The NEA Jazz Masters ceremony was more about the soul of the music and its proponents than about who won and who didn’t. The messages delivered by the recipients, as well as by the planners and emcees, were sincere in their attempts to describe the value of this music as being more than mere entertainment, as transcending the profit motives of the very corporate sponsors who began marketing jazz in 1917.
The first half of January 2012 at The Stone is being hosted by Stefan Winter, who founded JMT records in 1985. Besides launching the recording careers of Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Robin Eubanks, Gary Thomas and Jean-Paul Bourelly, JMT (now called Winter and Winter) also championed many “downtown” artists, such as Tim Berne, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Bob Stewart, Craig Harris, and Herb Robertson.
The standard end-of-the-year party is attended by people who have got, or are anticipating the arrival of, their end-of-year bonuses and want to party a little harder than usual. As the coarser forms of social lubricants are dispensed and imbibed, inhibitions and standards of decorum drop and playing music that everyone finds satisfactory can be, to use a single word, challenging.
I can only remember two times, the West Coast premiere of Pauline Oliveros’s To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation and a performance of Donald Erb’s The Seventh Trumpet, where an orchestra I was in performed an “original” composition. This isn’t to say that orchestras never play new music, just that their ratio of new compositions to “flagwavers” was more than reverse that of jazz musicians. I find something rewarding in playing standard material though.
That big bands didn’t die out after the demise of the swing era in 1946 is no news to the thousands of musicians who played in studio orchestras and rehearsal bands around the world throughout the 1960-’80s. If anything, big bands became more institutionalized in American culture after the end of the so-called “swing era”: instrumentation became codified and a standardized big-band texture became the sound and feel of American music.
I couldn’t believe how much sound Paul Motian got from the tiny set he used, but it was really hard to watch him. Sometimes I thought he was going to miss whatever drum or cymbal he was aiming at. Actually, I couldn’t tell what he was aiming at because his arms would float around until the very last instant that he decided what he was going to play.
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.