This was a hard week in terms of reading for the Big Band class I’ve been auditing at Rutgers University. Reading Stanley Crouch carving Miles Davis a new embouchure in “Play the Right Thing” made me want to start over as a fireman or a draftsman or a secret agent or a bounty hunter or anything that would keep me from having to read that.
I remember spending a lot of time practicing when I was younger. First it was technical exercises, then, after I struck out on my own, I worked on things that were pertinent to work. Now that I’m pretty familiar with the instrument, I practice a lot less, probably less than is good. I still get the bass out when I get new music to work on that’s difficult, but that’s rarer these days.
Denman invited me to go along with him to see Mark Dresser at New York University. I didn’t know Mark was in town and I soon found out that he wasn’t. He was playing via Internet2 in a concert called “Inspiraling: Telematic Jazz Explorations” with musicians at the NYU Steinhardt School Music Technology and Music Composition.
On Wednesday night, the Gully Low Jazz Band dedicated their performance at Birdland Jazz Club to author, critic, and archivist Dan Morgenstern, in honor of his 82nd birthday. Morgenstern has been writing about jazz since 1958, served as editor for three major publications, and for many years has served as the director of Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies.
The decade between the middle of the 1950s and 1960s saw a dramatic change in how the cutting edge of the jazz community approached making music; there was a gradual, but marked shift from relying on formal structures for improvisational unity to more “free” situations where individual performers could perform the music as they saw fit.
Usually, when I hear concerts of free improvisations, I sense that there’s an initial period of “group-grope,” where the performers are settling into what they’re going to do. This wasn’t the case with Mat Maneri, Ed Schuller, and Randy Peterson at The Stone on Monday. While it was clear that they were freely improvising, they were so “in tune” with each other that their improvisations were examples of musical perfection.
Slash chords are not superior to chords with long extensions and it always comes down to a matter of context whether or not they should be employed. But I do agree wholeheartedly that they’re easier to read when their lower half is placed directly under their upper half instead of being written left-to-right.
Clare Fischer’s inability to gracefully accept the dilution of his musical vision might be at the heart of his relative obscurity. He writes what he intends to be performed and is exacting in his use of notation. One of the reasons that so few collections of his sheet music are available is because when music editors don’t believe what they see in his manuscripts and begin to “correct” them, Fischer withdraws from the association.
An inversely proportional relationship exists between artistic integrity and socio-economic solvency for the vast majority of us, so it comes as no surprise that many historical examples of musicians whose reputations were founded on artistic freedom and originality also include stories of tragic and, often, shortened lives. The exceptions to this rule usually start their careers from a place of relative financial freedom where decisions about where and when to play music are based solely on aesthetic considerations rather than on earning a living.