Dave Brubeck

Yesterday, we all got word that Dave Brubeck passed away just shy of his 92nd birthday. All across the news media and the jazz blogosphere, critics, scholars, and musicians have been paying tribute. (c.f. NYTimesNPRWashington PostLATimesThe Telegraph)

On Oxford University Press’s blog, Ted Gioia says:

He was a pioneer on civil rights, threatening to cancel concerts when faced with complaints about his integrated band. He served his country as a soldier (at the Battle of the Bulge) and as both an official and unofficial ambassador. When Reagan met Gorbachev, Dave Brubeck was there, bringing people together with his music. I’ve talked to many of his friends over the years, and they tell stories of his kindness and loyalty. You could a learn a lot from Dave Brubeck just by watching how he conducted himself offstage. And then there is the public side of his music career, with all those concerts and recordings that reached tens of millions of people. I was privileged to know him, but many who simply experienced his artistry through his music will also miss him and grieve at his passing. God bless you, Dave!

I thought I would follow Gioia’s example and talk about my own relationship to Brubeck’s music. Although I never had the pleasure of seeing Brubeck in concert, I spent much of my teenage years listening to my father’s Time Out LP. You see, Brubeck was one of the few jazz recordings that I found in my father’s record collection (wedged between Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles), which I think says a lot about how extensive Brubeck’s reach was in popular culture. I often listened to Brubeck’s record with my trumpet in hand and wondered how Paul Desmond got such a smooth sound out of his instrument while also negotiating Brubeck’s abnormal time signatures. As an aspiring jazz musician, my father’s LP presented a stark contrast to the flashy difficulty of many of the jazz CDs in my bedroom. Brubeck’s cool demonstrated to me that musicianship came in many guises, and there were many choices out there well beyond the higher-faster-louder paradigm that was surrounding my teenage self. It was an important lesson.

My relationship to Brubeck’s music was as much about knowing my parents’ taste as it was about knowing how they experienced jazz through media. Unlike many of the records in my father’s collection that baffled me (people are different, after all), Brubeck lent my parents a sophistication that was otherwise unavailable to them. I was 14, after all. That experience of putting that record on the family’s record player was so viscerally different from handling tapes and CDs. The warmth of the music that came from those record grooves made me want to explore more of the music of the 1950s and 1960s.

Thank you, Dave, for helping me to know that my father’s musical taste was far cooler than I ever would have guessed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

Gioia Comments on Millennial Jazz

In the beginning of the last chapter of The History of Jazz (in its 2011 edition), Ted Gioia states, “Welcome to the jazz scene of the new millennium, where the music itself is evolving more slowly than everything surrounding it” (369). In the chapter, Gioia contends with the various new trends for jazz musicians attempting to support themselves financially through the music:

professionalism – access to technology allows musicians to cut out or side-step the middleman, thereby forcing all jazz musicians to manage aspects of their careers that were previously the domain of managers, A&R, and marketing specialists. In some cases, appealing to a new patronage system (i.e. kickstarter) has become as crucial to one’s survival as booking gigs.

musicianship – due to the expansion of jazz education, all musicians are expected to be trained to increasingly stringent demands.

versatility, earnestness – many in the new generation of jazz musician take themselves very seriously even as they adopt tunes from a wide variety of genres and sources. Similarly, jazz singers employ a nuanced and subdued approach to singing, while trumpet players and saxophonists seem more comfortable moving between musical camps without calling attention to their own lack of partisanship. Gioia summarizes, “After several generations of heroic jazz horn players who inspired others with their cult of personality […] as much as their methods, this down-to-business earnestness may strike casual fans as a letdown, but the insiders are likely to applaud a new phase in which musicianship and professionalism, pure and simple, have their day” (379).

globalization / internationalization – jazz festivals are much more prominent and successful outside of the United States in locales such as Europe and Asia (especially Japan), an increasingly “self-directed” European jazz scene, and continuing expansion of the types of global music included in jazz, means that drawing geographic borders around jazz practices is becoming nearly impossible: “all addresses are its home, but none are likely to be its resting place” (388).

For tomorrow’s meeting, consider how you would place the assigned recordings within Gioia’s framework. Does it work? Are there trends that don’t fit?

Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

Final Week of New Material

Yesterday’s discussion on Neo-Classicism and the Young Lions was extremely fruitful for me and everyone in attendance. In the coming days, I’ll be posting in this post’s comments reactions to the material from those who were absent (names redacted).

In the meantime, here is the final set of MP3s for the course that highlight how remix aesthetics and experimentalism have influenced jazz over the last 10-15 years. As I noted yesterday, there is no reading assignment; thus, I expect you to pay extra attention to the listening and have some concrete things to say about each example on the syllabus. Feel free to look up some information about the artists or tracks that most interest you. The reduced weekly assignment should allow you considerably more time to focus on your final papers.


Filed under Course Materials, Discussion

Afro-Futurism and the Young Lions

As we head towards the 1980s and the ways that the Young Lions attempted to reestablish the jazz tradition by skipping over the Avant-Garde, fusion, and other styles that flourished in the late 1960s and 1970s, I thought it might be useful to also point to the ways that they also transformed the aesthetic choices associated with Afro-Futurism. As we have discussed, Afro-Futurism isn’t limited to jazz. As scholarship has shown over the last 10 years, it has only expanded (see the special issue of the Journal for the Society of American Music as well as a special issue of Social Text, both edited by professors currently at Columbia University). More recently, Ken McLeod published an article on Afro-Futurism and music of the 1970s.

After the 1970s, however, the aesthetics of Afro-Futurism are replaced by other priorities. Some can locate the remains of the flamboyant excesses of ’70s Afro-Futurism in the video for Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” (1983) as plain old futurism, with its emphasis on robotics at the expense of showing living people.

In contrast, many of the Young Lions sought to redefine jazz as the music of sophistication. Wynton Marsalis, for example, spent much of the 1980s and ’90s recording classical albums.

He also won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for his jazz oratorio, Blood on the Fields.

Other musicians, such as Wynton’s brother, Branford, embraced ’80s rock and hip-hop aesthetics through their collaborations with mainstream pop acts. As you can hear, those aesthetics are rather distant from the energy that permeates much of the fusion music of the 1970s. Where have all of the synthesizers gone?

Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

Materials for “The Young Lions” and Jazz History.

Here is a link to music for next week. Our topic on “The Young Lions” and Jazz History will deal directly with the institutional legacies of the 1980s. Fittingly, we will read a chapter from Dave Ake’s Jazz Cultures that deals with the contrasting marketing and branding strategies of jazz artists during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As you listen to this music, pay attention to how it contrasts with the music of the last two weeks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Course Materials, Readings

Fusion and Silence

This week we are discussing fusion (a.k.a jazz-rock fusion), a controversial genre from the 1970s that featured groups with names that hailed afro-Futurism, such as Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Head Hunters. This is a trend in jazz that, due to its embrace of technology and prog-rock and funk aesthetics, sounds more “dated” than “classic” to our early 21st century ears. It should come as no surprise that there are only a handful of studies on the topic.

For a recent blog post for a website associated with the U.S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US), Karl Hagstrom Miller (UT-Austin) interviewed Keving Fellezs, the author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion about his inspirations for the project. If you are curious about how a scholar goes on to study one of the most abject trends in jazz, Fellezs tells us that as a performer of both rock and jazz, he was caught up in the debates about jazz history during the 1980s (something we will be covering next week). He also tells us why the music appealed to him:

This was music that I found both virtuosic and visceral – a marriage of technique and expression that I found compelling and exhilarating. And I couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to feel this way. Fusion wasn’t even being talked about in jazz circles and Stuart Nicholson’s Jazz-Rock book was more than a decade away. When I first started this project, it really felt like a personal crusade.

As you listen to the recordings for this week, I want you to think about what it means to appreciate or enjoy music that no one else even deems worthy of mention. Is this something that you have experienced? What does that tell us about the power of discourse on the musical styles that we enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion, Etc.

Fusion in the 1970s

Here is the link for this week’s listening. We will also by reading Charles Carson’s article on Grover Washington Jr. and Smooth Jazz. Carson is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to his research on jazz, he has also published on the musical experience of Disney theme parks. For those of us living Florida, there is something especially prescient about that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Course Materials, Readings