Is Jazz chamber music?

This NewMusicBox article by Joel Harrison addresses the discussion of whether or not Chamber Music America should fund jazz. I like his take on it.

Does jazz fit into CMA’s mandate? Does the jazz world need CMA? Must we define chamber music? Would that tell CMA what to fund and not to fund? Do we then have to define jazz?

Allow me to grab my megaphone and shout this as loudly as I can. WE SHOULD NOT EVEN BE HAVING THIS DISCUSSION. The partisans of style over substance are fighting a lonely, pointless battle when they attempt to value one kind of music over another.

Another favorite line…

Rigid stylistic fault lines are the refuge of scoundrels. Defining chamber music, jazz, or any other style of music is a dreary, pointless undertaking. It’s the job of undertakers, not life-givers.

Tomorrow night I am playing a concert with the New Orleans New Music Ensemble (no-nme). The groups is essentially a chamber orchestra. The focus is really on the compositions, all of which were written this year or last, but one piece is totally guided improvisation. Does that make it a jazz show? Does it matter?

As I have said before, music, like the human race, is better off when it isn’t segregated.

I am not a critic

Yesterday I received my first unsolicited CD in the mail. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind hearing new music, and having people give it to me is even better, BUT what does it mean if I start accepting, or even asking for,, promo copies of CDs?

The original idea behind Scratch My Brain was to talk about the music and art that moves me. Not so much in the way that media outlets talk about music and art, but in the way friends talk about music and art. I am not a critic, I am an artist and fan. I guess I would be in denial if I claim to not be a writer, since that is what I do on this site. I don’t see myself as a writer in terms of being one of the guys that hungry artists send CDs to in hopes of having something good written about them. I’ve been on the hungry artist side of that for too long to want to change roles. On this site, i write about stuff that moves me, and makes me think. I also often write about the music made by my friends. I try to be clear when I do that. I am often aware of this music because it is made by my friends, but I write about it because it is good.

I never really understood reviews anyway. Sometimes a review will tell me nothing that I couldn’t have read on the back of the CD case. Sometimes when I write about something, all I really want to say is, “this is good, you should check it out.”

So my dilemma is, what to do with unsolicited CDs. I don’t want to write reviews of stuff that I don’t like. That’s not why I started this this site. On the other hand, I don’t want to just ignore things, because I know the feeling and it sucks. To put much work and spirit into a project and have it ignored is very discouraging.

With that in mind, I will mention any unsolicited CDs I happen to get (hopefully there won’t be too many). If it moves me, I will write about it just like any other music that I dig. If I don’t get it musically, I will probably still say something about it, to at least let you know it is out there.

Where’s the swing?

This Rifftides post has an interesting look at swing’s place in jazz. I don’t know that I agree with every word that Ramsey writes, but it is a subject that could stand our attention.

Rifftides: Doug Ramsey on jazz and other matters

If Christian Scott is “writing the definitive style guide” for his generation of jazz musicians and his style continues to develop around hip-hop rhythmic values, I am disturbed about where jazz may be headed. In the final analysis, swinging is what differentiates jazz from other music. It will be a challenge to keep paying attention if swinging is phased out. So far, jazz has absorbed and integrated its influences, not been consumed by them. The optimist in me assumes that it will not be dominated by rap and hip-hop.

All the ingredients except an audience

This article is about the Women’s Music festival at Cal State Fullerton, but it made me think of some other issues as well.

All the ingredients except an audience – Los Angeles Times

At her performance, Pamela Z made one wonder all over why she is not better known to a broader audience. She is a mainstay on the new-music circuit; she arrived Friday having just finished touring Europe. Her performances use her sonorous voice and electronics.

How many performers or composers, male or female, that are “mainstay(s) on the new-music circuit” are at all well known to a broader audience? People are scared of stuff they don’t know, and that goes for music as well. A few weeks ago I overheard a Chicago Symphony usher practically have to talk a lady down from the edge because there was Hindemith on the program. Fortunately she survived the Hindemith, and the Brahms arrived as promised.

Next year, the festival has invited Meredith Monk, but the school’s vocal department, the panel announced, doesn’t want her giving workshops, lest she confuse the students. But it seems to me those few enthusiastic students who attended Pamela Z and Ethel weren’t confused at all. They knew a very good thing when they heard it.

So instead of exposing students to varied or extended techniques, they are “protecting” them from confusion. Do they have that little confidence in the intelligence of their students? How will anything new happen tomorrow, if the students of today are only exposed to the music of 2 centuries ago?

Miles Davis in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

He’s been dead for over a decade, and he’s still ruffling people’s feathers. He’d probably dig that.

Miles Davis is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Miles Davis – Jazz – Music – New York Times

The program essay for tonight’s induction ceremony does not acknowledge the oddness of Davis’s induction; it simply describes his accomplishments. But the view of Davis as rock star is not unanimous. Ahmet Ertegun, chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said in a telephone interview on Friday that as a member of the nominating committee he did not vote for Davis, because he felt that his most significant work had nothing to do with rock.

Mr. Ertegun, a cofounder of Atlantic Records with a lot of jazz in his past, said he did vote early and strongly to put Davis in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, where he thinks he belongs.

“I love Miles Davis,” he said, referring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. “I also love John Coltrane and Jack Teagarden, but I’m not voting for them either.”

Do you ever get the feeling that music, like race relations, would be better off if we quit trying to segregate things to make ourselves feel superior?

If I want to take my kids to a place to expose them to the history of American music, it would be cool if it was ALL there.

Son: It says here that Miles was into Jimi Hendrix.
Me: yeah, he was, but we have to go to Cleveland to see the Jimi exhibit. The jazz folks wouldn’t let him in here, and the rock folks wouldn’t let the jazz guys in there.

That’s a scary possibility. Free Jazz: Separate But Unequal Free Jazz: Separate But Unequal

I think that a large part of the reason I don’t know some of the more influential pieces from the avant-garde is because free jazz is treated as though it were a fully separate continuum from the rest of the jazz world. Even the most balanced of critics, like Gary Giddins, treat them this way, with John Coltrane as the single tenuous strand that connects these two islands.

And this, I feel, is wrong.

Bagatellen: Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia)

Bagatellen: Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia)

This Bagatellen post on one of my favorite Mingus recordings has started an interesting discussion of Mingus’ music.

I get different things from different parts of Mingus. Let My Children Hear Music will not give you the same things Ah-um will, but both will give you great experiences.

Plus it keeps up the great Mingus title tradition with “Don’t Be Afraid, The Clowns Afriad Too.”

Back from Chicago

The blog posting has been a bit slow lately because I was in Chicago from 2/28 – 3/6. I was having so much fun, and hearing and making so much music, that I didn’t get much chance to write.

I got to hear the Chicago Symphony’s Friday matinée performance of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz, Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber, and Brahms’ Second Symphony. It is amazing how tight a group can get when they play together everyday for years.

The week’s performances and recordings with the Lucky 7s were very fulfilling. What a great bunch of guys, and cool music too.

I was enlightened in several ways with regards to my recent delving into the space where art and commerce intersect. I’m sure more of that will come out later, but the main thing I picked up was that the music is always best when dealt with solely on its own terms. Don’t ignore the business, just don’t let the business affect the musical vibe.

More on that later.

It’s good to be back.

Kurt Elling @ Green Mill

I caught one set of Kurt Elling at The Green Mill last night. It was fun. The Green Mill is an interesting hang. It’s decorated in classic Chicago gangster. The sound is excellent, at least where I was, which was fairly near the stage. The whole experience was also fairly reasonably priced. The cover charge, two Bell’s Ambers and tip was less than $20.

The set opened with a couple of Laurence Hobgood compositions by the trio. The tunes were interesting and the thorough arrangements were well performed. Often the instrumental tunes that precede the featured singers appearance can be simple time killers, but these were quite rewarding.

Elling is known (in my mind at least) for his work channeling saxophonists, and adding often fascinating, and sometimes unintelligible, words to their recorded improvisations. Last night, in the first set alone, we got classic Elling treatments of music from John Coltrane, Grover Washington, Jr., and Chicago legend Von Freeman.

Elling has a sense for show like most singers, but he deftly balances that with an equal modern jazz aesthetic. I’m not often taken with jazz vocalists, especially the ones that are really show tune singers with jazz musicians accompanying them. Elling however can really make his voice become a part of the band, and the jazz spirit it creates. I am glad I caught a set worth of his music on my night off in Chicago.