Waxing & musings. Would a Secretary of Culture be good or bad for jazz? Rumors have circulated for months that President Obama plans to create such a position. The appointee's mission, one assumes, would be to restore and safeguard art's importance in American society. Coming under that large umbrella, of course, would be jazz.
I'm all for the appointment of a powerful Culture Czar. Quincy Jones and several other qualified executives have been suggested as ideal candidates. All are fabulous choices. But I'm not so sure jazz would be any better off no matter who is at the helm.
First, the post would surely result in the rise of culture lobbyists pressuring for influence. Meaning that rock and rap would likely snap up all the best music seats at the table. Second, we know from experience that jazz fares miserably when political battles heat up. Jazz simply isn't equipped to crack eggs to make omelets. And third, national institutions have a tragic track record of merely throwing jazz a gratuitous bone or ignoring jazz completely. [Pictured: Eminem]
For me, Jazz Job No. 1 for an incoming Secretary of Culture should be preserving jazz history—and providing funds so that the legacy and rare pre-1945 music can be accessed online. Currently, jazz history is rotting away in boxes at institutions and colleges for lack of funds and archival manpower. A Washington-supported crusade should be launched to digitally preserve jazz documents. And those archives should be sent to a central database and made available to one and all online, whether for free or a fee.
I would also advocate for the creation of a National Online Jazz Library to house the results. By jazz history, I mean oral histories, early recordings, photos, the papers of jazz artists now in boxes at various universities, and even arrangements and composer notes. All need to be saved and made available to future generations.
Whatever the Culture Czar's mission, the jazz community needs to start asking questions now—not later—about what an appointee would do for jazz. We also need to have do-able answers when we're asked by the Secretary for our three wishes. Digitizing jazz history should top the list. Without such a commitment and the dollars needed to buy equipment and hire people to use it, jazz history simply will disintegrate and disappear forever.
Red Garland radio today. Jazz radio ironman Sid Gribetz will present a special five-hour retrospective radio show on the career of jazz pianist Red Garland. When: today (June 14), from 2 to 7 p.m. (EDT) on New York's WKCR. Go here anywhere in the world to listen free.
Gerry Niewood radio today. Jazz musician and writer Bill Kirchner will host an hour-long radio show on Gerry Niewood, a mainstay of the New York City music scene who died in last February's plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y. When: The show will air today (June 14), from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT), on New York's WBGO. Go here anywhere in the world to listen free. [Photo of Gerry Niewood by John Herr]
Carmen Leggio. Reader Don Frese alerted me to Bill Crow's fine remembrances of the late saxophonist Carmen Leggio. Go here to read Bill's essay.
CD Discovery of the Week. Five months before his death in 2002, Roland Hanna recorded a solo piano album in tribute to pianist Tommy Flanagan, who had died in November 2001. While the album, Tributaries, is heart-heavy in places, the bright musical spots sparkle.
In particular, there's a rousing version of Robbins' Nest, which sounds as if two or three Hannas are playing at once. Body and Soul is fascinating for the musical corners Hanna paints himself into and how he escapes them. The chord changes and harmonies are truly amazing. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to know the song Hanna's playing without looking at the CD case. Never Let Me Go also is gorgeous, and you get to hear the miracle of Hanna's left hand in action.
The album's high point for me is Hanna's upbeat interpretation of Delarna, which Flanagan wrote in 1957. Hanna's phrasing here and the song's build merge to create a loving send-off. But what's special about this song and the entire album is the depth of Hanna's sadness over his departed friend. It's the piano version of Billie Holiday singing.
You'll find Sir Roland Hanna's Tributaries: Reflections on Tommy Flanagan (IPO Recordings) as a download at iTunes and Amazon, or on CD here.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. I'm not quite sure why Tampa Records issued the same album in mid-1956 as Hot Piano and Jazz for Relaxation. Given the year, it may have been that one was a 10-inch LP and the other a 12-incher. First things first: I can't tell what's going on in the image on the cover of Hot Piano. It looks like a stripper is performing for a chimp dressed as a Venetian gondolier playing a toy piano. All in the shadow of a scary hand. What were they thinking? As for Jazz for Relaxation, is our modern model a museum-piece clad in clay? Or is this how gals used to unwind in the 1950s to Marty Paich, Larry Bunker, Howard Roberts, Joe Mondragon and Frank Capp?