Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hard bop repertory — a suggestion

(For Ira Gitler.)

The central position of hard bop in what is widely considered as the mainstream of jazz is an interesting phenomenon. It is paradoxical how despite its pervading presence, the lingua franca, thanks to the enormous recorded legacy, and even today, among students at music schools, there is very little literature about it. Whatever the reason, there are few biographies of musicians relevant to that genre — some don't amount to much more than listening guides —, but, for instance, no biography of Art Blakey! There's no definitive treaty of the music either (Rosenthal and Mathieson's books are clearly not enough), which, given that it would have to deal with African-American heritage more so than any other branch of jazz, it should be seriously considered by one or several scholars.

Going back to the first point, given the numbers of musicians who play in or around the hard-bop genre, among them many music students fresh out of schools, at least some of them must really like the music (in spite of all the cynicism by old farts who've seen it all). So here's my suggestion to those looking for a less-trodden path in that realm: why not explore Hank Mobley's compositions?

Hank Mobley at the Soul Station recording session, Sunday, February 7, 1960
(photography by Francis Wolff)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Recommended jazz recordings: a list of one

We are smack dab in the middle of Jazz Appreciation Month — pretty meaningless for some of us, but still a nice try at giving exposure to a sophisticated, exciting, and unlikely art form that cuts through class, racial and national considerations. In practical terms, this means events, photo-calls, blurbs, smiling faces... and lists of recordings. Of these we have many, past and present, and they tend to rely more on received wisdom and hype than on critical value — fine if you're OK with "this is great", but not so much if you need "this is great because...".

Besides, there's the wishfulness of recommending more than, say, five records to someone who's not really into jazz at all. With all the incredible stuff around us today, all kinds of music, books, films, TV... either physically or through the internet, an hour of undivided attention has become a luxury.

Because of that, and the fact that recommending anything above five records is an open door to political correctness (of all misconceptions about jazz, the one about its cultivated, unprejudiced listeners is the funniest) and, frankly, a way out for wimps, let's see if I can cut through all that background noise by telling you one (1) jazz album you should have.

It won't be anything by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. Those are extraordinary musicians, genres unto themselves, which are not representative of jazz. Say what? No, they're not. Go for any of those by all means, but don't think for a second that the rest of "jazz" is at the same level as the best of their recorded works; bear in mind their excellence and avoid future disappointments. And although many wouldn't admit this, you wouldn't be alone if your first impressions are that Kind of Blue is too slow, or Giant Steps is too overpowering (and don't get me wrong, those are masterpieces).