Archive for January, 2008

Monk on the Air

I’ll be the guest on WILL (Illinois Public Radio), on the AM 580 morning show “Focus 580” with David Inge tomorrow at the 10:00 hour, chatting about my book, Thelonious Monk, and jazz history. For those of you not in the WILL listening area who want to check it out, it’s podcast here: http://www.will.uiuc.edu/am/focus/default.htm Not sure if it comes through live streaming there or just after the show airs.

Here’s a permalink:

http://willmedia.will.uiuc.edu/ramgen/archives/focus080125a.rm or


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Lacy in Action

Since a lot of people haven’t heard Steve Lacy, here’s a youtube video of the Steve Lacy 4 (Steve Potts on alto and Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass; I think it’s John Betsch on drums). Two things about Lacy that this really brings out nicely: first, I think his is the best sound on soprano sax in all of jazz, and second I think he plays remarkably un-cliched solos. The sax sound thing is a sax-player-geek thing, but so be it. As a player (of minimal skill), I listen to the sound of the horn as much as the content of the melodies, etc. Lacy’s sound is really distinctive and I think it’s eminently listenable.

Also a nice example of Lacy’s writing, the tune, “Prospectus,” is sweet and shows his interest in counterpoint.

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Steve Lacy

steve-lacy.jpgI was listening to a recording of Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd playing “Monk’s Dream” (on their 2000 release of the same name) this afternoon, and thinking about how much I like Lacy’s approach to music and to the soprano sax in particular. But I wonder a little whether I mostly like to listen to him because he was one of the most awesome people in jazz I’ve ever met. He was a beatnik from the old school, and without question one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Generous, kind, worldly and urbane, happy to be interviewed, though I think he must have said many of the things he said to me over and over. I remember thinking, that is what I want to be like when I grow up.

Perhaps the thing that impressed me most at the time is that his way of playing and his way of conversing were so similar. It’s hard to find a way to explain to students, without looking utterly irresponsible, but I’m pretty sure that’s why I like him so much.

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Just found this in an interview with Charlie Haden from downbeat’s website. He and the interviewer are talking about bassists he learned from, and when they get to Wilbur Ware (who played, among others, with Monk) the interviewer says what a great soloist he was. Haden says:

You forget sometimes that you are playing music, not just playing jazz. It’s good sometimes to remind people of the musicality of the moment by going to just one note and letting them hear it.

Nice, on the power of genre.

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I love Philly, as anyone who knows me can attest; and this is one of the reasons why:

(For those who didn’t catch it at the beginning, that’s Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.)

Thanks to Charles for bringing this to my attention.

Compare with MC Rove at the president’s press dinner last year. Also makes me wonder: what is it about “Rapper’s Delight” that makes it THE thing for non-rappers to perform (or emulate)? Is it just it’s position as an iconic first rap to be nationally prominent? Or is that there’s something about the rhythm that is easy to accomplish? Or perhaps that it’s just such fun to say “Hip hop, hippy hippy hop”?

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A friend just brought Maureen Dowd’s recent column on Barak Obama to my attention, for this:

“…Obama’s vague optimism and smooth-jazz modernity came together in a spectacular fusion with the deep yearning of Democrats who have suffered through heartbreaking losses in the last two elections with uninspiring candidates.”

It makes me wonder what she is accomplishing or attempting to accomplish with this off-hand reference. Am I making too much of the “smooth-jazz” toss-off? It is impressive as short-hand for so much, but with plausible deniability. What is “smooth-jazz modernity”? The article is hard to parse–she seems dismissive of Obama, but impressed with his ability to mobilize Iowans. The reference to smooth jazz is part of what gives me that feeling: by linking him to smooth jazz she may signal to some readers a placement within the black middle class (which is, of course, quite accurate), which has been denigrated and dismissed by commentators, black and white, for years. Think LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s harsh words in Blues People. One wants to hear from Charles Carson about this, whose paper on smooth jazz at this year’s AMS promised to unpack the making of a middle class music for the black middle class in the 80s and 90s.

The other funny thing about this smooth jazz reference is that Obama seems not to want to be heard as smooth jazz. Phil Ford’s post on the candidate’s song choices at Dial M for Musicology shows Obama to have avoided smooth jazz entirely, in favor of (primarily) soul and R&B that is much less explicitly middle class-identified. It’s a pretty good list, incidentally, if predictable; and mercifully free of Bachman Turner Overdrive.


Another friend points out that the reference allows Dowd to suggest (without quite having to say it) that Obama is “all hope and style (without substance).” That’s about right, I’d say–totally what people who love to hate smooth jazz hear it as representing.

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There was some interesting discussion of Cpt. Beefheart back in the Fall, because I was playing him in the rock seminar. At the time I think I neglected to mention that I had programmed him largely because I think Robert Christgau’s and Lester Bangs’s approaches to writing about him so nicely encapsulate the differences between their whole ways of going about doing rock criticism (probably possible to find other musicians for whom this is true, but Beefheart works so well and does give an opportunity to talk about old man Van Vliet as well…). The posts are here and here.

In any case, I got a smile from this online comic piece on Beefheart from Scary Go Round. I particularly like the question, “Have you been buying records from the rag and bone man again?” The celebration/deflation of the record collector/Beefheart fan is pretty spot on.

[Thanks to my brother, Jeremy, who writes read-in, for pointing me to this.]

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