Saturday, June 4, 2011

8 Days a Week...

Well, sports fans, it is only 8 days til we head to Istanbul - and while some are already sick of this count down - I am getting more and more excited.  Watched a contemporary jazz documentary tonight - ICONS AMONGS US - while Di was at work that included a variety of great clips including this incredible version of "Masters of War" by Bill Frisell.

One of the on-going thoughts throughout this documentary was:  what is the social context for jazz in the 21st century?  In the early days - and as the groove matured into the 50s and 60s - Sonny Rollins and others would say that jazz was a way for Black folk to speak to a culture that refused to listen.  But what does it mean in a multi-cultural, multi-racial world 50 years later? (Not saying that racism is any where near dead but...)

+ The Marsailis Brothers have worked to articulate a vision of jazz as the historic creation of Black musicians who have found White compatriots willing to explore collaboration - and the success of Jazz at Lincoln Center is one very clear expression of what contemporary jazz might mean in the 21st century.

+ But then Bill Frisell offers a whole other insight saying:  "Jazz is the realm of possibilities - it is like... infinite... what the world could be like - with deep expression and creativity - where no one gets hurt and possibilities are open." That resonates with me, too.

+ So where do you put a cat like Kurt Rosenwinkel?  We heard him with our kids at the Village Vanguard this past winter - blew us ALL away - with his passion, poise and power on the guitar.  He knows the past but is blazing away at the future

+ Then there is the classical vs. improvisation camp - and what's the REAL difference between improvisation and jam bands anyway?  Wayne Shorter suggests that improv is what we ALL do in real life - especially in times of uncertainty and transition - so jazz is something we all have in common.  Herbie Hancock makes it clear that jazz - like all music - is to serve the common good - to lift humankind upwards - and we have that in common, too.  Then Esperanza Spalding sings, "Jazz is soul..." and the questions resurface all over again albeit in a very playful way, yes?  Made me think of the complaints old classical music snobs make against wildass rock guitarists - that is all noise and a jumble of notes - but when we were at Tanglewood last summer listening some of the the virtuosos of the violin take off on their solos - which sound a whole lot like Clapton or Hendrix at points - I just had to laugh and go: Hmmmm?!?

I know that coming into this thing from the rock and soul/indy folk music side of the family: I've had to play catch up with history, groove and context fast and heavy for cats who have been playing this stuff for decades know how to do with their eyes closed.  At the same time, I know music history - and bring a different feel from the heavy side of the music along with the Ralph Ellison social context school - that creates a little 21st century fusion thang.  And adding a bit Gil Scot-Heron or Rumi insights keeps it fresh, too. So, as long as I can hold down my part and do it with style, rock and jazz and blues and funk all fit.

Where it bumps into one another - in my experience and the documentary - is with some of the really old, so-called jazz traditionalists:  is that a contradiction in terms or what?  Dizzy did his thing... but didn't want it calcified. Same with the Duke or Coltrane or Masekela.  And still there are those who get all agitated like their shorts are in a knot when asked to play soul jazz like "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" or even the Allman Brothers take on "Stormy Monday."  And this documentary gives voice to this tension.  I love it all and look for how it fits together and helps me both be totally in the moment while learning from someone else's wisdom and beauty.

It is worth the time to watch this bad boy... with 8 days left in the week before we hit the trail.


Black Pete said...

I wonder if jazz taught rock and roll to grow up?

RJ said...

I think so, Peter, in many ways: I would like to explore that in a reflection later today. Hmmmm... thanks for that insight.

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