Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Finding the Right Framework for Jazz

I find that I have been casting a broader net in writing about jazz on  It certainly is not that there is not enough to cover in the “traditional classical” domain;  nor do I think it has to do with a need to ride my jazz-as-chamber-music-by-other-means hobby horse more often.  Rather, I think it has to do with my fundamental precept that all listening can only take place in the context of other listening experiences, so I like to keep my contexts both broad and flexible.

One result of my activities is that I sometimes get interesting feedback from those people primarily in the jazz world.  There are, of course, the ones who figure that I don't know what the hell I’m talking about because my mind is cluttered with too much thinking about classical music.  Every now and then, however, I get some feedback to the effect that I am writing at both greater length and depth than most jazz writers do.  I take that as a positive sign.  When I wrote about the SFJAZZ performance by Michel Camilo and his trio this past weekend, it was natural to evoke names from different corners of jazz history (Art Tatum, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor) to illustrate the breadth of Camilo’s imaginative inventiveness.  On the other hand it also made sense to add Morton Feldman to that mix, not so much because Camilo’s piano solos sounded like Feldman as because he had a way of dwelling on the sonorities of individual notes that struck me as a perfectly valid reflection of Feldman’s aesthetic.

Will this make a difference to jazz lovers?  Quite honestly, I know no more about those who go to SFJAZZ events than I do about those who pay good money for a seat in Davies Symphony Hall and then only seem to care about how loud they shout “Bravo!” at the end.  I suppose one reason why I prefer jazz in Herbst Theatre to any club setting is that Herbst is more conducive to listening than any club is.  Charles Mingus used to be very fussy about receiving respectful attention at a club gig;  but I am not sure how high the listening priority is for most club-goers.  The real point is that today’s jazz holds up to serious listening at the same level as a chamber music recital in Herbst or a symphony concert in Davies.  It may be that most folks at any of these venues do not care about this very much;  but it is nice to discover, from time to time, that my stuff gets read by those who do care.

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