Throughout jazz history, new jazz styles have always been slow bloomers. Then, without warning, they explode, breaking free to become dominant forms. This cycle was as true of bebop as it was of jazz-rock fusion. Now jazz is shifting again after decades of relative stagnancy. It would seem that we're in the "emerging quietly" phase. How long this period lasts is anyone's guess. [Top: Light Trap for Henry Moore No. 1 by Bruce Nauman, 1967]
Like most earlier jazz styles, the new one that's pushing forward is being pioneered by black artists who are fed up with the status quo. A short time ago, trumpeter Nicholas Payton caused quite a stir when he announced that he will no longer refer to the music he plays as "jazz," preferring instead to use BAM, an acronym for Black American Music. [Clip interview below by Bret Primack]
Naturally, there was a strong reaction from jazz fans who found Payton's remarks polarizing. But were they really? I initially thought so, too. Payton's insistence on a new name for jazz seemed to be politicizing one of life's last refuges from the news, which is swimming in division these days.
But rather than write about Payton's remarks immediately, I chose to think about them for a while. After some deliberation, what I found most interesting is what Payton didn't say. Some of what he skipped over surfaced subtly last week in my conversation with pianist Robert Glasper. That's when I realized that Payton's intent wasn't really about labels at all. [Pictured: Untitled (Night View of Trees and Street Lamp, Burgkühnauer Allee, Dessau) by Lyonel Feininger, 1928]
The bigger, unspoken point that I think Payton was making is that black musicians today are increasingly being disenfranchised from jazz. From the perspective of many black jazz artists, white tastes and corporate power have subsumed the genre, compelling musicians to repeatedly record tribute albums and Songbook fare. Many of these artists have had little choice, since many labels have rigid visions of what sells. Musicians have to eat, after all. [Photo: Anonymous]
But as history shows, the only way to break this tiresome cycle is to develop a new jazz style of your own. Bebop unfolded this way. The music was so complex and coded at first that other musicians had to wait until Dizzy Gillespie's and Charlie Parker's records came out so they could transcribe them and decipher what was going on. [Pictured: Jean-Michel Basquiat]
The same is true for nearly every major jazz style. Given enough time, jazz eventually advances out of necessity. Artists are constantly struggling to find ways to shatter the locks of institutional control. In most cases, the push forward to create new jazz styles has most often been driven by black musicians.
Personally, I'm always going to call this music jazz. I like the sound of it. It's familiar to me. And I like words that have two "Zs." But like Payton, Glasper and a growing number of black artists today, I am also fed up with jazz's atrophy. Which isn't the fault of white musicians. Jazz has become less personal, and commerce demands that successful formulas be applied again and again. But a growing number of black artists are making jazz personal and finding new ways to express their perspectives. [Pictured: Jean-Michel Basquiat]
I want to see jazz change. So do you. If it doesn't, jazz's development will cease. What has always made jazz exciting is its freshness. It's the music of artists rebelling against what is popular now. And the black experience in jazz is just as important as the white experience. Both are essential.
Whether you want to call the music BAM or jazz, we're now in a period of experimentation. Based on what I've heard recently, the new style is pretty exciting. Give it time. [Pictured: 5.Juli.1994, Gerhard Richter]
Celebrating Ella with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. If you're in New York this coming Friday, grab tickets to Ella Fitzgerald's Gershwin Songbook at Carnegie Hall. Believe it or not, Patti Austin [pictured below] will be singing songs Fitzgerald made famous—backed by the New York Pops Orchestra playing Nelson Riddle arrangements, courtesy of Christopher Riddle and the Riddle estate. There also will be Gershwin works in their Carnegie Hall debut—including I Got Rhythm, 'S Wonderful and Our Love Is Here to Stay. The concert is being produced in association with the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation and the Nelson Riddle Foundation. For more information, go here.
The Trammps were best known for Disco Inferno, though most dedicated fans of dance music found this hit to be too obvious and the least interesting of the group's soul-disco recordings. All of the band's songs came with a locomotive beat, Stax-like horns and a revival-meeting vocal by Ellis.
Here's Ellis and the band on Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper's Ninety-Nine and a Half. Dig the muscle and energy on this thing. Ellis will be missed...
Happy birthday Bix. Today (March 10) is Bix Beiderbecke's birthday. The father of melodic cornet simplicity would have been 109. New York radio station WKCR will be playing Bix's music for 24 hours today. To whet your appetite, here's Singin' the Blues...
Art Pepper. Laurie Pepper, Art's widow, has made yet another track by the alto saxophonist available via streaming at her site. Click to hear Patricia.
John Graas. The French horn player, composer and arranger was celebrated last fall in Los Angeles by the L.A. Jazz Institute. Susan McKeever, Graas' neice, sent along this YouTube clip of Flip Tip...
Hal McKusick's band charts. Saxophonist, composer and arranger Hal McKusick is looking to sell or donate to an educational institution his book for a nine-piece band. Musical parts are for two alto saxes, a tenor and baritone sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass and drums. There are 55 charts in all. Scores include songs by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and other composer greats. Most of the arrangements were by Mike Abene and Mike Longo. Hal says the charts were used for New York-area concerts in the late 1980s and '90s. Email for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CD discoveries of the week. There's something a little eerie and haunting about Rocco DeLuca on Drugs 'N Hymns (429). He has an unusual high alto voice, and the album's sound is both rudimentary and deep. This is an acoustic, dark folk-blues work in the spirit of Robert Johnson—devil deals, dilemmas at the crossroads, and nocturnal encounters with troubled spirits. What's fascinating about the recording is that all of the songs are originals and when lined up tell a gritty, unsanded story—the kind you hear in front of a spitting fireplace on a night when the wind won't quit. Think Neil Young holed-up at a rural church.
There are plenty of uneven beats to hold your attention on baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus' new album Capsule (BlueLand). What's more, Landrus doesn't behave like most bari players. There aren't grinding solos or basement-register honking. Instead, you have adult-contempo mixed with modern arrangements, and each track is compositionally different. Dig 71 & On the Road and Landrus' solo on Now. Contemplative stuff.
Frank D'Rone is a swinging, optimistic club singer who came up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Discovered by Nat King Cole in Chicago, the vocalist recorded a series of albums for Mercury that remain classics. Well, Frank is still at it, performing at sold-out clubs in the Windy City. His newest album, Double Exposure (Whaling City Sound) retains the sass and seduction of his earlier dates. There are peppy big band numbers (When the Sun Comes Out, Pick Yourself Up, Speak Low) and intimate favorites (Make Someone Happy, Oh You Crazy Moon, The Very Thought of You). On the ballads, Frank accompanies himself on guitar, inventing terrific voicings. Learn more about Frank in my interview series with him here. And here's a clip from the new album...
Guitarist Royce Campbell takes his sweet time on All Ballads and a Bossa. He works through songs like Never Let Me Go, When the Sun Comes Out and I'm a Fool to Want You at an extra slow pace, giving you a chance to hear the beauty of his lines and chord voicings. Even Somewhere in the Night, which traditionally is done at a spirited mid-tempo pace, is caressed here by Royce's guitar. All of these songs sound different at a patient pace, giving you a chance to run your ear over every song's melodic twists and turns. In the process, these ballads become more engaging and relaxing, especially in Royce's hand. Learn more about Royce in my interview here.
Leland Sundries is a folk-roots band with an unshaven twang. On The Foundry, vocalist-guitarist Nick Loss-Eaton approaches the originals with an Anglican-country delivery. Dig Giving Up Redheads, with its Beatles-Stones feel, and the New Orleans-y Bywater Rag. It's all very Indy and jagged, but the songwriting lingers.
Oddball album cover of the week. This album by relaxed singer Lee Scott was recorded with the Tony Luis Orchestra. As for the cover, not so comfortable. Poor Scott had to endure this art director's creepy concept of turning a woman into a gift basket. And based on the hot light on the right, it appears the photographer didn't know how to manage flash lighting. You can hear samples here.