30 December 2008

List: Starting A Jazz Library

When I started working on my undergraduate thesis in college, I began building my library of jazz reading. As a service to any budding jazz scholars, below are the essential readings any serious jazz scholar should take a look at. This list is by no means exhaustive; think of it more as a starting-off point than a definitive list.

Interviews, Oral Histories, and Primary Sources
  1. Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin, Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations With Twenty-Two Musicians
  2. Robert Gottlieb, Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now
  3. Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro, Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It
  4. Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking Of Their Lives And Music
  5. Ben Sidran, Talking Jazz
  6. Art Taylor, Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews
  7. Robert Walser, Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History
  1. James Lincoln Collier: Louis Armstrong: An American Genius
  2. John Edward Hasse, Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington
  3. Ben Ratliff, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound
  4. A.B. Spellman, Four Lives in the Bebop Business
  5. John Szwed, So What: The Life of Miles Davis
  1. Count Basie, Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie
  2. Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle: An Autobiography
  3. Miles Davis, Miles
  4. Duke Ellington, Music Is My Mistress
  5. Dizzy Gillespie, To Be or Not to Bop: Memoirs of Dizzy Gillespie
  6. Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus
  7. Horace Silver, Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver
Surveys of Jazz History
  1. James Lincoln Collier, Jazz: The American Theme Song
  2. Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz
  3. Burton Peretti, Jazz in American Culture
  4. Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945
Book-Length Studies
  1. Iain Anderson, This Is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture
  2. Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History
  3. John Gennari, Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics
  4. Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960
  5. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America
  6. Frank Kofsky, John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960's
  7. George Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
  8. Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton
  9. Eric Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists
  10. David Rosenthal, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965
  11. Scott Saul, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties
  12. Gabriel Solis, Monk's Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making
  13. Penny Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War
Edited Critical Collections
  1. Whitney Balliet, Collected Works : A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000
  2. Amiri Baraka, Black Music
  3. Stanley Crouch, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz
  4. Ralph Ellison, Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings
  5. Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz: The First Century
  6. Nat Hentoff, The Jazz Life
  7. Howard Mandel, Future Jazz
  8. Martin Williams, The Jazz Tradition
Miscellaneous Edited Collections
  1. Krin Gabbard, Jazz Among the Discourses
  2. Robert O'Meally, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture
  3. Robert O'Meally, Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

29 December 2008

Freddie Hubbard

Sad, sad news today, as the great Freddie Hubbard has passed on, due to complications stemming from his November heart attack. One of the few true legends of jazz still around, Hubbard left his mark on hard bop, free jazz, and the avant-garde, playing on such classic albums as Maiden Voyage, Free Jazz, and Ascension, and many of his own outstanding albums. He will be missed.

Hubbard was an early favorite of mine, as I listened to him often in my trumpet-playing days, trying to learn style from one of the trumpet masters. To me, there were few trumpet solos as great as his blistering take on "One Finger Snap" off of Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles. Rest in peace, Freddie.

28 December 2008

Some Good Albums From 2008

Since I am not a professional reviewer, and since I have not listened to nearly as much new music as I would have liked to, I will not be making a year-end "Best Of" list. Instead, here are a few recordings from 2008 that I liked. The list may not be exhaustive, but there are plenty of places for those kinds of lists on the internet. If you're looking for a year-end list with more depth, go here, here, here, or here. In the meantime, my three favorites of 2008, in no particular order...
  1. Charles Lloyd, Rabo de Nube
  2. Medeski Martin & Wood, Radiolarians 1
  3. Pat Metheny, Tokyo Day Trip
Also, here are five albums I missed in 2008 (because I am a busy man), but still want to check out:
  1. Kenny Garrett, Sketches of MD: Live at The Iridium
  2. Brad Meldau, Brad Mehldau Trio: Live
  3. Eric Dolphy, At The Five Spot, Vol. 1 (Re-release)
  4. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On
  5. James Carter, Present Tense
And a fond farewell to Johnny Griffin, Arthur C. Clarke, Bo Diddley, Albert Hofmann, Paul Newman, Studs Terkel, Mitch Mitchell, and anyone else I may have forgotten...

Happy New Year.

24 December 2008

Holiday Break

I'm off to Florida for the holiday, so no blogging until Monday. In the meantime, enjoy some links, and a stray YouTube or two...
  • Jazz.com has an interview up with Dave Holland. Also check out their "Dozens" list of 12 Jazz Perspectives on The Beatles.
  • This is from a few weeks ago, but read the program notes from the recent Secret Society gig at the Jazz Gallery, written by fearless leader Darcy James Argue. Messr. Argue writes earnestly about his and the Society's devotion to "this staggeringly inefficient method of music-creation." You can also read his All About Jazz interview here.
  • Mark Myers remembers Thelonious Alone in San Francisco on JazzWax.
  • I wish I had known about this 1964 Playboy jazz symposium featuring Cannonball Adderley, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Ralph J. Gleason, Stan Kenton, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, George Russell and Gunther Schuller when I was working on my MA thesis. It has some great discussions on the economics of jazz, race, cultural ownership, and the avant-garde.
  • From The Gear Page, a tongue-in-cheek story about federal bailout funds for jazz musicians (h/t: International Review of Music).
  • Though I already covered the subject in my Marsalis/Reagan post, just in case you skipped it, you really need to sit down with DTM's extensive posts on Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz Wars. Start here, and enjoy. Also, big thanks to Ethan Iverson for linking my Marsalis piece, it is very nice to be noticed.
That's it. Enjoy the long weekend. Someone recently turned me on to Miroslav Vitous' Journey's End. The album is up and down a little, but "Carry On, No. 1" is by far the best improvised minimalist tune I have ever heard. With that in mind, I'll leave you with Miroslav Vitous and Stanley Clarke playing "Freedom Jazz Dance."

23 December 2008


The Jazz Session
with Jason Crane
A few weeks ago, while wandering around the iTunes store, I stumbled upon The Jazz Session, a weekly jazz interview show available exclusively via podcast. Upon looking at the show's past guests, which include Sonny Rollins, Kenny Garrett, and Eddie Daniels, I decided to give the podcast a listen. I was not disappointed. The show is hosted by Jason Crane, a radio veteran and jazz enthusiast who has contributed pieces to All About Jazz. He is also a musician himself, which gives him an added advantage in talking to musicians about their craft.

Crane is quite adept at interrogating the craft of jazz through his interviews. Interviewing jazz musicians is an interesting challenge. Most musicians are quite thoughtful and channel a lot of intellectual energy into their art, but if the interviewer does not ask the right questions, or does not ask to clarify at the right moment, the conversation runs the risk of going over the head of the interviewer's audience. Crane does not suffer from this problem. He asks probing questions that require his subjects to consider the underlying principles of their music, and gets his interview subjects to clarify their answers so that the layperson can understand them.

Whereas most interviewers keep things simple for their audience (What do you think about sideman X? How did you like playing with Y?), Crane moves beyond the standard interview questions. For instance, in an interview with Jason Moran (episode 18), Crane asks Moran about how he structures a set with his band. This does not seem like an obvious question to ask, but it enables Moran to begin discussing his mentor, Jaki Byard, and how his teaching influenced Moran's playing. Perhaps Crane did not have that in mind when he asked the question, but a good interviewer knows which questions get the subject to open up an interesting discussion, so I am giving Crane credit for that here.

Most of Crane's interviews fall under the thirty-minute mark. Sometimes this leaves an interview feeling incomplete, but considering the format, that is a forgivable sin. Podcasts work best (for me at least) when they are somewhere around thirty minutes long. That way they are long enough to cover a lot of ground, but not so long that I need more than one sitting to complete an episode. I highly recommend the podcast for connoisseurs and nascent jazz fans alike. You can subscribe via the iTunes store or the show's RSS feed.

21 December 2008

Wynton Marsalis is the Ronald Reagan of Jazz - Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

On Monday morning I awoke to find a wonderful surprise on my RSS reader: a panoply of new posts on Do The Math examining the Young Lions of the 1980s and the jazz wars of that decade, as well as an extensive interview (and blindfold test!) with Wynton Marsalis. What a great early holiday gift from Ethan Iverson. Do yourself a favor and skim through some of the goods. Some of the material delves into historical and musical minutiae that only a specialist can really understand, but there are plenty of tidbits that will entertain even casual jazz fans.

The material as a whole brought to my mind a thought I had explored somewhat deeply during my time in graduate school. During that time, when I was mentally plotting out possible dissertation topics, I explored the idea of writing a cultural history of jazz that effectively contextualized the music in American thought and culture. Basically, I thought I would rewrite Jazz in American Culture my way. One chapter idea for the dissertation which received much contemplation was a study of Wynton Marsalis' rise to prominence during the 1980s. The idea in my mind was to connect the forces surrounding the rise of Marsalis to those surrounding the rise of Ronald Reagan.

Calling Wynton Marsalis the Ronald Reagan of jazz is not a new idea. Indeed, invoking Reagan in the pejorative sense had become somewhat of a favored mode of attack in the jazz wars. Shortly after the Ken Burns Jazz documentary aired in 2001, this screed made the rounds on the internet, in which saxophonist Mike Zilber issued a number of pronouncements against Marsalis (who was a major consultant to and presence in the documentary), Burns, and the documentary itself. The charges themselves are mostly not worth repeating, since you can read the entire piece on this page and anyone familiar with the controversy around the document is well aware of the points made in Zilber's critique.

But my idea was to examine the connection between Reagan and Marsalis in a non-pejorative, inquisitive manner. Indeed, Reagan's name carries with it an almost inconceivable amount of baggage, as this year's election cycle showed us time and again. However, if you look past the mythology built around Reagan and examine the personal feelings behind his ideology and how he resonated with a large coalition of voters in 1980, I think you will find more than a few interesting similarities between he and Marsalis that help explain Marsalis' own rise to prominence as well as the "renaissance" of jazz he helped lead in the 1980s.

The lazy critique of Marsalis posits that he does not like a lot of jazz made during the 1960s and 1970s. His detractors point out that Marsalis has never paid tribute to Marion Brown or Keith Jarrett at Jazz at Lincoln Center the way he has to Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker. This, they argue, shows his hand. As Mike Zilber put it,
Marsalis is now the Ronald Reagan of jazz and, like Reagan, has no memory of those nasty 60s and 70s, preferring to bask in the halcyon days of Roseland, Satchmo and wax recordings.
Though Zilber and others have overstated this fact, it is still important to note that Marsalis feels and is not afraid to argue that much of the music produced and marketed as "jazz" during the 1960s and 1970s is not jazz. More specifically, Marsalis has argued many times that two strains of American jazz - the experimental avant-garde and jazz-rock fusion - should not be considered jazz (he would call both styles "improvised music" instead). This, not surprisingly, rubs many musicians, critics, and fans the wrong way.*

Marsalis has made two arguments for these exclusions. The first, which Wynton expresses in his DTM interview, and which his intellectual godfather Stanley Crouch has repeated elsewhere, is that by succumbing to inclusion ad infinitum, the word jazz loses its meaning. Instead, Marsalis argues, one must draw the line somewhere. For Marsalis, swing is one of the essential traits of jazz (the blues aesthetic is another), so any evaluation of what is or is not jazz begins by determining whether the music in question swings (though it should be noted that Marsalis' tastes seem to have broadened over the past 15 years).** As Iverson argues in his DTM posts, Marsalis and his contemporaries fetishize swing to an astonishing degree. Avant-garde jazz and fusion do many things, but they do not swing the way Marsalis and his peers swing. So it is not surprising why Marsalis would argue for the exclusion of those styles from The Jazz Tradition.

The second reason speaks both to cultural politics and musical analysis. In Monk's Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making (Roth Family Foundation Music in America Imprint), Gabriel Solis explains Marsalis' has description of the 1960s and 1970s as a time when some jazz musicians lost their way. The historical trajectory of jazz was altered when a number of musicians followed the trails of either the avant-garde or fusion. Both styles were not jazz. Fusion was no better than rock music. As Wynton put it "If you were there it was a great way to meet women and have a good time... but it's a death toll for jazz musicians." And the avant garde was also decidedly non-jazz. It was merely "a reaction to the European avant-garde," which sacrificed The Jazz Tradition for the sake of innovation. Because so many musicians fell under the spell of fusion or the avant-garde, jazz ceased to exist as an artistic musical expression that also captured the ears of a substantial audience, according to Marsalis.

Marsalis sought to return jazz to this cultural moment at which jazz could be both accessible and elevated to high art status. He and the Young Lions brought a renewal to jazz following these musical upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. The excesses of the avant-garde and the crass comercialism of fusion were to be cast aside for jazz that built upon a tradition that was artistic but did not innovate for the sake of innovation. It can easily be described Morning in Jazz if you wanted to make reference to Reagan.

Marsalis was successful. He became enough of a cultural zeitgeist to appear on the cover of Time and secure his appointment as Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he institutionalized his program of jazz renewal. But not only that, he created great jazz that itself should be included in The Jazz Tradition. On DTM, Iverson restates the case for Marsalis Standard Time ~ Vol.1, J Mood, The Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live At Blues Alley, and Black Codes (From the Underground), and I heartily second. He may have touched off the Jazz Wars in the process, but he would argue that he also helped blaze the path for creating The Jazz Tradition.

This story of renewal following two decades in the wilderness is oddly reminiscent of the narrative employed by Ronald Reagan in 1980, just around the same time Marsalis began his apprenticeship with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Reagan saw the politics of the 1960s and 1970s much in the same way Marsalis saw the jazz of those eras. The major thenes of Reagan's 1980 Presidential campaign included critiques of the boated welfare state of the 1960s, the loss of momentum in the Cold War at the hand of detente during the 1970s, and the permissive youth culture of both decades. As Marsalis perceived his music as a renewal of jazz, Reagan presented his platform as a vehicle of American renewal (whether he achieved it or not is a whole other story).

Like Reagan, Marsalis consolidated his ideas into a movement, creating a template for his own school to follow and for his detractors to criticize. Both men placed themselves in important historic moments, at which point they were to lead the public on a historical trajectory. Both are at the center of debate in their respective fields almost thirty years afterward, in the 2008 Republican Presidential primaries in Reagan's case, and in the postmortem of the Jazz Wars in the case of Marsalis. So aside from being a superficially biting critique of Marsalis, the comparison to Reagan also reveals much about the way Marsalis may perceive of himself in jazz history.


Big h/t and a heartfelt thanks for being who they are to: The Bad Plus (DTM)

For more on Marsalis, see Eric Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists, pp. 287-334 and Gabriel Solis, Monk's Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making, pp. 150-151.

*There is an undeniable amount of resentment inherent in these critiques of Marsalis. As Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, he is in a particularly powerful position as the preeminent tastemaker of American jazz. Certainly, most of his critics would enjoy that kind of critical power.
Marsalis postulates this theory, which he calls the "purist ethic in jazz," in a 1988 op-ed piece for the New York Times, "What is Jazz - And Isn't." Iverson summed up a major critique of this position brilliantly in his DTM post, writing that to his detractors, Marsalis appeared to have "a unified disdain for jazz music that wasn’t swinging, virtuosic, and informed only by the great black jazz musicians comfortable with chord changes."