Tristano And The Robots

The animated digital robot spoofs springing up on the internet include several aimed at the jazz-insider culture, in particular at the hipper-than-thou talk exchanged among students of the art who may be ever so slightly over-educated and just too cool—but not too cool for words. There are plenty of words in these cartoons. One of the most inviting targets for robot satire is the school of musicians who pattern themselves on the playing and teachings of Lennie Tristano and his accolytes. If you haven’t encountered the Tristano film, it might be a good idea to watch it before you get to the video below. The cartoon comes in two parts, here and here. It’s advisable to have impressionable young children out of the room. Following the viewing, come back to Rifftides for the next exhibit.

The deadly serious, quasi-religious devotion of those who are “so lucky to be Tristanoites” is prime material for lampooning. Whether Tristano (1919-1978) would be amused, we’ll never know. But it would be unfortunate if people seduced by the cleverness of the cartoons concluded that Tristano’s music was less than important. It occurred to members of the Rifftides staff that some of the younger fans of these little films may miss the point that the subject is the Tristano cult, not Tristano. Some readers may never have heard his music. We can fix that. Here he is in solo in Copenhagen in 1965.

The concert from which that piece came is on this DVD.

If you’d like to invite Tristano into your record collection, I suggest that Intuition is a good place to start. The CD has the 1949 Capitol recordings that led composer and historian Bill Kirchner to write that they are “among the greatest in the history of recorded jazz—triumphs of conception and execution by a group of musicians who had been in close collaboration for a year.” That group included saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh and guitarist Billy Bauer. Intuition also contains 1956 sessions with saxophonists Marsh and Ted Brown and pianist Ronnie Ball, Tristano students all.

Those cartoon robots’ ribbing of the Tristanoite disciples may be something to laugh at. Tristano’s music is something to hear.

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  1. says

    Wow, man. This is so freakin’ cool, and deep, and … you know what I mean, man 😉 — I wished I were around in the 1930’s, man! — Everyone was so freakin’ drunk, man.

    Have you heard the rumor about this recently discovered 12″ acetate paper-based disc, 33 rpm, which plays from the inside out? It has 27 chorusses of Bunny Berigan on “Marie”. — Man, Bunny was so freakin’ deep, man!

    Cheers, Doug, man!

  2. Bart Roderick says

    I was just listening to a lecture about Tristano’s influence on Bill Evans. You can sure hear it here.

  3. Charlton Price says

    So effing awesome and rad and deep, man! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, to walk the sawdust trail to Lenny, man….

  4. don frese says

    Years ago, I was working in a Scottish and Irish import shop, and we had for sale a Gaelic dance record, called “Let’s Dance in Strict Tempo.” My first reaction: “Wow, Lennie has a following in the folk dance crowd, too.”

  5. Doug Zielke says

    Doug R. said: “Whether Tristano (1919-1978) would be amused, we’ll never know.”
    Somehow, I think not. The robots are pretty funny though. The Tristano edition is probably the best of all.

  6. says

    @ Doug Z. — I wouldn’t underestimate Lennie’s sense of humor: “Coolin’ Off With Ulanov”, “Lennie’s Pennies” (in minor), or “Background Music”; his bands played always “too loud”, that’s at least what the club owners imagined; so, why not writing some “Background Music” if it’s that what they wanted?

    I think he would laugh about that parody of his cult — in all major and minor keys, and to the metronome … man 😉