The Jazz Digest, March 2012

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, March 2012

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JJ OFC 0312From the editor
This month, we're seeing stars, for the first time in some decades in JJ. There's been some resistance, but as Steve Warden says in letters, they represent only the individual reviewer's reaction – not (impossible, of course) any kind of universal, eternal grading. I think he has a point, and furthermore – like, one hopes, the music itself – they shouldn't be taken too seriously, but rather as additional editorial colour, quick reference, something else to dispute. Let us know whether you think they're any use – we'll be guided.

The Jazz Journal Index 2011 is now available. It's an indispensable reference for those after a year or more's perspective on this thing called jazz. We've now also started scanning indexes and issues back to '48 and are discovering treasures that ought to be excerpted.

Where's Alan Luff this month? Sorting out his PC and shopping, both – possibly – afflicted by February's UK sub-zeroes. Whoever let the editor refer to "warmer temperatures" last issue?

Mark Gilbert on Randy Brecker, after dispatching arguments against the instrumentation of fusion
So we are left with the business of musical content. That's the matter, along with the skilful and imaginative use of late 20c instrumentation, that appeals to me in Brecker's music from the mid-70s onward, and I would argue that what he has done, far from rejecting or straying from jazz, is to extend the very tradition he comes from and which he cherished when he sat in the In My Opinion chair for Jazz Journal in March 1969 – the last time he featured substantially in this magazine. That long and wide-ranging piece is recommended for the perspective it throws on his career. In it he deals articulately and almost entirely positively, with Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Ornette Coleman, Muddy Waters, Clark Terry, Max Roach and more, reflecting his rich jazz grounding. At that time he was playing with Horace Silver's band and had lately been a member of Duke Pearson's band (featured, with mention of Randy's role, in JJ July 1968).

Clarinettist James Evans discovers the swing band scene
"Lately I've come into contact with lot of young players who don't all want to stand there demonstrating their mastery of the Lydian-Augmented mode. For example, during the last year I've been doing gigs for a scene that's sprung up in London, where 20-year-olds listen to 20s and 30s swing. They don't necessarily know about the rest of the jazz scene. I met someone who thought he was the only person who listened to Fats Waller."

Guitarist Phil Robson on composition
"I'm a very, very slow writer. I think about tunes, melodies, for ages: they mature slowly."

Trumpeter Tom Arthurs on the improv-compo spectrum
"I see composition and improvisation as a spectrum, not something black and white. Even when a classical musician plays Bach there is a certain amount of improvisation in the interpretation – personal choices of articulation and timing, just as in (good) improvised music there is always an underlying sense of focus, structure and harmony."

Dave Gelly reports on the passing of the old grey whistle test
The observant Alan Barnes once pointed out that you didn't hear people whistling in the street any more, which he put down to the fact that modern popular music is virtually bereft of tunes. Further evidence for this could be found in the nominations for this year's Oscars. The list for "Best Original Song" consisted of exactly two entries, and one of those was the theme song of The Muppets.

The Jazz Journal Crossword No.1
For example:
19 A 1969 album by Pharoah Sanders (5)
22 This Bobby mapped Route 66 (5)
23 Charlie who provided Bop For The People (7)

Traill & HinesCattin' on the keys: Richard Palmer sets out his argument against the received wisdom on piano jazz development, 20 years in gestation and prompted by a 1990s Kaleidoscope programme
I made a bet with myself who the programme's six pianists would be, and sure enough I came up with a maximum: 1. Earl Hines 2. Art Tatum 3. Thelonious Monk 4. Bud Powell 5. Bill Evans 6. Keith Jarrett. John Fordham and his associates were rehearsing a line that has been standard ever since I became seriously interested in piano jazz nearly 50 years ago. And it's wrong. It's wrong in its fundamental criteria and wrong in many of its individual appraisals and judgments. It sets too much store by alleged innovativeness; it pays too little attention to the properties of the piano itself; and it is singular in focus, denying or ignoring the richly various ways in which jazz pianists approach the instrument and their work.
Pictured: JJ founder Sinclair Traill with Earl Hines


Simon Spillett warns that grass roots jazz will be a casualty of the metropolitan jazz bubble
As all the hype and glossy coverage goes to the young, the photogenic and the currently popular, someone really has to address the issues of grass roots UK jazz promotion, because there are a whole raft of younger players – the Fishwicks, Damon Brown, Alex Garnett, Leon Greening – each essaying the core of the music with respect and individual brilliance – who are going to need to work somewhere long after the hip names have faded away.

John Robert Brown enjoys Gunther Schuller's biography, but . . .
At 660 pages, Schuller's biography, described by his publisher as "exquisitely detailed", is enormous, tiefernst, thorough and prolix, even though his account only carries us up to the end of the 1950s! Sensitive editing (by which I mean cuts) would perhaps have been a benefit. Schuller's obsession with films could have been omitted, as could the details of various church sermons heard, as well as comments about snowy weather, his reports of the punctuality of his wife Margie, his day-by-day accounts of visits to Europe and the retelling of his own dreams.

Simon Adams finds the outlines of John Surman's life covered well in a new biography, but . . .
Possessive apostrophes have been abolished throughout, although a few grocer's plural's and confusing 'it's' for 'its' and vice versa do appear. The lack of even basic punctuation makes some sentences unintelligible while, shockingly, four pages of chapter nine are first previewed nonsensically at the end of chapter eight. The discography is a mess, and peters out without listing some of the albums so nicely photographed a few pages before. And there is no index. Shame on Soundworld, for what was intended to be a tribute to Surman has become, dare I say it, nearer an embarrassment.

Graham Colombé sees Blakey, Coltrane, Griffin, Hubbard, RR Kirk and Monk in action in the long-awaited Jazz Icons 5 DVD set
For those interested in seeing musicians as well as hearing them the Jazz Icons series has been the broadest and most impressive of attempts to provide representative and significant DVDs. The recent partnership with Naxos apparently foundered for financial reasons but Mosaic as new partners have come to the rescue. Their website says "single DVDs are currently not available for purchase" but the separate numbering and the word "currently" hold out hope that after the wealthy have bought their boxes the impecunious and selective may be able to pick and choose. That would surely be the best way to ensure maximum sales and the possibility of more Jazz Icons releases in the future.

Simon Spillett on the late Bob Brookmeyer
Throughout his career, Brookmeyer continued to play the piano, always at very much more than an arranger's level and such was his stature that he was able to record an album with Bill Evans (The Ivory Hunters) which has no hint whatsoever that he was playing junior partner to the most imitated pianist of his generation.

Simon Adams on the late Sam Rivers

His was a synthesis of post-bop and a freer improvisation that never quite placed him with the avant-garde of the time. His compositions were complex and moved in unexpected directions, but were structured to allow great freedom of expression. Some of his themes are memorable, but too individual to be picked up by other leaders.

Garcia Pro ArrangerGordon Jack on the late Russell Garcia
On demobilisation Garcia joined the prestigious Westlake School Of Music faculty where his students included Bill Holman, Bob Graettinger and Gene Puerling. At this time he began writing his influential book The Professional Arranger Composer which was eventually published in 1954 and has never been out of print. Translated into six languages it continues to inspire countless writers today.

Bruce Crowther on the late Art Hillery
Many fine musicians who contribute much to the world of jazz are barely known to the wider world yet are highly regarded by those on the inside. One such musician is Art Hillery, who spent several decades making music but only as recently as 2010 made his debut as leader on a recording date.

Fleet St Jazz Club habitué Geoffrey Battison remembers his girlfriend's opinion of Oscar Peterson
The British visit of the JATP circus was quite a thrill, although my piano-teacher girlfriend, closely observing Oscar Peterson's technique, remarked that no good pianist would hold his hands like that!


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