Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Hanging Out With Quincy

April 6, 2014

By Brick Wahl

I was beckoned once to Quincy Jones’ table – his bodyguard chased me down in the parking lot with a “Mr. Wahl, Mr. Jones will see you now” – on some bit of jazz journalism business that turned into he and Freda Payne and me and my wife Fyl drinking wine and talking till way past Vibrato’s closing time.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

All was dark save the light above his table, Quincy laughing and pouring and regaling and asking my wife about punk rock and telling us at length, of all things, about New Order and what a smash they were. The talk was of whatever the wine loosened up or I thought to ask, I can’t recall, just late night free association, an infinitesimal bit of the total Quincy Jones experience.

Meanwhile, in the shadows, the help stood patiently waiting for Freda to say maybe it was time we all went home. We did. It had been just another night out for Quincy Jones, one of thousands, and a favorite ever jazz journalism memory for me.

Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

It wasn’t the first time we’d met – he once plunked down in the seat next to mine at a press event and turned to me to fill in his memory every time something slipped his, which immediately rendered my own a complete blank, and I slunk down in my seat wondering why couldn’t he have sat way over there.

But that night at Vibrato was something special, precious even, the kind of story you can tell till the end of your days, till it becomes part of your own mythology and people will tell, at your wake, that he once got drunk with Quincy Jones.

* * * * * * * *

Quincy Jones photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

To read more posts at Brick Wahl’s personal blog click HERE


Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Checking Out Charmaine Clamor’s New CD

February 23, 2014

By Brick Wahl

Heard several tracks in progress from Charmaine Clamor’s new recording recently. Quite a selection of tunes – none of the usual jazz standards at all.

Charmaine Clamor

Charmaine Clamor

Instead there’s a remarkable take on “Imagine” (a tune that rarely survives covering) propelled by some really striking rhythmic piano by Laurence Hobgood. There’s a surprising ”O Shenandoah,” a George Harrison tune, a Carole King, a take (in Spanish) on a Mercedes Sosa tune, which she nails, and at long last she’s recorded her knock out interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Very passionate vocals even by Charmaine’s standard – that’s always been her thing, the passion – and she’s showing subtleties untapped till now. The sound is full and warm and rich. This thing has crossover potential I think (KCRW and that end of the dial definitely) without selling out to commercialism even one iota.

Ernie Watts by the way, sits in and kills it, and drummer Abe Lagrimas picks up the ukulele in about as uncliched way as you can imagine. One of my favorite pianists around town, Andy Langham, even takes the bench for a couple numbers. And while I can’t say enough about Hobgood’s presence here, it’s Charmaine’s record through and through, it’s her feel, even on the instrumental passages it never gets away from her.  Anyway, I totally dug it.

This is major label stuff if I ever heard it.

* * * * * * * *

The album, which will be titled “The Better Angels,” will be released soon.

Photo by Faith Frenz

To read more fascinating essays from Brick Wahl, check out his personal web by clicking HERE.


An Appreciation: George Jones (1931 – 2013)

April 28, 2013

He Stopped Loving Her Today

By Brick Wahl

I’ve never told anyone this before, but there was a two week stretch there maybe a decade and a half ago when I must have listened to “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a hundred times. Over and over. Once turned to twice turned to thrice turned to twenty times. I couldn’t tell you why, but there I was, in the dark, maybe a little stoned, George Jones singing this most perfect song ever in a tone I knew I could never match in words even if I spent a lifetime trying.

George Jones

George Jones

I met a trumpet player once, a fine jazz musician, a bebopper, who confessed to me over a couple whiskeys that he wished he could play like George Jones sang. The other jazzers kind of laughed nervously, unsure what to say. I said nothing. I knew exactly what he meant.

I started writing this a verse or two into the tune. A couple sentences later I spun it again. And again. He stopped  loving her today fades, a piano descends five notes, strings disappear way into the background and are gone. They’re Nashville strings but you couldn’t tell here, they’re so subtle, the band is so subtle too, the drummer swings the thing like a funeral dirge. Which it is. They placed a wreath upon his door.

I had a fight with the wife once, said things I wish I hadn’t, hid in the living room in the dark, and kept thinking about those letters by his bed, all the I love you’s underlined in red.  I played the song. Played it again. Again. I went into the bedroom and said I love you. It was underlined in red.  In my mind I mean, three little words underlined in red.

This might sound like the dumbest thing you ever heard, but then I’m not talking to you people. I’m talking to the people who heard George Jones finally died, the ol’ Possum, and found themselves singing they left a wreath upon his door. You knew you would too. And you knew you’d cry just a little. Which you did. He stopped loving her today.

To screen a video of George Jones and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” click HERE.

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To read more Brick Wahl posts on his personal web site click HERE


Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Charlie Parker’s Alto

January 19, 2013

By Brick Wahl

There’s was a piece in the  L.A. Times recently about an auction in Hollywood. Cool stuff like you can’t believe. I’ll pass on Norma Shearer’s monogrammed silk sheets, no matter who was on them. And speaking of Jimmy Stewart, they have one of his beds too, stretched extra long, which I can dig. But then I have a bed.

I’ll be bidding on Charlie Chaplin’s top hat and cane, though. The hat wouldn’t fit me, but maybe he gave Paulette Goddard a playful swat with that cane as she soaked in the rays on the deck. That was that wanton excursion to Catalina. They claimed they’d been married but nobody believed it.  Like it mattered what they thought. Charlie Chaplin was an American hero…no, a god. Paulette an absolute doll. I’d give the hat a toss and it would land square on the hat stand here behind me with movie star perfection. The cane I’d hold onto, grasping it as Charlie Chaplin might have grasped it.

I’ll be sure to bid on Bing’s boater, too…maybe he shared a reefer with Satchmo under that very brim. They used to get so high together. Probably not the same straw hat, though.  Bob Hope would have sat on that one already, then the camel would talk, and Dorothy Lamour sing. But it’s fun to think of Bing Crosby stoned. Might explain those slow crooning tempos.

Here at home our 32nd anniversary is coming so my wife gets Jimi Hendrix’s turquoise jewelry.

As for me, though, what I really want is that alto saxophone pawned by Charlie Parker. I like to think he pawned it in Hollywood, sometime between setting his hotel room on fire and wandering around the lobby naked. Maybe he even pawned it naked. Probably not, but who knows? Who cares? It’s Charlie Parker’s alto saxophone. I’ll go top dollar on that.

Well I would go top dollar, but I just spent all my money on rent and a six pack.

That sax solo stare –- Charlie Parker (with Tommy Potter) from a NYC date in the late ’40′s.  You listen to Bird today, 65 years later, and he still sounds radical.

To read Brick Wahl’s personal blog, click HERE.

 

 


Live Jazz: The Jon Mayer Trio at H.O.M.E.

January 10, 2013

By Brick Wahl

Beverly Hills, CA.  Saw Jon Mayer Tuesday in Beverly Hills at a club called H.O.M.E.  A trio gig, with rock solid down the middle Chris Conner on bass, always good, and Roy McCurdy on drums. They don’t make drummers like Roy anymore. All that power. Not Elvin Jones power, but metrical power, swinging like he swung everybody, Cannonball Adderley and everybody. Jon was playing a huge piano that was last tuned in 1967 or thereabouts but he didn’t seem to have much trouble with it.

I was at Charlie O’s one night — might have been this very same trio — and I was sitting with John Heard back at the bar. Heard was digging Mayer’s playing, totally digging it, and said Mayer was the real thing. “That’s the way they used to play” he told me, “trying stuff on the fly, taking big risks like that. Just pure creativity. They don’t do that anymore.” He said something like that, anyway, back at the bar downing a brandy, me a whiskey. We listened to Mayer working through whatever it was he was aiming at, and I got it.  Heard what John Heard was hearing.  Saw in Jon Mayer’s face that creative process Heard was marveling at.

Jon Mayer

Jon Mayer

Sometimes an idea wouldn’t pan out and Jon would curse to himself and strain a second to rebuild it into something that would work. Fearless improvisation, falling back on nothing but the centrifugal force of pure jazz improvisation to carry it along. It’s like Mayer doesn’t see a beautiful lattice of possible patterns, nothing he learned in school, nothing somebody else did before. That doesn’t even seem to exist to him. He’s not making art, like pianists tend to do anymore, he’s making jazz. Pure jazz.

At H.O.M.E., it was jazz the way it was played in NYC in the 1950’s, when Jon was first gigging. You can imagine the heavy cats he had to play with, play for — hell, there was a session with Trane, even — back when jazz was at its absolute apogee. Those were the days that all jazz musicians look back at now as Olympian, as something jazz players now would give anything to be part of, and Jon Mayer was there, really was. You can hear it in those crazy clustered chords of his, these sensitive yet almost dissonant things he drops in where almost everyone would lay out a straight melodic line. I mean not dropping any huge Monk clomps, not even dropping one handed bombs like McCoy Tyner, but instead turning the melody into pieces, oddly shaped pieces he lays out with spaces between them that distill into single notes that splash on the keys like drops of rain water. He does this even in the most gorgeous tunes, a magnificent “Green Dolphin Street” or something by Tadd Dameron, or something he’s drawn up himself.

I dunno, I find writing about jazz piano impossible, absolutely impossible, and I flail around looking for ways to explain something that I don’t even understand. I wrote about jazz in the LA Weekly for seven years and never did learn how to write about jazz piano. I failed again with this. But Jon Mayer’s piano playing affects me like no other, I just listen in disbelief wondering how his musical thought process works. And I wonder if anyone else in town realizes what a treasure this jazz player is, and why they aren’t lining up to see him. He’s that good.

To read more posts by Brick Wahl on his personal website click HERE.


Stories To Tell: “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”

March 16, 2012

By Brick Wahl

I was watching Going My Way on TCM for the first time in ages a couple nights ago. It’s about as Irish as it gets…Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. It so reminds me of my mom’s side, my grandfather, the whole bit. We were raised on that side. My pop was German, raised fiercely Lutheran and German speaking. Kein englisch in diesem Haus.  Immer deutsch. Even though that house was in Flint, Michigan. Catholics were verboten, too. The Thirty Years War was still being fought in those days in some places. Every German Lutheran Church was a battlefield, a besieged city.  As if the America all around it didn’t exist.

Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

My Dad, though, met my Mom. It was at a party at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey; he had a new blue Buick. She had blue eyes, a hint of a brogue and was lovely and Irish Catholic to her very bones. The laugh, the temper, the father who drank a wee bit. Old Germans had listened to Hitler on the shortwave, while the old Irish boys hung out in bars and sang. Can’t you meet a nice Irish boy? he grumbled. But he didn’t mean it. They never did. Didn’t even mind he wasn’t Catholic. The kids were going to be going to Mass, don’t you worry Pop. They’d all be confirmed by a priest. He drank port to that and sang and a little bit of heaven fell out the sky that day. So my folks were married. In Ankara, Turkey. And then Istanbul. It’s complicated. NATO and all that. But they found a priest somewhere over there and the neighbors threw them a big wedding party. Dad had a zillion photos of it, racked up in slides. A local Roman Catholic priest pronounced them man and wife. Martin Luther spun in his grave. A black lamb was slaughtered, as if it were still ancient Greece. The blood was vivid red in the photo. Dad said some of the kids got the eyeballs. It’s a delicacy. All us kids went ewwww. Mom just winced. That poor thing, she said. The poor little lamb. The party went on for days, everyone in the village was there, plus some. Hundreds of people. Those were the days. They thought they’d never end.Fifty some years later Dad was long dead (and died Catholic, and got a wake), and all of us were hanging out with Mom. We’d driven out to Arizona to see her. The nuns had said if we want to see her one last time we’d better get there as fast as possible. We left at four or five in the morning, driving across the Mojave as the sun was rising over it. Desert dawns are the most beautiful things you can ever see. Pastels and shadows. Birds. A zillion butterflies. Rocks in crazy piles and jagged mountains promising no water at all. Buzzards smell sweet death in the air.

The party began as soon as we got there. Five of the six siblings, a couple wives, an energetic swarm of grandsons. Plus dogs, birds, turtles, fish and a cat. The piano was played, some guitars, a saxophone, whatever made or tried to make music. We talked and talked and talked. The food was endless. We joked and talked and ate and mom, riddled with bone cancer, talked and joke and even ate. Her imminent death was just a given, something to be discussed, even kidded about. It was normal. Sad but normal. The order of things. Not much you can do about it she told me. And laughed. Her kids were there, their kids were there, there could not be a better way to go. At one point the priest came by and all became solemn as he delivered Last Rites. We all stood around her bed. The ceremony was ancient and beautiful. Two thousand years of beauty. You could see the worry released in her face. Afterword he switched to his civvies and joined the party. Everyone talking, looking in on Mom, letting her sleep. Eventually it broke up. Mom was awake. I said so long, we’ll see you tomorrow, and kissed her on the forehead. She smiled.

She died the next morning. My brother Jon was in  the room with her, playing Mozart on the piano. She slept uneasily. Mumbled about home. Home, home, home. Then she let out a little gasp, breathed hard for a minute, and was gone.

The wake began immediately, just a small wake, her kids, her brother, the wives and grandsons and nephews. It was sad, but it was nice. We had the bigger, boozy wake later, after the internment. This was just the family hanging out. The priest came by. The sisters. She just decided it was the time to go, one of the sisters told me. She worked in a hospice. We thought Mom’d hang on for weeks, she said, a slow horrible bone cancer death. But she decided it was time, with all of you out here. She smiled at the thought. That’s the way it should be. I nodded.So now it’s a couple years later and I’m watching Going My Way. At one point Bing, the young priest, is trying to get Barry Fitzgerald, the ornery old priest, to fall asleep for chrissakes. So he sings the old Irish lullaby “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral.” Some of my earliest memories are of my mother singing me off to sleep with it. The melody sways in the breeze, the words loll, and sometimes it sounds like the most beautiful tune you ever heard.

And it took me back to the morning Mom had died. She was still in the bed, looking peacefully asleep. We had each of us slipped in alone throughout the morning to bid her farewell. No one made a big deal about it, we’d sort of break off from the chatter and walk in for a few minutes. At some time that morning I entered and there she was sleeping, looking beautiful. Just like you want the dead to look, just how we want ourselves to look. I gazed at her a minute, and began singing “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral” in a hushed voice, so as not to wake her. Just a couple choruses. Then I said Goodbye, Mom, kissed her forehead one last time and stepped out again to join the living.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

* * * * *

Happy St. Patrick’s Day is the first entry in “Stories To Tell,” a new iRoM platform that will feature reminiscences, fiction, tall tales and short stories with musical references. 


Here, There & Everywhere: Have You Ever Wondered?

March 10, 2012

There’s been some thoughtful discussion lately here on iRoM about the interaction between musicians and audiences.  A lot of it was focused on performers’ obligations to their listeners.  Check out Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1, and Keeping It Real 2  and Norton Wright’s  Keeping It Real: A Minority Opinion, along with the readers’ comments, to get the full picture. 

And here’s another perspective with a different slant.  I first blogged something about the subject three or four years ago, pointing a finger at both the players and the audiences.  Since the questions I raised at that time remain virtually unanswered, I thought I’d ask them again.  (Continue reading below for the responses.)

By Don Heckman

Have you ever wondered:

- Why…

Band leaders always seem to announce the names of the band members in the middle of loud applause? Making them virtually indecipherable.  Can it be that some of the leaders are worried that the band members might receive a better reception than they do? Let’s hope not.

- Why…

Every solo by every musician (and singer) — regardless of its quality — is applauded? Granted that musicians deserve and appreciate response from their listeners, what’s the real value of such an all-inclusive response?  And why can’t it wait until the end of the piece? At which time, the leader — after the applause — can give much more meaningful recognition to the soloists. The added benefit of that approach would be an opportunity to actually hear the subtle connections that good musicians frequently make between solo passages — a repeated riff, a variation on the previous player’s concluding phrase. Good stuff, and most of it missed in the rush to clap, cheer, hoot and whistle.

- Why…

If we’re going to have so much applause, why can’t we also have some mass audience hissing directed at the fools who can’t wait until the last note fades before they establish their presence with a whoop, a holler or a deeply insightful, “Yeah!”?  God forbid that the music should actually have an opportunity to come to its own creative conclusion without audience assistance.  It can, you know.  If you listen.

- Why…

The drum solo always has to wait until the last number? It’s become like clockwork — here comes the Dreaded Drum Solo and the intermission is next. Surely drummers deserve something better than a pro forma appearance positioned as a last minute afterthought?

Anyone have some answers?  Send them along.  I’ll be happy to share them.

* * * * *

March 10: BRICK WAHL HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Brick Wahl

Easy.

1)

Band leaders never know the names of the musicians in their band, or else they are too high. Sometimes, though, musicians have long Polish names and no one knows how to pronounce them anyway.

2)

The musicians’ Moms and Dads might be in the audience and the audience doesn’t want to embarrass them. Later, Mom and Dad are replaced by grandchildren, and you’d have to be a real creep to want to make them feel bad. So applaud already.

3)

In the past, massed hissing in jazz clubs has led to shootings, beatings, and riots. Sometimes all in one night. I once let out a deeply insightful if ill-timed “yeah” that accidentally caused a bass solo, so I learned my lesson.

4)

Drum solos used to occur during the intermission.  Consider yourself lucky.

* * * * *

March 11: NEAL WRIGHTSON HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Neal Wrightson

I agree with #1. It is often frustrating when band leaders introduce the band while they are playing, while the audience is clapping and hooting, etc. But not all do this. Some actually take some time to introduce each band member, even waiting for the applause to die down. I think your theory is true sometimes – I sense in the timing and perfunctory quality of some intros a disdain for the exercise, and maybe the band members. But other times I think that musicians are not always speakers, and are ‘tone deaf” about the importance of the moment.

As for the other objections – I think that the loose quality of a jazz concert and audience is part of the history and tradition. Sometimes the vocal responses remind me of a revival meeting or inspiring speech, where the audience is moved to vocalize their enthusiasm. I am torn about this, because sometimes audience members can be maddeningly insistent on adding their “contribution” to the performance, but overall, I think I prefer this wide-open, democratic quality to rapt attention and people “shushing” each other. I love Keith Jarrett, but he is a good example of this; a bit of a prima donna, much too grumpy about every little noise and interruption. Jazz is, to a great extent, an audience participation experience. The energy of the audience makes an important difference to a performance.

As for drum solos, (and bass solos) as the parent of a jazz drummer I would say that they are only occasionally brilliant, and do not often add to the piece as a whole. I agree that they are often included at the end pro forma, instead of as an important element in a specific piece. Yet a beautiful drum or bass solo is inspiring and as important as any other soloist in an ensemble. My drummer son tells a joke about a drummer who is researching the roots of jazz and goes to Africa. He is being led by an African drummer to a village where remarkable drumming takes place. They are walking a long way, and as they get close they can hear the drumming. Then the drumming stops, and the African drummer stops dead in his tracks “Oh! oh!” he says. “What’s the matter?” the musician asks, with dread creeping into his voice. The African says “When the drumming stops – next is the bass solo!”

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Brick Wahl: Keeping It Real 2

February 26, 2012

By Brick Wahl

Just realized there are still comments bouncing around on this. Don Heckman’s got clout….

My whole point in that original rant is that if things continue as they are there will be no place left to play. The jazz scene has shrunk by at least two thirds in the past ten years. Clubs literally cannot afford to book the stuff. It not only does not draw people, but it literally drives them away. People leave. They listen a bit, get bored, pay their tab and leave. More leave than don’t leave in many, if not most cases. You book jazz and you will have empty rooms. The exception is the Blue Whale, but that exists because USC is nearby and has such a strong jazz program. It’s the hang for all those kids and their friends, and for jazz fans who can’t believe there is a club booking such cool crazy shit like you can see at the Blue Whale. The downside of that is that those kids don’t buy a lot of drinks and even less food. College kids are broke, and college kids who study jazz are, um, bookish….and party they don’t. If people don’t party the club doesn’t make any money. And if clubs don’t make money they close….or change music. Even the Blue Whale complains about a lot of lousy turn outs (though they seem to be doing well whenever I’m there.) .

Brick Wahl

And, oh yeah….the Movable Feasts are big successes…but they are concerts…. They are presented as concerts, marketed as concerts, structured as concerts. Concerts have always done much better than clubs. They feature well known names from NYC or Europe. Plus the place has, I believe, student rush tickets. And most importantly of all…the Jazz Bakery does not rely on bar tabs and door money for its funding. It is supported by patrons. That’s how it stayed open all those years when no one was showing up a lot of nights. But as far as genuine jazz clubs — not performance spaces but clubs that try to feature jazz a few nights a week — well, those are disappearing fast. Vibrato makes its money off its menu. Blue Whale by being a hip college joint with a vast pool of young talent to feature.. And there’s scattered other spots that have the weekly jazz night that does well. But they are few and far between, and certainly not part of any city-wide jazz scene, a scene that existed a few years ago.

So players can say that they play for themselves and don’t worry about whether people like it or not (and I think that is the general attitude)…..but that means that within a couple years there will be virtually nowhere to play And certainly almost nowhere to play for pay. I used to fully support that attitude, I loved it. Then I noticed that all the clubs were gone.

Btw…one of the signs of the shrinking jazz scene is its fragmentation….there’s a young experimental scene that’s centered at the Blue Whale; there’s a very white mainstream jazz scene that finds a home at Vitello’s, and the black cats hang on at Nola’s and a couple other small spots. There always was a young cat-old cat divide and a white cat-black jazz divide in LA, certainly in the seven or eight years I was writing things up. I was always trying to get the scenes together more. To mix ideas, influences, players. But the opposite has occurred. I don’t know what to say about that. Except that I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Incidentally, saw Jon Mayer at a bare Desert Rose a couple Saturdays ago. He was brilliant as ever. Highly recommend seeing him there if you’re near Los Feliz on a Saturday night. And Ben Wendel and combo at a very packed Blue Whale a couple weeks ago was a thrill, man. Loved every second of it. And so sorry to see that Mssrs. Melvoin and Holloway slipped away this past week. Oh well.

OK…..I’ve run outta words…..take care everybody….

To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1 click HERE.


Keeping It Real: A Minority(?) Opinion From Norton Wright

February 9, 2012

A few weeks ago we published a commentary from Brick Wahl regarding today’s jazz clubs, the musicians who perform in them, and the audiences who come (or don’t come) to hear them.  Click HERE to read Brick’s entire post.  In many respects, the commentary was directed at the musicians themselves.  We’ve had many responses – all of which are attached to the commentary.  But when we received the following brief essay from Norton Wright — an occasional iRoM contributor, a long time jazz fan and a fine artist who has created a series of abstract paintings inspired by various jazz artists – we decided to publish it on its own.  Norton suggested we title it as a minority opinion, but we think it may be more than that (thus the question mark).  (To read an earlier Q & A with Norton and view more of his paintings, click HERE.)

 By Norton Wright

Contrary to Brick Wahl’s recent “Keeping It Real” advice to jazz musicians, my thought is that jazz is more than a career and certainly more than a hobby — it’s a calling. Jazz musicians and their audiences have always been a proud minority, oft times working to make a living in non-musical jobs by day so that we can all swing at clubs at night. The closing of so many jazz venues here in Los Angeles is indeed gloomy news but no reason to give up on the rich and ever-changing art form of jazz music. Though in L.A. the convenience of Charlie O’s, Donte’s, Shelley’s Manhole, The Troubador, et al is a thing of the past, Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery/Movable Feast at the Musicians Institute 1655 N. McCadden Place (just off Hollywood Boulevard) is packing in audiences four hundred strong.

Norton Wright

Like her original Jazz Bakery, Price’s Movable Feasts could point the way to a jazz renaissance for venues where the expensive overhead of food and drink (and their accompanying noise!) are jettisoned in favor of making the music the sole focus of the evening. And if you still prefer some carbo-loading with your jazz experience, the International Review of Music and other internet sources list an abundance of jazz venues where – contrary to Brick’s critique – the fan base has not melted away to non-existence, and performing jazz artists are not “looking into a crowd and seeing nothing but colleagues and students.”

Am I mistaken but did I get the vibe from Brick’s article that he has something against musical knowledge when he advises today’s jazz artists that –

“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. 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 by 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…..”

My reaction to the above is that “…the swing, the groove, the attack, the passion, the feeling…..” are valid criteria.  But for many jazz fans, there can be even more. Certainly a college degree is not necessary to enjoy art, but I do believe that the more you know about any human activity, be it the arts, politics, medicine – even wine tasting – the more you’ll enjoy it.

Norton Wright's painting "Four Miles" (Saluting Miles Davis)

Making this point is the Miles Davis quote criticizing his idols for not learning more about other styles of music –

“ I couldn’t believe that all them guys like Bird, Prez, Bean, all them cats wouldn’t go to museums or libraries and borrow those musical scores by all those great composers, like Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Prokofiev.” (from Ashley Kahn’s book “Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece”).

My feeling is that knowledge enhances musical appreciation substantially more than Brick’s reference to an Auto Club road map showing you where everything is and how to get there.

A closing thought. The jazz scene has indeed changed from when I was a young whelp in NYC, and a luminous array of jazz clubs beckoned round the clock – Bop City, Birdland, The Composer, The Embers, The Hickory House, Basin Street, The Vanguard, The Half Note, etc. But those were simpler, easier days. Now Americans have so much audio and visual stimuli available to them 24/7 that jazz is still only the province of a proud and resilient minority.

AND WE FANS DO URGE YOU JAZZ MUSICIANS ON!

We’ll find you — from Vitello’s in Studio City and Catalina’s in Hollywood to the Blue Note in NYC, Milan and Japan, from Jazz Alley in Seattle to the Attucks Theater in Norfolk, Virginia, from A-Trane in Berlin to Aketa No Mise in Tokyo – on Kjazz Radio 88.1FM – on Amazon.com’s CD buying service – and in the jazz studies programs and universities and high schools across the country. Bravo and  brava to you guys and gals who keep the jazz torch burning!

P.S. In the late 1950’s, the late jazz critic Whitney Balliett defined jazz as “the sound of surprise”… Ain’t it cool that now, five decades later, we can still find jazz venues presenting something more surprising than Madonna grinding her 54-year-old tush at the recent Super Bowl for a TV audience, so many wincing at the possibility of yet another “wardrobe malfunction”!

Photo by Faith Frenz.


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