more "call and response" between the individual players as well. The underlying chord structure may be the same as any popular tune of the day, but the melody and subsequent improvisation made this style of music unique.
The instrumentation for these groups were typically two horns and three rhythm, piano, bass and drums. Popular be-bop musicians were Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell.
Hard Bop developed as the logical extension to this line of music; and was a counter-point to "West Coast" or "Cool Jazz". Hard Bop was characterized by mixing the exciting elements of be-bop, with gospel and soul music in producing a unique style. This was a distinct reaction to West Coast Jazz, which sought to constrain the music with European chamber music influences.
Prominent hard bop musicians were Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis (Modal jazz), Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey. Prominent West Coast Style musicians were Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Chet Baker.

In the late 70's and 80's there was the "Post Bop" era, "Free Jazz" (the roots of free jazz were with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Cecil Taylor in the 60's), electronic jazz, and contemporary or danceable/groove jazz.
Post bop jazz took elements from hard bop and free /avant garde jazz, and incorporated the styles into a new genre. The most prominent musician in this style was Woody Shaw, the outstanding trumpeter. (More on him later). Others include, but are not limited to, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, later Freddie Hubbard, later Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Harper, Bennie Maupin, Kenny Garrett, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bobby Hutcherson, and Keith Jarrett.
Prominent Electronic jazz musicians are Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Airto, Flora Purim, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorus, Alphonse Mouzon, Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham, and Pat Metheny. Contemporary jazz musicians were/are Grover Washington, Charles Earland, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Marion Meadows, Ken Navarro, Earl Klugh, David Sandborn, and George Benson among many others today.

Since the late 70's/early 80's new sweeping changes within jazz have not happened. It seems that innovation has been at a standstill since that period; the natural evolution hasn't occurred on a widespread basis. Could it be that some of the most innovative musicians in the history of jazz passed away at a too early age? Or maybe the most innovative musicians are struggling to find an audience due to economics, politics, lack of airplay, or some other unknown factor?
Could today's jazz be markedly different by having certain musicians living longer?

Cannonball Adderley
was on the high end of the age range, passing at age 47 from a stroke. However, in 1975, he was exploring the electronic jazz avant-garde, the soprano saxophone, and other directions. If he had lived perhaps 10 years longer, that vision and direction of his music may have had a chance to come to fruition.

There are five groundbreaking musicians in my opinion that, had they lived, would have changed the trajectory of jazz as we know it now. Some of the musicians are obvious, others not so.

The first musician on the list is Clifford Brown. Clifford Brown was one of the leading figures in be-bop; he and Max Roach led a groundbreaking quintet. Brown had a unique ability to understand musical harmony, melody and improvisation. He taught Lee Morgan early in his career when Lee was a teenager.
He died tragically in 1956 when the car he was riding in slipped off the rain soaked Pennsylvania Turnpike. Also killed in the crash was Richie Powell, his piano player and the brother of Bud Powell. Brown was only 26 years old.
Had Brown lived, he would have been one of the leaders of the post bop movement; he was already transitioning to hard bop from be-bop at the time of his death. It would have been truly fascinating to see Brown in the 60's and 70's; when modal jazz and post bop were coming to fruition. Perhaps he could have taken the music further...

The second musician is an obvious choice; John Coltrane. It could be argued that at the time of his death, he had taken the music to its logical ending place. However, when he died at of liver cancer in 1967, he was only 40 years old. It would have been interesting to have Coltrane's unique spin on some of the post bop efforts of the 70's and 80's; not to mention his own exploration into the avant-garde and free jazz.

The third musician on this list is Lee Morgan. At the time of his death at age 33, he was exploring the post bop harmonies, melodies and rhythms with his very forward-looking groups of that time.
Morgan died in February of 1972; had he lived another 20 years, and kept his last group together, we may very well be seeing a new era in jazz now.

The fourth musician on my list is Woody Shaw. Woody Shaw is the personification of the post bop and beyond movement. Shaw tragically died one month after suffering a horrific subway accident in 1989. He was only 44 years old.
Woody Shaw's music was incredibly complex. The ideas he was generating were groundbreaking; and to this day have rarely been duplicated. The musicians of today who are closest to producing new innovative music are Billy Harper and Bennie Maupin.

The fifth and last musician on my list is Scott LaFaro. Scott LaFaro was a bass player who pioneered making the bass a melodic instrument. He typically concentrated on the high end of the instrument; unheard of at the time but commonplace today. He would also improvise throughout the song; not just on his solos.
He was influenced heavily by bassist Leroy Vinegar; he played early on with pianist Hampton Hawes and Tenor player Stan Getz. He came to fame in 1959 with Bill Evans; he subsequently worked extensively with Ornette Coleman. His life was tragically cut short in 1961 at the age of 25 by an auto accident.
Had he lived, he would have influenced modern bass playing for years to come.

So...what do you think? Would music be different now if these musicians had lived into their 70's or 80's? Who knows...
Among today's players there has to be someone who is willing to take the music in a new RELEVANT direction. Not just playing rehashed hard bop or be-bop, but taking elements of all that has come before and creating something new. As long as it respects the underlying tenet of jazz; that is improvisation, then a new genre can be developed for the new millineum.
The non-musicians among us (myself included) can play a role by supporting the music in its current form; that is the only way the musicians will have the courage to try new approaches. The music must continue to grow and evolve.

If you have any other musicians who died too early and would have had a positive impact on the music of today, feel free to let me know. Also, if there are musicians of today who are truly playing innovative music as I described above, let me know that as well. The more we publicize the truly innovative musicians, the more the music will flourish!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who Knew? Jazz History in An Unlikely Place

The wonderful thing about jazz is that you never know when you will have the opportunity to witness history. It can be at a concert, or a setting as routine as a jam session. Even a simple conversation can be very enlightening.
I consider myself reasonably familiar with the jazz happenings globally, and uniquely familiar with jazz happenings locally in Cincinnati and the Midwest. So, clearly I did not expect history at the Sunday jam session at Ballet-Tech Cincinnati this past Sunday.
First, some background. I have described the Sunday jam session at the Ballet-Tech Cincinnati in a previous blog (Kids: The Future of Jazz). On this Sunday, the moderators announced that there would be local Cincinnati jazz legends in attendance.
The usual scene was present; great local players playing with the group and several incredibly talented youngsters holding court. A very nice happening overall.
However, during this session, a Cincinnati Jazz legend was called to the stage. What was unusual was that this particular lady, Jay Albright, was a national jazz icon living anonymously in Cincinnati!

Ms Albright grew up in Harlem, NY. She told personal accounts of Billie Holiday befriending her; helping her gain admission to the Apollo Theater, and helping her career in the early days. She also told of her group "Three Dukes and a Duchess"; how this group and the players were helped and encouraged by Max Roach and others in the Harlem jazz scene at the time; and how Charlie Parker and other luminaries were common fixtures in their life.
And then...she sat down at the keyboards and played! Her daughter accompanied her on the drums. It was abundantly clear that she had distilled all the influences and experiences in her playing. Her phrasing; her nuanced, logical, intuitive playing; not flashy, but compelling nonetheless, was quite revealing. Thoroughly wonderful!
The duo played an unknown original, and two standards: "Summertime" and "Take The A Train". These two songs were punctuated by her daughter "Punky" doing a superb job on drums and vocals. The duo joined the jam session group for "Now's The Time".
At the end of their time on stage, I asked her daughter "Punky" where they were playing locally; she explained they mostly do private parties in town....
Someone with such compelling history, talent, and still so much to give being relegated to the cocktail party circuit is sad indeed. Perhaps that will change soon.

This episode reminds me of my time in college at The University of Virginia several (LOL) years ago. At the time, I was the director of jazz music for the campus radio station WUVA; I had a Sunday afternoon jazz show for three years. During one of my many forays to the local record shop (Back Alley Records), I met a gentleman named George "Big Nick" Nicholas. He was the man John Coltrane wrote the song about. Big Nick was living in obscurity in a small apartment on Jefferson Avenue in Charlottesville, Va. We used to listen to many records; he was particularly fond of a singer named Mabel Mercer. He told me great stories about Dizzy Gillespie's big band, Billie Holiday, and others during that time.
I eventually did an interview with him on my radio show; he began to play the Tenor sax again and was invited to give a seminar in my jazz studies class at the university. Much later I learned he eventually went back to New York, and recorded again! He influenced another generation of Tenor sax players....
Jazz history, in obscurity in Charlottesville Va. Who knew?

So, if you have the opportunity to go to a jam session, visit a record store, or go to a concert, you just might be exposed to jazz history!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Obligation to Jazz

Is there an obligation to jazz? That is, is there an obligation among today's performers and promoters (and fans for that matter) to reach out to newcomers to the music; to help the music grow?
Interesting question. First some background.
This past Friday night I had the opportunity to visit a friend's house for an evening of jazz video viewing and single malt scotch tasting. He and his wife are avid jazz fans, and have done much over the years to promote jazz.
We were watching videos from the "Jazz Icons" series produced by Quincy Jones . The first was a video of John Coltrane from three performance dates in Europe. The second was a wonderful video of Sarah Vaughn (the host's favorite). The last was an absolutely wonderful 59 minutes of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt. In between that was a great CD by the late great Jimmy McGary called "Palidrome".
During the discussion of the music, the subject of National jazz performers came up. Specifically, in the past national recording artists like Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Milt Jackson, Charlie Parker and others would routinely tour through the smaller towns and venues; allowing local jazz musicians and fans to have the benefit of their talents in the form of local concerts and late night jam sessions. With today's "stars", that rarely happens. In fact, the vast majority of today's "stars" spend their time at festivals and other mostly underwritten events; rather than playing in smaller venues around the country. The net effect has been the slow erosion of the fan base, loss of radio outlets, and an overall decrease in new RELEVANT younger artists coming up.
My friend made the rather impassioned argument that today's "stars" owe nothing to the up and coming musicians; in fact they are making a living and competing for an ever shrinking audience. Therefore the "stars" should remain as status quo; only doing the occasional educational gig for the local college music program (for an additional payday, of course), and not worry about anything else.
Well, I submit that precisely this approach has caused the overall decrease in opportunities for everyone associated with jazz, and in fact has led to the marginalization of the music in the public's perception. Yes, those chosen few will do well, but the music overall will not.
When there is a jazz "scene" in a city; that is, when there are vibrant outlets where people can go and hear innovative music routinely, then the music will flourish. The history of the music is evolution, not stagnation. The music evolved from New Orleans jazz to big band swing, to be-bop,hard bop, modal, and free by the sharing of ideas. Not by musicians only playing retrospectives at the various NY or Chicago festivals.
If every city maintains a jazz "scene" then there is an opportunity to grow the music exponentially.
Which brings me back to obligation. Lee Morgan started in Dizzy Gillespie's big band, and played in the aforementioned Art Blakey's group. Lee Morgan in turn, had Billy Harper, Bobbie Humphrey, and Bennie Maupin to name a few in his succeeding groups.
Miles Davis was legendary in reformulating core quintets and sextets. Some of the graduates of Miles' efforts include Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarret, Wayne Shorter, among many more.
If Lee Morgan or Miles had the same attitude about the obligation to the music that some of these new "stars" have, then there would be no more jazz today.

We are indeed at a crossroads in jazz. I am 100% convinced that jazz continues to be a vibrant ever-evolving music that will continue to see new and relevant different changes and enhancements; while maintaining the core values of improvisation, swing, feeling, and "soul". There are many exceedingly gifted performers in the world today locally and nationally that must share their gift with future generations of musicians on a local level. Either with after hour or pre-arranged jam sessions, shared ideas through various communications (emails, etc) or just by being there for the music. Some sadly choose not to.

Several years ago, Clark Terry came to Cincinnati for a concert I was promoting. Mr Terry is such and elegant, gifted and caring individual; during the pre concert warm up, I witnessed Mr Terry giving an impromptu lesson to two of the young trumpeters on the date. There was Mr Terry, sitting on a couch, teaching these two up and coming stars. Priceless. Mr Terry gets it.
As I write this blog, a couple of musicians from here are in Cleveland recording with Benny Golson. These musicians describe Mr Golson in the same way. Mr Golson gets it.
As stewards of the music, Mr Terry and Mr Golson epitomize what is the best part of this music called jazz. They are willing to impart with knowledge that cannot be obtained in any music school whether the local school or Berklee, or Julliard.

Obligation to the music is mandatory in my opinion, if you have been blessed with talent, opportunity, and an outlet to perform. That obligation means that you do everything you can to help the music grow and flourish. Yes, I understand the bad economy, the need to "make income while you're hot", etc. etc. This does not absolve you from the responsibility of being a caretaker of the music which was passed down from King Oliver to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet; to Duke Ellington and Count Basie; to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins; to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; to Miles and Trane, to Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Art Blakey; to Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett.
Now that the newer generation is here, is this where the legacy and innovation ends? Or do the new generation "stars" finally continue the evolution of the music like the forefathers of the past.

I am interested in feedback; whether you agree or disagree with the obligation to the music. In any event, don't stay on the sidelines if you love this music.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm: A confluence of meteorologic events coming together to produce a weather event of unprecedented energy.
Bob Case, Meteorologist of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service's Boston office was the first to describe it about the October 1991 storm:

"The conditions were "perfect" for a monstrous storm, a meteorological time bomb that would explode in the northern Atlantic Ocean creating waves ten stories high and imperiling the New England fleet."
"It was an unprecedented set of circumstances," the now-retired weatherman said. "A strong disturbance associated with a cold front moved along the U.S.-Canadian border on October 27 and passed through New England pretty much without incident. At the same time, a huge high pressure system was forecast to build over southeast Canada. When a low pressure system along the front moved into the Maritimes southeast of Nova Scotia, it began to intensify due to the cold dry air introduced from the north," according to Case.
"These circumstances alone, could have created a strong storm," Case said. "But then, like throwing gasoline on a fire, a dying hurricane Grace delivered immeasurable tropical energy to create the perfect storm."
With all of the contributing factors coming together at just the right time, in less than 24 hours, the storm exploded to epic proportions and then headed toward the coast," the meteorologist said, adding that if any of the components were out of sync, the epic storm would not have happened."

A "Perfect Storm" occurred Saturday night (Valentine's Day) at the Greenwich club. King "Fruitbowl" Reeves, and Charlie "Bunns" Wilson led their working group Bowl and Bunns and Friends (Family) in a concert of epic proportions.
First, some background. Vibraphonist King Reeves and Pianist Charlie Wilson together have over 80 years experience in performing, composing, and touring here in Cincinnati and around the country. The duo won the 2004 Billboard Magazine jazz song of the year for the entire world for their composition and performance of the original "September 21". Reeves is truly an under-appreciated dynamo on the Vibes; his musicality is astounding. He is one of the very few Vibraphonists that has his own voice.
Charlie Wilson has no peer in the world on Piano. The vast majority of the best pianists in Cincinnati have been influenced by Wilson. Although one can hear elements of Cecil Taylor in his playing, he also has his own unique voice.
It is routine for musicians to list who they have played and recorded with; in this case, it is who has played with Reeves, and Wilson that other musicians list on their resume. They are in that class.
The "Friends" (Family) are the fiery Eddie Bayard on Tenor, the incendiary Mark Lomax on Drums, and the coolly intense Brandon Meeks on Bass.
The Perfect Storm? Think of Meeks as a Low Pressure cold front coming down from the north; Bowl and Bunns as high pressure fronts from the Midwest and southwest; Lomax as a Level 5 hurricane coming from the South Atlantic gaining strength; and Bayard as an F5 Tornado (Fujita Scale) heading toward the coast. These 5 elements meet over a receptive North Atlantic (the crowd) providing unprecedented energy!

The first song was a touching duet; a tribute to a fallen friend: "Naim's Spirit" for Greg Singleton.
This was the first time for this particular song to be performed; the duo handled it with deft understanding and civility; a moving remembrance for a loved friend.
Next up was the standard "Softly as a Morning Sunrise". This song started slowly, and built to a burning intensity fueled by Lomax's drumming. Bayard took flight, and gave a preview of the energy yet to come. Wilson kept the intensity going, in his own unique way.
"Stroke of Luck", a Wilson original, at first caught the youthful trio slightly off-guard, but they very easily followed Wilson and Reeves' lead taking this song to its expected energy level. This is when the intensity of Lomax and Bayard are increasing; they were at times feeding off each other's power... More on that later.
Following that, another original "Monkey Face" ratcheted up the energy; there was now a very palpable intensity with the crowd and the performers. This came to the forefront with the next song, "African Queen". The energy levels were off the charts; the combustion was controlled but furiously exuberant. Reeves and Wilson's solos were point-counterpoint. Both daring, exploratory, but reassuringly structured. Lomax at this time was dropping bomb after bomb; pushing all three soloists. Bayard benefited from this the most; it seemed like an energy duel between the two, fed by the crowd! Meeks had a calming, cool intensity throughout.

Next... a duet: "Footprints". Seemingly a quieter moment, but Wilson made this song his own with his interpretation. Reeves was equally expressive; one could envision footprints on a sandy beach during this interpretation...

John Coltrane has influenced countless musicians. This group was no exception. "A Love Supreme" was and is a landmark recording; it was treated with great reverence by the group.
Jon Ridley host of The Sunday Evening Jazz Show on WAIF 88.3, opened with spoken word; the words from the original message from Coltrane.
Next, Acknowledgment. The intensity level increased markedly; careening toward the final energy explosion. All soloists were pushed and prodded by Lomax; he seems to always find a way to provide just the right emphasis; the right accents; sheer lightning bolts of energy when required. Subtle burning just below the surface during quieter times. "Resolution" was just that for this event...a resolution of all the various energy forces into one sustained tsunami of sound and fury; fueled by the crowd. Reeves took the first solo; and increased the energy level markedly. Then Bayard took over.
For those who don't know Eddie Bayard, you'd be hard pressed to find a better, more energetic or expressive Saxophonist playing anywhere in the world today. (And I've heard a bunch of players, live and on record). Same with Mark Lomax; Lomax's energy level and dynamic range are on par with the best of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach. During Bayard's solo, these two forces of nature dueled with and against each other; every expressive exploration was answered thoroughly by Lomax's explosive bombs. At a crucial point, there was Bayard and Lomax alone, burning through the territory, with occasional urgings from Reeves with well timed vibe notes.

And then...it was over. Two + hours of sustained fury; if Obama could find a way to bottle the energy produced Saturday night; we would no longer need foreign oil!

This group has to be heard more...if we are lucky, May or June at The Redmoor. And more after that. To hear what I'm talking about, I will direct you to two albums: "Acknowledgment", and "Live At The Hyatt" by Bowl and Bunns and Friends.

The Perfect Storm. Live in Cincinnati Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Art of The Jazz Trio

Jazz music historically has been played by musicians in a variety of group configurations, from individual solo performances and duos, to large orchestras, and big bands. The main tenets of the music throughout the years have been preserved in true jazz regardless of the configuration of the group or the variation of the musicians involved. The key determining factor has been the ability for the musician to interpret the song in their own voice; through improvisation or unique stylistic expression.
In the largest groups (big bands, for example) group identity is recognizable, although individuals are celebrated as well. In the best jazz trios, there is also a "group sound", but it is more heavily influenced by the individual performers.
When most jazz aficionados think of a jazz trio, the piano/bass/drums configuration comes to mind. However, there are many other types of trios that produce compelling music; the Eddie Bayard trio, with Eddie Brookshire on Bass, and Mark Lomax on Drums performed a wonderful concert a couple of years ago at the Hyatt jazz series. Late Tenorist Jimmy McGary had a wonderful trio with Wayne Yeager on Organ and Bobby Scott on Drums.
More recently, (two weeks ago), the Deep Blue Organ Trio performed a wonderful set at The Redmoor.
The Organ trio concept is unique in the fact that two out of the three instruments featured are traditionally used in jazz for chord structure and melody, not rhythm or pace. The organist supplies the bass lines; this provides for expanded possibilities for the organ and guitar to contribute.
Willie Smart, the drummer from the Ballettech Sunday jazz jam session said it best about the Deep Blue Organ Trio: "look in the dictionary for the definition of the jazz trio and you will see The Deep Blue Organ Trio".
Well, what makes a good true jazz trio? There are a lot of trios that sound like three individual musicians playing individually. The best trios are by musicians who first understand the concept of the group, and are able to mesh their individual brilliance within the confines of the group. Yet maintaining their individuality. Like any cohesive working group, there must be a general familiarity with each member, and there must be trust in the ability and decision making of each member. There also must be a willingness to provide support for each other; that translates to a "good vibe" for the listener. A disjointed trio sounds fractured; even the most casual listener can determine when there is friction within the group.
This was what was so great about the Deep Blue Organ Trio; their collective sound and the way the members worked together (Bobby Broom, Chris Foreman, and Gene Rockingham), it was clear they possessed all of the best attributes of a great working trio. It was a beautiful show; the music was as complex and rewarding as any show that I have heard.

In my opinion, the organ trio concept produces some of the most compelling music, regardless of size of the group, in jazz today.

There have been many organ jazz trio groups in the history of jazz; some of the best groups were led by very familiar organists; Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Dr Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Joey DeFrancesco to name a few.
Here is an example of the Jimmy Smith Trio playing "The Sermon":
Quentin Warren, Guitar; Billy Hart, Drums.
Very complex music from a trio.

This is The Deep Blue Organ Trio in performance:

So, the next time you have the opportunity to hear a great organ trio, don't miss it. you will be glad you took the time!
Support live music.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clear Channel Cuts 1850 Jobs

Lost amid the media hoopla of the inauguration and associated celebrations, Clear Channel Communications, the radio and entertainment behemoth, announced they were laying off 1850 people representing 9% of its workforce. Originally it was announced that the majority of the layoffs were in the advertising departments, but now it is increasingly clear that local programmers were among the casualties in large numbers.

In Chicago, Rick O'Dell WNUA's Smooth Jazz personality for over 20 years, was given the axe:
In Tampa Bay, Clear Channel's highest ranking executive, Gabe Hobbs, was let go; despite a stellar career:
There is a full and complete list of radio people let go in Clear Channel's latest purge:

These economic times have crippled many major companies; (Circuit City, the consumer electronics giant, announced Friday that they are shutting their doors, for example). So it is not unexpected that major companies like Clear Channel would be struggling. However, Clear Channel actually is involved in more than radio. From their website, they are involved in TV, and most ominously concert promotion. It is estimated that they control 70% of the music venues of ALL music types in the US. This is from the Clear Channel website:


Completed acquisition of AMFM, Inc. Acquired SFX Entertainment, Inc., one of the world's largest diversified promoters, producers and presenters of live entertainment events. Acquired outdoor assets of Donrey Media, Taxi Tops and Ackerley Media increasing the outdoor division's business and products. Continued expansion in radio and outdoor, bringing the total number of worldwide radio stations owned or programmed to over 1,100 and total outdoor advertising displays to approximately 700,000.


In other words, for most mid level music performers, undoubtedly you have run into a Clear Channel venue. Bottom line, as an artist, if you don't play ball with Clear Channel, chances are many desirable cities will be locked out. Similarly if you own a venue and don't do business with CC, then the majority of mid-major acts will never play your venue.

On the radio side, these new Clear Channel cuts mean that more programming will be done on a national basis. If you thought it was tough getting good jazz programming on the air before, it has now become exponentially worse. Programming locally from a national base effectively eliminates any artist not fortunate enough to be on a major label (the majority of jazz artists).
Those jazz performers signed to a major label are not immune; Clear Channel doesn't promote real jazz, or even danceable jazz (Grover Washington, Marion Meadows, Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Tom Browne, etc) at any of their radio stations. If you listen carefully, their "smooth Jazz" programming is heavily laced with soft rock/pop performers such as Phil Collins, Hall & Oates, Seal etc.
Exposure, or lack thereof, is what is killing jazz now. Radio and Record Company execs are laboring very hard to push other forms of music at the expense of jazz. In my opinion, this is not done purely for financial reasons. Jazz music historically has been at the forefront for real change in this country (John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Lee Morgan) and represented true freedom.

So, as people with a major interest in the future of Jazz music, Clear Channel's troubles should be watched carefully. A conglomerate this large, which controls so much of the music and entertainment market, has the capability to eliminate an entire genre of music, if we let them.

There are many things the music lover can do.
First: reject the move toward national programming by deleting Clear channel and other companies from your listening menu until their policies become more musician friendly (not likely).
Second: Make an effort to learn about the local jazz venues (or whatever music you like) in your local area, and SUPPORT them.
Third: Support those locally based stations that play music from local and national jazz and music acts. This is truly the only way to preserve the diversity of musical choice.

We as a people can dictate what music we receive and are exposed to. It does not have to be decided by Wall Street types who are only concerned with the bottom line no matter the product. If we stop listening to the canned national drivel, they will have to change.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kids: The Future of Jazz

There is a question about the future of live music, especially jazz. In the face of so many new distractions vying for the public's attention, like multiple satellite TV channels, video computer games, and a numbing array of musical choices on TV and radio, it is easy to see how jazz could be shuttled to the background.
Indeed, it is increasingly hard to find jazz on the radio, TV or performed live. There are many reasons for this; not the least of which is the systematic consolidation of the radio broadcast industry, resulting in few of any true jazz music outlets. And the few"jazz" stations that are left program a variant called "smooth" jazz; a very bland distant cousin of the real thing. Put on top of that the record labels are complicit in relegating real jazz to the back burner, and it is clear there has been a concerted effort to diminish the true impact of real jazz.
So not surprisingly, the audience for real jazz is dwindling. Is it because the music is dying? No, of course not. The music is as vibrant as ever. It is just that the conglomerates that control access to the music rather push other, more intellectually bankrupt forms of music in the name of profit. A lot of these popular music forms don't even require true musicianship; just a turntable or guitar, and a catchy beat or two. Some pop "musicians" actually don't perform at all; they pantomine to pre-recorded tracks during their shows.

History teaches that in the past, some totalitarian governments sought to control their populations more easily by limiting access to higher art forms.

So...what can we, as jazz fans, do about this state of affairs? One direct way to affect the future of music is to pass on the knowledge we possess to our most valuable resource, our kids.
Well, how can that be accomplished? The standard answer is to develop yet another school or teaching program to introduce the music to schoolkids. Perhaps they will learn in school; more likely the kids will compartmentalize jazz as a part of education, not continuing entertainment. While there is merit in jazz education, the kids trained in this musical approach don't really learn the essence of the music. Besides, not every jazz fan is a music educator; and would not have access to the didactic music education approach for kids.

This evening, I had an opportunity to see perhaps the best way to affect the health and well-being of jazz. I had a chance to attend a jam session. Not just any jazz jam session, however. The jam session at the Ballet Tech Cincinnati on Montgomery Road, here in Cincinnati which occurred this Sunday, the third Sunday in January. Marvel Gentry, the Executive Director of Ballet Tech, along with lead musicians Willie Smart (drums), Eddie Brookshire (bass), Michael Goecke (trombone), and Ryan Wells (alto sax), hosted what Mr Smart describes as a "kinder, gentler jam session".
First, some explanations. In the past, jam sessions were opportunities for younger musicians to play with more seasoned veterans in a informal but intense stage experience. The youthful musicians would learn how to play from the seasoned vets; not just the notes, but how to PLAY. This was common in the 50's and 60's; not so much today. Today's jazz professionals in some cases, do not stop to reach back and help the young ones in an informal setting. The big "stars" are great in going to academic music clinics in the various towns and cities where they tour; but they by and large do not participate in the jam sessions with younger musicians. Typically, among the modern stars, it is no longer about the music; it is about "getting paid". No one begrudges a musician for getting fair compensation for a live musical performance; however as stewards of the music, there should be a natural enthusiasm in sharing the music with the younger kids.
That was what was so refreshing about tonight's jam session. First of all, there were kids there listening to and enjoying the music. Second, the musical leaders on stage were greatly encouraging and nurturing of the kids; exactly the way the early sessions were back in the 50's and 60's. It was refreshing, even inspiring, to see so many kids taking the stage and playing. Equally inspiring was the way the seasoned vets interacted with the kids. On the last selection, Maiden Voyage, there was a prime example of this experience. Eddie Brookshire, the bass player, noted that the youthful keybordist didn't feel comfortable with playing the song. This young man was exceedingly talented; he had not been exposed to this song in his past education. Mr Brookshire gently guided the young musician through the various chord progressions while on stage playing the song. The young man was so adept at learning that he performed a quite credible solo on the song! The same thing happened during the song when Mr Goecke, the trombonist, performed the same function for the young guitarist who also sat in. These kids could not have been older than 15 or 16; they had the opportunity to really learn how to play the music, from vets who excelled in sharing the knowledge and history of the music.
In the audience, there were a number of kids, non-musicians, who also enjoyed the music. I have always contended that the music is alive and vibrant; just under exposed. Tonight was further validation of this concept.
This jam session occurs every third Sunday evening from 6 to 9pm. It is perfect for kids to attend; kids are welcome. For further info, the website is: http://www.ballettechcincinnati.org

We can conquer this so-called death of jazz one kid at a time. Take the time to expose the kids in your life to live jazz; kids are ALWAYS welcome at Thursday Jazz at The Redmoor. You can also expose kids to jazz CD's; trust me, they will listen if you start early enough.
Jazz music is fun, energetic, and alive. It doesn't need to be "smoothed out" or dumbed down to be palatable. It needs to be portrayed as fun music; because it is! We can show our kids how fun the music is, if we want the music to survive.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reflections From an iPod...

The iPod is a wonderful invention. Being somewhat new to the technology, (and being woefully technology challenged), I have gone through a forced indoctrination on the various benefits of this new (to me) technical marvel.
Those of you who have had the opportunity to come to the Jazz Happy Hour at The Redmoor have heard the jazz playing in the background and between sets. This music is from my CD collection; I'm in the process of loading my CD's on to the iPod. I have loaded approximately 800CD's thus far...more to follow.
Loading these CD's, and listening to some of my favorites, has been particularly revealing to me. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to collect some pretty nice CD's. Unfortunately, time constraints and life's many challenges preclude the opportunity to sit and listen at leisure. This is really sad.
Listening to some of the CD's again causes a reflection to more happier times...remembering the first time I heard some of the albums that have affected me profoundly.
Everyone has undoubtedly heard Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue". Miles's solo on "So What" still is a fresh memory from the past.
Certain songs, even some obscure songs, can be memorable. Music in general can be uplifting; jazz music for me has been a trusted friend. A true source of strength and joy at down periods. In recent years, I had forgotten this...the iPod review of my collection has helped me become reacquainted with my past happiness...
I consider these jazz musicians "good friends". The vast majority of musicians I have not met; but I've listened to and shared their music. The recent passing of Freddie Hubbard feels remarkably like the loss of a friend, though I have never met him.
I remember being in high school and college looking for the latest Hubbard CTI release, and reliving all of his old Blue Note efforts. I remember when he left CTI, and went to Columbia Records; "Liquid Love", "High Energy" are two of the early records for that label. Still remember like it was yesterday...
Freddie Hubbard playing "Straight Life":
I felt a similar loss with the passing of Cannonball Adderly, Grover Washington Jr, Woody Shaw, Miles, Paul Desmond, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson and Milt Jackson.
Coltrane, Lee Morgan, and Gene Ammons are musicians whose passings I don't recall personally, but through their music I have learned to become "good friends" with them.
Reviewing and replaying these CD's has also allowed me to reread the liner notes from the various CD's. When albums were the standard format, liner notes were as eagerly anticipated as the music itself. There were insights into the music and musicians that were treasured nuggets of information. Blue Note Records was especially good in that regard. Sad that the new CD format has seen less and less of the liner notes from all labels.
For those of you who know me, you know my favorite musician of all time is Lee Morgan. While I never met Lee, I have had the opportunity to meet two people who knew Morgan well.
The first person was Lee Morgan's sister. She gave a talk in my jazz history class while I was in college. I only met her briefly.
The second person is saxophonist Bennie Maupin. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Maupin when he agreed to play in a concert featuring "The Four Tenors" (Maupin, Billy Harper, Eddie Bayard and Bruce Menefield), that I promoted in January 2006.
Mr Maupin played extensively with Lee Morgan, and was on some of his best recordings.
Reviewing the CD's for my iPod has also allowed me to reread the original liner notes from CD's. One of those liner notes accompanied Lee Morgan's CD "Live at the Lighthouse". In the notes, Bennie Maupin wrote a particularly poignant note about Lee, which gave great insight into the musician and the man. In that note, Mr Maupin mentiones that the recording session of Lee Morgan's "Caramba" was one of his most cherished memories.
Caramba reminds me of a time when all was right in the world. I remember hearing Bennie Maupin's solo for the first time on that song; to this day I know every note. It was one of the defining songs of my past happiness, when times were so easier...
There are other songs and solos I have been affected by during the years: Lou Donaldson's solo on Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon", Coltrane on "Resolution", Gene Ammons on "My Way", Grover Washington on "Mr Magic", Wilton Felder on the Crusaders' "So Far Away", Lee Morgan on "Personality" among others.
The music has always taken me to a better place...over the past few years I had forgotten that. Sometimes when it seems like the world is closing in...the music can make it better for a while...that is what the iPod has reminded me of during this odyssey.
I guess the culmination of events, from Freddie Hubbard's passing to my self imposed review of my collection, has allowed me to reexamine a much happier time in my life...I will always be grateful to the music for that.
Reflections from an iPod...who knew that a modern invention could reawaken what was lost....I certainly did not.