When Brick Wahl received a press release from the San Diego music room, Anthology, announcing that “Anthology is no longer about jazz,” he immediately had a few thoughts to share about the what, why and where of the current jazz club scene, the musicians who populate it (from time to time), and the musical decisions they’re making. As avid Wahl readers know from his long tenure at the L.A. Weekly, Brick’s thoughts are thorough, to the point and passionate. And this commentary is no exception. Whether one agrees or disagrees, it’s worth keeping in mind that Brick, as a writer, musician and knowledgeable music world insider, makes his observations as part of his continuing quest to illuminate solutions as well as problems. And to do so in his own sweet way.
By Brick Wahl
Poor Anthology. Yet another jazz club has to play anything but jazz to survive. This place was doing well a few years ago. And you can’t blame it on the recession. If it were strictly an economic issue, they wouldn’t be booking the other kinds of music either. Jazz draws a distinctly higher income level of fans than probably any other music that ain’t classical, etc. The problem is no one likes jazz unless they play it.
Well, it’s not that people don’t like jazz. It’s just they don’t like the way most of you are playing it.
I spent the last couple years watching this happen. The fan base melted away. It’s virtually non-existent anymore.
I’d recommend taking a look at what you all are doing and seeing why no one likes it but jazz musicians. That is if you want to keep playing anywhere except house parties and art museums. If you look into a crowd and see nothing but your colleagues and students, you’ve gone from a career to a hobby.
I’m not saying you need to go commercial. I’m not saying go simple. Or go stupid. Or stop playing the radical shit. Or play the same ancient lifeless standards or even follow all those old rules about who solos when. I’m just saying maybe it’s time to figure out what it was that drew people to the music in the first place. Drew you to it in the first place. The fire. The blues. The excitement. The fact that it made you feel alive to hear it, to hear a soloist rip into something and fly along, or maybe the unbelievable swing of a wailing big band. Whatever the excitement was. That excitement that is almost totally gone anymore. Somewhere along the line this stuff went from being jazz to being academic.
Ya know, it’s funny the way a jazz fan hears, say, some classic be bop recording or a stack of those old Blue Note LPs or some roaring live Trane or Newk recordings. You all seem to hear the technique, the mechanics, you can see the music in your head. It unfurls in your skull like one of the Auto Club road maps, showing you where everything is and how to get there. It might take a little work, with Bird or Trane, but you can still follow the map. But we listeners don’t hear it that way. Not at all. We can’t. We hear just this great, exciting music. We dig the groove, or get kicked up by the swing, or are blown away buy some intense solos. That’s what we hear. I shouldn’t speak for other critics, since they aren’t as musically illiterate as I am, but I can for the fans, since that’s all I am. And that is how us fans hear those records. Illiterately. We don’t know what’s going on like you all do, but we dig them. Dig them a lot. We don’t have to be music majors to understand them. They had elements that appealed to us…the swing, the groove, the attack, the passion, the feeling…..
Feeling. Yeah, that’s it. That feeling. That feeling that they were part of us. Part off the culture. Part of the street, or at least of the bars we’d go hear it in. Even at it’s most radical, it still had an earthy, street wise feel to it. There was nothing about those sessions that smelled like an antiseptic classroom. Or an art museum.
But that’s gone in this town. Well, almost gone anyway. It’s just all about art anymore. The art of jazz.
But anyone can make art. They teach you how in school. It’s connect-the-dots. It may be complicated connect-the-dots, but it’s connect-the-dots. What’s hard is to go beyond that. The soul of the shit is beyond that. Is under that. Is all around that. But you won’t find it in the music books. Or in lattices of musical complexity, in variations only jazz musicians can hear. You find it when you hit the moment that moves people, that connects them with what you are doing. Otherwise it’s all gibberish to them. They can’t hear it.
But apparently that’s the point. Making music that we out here sitting at the bar can’t hear. I mean you should hear yourselves talk. Listening to jazz musicians talk about jazz is like hearing physicists talk about quantum mechanics.
One of my very favorite of the younger guitarists gave an interview in which he described how jazz is like a fine wine anymore, and there are enough sophisticated people out there that can tell what makes a fine wine from a not so fine wine, that have the sensitive palette you need to be wine connoisseur. And jazz now demands listeners who have that same fine palette. It read well. And you can see his point. And he’s a swell guy and one of my favorite players on the scene and is brilliant. I really dig this dude. But he was so unbelievably fucking wrong.
I mean I can’t tell you shit about fine wine. I can’t tell one from the other. Furthermore, wine snobs irritate the fuck out of me.
Even worse, the tongue is not capable of discerning all the tastes oonophiles claim they can distinguish. That is the cold, hard science of it. Wine critics are making all of that up. It is 90% pretension. It’s fun and fascinating, but it’s not real.
Which makes it one helluva bad analogy for jazz fans.
You see, jazz fans want it real. They crave the real. They aren’t finding it. And they don’t give a flying fuck about music theory or what you learned at USC. They want something that moves them. I could drag in more booze analogies here but I won’t. They’d be bullshit. Just arty writing. Technique. Writers fall back on technique all the time. It’s bullshit. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. You want techique I could lay technique on you that’d make your head spin. You want theory and I can go on for hours about linguistic theory till the colorless green sheep come home. But no one wants to read that. Why would they? Writers need to write the real. Otherwise no one wants to read us. Or believe us. Readers want to read it real, readers want to read what they can understand, readers want to read what moves them.
Hint. Hint. Hint fucking hint.
To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 2 click HERE.