Well, DTM keeps trucking along. Has it been ten years? Actually I think it's been longer.
Some of my posts have been controversial, usually when I've been a bit casual or hasty or when I least expect it.
However, the post that worried me the most - I lost sleep, bled tears and blood, and almost threw my back out when hitting the "post now" button in 2008 - seemed to end up being generally accepted: The long look at Lennie Tristano, "All in the Mix."
Of course this was an autobiographical post. I play a lot like Lennie. I always will.
"All in the Mix" stands apart from previous Tristano literature in that it takes race head on. To use a phrase from David King, these were the white weirdos in a black music.
I'm possibly being egotistical here - and I hasten to add that I don't think I got everything right in this essay - but I'd bet that all future significant Tristano literature will have to react to my contribution.
The point being simply that ya gotta deal with race. Period.
I've just done a light re-edit. For those that know it already, the following is only significant addition, where I add the word "clave" for the first time:
“Ko-Ko’s” melody is a short introduction to blowing and “Marshmallow’s” melody is a full 64-bar chorus. It may seem like that between the faster tempo, the actual faster rate of notes, and the length of the melody, “Marshmallow” would be the harder piece to learn and play.
In reality, if I had to choose between the two melodies to teach any group of amateur musicians I would unhesitatingly choose “Marshmallow” as easier. The rhythm in “Ko-Ko” is hard to reduce to an even beat, whereas “Marshmallow” is right on. There are many accurate transcriptions of “Marshmallow” - despite its speed, it is almost made for easy transcribing - but who even really knows what “Ko-Ko” is? (It isn’t correct in the Charlie Parker Omnibook, for example.)
There is something about Parker and Gillespie on the head which is very accurate, very fast, very loud, very stop and start, and very loose, all of which is at the heart of mystical bebop rhythm.
I don’t know how Parker and Gillespie talked about their rhythm. Based on the literature, they didn’t talk about it much at all.
However, these days, the word “Clave” is used by sophisticated musicians when discussing the bebop era. Billy Hart was the first to suggest this nomenclature to me; I’ve heard Ben Street and Mark Turner use this word in reference to bebop as well.
Clave means, at least in part, a way of organizing musical sentences where specific accentuation is required. Is is not European; it is not “white.” It is something that wouldn’t be here without American slavery.
The Charlie Parker melody and improvisation of “Ko-Ko” is full of clave. I wouldn’t say that “Marshmallow” is bereft of clave, but at the same time, there’s no doubt that the emphasis on “grooving rhythmic accentuation” is much less in “Marshmallow” than “Ko-ko.”
Also, compare Max Roach’s solo chorus with Denzil Best’s solemnly straight drum intro. (Best actually happens to be black). And both Roach and Gillespie (on piano) volley fiercely behind Bird’s solo in a way that is of no interest to the Tristano school.
This sounds like I am beginning to disparage “Marshmallow,” which is not what I am meaning to do. It is stunning that Marsh and Konitz could figure out how to do something new with "Ko-Ko" so soon - just four years later!
Discussions about race in jazz often dissolve into unhelpful generalities, probably because few musicians (and hardly anybody in academia) understand the mystical, subtle, clave side of bebop rhythm. But let me tell you right now: "Ko-ko" is still one of the highest expressions of that "complexity" ever recorded. And sending “Marshmallow” into the ring against it is folly.
So when Gillespie said that
...The cool period always reminded me of white people’s music. There was no guts in that music, and not much rhythm, either...
he is backed up by the comparison of these tracks.
But! “Marshmallow” remains really cool, especially with that sweet self-deprecating title. It's not "Ko-Ko" but it is full of rhythm and hard to do. Most black or white players of that era couldn't play “Ko-Ko,” but nearly as many would have had a problem with “Marshmallow.”
Frankly, discounting all his authentic masterpieces, there's a fair amount of Dizzy Gillespie on record (especially from his later years) that is less interesting than "Marshmallow."
We should allow everyone truly great a place at the top table.
Perhaps the reason why Gillespie felt he needed to be so harsh in print against Tristano was fundamentally extra-musical.
The new edit was provoked by Kevin Sun's long and valuable investigation in to how Mark Turner is seen by his peers (part one, part two). I'm quoted extensively and DTM is linked to several times, including "All in the Mix."
I'm fascinated by a recent NY Times poll that contrasts the current moment with the era of the first posting of "All in the Mix."
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good.
When taking the long view, this is a positive trajectory. More of us - including myself - are awake to how far we need to go.
In related reading, last week I devoured Ta-Nehisi Coates's bestselling memoir Between the World and Me. You should read it too.
Of course Ta-Nehisi is my man. I now cite him in "All in the Mix."
I've gotta tweak him about one thing, though. He never discusses jazz; as far as I know he has no real use for it. He's from the hip-hop era, and rightfully references that genre all the time.
So when Coates writes...
The older poets introduced me to artists who pulled their energy from the void—Bubber Miley, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, C. K. Williams, Carolyn Forché.
...I'm disappointed. Or at least extremely skeptical that Bubber Miley means anything more to Coates other than "obligatory old time jazz cat reference."
Not that Bubber Miley isn't awesome. I'm going to go listen to him on "Black and Tan Fantasy" right now. But this scans as a namecheck from consulting, I dunno, Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz or something.
Part of Between the World and Me is taken up with looking for authentic African-American greats that can compete with anybody on any stage. Well, they are right in front of us, of course: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman...[list continues for several hundred more names, none cited by Coates]...
Coates doesn't need relatively obscure Bubber M. to get there. I hope at some point Coates takes up investigating jazz as an essential intellectual/spiritual property in a serious fashion.