Waxing & musings. Are music educators largely to blame for jazz's slipping popularity and taste level? I don't know the answer to that question, since I haven't done much research on the topic nor have I read any studies. But consider the following distressing e-mail that arrived last week from a music major at a rather prestigious university in New York with a world-class jazz program:
"I've been reading your blog every day and enjoying each post. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote on taste, and for what it's worth, your points really reflect a lot of the frustrations I've been having with many of my fellow students in school here.
"Most of them love playing outside of the chord changes, but they have a hard time or barely can play inside them convincingly. They tell me they love the 'freedom' of not playing inside the changes. But to me, not only does what they're playing not sound good, there's nothing really 'freeing' if they can't play inside the changes in the first place.
"I don't mean to sound cynical, but it's what I've been noticing ever since arriving on campus. I can't tell you how many students majoring in jazz piano either don't recognize the name Erroll Garner or haven't bothered checking him out.
"I remember my first day of classical music theory class freshman year. My professor asked me who my favorite jazz pianist was. 'Oscar Peterson,' I told him. He smirked and asked, 'Are you kidding? He's way too old. I'm more of a Cecil Taylor type.'
"Being my first day of college, that was my first exposure to jazz education in New York. It was a little discouraging, but things picked up and I found my way, and luckily stayed on my path.
"I often get the feeling that many of the college teachers assume that all jazz students today want to come out of school sounding as modern as possible. A teacher here once said to me, 'Red Garland and Wynton Kelly are great. Next you'll get into Cedar Walton, and then you'll get into Chick Corea.' Why are Garland and Kelly viewed by some professors as some sort of low-level entry points to jazz?
"While many of my teachers display great emotion in their playing, emotion and taste are rarely discussed as part of the curriculum. And other students never bring it up. I sometimes get the feeling that discussing emotion with them is almost wimpy or something.
"What's more, students prefer to listen to music by going to concerts they find 'interesting' rather than those featuring more emotional traditional jazz players or listening hard to earlier recordings rich with emotion. It's really ridiculous because emotion is why people enjoy the music in the first place!
"For what it's worth, I totally agree with you on the taste issue. I can credit my teachers for showing me how to play. But I can only credit the things I've heard for teaching me how to be tasteful. I totally agree with you that the development of taste can only be obtained through listening to those with taste and making your own decisions from there.
"It's obvious that taste can't be taught. Ultimately, it's the player's choice to decide what to take from tasteful playing. While taste may be a touchy subject for many young musicians, I think emotion is another issue that's too often ignored as a discipline. It's sad because no one wants to hear music that's just 'interesting.' And even though emotion may be as difficult to teach as taste, it is an aspect of the music that can't be ignored. Maybe if it weren't, more people would like jazz. [Pictured: Howard Rumsey]
"I hope you don't mind my little ramble. Just thought I'd share some thoughts with you."
Eddie Palmieri. Following my post last week on Eddie Palmieri's 1965 album Azucar Pa' Ti, percussionist and Manhattan School of Music educator Bobby Sanabria [pictured] sent along the following e-mail:
"The importance of Azucar Pa' Ti was that it showcased the Palmieri band the way it sounded live. That was because Morris Levy, the owner of Tico Records, assigned Teddy Reig as the producer. Reig, as you know, produced a lot of the Count Basie sessions for Roulette, also Levy's label.
Reig asked Eddie to play the tune Azucar the same way the band did the tune live. The result was the pure, raw, energy of the Palmieri's La Perfecta group captured on wax as dancers would experience it in a dance hall.
Azucar clocked in at more than nine minutes and broke the three-minute barrier for radio airplay. It also made Barry Rogers the most influential trombonist on the Latin scene in New York, as the recording became the model for the city's powerful new Latin trombone sound. In addition, Barry's blues-inflected solo style became the model for a new generation of trombonists on the Latin scene." [Photo of Barry Rogers courtesy of Barry Rogers Jazz]
Trumpeter, composer and arranger Marty Sheller also sent along an e-mail:
Herbie Hancock's car. In my interview with Marty Sheller last week, he mentioned that Herbie Hancock [pictured] bought a car with his royalties from Watermelon Man. Reader John Pickworth sent in the following e-mail:
John also sent along a paragraph from a post by Rob Einaudi, editor of the CarDomain blog...
Django Reinhardt. The 10th Annual Django Reinhardt Festival will be held at Birdland in New York on November 3-8 thanks once again to producers Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta. The "Reinies" who will be there to show their stuff include legendary gypsy guitarist Tchavolo Schmitt [pictured], his nephew Samson Schmitt, Andreas Oberg, Ludovic Beier, Aurore Volque and bassist Brian Torff.
Wes Montgomery. Reader Kurt Kolstad sent along the following clip of 'Round Midnight from 1965 featuring Wes Montgomery, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace. While you've heard this song a bizillion times, Wes brings a whole new level of soul here. Dig Mabern's opening voicings and Montgomery's run-down at the end (this is now linked in my "Videos") section in the right-hand margin...
CD Discoveries of the week: Saxophonist Jon Gordon's Evolution is big on drama. All of Gordon's nine originals contain jazz-classical surprises, from compelling instrumental textures (percussion and strings) to wordless vocals. Songs skip along like a flat rock over water, and Gordon works steadily on a range of reeds, weaving through a rush hour of instrumental combinations. Individuation sums up Gordon's effort here best, featuring an ever-changing collage of reeds, strings, vocals, woodwinds and brass. This isn't bop or fusion but a restless work of spirited pieces. It's available as a download here (by joining Artist Share) or on CD here.
Another album with a fascinating groove from 2006 is Medeski Martin & Wood's Note Bleu, a compilation of the group's Blue Note recordings between 1998 and 2005. MM&W during this period featured a bracing stew of funk, electronica and jazz grooves. Which means you'll hear a strong bassline accessorized by a Hammond B3, piano, Fender Rhodes, turntable scratching, and a big elastic beat. Sort of Herbie Hancock meets Thievery Corporation meets your grandmother's upright vacuum cleaner. It's all very David Lynch, but it works.
Oddball album cover of the week. Before Jerry Fielding became a composer of movie music, he was a West Coast big band arranger, primarily for Charlie Barnet. He began recording as a leader in 1953, and his sound had a Les Brown plus Stan Kenton feel. In 1957, he recorded this Jazztet album. Assuming the title is somewhat clever, the concept is a mess. Why was Fielding asked to pose on a woodpile like The Thinker? I mean I get it—woodwinds, cords of wood—but is that the best they could do? And what's with the devilish temptress? You can just hear the cigar-smoking producer barking at the art director: "What? I'm not going to sell records with Jerry just sitting there. Take Barbara, my secretary. And get her into a red dress."