I just received news that Al Belletto, the great saxophonist from New Orleans, passed away on Friday. Al had been living in Dallas with family for the last few years, but when I first moved to New Orleans, Al was a fixture on the scene. He had a great influence on many young musicians, some of whom aren’t that young any more (myself included). His nickname was Coach, but as the joke goes, that doesn’t make sense, because he was first class all the way.
This recent post on DTM (a great blog by Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus) got me thinking again about the baggage that comes with covering well known material. I think it is almost impossible to judge a radical reworking of a very well known song solely on the merits of the new arrangement. There is simply too much baggage for the listener, unless the listener is unfamiliar with the original. In that latter case, the lack of inherent meaning also diminishes the appreciation of the new arrangement.
Ethan’s post mentioned that one of the detrimental comments sometimes laid on Jason Moran’s ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller was that it was too close to smooth jazz at times. I wonder if some of that is about the material. Does the presence of such well known songs as “Ain’t Misbehavin'” or “Honeysuckle Rose” cause us to hear those tracks as more in the smooth jazz/muzak vein than we would if they were originals with similar grooves, arrangements and instrumentations?
Another accusation is that this music is a sellout or commercial grab. I don’t buy that. Jason Moran has enough artist cred that I trust this as a legitimate expression on his part…although the big Fats Waller head does freak me out a little.
One of my go to recordings recently has been Return the Tides by Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP. I have also recently been on a kick to try to expand my listening to and appreciation of music that is more mainstream or popular than what I usually listen to. This has led me to spend some time with the new D’Angelo record and even check out some Iggy Azalea, in efforts to better understand some of the recent discussions on these topics. I have found that there is more musical commonality across those spaces than I might care to admit.
Growing up musically in a space that was largely influenced by jazz culture, I have some completist tendencies. I like to dig deeply into the music of my favorites. I guess that could be more of a me thing than a jazz thing, because I did that as a kid with my favorite rock bands too. Once I decided I really liked a band, I had to get all of their albums. This habit has made it hard for me to “skim” the music of someone who is new to me, but my recent decision to broaden my horizons has forced me to do just that.
What I have discovered is that even cursory exposure to new music is rewarding and offers insight into old favorites as well. Maybe that has always been obvious to most of you. It just hit me in a new way today.
How we frame what we do matters.
A Shocking Exchange on Facebook about Music and Hard Work | The Art of Freedom:
“Where is the love of the everyday music-making that we give to ourselves? Yes, music-making can be rewarding, but not just when the performance goes well and as planned! Where is the joy of learning, of experimentation? The spark of curiosity? The excitement of discovery? Where is the delight in making sound for the sake of making sound? Why take the fun out of what we do 90% of the time, which is in the practice room, not onstage? Why make such a harsh division between play and the studied attention we pay to detail in the practice room or in a lesson?”
In 1999 I was fortunate to fall in with some musicians who were doing things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure that I could. These were people who I had been hearing play for some time, and I was getting to play with them. I didn’t know if I belonged there.
After my first gig with the Naked Orchestra (which was only the band’s second gig), Tim Green walked up to me and said something nice about what I had played. I don’t remember his exact words, I just remember that the guy who made the most music in this group of (close to 20) great musicians went out of his way to say something encouraging to me. He made me think that maybe I could make some music that mattered. Those few words from him really did change my life.
Tim Green passed away this week. He was a beautiful person who made beautiful, deep, soulful sounds. To hear him play was to peer into his soul, and it was beautiful. Tim went out of his way to help create peace for those around him, I hope he has found the peace that sometimes eluded him in life. Rest well brother.
For Downbeat Magazine’s 80th Anniversary (July 2014), they published a list of the 80 coolest things in jazz. #41 is New Orleans, and the Open Ears Music Series got a brief mention in the article:
At…events like Jeff Albert’s Open Ears Music Series, improvising players innovate new sonic concepts on the fly, giving listeners direct and immediate access to their creative process.
WWOZ got their own (well deserved) solo shout out, as did friends Jason Adasiewicz and Mike Reed. These sorts of lists always make for good arguments, but this one is pretty well rounded.
A great recap of the Celebrating Ornette concert for those of us who missed it.
Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches: I want to stay: Celebrating Ornette in Prospect Park: “Of course you would want to listen to this music. It’s for everybody. It’s not that its once-controversial radical-ness has been tempered; it’s more that the music has been given ample time to disseminate to its true audience, the public, flowing past the gatekeepers/naysayers and eventually submerging and silencing them.”
This is a great look at how sound waves behave. Not a visualization, but actual images of the sound waves. Pretty cool.
A few years ago I met a Chet Udell at a SEAMUS conference. He is a composer/technologist, a nice guy, and he wrote a great piece for trombone, piano and computer stuff. We have kept in touch, mostly via running into each other at conferences and whatnot.
Last fall, I saw him do a demo of a new gesture control system that he has been developing, and the possibilities were pretty exciting.
He is nearing the end of the Kickstarter for it. If you are curious about that sort of thing, check it out.
Visit the page here: http://kck.st/1gTwSCF