Apologies to those who noticed how pale and wan I was after gigs on Friday and Saturday. I had come down with a mild case of food poisoning; I think I kept it together for the performances but afterwards I just needed to go hide in the hotel.
H'mm, fake books. Composer James Primosch asks, basically, "What's my problem?" Fair enough. I used to love fake books, too; they are how I learned countless tunes. But now I feel that they can be an impediment to sincere music-making.
Consider: the wedding band. You know, the men and women that play celebratory dances for a living.
In any style or ethnicity of wedding band but jazz, the musicians need to know the music. All of it. All parts of the arrangements, and a lot of them. And 99% the time they need to know it all from memory.
But if a jazz pick-up group actually manages to score a dance for a gig, everyone will show up with a fakebook and "improvise" arrangements -- which actually, of course, means there will be no arrangements. (Head, solos, head, repeat, all with bland, frequently inaccurate harmony.)
So who knows more about music, the decent wedding band or the pick-up jazz group? Of course, probably the jazz group will have "more accomplished" players. But really, who knows more about music? All the details of all of the music for the gig?
I can honestly say I've had more fun listening to three good, no-paper-in-sight wedding bands this past summer (Beatles covers/Blues+Rock+Soul/Mariachi) than many casual jazz gigs with virtuoso players.
And more practically, those countless standards I learned from cheats have meant much less to me artistically and professionally than a far fewer number of compositions that I really got inside.
Talented and enthusiastic jazz blogger Jon Wertheim responded to the same post with a list of tunes we should all know. For whatever it's worth, I nominate Kurt Rosenwinkel's "Synthetics," Mark Turner's "Myron's World," and Reid Anderson's "Miro" as "modern classics everybody should play, and easy enough to keep in the memory bank."
Like Primosch, Wertheim follows DTM carefully. I appreciate the attention, of course, but I wish Wertheim followed even a bit more carefully sometimes. (UPDATE: JW has responded to my criticisms by editing etc.) In this Wynton bit he says I wrote two things I'm 99% positive I never wrote. Where are the links to the references? The "no women" thing is really from outer space -- could I have really written that? (I never notice sexism in jazz; it is just too rampant to address.)
And in a review of a Christian McBride record Wertheim reduces my extensive comment about McBride behind Ornette (at the end of this post) into either "limitations as a stylist" or "isn’t able to leave his solidly hard-bop home base long enough to sound at ease in this setting."
I've actually heard McBride play "out" (with Chick Corea on the radio, not sure of the record) just fine. And I sympathize with McBride's situation that night. As I wrote in my post:
To be fair, beginning with a clear form behind one old master and abandoning it behind another -- in the same song, without rehearsal, alongside yet another old master on drums! -- requires a leap of faith that few in McBride’s immediate circle of peers could do.
It took some gumption on my part to comment publicly about someone I'll probably see backstage soon. My deep love of Ornette (and a desire to protect him) made me weigh in. I'm fighting the square attitude taken by the blogger "Worry Later:"
Coleman's solo mostly implies an E-major tonality, whereas the tune's in Bb; he plays a lot of rather corny blues licks and quotes "What a Friend We Have In Jesus." The rhythm section—especially McBride—adapts to Coleman, but the altoist sounds uncharacteristically ill-at-ease. About five minutes later, Rollins re-enters, now playing more "out"—this is probably the most compelling segment of the entire performance—he finds his groove a little more and plays some intriguing transpositional sequences. But before long he reverts to playing the head—as he often does when his inspiration flags in concert—only to be interrupted by Coleman, who persists with his hackneyed E-major bluesy figures and quotes the same hymn as before.
Again, I parse this all very differently. Playing with Ornette is something I have already written extensively about, and I thought that the fact that Ornette can still wrong-foot a modern professional was worthy of public discussion.
Perhaps I need to tread more carefully. I didn't expect my carefully chosen words about the bassist reduced to "limitations as a stylist," etc. (Again, Wertheim doesn't include a link to what I really said.)
In addition to his musicianship, I respect McBride's open-hearted embrace of many kinds of music and jazz. He's not a close-minded cat (he certainly plays a lot more than hard-bop!) and if I ever get to talk to him about that night at the Beacon, I think (or at least hope) it will go OK.
At any rate, every word I've written about any living musician on DTM has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb. I was quite uncomfortable about having to discuss a few contemporaries in the last Forumesque; I should have seen that coming and planned my footwork better. It's very hard for me to balance blogging with comfortable social interaction already -- please, everybody, don't make it harder! If you want to keep me in the game, respect the precision with which I do voice my opinions on DTM.
But I guess I do like it that Wertheim is letting it all hang out over at Rehearsing the Blues. Mixing it up is needed! (Do you dare send a disc for Wertheim to review? He's going to write what he thinks, not the usual bland shit.) But I'll leave it to the younger generation to name names, at least for now...
Speaking of being wrong-footed, much of that same post with Ornette/Sonny was about how jazz critics do not need to play. I first hauled out Whitney Balliett as an exhibit, but then Richard Gehr reminded me that Balliett played some drums.
I had forgotten this because I never really believed it. Just recently I saw some elders who knew Balliett and I asked them how he played. They didn't speak for the record, so I'm timid about about quoting them (God forbid everything I say in conversation ends up on a blog) but they both confirmed he was no good. One offered up a typically sardonic Dick Wellstood comment. It rings true, and since Wellstood is dead, I'll go for it: "Great taste but terrible time."
If Balliett really could play I'd think we would know more about it, just like we have a few examples of Stanley Crouch playing with David Murray. (Those are good records, too.) Instead, only Balliett's best writing remains. I'm going to pull down Ecstasy at the Onion again tonight and have another little taste before bed.