Kennedy Center. Emails poured in last week with comments both pro and con about my editorial taking the Kennedy Center to task for its institutional jazz phobia. In my column, I blasted the center for snubbing America's living jazz legends for the 12th straight year while handing out its prestigious Honors awards to not one but two members of the same British performance rock group.
Emails critical of my post tended to agree with my main point but went on to say that I was way too harsh on The Who and chastised me for rehashing Pete Townshend's [pictured] legal troubles in 2003, calling it a cheap shot.
Really? The Who is a perfectly good rock band. Without argument, founders Roger Daltrey and Townshend deserve to be in any rock and roll museum or hall of fame. My point is that they are inappropriate choices for America's highest cultural honor or the TV coverage and accolades that comes with it. To be polite, their canon is way too insignificant, their impact on music is moderate, and most people cannot even recall many of the tracks on their "ultimate" greatest hits album. (Honestly, do you remember Sister Disco? Me neither, but it's on there.)
As for Townshend, yes, the kiddie porn charges were cleared. But the fact remains that he used his credit card to enter what can only be described as a repulsive website and subsequently was placed on a sex offenders' list. Hardly entrapment. Expensive lawyering aside, the facts of the case stand on their own and are available to anyone with access to Google. Great guitarist. Reprehensible choice of downtime activities.
But we digress. The fact remains that the Kennedy Center has once again done America and American culture a grave disservice by ignoring jazz. In 2025, the world will still be marveling at the music created, recorded and performed by Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson, Dave Brubeck and Hank Jones, to name four (there are plenty more). The Who, I'm afraid, will be largely forgotten as a generation of fans begins to have trouble remembering where it put its keys.
Genius Jazz Moments. Following my post on Genius Jazz Moments, many comments from readers included personal favorites as well as general observations.
From reader Don Sadler:
"Your opening statement in Part 2 of Genius Jazz Moments is exactly why I love this music. It's these creative moments in jazz that keeps me coming back for more, especially on the live sets. As a teen in the 1960s, my favorite club was the Lighthouse near Los Angeles. The club was small but the talent was big, and the club produced many wonderful moments that I will never forget. Today I live in eastern Washington State where there are no jazz clubs.
"However, I am very lucky to live close to the University of Idaho which hosts the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival each year in February. For the last 20 years or so Hamp would bring his big band and lots of old friends, and spend four days sharing their music with students and the locals.
"Hamp's friends would spend the days giving clinics and the nights giving concerts. I would sit listening, eagerly waiting for those 'genius moments' to happen. I love your blog. Thanks for all your time and effort."
Happy birthday Jazz.com! Ted Gioia's Jazz.com celebrated its first birthday last week. As part of the e-festivities, Ted put together a magnificent list of Top 50 jazz albums of 2008. You'll find the list here.
Dexter Gordon. The Jazz Video Guy Bret Primack sent along a link to a terrific clip of Dexter Gordon performing in Copenhagen in 1971. Have a look:
Pharoah Sanders. My post on Pharoah Sanders' Welcome to Love and puzzlement over the album's multiple CD issues (neither one of which is complete) drew this email and recommendations from reader John Herr:
"I can't explain why Welcome to Love was issued twice, first on Timeless 358 in Europe in 1991 and then on Evidence in the U.S. five years later. It probably has something to do with copyrights or the saxophonist's contract with a new label.
"I can tell you there were at least two more releases by Sanders playing in his late '80s, early '90s lyrical vein: A Prayer Before Dawn and the two-fer Crescent With Love, the latter covering some of the material recording by John Coltrane on Crescent."
Tony Bennett. My favorite period of Tony Bennett's singing career is a 10-year stretch from 1962 (At Carnegie Hall) to 1972 (The Good Things in Life). During this period, Tony began building a bridge between jazz and Broadway, pop and rock that he continues to expand to this day.
I'm particularly fond of how Tony took popular radio tunes of the 1960s and gave them a wandering street-singer interpretation. When you hear Tony at first on songs like Something or Little Green Apples or Make It Easy on Yourself, you initially balk, since your ear naturally clings to the original version.
But there's something about the way Tony comes knocking on your door with a song that causes you to quickly drop your resistance and let his rendition in. When Tony sings songs like Eleanor Rigby and Come Saturday Morning, you hear he's paying tribute to the original while sliding the song slowly but surely over to his side of the playing board, making it his own.
Over the weekend I viewed the Bruce Ricker-directed, Clint Eastwood-produced Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends. I first saw it in passing last year on TV, when the documentary originally aired. On Friday I had a chance to watch it in full.
That early period with Tony swinging jazz in front of Count Basie's band and crooning pop with a full orchestra knocks me out. Tony had the chops, but his persona was built on charm and kindness rather than towel-snapping and swagger. During Tony's hungry years, that sharp "New Yawk" accent was softened by caring eyes and a harlequin smile. He was a neighborhood guy who knew how to watch his back but also was happy to hold doors for old ladies.
When I first met Tony at a small party for percussionist Candido Camero a couple of years ago, he was as charming and accessible in person as you'd imagine. Tony doesn't forget his friends, and that was evident that afternoon as Tony made his way into the downtown recording studio and took pictures with everyone there.
While the Tony of today has mellowed, those caring, polite eyes remain the same on the video. In the 1960s, Tony was determined to succeed, and he had the talent, cool and charisma to do so. In the 1970s, changing music tastes yanked the rug out from under popular singers, and Tony faced his share of rough times. Even then, Tony's crescent face always asked "please," making it tough for audiences to tune him out.
To appreciate Tony in his prime, here's a clip of two great singers in the mid-1960s swinging through songs named for American cities:
Chevy Chase's Xmas. Jazz photographer Hank O'Neal hosts Christmas Music: The Jazz Feeling, an hour-long syndicated NPR radio show with jazz pianist and comedian Chevy Chase on three dates: Saturday, December 20th at 10 pm; Sunday December 21st at 7 pm, and Christmas Eve at 7 pm. You can catch the show via the web on those dates here, at the site of NPR radio station WVIA.