Serious about pop

Who presents and supports the articulation of ambitious thinking about American vernacular music? The Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (Seattle’s answer to NYC’s American Museum of Natural History?) holds its seventh annual Pop Conference April 10 – 13, with dozens of scholars, journalists and musicians giving 20-minute run-throughs of their specialities on panels regarding the overall theme “Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict and Change.”  I’m among the presenters, offering “Jazz Beyond Jazz: Breakthroughs and Coalitions” in a discussion moderated by Nate Chinen, music reviewer for the New York Times, columnist for Jazz Times. The panel is unfortunately (in my view) titled “Freedom Then.” What about now?

My fellow panelists include Barry Long (topic: “We Insist!’ Popular Music, the Civil Rights Movement, and King’s ‘Urgency of Now'”), Mike McGonigal (“Freedom Highway”) and Ross Lipman (“Mingus, Cassavetes, and the Politics of Improv”), who I know only by their posted bios and abstracts, I don’t know their views, but personally hope to show and tell how initiatives of the recent past continue to license and inspire artists and audiences today. 

For instance, the Miles From India project, recently announced for two cd release and live performance (at Town Hall) by producer Bob Belden, as well as Ornette Coleman‘s investigations of the tonality-timbre-tempo continuum with upright and electric bassists and up-to-the-next-second drumming last weekend (at Town Hall), no less than Cecil Taylor having really started something that’s inspired the widest perspective, deepest musicality and highest standards of improvising instrumentalists worldwide are evidence that freedom is another word for music that truly moves, instead of hewing to imposed expectations and limits. Isn’t our current social moment rife with debates about change, that’s gotta come?

 My talk will focus in small part on how Miles knit together music and audiences across genres (like at the Isle of Wight), Ornette takes music outside categories (not least of all with his Skies of America concerto grosso) and Cecil embraces influences from stride style to Messaien’s Turangalila symphony, from bridgebuilder Santiago Calatrava’s architecture to ancient Egyptian runes in his modernist edifice. Not just freedom, but genuinely productive creativity — necessary at the moment! Not just in music but in all US policies and endeavors of genuine significance! Across the boards! Next week, too! And beyond the election!

I’m eager to see colleagues such as Larry Blumenfeld, Robert Christgau, Banning Eyre, Richard Gehr, Holly George-Warren,  Allan Lowe, David Ritz, Ned Sublette, Greg Tate and Paul de Barros, besides hearing out a lot of new, interesting-seeming people. And we should note, that as a rare instance of the contemporary, even commercial, American vernacular being taken seriously by anybody beyond some crit-biz types, the conference is sponsored by

“the Seattle Partnership for American Popular Music (Experience Music Project, the University of Washington School of Music and KEXP 90.3 FM), through a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. For the second year, free admission to the Pop Conference is made possible by Rhapsody. Opening night reception sponsored by Zune.” 

Allen of course is one of the co-founders of Microsoft, the man behind EMP/SFM and also Seattle’s new baseball stadiium. Rhapsody and Microsoft’s own Zune both have laid stakes in the evolving online dissemination of music, so some conference discourse may actually matter to them, which is not so obviously the case among general circulation publications, if the recent arts critics’ firings and buyouts at New York Newsday, the Village Voice and Newsweek are any indication.

PS: Get well Roger Ebert! As a copyclerk at the late, lamented Chicago Daily News I was always pleased to read his plainspoken, genre-loving movie writeups in the Sun Times, and see him in the halls of the shared ST/CDN Chicago River building, now destroyed to make way for Donald Trump’s invasive tower. I also dug his script for Russ MeyersBeyond the Valley of the Dolls. After cancer treatments Ebert has returned to writing but hasn’t got the voice for his popular Ebert-Roeper show. Two thumbs up, folks! for Ebert, a critic who’s embraced class and crass alike for the
ir genuine pleasures.
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  1. Michael J. West says

    Any chance the panel will be recorded and accessible online, like the Coleman interview in Portland turned out to be?
    HM: No chance I’m aware of, Mike — the Coleman interview was recorded by KMHD, but I don’t think the panels were. I *will* ask Bill Royston, though.

  2. Ries says

    Just a quick correction- Paul Allen had nothing to do with Seattle’s new (1998) baseball stadium.
    He did strongarm the state into paying for a new football stadium for his football team, however.

  3. says

    Somewhere or another around here, I have a picture of you in the corner of a staff photo that appeared in the Farewell Chicago, final edition of the Chicago Daily News.
    Enjoy the conference. It has always seemed interesting.