About Me

My photo
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Bud Powell

It was Bud's birthday this week. Here's my transcriptions of a couple of his solos. Happy Birthday Bud!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It goes to credibility Part I

If there is anything that summarises the state of credibility in our culture it was this year's speech given by the dean of the university of Alberta to the graduating class of medical doctors. In it he told very personal stories about his family, recounted anectdotes that brought tears to the eyes of the students and their families. All of it was fake. Actually that's not entirely accurate. The stories were real but they belonged to another person. Check out an article here.

On the pianist George Colligan's blog he quotes an interview he did with drummer Ralph Peterson. On the topic of the state of music business he says:
RP: The nature of the business is exploitative. So, once you’ve realized that, as an artist, you fall out of favor with those who have the power. The "chosen ones" are just getting younger and younger now to where all the guy has to do is get into college and he’s trying to get calls for gigs. I think that the cats who are now teaching in the colleges should be the development network. It should be, for example, that I could call Mulgrew Miller and say, “Ok, Who is the killing piano player out here? ” Or I’d call you and ask “Who is the killing piano player I should know about? ” And then, musicians can determine who is the next great player. Unfortunately, now it’s competitions and record labels that are determining who is the next great player.

Sometimes it’s not even the professors. It’s the administrators and the trustees and the Board of Directors deciding to put the weight and full force of support at a program behind a particular individual. You dig what I’m saying? When on the other hand, there are young students who are trying to go through the process and come out credentialed as well as experienced; like pianist Victor Gould...Yeah, Victor Gould is a cat that you should hear. He would leave you feeling encouraged about the future of your instrument...
I like how he says it should be the musicians themselves who determine another musician's credibility. This, of course, is also problematic because there are just as many different tastes in music as there are musicians. However the point really is that there are a collusion of factors against musicians determining for themselves who of their peers deserve credibility and instead credibility is engineered by people and companies with lots of money. It seems that with enough money and/or business connections a person can easily pull the wool over a mass market at least long enough to establish a career in the minds of people who aren't willing (or who simply don't care enough) to take the time to refine their own aesthetics.  And that's most people. Let's face it people are busy and they want art and culture in their lives. The engine of promotion is the only way a musician competes for space in the market place. Companies know this and they look for artists with the biggest "hooks" to become the fuel for that engine. A musician who doesn't already embody those "hooks" will be looked over by the big guns and faces an uphill struggle despite their musical abilitities and accomplishments.

If you don't believe let me ask you this: when was the last time a jazz singer over the age of 40 was promoted aggressively by a large marketing engine? For that matter how many jazz veterans, legendary musicians who played in the important groups of the past and who are still alive and playing and are shining examples of refinement and beauty at their instruments; how many of these musicians are receiving attention in the form of marketing dollars and public promotion?

It was with heavy hearts that the jazz community said good bye to Hank Jones who was still playing great well into his 90's, who passed away in virtual obscurity. A man whose playing connected the listener directly to the vital lineage of modern jazz. A pianist whose harmonic inventiveness embodied modernity while his elegant touch on the instrument left an indelible mark all pianists who heard him. You know all those guys you hear playing really smooth and quiet while they throw complex and angular lines at you? I'm thinking of players like Gerald Clayton, Robert Glasper, Danny Grissett. Hank was truly the role model for this style of pianism. If it wasn't for Joe Lovano who's notoriety allowed Jones one last look in the public's eye, Hank would have died in almost complete obscurity.

If the strength and beauty of jazz music is at least due in part to some notion of credibility, authenticity, just plain honesty then we need to be wary of the ways in which our culture erodes these qualities. These qualities I feel transcend art and are crucial to our evolution as individuals, crucial to our happiness and also act as the foundation for us to build our legacies. Here I'm not just speaking about musical legacies because very few us (and usually the least likely) will successfully do so. Here I'm speaking about how we will be remembered by those genereations who come after us. Here we will all leave some kind of legacy in the minds and hearts of those we've spent the most time with.