in praise of community organizers

Remember four years ago, when Obama was running for president and Sarah Palin mocked the very notion of a community organizer? 

The Jazz Journalists Association has what they call a blogathon going on through April 30th, and the theme is community. It's hard to write about jazz and not be thinking about community--my community and jazz's presence in it, and the many communities that gave rise to and sustain those who I interview, review and hear playing jazz. I could walk to and from each of Dr John's three weekly installments of a residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, thereby blending my actual community and my adoptive one, New Orleans (for Dr John, it's the reverse--born and raised in New Orleans' 3rd Ward, but adopted NYC as his hometown for a long stretch). I posted the last of my three reviews on the series today at the Village Voice "Sound of the City" blog: there are 2 previous installments, adding up to some 3,000 words for hardy readers. 

The New Orleans-New York connection is so vital that while down in New Orleans for a jazzfest trip, I'll end up missing one of NOLA's best players here in my own backyard.--saxophonist Donald Harrison at Symphony Space later this month. But I'll be back in time for the New Orleans Piano Kings Celebration at Dizzy's, spanning three generations with Ellis Marsalis, Henry Butler, and Jonathan Batiste. Meanwhile, when I'm in New Orleans, I'll continue my research into the fates of the communities that have long been the hothouses for the culture these pianists represent. 

What does a community mean to a musician? 
Last week I interviewed Geri Allen for a forthcoming Wall Street Journal piece; she talked about the nurturing environment she came up through in her native Detroit, and the one she found upon relocating to New York in 1982, in Brooklyn, not far from where I live today. Alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry recalled for me recently the musical "experiments" he and colleagues including drummer Dafnis Prieto began in the quartet Columna B in Havana, where they met within the community of conservatory students; Terry's thrilling current music is evidence of a vital and innovative community of Cuban musicians (and those of Cuban or Afro Latin lineage) now in New York. 

I recall interviewing saxophonist Steve Coleman a decade ago and he told me this:

I play a community music. I go home, and my family is pretty naive about what I do. They're like, "Can you take out your horn and play that record you just did?" I try to explain to them that it's really not that kind of music, that if I play just a single line on my horn, you'll have no idea what it sounds like. They'll be saying, "Why not? Can't you play it? Don't you know your own music?" But it's a communal thing. You have to be there. In the community.
April 16, 2012 2:32 PM | | Comments (0)

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