The New Jazz Exploration

Now Hear This

I thought I’d never again hear a voice as pristinely exquisite as that of Nancy Wilson. Give Cecile McLorin Salvant a listen.

Performed live at the Village Vanguard in 2017 this is on her excellently recorded album Dreams & Daggers. As I trip through the new world of jazz I am rediscovering jewels I had long forgotten and extraordinary stuff that is completely new to me.

This renaissance is coming to me from two directions. The first was my new commitment to building a serious hifi system. I finally got it in place this summer. The wonderful thing about high fidelity is that it is encourages you to be courageous about music because there is so much more to hear when you have an excellent system. Music that is uninteresting on ordinary stereos and iPhones, even with their best headsets, bloom in an audiophile setup. I can do this because my car is paid off. It’s worth it. The second vector is my father’s collection of jazz recordings of all sorts that he is pushing my way. This includes hundreds of CDs and MP3 discs of unknown and obscure origins, as well as several dozen books of criticism, photography and history. I might have thought that amidst all of the chaos and noise of our conflicting society, that magnificent thing called jazz had fallen into a coma of obscurity. This was a premature autopsy.

Maybe It’s The Hat
While Los Angeles remains in a twilight of empty venues and unclear rules of social engagement, the calendars of my old favorite jazz hangouts remain the same as they were last April. I miss local gigs with Michael Wolff and Josh Nelson. With the exception of Don Randi and Quest at the Baked Potato, there doesn’t seem to be anyone performing live. The Jazz Bakery ain’t baking. The Blue Whale remains under water. Catalina’s is a desert island pleading for donations to keep its doors open. Even the LA Philharmonic is still cancelling events. But I am preparing myself nevertheless. So I have secondarily decided to compile a set of duds that will instantly identify me as a jazz man. To that end I’ve put together a Pintrest board of haberdashery. All of us have suffered COVID hair and I realize I haven’t ironed a shirt in a month of Sundays. When we re-emerge it should be celebratory. I’m going for jazz pizazz. It is great to be alive.

Discoveries
I was stunned not long ago to discover Barry Harris. Never heard of him. But as I have tended to gravitate to music theory videos on YouTube, I suppose it was just a matter of time. When he explains what’s wrong with symphony orchestral musicians, I’ve never heard it explained like that. They can’t improvise because they were never taught chord progressions. So he teaches. What a brilliant teacher he is.

I know it might sound silly and naive of me, but I don’t really know much about the following: Jaco Pastorius, Keith Jarrett & Pat Metheny other than the very basics. But since I listened to his interview with Rick Beato, I have found that Metheny and I share that trait of ridiculous memory. That has been enough for me to venture past Bright Size Life and start following the trails of musicians he played with. It is a wonder that it has brought be back around to John Scofield via Steve Swallow and the legend I never knew existed, Gary Burton. So this is going to occupy my mind on a going forward basis, and I should be good to go until Christmas at which point I’m going to have to face Don Cherry and Jack DeJohnette again.

Since I recognized this, I did once again give Mahavishnu another listen. Now that I understand more about [rock] guitar virtuosity, I have begun to understand what so many people like about them. So what was essentially unlistenable to me in my 20s now has marginally more appeal. Still I come back to what Metheny explained. Melody is important, and yes there were moments when I could even groove to Cecil Taylor, but I have my cognitive limits.

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On the other hand, I found myself heading out to Amoeba Records in Hollywood with something else entirely on my mind, which was Dub, Dancehall and Reggae. So this wrapped me in a wave of nostalgia. So I should have a balance of the simple as I approach that swamp of complexity that is the work of the experimentalists. By the way, my favorites remain Radiodread and the newly discovered Legend remixes. If you haven’t heard Radiodread, you are in for a treat.