Jazz music, news and views

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Minute-Long Musing on Blues

I recently received a CD compilation of my alma mater's 60-Second Lecture Series and found a morsel-size musing from Dr. David Grazian, an associate professor of Sociology. His years at the University of Chicago no doubt inspired further explorations of Chicago blues published in Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs.

Listen: Dr. David Grazian: "The Difference Between Blues and Jazz" (transcript).

Light fare due to its brevity, of course, but I believe it obliquely reinforces what The Bad Plus insightfully posited about context and musical appreciation earlier this year.

An excerpt from a 2003 interview with Grazian might serve to partially unpack his book's subtitle:
The search for authenticity is more often based on what we think places and people ought to be like, instead of what they actually are like. It is based on stereotypes, and, like all stereotypes, images of authenticity are fantasies based on a mix of prevailing myths and popular prejudices. In the context of the local blues club, these symbols of authenticity take the form of a familiar set of overblown caricatures.


Most of all, dominant images of authenticity in the blues are informed by racial stereotypes. As a guitarist explained to me at a jam session late one night, "It's because white audiences and owners are ignorant. The owners know that tourists will ask at the door, 'Well, is the band playing tonight a black band, or is it a white band?' Because the tourists only want to hear black bands, because they want to see an authentic Chicago blues band, and they think a black band is more real, more authentic. When they come to Chicago, it's like they want to go to the 'Disneyland of the Blues.' You know, it's like this: people want German cars, French chefs, and, well, they want their bluesmen black. It's a designer label."
Read the full interview.

I'm usually disinclined to buy into generalizations involving music, race, and class, but I understand that sociologists tend to have a different perspective on things. I believe, however, that it's hard enough to assess (accurately) an artist's "authenticity" or infer his intent by analyzing the music itself, which is right in front of us. It's even more difficult to suss out what an audience in general is looking for -- and why. Like you, I imagine, I try to trust my ears, but even there, any number of factors can influence my judgment.

Your own thoughts on blues, Chicago, etc. are always welcome here, of course.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Know Your Onion

This is one of the funnier articles I've seen recently!:

Overfunded Public School Forced To Add Jazz Band.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slacking Off

Coincidentally, one of my current projects that's made neglect this blog is programming for Slacker Radio.

Slacker is a new personal internet radio service programmed by professional DJs and customized by the listener. Each station, divided by genre or sub-genre, can be customized by the listener who can skip, "favorite," or ban tracks and artists. You can also "build" your own stations around your favorite artists or genres. The forthcoming portable player (and car hook-up) are still in the works, but the service is currently available for online listening.

I program the Contemporary Jazz station, which isn't quite the misnomer "smooth jazz" detractors might think it is. The name should be taken literally: it features new and current artists with modern sounds and styles. For kicks, here's an alphabetical sampling of some of the artists on the station:

John Abercrombie
The Bad Plus
David Binney
Brian Blade
Michael Brecker
Billy Childs
Nels Cline
Dave Douglas
Kenny Garrett
Robert Glasper
Stefon Harris
Dave Holland
Vijay Iyer
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Brad Mehldau
Mulgrew Miller
One For All
Jeremy Pelt
John Scofield
Christian Scott
Mark Turner
The Yellowjackets

Essentially, I'm going for a mix of straight-ahead and more adventurous talent, plus touches of funky, acid, or groove-oriented sounds. If you think of any new or current jazz artists, major label or indie, that might fit in, do let me know. (If you're a Song With Orange regular, you know I'm a sucker for (1) thick, juicy harmony, (2) melodic hooks and lyrical solos, and (3) guitarists, often ones with ridiculous chops. I suppose that's another way to characterize the core sound of station but probably not quite as professional-sounding.)

I should also mention that while simply clicking on the "Contemporary Jazz" station will take you to the channel I program, clicking on artists' names will take you on a detour, pulling similar artists from the database and essentially making a new playlist. I encourage doing both!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Back again

I've found that when the chips are down and I have to cut things out of my routine, my blogging tends to suffer, so I apologize for the overly long absence. I'll be mentioning what's been occupying so much of my time soon, but here are some tidbits that have been floating around in my head recently:

Downbeast has chronicled some of Bennie Maupin's recording session in Poland. Read about it in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4. Cryptogramophone will release the record, tentatively titled Vital Signs in Spring 2008.

And there's more exciting news for Maupin fans: the first CD issue of his heretofore ridiculously rare debut, The Jewel in the Lotus (ECM) is out this Tuesday.

One of my favorite guitarists, Adam Rogers, has finally launched his website. He's a bit underappreciated by the broader jazz public but hardly underrecorded. His extremely varied discography is posted on his site, as well (David Binney, Alana Davis, Dennis Chambers, the Mingus Orchestra, Norah Jones, etc.). Plus, if you were ever curious about his setup, he's posted an impressive list of his gear.

Ambrose Akinmusire took first place the Thelonious Monk Competition for Trumpet at a performance here in Los Angeles, reviewed by the LA Times. Hear him whenever possible. He's got fire in his sound, but it's not necessarily that cliched, brash, "young lions" thing of the '90s. He's solid but subtle, too.

Check him out on:
Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd: In What Language?
Alan Pasqua: The Anti-Social Club (Brand spakin' new! Preview it at Crypto's website.)
Walter Smith III: Casually Introducing Walter Smith III

Percussion phenom Thomas Pridgen is barely recorded (I've only heard him on Christian Scott's Rewind That so far), but he's been gaining some attention for his crossover into math-metal-psychedelia. Since earlier this year, he's been the drummer for The Mars Volta, one of my current "culty" experimental rock favorites. The new album The Bedlam in Goliath is due out January of 2008.

Check him out (YouTube):
Christian Scott: "Rewind That"
The Mars Volta: "Idle Tooth" (cleaner studio track here).
Thomas Pridgen: drum solo

We'll be back soon.

[Bennie Maupin photo by Ewelina Kowal]
[Adam Rogers photo by Lourdes Delgado]
[Ambrose Akinmusire photo from his MySpace page]
[Thomas Pridgen photo from ModernDrummer.com]
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