Drift a Melody so Strange and Sweet

Sentimental Mood real book

Up at the New Yorker Culture Desk: Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, and One Night in New York City.

Very special thanks to Mark Stryker, who gave exceptionally valuable feedback to a weak first draft, and Sarah Deming, who sprinkled delicious fairy dust over the structure at the eleventh hour. I had many other readers who influenced major details including Ben Ratliff, Loren Schoenberg, James Newton, Jed Eisenmann, and Anthony Coleman (who is quoted in the piece). I’ve hardly ever worked with a magazine editor but Michael Agger was kind and professional.

Steve Little, the drummer with Ellington at the Rainbow Grill that night, is featured in a DTM interview.

A sentence about the Village Vanguard was cut by the New Yorker: “Fifty years later, the Vanguard is still the hippest place in town, with a management that cares more about the audience enjoying a special ambience rather than filling every seat, every set.”

Of course I’m associated with the Vanguard, so it’s certainly fair to cut the plug for the club. Indeed, I’m working there this week, and took a photo last night in the kitchen that validates the idea of it being “the hippest place in town.” Left to right: Harold Mabern, Billy Hart, Steve Coleman, Joshua Redman.

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Progress is Possible?

Smart people knew all along that Trump’s supporters were motivated by racism or racism as a business. Historically, the broke and ignorant will take any excuse to blame “the other” for their predicament. Historically, the enfranchised stoke xenophobic fears in order to keep their own hoard growing.

The broke and ignorant possessing extra amounts of outward aggression became empowered after Trump became president. (Hyland Harris, who always has his finger on the pulse, texted me one minute after Trump won, “The KKK is coming back.”) Thanks to this “rise,” we have the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year old white woman.

This is possibly good news. Another dead black body would mean nothing to the conversation, that’s been proven time and again. But a white woman? All along we’ve needed those who are a little smarter to talk some sense into their Trumpian neighbor or relative. The dead white body of Heather Heyer might be a great entry point.

This past weekend in Charlottesville was sad but nothing is new or suddenly worse. It’s really just the business of America ticking over. The hashtag #ThisisNotUS is silly.

Admittedly, I’m a white dude. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color and see a video made yesterday of newly-minted Neo-Nazis. But you can’t tell me that people of color didn’t know that the hate was there. Of course they knew it was there.

Perhaps I’m overly “optimistic,” but my gut tells me that the glorious potential of a Trump presidency remains the same, a chance to take the lid off the works and closely observe the foul machinations of the wealthy against the poor, with race as the key ingredient to make it all magically turn out as another dividend for those who already have too much.

Usually the thieves hide it a bit better. They know when to pull back and offer platitudes and consoling words, making sure that the businessmen can keep smoothly operating behind the curtain. But Trump is so dumb. He craves the continued love of the hicks, so he won’t condemn white supremacy. The ghost of Heather Heyer is hanging out and taunting him on his golf course, taunting him in his limo, taunting him in his office next to multiple screens blasting 24-hour cable news. There’s a big bill in America that never gets paid, and just maybe this pathetic narcissist will be the one forced to pay it at last.

Summer Vacation

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(Millau, France)

DTM, my twitter, FB, etc. is gonna go dark for a month, will return mid-August when the Billy Hart Quartet plays the Village Vanguard.

My fans and friends really like the interview led by Matthew Kassel for DownBeat.com. Thanks Matt!

Next week, after TBP plays Ronnie Scott’s for four nights, I’m going to join my old pal Martin Speake at the Vortex. (Old DTM: Martin’s guest post about John Taylor.) After that, Sarah and I will unplug completely and be grateful audience members at the St Endellion Music Festival in Cornwall. The goal is not to check phones or email for the duration….we’ll see if we succeed….From there I will move to the Vallekilde summer jazz workshop where my fellow faculty includes Ambrose Akinmusire, Mark Turner, Jen Shyu, Linda May Han Oh, and John Hollenbeck.

Looking further ahead, I’m somehow leading a trio with Ron Carter and Billy Hart at the Jazz Standard September 12. (Any requests?) Also on the way is the premiere of my own Concerto to Scale with the American Composers Orchestra on April 6, 2018. For more details about these and other future projects, sign up for Floyd Camembert Reports.

Doctor Who is in the news. When I was in fifth grade I took third prize in a convention costume contest dressed as Jon Pertwee (the judges included Mary Tamm). Like some other grumpy dinosaurs I don’t always like the reboot much (it’s too overblown and sentimental, plus the music is a drag, bring back Dudley Simpson’s atonal mystery!) but nonetheless I keep watching. Part of what keeps me interested is the overt identity politics. This seems to be the topic of our times, and basic entertainment like comic books and children’s sci-fi is where the rubber is meeting the road. In the end, the reboot of Doctor Who will be a fairly precise record of advances towards equality. At times this means there’s something of a hyper-banal “focus group” aspect to this progression. Still, that advance does need to happen, so: Bravo. Very much looking forward to the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker!

For light summer reading I have a very strong recommendation, Conclave by Robert Harris. I stayed up all night, it’s the most ruthlessly compelling thriller I’ve read in years. A good comparison might be The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis. Both use a byzantine closed system (papal politics or chess tournaments) to non-violent but incredibly exciting ends. In their way, both these books also mark political advances as well.

DTM this year so far:

Monk @ 100

The Breakthrough of Geri Allen

Interview with James Newton

Interview with Miranda Cuckson

“There is no ‘jazz harmony,’ only ‘harmony'”

Don’t forget the blues!

One man’s opinion about how to play for dance class

Lou Harrison at 100

Pop Musicology

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

A quick visit and video with Charles McPherson

Mary Ruefle and Claudia Rankine

David Sanborn on Phillip Wilson

Interview with Geoffrey Keezer

Interview with Robert Glasper (some great stuff in this one even though it was widely criticized)

A visit to Louis Armstrong’s house

Jazz mags from the 50s

RIP Colin Dexter

RIP Buck Hill

RIP Arthur Blythe

RIP Misha Mengelberg

RIP Nat Hentoff

The intersection of jazz and capitalism was of incredible value to the music in its heyday. No jazz cat got a grant until at least the ’70s. The players made music to be sold, and people bought the music because they had to have it.

Not that jazz and capitalism has always been a perfect match, either. Hyland Harris has sent along three items “featuring” Dewey Redman, John Coltrane, and Milt Buckner. Presented without further comment:

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Muse, High Note, Many Others

Just heard that jazz producer Joe Fields passed away. He was 88, so good innings, and certainly an important piece of the jazz puzzle in terms of the discography. I released two records with him, Billy Hart Quartet and Costumes Are Mandatory featuring Lee Konitz, and he was easy enough to work with. When talking with him it was apparent that he loved and understood the music, and he even had some good advice about the sequence of tracks and the liner notes to Mandatory.

These guys were a different breed. I don’t know who could write it, but a story of the producers, engineers, bookers, managers, club owners, misfits, flunkies, and hangers-on from the wilderness jazz years — say 1969 to 1985 — would be a hell of a fun gossipy document if done right.

Thanks for everything, Joe!

Self-Justifications of an Addict

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I can’t seem to stop buying LPs. At the stall in Casa Del Jazz two nights there was a gent offering a really outstanding selection of rarities at reasonable prices. And, after all, if you buy one, you’ve made that shape in your suitcase, so why not buy three? Indeed, three seems to be the right number for a little added bulk protection as the vinyl is tossed around by the meanest baggage handlers Europe can employ…

Illinois Jacquet in Swinging Sweden: Obviously worth it for the cover alone, but I suspect the music is great, too. I haven’t really heard Jacquet on record after his early period. Walter Perkins is fantastic but not nearly as frequently documented as some of his peers. Joe Newman is not always in a small group situation, either. Of course the wild card is Jimmy Rowles, I’m hoping to steal something that I could use the next time I play with someone like Houston Person.

Jimmy Rowles Isfahan is another duo with George Mraz.  I kind of collect Rowles records, when he is in top gear I always learn something beautiful. In this case I’m particularly curious to hear his changes for “How Deep is the Ocean,” a standard often called at jam sessions but one that I’m often at a loss to harmonize in a truly satisfying fashion.

Charlie Parker in France 1949 Live Bird is a deep dive I haven’t really done yet. In this case the fidelity is undoubtedly questionable but I am curious about how the all-stars are throwing down for the overseas crowd. There’s a desperate charm to the Bird bootlegs. For years this was the only way to get the information, and despite all manner of sonic hindrances the message of that blazing alto saxophone always comes through.

Dependence Day

The news is unremittingly depressing. While I’m not one to really bother with celebrating July 4 to begin with, in the current moment it feels like an act of personal treason to be outwardly patriotic.

As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, the television set was the most significant cultural item in our house. Every year the documentary of Woodstock was shown on PBS, and every year I watched it. (At the time I did not know that two jazz drummers I would study in-depth, Phillip Wilson and Paul Motian, were onstage for that festival.)

The performance in the documentary that meant the most was “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix. I’ve come to realize that much of my entire career is a pale reflection of that exquisite moment: Take a well-known tune and put it through a theatrical wringer.

The long view of history often proves that there are two steps in reverse after taking a single step forward. The late 1960s seemed so great and powerful for the people, yet the reactionary forces watched, waited, and took it all back with interest.

In the wake of Trump and the rest of this horrific Republican administration, our only hope is that the compassionate side of humanity gets two giant leaps forward.