By Fernando Gonzalez
The Joy of Jazz
If their recent show in Coral Gables, Florida, was any indication, and you love jazz, you need to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band live. You might dismiss it, as I once did, as just a repertory band, a sort of charming, rolling live museum act evoking what might-have-been. And there might be some of that. But with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band you also get the joy of jazz, smart, angst-free jazz, played with great professionalism but also with pleasure and a sense of humor (watching sousaphone player Ronell Johnson march in place, bob, weave and turn all the way through the performance was part of my enjoyment that night).
The music was soulful and swung forcefully yet with a casual grace of a conversation among old friends, counterlines seem to grow along, curling like vines around the main melody. It was both sturdy and lithe, complex yet appealing. The ensemble played what it must, but the audience clearly felt invited in. I suspect jazz gained a few more believers that night. Having fun is an undervalued concept in jazz — and the music has paid dearly for it. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band taught a master class in jazz disguised as a good-time show. That’s an art in itself — and jazz has had some great practitioners. (Dizzy is a prime example of the genius disguised as entertainer).
Obviously, not every style in jazz lends itself easily to this approach. But by definition, jazz will always live in that netherworld between art music and entertainment. It’s both a weakness and a source of strength. And to have a place in the cultural marketplace, jazz needs to connect with audiences, be it in the composition, the playing or the presentation.
It played out vividly before me at that show by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a ensemble created 50 years ago precisely to evoke the very roots of jazz — in substance and form.
No, the challenge is not new, but the urgency is — or we can look at classical music and see the future of jazz.
Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, June 16.
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R.I.P. Horacio “Chivo” Borraro
It’s a shame that few outside Argentina knew of saxophonist and clarinetist Horacio “Chivo” Borraro, who died on May 31 at age 90 in Buenos Aires.
A player, composer and arranger, Borraro was a renaissance man. He was also an architect and worked, at different times, as a painter, designer, photographer and cartoonist. An early bebopper, Borraro was one of the founders of the Bop Club in Buenos Aires in the early 50s and a key figure in a small but sturdy scene that nurtured artists such as Lalo Schifrin and Leandro “Gato” Barbieri.
El “Chivo” Borraro was an active player from the 1930´s to the 1990´s — and by the time he stopped he had tried his hand at nearly every jazz style, all the way to free jazz. He had a Coltranean, brawny sound on the tenor, but quit when he “started to realize I didn´t have the will to play I always had.”
“I was having trouble reaching the upper octave of the saxophone, so I wasn´t able to do what I wanted to do with the horn anymore,” he told Miguel Bronfman for a story in The Buenos Aires Herald in 2005. “So I stopped playing, and I didn´t lament it, everything begins and everything ends. So I sold the saxophone and I bought a keyboard instead, with which I make arrangements for friends. I was getting frustrated with the sax, so I decided to retire myself with the championship belt, before I got knocked out.”
Much of Borraro’s music has become available through reissues in recent years and it’s worth exploring. Here’s a sample:
“Half & half”
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The European colleagues of the greedy geniuses at Wall Street who almost destroyed the world economy a few years ago are working hard in their own countries to give it another try. In a globalized economy, don’t think it’s someone else’s problem.
Spain is the latest casualty and as it’s the norm, the banks are in line to be saved. The people are to fend for themselves. (Stop me if you heard this before.)
One form of Spanish protest has been guerrilla flamenco performances in the banks. It is in Spanish, but the message is clear. Maybe we can have a blues version of this in some JP Morgan branch?
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Photo of Preservation Hall Jazz Band by Bonnie Perkinson.