The Jazz Composers Collective on Creating and Performing



Jazz Composers Collective: Clip #3


FRANK J. OTERI: This whole notion of new material versus tradition and how to deal with this tradition of jazz… I don’t know if any of you have seen the Ken Burns series

MICHAEL BLAKE: Yes, I’ve watched pretty well all of it, yeah.

FRANK J. OTERI: Any reactions? Thoughts? Observations?

RON HORTON: I would have to say in agreement with a lot of things that I read even before I saw it is that it was certainly comprehensive up to a certain point. I don’t think anyone would dispute that his coverage of many types of jazz up until 1960 or thereabouts was superb. And even for a lot of us who were pretty knowledgeable about the entire spectrum of jazz, it was pretty informative. I’m certain there were a few musicians that we were not that familiar with, and it brought that to light. I would say that the gripe of almost everyone that I’ve read or talked to is that the coverage from 1960 or ’65 until the present is not comprehensive. And for a variety of reasons. I think even in his own defense, Ken Burns said that he wasn’t out to cover every person in jazz, or everything in jazz. And it’s, you know, I mean, and then the list starts all the people that he didn’t cover. And I would hope that someone will just expand, or just expound on what he started, and cover all the great things that have happened in the last 40 years, which is enormous. Jazz is always progresssing and changing and taking in outside influences and musicians that are influenced by each other, and there are many different factions. I mean, even in New York, we talk about the downtown scene, or Lincoln Center, we talk about all the different young players, the older players, and that’s one aspect. There are all different areas around the country that people come from…

BEN ALLISON: And the world. Europe and the Orient.

MICHAEL BLAKE: It’s an international music now.

RON HORTON: It’s huge.

MICHAEL BLAKE: I was just amazed at how it became such a "Go USA" thing in the end. They didn’t even sort of say how jazz has become a language of the world. People have been improvising music, you know, folk musics and things like this, it’s certainly not something that’s completely only American. But obviously this music came out of U.S. History. I’m Canadian, so maybe I had an objective perspective, but I was surprised that it just ended up being this sort of "Made in America" thing.

BEN ALLISON: I ran into Wynton a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t say anything, I just said, "Yeah, man, I’ve been seeing you on TV a bit," and he was like, "Aw," you know, "man," he’s like, "that’s not for you and me. That’s for middle America." And, you know, I was like, "Well, you know, it’s for me, too, because I learned, " like Ron said, I learned a hell of a lot from watching it. But, the point is that to a certain extent, it was geared towards an American audience to tell an American story. So while it ignored a lot of stuff that happened after 1960 and I’m really, really looking forward to part two. And also it ignored everybody in Europe, an incredibly strong, vital important historically significant scene, many scenes… I think the focus on the music as an American art form was important to tell in that way, because there are a lot of Americans who may not be aware of it as being that. This country has, unfortunately, a really dark, sordid cankerous part of its history that is imbedded in the very fabric of our society. And out of that came this beautiful music. This is just my opinion. Jazz is the melding together of this European music with this African stuff. I mean, the I, IV, and the V chord, that’s Bach, and that’s blues, same changes. But the rhythm and the triplet and the in-between notes and the untempered scale and the soul and all that stuff, you know, that’s the African influence. And together they form this uniquely, originally American art form. That’s the beauty of it to me. It’s the most glorious expression of what America is about: the freedom, the mixing of cultures and all that kind of stuff. It’s profound. And so profound that it’s now seeped out into the rest of the world in the last 50 years and moved everybody worldwide.

MICHAEL BLAKE: Which is my point, and I don’t mean to claim Maynard Ferguson and Oscar Peterson, I’m just saying that for me, I don’t think it ever got to the downtown scene or the Europe scene…

BEN ALLISON: Right, yeah, it leaves a lot out.

MICHAEL BLAKE: It leaves a lot out and I think everyone acknowledges it. I agree with Ron in terms of right up until the mid-late-’50’s, I thought there was all sorts of great information. I’m not a fan of his documentary style. I’m really not, I have to say. I don’t like his films very much. So, that aside, I mean, it’s about jazz, so I love that.

BEN ALLISON: But with any luck, a lot of people will be turned on to…

MICHAEL BLAKE: …some of that music.

BEN ALLISON: … the word "jazz," at least, whatever that means. You might as well start with Louis Armstrong and Duke, and then hopefully, out of that, you know, you may check out Ornette, and then you’ll end up with, you know, Albert Ayler, and then you’ll get to Paul Bley, and then all of a sudden you’re into Frank Kimbrough. You know, it’s a lineage, and hopefully people are inspired that may not have been at all familiar with the music as an art form, to go check it out. That’s how it happened to me. I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Neil Young, and somebody talking about Jimmy Page said, "Oh, man, you’ve got to check out Pat Metheny, man, he’s totally boss." So I went out and got a Pat Metheny record, and Charlie Haden was on it, so the next record I got was a Carla Bley, ’cause he was on it. And it was like, oh my God. So it suddenly occurred to me how much out of the loop I was. And then it was just one of those record-buying frenzies that take about 10 years.

FRANK J. OTERI: I know what those are like.