The Jazz Digest, November 2011

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, November 2011

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JJ November 2011Half-baked blues
This magazine always enjoys the jazz expertise flaunted by the general media, the sort that makes you wonder how trustworthy any of its reporting is. On 14 October The Review Show on BBC2 discussed the Booker Prize "jazz novel" Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan in which the hero is a trumpeter. Dan Stevens, actor in Downton Abbey, began plausibly with "one of the best books about music I've read . . . the structure is almost like jazz. You return to these themes and then sort of break off into wild possibilities." Germaine Greer countered with: "It evokes [...] what was going on [...] with jazz in Europe on the eve of the second world war and the big name there is not Louis Armstrong and I don't know why she decided to make it Louis Armstrong. It was Duke Ellington." Dan Stevens responded: "I think Louis Armstrong's an interesting one because he was at the end of his days." Odd. I don't think we had any problems with blank pages in our Armstrong special issue last month.

Dave Gelly on the forthcoming BBC4 documentary on Barbara Thompson
The film follows Barbara through a series of consultations with specialists, during which a number of strange observations emerge. It seems, for instance, that people who are highly motivated, driven or obsessive (which would fit most musicians) are more prone than average to develop Parkinson's. But, on the other hand, such people are better at coping with it.

Brian Morton questions Buddy Greco
Jazz Journal wants to know if Buddy considers himself to be first and foremost a jazz singer. "Of course I am! I guess you can say it depends what you consider jazz to be, but I'm a jazz singer the way Ella was a jazz singer, and Frank was a jazz singer, or Nat. How do I pick songs? Well, I hear something that excites me and I ask myself if it sounds like a Buddy Greco song, if it's a quality song."

Alex Garnett tells Derek Ansell how he became a pro
At first Garnett senior was against Alex becoming a professional musician. "He tried to talk me out of it when I was a kid," Alex told me, "but you know kids, when you ask them not to do something . . ."

Tim Motion on the Marciac jazz festival
For 15 days a marquee holding more than 3000 people is filled to overflowing every night at £35 a pop. This does not include those on the sidelines, free daytime jazz concerts in the central place and other venues like the new L'Astrada theatre providing a more intimate setting. Music rules, with the help of a collective vision and serious sponsorship and . . . jazz is popular! More here.

Bob Weir at the IAJRC Convention in Manchester
This was the 48th annual gathering of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors. Only three have previously been held outside of North America. Ian Tiele and his committee rose to the challenge to make the Manchester event one of the most enjoyable and well organised of them all. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the Radisson Park Inn and the renowned northern hospitality also played their part in this success.

Steve Voce on the BBC Big Band
The BBC Big Band is, at this stage of the game, magnificent. It must count as one of the finest and certainly most versatile of today's jazz orchestras and surely outranks most of the others. It's been going for so long now and is used to playing such a variety of music that its range of material is breathtaking.

The Jazz Journal Calendar 2012
We're delighted to announce the Jazz Journal Calendar 2012, featuring an evocative collection of black and white jazz photographs of some of the great names in jazz. The 13 images in the calendar are by John Watson, one of JJ's photographers, author of The Power Of Jazz and a nominee in the 2011 Jazz Journalists Association awards for his photo of Carla Bley. The perfect Christmas gift at just £9.99.

Michael Steinman on Randy Sandke
Randy is that rarity, a musician who can write convincing prose. He is an authentic jazz scholar, not simply someone who has opinions in print. A decade of research resulted in Where The Dark And The Light Folks Meet: Race And The Mythology, Politics, And Business Of Jazz, a wide-ranging study of distortions that pass for received wisdom in jazz history (and the curricula built on those assumptions). Randy is particularly infuriated by attempts to portray jazz as a racially divided music, where African-Americans took their inspiration directly from Africa and brought it to America only to have it stolen by greedy Caucasians who copied their innovations, ran record labels and jazz clubs. This history, he feels, discards the evidence that doesn't fit politically leftist agendas about oppression.

Mark Gilbert reviewing Django Reinhardt: Three-Fingered Lightning on DVD
There are oddities and idiosyncrasies: His handicap "forced him to explore new harmonies". This seems romantic – Reinhardt rather put lush harmony on the guitar (little or none of it original) in spite of his crippled left hand. Audio insights from the man himself sound more trustworthy and more down to earth: His favourite key? "F sharp minor . . . It's mysterious." He debunks connections between painting and music: "They're exact opposites." Did his painting not grow out of his music? "No, seeing my friends paint inspired me."

Michael Tucker on the Sounds And Silence DVD
Certainly, there are many fine moments [...but] from the strictly jazz point of view for me nothing here comes close to the wonderful sequence towards the end of Julian Benedikt's 2006 film Play Your Own Thing: A Story Of Jazz In Europe (EuroArts 2055748), in the section called "The Personal Signature" where we see Eicher recording the November 2005 Lontano session with Tomasz Stanko and his Polish trio featuring Marcin Wasilewski.

John Robert Brown quotes Phil Woods' remarks on the The Jazz Master Class DVD
"If you're entertaining notions of becoming a brain surgeon or a tenor man, I'd go with brain surgery," he advises the assembled saxophone students. "Jazz music is only for those who have no choice." Getting close to biting the hand that feeds, he says of the contemporary scene "There's so much jazz education, and so little jazz."

Nic Jones on Stanley Dance's Felsted recordings, recently reissued on the Solar label

Felsted's music featured swing era veterans whom Dance considered neglected (despite the fact that most of them had enjoyed long and fruitful careers by the end of the 1950s) and in reaction to the self-conscious modernism of the 50s, he used "mainstream" to describe their music, situated as it was between the two extremes of Morton/ Oliver on one side and Parker/Gillespie on the other. Critics, producers and promoters still rely on the term today.

Simon Spillett on Serge Chaloff, subject of a recent Properbox set
Compared to Parker and Payne, the tone was light, but it suited (and was perhaps developed to facilitate) the astonishing dexterity of his phrasing. Indeed, speed up Blue Serge and Charlie Parker himself emerges. And it is this – the sheer authenticity of Chaloff's understanding of bebop – which not only marked him out as quite separate and advanced from contemporaries such as Leo Parker and Cecil Payne but which also stood him apart from the (largely white) colleagues who appear beside him on the majority of this early work.

Brian Morton on composer and bassist manqué Graham Collier
He switched to double bass, but gave up playing in 1979; never perhaps a "natural" performer, he recognised that his powers lay in composition and it was always important to him, as he set out in his book The Jazz Composer: Moving Music Off The Paper, to explore in a determined but untroubled way the debatable lands between improvisation and "written out" music.

Alastair Robertson on jazz archivist Frank Driggs
Frank was one of those fabulous and now almost extinct New Yorkers who had wonderful memories backed by huge collections and memorabilia. They all shared the conviction that American jazz of the early/mid 20th century was totally magical and had somehow to be preserved. The death of Frank Driggs leaves a big hole in the jazz history business which cannot be filled.

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