[Dixielandjazz] Some Interesting Jazz Observations
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 21 07:04:27 PST 2005
Following is a long somewhat off topic article that some will not read, some
will read and not understand and some will absolutely be blown away by. It
discusses some very interesting facets of Jazz such as music recorded live
vs., that recorded in studio, and why bands today need not "change" their
offerings as they did in the 50s/60s etc. (particularly true of OKOM bands
It also discusses my favorite CD, bought this year. Monk & Coltrane at
Carnegie Hall, 1957, just discovered and released in 2005. If you also have
it, you know what I mean when I say that the first song, "Monk's Dream" is
one of the most stunning jazz performances you will ever hear.
Whatever you think of Mr. Ratliff, this article is right on the money. My
favorite quote from it? "It gets forgotten, so it needs repeating: the
studio is an unreliable gauge of what the best jazz groups are really up to,
even at the highest levels."
In other words, get the hell out there and listen to "live jazz."
Critic's Notebook: Jazz Gem Made in '57 Is a Favorite of 2005
By BEN RATLIFF - December 21, 2005 - NY Times
My favorite jazz record released this year, and one of my favorites of any
year, was made in 1957. I first heard "Thelonious Monk Quartet With John
Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" (Blue Note) at the Library of Congress in April,
after the news of its discovery had been made public. It sounded pretty good
then, but you can never really tell when hearing something over a
high-quality sound system in front of interested parties. I have listened to
it repeatedly since, and it seems to be much better than I first thought -
solid, juicy, truly great.
Another of the year's new jazz records - John Coltrane's "One Down, One Up:
Live at the Half Note" (Impulse) - was made in 1965. It disqualifies itself
from consideration for my list of the year's best jazz albums only because
it has been heard, in bits and pieces, on illegal tapes for 40 years. (I got
mine from a great saxophonist who wanted to spread the word.) But it is
also, I think, a masterpiece.
There's a reason why these records stand out as the year's best, and I get
the sense that many people feel they know that reason.
They believe, or have heard, that jazz crinkled up and collapsed after
Coltrane. That the musicians have defaulted on audiences, going deep into
their own heads instead. That there's been no successor, because Coltrane
broke the mold, threw away the key, set the bar too high, stretched the
envelope as far as it would go, established a holding pattern, and other
It would simplify things, but no. In fact, I don't think the reason has much
to do with Coltrane per se - other than the obvious fact that he made
superior music. (He did create a few stock models in jazz that persisted for
an impressively long period after his death, but that's a different matter.)
These are among the year's great albums because they are high-quality proofs
of one of jazz's basic properties: the possibility for transcendence on the
gig, for a great band to be even better. This is true in any kind of music,
but it is much more true in jazz.
There are a lot of great jazz musicians in New York, and in the world. But
the number of great and economically sustainable bands has declined, along
with an international audience and a circuit of clubs that encourages those
bands to feel a sense of competition, and opportunities for those bands to
play repeatedly for regular audiences in the same small places. A. J.
Liebling once wrote that French food declined after World War I with the
rise of highway driving, since small restaurants weren't committed to
satisfying the same clientele night after night. Instead, they could serve
the same dishes and not worry about improvement; regular waves of new diners
would chew away, unaware of the stasis.
In a way, the same goes for jazz. Both bands, the Monk-Coltrane Quartet of
1957 and the Coltrane Quartet of 1965, had places in New York to take root.
Monk and Coltrane played as many as 75 nights within a five-month stretch at
the Five Spot Cafe in the East Village. The Coltrane Quartet played 14 weeks
at the Half Note in the span of a year, from spring 1964 to spring 1965.
Fourteen. It was a different time in many ways: it seems that anytime I meet
someone who saw either of those bands at those clubs, they won't say that
they went once, as if to cross it off a list; they went twice or three times
a week, as part of their lives. (No Internet. No TiVo. Cheap rent. No risk
of being thought a loser if you liked to go to jazz clubs at night.)
So there were hundreds of new jazz records this year that weren't as good?
It gets forgotten, so it needs repeating: the studio is an unreliable gauge
of what the best jazz groups are really up to, even at the highest levels.
Monk's quartet with Coltrane recorded three songs in the studio in summer
1957, at the beginning of that band's short existence. They can be heard on
"Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane" (Riverside/Fantasy). They're very good,
and they contain a newly advanced Coltrane. But they are dry-runs when set
next to the 51 minutes from Carnegie Hall, which were discovered for the
first time in January.
The Carnegie tape comes from late November 1957, after five rigorous months
of Five Spot gigs, toward the end of the band's six-month life. (Very little
taped material of this band in that year at the Five Spot, and with low
fidelity, is known to exist.) On the Carnegie album the band is relaxed,
limber, magnetic; the tempos are more wakeful. Compare the tune "Nutty"
between the studio and stage versions, and you will hear it quickly.
Coltrane has become agile, finding a flexible way of running his original
patterns. Monk balances an inscrutable serenity against driving, almost
violent figures. And everything coming from Shadow Wilson, the drummer, is
to be savored: he guards and upholds the groove, while building small,
richly detailed accents around it.
But the band ended a little more than a month later, and contractual issues
between Coltrane and Monk's record labels made it impossible for them to
record again. We're lucky to have this.
The Coltrane "One Down, One Up" recordings were made by the radio station
WABC-FM, in 1965, for a radio show called "Portraits in Jazz" with Alan
Grant. Even more than the Monk-Coltrane recording, the music is completely
based in the rhetoric of the band's live performances; it is a different
discipline entirely from studio recordings. The longest piece on the
Monk-Coltrane, "Sweet and Lovely," is nine and a half minutes; the title
track of "One Down, One Up" runs to nearly 28. The Coltrane band had been
playing pieces at this length for at least four years, but was still making
fairly structured music in the studio. What we hear is a band's shared
language in its highest period; Coltrane and the drummer Elvin Jones rarely
sounded more individually free, and still elastically tethered to each
The same principle has generated other good records this year, too. An
excellent, previously unknown Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie concert from
1945, released on Uptown Records. A new Wynton Marsalis record, "Live at the
House of Tribes," recorded in front of an audience of 50 - his best, to a
certain way of thinking, since "Live at Blues Alley" in 1986. And coming in
February, a recording from 1996 of the Omer Avital Sextet at Smalls, an
excellent band of its moment that played hundreds of nights at that tiny
club and never got to put out a record properly during its life.
Whenever history tells you that a masterpiece was recorded in the studio on
a certain day at a certain hour - Charlie Parker's "Koko," Pat Metheny's
"Bright Size Life," Ornette Coleman's "Shape of Jazz to Come" - it's
probably not a patch on what those groups did later that night.
This is how jazz works. It is not a volume business. (Its essence is the
opposite of business.) Its greatest experiences are given away cheaply, to
rooms of 50 to 200 people. Literature and visual art are both so different:
the creator stands back, judges a fixed object, then refines or discards
before letting the words go to print, or putting images to walls. A
posthumously found Hemingway novel is never as good as what he judged to be
his best work. But in jazz there is always the promise that the art's
greatest examples - even by those long dead - may still be found.
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