Jazz Is Very Serious Music

Jazz Is Very Serious Music

Jazz is hard work.

Classical music is, at least for me, not so hard. I learned to love Classical music as a child. My father had a very large collection of LP’s, Beethoven through maybe Sibelius and some Aaron Copland. French Impressionists. The Russian Big Five. Some Opera. I recently rebuilt what was essentially the core of his collection, but in digital form. I go from, now, Bach, through the Romantics and into the 20th century, Nancarrow, Partch, Varese, and Antheil. Part and Messiaen. Glass, Reich, Riley, Young, and Adams. Mark O’Connor and Osvaldo Golijov. After my father, my best teachers have been John Schaefer and David Garland at WNYC. The element of Ambient music I learned from Stephen Hill and Hearts of Space.

But, none of this has been really difficult. If I am buying the Beethoven symphonies, does it really matter among Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic, Von Karajan or Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic? Violin concerti, I want Hilary Hahn. Terry Riley’s “In C”, Bang On A Can. Reich’s Music for Eighteen musicians, The fabulous Grand Valley State University players (Innova).

My knowledge in all music is five miles wide and a half of an inch thick. Anyone reading this that is really knowledgeable will see that immediately.

If you like Bach, Bartok, Sibelius, and Stravinsky, you might just take well to Jazz.

Jazz is really hard. Everyone has their own starting point. My father started in Classical at Beethoven, but I have some Bach, by Glenn Gould AND Keith Jarrett.

My starting point in Jazz is Bop, MDD (Miles Dewey Davis), and John Coltrane. I use MDD really to honor Michael Tilson Thomas, known as “MTT”. If this great conductor can be MTT, then Miles is for me MDD. My first teacher was Steve Rowland. Steve has two radio projects, “The Miles Davis Radio Project”, and “Tell Me how Long ‘Trane’s Been Gone”. I bought these two series in .mp3, put them on my Zune .mp3 player and listened to them on walks, on planes, at the dentist. Wherever. Over and over. I started to acquire their music. Amazon’s Jazz library is just literally huge.But, what was it? Bop? Bebop? Post-Bop? West Coast? Who was it? Which quartet or quintet? Each had two great bands, known by various names. Miles had The First Quintet and the Second Quintet. Coltrane had the Classic Quartet and the Second Quartet. Who was in each band? It matters.

Coltrane played with Miles. Twice. Everyone played with Thelonius Monk.

You cannot study this music and these people without immersing yourself in the work of Eric Dolphy. You need to hear Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins, himself a saxophone colossus.

You need to pay attention to the producer Rudy Van Gelder. Why? Everyone wanted to work with him.

You need also to read about these people. Wikipedia is a very good resource. Gary Giddins’ books, Visions of Jazz – The First Century (1998) and Weatherbird (2004), are very worthwhile. The first is basically portraits in word of artists. The second is a collection of the writer’s reviews of concerts and albums.

Terry Teachout wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal that Jazz, taken out of the club and into the concert hall, is dying a slow death. . If Terry were to listen to Jazz on WPRB, WBGO, any of the countless outlets in the database of Public Radio Fan or the niche streams at AccuRadio and Live365; if Mr. Teachout were to give a listen to the Jazz Calendars presented by WPRB and WBGO, he might change his tune.

Bill Evans and Gil Evans matter. Differently. Bill was the consummate piano virtuoso. Gil was Miles’ other half as an arranger. There is a short film, “The Sound of Miles Davis, with Miles’ quintet (which one?) playing with the Gil Evans Orchestra. In this video, Coltrane’s solo in “So What” (from Kind of Blue)blows the whole group away.

To understand McCoy Tyner, you need to hear Paul Hindemith. Dave Brubeck studied with Darious Milhaud and wrote Jazz fugues for The Octet. It matters. Miles studied at Juilliard. John Coltrane studied Bela Bartok.
“The Birth of the Cool” really matters. Miles and Gerry Mulligan tried to emulate the sound of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in nine instruments, a nonet. This matters big time. Some consider this the most important album ever produced.

MDD’s “Bitches Brew” matters because of Jazz Fusion. The work was one of the first projects in Jazz Fusion. Wayne Shorter played with Miles in the Second Great Quintet. But, he also played with Joe Zawinul in Weather Report which was a Jazz Fusion band. But Joe wrote Mercy, Mercy, Mercy for Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. This is not Fusion.

I am just going through my collection as I write this. Chick Corea is an incredible pianist, as is Keith Jarrett. Both can write and both can improvise. Chick has had the Elektric Band and the Akoustic Band. And, the Fusion band, Return To Forever, with especially Al DiMeola. Keith has had the Standards Trio, The American Trio, The American Quartet, the European Quartet. He also has himself in all of the solo albums and solo concerts. The Koln Concert album is one of the best selling piano solo albums of all time. All of this matters. It matters also that Keith recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations on harpsichord. It matters that Keith and Chick concertized and recorded the Mozart Double Concerto. Master musicians. Who they are and what they do matters.

Who is Percy Heath? Jimmy Heath? Albert Heath?

I have some Thelonius Monk, some Charlie Parker and some Dizzy Gillespie. But I have not yet gotten well educated enough to appreciate them.

But, I go further back with a very modern band. I go to Dixieland with the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Ken Field’s very able crew from Boston, Mass. I love this band. They are so hip, so cool in the modern sense of the word.

Since Steve Rowland, my best support has come from Will Constantine and Dan Buskirk at WPRB, Princeton; Josh Jackson and the concerts from WBGO, Newark, and NPR/music. At NPR, there are the Jazz Profiles, over seventy biographic accounts of great Jazz composers and players. These are available for download. Again, I put them on my Zune and took them with me everywhere. NPR also features concerts from WBGO at The Village Vanguard and J&R Music.

Latin Jazz matters very much. The movie “Calle 54” is the best introduction one can have for this sub-genre. I got it from Netflix. Latin Jazz, Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, Paquito D’Rivera, Chano Dominguez, Michel Camilo, Gato Barbieri, Eliane Elias, Bebo Valdez and Chucho Valdez, all very important.
The Modern jazz Quartet began, in a sense like David Byrne’s “Music for ‘The Knee Plays” at Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach”, as a sort of intermission entertainment. It was, first, The Milt Jackson Quartet, and they played as part of the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. When the orchestra took a break, this quartet filled the time. Look what happened. It is important.

Singers like Mose Allison and Nina Simone are very important.

Pat Metheny and Al DiMeola are consummate Jazz guitarists.

I just watched a video, “Keith Jarrett – The Art of Improvisation”. The video goes way beyond improvisation. It is a valuable biographical story of Keith’s oerve. One piece, played by the European Quartet- they matter a lot – is called “The Windup”. I recognized it immediately. I searched my hard drive. I could not find it. I got the album, “Belonging” (1974), so I could listen a few times. Actually, it was not as good as I remembered. This arrangement (8’22”) is too fast. Then, I remembered that I had an album, “Fort Yawuh” about which I learned from Dan Buskirk. Maybe it was there under another name. These days, I have a large library of Keith Jarrett’s recordings. But, for some time, this album had been my only Keith Jarrett work beyond the well known “Koln Concert”. Sure enough, the first track of “Fort Yawuh”, ‘(If the) Misfits (Wear It)’ (1973) is the same melody, but the exposition is for me much better at 13’15”.

I am done. I could go on forever here. Here are some things which are important. There are three other important Coltrane’s: Alice, Ravi, and Oran. Steve Gadd is all over the place as a drummer. Cyro Baptista who I first encountered with Paul Simon, is all over John Zorn’s work. John Zorn: he deserves a huge weblog post all for himself. Some players have been around for a long time and deserve respect. None more than Brian Blade. Cedar Walton is still making music.

Whoops, I never mentioned Duke Ellington. There are no words. His big orchestra is not my style. But I did get his “Black, Brown & Beige”, “The Far East Suite”, “Latin America Suite”, and the absolutely fantastic “Such Sweet Thunder”. Somehow, for me, The Duke is a Classical composer.

This is not anywhere near complete. No mention of Kenny Clark the drummer, Philly Joe Jones, Connie Kay, also drummers. Stanley Clark, Ron Carter, two bassists extraordinaire. Or Kurt Rosenwinkel, Stanley Turrentine. Sun Ra, off somewhere in a world of his own creation. There are just so many people, each unique in what they bring to the music.

If you give Jazz a go, expect to be very serious about it and expect to work very hard.

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