The jazz of victory and celebration

It’s odd that of all the nuances of expression jazz can convey, the thrill of victory and celebration of success is hard to find among the music’s classics. Barack Obama’s heartening win of the presidency prompts me to search out joyous music, but I can’t think of a movement akin to the bells ringing in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in the repertoire of Miles, Ornette, Cecil or Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Bird and Diz, or Ellington, Basie and Goodman. The crowning last chorus of Armstrong’s “Tight LIke This” comes to mind, though the satisfaction bespoke in the trumpeter’s final ringing notes seems to reflect gratification that’s more personal than socio-political. Where’s jazz’s happy party music?

Maybe it’s the legacy of the blues that mutes the music’s sense of triumph. There are a lot of good-time and fun sounds in jazz — think irrepressible Fats Waller, upbeat Wes Montgomery, exuberant Sonny Rollins — but there is very little that smacks of the self-congratulatory feelings that winners can justifiably indulge after coming out on top of prolonged and difficult campaigns. Jazz seems to temper its joy with the thought that the struggle continues and it’s folly to forget that for even a moment.

I’m not suggesting the music is uptight — I think jazz music is the best (and the jazz subset funk is a close second) at getting loose and staying that way ’til all participants are moved to get even looser. But for a soundtrack to what I experienced after Barack Obama’s world-changing victory last night, in a cab dodging revelers just plain thrilled with the outcome throughout the streets of Brooklyn, there’s not much that stands as apropos. 
Well, here’s one thought: for sheer giddiness and the outright glorification of excellent collective accomplishment, give a listen to the 2 minutes 41 seconds of Duke Ellington’s “Braggin’ In Brass.”
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  1. says

    You’re kidding, right? I mean, just about anything by the Sun Ra Arkestra will do quite nicely, whether that’s the triumphant grand parade “We Travel The Spaceways” or hot hits like their update of Horace Henderson’s “Happy as the Day is Long”
    HM: Good call, Mr. G — I am asking for further nominations of jazz and jazz beyond jazz for upcoming inaugural festivities. Anyone else have ideas?

  2. Michael J. West says

    Howard, at this point it’s surely a cliche, but when I was looking for a slice of pure, sustained musical joy, the first answer that came to mind was “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” Newport ’56.
    My second idea though, is much better: the double-time horn riff from Mingus’ “Better Git It In Yo Soul.” Replace “1812’s” church bells with the image of the handheld bell (like the Salvation Army Santa Clauses, or the old town criers, have) shaking wildly in the air, and it works rather nicely, don’tcha think?
    HM: Great Mike, “Better Get It” is excellent, and committed securlarist though I am, can’t slight the gospel tinge springing the handclap chorus’s uplifting communitarianism.
    “D & C in Blue”? — the individualism of Mr. Gonsalves, framed by Duke’s ace comping? Jazz *does* have a treasury of instances of soloists jumping for and with joy (one of my favorites is Rollins’ “Three Little Words” — though I’ve never before construed them as “Yes we can”). I was thinking that larger ensembles and/or blunter anthems (as in arena rock) are the hallmarks of victory dances – and reflect the multitudinous parties or forces contributing to a victory, rolling it forward. Thanks, I listened to “D &C again.”

  3. matt fee says

    i would recomend ornette coleman’s free. that oblique b section with haden might be questionable tho. didnt they play this song on that paul bley quintet record w/ ornette and cherry?
    a good name with some very joyous music.

  4. says

    Try Monk at Town Hall – band.
    HM: Right, Butch– the Hal Overton arrangements, without fuss yet fully embodying Monk’s spare, happy genius. I’m taking my NYU class in The Blues to hear Marcus Roberts perform Monk’s role with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra during a 3-concert run, Nov. 20 – 21. Think I’ll pull out that Monk at Town Hall cd for a quick spin right now. . .

  5. says

    How about any version, instrumental or vocal, of Harold Arlen’s Get Happy?
    I think you correct in assessing jazz’s dour moodiness. Perhaps it is due to it being saddled with the “serious music” mantel? The academic aspect of jazz has surely helped it suppress the guffaw into an ironic smirk.
    I know jazz musicians who have great senses of humor and joy abounds in them, except when they play. Can’t blame it on the blues, for that is a complete misunderstanding of what blues was, is, and can be — not just sad music, ya know.
    HM: Thanks Chris — I like Harold Arlen’s 1930 composition “Get Happy” — who doesn’t? — but always have considered it among the slew of Depression era songs that whistle in the face of despair (others: “Life is just a bowl of cherries,” “I can’t give you anything but love, baby,” “”I’ve got the world on a string,” which is also Arlen’s, “I got rhythm,” “All God’s Chillun got rhythm,” “On the sunny side of the street” — the list is long). These songs hold off dread by asserting positive mental attitudes, but they’re seldom able to assert the good having won over evil (exception proving the rule: “Happy Days Are Here Again”).
    Maybe it’s unseemly to express triumphalism, but off the top of my head I can’t even think of a post WWII song that celebrates winning. “We did it before and we can do it again” was written and recorded days after Pearl Harbor as a morale booster. I like Frank Loesser’s “Brotherhood of Man,” written in 1961, especially that it comes as the finale of his ultra-cynical musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” I can think of a multitude of songs that revel in personal pleasure, but hardly any that speak of peace and pleasure in an American social context (ok, “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land”).
    I readily concur that the blues isn’t just sad music, or even mostly sad music; it’s far more a statement of perserverance and faith in the individual’s ability to objectify and transcend sorrow/trouble — a method by which we can “get happy” or anyway happier.
    But I do think the blues has at its core a well-founded suspicion that trouble roams the world and that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. This may be a necessary corrective to the Western classical tradition’s focus since Gregorian chant on heaven rather than earth as the place from which joy issues, where it can be expected and thus ought to be praised (“Hallelujah Chorus,” “Ode To Joy,” etc or even my favorite asserting the cosmic “Yes,” Messiean’s multi-cultural and specifically eros worshipping Turangalîla-Symphonie).
    When it comes time to celebrate a victory for liberty, we need to keep the eternal vigilance part in mind, absolutely. But also how about an anthem, if only just one, that sings loud and clear, “Hurray, we did it!” with a round of applause for the best instincts of mankind and brief suspension of concern that what’s good can’t last?

  6. Sean Singer says

    When Obama won, I was elated. How about:
    David Murray Octet
    “Morning Song” from New Life (Black Saint, 1988)
    Dewey Redman
    “Boody” from Ear of the Behearer (ECM, 1973)
    William Parker Quartet
    “Corn Meal Dance” from Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity, 2007)
    Larry Young
    “Talking About J.C.” from Talkin’ About (Blue Note, 1964)

  7. says

    I can’t help but notice that no one has listed any recent recordings to help with this dilemma. While I try to avoid going there, any number of Pat Matheney’s 80s tunes would suffice, or think even newer, like Ben Allison, Avishai Cohen (bassist or trumpet), Matt Wilson, Andrew D’Angelo, or, well, the list is endless. Perhaps the dour moodiness of jazz is there, but I think it is largely a trait of an era, and we have moved into a larger realm of emotion as the music is slowly circling back to popular influences like rock, hip-hop, and r&b. I myself began playing “Cheney Pinata” by the Bad Plus when Obama won. Definitely worth a listen, if you haven’t!
    HM: The Bad Plus do project some triumphalism, I’m just never sure of the amount of irony involved. And please don’t misunderstand, I don’t think jazz is overwhelmingly dour, there’s a lot of personal happiness expressed in the music from all decades. It’s the sense of collective self-congratulation that I don’t think we have much of — and that’s usually ok, it’s a dangerously smug sort of sound, which I personally seldom feel any need for and indeed typically resist. Victory dances imply there are the vanquished, and one thing I most value about jazz and its derivations is sensitivity or generosity to those who aren’t on top of the world. But with the Obama win I wanted to hear some unequivocal and inclusionary celebration, a great cheer in which to bask. Research into your suggestions, Audrey, is imperative. Thanks for the note.

  8. Jerome Langguth says

    Would Albert Ayler’s “Infinite Spirit” work? It seems about right to me at the moment.
    HM: Wow, Ayler! — imagine him playing at Obama’s inaugural, wouldn’t that be right about the universality of hope and idealism, triumph *and* generosity of spirit. Great idea.