Black and White Keys: A short history of jazz.


BlaiseP is the pseudonym of a peripatetic software contractor whose worldly goods can fit into an elderly Isuzu Rodeo. Bitter and recondite, he favors the long view of life, the chords of Steely Dan and Umphrey's McGee, the writings of William Vollman and Thomas Pynchon, the taste of red ale and his own gumbo. Having escaped after serving seven years of a lifetime sentence to confinement in hotel rooms, he currently resides in the wilds of Eau Claire County and contemplates the intersection of mixed SRID geometries in PostGIS.

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73 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    Blaise – thanks! Will work my way through these links as time permits today and tomorrow.

    Reading it through, I realized that I do have a teeny bit more jazz than I thought – I have some Ella, and some Billie.

    Interesting that when I think “jazz”, I think “instrumental”.

    Those brave white kids are the great unsung heroes of jazz.

    This may be a LITTLE overstated, but I take the point you are making. I’m trying to locate the quote, but there was a rapper (I want to say it was Chuck D, in the context of gangsta rap) who talked about the idea that when white kids* latch onto something, they seek out the “purest”, most extreme forms of it. That there were a *lot* of white kids buying N.W.A. records.

    * for my part, I’m not sure this should be “white kids”, so much as “kids”. That said, I have long wondered why I can go to a rap show and see a fairly mixed crowd, but to see more than a few black kids at most rock shows (or electronic music shows) seems extremely rare.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

      I am sure. The kids who willingly crossed the colour line in the right direction, from white to black, who rode the A train into Harlem, made all the difference. Steely Dan wrote about them in Parker’s Band

      Savoy sides presents a new saxophone sensation
      It’s Parker’s band with a smooth style of syncopation
      Kansas City born and growing
      You won’t believe what the boys are blowing
      You got to come on man
      And take a piece of Mister Parker’s band

      We will spend a dizzy weekend smacked into a trance
      Me and you will listen to
      A little bit of what made the preacher dance

      Bring your horn along and you can add to the pure confection
      And if you can’t fly you’ll have to move in with the rhythm section
      Either way you’re bound to function
      Fifty-Second Street’s the junction

      You got to come on man
      And take a piece of Mister Parker’s
      Clap your hands and take a piece of Mister Parker’s
      Come on man and take a piece of Mister Parker’s band

  2. Wow, I wish you hadn’t written it this way, though it’s well-intentioned. So: I volunteered at Yoshi’s for many years and got to know a lot of artists (my parents I took backstage to spend time with Kenny Burrell as a gift for them), dopped out of HS to be a jazz musician, and had the bad luck of being in the same college jazz band, on reeds, as Joshua Redman (I wasn’t a big fan of what Josh was doing back then, but….)

    It’s not that what you’ve written is wrong, it’s just that i think in the post-Wynton era there’s too much of this (and Ken Burns didn’t help). For one thing, jazz is being seen by too many people as a bit of a museum piece: dammit, I grew up in Boston going to Wally’s, and jazz was a dirty, sexy, music of the ground. For another, jazz is _so vital and vibrant_ right now. In my opnion, 1995-2005 or so was probably the greatest decade so far in jazz, up there with the classic Blue Note years. Why? Well, the music got completely globalized, with guys like Dave Douglas making master of Arabic maqams just part of the language for example. And it suddenly drew from all over the American canon, as Bill Frisell inhaled deep from Americana and Bela Fleck — well, c’mon, y’all know about Bela, right?

    You have the most amazing eminences grise now — I mean, all due respect to the master Strayhorn, but, man, Wayne Shorter writes like an angel. And stunning young talent. Just in piano you run the gamut from say Mehldau — who has technique and chops like that, and solos so inventively? — to Iyer, whose technique is poor but it doesn’t matter because he does such amazing, innovative, _new_ stuff. And young guys — heard Aaron Parks? — keep pushing boundaries. Plus, look, if you think anybody handles an electric guitar better than folks like John Abercrombie or Kurt Rosenwinkel or Peter Bernstein…. And we haven’t even gotten to these young folks like Esperanza Spalding, who, wow.

    So, yeah, thanks for the jazz ancient history lesson I guess. But the point about jazz is that it is a music of _now_, of innovation above all else, and it doesn’t, for that reason, easily fit histories.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Kieselguhr Kid says:

      I did say, up front, the reader may never return to this era of jazz. But without understanding this much of it, the rest makes no sense. Some ignorant noises were made elsewhere about Impenetrability. Lacking at least this much schooling and awareness, it’s like a pig trying to read a wristwatch.

      Jazz has been through a horrible few decades. Smoove Jazz. Jazz-rock. Jazz-fusion. All of it more pernicious than anything Whiteman’s Band did to this art form. Everyone wants to jump all over Wynton for saying we ought to return to the basics or at least understand them. He’s right and everyone else can kiss my ass. Ken Burns did a pretty good job of skimming over the rudiments. What is everyone’s problem?Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Some ignorant noises were made elsewhere about Impenetrability. Lacking at least this much schooling and awareness, it’s like a pig trying to read a wristwatch.

        Dude, the “pig” who “made noises” confessing to an ignorance of jazz, and asking for a primer, is right here. He can hear you.

        What is everyone’s problem?

        “You run into an a-hole in the morning, you ran into an a-hole. If you run into a-holes all day, you’re the a-hole.” – Raylan Givens, Justified

        Like I said, thanks for the primer, I do appreciate it; and I will be playing these tracks as soon as I have uninterrupted time to do so.

        While I do that, maybe you should ask yourself how many a-holes you ran into today.

        If your dudgeon is perpetually stuck on “high”, dudgeon calibration may be in order.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Lots of people wish I wouldn’t write like I do. I wish people wouldn’t write like they do, telling me jazz is Impenetrable, that the white kids who went up to Harlem were not the heroes I say they are, that jazz doesn’t easily fit into a history, that Ken Burns’ Jazz, and by proxy, my own post is Too Much. Though I was thanked for this Ancient History Lesson. Condescending bullshit about Well Intentioned.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:


        You don’t like dudgeon and nagging?Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I go for the Low Dudgeon myself. Baritone dudgeon. Natural key of B flat.Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Please allow me to quote myself (“My name is Glyph, pronounced with an -yph”):

        I can only speak for myself, but jazz seemed pretty impenetrable to casual investigation.

        See the part before the comma? Indicates the subjectivity of the statement following the comma.

        See the part following the comma? The word “seemed” indicates not only past-tense, but further (along with “pretty”) reinforces the part before the comma; that is, the subjectivity (and tentativeness) of said opinion.

        Also, allow me to contrast

        pretty impenetrable to casual investigation


        Lacking at least this much schooling and awareness, it’s like a pig trying to read a wristwatch.

        In one sense, these statements aren’t all that different. Some outside background and context is needed, to make sense of the thing. Casual, uninformed, random sampling may be insufficient. Not to drag him into it, but Chris more or less indicated the puzzle- or cypher-like nature of at least some of the work. Nobody here seemingly really disagrees on this fact. So why be insulting over it?

        If all jazz fans react thus, upon being humbly asked for enlightenment – or questioned in any way – don’t expect to win over many new jazz converts.

        I said thanks, and I meant it. My request for a primer was made in good faith, and the gift you made in response was appreciated.

        But you can go ahead and keep the insults. Those, this pig doesn’t need.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I put this together for you, stung by the remark about Impenetrability. Meant it as a kindly gesture. Ignorance can be cured. That’s why I put this together. Couldn’t believe, as much music as you have in your collections and as much as you’ve had to say about it here, that you’d say it was impenetrable.

        As for Kieselguhr Kid and his sneering, he and his ilk are about nine-tenths of the reason people find jazz so Innerleckshul and Impenetrable. They’ve erected a wall around it, told people it’s too cool for them. Jazz is a combination of traditional forms and immediate spontaneity. Both are required. And yeah, I’m guilty as charged because this is ancient history, as surely as Bach’s Chorales were based on a pile of tiresome old motets everyone knew by heart.

        There’s no thinking in jazz. Either you’ve mastered your instrument to the point where it’s become reflexive muscle memory, or you’re just putzing along on your musical training wheels, still reading the score and not paying attention to what your fellow musicians are playing and what your heart is telling you. Yeah, I’m angry with him. Not very happy with you, either. You are not a pig. But to say those white kids weren’t heroes — had you even heard of the Savoy Ballroom before I mentioned it? Really.Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Eh, re-read my original comment. I take your general point, I just think the word “hero” should be used pretty sparingly. “Unsung heroes” sounds like a bit of hyperbole, and what they did seems a little incongruous and insignificant next to what the black musicians themselves were doing and creating.

        Did those white kids leave their comfortable environs, at some risk to themselves (though an insignificant risk compared to black kids who might have tried to cross the color line in the other direction, who didn’t have the implicit power of the Establishment backing them up in the far more likely event that their field trip went horribly wrong), in contradiction to their elders, to go listen to some great music, and have a good time?

        Sure, and good on them; though it’s worth noting that at that time Harlem was still, as I understand it, a shining beacon of hope for the black community – disreputable amongst many whites it may have been, for reasons of lingering ingrained racism; but it was on the ascent, money and families coming in, businesses opening up, the collapse and hopelessness and grinding poverty and ghetto decimation that to this day are associated with the word “Harlem” were still in its future at this point (as I understand it; I wasn’t there).

        My point is that I don’t know that Harlem’s actual dangerousness matched its reputation, not yet anyway; and those white kids likely knew that, as kids often do.

        Remind me to tell you sometime of the fight I had with my parents as a teen over me going to dance at the gay club, which was of course in their view “disreputable” and “dangerous”, not to mention, in the bad part of town.

        Well, actually, that part of town WAS pretty bad – but I’m still no unsung hero. Just a guy who knew where the best dance club was, and wasn’t afraid to go.Report

      • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Really, I wish you two would stop.

        Glyph, one of the fascinating things about reading the history of jazz is the racism of it; how black musicians were treated on the road, playing for white audiences in white halls while they had to go sleep and eat somewhere else. How they passed that bigotry along to white musicians, Bill Evans put up with his share of it, for instance.

        If you haven’t yet, watch Straight, No Chaser. Clint Eastwood, I forgive him his crazy talk-to-the-chair because of his work supporting jazz.Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        But Mom, he started it! :-).

        I’m done. It’s taking time I could be better using listening to music.Report

      • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Wow, much of that is silly.

        What Wynton did made jazz into a museum piece. The prescriptiveness he laid down really, _really_ pissed off his colleagues: cetainly in what you write you set your self in clear opposition to Miles Davis, Lester Bowie, Keith Jarrett — and I tend to agree with those guys that I’ve almost never heard Wynton do anything and be impressed (except on Henderson’s _excellent_ “So Near, So Far.”)

        Putting “smooth” jazz up there, I think, is uneducated. “Smooth” jazz isn’t really a jazz form — it doesn’t work the way a lot of jazz does — it’s a pop form. That it’s labelled and marketed as it is has interesting consequences though and I don’t really care for jazz guys’ disdain for it to the extent that, look, if 1% of “Kenny G”‘s fans end up listening to Kenny Garrett, or 1% of George Benson’s fans track back to his old work — that’s a lot in jazz market terms! There’s a guy at my post who saw me in a Scofield shirt once and now comes up to talk to me about the latest “Rippingtons” album or what have you. I try to listen politely, and he sends me some YouTube videos, and I send back some that I think he might like better — and he took his wife to see Joe Lovano’s excellent band with Esperanza Spalding, and he bought the “James Farm” album. I’d say that proves that my approach is doing a lot more for jazz than yours is, and speaking as one of the guys who gave up trying to play a horn while feeding himself: hey, spare me your approach, OK?

        You don’t _need_ that kind of schooling at _all_ to love complicated, avant-garde jazz. I’ve turned metalheads onto jazz by bringing them to Mike Stern concerts and bringing them in, and Bela has brought the newgrass guys. My wife is some younger than I, and when were were dating she ended up at Yoshi’s a lot, and discovered a deep passion for McCoy Tyner. She first saw Elvin Jones there (we were backstage, later, at his last series of concerts) and leaned over in a break and told me, “The way he makes space in his music is familiar: he ought to get together with Tyner sometime.” People at the next table over burst out laughing! Because, from the perspective you just gave, that’s about the most ignorant comment that somebody could make! But it’s _not_ ignorant. It’s deep and right and it shows that what we’re _talking_ about, when we talk jazz, is _real_: that even without that history and wanking chat back-and-forth in jazz press, it shines through to the novice ear. It’s harmful and foolish to push those ears away — stop doing it! My daughter, at age three, could identify Brian Blade’s drumming on a tune she’d never heard — she doesn’t have your highfalutin’ “basics” either!

        I’m not a big fusion guy though I admit in rare moments I’ll put on “Inner Mounting Flame.” (And, “In a Silent Way” is _sublime_.) But, say, John Abercrombie _now_ (which isn’t fusion) is sort of perfectly balanced between avant-garde and classic jazz, and his route there went through fusion. Shorter, Corea, Hancock — what’s wrong with them using that, since all jazz is path-dependent? That stuff set the stage from the global “fusion” of Dave Douglas or Anuoar Brahem (_excellent_ stuff) or Rudresh Mahanthappan, and they know it. Or, to guys like Ethan Iverson, who happily plays with and boosts classicists like Billy Hart. And, dammit, some of it _is_ really really hard to penetrate, and deliberately so (John Zorn, Cecil Taylor…)

        In the end the great error with how you present it (how Wynton presents it) is, jazz is just phenomenally _broad_. It’s less about a particular lineage than about an approach to composition and performance with a deep commitment to as much of the tradition as possible, with a burning desire to be _new_. People ask _me_ about jazz, I recognize they’re looking for a way in and I try to help them chart a path.

        So, Glyph: what do you dig? Point me to some samples. And I’ll be able to point you one direction of many, and I think you’ll find that you can find really great shit in jazz.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Arrogance won’t save your argument. Keith Jarrett is an earnest noodler, very impressed with himself. Miles Davis was a great player and a greater collector of talent. Wynton Marsalis asked jazz to return to basics and was a great teacher.

        Do hush about Smoove Jazz. Many phrases with Jazz as the noun, sporting some dumb adjective in front or hyphen after have not yet evicted the word Jazz. They are jazz, as much as all that White Jazz of the flapper era was, geared for popularity. I’m not going to scoff at Kenny G. Kenny Gorelick’s earnest honks have an awful lot in common with Benny Goodman’s clarinet. Sinatra matches up with Rudy Vallee, incredibly popular — both were great choosers of material — and if they don’t turn up in my tune stack, doesn’t mean anything. They just don’t end up in lists like this, people who made important contributions to the lexicon. They do sell a lot of records and they don’t give a shit (if they’re still alive) what either of us think about the form and nature of jazz. Zappa used to quote Edgard Varese “The present-day composer refuses to die!”

        You worse a t-shirt. With John Scofield on it. And converted someone to better jazz on that basis? My goodness. Without playing a note of music, either. Send around a few YouTubes. Well, KK, that’s what I’m doing here. Only I’m not trying to convert anyone. I don’t buy merch at concerts. You’re not doing anything for jazz. You’re no different than Glyph, or me. Glyph embeds his videos, I just put them under hrefs.

        Glyph, no thickie he, says I can only speak for myself, but jazz seemed pretty impenetrable to casual investigation. Guess what, it’s true. Because to “get” jazz, you have to be introduced to it. I wrote this up so he could get a grip on Ancient History. Without it, jazz sounds like nothing more pleasant or meaningful than a cat in a clothes dryer to the casual listener. I am not going to introduce anyone to Thelonius Monk before he’s met up with Fletcher Henderson, who gave us Coleman Hawkins and thereby arises Monk. That’s why the history is important.

        I learned to play scales and intervals and learned to read a jazz score, which did require some formal training. Sorry, dude, listening to jazz is one thing. To play jazz means learning the cycle of fifths and fourths and a whole lot of chords and changes. Really, really helps to be able to sight read music and it’s awfully useful to know how to write it down. Some players never learned and it’s a chore communicating with them.

        To do is to know. Anyone can carry a tune. Unloading it requires some training. Unloading it onto a piece of paper requires some of that Formal Knowledge you think so unnecessary. I’m glad your daughter can recognise Brian Blades. My kids were ear trained on piano about the same age. They were taught to sight read treble and bass clef about the time they learned to read, nothing special, just key of C and Bb. They all went on to play instruments later, I never pushed them. But I did consider reading music as fundamental as learning to read the alphabet.

        Case in point: you didn’t get the remark about Billy Strayhorn solo against Ellingon’s piano. Zic did. Why did you miss it? That’s not a metaphorical remark. That’s literal. The score is leaning on the effing piano. Dude, I have been listening to Duke Ellington, returning to him a thousand times — do you think I don’t know who Billy Strayhorn is or his role as Ellington’s arranger and composer?

        Dude, being backstage doesn’t mean shit. The only door that matters is the one leading onto the stage. Well, there is one more important door, the one to the back office, where you pick up your check for playing a gig.

        How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice.

        You’re a big fusion guy. I like jazz fusion. I like a lot of things. Always trying to look forward, keep my eye on the horizon, new musicians surfacing from the Sea of Black and White Keys all the time. Too goddamn many of them, good kids, new outlooks, new voices. But I came from somewhere, Kieselguhr. I came out of Africa. I learned to drum, first. I later learned to play piano. I love jazz in all its forms, because it’s about music itself.

        There are several ways to approach music. You can either play it, which is the best, obviously. You’ve done a bit of that. You can go see it at a club, which is also very good, I see you’ve done a lot of that, too. Musicians need to get paid. You can buy the recordings, I entirely approve. You can steal the recordings, which I don’t like but understand.

        Or you can be a fugging critic. Most of what’s written about music is written by people who can’t play, about people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read. And you do way too much of that.Report

      • dhex in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “You don’t _need_ that kind of schooling at _all_ to love complicated, avant-garde jazz.”

        this is obviously true – going from grindcore to john zorn (usually via naked city or painkiller) is commonplace as all hell.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Before throwing someone headlong into grindcore, sorta helps to understand the significance of Black Flag.Report

      • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I guess another way of trying to explain it to you, Blaise:

        In my 20’s I was hanging out at this soul restaurant, Bob the Chef’s — everyone in there onany give night knew everything about jazz. And there was this _fine_ woman — a lawyer — sitting alone at the bar so I tried to impress her with my “in”-ness. The band did “Pannonica” and I called it, talked about different versions. She listened but clearly didn’t know the piece. The same thing happened a couple times, until it was clear she knew fuck-all about jazz although she seemed interested

        Then they launched into “Take the ‘A’ train” and she brightened right up — I can still see it — and said, “I know this song!”

        I couldn’t keep, I think, from showing my digust. “_Everyone_ knows this song.”

        “Yeah, but my uncle wrote it!”

        She won. [I remember the guitarist running over to shake her hand: “I’ll never wash this hand again.”] Nobody – but _nobody_ — is as “in” as that.

        Hey: let’s try to let those guys dig the music too, eh?Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        @kieselguhr-kid – I said I was done, but one small point on this:

        Because when somebody like Glyph asks about jazz, you don’t take him on a museum tour

        I don’t mind a museum tour, at all. I want to know about the foundations. I enjoy that stuff, and it’s kinda how my brain works. Someone asks me about ska, they are probably getting a Prince Buster record. We’ll get to the later stuff later. It’s cool, there’s plenty of time.

        What I objected to, for the record, was being insulted for having the temerity to speculate that a wide-ranging genre, with a 100+ year history, that places a high value on live performance and improvisation and innovation and technical skill, might be a mite difficult for the novice to approach.

        IOW, a history lesson is fine; a “here’s where it’s at today” lesson is fine.

        Just don’t be a jerk about it either way; that’s all.

        And weirdly, I have a John Zorn album. He seems to be someone you run into on the rock fringes too.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        @kieselguhr-kid : Your comment is in the trash. Nobody calls me an asshole on my own post.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Viva el Famoso Chavalito del Quiselgur!Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Don’t know how much Thomas Pynchon you’ve read, Stillwater. I’ve read pretty much everything.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Indeed. Well then.

        “Mason has no command of his tongue. He keeps trying to say, “Too far, Dixon, you never know where the Crease of Credulity’s been set.” He is disappointed at not having seen it, whatever it is, – believing it a Spiritual Demonstration, which Dixon almost certainly has fail’d to appreciate…”Report

      • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Funny thing, Blaise, but Glyph called you an asshole on your on post. You just delete me because, well, you’re out of your depth.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Glyph gets the right to criticise me. He’s earned the right. Here, I am in my depth. This is my post. You will keep a civil tongue in your head. As it happens I am an asshole. You don’t get to call me one. Glyph does. Let’s not get any more meta than that.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        @stillwater : “pronouncing asshole with a certain sphinctering of the lips so it comes out ehisshehwle.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “Taking this courteously if not perhaps seriously, Dixon replies, “Yet, from all we know, from Newton onward, how could the mechanism of its approach have been other than swift and Cataclysmick?”Report

      • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

        @kieselguhr-kid – Well, I was careful not to come outright and say it; but certainly I implied the possibility. 😉

        But I was tired – new baby, and all that jazz (GEDDIT?), and repaid implied insult with implied insult. Consider the implication withdrawn, and let’s all please just let it drop ( @blaisep ,for the record, @kieselguhr-kid isn’t some random drive-by commenter – I haven’t seen him around lately, but I recall his handle, so I know he’s been around here before; and I’d like him to feel welcome to come around again).Report

      • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Glyph, why would I want to do that? What’s the benefit?

        Let’s look at this. I came in I hope thoughtfully and respectfully. This blowhard is castigating guys like me for keeping folks away from jazz, when his position seems to be you have to know all this history and theory to “get” jazz and my position seems to be, no, everyone’s welcome in! He calls me a “fugging” critic, when the only ciriticism I’ve made (which ain’t really daring) is that Brubeck can’t solo, whereas his shit is loaded with wacky assertions about whose playing is worth what — hell, I don’t even like coming down on the smooth jazzers [fairly, I’m honest enough to know I’ve no standing to come down on Benson.] From his throne he tells me he can see I’ve played a little and been to some gigs — the hell he can, what he knows is what I’ve _told_ him. Which, by the way, is that I played with Josh Redman in college. Now, Tom Everett brought some great musicians there on sabbatical at that time — Don Braden, Pharoah Sanders, Steve Swallow. (Donald Harrison also showed up a lot but I don’t recall he did a sabbatical.) Meaning, when I say I played with Josh in college (who, at the time, was playing with Metheny and Haden and Chris McBride and Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade and, oh yeah, Dewey), I’m saying, I played with, well, some guys. And that gives me, fairly, more command of this subject, by a lot, than anybody who’s posted here, but it would be dickish to flaunt that. Indeed, all Blaise has, if it’s true, is a childhood in Niger, and with all due respect to (excellent) West African bell players (I spent time travelling in Mali and Senegal — Salif Keita is my son’s thing), _I_ grew up in what’s now called Chennai, so in terms of my childhood rhythyms, I win that one too and it ain’t close.

        SO I have all this backstage experience: volunteering at Yoshi’s is, I guess, not doing much for the music, but it gave me a lot of chances to talk at length with everybody from Giovanni Hidalgo to Billy Hart to Stanley Clarke (and, man, the stories that guy can tell….) and to jam a very wee bit. [Also gave me the chance to hand out comps to a lot of my feloow scientists at Berkeley in those days, to turn more people on.] And that gives me enough knowledge to know that everything Blaise asserts there, is bunk. Many great jazzers know little or no theory. Miles recalls trying to explain to Bird and Diz about harmonic minors (which, seriously, is not even advanced enough to call “basic”) and they didn’t know about them. But, dammit, Bird’s _Bird_! So to write that “to _play_ jazz means learning the cycle of fifths” is demonstrably wrong! Dave Brubeck famously couldn’t sight-read, but people loved working with him. I’ve _seen_ Olu Dara and Kenny Burrell struggle when someone drew up charts for them. But Blaise on the best day of his life can’t do what those guys do on their worst, or he’d be doing it. Nor can I.

        Most importantly, in the era Blaise is talking about, the clubs were full of counterexamples: Wally’s in Boston is the closest thing I can think of now, but there must be others. No cover places full of folks who’d never heard of a flat five or heard Debussy (and, the absence of Debussy and the words “the blues” from Blaise’s “history” makes it a bit worthless), but who go there _every damn night_ and love it. And to stand on one’s high horse and somehow pretend that these people are missing something in their understanding of the music — people like, oh, Billy Strayhorn’s _niece_ — is arrogant and stupid and shuts people out. Far as I can tell they get the music better than I do. That’s what you’re supposed to get out of the story about my wife. She can really _hear_ Elvin Jones, in a way I can’t, and zic can’t, and Blaise can’t, because she doesn’t have all this history weighing her down. Somehow that night she independently discovered the Coltrane quartet, and I envy her that, and everyone around us envied her that. Well, Blaise is taking the chance to do that away from you. Don’t do it, man!

        Most listeners move past this. Some 25 years ago I saw Danilo Perez stop a concert and harangue the audience about how we were a disappointment for not knowing jazz history because he called a Monk piece and then the first poor boob he asked, didn’t know what it was. I asked him about it recently and said, “Yeah, I was an ignorant dickhead back then.” If the shoe fits….

        In the end, glyph, what you need to know is this. Yeah, I’ve turned a couple people on to the music, I brag about that, and in the same way I’d be really, really happy to help you out: there’s a lot of jazzers who love ska (too bad though, if you were more of a reggae guy we could start you off with Monty Alexander, and that vein mines straight back to Duke real fast) and a lot of entry points there from which you can make your own “new” discoveries. This blowhard, on the other hand, looks at the fact that I’ve been able to do that, and _actively mocks it_, say’s it’s “doing nothing” for jazz to bring along new listeners. The _perfectly reasonable, rational_ conclusion to draw from that is, “oh, this music doesn’t really need listeners.” And, that’s the wrong conclusion. This music is _our_ music, and it’s alive and vital, and I’d like my kids to be able to keep getting it around them. C’mon into the pool! And have the sense not to ask people who think bringing people into the pool isn’t worthwhile, for advice.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        This post was never intended for the sophisticated knower-of-jazz. I try to write for one person and wrote it for Glyph: writing for everyone is to write for nobody. This post was intended to put a few pins in the cork board, some basis points which would give him something to work with. I would be writing thousands of pages were I to cover all of jazz in its various incarnations. I had intended to write three more such posts. I don’t think that’s wise, not with you around to stink them up with name-dropping and snark. It’s a miracle your shoulder is still in joint, patting yourself on the back so vigorously. Take a seat, buddy. This wasn’t written with you in mind.

        Zic gets it. Everyone else seems to get it but you. This isn’t bunk, it’s one man’s opinions of a subject he’s cared about all his life, someone who did a lot more than a little jamming. Brubeck couldn’t sight read and it was a problem for him, by his own admission. Dave Brubeck was probably dyslexic, he couldn’t write text very well, either. Which rather goes to my point than yours: if you can’t read a chart, you are severely handicapped beyond a certain level of playing.

        Really, Kid, my posts are not for you. You know too much about this subject. I am a musician, have been since my arms were long enough. I remember the day my hands were big enough to reach a whole octave. That was a big day for me. I didn’t have to ride off the low note and hit the octave with my little finger.

        If the way you’re condescending to me is any indication of how you talk to other people in real life about music, you’re never going to be welcome as a player anywhere. If you really knew jazz as well as you say you do, why haven’t you had a word to say about what I outlined? Sure, it’s ancient history. It was meant to be. I said I take a historical approach. It seems as valid as any other approach, with the added benefit of some really fine music which really does influence music today.

        It’s as you observe about Danilo Perez’ bad attitude, some people get very haughty about jazz and it annoys you. You don’t see it in yourself: that which annoys us in others is exactly what they find annoying in us. Jazz has been through some bad decades lately. It’s become a hangout for people who play a lot of cliches and carry on as if they were All That.

        Jazz began in earnest, not in concert halls, but in the juke joints, musicians playing for and with other musicians. The conversation of the wise, to which the wise would attend their ears. And calling me an asshole will get your comments deleted. Keep that in mind, Kid. This was intended to be ancient history. Got nothin’ nice to say, nothin’ nice to play? Shut up, then. It’s not like you’re contributing anything worth reading.Report

    • dhex in reply to Kieselguhr Kid says:

      “Before throwing someone headlong into grindcore, sorta helps to understand the significance of Black Flag.”

      nah. it either sticks or it don’t. the serious nerds who like to nerd out will either understand the pathways because they want to. i came into extreme metal with a dislike for most normal metal (judas priest, etc) and a serious allergy to almost anything described as “punk”. it didn’t hurt my understanding nor my passion.

      serious nerds would also point out that dri/siege, 80s power electronics, and the no wave guys were important influences as well. but i can’t imagine saying “listen, dude, before you listen to scum, you gotta listen to this whitehouse album”. no one likes doing homework for fun, because then it’s not fun but homework. for the nerds the homework is fun, which makes homework into fun, which also complicates this narrative so we’ll stop here.

      in a nutshell this exchange is why people are like “oh man i heard that guy’s into jazz” and cross the street. who wants to get into a fight over some stuff they don’t even know?

      * best book on this is probably “choosing death”, which is fun but gets kind samey due to the samey-ness of a lot of the origin stories of these bands.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to dhex says:

        Well sure, I can agree with all that. But let’s imagine someone encountering grindcore today, or way back in my day, Einstürzende Neubauten. Early industrial. So this poor alarmed soul shouts, “WTF is this hellishness? How could anyone listen to this crap? And more to the point, who the hell would want to make this noise and call it music?”

        I’d say to them, let’s retreat a bit into music you do understand. You’ve met up with lots of odd noises in music before now. Let’s go back to Hendrix, you understand what he was doing.

        “Well sure, yeah, he was beating up on his guitar — but that was interesting. He was also a great session guitarist, I have his stuff with the Isley Brothers, dude, he was a great guitarist. If Hendrix and The Who and Captain Beefheart were making noises like that, they could still make Real Music.”

        Okay, but you still liked that feedback, dincha?

        “Well, yeah. I did. It was wild! It was friggin nuts! Such power and emotion, the dude was on fire!”

        Indeed he was. And he was leading people down into something primal. Before Hendrix started making those noises, nobody thought it was music, either. They couldn’t even conceive of it.

        Now I want you to put yourself in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War. The year was 1980. Very fucked up times they were, too. Music has a funny way of translating people’s silent feelings into corollary noises. West Berlin was a very weird place in 1980 and musicians like David Bowie and Brian Eno and a fascinating man named Iggy Pop were turning out some remarkable music which mirrored those times.

        Iggy Pop did an album called The Idiot. Hereafter, it starts reading like the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, because there are about a zillion “begats” in here — Iggy Pop begat punk music in very large measure. Punk put the “and roll” back in rock and roll. Rolling around in broken glass. Tore down all that precious FM radio nonsense and gave rock back its bug-eyed madness.

        But all the while these strange, pale men like Bowie and Eno and Iggy Pop, all speaking English, were soaking in this rain and piss-soaked city of West Berlin — the Germans who inhabited that unbelievably weird burg were pulling music apart at the seams, taking their cue from the classical music composers, deconstructing music back into sound. Back to basics. The very basics. When a ball peen hammer strikes a big old hunk of plate steel, what does it sound like? Not some finely-engineered Zildjian cymbal for sale at yer local music store. Just a fuggin’ hunk of steel,

        The noise, as it turns out, is rather interesting. And thus was born industrial, because most of the musical instruments could be found in yer local machine shop. Anything that could make noise was pressed into service.

        Industrial was music, all right. Music, reinvented from the ground up, by people who lived in the bullseye of the Cold War, who absolutely delighted in hearing their own feelings put on stage. True, it didn’t sound like friggh’ Bach or Mozart, who lived in happier times. This was West Berlin.

        Time went on. Truth is, things haven’t gotten a whole lot better. The Berlin Wall came down and eventually so did the Twin Towers in New York City. The shit, as you very well know, got deeper. Music, as it’s always done, reflected that. But there’s a very interesting dude, two of them actually, two point on the line. One was Henry Rollins and the other was Trent Reznor. They’re important.

        That’s how I’d teach anyone to understand grindcore.Report

      • zic in reply to dhex says:

        @blaisep we saw Tony Williams play, mid to late ’80’s/early ’90’s, at the Berklee Performance Center.

        At one point, he sounded like a woolen mill; like the way it would sound when rows of looms were all weaving at the same time. Totally recreating industrial sounds on the trap set. I hadn’t made the connection to industrial music and the Eastern European music seen before.

        Thanks for building that bridge for me.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “And thus was born industrial, because most of the musical instruments could be found in yer local machine shop. Anything that could make noise was pressed into service. ”

        well, no. neubauten aside – and i do love me some early neubauten – both the nomenclature and the general aesthetic come out of the throbbing gristle/cab volt/etc scene, which predates en by a bit. it’s largely english, though not exclusively (boyd rice, en, etc), and really comes more out of suicide and kraftwerk, as well as a reaction to punk’s “rockist” viewpoint.

        all of this is great to know (if you’re me) but otherwise not as helpful for someone who’s trying to overcome some kind of aesthetic shock – if any remains these days. it’s perhaps helpful in learning how to relate a piece of music to someone as an explanation for how and why it came to be, but as an experience it will generally either make sense or it won’t on an ears and heart level. especially with stuff that’s supposed to alienate, or at least intends to, much of its possible audience.

        which is a thing with grindcore in all its shorter, harder, faster glory.

        a good book on the early history of tg is, if you can find it, “wreckers of civilization”. gpo’s uh general look-at-me-ness tends to eat up a lot of space (as with all things he touches), but it’s a solid work.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to dhex says:

        Call it a weakness, a prejudice. I always take the historical approach. What’s the stupidest, most irritating question to ask a musician? Very simple, and every dumbass asks it.

        “What are your musical influences?”

        Instead, what they should be asking, if they have any sense, which they invariably don’t, is —

        “What are you trying to change? What’s new about what you’re doing in this instance?”

        As I understand grindcore, and truth is, I have only brushed up against it — I’m always resorting to analogies because I despise attempts to write directly about music —

        What’s the difference between really good vodka and the crap in that bottle in the well at your local bar? It’s been run through the charcoal more times. The more you purify vodka, the better it gets.

        If you’re in search of the cleanest, most direct route to getting a booze buzz on, there is no more direct route than a couple of shots of really pure, ice cold vodka. Too much will destroy you but you are not remotely interested in any of those fussy martinis or gin concoctions. Well, they have their place in the itinerary of fucked-uptitude. You can get just as drunk on anything else.

        But grindcore is aiming for maximum impact. Like a shaped charge explosive, intent upon blasting a slug of molten copper inside your head.

        Which is why it produces these teeny-tiny little pieces of explosive music. They’re aiming for something unique. The closest I can come to it is what Microsoft did to Brian Eno when they asked him to come up with the startup theme for Microsoft Windows. It has to be 3.5 seconds long. Eno must have written hundreds of little things. He’s said to have returned to his regular music career, saying an ordinary song now felt like an eternity of time.Report

  3. zic says:

    Nice, BlaiseP. Your road map looks pretty much exactly like mine, which was drawn on the back of a cocktail napkin.

    It’s important to note that a lot of jazz was big band music through this era (and into the 1940’s, and the war). It was dance music, and there were often vocalists.

    And I like that you included Django Reinhart; such lists usually include Art Tatum (often starting here) and skip Django. I don’t know why, but it unbalances things to do that.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

      I purposely skipped over much of the Big Band stuff which followed on Fletcher Henderson: Dorsey’s Band, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Glenn Miller et al. It never had much influence on what followed. Individual musicians who played in those bands were important, hence Lionel Hampton. Duke Ellington and Count Basie was enough to push the pin into that part of the map, I figured.

      Jazz nearly choked to death on its own success in the late 30s and 40s. Those goddamn crooners made a pile of money aping their betters, who were still on the other side of the Race Line. Phenomenal musicians, being made to come in the kitchen door to play for people who weren’t fit to polish their shoes.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

        It’s worth mentioning that Benny Goodman had the first mainstream integrated band. Not because he was a crusader, but because he was a stubborn mofo and no one was going to tell him whom he could and couldn’t play with.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Best thing about Benny Goodman was all the great people who left his band.Report

      • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I liked the Reinhardt reference as well. I still listen to that stuff.

        I disagree about Glenn Miller. He introduced some inversions in the extended chords into his horn arrangements that were very influential. Just listen to the horns and forget the rest.
        And I would start with Louis Armstrong as the beginning of jazz.
        I’m thinking jazz likely started as an introduction of piano into the Dixieland bands.

        Anyway, I thought it was really well-written. I don’t want to detract from that by picking nits.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        You make an interesting point about Glenn Miller and his wonderful arrangements, both for his own band and others. The dance bands of the 30s were important: I do think Ellington and Fletcher’s bands point out how important. Yet they were something of a dead end musically. They held on, still selling well into the 1970s, Lawrence Welk’s band, the polka / mazurka bands used the big band arrangement techniques. It’s had some revivals over the years, but mostly in the context of Revival, think Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Swing Music fad.

        Thing is, and this will sound presumptuous and stupid, but it’s just my opinion — here goes: look at what happened to the blues. It got all wrapped around its own axle, because it became traditional. When that happens to any sort of music, it gets locked in, can’t evolve. Oh, it will hang on as an artifact of an era, which is what happened to the big bands. People might put together some semblance of the old big bands, play some of that great swing from the 40s — but it’s not the same.

        If I hear another blues take on Sweet Home Chicago or Stormy Monday or any of those old chestnuts, it does nothing for me anymore. The same is true of a good deal of some of those more-trodden trails through the American Songbook. Nobody, beyond a few players, have ever heard the originals. They know the jazz versions of them. Again, that’s just me, but we are talking about Glenn Miller’s influence: where is it today? Big bands were a glorious flower but lots of great things come to a dead end. And this list isn’t gospel troof, there are many approaches to jazz, each as valid as my own.Report

  4. zic says:

    @glyph, there’s one other thing we should clarify when we talk about ‘jazz.’

    A lot of it depends on how you define jazz. What @blaisep has laid out is a good broad-brush stroke of the form as a genre of music with some clearly defined instrumentation, beats, harmonic structures, and forms. Genre jazz would be like ‘new country,’ ‘classic rock,’ ‘folk,’ etc., and his its subcategories.

    But there is at least one other definition of jazz, and that’s thinking of it as a way of playing. You’re not reading the notes and playing them as written, you’ve got a rough sketch of what you’re playing — the head, a melody line with chord changes written above, and what the musicians will actually play is improvised based on that rough sketch. In that way, most rock jams are ‘jazz.’ If you saw the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin or Phish, you saw jazz performance.

    This kind of playing happens a lot, it’s in the moment (not tracks layered down, one by one in a studio), and it requires listening and responding in the moment. This is what I consider jazz to be, it’s a skill above and beyond musicianship.

    I’ll give you an example of the difference between jazz and not-jazz: Both Joni Mitchell and Sting obviously love jazz, they have gone to a lot of effort to work with improvisational musicians, and both are fine musicians in their own right. But I have never seen evidence that either is able to improvise; to leg go of the polished ruts of their music, and explore melody, form, rhythm, or harmony; they depended on others to improvise underneath the ruts of their tunes.Report

    • Patrick in reply to zic says:

      That’s a good coupling for your example, Joni Mitchell and Sting. I agree with your assessment.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

      Baroque music featured lots of jamming. Musicians have always jammed among themselves, usually far from the public eye. I hate the term Folk Music, but ordinary people have been buying musical instruments and learning to play without the benefit of formal instruction. In a sense, Django Reinhardt was the quintessential jazz musician: he comes out of the Romany tradition which had inspired many classical composers. He doesn’t come out of the black tradition. He just fit into jazz.

      Robert Fripp once said music is a language. Speech is just a restrained form of what’s possible in music. But the difference between Sting’s well-polished ruts and Billy Strayhorn’s solos against Ellington’s piano is the difference between a sixth-grade play and a fascinating conversation between two wise and funny old men.Report

      • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

        But the difference between Sting’s well-polished ruts and Billy Strayhorn’s solos against Ellington’s piano is the difference between a sixth-grade play and a fascinating conversation between two wise and funny old men.


        To me, jazz is the conversation.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Zic, the worst thing about jazz? Jazz fans. They’re like a little kid with a kitten, gonna smother it with affection. Ever notice how people who couldn’t find Middle C on a piano are the most-ready to opine on the fundamentals of jazz, or any sort of music?

        I’ve said those white kids who went up to Harlem were heroes, and they were. But I swear, the white kids who took over jazz in subsequent years tried to embalm it, prop it up in the corner like some voodoo Baron Samedi fetish corpse. Happens about every twenty years, by my reckoning. Won’t dance to it, of course. Can’t play it. But Lord do they have some Opinions on the subject. Any sort of pitiful noodling with a diminished chord in it can now be called Jazz.

        Jazz will survive without them. In odd corners of the landscape, after the show is over, a few guys will start taking their instruments out of battered old cases, playing a few arpeggios and someone will play a D chord, followed by an E minor — and these guys will know it’s Miles Davis’ So What. That’s where jazz will go on happening, as it always has. May not always have been called jazz. But when I was a little kid in Dungas, Niger, the sun would go down and the first drums would start to play and others would join in. And a thrill would go down my spine, still does, just to remember those moments.Report

      • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

        But when I was a little kid in Dungas, Niger, the sun would go down and the first drums would start to play and others would join in. And a thrill would go down my spine, still does, just to remember those moments.

        I envy you this. Seriously.

        On jazz fans, I have some cognitive dissonance. To me, jazz is a live performance thing; recording it is nice, brings it to a larger audience, but the real art is in the moment, as the music’s being played. When I listen to old jazz albums, I can hear that many of the tunes are not from the top, but from the middle, after they found the groove, the conversation; go back to the head, and talk on it some more. Some contain straight snip-edits of massive parts of the conversation that failed, rather like our current political discourse. The risk taking and failures that happen in live performance are as important as the successes, it’s all part of the show. With a recording, ego and repeated listening beg for that stuff to be cleaned up, and I’m not sure how cognizant of this much of the jazz audience actually is.

        More important, most of the jazz audience is a recording audience. Unless there’s big, famous names involved, there’s not a whole lot of going out to hear jazz. Jazz musicians mostly make their money playing wedding bands, rock gigs, studio sessions on non-jazz recordings, or teaching. For the most part, fans buy and listen to recorded music; but they’re not out there at the local joint supporting the local jazz talent; they’re supporting how that jazz talent lifts other musical genre.Report

      • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “Billy Strayhorn’s solos against Ellington’s piano”

        ? I’m aware of stuff where they duetted or played four hands….Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Ever seen a Strayhorn arrangement? Strayhorn wrote it, Duke played it.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        @zic : you see musicians from a unique perspective. You love one. You married him. You get to see the guy for who he really is. In some ways, you see it from a truer perspective that even he does. I’ll bet he’s good to you, too.

        Wrong notes are just a half-step away from a right note. Miles Davis said that.

        At turns, having engineered a few things, at the end of an album, it’s rather like looking at a tombstone. It’s locked in vinyl, or on a CD, or on a FLAC file, like an insect in amber. You can cut it up, turn it into samples if you like, but it’s done. Auden on Yeats:

        Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
        And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
        To find his happiness in another kind of wood
        And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
        The words of a dead man
        Are modified in the guts of the living.

        To find his happiness in another kind of wood and to punished under a foreign code of conscience. The other kind of wood is paper. But for musicians, it’s recordings.

        Laying down the first track of anything is tough. I was taught to use a click track and rejected it. Drummers hated it. Instead, I used a pulsing diode, a winking light. wired up from a metronome, let the drummer set it but don’t let it make a noise.

        Once I had a snare-and-bass track, I recorded the second track, everyone playing the piece, ensemble. That’s what went into the headphones for everyone else, recording their individual tracks. Pull out the ensemble track, mix down the rest. That formed the basis of all the overdubs, painting in damned near everything.

        But once I had all the solo tracks working, I’d go back and do another set of ensemble tracks, this time working as if I was recording everyone live, everyone in headphones, straight into the board, with vocals. These were the keeper tracks. They were human. All the previous tracks were mechanical framework, like writing the notes on the page.

        Don’t trifle with musicians. It’s tough enough being in a studio, trying to capture lightning in a bottle. If it were possible to capture decent fidelity in a live setting, a studio wouldn’t be necessary. But it is necessary: a microphone, like the camera’s eye, is fickle. But for crissakes, it’s got to be an authentic performance. For me, all that prep work, from strobe to final doubling tracks, everything led up to those keeper tracks, the band looking at each other, sure they were all listening to the prep tracks, but they were listening to each other.

        That’s recorded music, or at least my idea of it.

        It’s always better live. Just pull up the piano stool to the keyboard, settle down, start the vamp, give out an A440, let the violin and guitar tune up, life’s better when it’s simpler. My favourite noise, to this day, is an orchestra warming up, that hopeful rush and roar of tone — and the conductor walks out onto the stage. That’s living.Report

      • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:


        This is my idea, at least of <a href=""studio music. All first or second take, hand out the lead sheets and play. No rehearsals, no layered tracking, no overdubbing.

        It helps that these are damned fine musicians, of course, and you need a studio where you can isolate the instruments but still see each other. Important that each player have headphones with some control of the mix in the phones.

        I sat and knit through some, but not all, of the sessions. And I lived through the editing, mixing, and mastering, too; all done in our home.

        I suspect you might enjoy it. And a decade later, I’m always surprised to discover how much his piano playing has grown since these recordings were made. You keep doing it, you keep getting better. His approach is simpler, more melodic, but also more rhythmic, and much more open.

        What you’re describing is an elaborate ruse. I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m convinced so many of the classic studio recordings start mid-take; they warmed up to it first, played the head again, and put the second head on as the opening of the tune on a record. Often, there’s simply too much energy there to explain it otherwise.Report

      • zic in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Yes, live in a room with a real-live responsive audience is probably the closet to ‘real jazz’ one gets. But damned, is it hard to get and get right.

        Recording the drums live like that is a nightmare. Normally, I’d prefer acoustic base and piano; but for a live recording, that’s even trickier, because you cannot keep the drums out of the piano or base tracks

        You need someone who knows how to mic those instruments (particularly a big trap set like that) for as much isolation as possible, and who also knows to mic the whole space. I’ve witnessed a lot of live shoes recorded, and nearly always been really sad by the results; particularly compared to the live show. (And no, it’s not rose colored glasses, I’ve got good ears.)

        Honestly, I almost prefer the simpler set-up of two room mics; particularly if the piano’s not getting swamped by a horn in the same range. Really makes you appreciate some of the old live tracks people put down; also the playing styles of the pre-amplification era.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Everyone has his own way of dealing with the Snare Drum Problem. Inevitably, I get the drummer involved directly, and early.

        Piano is an even fussier problem, I’ve seen two mic solutions. I’ve seen wooden room solutions. I’ve never seen a really good solution beyond hauling in a gigantic old Boesendorfer piano and Ken Scott’s ear to capture it. I go back to those old Bowie albums, Ziggy Stardust and Elton John’s stuff, not that I’m all that passionate about them. But the engineering was competent and the results were — profitable.

        My personal solution was a Yamaha S6 in samples.Report

      • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Cool Holdsworth video. Glad I click on the link.
        Before Eric Johnson, there was Allan Holdsworth.Report

    • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to zic says:

      Mitchell cut a decent album of jazz standards that’s actually pretty good. Can she solo like Dianne Reeves? No, but she’s at least as good as — probably better than — most day-to-day working jazz musicians, and though I doubt she could make a great name for herself as a jazz chanteuse she would do OK as the jazz singer at a nice restaurant or something.

      God help me for defending Sting, but I saw the Police’s first tour and they played stuff off of “Bright Size Life.” He did OK.Report

    • Kieselguhr Kid in reply to zic says:

      I think your “other” sense of jazz isn’t much common at all — I don’t think anyone would say Led Zep or Phish or the Dead play jazz but thier own diehard fans. You seem to be reducing it to “improvisational music.” But there’s a great history of that — Thayer’s life of Beethoven, for example, talks about the rage for playing variations among musicians in the eighteenth century.

      If you had to expand that I’d say, all jazz is properly fusion: you ain’t shit as a player, today, if you don’t know your way around the blues, and a bunch of Latin clave rhythyms, and the difference between North and South Indian ragas, and a handful of maqams, and…. And there’s a linkage to traition: jazz musicians quote cliches and ideas and build on them. There’s intense team playing, “call-and-response” style. And I think everyone wants to do something _new_, something unheard or in a new toality — not so much _atonal_ as _differently_ tonal: when you pull that off all your fellows applaud.

      But I agree it is ill-defined and nebulous, and the jazz pushback against Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch (ignoring for the moment Crouch’s racist column on Dave Douglas, where he concealed his own financial interests) was about maintaining that.Report

      • zic in reply to Kieselguhr Kid says:

        Well, that’s okay. My husband would, and he’s a working jazz musician (and teacher at Berklee).

        But I get that most people wouldn’t; they’re bound by the components of genre and not the process.

        You comment up thread about your girlfriend hearing Jones was stupendous; those are the moments after a gig my husband relishes. Not the name dropping, but the moments that reveal someone actually listened.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Kieselguhr Kid says:

        I see the basis for both arguments (all jazz is fusion; Zep, Dead, etc. are jazz), and I think both are a bit of a stretch.
        Both have an assumption of a purity which never existed other than in theory as a defining metric.
        While absolute zero may be a useful theoretical construct for defining points of measurement, pure jazz is much more subjective.

        Those bands are essentially blues band. To the extent that blues is a sub-genre of jazz, then yes, definitely jazz. But I question the utility of such argument.

        Every whistled tune sticks somewhere in the psyche. When a fellow steps up to play, he’s bringing all prior experiences with him, and any one of them could show at any given time.
        Which is to say, all music is fusion by this metric of “fusion,” as much as the molecules that make up the food that I eat may very well be the same molecules from some pig sh!t in the Middle Ages.
        Recycle? Everything’s already recycled. Can’t stop it from happening.Report

  5. Glyph says:

    OK, so it took me longer to get through these than I’d hoped. And I still haven’t worked my way through the music posted in the comments. So that’s next. Hopefully I can get through them before comments close.

    RE: the OP pic (the Savoy Ballroom) – do you have any info on that? The reason I ask is that (and I could be wrong) the besuited “man” on the left appears to me to be a woman in “drag” (it could be a small man, or a boy I suppose, but the small feet and hands and face appear feminine to me). Just wondering if you knew what the story was, if it was just a stage show/performance thing, or if the environs were more open-minded than you’d think w/r/t gender roles?

    Most of the stuff prior to Savoy/1926, (the early ragtime primarily-just-piano stuff) I enjoyed OK, as background music, but I don’t know how much of it I’d want to sit and listen to. Maybe it would grow on me, but I can see having the same sort of issues with it that some people have with ska. Overall too same-y, and too oppressively happy. Once we get up to the Savoy and Ella and such my ears definitely perk up more. Just more variety in tempo, tone, and mood (and, a little more negative space in the music – that ragtime piano seems to want to fill every possible note).

    (here appearing with Charlie Parker) Not to mention BUDDY MUTHAFISHIN’ RICH. You can’t leave that info out. Drummers still talk about that guy. I wasn’t watching the video, just listening, and when he soloed, I immediately clicked over because if it WASN’T him, I wanted to know who it was.

    Bix Beiderbecke is a great name. And that’s a neat piece.

    Hampton – vibraphone is awesome. That is all.

    That Charlie Christian sure can play a guitar.

    I can’t say I really cared for that first Raymond Scott composition (“Powerhouse”) on its own, though it works much better with the cartoons – also, Rush stole the best part of it (there’s a bit they play in “La Villa Strangiato”). But the second electronic piece is pretty good.

    The closeups on Dizzy’s face are fun – it’s not just his rubbery cheeks that distend wildly, it’s also areas of his neck (under the ears). Strange.

    Sorry, I have nothing more intelligent to say, and I gotta get to bed. Thanks again.Report

    • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

      A lot of the critiques of early jazz basically mirrored yours: it was repetitive and formally restrictive. It’s interesting musically and sociologically that it went from that to, well, where it went.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        The weird thing is, “repetitive and formally restrictive” can also describe some of my favorite music.

        It’s a conundrum.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

        It is somewhat restrictive, viewed from where we sit today. Predictably jazz rebelled against it. We don’t know much about how the juke joint really sounded: all we have are the recordings. I strongly suspect is was considerably more unbuttoned than the old 78s we still have.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

      The male dancer is Al Minns of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, dancing in Kat’s Korner, where demonstration dancing was conducted. Your gaydar is fine working order. The Savoy had a rum cast of charactersReport

    • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

      As I said, this is just where jazz started. It evolved quickly, branching here and there, pruning off big chunks of itself. Without these people, something else would have happened, somewhere else. None of it is written in stone and nobody should take it terribly seriously. The serious part was how jazz represented a tectonic shift in American thinking. Black people had been making interesting music for decades, doing pretty well in ragtime. Scott Joplin took bits and pieces from everywhere, recycling a good deal of Gottschalk, a true innovator and pioneer of world music.Report