Starting Over

We’ve been watching Ken Burns’s jazz documentary again, for the third or fourth time at least (I can’t watch the last tape, in which Wynton Marsalis skips over 15 years of exciting post-bebop jazz to pronounce himself the reincarnation of true jazz, as if Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and Arthur Rhames never existed), and my favorite quote came up, from Roy Eldridge. It’s a statement that, to me, seems to sum up the essential condition of music:

The beboppers are good. But they closed more clubs than they opened.

And while I’m at it, I’m a tremendous fan of Coleman Hawkins, the greatest musician who shares my birthday (Judith Shatin is second). Hawkins had something in common with Claudio Monteverdi, Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, and Miles Davis. He was a star of the swing era – his 1939 recording of “Body and Soul” was the signal recording of the WWII era – but when bebop came along, he changed his style and went along with the younger bebop guys. He was like Erik Satie: “Show me something new and I’ll start all over again.” God bless those who can be influenced by the younger composers.


  1. says

    I’m curious – I’m not as well-studied in modern music as I’d like, but I’ve noticed a trend here and there: If something isn’t *original* and new, it’s almost rejected a priori. Your post got me thinking about that – originality is key for music (or any art), but if and when we’re faced with something of high quality that, say, acts as if the last x decades (where x is some large number) never happened, how would critics/composers/Kyle Gann tend to react?
    Because I’m actually a science guy, here’s a great example of what I’m talking about:
    Full of criticisms for being insufficiently new, but not a word on the quality of the music itself – shocking! I’d be curious on your thoughts – if this is widespread, if it’s a good way to approach music, etc. :) Thanks!
    KG replies: I think the 20th-century assumption came to be that if your music is sincere, it won’t sound like anyone else’s. Of course, the converse – that if your music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s, it must be sincere – isn’t necessarily true, but is often taken to be.

  2. Oskar Klage says

    You mention that Hawkins had something in common with Monteverdi, Stravinsky…et. al, but you don’t seem to finish the thought. I’m assuming that you mean that they all continually sought out new styles and fresh ideas, but would you mind clarifying. Or, am I just missing something?
    KG replies: Aa, you’re right, that’s what I get for blogging late at night. What they all had in common was that they were masters of a certain style who weren’t afraid to change style and flow with the ideas of other, often younger musicians. Monteverdi was a master of Renaissance counterpoint, but when the amateurs of Baroque opera came along, he jumped ship and joined forces with Peri and Caccini, improving tremendously on their experiments. Cage was always influenced by younger artists, including Wolff and Feldman. Stravinsky changed style twice, the second time to try out what the young 12-tone composers were doing. And Miles changed style more times than that, going electric in the ’70s and getting into some pretty minimalist stuff. Sorry I didn’t spell it all out, I sometimes too easily assume people are on the same wavelength.

  3. says

    Did Hawkins’s style change that much, or was his already existing style compatible enough with bop that it still fit in with very minimal modification? I do love his playing with Monk, for example, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly boppish. I’ve always felt that certain quintessential swing musicians, like Jo Jones, Benny Carter, Lester Young, and Hawkins, are bop players avant-la-lettre.

  4. Richard Mitnick says

    It is really ironic for me that you wrote this post now.
    I just finished watching the Ken Burns work. I came away thinking that this is Ken Burns’ history, and too personal for me. He seems to be rooted in the past, leaving not enough room in the later episodes for some really important people.
    These are just my remembrances, so they can be faulty. Cannonball Adderley gets mentioned I think once. Nat Adderley? While he gives a few minutes to Antonio Carlos Jobim, he says essentially nothing about Latin Jazz (I learned about Latin Jazz by stumbling upon the move “Calle 54”. Now I own a great deal of Latin Jazz). Going through my own collection, and in alphabetical order, Cedar Walton, Eric Dolphy, nothing. Keith Jarrett, one mention, as a side man. Kenny Garrett. Lou Rawls, McCoy Tyner (?), Mose Allison, Nancy Wilson(?), Oliver Nelson, Pat Metheny, and Joe Zawinul, nothing.
    Much more than in Classical Music, again, my opinion, the constituent members of especially the small groups are very significant. Witness Miles Davis two mighty groups, and the same with John Coltrane. Side men (and women, pacem Alice Coltrane) are hugely important. But they are hardly mentioned.
    If I have unfairly gored anyone’s ox, my apologies. My history with Jazz is sketchy: 1964-1967, listening to Sid Mark and Joel Dorne at WHAT in Philadelphia and buying music; my recent attachment to the work of Steve Rowland ( which I purchased on Miles Davis and John Coltrane and the people whose work I purchased based upon those two radio documentary series; and, last, my more recent use of WBGO, Newark, NJ, and NPR/music as sources for learning about and purchasing music. At Amazon, in mp3.
    I have purposely mentioned purchasing music several times. I believe that we need to financially support artists if we want to have art. I believe that Public Radio in FM and via web stream, and Public Television are the great hopes for both Classical Music and Jazz. I believe that we need for them to be sources of education that is no longer available in primary and secondary schools.
    So, thanks for your current post.

  5. Anthony Cheung says

    I have to comment here because just as I was loading your page Hawkins’ version of “Body and Soul” was playing on my speakers – that’s just way too coincidental.
    But about his relationship to bebop, the influence went both ways. You can hear proto-bop licks in his “Body and Soul” solo, especially towards the end of the first chorus into the second. He was a huge influence on Miles Davis and tenor players like Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon (less on Bird, who was more a Lester Young disciple). Roy Eldridge had a similar effect on Dizzy Gillespie. And both Hawkins and Eldridge were sitting in at the beginning of the bop scene at places like Minton’s and the 52nd street clubs, so they were as responsible for creating it as they were for reacting to it. There’s a great video of Bean and Bird playing together, miming over a pre-recorded track. They are almost night and day in their approaches, but you can sense the deep mutual respect they have for each other:

  6. says

    It’s been years since I saw Burns’ jazz doc, but my distinct impression at the time was that Burns didn’t really know much about jazz at all, and deferred entirely to Wynton Marsalis in choosing the direction and focus of the work. Since for Marsalis, jazz pretty starts and ends with Louis Armstrong, you get constant references to Armstrong throughout the doc, even though Armstrong pretty much stopped innovating in the early 30s. In fact, as I recall, Louis’ funeral got more air time than Coltrane’s entire career. So, because for Marsalis, since Ornette, Cecil Taylor, Zawinul, Metheny, and Latin jazz don’t exist, they didn’t for Burns either.
    I thought it was a real shame that so much of jazz history was glossed over just to further Marsalis’ agenda.
    KG replies: Amen.

  7. kraig Grady says

    Quote “God bless those who can be influenced by the younger composers.”
    In general:
    There is no stick hard enough to drive me away from a person from whom i can learn something. -Diogenes

  8. says

    Not that he needs any advocating, but I’d put Ellington on the list of the always-listening-for-the-new. By the late ’40s he was incorporating bebop elements, and the ’60s and ’70s saw him responding to free jazz and rock and roll. Some of his most exploratory music came in his 70s.
    My favorite comment on the Burns doc came from jazz critic Francis Davis, poking fun at what the critics whom Burns featured did with their screen time: “I hear America scatting.”