Waxing & musings. Is taste subjective? In response to my thoughts last Sunday on jazz's declining taste level and how jazz musicians might improve their choices by studying the art and craft of earlier generations, I received a few e-mails from readers insisting that taste is subjective.
Actually, it's not.
Yes, everyone has an opinion, and one person's rave is another person's nightmare. But taste isn't about a point of view. Like grace, taste isn't a variable. You don't have a little taste. One has it or one doesn't, and there are no incremental shades of taste. Taste doesn't arrive randomly, nor is it acquired accidentally or without thought. Developing taste requires a conscious effort to do so and often takes years to incorporate, depending on how much work one puts into it. Once achieved, tasteful choices tend to come naturally, like a reflex. What's more, having great taste in one thing or another doesn't automatically carry over to everything else. Each requires a conscious desire to learn and adapt. [Pictured: Teddy Wilson]
In essence, taste in jazz is the editing of choices into an artistically creative and smart result. If taste were indeed subjective, our best critics would be equal to our worst. The fact is, taste in jazz (whether playing or appreciating) has everything to do with listening to and appreciating those who have it, and understanding their choices. Then you self-edit your own choices accordingly. [Pictured: Red Garland]
Ultimately, taste is an apprenticeship. Expose yourself to those with taste, and it will rub off, provided you understand what it is and you actively work to let taste govern your sensibilities and projections. Opinions are subjective. Taste just is.
Yolande Bavan. So I'm at Zabar's last week on Broadway and 80th Street (for those not in the know, Zabar's is a popular New York food emporium). As I headed up to pay, I arrived at the checkout counter at the exact same time as a woman who looked familiar. I politely offered her a chance to go first and then realized I knew her. It was Yolande Bavan, of Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan. It was a joy catching up with Yolande, whom I interviewed back in November 2007. Just goes to show that jazz legends are all around us, even at Zabar's! Here's Yolande with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks singing Melba's Blues on Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual TV interview show in the early 1960s...
Duke Ellington. Film director Raymond De Felitta sent along an e-mail last week. He's hard at work on several movie projects, and his City Island with Andy Garcia opened in Rio a month or so ago and was just screened in Ghent. Raymond sent along the following clip of Duke playing his Perfume Suite, with the note: "Couldn't think of anyone I'd rather share it with"...
Clifford Brown. Symphony Sid Gribetz, heir to the bebop airwaves, alerts me that WKCR-NY will present its annual Clifford Brown Birthday Broadcast on Friday October 30. It will be a 24-hour Brown-a-thon, and you can listen here.
CD discoveries of the week. Speaking of taste, bassist Iris Ornig's New Ground has a gorgeous feel. It's powdery soft and loaded with gentle energy and cat-like exuberance. Ornig has a spiritual sensibility, and her pulse-like bass drives home shrewd originals and cagey harmonies. Solid work by trumpeter Yoshiro Okazaki, pianist Danny Grissett, guitarist Daisuke Abe and drummer Tony Jefferson. Ornig's many originals here (The Very Same Sensation, New Ground and others) are all seductive standouts. The album is at iTunes or here.
Trumpeter Jason Parker opens his first CD No More, No Less with Bashert, a vibrant original waltz. It's straight up from there. Other smart choices include Duke Pearson's Idle Moments and Sam Rivers' Beatrice. As with Iris Ornig, Parker applies just the right amount of intensity, leaving plenty of room for beauty. And as Parker demonstrates, jazz is first about listening, then planning and finally improvising. The Jason Parker Quartet features trumpeter Parker, pianist Josh Rawlings, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes and drummer DiVonne Lewis. Tenor saxophonist Cynthia Mullis joins the group on three tracks. The album is at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. From what I can tell, "Sound Flights into Jazz" was a series of Armed Forces promo albums made in the late 1950s for airing by radio stations on Air Force Reserve bases. I'm not sure whether the recordings on these discs by leading jazz artists were originals or simply culled from already issued LPs. Either way, it's great to know that the military saw the value in the music, and that the guys piloting those Starfighters, Thunderchiefs and Blackbirds in the late 1950s were digging the strains of Joe Newman and Chris Connor before taxiing down runways and flightdecks. One would like to believe, based on the cover photo, that they were listening to the recordings in-flight.