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Jazz in Search of Itself

Jazz in Search of Itself

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Jazz in Search of Itself
    Book Description:

    In this engaging and astute anthology of jazz criticism, Larry Kart casts a wide net. Discussing nearly seventy major jazz figures and many of the music's key stylistic developments, Kart sees jazz as a unique perpetual narrative-one in which musicians, their audiences, and the evolving music itself are intimately intertwined.Because jazz arose from the collision of specific peoples under particular conditions, says Kart, its development has been unusually immediate, visible, and intense. Kart has reacted to and judged the music in a similarly active, attentive, and personal manner. His involvement and attention to detail are visible in these pieces: essays that analyze the supposed return to tradition that the music of Wynton Marsalis has come to exemplify; searching accounts of the careers of Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans, and Lennie Tristano; and writing that explores jazz's relationship to American popular song and examines the jazz musician's role as actual and would-be social rebel.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12819-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    It seems clear that when Ernest Ansermet wrote “I couldn’t say if these artists make it a duty to be sincere” in his famous 1919 article about Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra and its “extraordinary clarinet virtuoso,” Sidney Bechet, he meant that sincerity of some special sort was among the virtues he found there. This was shrewd, even prescient, as was the comparison Ansermet drew between those musicians, especially Bechet, and the “men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” who cleared the way for Haydn and Mozart by making “expressive works [out] of dance airs.”

    That the creation of...

  5. PART I Notes and Memories of the New Music, 1969
    (pp. 17-26)

    And cats listening, too. WhenSomething Else,Ornette Coleman’s first record, came out in early 1959, I was a seventeen-year-old high school student living in a Chicago suburb. I’d been listening to jazz for about four years.

    The first jazz record I’d bought, back in the spring of 1955, was a 45 EP by Lu Watters’s Yerba Buena Jazz Band, entrancing not only for the music (its calculated rusticity sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard) but also for the liner notes (which proclaimed that this was “the onlyrealjazz band in America”). Early in the next school year, my...

  6. PART II A Way of Living
    (pp. 27-44)

    One of the words to which jazz gives a special tilt is “scene”—“the place where an action is carried on, business is being done, or events are happening ... where people of common interests meet ... also, loosely, an activity or pursuit; a situation; an experience; a way of life.” A “scene,” in jazz, is all of those things, but especially a way of life—or rather, a way of living. And while the music that jazz musicians play is not always fruitfully linked to the nature of the places in which they play and the tastes and expectations...

  7. PART III The Generators
    (pp. 45-72)

    There is only one generation of men and women (Jelly Roll Morton, born 1890; Bessie Smith, born 1894; Sidney Bechet, born 1897; Duke Ellington, born 1899; Louis Armstrong, born 1901; Earl Hines, born 1903; Bix Beiderbecke, born 1903; Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller, both born 1904, and so forth) who were key participants in and witnesses to the process whereby jazz came to be, and came to be regarded as, a self-sustaining form of music. And while one could disagree about where and how to draw the line, there is a relatively distinct second generation, too, which includes such figures...

  8. PART IV Moderns and After
    (pp. 73-200)

    “Roots!” Someone had mentioned Alex Haley’s book, and Dizzy Gillespie wasn’t about to let it pass.“Listen,” said the great trumpeter, “I’ve been following roots longer than Roots. Why, my great-grandmother was the daughter of an African chief. How do I know? Twenty years ago they gave me a day in my hometown—Cheraw, South Carolina. And on my way to the reception I stopped at the house of this guy named James Poe. Poe was my mother’s maiden name, and she used to work for these people, nursing their twin boys.

    “I walked right up to the front door, which...

  9. PART V Miles Davis
    (pp. 201-218)

    As the pieces that follow make clear, my feelings about Miles Davis (1926–1991) have shifted this way and that over time—largely in response to the shape-shifting aspect of Davis’s music. Indeed, it would be safe to say that no jazz musician of note presented us with more different sorts of music than Davis did, though it certainly could be argued that at least one key element of Davis’s personality, his will to change, remained remarkably consistent throughout his career, no matter how diverse, and at times artistically wayward, the musical results turned out to be.

    If any jazz...

  10. PART VI Tristano-ites
    (pp. 219-238)

    The music of the men who gathered around pianist Lennie Tristano in the mid-1940s is usually regarded as crucial to the development of the jazz avant-garde because “Intuition” and “Digression”—recorded in 1949 by an ensemble that included saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh and guitarist Billy Bauer—are reputed to be the first “free” (that is, totally improvised) jazz performances. But however challenging this haunting music was to create, the Tristano ensemble’s free pieces finally sound very Tristano-like and would seem to have little or no organic connection with the music of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, et...

  11. PART VII The Neo-Con Game
    (pp. 239-276)

    Most of these pieces revolve around the advent in 1980 of trumpeter/composer Wynton Marsalis and the several sorts of jazz neoconservatism or revivalism that he and his associates began to propose— first a return to a kind of classicized version of the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-1960s, then a series of visits to chosen styles of the jazz past (New Orleans polyphony, thirties and forties Ellington, etc.). Such impulses have surfaced in jazz before, at least as far back as the late 1930s (the so-called New Orleans Revival that centered around Lu Watters and his Yerba Buena Jazz Band),...

  12. PART VIII Singers and Songmakers
    (pp. 277-318)

    The relationship between jazz and pre– rock ’n’ roll American popular song is rich, varied, and more than a little equivocal. Most obviously, perhaps, for a good deal of jazz’s history the majority of its harmonic and structural frameworks were taken or borrowed from American popular songs—though “taken” and “borrowed” may imply that there was a distance between jazz and Broadway/Tin Pan Alley when instead it was more a matter of difference than distance, and a difference that at times was not easy to detect. No less important, jazz’s musical habits and its emotional atmosphere had a significant influence...

  13. PART IX Alone Together
    (pp. 319-342)

    The men and women who make jazz are just like everyone else in any number of ways—they have to put food on the table and roofs over their heads; function as children, parents, and spouses; orient themselves toward the world as best they can along political, social, and spiritual lines, etc. But they also, however varied their individual humanity, form a group apart. What kind of group, and “apart” in what ways and for what reasons, are questions that were brilliantly explored by sociologist–jazz pianist Howard Becker in his 1951 paper “The Professional Dance Musician and His Audience”...