Saturday, January 14, 2006

Jazz & Indie "Movement" - Harvard Rocker

I came across the following post on the blog Harvard Rocker making reference to a supposed "movement" that fuses jazz and indie rock, a la the Bad Plus, some of Brad Mehldau's work, Kneebody and other groups of that sort. The post was apparently spurred on by an article in the New York Times about the subject.

I'm not going to deny that there are more jazz musicians today looking to rock as source material either as covers (Mehldau) or their production values (Bad Plus), but I don't really know if it qualifies as a movement just now. Brad's trio is about as mainstream as it gets, (I mean that in a good way, not as a pejorative), it's always jazz, just sometimes they're playing a Radiohead tune.

I think The Bad Plus might fit that concept of jazz-indie rock fusion a little better, since their sonic aesthetic seems to be as much from the rock world as the jazz world, though I'm not sure if one group a movement makes. Or even two for that matter.

Add that to the idea that this is nothing new (jazz and rock have a long history together, dating back to the mid 60's). Even at the height of the neo-classic jazz movement of the 80's and 90's there were guys like John Zorn who were doing the same sort of thing (though perhaps without the effective promotion that Sony has lavished on TBP.

If anything, I think this supposed movement is more about marketing than music. The marketing (see picture for exhibit 1) people are always looking for ways to market jazz to new younger listeners, and are always looking for the next big thing.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Leave it to Apple to create the best jazz "video" in years

In case you missed it, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Moscone Center on Tuesday for his Macworld Convention keynote address, he not only unveiled new Macs running Intel processors, he also debuted a new iPod tv commercial featuring Wynton Marsalis. The spot is similar in style to the recent iPod spot that featured Eminem, (and got the shoemaker Lugz all upset, claiming Apple copied one of their recent tv spots) , though instead of orange tones on the Lugz/Eminem spot, this one has a blue tint.

That said, I think this is a VERY compelling spot, not so much for the iPod, as almost everyone (but me) already owns one. Rather it's a VERY compelling spot for jazz. It doesn't present jazz as some dusty relic, it present jazz as hip, fun and exciting. And it's not the typical uber chic image that other companies try to portray when marketing their products with jazz. It's a little bit gritty, down to earth and accessible. And most attempts of merging jazz and "music videos" have been quite horrible as well. Leave it to Apple and their seemingly "midas touch" in marketing to make jazz releavent and hip.

View the Wynton Marsalis iPod ad...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dave Douglas joins the Blogosphere

Trumpeter and leader of a million ensembles (and that's not much of an overstatement) Dave Douglas has not only started his own record label, Greenleaf Records, but also his own jazz blog. Dave's music is always interesting, some of it I like a lot, and even the stuff I don't really enjoy that much is worth a listen, because he always has something to say. And speaking of things to say, here's Dave's comments on his musical vision, which I think sheds some light on where he's coming from - here's an excerpt:
Musical collisions attract me as a composer because they challenge my assumptions and any easily accepted sense of what music and humans can be. Both music and humans surpass comprehension, but creating new music puts one at the edge of the mystery. When different systems or different languages interact, everyone benefits. It's how culture perpetuates and refreshes itself.

The growth is not always easy. I tend to see the jazz wars as part of the larger culture war about what we should believe, what the past means, and how we outgrow stereotypes. Not to overdramatize it -- there are much more critical battles going on in the reality-based world of war and fundamentalism. But if culture is a microcosm we can watch some of those same tendencies in reaction to change and progress.

What I really want to talk about are specific musical observations following up on my 12/16 post. These are some things I've noticed in the music, and they are things I don't see talked about very often.

One of the biggest obstacles that arises as soon as musicians from different disciplines play together is dynamics. How loud is loud? How loud is too loud? And what do we do about it? This is a more subtle distinction than it seems -- classical players depend on a score and an ensemble sense to guide them, jazz players tend to play as loud as the drummer, electric musicians play as loud as they have to to get the sound they're looking for. The presumption of how loud to play is not quickly re-established. The conception of volume and its meaning is a constant and persistent concern.

I'm not a big fan of the "jazz wars" thing, which most often pits Dave Douglas and his followers against Wynton Marsalis and his followers, with both sides trying to tell us how the other is ruining jazz. (I think there's room for both and all areas in between - but I think it continues mainly because both camps want to be the "underdog" fighting for their beloved music against these artistic philistines.)

However, regardless of THAT debate, I think Dave's comments are quite interesting, and help explain his constant search for new musical contexts. Sometimes I think he can be a little too ambitious, as he does so many projects and leads so many different ensembles, that he might be able to benefit from a little more focus at times.

Also, I would say that the interaction of "different systems or different languages" is ONE WAY, as opposed to the ONLY way that "culture perpetuates and refreshes itself." I'm not sure if he was implying that it was the exclusive path to artistic innovation, but regardless, it's an interesting area for thought. Certainly much of jazz history can be explained by such a theory, but I'd balk at any attempt to make that theory explain every new artistic development in jazz, let alone the larger artistic world.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Interview with jazz drummer Steve Gadd

I use the word jazz drummer loosely, not because I'm questioning Steve's jazz chops, but because he's adept at so many styles and has recorded with literally everyone, jazz, rock, blues, pop, you name it. While still a relatively young guy (by jazz standards) ask most drummers, and they'll tell you Steve is either a) their idol, or b) a living legend, or c) all of the above. I had a chance to talk to Steve a few months ago, in advance of a clinic and drum performance he was giving here in Fresno. It's not a very lengthy or in depth interview, but it does give you a little insight into Steve's incredible career.

Listen to my interview with Steve Gadd via Real Audio...