Friday, February 10, 2006

jazz in the mornin' #1: Miles Davis

I ended up getting the first volume of De Morgen's jazz series, which covers Miles Davis, mainly because there are a lot of tracks from albums I don't have and am unlikely to buy in any near future. I guess I'll have to buy the whole series now. *sigh* Weirdly, in the kiosk, a number of upcoming CDs were already on display. In the newspaper, there's also a half-page worth of accompanying text written by Didier Wijnants.

7 jazz myths

  1. Jazz musicians improvise all the time
    Two points are made. a) Jazz is not the only music to include improvisation. True, but "not written" is assimilated to improvising and the history of improvisation in classical music is totally eliminated. b) A very nice definition of improvisation: "Improvisation is the testing of the music's elasticity, the probing of degrees of freedom... A hundred years of jazz history has brought to light many possibilities."

  2. All great jazz musicians are dead
    A very bizarre, conflicted and protracted refutation of this point is offered. It cites dead people not included in the series who are more important than Oscar Peterson (one of the four living musicians included in the 20 volumes): Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson and Teddy Wilson. It's totally baffling to me that Teddy Wilson is in that list instead of Art Tatum or Bill Evans... Then come still-"furore raising" elder statesmen: Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, Misha Mengelberg, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman (all are in their 70s). It concludes by saying that "the top tier of jazz counts hundreds of younger musicians. But they are rarely younger than 40 or 50." I think the lesson here is that if all the great jazz musicians aren't dead, they soon will be.

  3. Jazz musicians are untrustworthy
    I was a bit shocked by this one. Are they really, as a group, less reliable than Sly Stone? And with Wynton Marsalis still being the most media-attractive jazz musician, I thought that the current stereotype would be soulessly slick and efficient.

  4. Jazz is an antiquated category for people who think in cages
    The reply is that jazz is a flexible form that can absorb outside influences while keeping an exciting core of "pure jazz" (I hate that term, not only because it's empty, musically, in regards to the music's historical evolution, but more importantly because it always reeks of ethnic purification).

  5. Jazz is complicated music for pseudo-intellectuals
    The one-word first sentence? "Naturally." I don't know if Wijnants is conceding that the music is complicated or that he is a pseudo-intellectual, but I like his gumption. He then tempers that with "But it is also enjoyable music for honest music lovers." Wijnants blames Charlie Parker for the introduction of complexity, but counters with Duke Ellington's mix of "black roots, ignorance (?), love for song, harmonic richness, tradition, avant-gardism, the aristocratic and street credibility."

  6. Jazz is made by black people
    With a cute picture of Toots! "In today's global culture, this question has become totally irrelevant." Of course, it never was relevant. Music never had anything to do with skin colour, which is itself only one element of race (facial features, hair and body types are more important in distinguishing one from the other), and everything to do with culture. You can be raised in a culture, you can learn its codes and forms from the outside, you can join a culture (all of these can be done more or less perfectly). I'm reminded of a story the great Belgian guitarist Pierre Van Dormael told me. When he went to Senegal (he was there for three years, officially to teach, in reality to learn!), he went to a musician's house for a lesson. The musician asked Pierre if he had eaten. He had not. The reply "Before you can play Senegalese music, you have to eat Senegalese food!"

  7. You can't learn jazz
    (in a music school) I've always found this to be a misunderstanding of how music is learned in general, regardless of genre. In every interview of a classical pianist I've read, they don't talk about which school they went to, but with who they studied, e.g. "I learned a lot studying with X, who was a student of Y, who himself was a close disciple of Listzt." In other words, even in classical music, where the "institutional learning" cliché is at its strongest, that music is something that is learned by speaking about it, watching others and then doing it oneself, is emphasised. Playing an instrument is manual labour, after all. I guess it relates to the previous point, too.

Miles Davis: "A black man who lives like a white man"

I'm not sure why Wijnants chose this Ornette Coleman quote as the backbone of his sketchy introduction/bio. It's not particularly good, so I'll say nothing more about it.

"Jeru" and "Israel" from "Birth of the Cool"
"Au Privave" and "Star Eyes" with Charlie Parker
"Dear Old Stockholm," "Engima," "Weirdo" and "It Never Entered My Mind" from the self-titled Blue Note albums
"Oleo" and "If I Were a Bell" from the "-in'" Prestige series
"The Man I Love" from "Miles and the Modern Jazz Giants"
"Autumn Leaves" from Adderley's "Somethin' Else"
"The Jitterbug Waltz" from Michel Legrand's "Legrand Jazz" (recorded in 1958, and Legrand just recently released a new album... as a singer!)
"You Won't Forget Me" from Shirley Horn's album of the same name