Jazz beyond Jazz: March 2009 Archives

Pianist Cecil Taylor -- who yesterday I might have described as "preeminent" rather than "predominant" -- read his erudite, sound-sensitive poetry in the first half of his sold-out 80th birthday concert at Merkin Hall, then performed solo sonatas for approximately 50 minutes. An infant in the audience occasionally cooing along with Taylor's precise diction made it difficult to catch every word (much less all the meaning) of his texts, filled as they were with the recondite references to biology, mathematics, Egyptian and Mayan civilization, yet some striking images and insightful thoughts emerged. 

Taylor's music at the piano, with the piano, was crystal clear. From a few measures of score he drew from a folder and propped within view but didn't further glance at, Taylor launched improvisations of impeccable and highly nuanced touch, complicated harmony and organic, balanced structures. His phrases often began as simple gestures or a few carefully selected notes, then stretched out with the evenness of breathing into full investigations and transformations of the nascent idea. And he has many, many ideas, demonstrating the infinite ways tones can be arranged, reflected, expressed to conjure beauty in spheres that transcend "mere" music to speak of movement, architecture, strength, delicacy, suppleness and nuance. As a listener I found myself (again!) suspended between awed appreciation of his art and floods of my own internal impresssions, including insights into my fleeting thought processes.
March 29, 2009 10:12 AM | | Comments (2)
Cecil Taylor is the world's predominant pianist by virtue of his technique, concept and imagination, and one of 20th-21st Century music's magisterial modernists. A figure through whose challenges I investigate the avant garde in Miles Ornette Cecil -- Jazz Beyond Jazz, he turned 80 on March 25 (or maybe on the 15th), and tonight, Saturday, March 28, "Cecil Taylor Speaks Volumes" -- and presumably performs solo --  at Merkin Concert Hall.

Taylor belongs to no school but his own yet has influenced and generated a legion of followers on piano and every other instrument, too. He identifies with the jazz tradition, many of whose most ardent adherents have regarded him since his 1950s debut insultingly, incredulously, quizzically, disdainfully, reluctantly, regretfully or not at all. But he does not limit himself, or his defininition of the jazz tradition: he draws from all music's history and partakes of the whole world's culture. 

He has earned significant critical acclaim --
"...Cecil Taylor wants you to feel what he feels, to move at his speed, to look where he looks, always inward. His music asks more than other music, but it gives more than it asks." - Whitney Balliett
-- and an international coterie of serious listeners, yet he has been ignored, feared or rejected by most people. Many pianists with more conventional approaches to their instrument, composition, improvisation and interpretation enjoy greater acceptance and financial reward.  

Jazz, at least, has tried to come to terms with Taylor, whereas America's contemporary classical music world, to which he has has just as much claim of status, has shown not a bit of interest. Taylor embraces atonality but bends it to grandly romantic purposes; he is a master of polyrhythms, counter-rhythms, implicit and suspended time, which he deploys in lengthy, complicated yet spontaneous structures; he is a bold theorist and seldom acquiescent, though frequently collaborative. There is simply no other musician like him, although he has a few peers -- with most of whom he's concertized and recorded.

It seems inadequate to merely wish Cecil Taylor "happy birthday." How should we celebrate? Here, from Ron Mann's 1981 documentary Imagine the Sound, is a fine clip of the Maestro. 

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March 27, 2009 9:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Wynton Marsalis has high regard for the music of Ornette Coleman -- as demonstrated by Jazz at Lincoln Center's just-released 2009-2010 concert schedule, which begins next September 26 with a single performance by Coleman's quartet featuring two bassists and his son Denardo on drums. 

This booking might seem like a point of departure for JALC, which has a reputation for being tradition- rather than innovation-minded, but it really isn't. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performed its members' original arrangements of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Coleman's music in January 2004. Here's Wynton soloing on Ornette's tune "Free" from an LCJO concert in Salt Lake City:
March 18, 2009 1:17 PM | | Comments (7)
Calling all jazz sponsors: that's the message producer George Wein released today (March 17) in search of corporate support for his proposed 55th anniversary Newport Jazz Festival.

So doing, Wein also announced the end of a 24-year association with JVC Corp., the electronics manufacturer that has been title sponsor of fests formerly staged by Wein's company Festival Productions in New York, Chicago, LA, Concord CA, Miami and Paris. If JVC has pulled out of sponsoring jazz fests -- and not just disassociating with Wein -- the effect will be widespread. No details on any of these events happening in 2009 have yet surfaced, although Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival 2009 website still bears a JVC sponsor logo.
March 17, 2009 4:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Fred Anderson, tenor saxophonist, is one of America's less-acknowledged Jazz Masters, a man of deep musicality who has had enormous influence on three generations of players and listeners drawn by his brawny, free-wheeling Chicago sound. He turns 80 on March 22, and a weeklong celebration at the Velvet Lounge, his music room on the near-South Side, starts tonight, March 15, with the AACM Great Black Music Ensemble. 
A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Anderson stayed home when the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith and even motivating AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams left for greener pastures. Anderson has always been unassuming to the point of self-deprecation: he didn't record under his own name the U.S. until The Missing Link in 1979. But long before then he was positively community-minded, able again and again to find places for himself and musicians he mentored to play and be heard, which has been neither easy nor financially lucrative.
March 15, 2009 6:11 PM | | Comments (0)
What gets New Yorkers to watch and/or contribute to PBS? Jazz, blues, r&b -- American vernacular music, of course.

I assume it's time for WLIW's spring fundraiser, for instance, because "New York Public Television" has scheduled for one evening (March 11) of prime time the smooth r&b couple Ashford and Simpson in performance at Feinstein's at Loews Regency; photogenic trumpeter Chris Botti  performing with John Mayer, Josh Groban, Steve Tyler and the Boston Pops, and the 1959 broadcast "The Sound of Miles Davis," featuring music from the trumpeter's classic album Kind of Blue, now 50 years old and satisfying as ever. 

This tv show, produced between the album's two recording sessions, has kerchief-wearing Davis leading John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb through "So What" (but not Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans, who also were key to the music's success). Shot in black and white with an air of intensity and reverence, the show also includes Davis' great friend and collaborator Gil Evans gently conducting a chamber orchestra. It has been available on various video collections for years, and of course can be viewed on YouTube, too.
March 11, 2009 10:36 AM | | Comments (4)
The National Endowment of the Arts' first program of the Obama "Recovery Act" focuses on the preservation of jobs in the arts. But it upholds an adage quoted by Billie Holiday in "God Bless the Child": "Them that's got shall get." Applicants must be organizations that have received NEA grants during the immediately prior four years (since 2006). The NEA's announcement is crystal clear:

[R]ecogniz[ing] that the nonprofit arts industry is an important sector of the economy the Arts Endowment has designed a plan to expedite distribution of critical funds for the national, regional, state, and local levels for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts. . . This program will be carried out through one-time grants to eligible nonprofit organizations. . . All applicants must be previous NEA award recipients from the past four years. . . 

This decision is understandable enough; the NEA may want to ensure that organizations it has supported already aren't going to fold, rendering its previous assistance irrelevant, and if it wants to put money to work quickly, organizations that have already been vetted in the grants-awarding process are surer bets than those organizations needing to be scrutinized from scratch. Nor do I carry any brief against the NEA's actions during the second term of President George W. Bush -- NEA Chairman Dana Gioia was one of the most successful leaders of the Endowment in its distinguished history, turning around Congressional hostility that somehow surfaced during the term of President George H.W. Bush, managing against inestimable odds to promote literacy, Shakespeare, arts journalism and, yes, jazz

But from the point of view of a mostly volunteer administrator of a non-profit arts organization that after 20 years of self-supporting activities is just now making its first bid for grant funding to the NEA (the Jazz Journalists Association, of which I'm president, is applying this month for $s to produce a major conference on jazz journalism early in 2010) it's disconcerting that as far as salaries for hard-pressed non-profits go, newcomers may not apply. Maybe the NEA's next initiative could encourage new groups and new arts jobs? Wouldn't that empower change? And disprove the second line of Billie's "God Bless the Child" couplet: "Them thats not shall lose"?

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March 4, 2009 1:03 PM | | Comments (1)
George Wein will celebrate the 55th anniversary of the historic Newport Jazz Festival and the 50th anniversary of his equally renown Newport Folk Festival by producing both a jazz fest and a folk fest in that Rhode Island resort town next August, according to a press release issued on March 3 by publicist Carolyn McClair -- but perhaps without his sponsor of 25 years and independent of the company he helped establish just two years ago.

Wein, age 83, a pianist and memoirist as well as impresario, has put on jazz and folk fests in Newport, and an array of other jazz fests across the U.S. and in Europe, with sponsorship of JVC U.S.A., a division of the audio and video gear manufacturer owned by Victor Company of Japan for 25 years (prior to that the fests had other corporate sponsors). But the press release makes no mention of JVC or of the Festival Network, LLC, the company that resulted from Wein's merger of his Festival Productions with Shoreline Media in 2007, now reported to be in deep financial distress.
March 3, 2009 9:04 PM | | Comments (1)
On Saturday, while making chopped liver for a dinner party and emptying a bookcase in need of repair, I listened to and commented on Facebook about 14 cds from the stacks of dozens of albums that have arrived since the first of the year seeking my review. I chose what I heard almost at random, pulling discs from the tops of piles, and rather than pre-selecting artists in whom I have established interests and prior knowledge, I mostly checked out people and groups I hadn't encountered before (I acknowledge a couple exceptions). I employed this standard for rating the cds, allowing no half-points into the process:

5 -- great, everybody ought to hear it
4 -- really, really good or peculiarly interesting, recommended to aficionados
3 -- good, not bad at all, good, maybe even very good (no half-points!)
2 -- ok, but maybe flawed, commonplace or I don't get it
1 -- stay away, waste of time, who cares but the artist's mom? 

Years ago when I was reviewing recordings regularly for such publications as Down Beat, The Chicago Daily News, Illinois Entertainer, the Village VoiceMusic & Sound Output, Audio and Jazziz, I would listen closely and many, many times while writing, trying to get far into the music so as to do justice to efforts artists had put enormous personal energy into. The comments that follow are based on much less attentiveness than that; my judgements were hasty and my notes are blunt. But from my experience working as a teenager in Chicago's Jazz Record Mart, hanging around various public radio stations over four decades and having informal listening sessions with friends and colleagues, this casual way of encountering new releases is more typical than concentration and immersion. So for what it's worth, I'm posting what I wrote for my Facebook "friends" for my blog readers to see, too. Take what follows as reactions and responses, rather than reviews. 
March 1, 2009 1:07 PM | | Comments (6)



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