1) Music Without Words Is Kind Of Inherently Lame, No?
In 1967, after the death of his Orchestra's vital composer, arranger, and pianist Billy Strayhorn (who succumbed to cancer at the age of 51), grief-stricken bandleader Duke Ellington and his musicians recorded the tribute album ...and his mother called him Bill, an arguably well-chosen selection of some of Strayhorn's best-liked tunes, including of course his melodic directions to Harlem, "Take The A Train." After the session proper, while musicians folded chairs and discussed plans for their evenings, Ellington himself sat at the piano and played a gorgeous, and plainly tortured-with-loss version of Strayhorn's ostensibly exquisite ballad "Lotus Blossom." Listening to it, Ellington's personal sense of loss is palpable. Still. One can't help but think how much strongly The Duke could have sold the tune with some lyrics. Maybe something along the lines of "I'm really sad/that you're dead/Billy Strayhorn./You played piano/but you /didn't play horn." Just give a listen and see if you don't agree.
2) So Many Kinds Of Music Gets Categorized As Jazz That People Don't Even Really Know What The Hell Jazz Is. What's Up With That?
Like, a couple of months ago, I was listening to some stuff by The Boswell Sisters, a New-Orleans-originating trio of white women (sisters, just like the group name says) who did all sorts of synthesizing-and-innovative things with harmony and syncopation and tone, vocal wise, that no less an expert than Donald Fagen (noted old white jazzbo who managed to have a few hit records in the '70s) has compared their body of work, significance-wise, to that of the aforementioned Duke Ellington. And their material is pretty peppy, despite it sounding kinda tinny and not being in stereo because most of the best of it is derived from ancient transcriptions of ancient radio recordings. Not long after that, I listened to a record by an outfit that calls itself The Apophonics. Another trio, this one all guys, and not related, one of whom plays bass, okay that's a real instrument, the other of whom plays saxophone, or saxophones, because he switches them on occasion I guess. And then there's the third guy, who plays, get this, "energised surfaces & synth." "Energised" because they're a British outfit I guess. So anyways, while The Boswell Sisters' disc I'd had on, Airshots And Rarities 1930-1935 features twenty nifty ditties, from "Here Comes The Sun" (not the Beatles' tune, but they're lame too, but that's for a different post) to "Lullaby Of Broadway" (is that gay, you think?), On Air by The Apophonics features three "pieces," and while the Boswell Sisters sing peppily, the Apophonics's "pieces" are made up of them rubbing and scraping their traditional instruments, such as they are, and whatever the hell the energized (screw you, limey, I'm using the American spelling) surfaces are. AND YET. In the liner notes to On Air is is revealed that these pieces were originally heard on "the BBC programme [Christ this British spelling again] 'Jazz on 3'." JAZZ on 3. How is this scraping and bowing and blatting and silence any relation to the "jazz" that is practiced by the peppy Boswell Sisters? Some musicologist might venture that, well, the breakdowns to which the Boswell Sisters subjected the material they chose is the most crucial proponent of their music, and that, as dissimilar to the Boswell Sisters as, say, Thelonious Monk might sound, his project of musical deconstruction was not inherently too far away from the Boswell Sisters' project. Of course the aim might be hugely different relative to potential audiences, but let's put that aside for the moment. In any event, what a combo like the Apophonics is doing is conducting an inquiry into the nature of music itself, that is, taking a proposed sound world that has been even more dismantled of certain particulars than either the Boswells or Monk necessarily dreamed of, or consciously dreamed of, and subjecting it to a kind of improvisational stress test.
Maybe that's so, but Jesus. How pretentious.
Anyway, Washington Post editorial person and part-time post-punk musician Justin Moyer put it much more elegantly in his recent op-ed piece when he pronounced: "Charlie Parker and John Zorn do not seem to occupy the same sonic universe, let alone belong in the same record bin or iTunes menu."
As my old pal Lex G. might say, "YEP YEP." Here's alto saxophonist John Zorn playing with the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet:
3) I Don't "Get" Your Aesthetic, And If You Don't Understand How That Invalidates Your Whole Project, I Feel Bad For You, Son, But That's No Reason For You To Become Unpleasant
In the aforementioned Washington Post piece, Moyer recalls studying jazz with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Pheeroan akLaff, and Jay Hoggard. "I appreciated that these generous African American men deigned to share their art at a quite white New England liberal-arts school," Moyers allows, and as you see there is not a trace of racist condescension in his nevertheless quite white reminiscence. Like he said, he appreciated it, but "I just didn’t get their aesthetic." And for an aesthetic to be valid, a white boy has to get it. In case you're interested in the aesthetic Moyer gets, well, here's the website for his band, which has a cute name. Also, in the words of Mark E. Smith, "You are working on a video project." Why doesn't this kind of stuff get grants? And also, you don't have to get so shirty, Amiri Baraka, or do I mean LeRoi Jones? I mean, really.