[Dixielandjazz] Another NY TIMES Jazz Review

Arnold Day arnieday at optonline.net
Sat Oct 30 15:35:11 PDT 2004

Steve, knowing your respect and admiration for Marsalis's talents, it is with some trepidation that I say "Amen" to most of Rothstein's comments. I don't know whether taxpayer dollars are involved or not, but think what $128 million could do for jazz in the USA if not all (or much) of it were spent at the whim of Mr. Marsalis. Almost every program he presents seems to be more a matter of social preaching and activism than of music. Other than a begrudging nod in the direction of Bix, he appears to totally disregard the contribution to jazz of any and all non-African-American musicians. Of course, this is music to the ears of the Starbucks-and-Fondue crowd, those PC denizens of New York City. I am not voting for him on Tuesday....so there!

---- Original Message ----- 
  From: Steve barbone 
  To: DJML 
  Sent: Saturday, October 30, 2004 11:44 AM
  Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Another NY TIMES Jazz Review

  Posted without comment, other than to read paragraph 4 and note the
  following in context:  "intended to display jazz's broad range, deep
  ambition and, not incidentally, ready marketability."

  More on that "ready marketability" tomorrow after we perform later tonight
  at the Beaux Arts Ball in Philadelphia.

  Steve Barbone

  October 30, 2004 - CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK - NY TIMES

  With Built-In Tension, Jazz Swings to the Past By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN

  Ralph Ellison, who was lured away from the trumpet to become a writer, once
  explained that in jazz there is a "cruel contradiction implicit in the art
  form." It is a contradiction between the individual and the group, between
  solitary assertion and collective cooperation.

  A "true jazz moment," Ellison said, "springs from a contest in which each
  artist challenges all the rest," in which the very nature of the player's
  identity is at stake. That is the drama of solo riffs, of call-and-response
  interchanges, of daring high-wire improvisations.

  A different kind of cruel contradiction seemed to be on display on Thursday
  night when Jazz at Lincoln Center continued its opening celebrations with a
  concert called "Let Freedom Swing." (The program will be repeated tonight at
  the Rose Theater.) This contradiction didn't come from within the music, but
  from the purpose it was asked to serve.

  Over the course of several weeks, the events at the new $128 million
  performance complex etched into the high-gloss, high-priced mall of the Time
  Warner Center at Columbus Circle, have been intended to display jazz's broad
  range, deep ambition and, not incidentally, ready marketability.

  But Wynton Marsalis, the jazz institution's artistic director, also wanted
  to make a major political and social statement, calling the concert "A
  Celebration of Human Rights and Social Justice" and deliberately scheduling
  it just before Election Day.

  So six new compositions were commissioned for the Lincoln Center Jazz
  Orchestra, setting texts and speeches by Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond
  Tutu, Vaclav Havel, Lyndon B. Johnson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy
  and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The texts were recited by
  celebrities: Morgan Freeman, Mario Van Peebles, Alfre Woodard, Glenn Close,
  Patricia Clarkson, Keith David and the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III.

  And while the composers themselves were less well known; they were, after
  all, meant to write music in service to the ideas being expressed.

  But this kind of devotion to the text or even an attempt to illuminate and
  expand on the text - was missing through much of the concert. Rather as if a
  trumpeter, called upon to improvise on a motif and to carry forward a
  musical argument, ended up having very little fresh to add to the argument,
  to what was already being said. That was certainly the case in the settings
  of Mr. Mandela's and Archbishop Tutu's words by Darius Brubeck and Zim
  Ngqawana, or Emil Viklicky's settings of words by Mr. Havel or Toshiko
  Akiyoshi's settings of Mrs. Roosevelt.

  The jazz orchestra was used more for mood and occasional punctuation than
  for illumination. 

  Jimmy Heath's settings of Johnson's speeches were a bit more cogent (they
  were introduced with some oblique electioneering by Mr. Marsalis, who
  favorably compared Johnson to another president from Texas). But it wasn't
  until hearing Darin Atwater's settings of Kennedy, that the evening's
  ambitions even seemed plausible.

  First, the Kennedy text - an address delivered to South African students in
  1966 - had a very clear structure, while most of the other texts seemed
  chosen in an eagerness to sound every political chord rather than to serve
  dramatic or musical purposes. Mr. Atwater's muscular imagination also took
  the idiom of the jazz orchestra, the manners of the ballad and the gestures
  of swing, and smartly used them to comment on the words.

  When Kennedy condemned moral expediency, the music seemed to flutter with
  frivolity; his criticism of comfort was accompanied by sounds that sashayed
  with indulgence. There were moments too in Billy Childs's settings of King's
  words, when the ominous thrusts of the score or its expectant ecstasy
  revealed how much more might have been possible.

  But the sense of a cruel contradiction remained. It seemed as if more was
  being asked than could be delivered, as if the texts would have been better
  off standing on their own, as if their ideas of freedom, rights, liberty
  could not be fully embodied in sound.

  This seems strange because, as Ellison suggested, the idea of struggle and
  the notion of individuality are inscribed in the very textures of jazz. And
  the musical style, in all its incarnations, has achieved a liberating
  reputation over the course of decades simply for sociological reasons: jazz
  - its performance and its appeal - helped break down racial boundaries
  through the first half of the 20th century. Even Mr. Marsalis, in his recent
  book, "To a Young Jazz Musician," has emphasized the ways in which jazz is
  an "act of rebellion," or the ways in which swing is "democracy made

  So if the drama in jazz involves a confrontation between the collective and
  the individual, if it reflects certain forms of organization and drama, why
  shouldn't it be able to illuminate texts that do the same? Mr. Havel, after
  all, prescribes inner freedom, the independence of reason and openness to
  the deepest voice of one's own conscience. Kennedy celebrates achievements
  wrought by individuals in trying conditions. King attacks the spirit of
  alienation that splits an individual off from society.

  But one problem is that the grandeur of so much jazz comes not from its
  monumentality but from its individualism. And that is not the real message
  of so many of these speeches. They are invoking large social forces and
  making imposing social promises. Even in the best of stylistic
  circumstances, this is not easy to represent in sound.

  Narrated text accompanied by music is a genre fraught with risk anyway, and
  is often maudlin or obvious (that includes Copland's classic "A Lincoln
  Portrait.") It may also be, though, that musical styles really do have
  different kinds of functions, their languages better suited to some
  occasions rather than others.

  They create societies in sound, each with its own favored meanings and
  matters. A swing band or for that matter a Baroque dance suite might not,
  for example, be the ideal accompaniments to affairs of state.

  Did this concert, then, display a cruel contradiction, or was it just an
  example of ambitions falling short? Did it display jazz's limitations or its
  unfulfilled possibilities? One of Mr. Marsalis's goals at his new
  institutional home may be to find out.

  Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search |
  Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top 

  Dixielandjazz mailing list
  Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list