Thursday, July 28, 2005

in other words...

this is a great essay I found on a jazz drummer's webpage when i was looking today for some drum solo transcriptions (you can look it at he also had this essay by jazz pianist keith jarrett.

not only is the essay interesting, the list of musicians he mentions is a great way to get started into jazz (in case you're out there, trying hard to do so) i've also highlighted some of my favorite drummers in that list, saving you hours of incalculable research

so, here's the essay, hope enjoy it s-much-s-i-did.

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: Seek what they sought." - Basho

When did jazz become a theory - a thing, not a process; a package, not an experience? When did the players begin to love their image so much that they forgot it was supposed to be about the validity of their own ongoing personal expression? Real jazz is never generic; it can only thrive on individuality and independence.
Jazz is nothing without the players. It's not jazz on paper, only in the air. Jazz is not a commodity, it's a process of self-discovery and revelation. It's about ecstasy, not greed; heart, not attitude; musical validity, not race; inclusion, not regression; struggle, not coasting; content, not virtuosity; practice, not theory; risk, not safety; motion, not stagnation; original voices, not mimicry.

In the early '60s, when I was a teenager, the following jazz players (in no particular order) were all actively creative and all completely different from each other: Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Phil Woods, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Jaki Byard, Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Percy Heath, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Giuffre, Stan Getz, Pete LaRoca, Max Roach, Paul Motian, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Lennie Tristano, George Russell, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, Ahmad Jamal, Bob Brookmeyer, Mel Lewis, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Cecil McBee, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Dollar Brand, Roswell Rudd, Beaver Harris, Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Steve Kuhn, Steve Swallow, Hampton Hawes, Sunny Murray, Warne Marsh, Dave Izenson, Bud Powell, John Lewis, J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Sam Brown, Milford Graves, Lowell Davidson, Milt Jackson, Joe Chambers, Pepper Adams, Reggie Johnson, Jimmy Knepper, Johnny Coles, Blue Mitchell, Booker Little, Herb Pomeroy, Henry Grimes, Red Mitchell, Carla Bley, Jim Pepper, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Ran Blake, Jimmy Lyons, Alan Shorter, Ralph Towner, Glen Moore, Dave Holland, Louis Hayes, Vernell Fournier, Connie Kay, Billy Higgins, Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, Eddie Gomez, Jimmie Woods, Shelley Manne, Israel Crosby, Hank Mobley, Red Garland, Gene Stone, Bobby Timmons, Albert Stinson, Eddie Marshall, Victor Feldman, Roy Haynes, Harold Land, Giuseppe Logan, Billy Hart, Leroy Vinegar, Mal Waldron, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Desmond, Steve Lacy and many more.
I would guess that about 30 of these names could have claimed ascendancy to the jazz throne more legitimately than Wynton Marsalis.

The incredible breadth of musical styles represented by these names means that jazz was what it was supposed to be: a melting pot of truly original voices. Of course, in an age of insane fascination with technical achievement (never mind to what goal), elevating a mere technician to godhead is, finally, possible and, hey, why not? But don't call it genius.
What would the corporate media/marketplace do with any of these guys today? (After all, they were just guys, not schools.) Mass advertising needs predictability and conformity, but this was democracy, not monopoly.
When I heard these players, I was influenced most by their individuality, not their virtuosity or even their competence. They each showed me something of the potential that jazz is. This is important. They weren't scared of not being accepted, and they hadn't sold out. (By contrast, today's Young Lions can stand in for each other because they've chosen the rules and they are doing the same basic imitations.)

Now were told it's a new jazz age by the same blind media industries who, along with a bunch of opportunistic critics, lackeys, panderers, cronies, hangers-on, bought the Young Lions in the first place. It's easy to handle them because they're ultra-conservative, not risk takers and easy to track. But jazz is about risking everything to your personal muse and accepting the consequences. Otherwise you don't get to sing your song. The young and old players in the '60's were singing their own songs. But today we have the Lions' Club, and the media seems to have no room or interest in anything else, even though real jazz is always alive somewhere.

I'm supposed to have something constructive to say about what to do now if what I said is true. It's really not about doing something. It's about how much we would risk to get the right something. If you're a young player, my advice is: Don't buy a ticket to the club. You don't want to be another prisoner in the lion cage; you want to be free.

If you're a consumer, stop consuming what you see in the pictures and listen to the music first. It should move you (or disturb you) if it comes from the heart, assuming your heart is intact. It shouldn't move you from A to - A; it should place you in a more intensely real world. But in the age of virtual reality there are bound to be virtual artists and virtual educators. And they will be most visible.

There's an old Bulgarian proverb: "If you wish to drown, don't torture yourself with shallow water."

Jazz is about ecstasy, and ecstasy depends on connectedness, and connectedness depends on sensitivity, and sensitivity depends on life and life depends on heart, and this heart is a gift and this gift can be used wisely or foolishly, too soon or too late, half-heartedly or whole-heartedly. All of our great jazz musicians did not question how much to use and to what purpose. Technically competent and virtuoso players of today (genius or otherwise) beware: These waters run deep.

The state of jazz is, as it always has been, dependent on the guts of the players to choose the real discipline, not the virtual one. But it seems it must have been better understood in the past, when more of the world we see and hear every day was real.

Nowadays, if legitimacy is conferred only by the media and not by peers, we can claim to live in a set-piece created by corporate power, where it is unnecessary to corrupt sensibilities because they have already been tampered with. In this scenario there is no jazz.

Back in the early '60s there was a melting pot of individual voices, a democracy. There was no single expert on jazz. Jazz was the music then, not the image; the ideas, not the ads; the content, not the hype; and jazz soared in those days whether the media wanted it to or not because there were listeners, each equipped with a pair of real (non-virtual) ears and a real hunger for the real thing.

So who will jazz players of the future be able to use as a beacon from this age of mimicry? There was a comic book series called Plastic Man, back when I was a kid, and in the last issue there appeared an exactly identical but fraudulent imitation of Plastic Man who could do everything the original could do: stretch his arms for miles, take the form of any person or object, etc. In this issue there was a dialogue between them that went something like this:

"I am the real Plastic Man." "No, I am the real Plastic Man." "No, you're an imitation." "But plastic is already an imitation." "Yes, but I am really Plastic Man." "How do you know?" "Because you are the imitation Plastic Man." "No, you are!" "But…plastic is already an imitation, and we're identical in every way, so I'm as real as you!"

I have two sons who are both musicians, one already a working musician. It is my hope that they can hear great jazz musicians of their day-live, if possible. But if the media becomes the Mafia and Plastic Man keeps selling, those great musicians will be harder to find.

The hostile takeover of jazz within the media (or the "infotainment telesector," as Benjamin R. Barber calls it in his book Jihad vs. McWorld) has happened. Let's hope there will be young players who see this as a new set of prison bars, meant only to be flown through. If you are ready to fly, you don't put on a suit and join a club. You talk to the birds.

Jazz is probably the only art form whose existence depends on resistance to theories (whether those theories are by blacks or whites). Unlike other kinds of music (and most professions, corporate or otherwise), jazz asks that we speak from our being, not about our expertise in the field. If someone is an expert on jazz, you can be pretty sure he/she is not a vital jazz musician. Where a young player today can have a long enough apprenticeship (so the being-work can get started before Mr. Sony or Mr. Columbia eats him over a two-martini lunch) is a question I can't answer in the age of McWorld. But it's up to the players to know when to say no. There is no way to demystify jazz except by playing convincingly. It is a mysterious occupation.

And the reason no musicologist, critic, virtual educator or brand-name can get a handle on it is this: Jazz is about closeness to the material, a personal dance with the material, not the material itself. And this personal dance is validated not by the media, not only by other dancers. A virtual dance doesn't count in the real world of jazz.

If the phrase "whatever is the most personal is the most universal" is true, it goes far towards explaining why the true jazz giants up to the present time are who they are: They danced up a storm.

Keith Jarrett


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