Thursday, November 20, 2008

Heavy Jazz and Not So Heavy

My dear friend Ken Laster, who produces the best jazz podcast going, In the Groove: Jazz and Beyond, sent me this note:
Man, looking at your last few Jazz Notes, I see you are getting down to some very heavy listening lately. Dolphy, Blythe, Lacy, Ascension... man that is some heavy shit.

I'm feeling like a real jazz lightweight... Your tastes have sure come along way in recent months. You are giving me a real jazz education now. I'm enjoying going along for the ride.
This was perfectly reasonable and accurate, not to mention complementary, but I have to admit that it disturbed me a little. Am I losing touch with my hardbop roots? I have certainly been listening to a lot of jazz that I wouldn't have listened to in the past, and I have been enjoying it. But there is a cost to that kind of thing. Avant Garde jazz is to most of jazz what jazz as a whole is to more popular musics: the province of increasingly smaller audiences. Have I been marginalizing myself even within the jazz world?

Well, maybe. But it occurs to me that a lot of what is produced by avant garde jazz folks like Dolphy and Blythe fits quite well into mainstream hardbop. And likewise, many hardbop heroes ventured into avant garde, sometimes doing both on the same album. Sonny Rollins The Bridge is mostly straight ahead, but it has two pieces on it that are very challenging compositions.

Arthur Blythe, one of my recent infatuations, produced a lot of very edgy jazz. But I don't think he was all that far out. Focus had a very unusual set of instruments, but consider Blythe's Bytes. Anyone who likes most of Miles Davis or Coltrane could appreciate this recording. One thing that links Steve Lacy and Arthur Blythe, and most of the Avant Garde champions, to bop, is the work of Thelonious Monk.

Check out Blue Monk, from Blythe's Bytes, on my site:
Blythe on Alto, John Hicks on piano, Dwayne Dolphin on bass, Cecil Brooks III on drums. This is four square hard bop. Maybe the moral here is that modern jazz was saved by Thelonious Monk. I have to say that my admiration for Monk is one thing that has only grown with time and eMusic downloads.

Anyway, I thank Ken for the note and the thoughts it provoked. God, but jazz is wonderful stuff!

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