John Cage was a maverick in his field. He was running against the grain, breaking with a hegemonic tradition that was at odds with his Zen-informed principles. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, while innovative, were part of a culture that was, and mostly still is, excluded from being part of that tradition’s world view.
Last Sunday was the final day of the 2012 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. All in all, there were eleven events spread over ten days and taking place at seven different locations. I was able to attend the last concert of the last day—a free outdoor event in Tompkins Square Park which is near Parker’s last official residence.
My omission of vocalist Kaylé Brecher when I listed jazz artists who include some kind of socio-political messaging in their music must be rectified. Spirals and Lines, the latest CD from this Philadelphia-based singer, composer, arranger, lyricist, and educator who self-produces her music, is highly messaged.
Improvisation is still a mystery to many non-jazz trained musicians and intellectuals who want to quantify, and possibly codify, the elements and techniques that go into it. Jazz improvisation is about tapping into a state of awareness where the self is connected to others—not different, but the same—and when that state is reached, the music happens.
When I realized that Glenn Miller had little interest in music as an expressive act, I lost my interest. To be sure, I find his music fairly boring anyway, but the socio-political apathy I understood to be part of his message really turned me off for good. When I hear jazz, I hear a music that’s about socio-political issues.