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.
While the analytical similarities of Thelonious Monk’s “Friday the 13th” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” might be interesting to some people, these two iconic musical figures have something else in common. Both were extremely individualistic and found it difficult, if possible at all, to compromise their artistic visions to satisfy the whims of their handlers.
While the standards for achievement at two-year colleges aren’t as stellar as at a conservatory, the teachers are dedicated and the students are motivated. Granted, the talent pool for music students is limited, but the creativity displayed by the professors in order to help them make good music is fervent and often heroic.
Jazz Camp West’s non-institutional environment and the lack of age limitations are what make the camp unique. I would add that the lack of emphasis on jazz vs. funk vs. mambo vs. samba vs. hip-hop is a contributing factor. But probably the single most important factor in fostering a sense of community among the campers and faculty is the lack of cell phone service and difficulty in accessing the internet.