Just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been

(from a Brick’ s Picks in the LA Weekly, c. 2007)

Several years ago i can remember walking into a posh Valley jazz joint and realizing, alas, no one else had wandered in. The place was so empty that the lounge area where the musicians set up away from the main dinner room seemed cavernous….which was too goddam bad, as one of the best pianists in jazz was up there with a remarkable quartet and the music was simply stunning. Chuck Manning was subbing for the regular saxophonist, and the stuff he came up with…free thinking rushes of chords that just filled up all that space in the room, or low tones, held, that flowed over the rhythm section in shades of blue…wow, and when he and the pianist met in the middle entirely new compositions burst out of whatever standard they were doing, completely new creations that took the breath away and then disappeared forever when they got back to the head and the traditional melody fell into place. Oh man, this jazz music is so ephemeral. All the recorded jazz that there is in the world—your entire music collection—it’s just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been and will never be heard. Improvisation, it comes, and it goes. If you’re there, you’re lucky enough to hear it and maybe later you’ll remember a bit of it, can even pick out a trace on the piano, or try and write about it. Maybe a photo you took will spark a snippet in your mind’s ear. Maybe, just maybe, there’s even a recording somewhere. Those recordings….jazz fanatics can be driven mad by those, like that junkie following Bird around, desperately trying to catch every last note of his solos on a wire recorder before the bartender threw him out for not buying anything. Imagine that poor tortured bastard, haunted by all Bird’s solos that the world never hear again unless he can catch the sounds on his tinny little machine…and imagine his desperation as he was tossed again out into the street, hearing Bird’s alto spinning brilliance into the air that disappeared like a morning fog in the brutal summer sun….

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The coolest damn thing

(Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly, 2006)

Sometimes it must seem like we’re rattling off the same names here week after week, but what so special about jazz (or any improvisational music) is that you’re never seeing the same thing twice. That’s the whole point of the stuff. A player might call out the same damn tune every week, but it won’t sound the same as it did the week before, or the week before that, or the week coming up. And more than likely several players across town are calling out the same damn tune on the same night, but once past the head (that is, the patch of melody at the beginning that you’ll recognize) it’s all unexplored country. A more educated writer could explain how and why, but we’ll just say that while you need to know that stuff to play the things, you don’t need it at all to hear it, and to dig it. Just listen as a soloist spins a story through his horn. It might be the prettiest thing you ever heard, or the bluesiest, the saddest, the strangest, the most romantic, the most visceral. But if you listen to it, and then feel it…you’re on to something. You’re on to digging what is to be a jazz fan, and just how good it feels to me moved by a solo, or be amazed at how players—the people on piano, bass, drums, the horns—make interweaving patterns, vibrant dynamic things, sounds you can almost see unfolding before you, and how they all come back together again at the head, that is where the melody of the tune suddenly reasserts itself. And that is the coolest damn thing.