Where I'd like to say, in advance: happy Sunday, Dr. Jaren — even if you do listen to Smooth Jazz 106.9.
—The Jazz Journalists Association Awards: I know this happened on Tuesday, which is like eons ago in Internet years, but it would be lax of me not to mention that the JJA recently presented its annual awards in an afternoon event in New York. (Which is in itself amusing, presumably because musicians and reviewers have "real" gigs to make in the evenings, right?) More coverage is here. I didn't mention it sooner because, for one, I didn't make it up there, and moreover, music award ceremonies always make me blanch. It's not only that the music industry makes up awards to celebrate itself; it's that such awards usually go to lowest common denominators or the rather useless consensus of "who we are all spotlighting now." (Does anyone else remember that inane "Who's Now" pseudo-competition that ran on ESPN's Sportscenter a few years back about which professional athlete was most of the moment? Made me want to strangle someone.) I'm happy for Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Maria Schneider, Esperanza Spalding, Hank Jones and all the other winners, but do we really need these (prohibitively expensive, semi-insider) events to tell us which way the wind is blowing?
I suppose this is all marginally better than the Down Beat year-end readers' polls as a zeitgeist dipstick. As Christopher Weingarten reminds us — the rather sloppy barbs directed at NPR aside — crowdsourcing music reviews brings out mediocrity in public opinion. (You'll remember that Charlie Parker won the Down Beat poll for best alto saxophonist for the first time in 1950 — five years after "Koko" and "Now's The Time.") Because relatively erudite and voracious jazz listeners decide on the JJA awards, the results turn out somewhat more interesting. Still, I read Peter Margasak because he's got the Chicago scene on lock, and I read Stanley Crouch when I want someone who listens to hard bop really well, and I read Ben Ratliff when I want to know what's hot in New York, and I read, I don't know, Stuart Nicholson to learn about European musicians outside my primary radar. I don't particularly care to see who they all can agree upon as acceptable; I want to know who they outright champion. (The JJA year-end Top 10 lists, however, are totally fascinating to watch roll in every December.)
All this aside, I also suppose all this somewhat raises the profile of jazz and of the musicians recognized, which is good. And because there are so many awards given out — voted on by people of relatively discerning taste — some surprising picks emerge: Carla Bley's Appearing Nightly for Record of the Year, out-jazz (literal) veteran Billy Bang for violinist of the year, Ruth Price of L.A. nonprofit venue The Jazz Bakery for a special recognition. There are others I'm personally happy about: a former professor of mine who challenged me to think about improvised music differently (and quite an improviser himself), George E. Lewis, won for his magnificent tome on the AACM; one of my primary mentors in learning jazz and new music, the WKCR DJ/discographer/archivist/record producer/recording engineer/Columbia University administrator/historian Ben Young, scored the Willis Conover—Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting. And for what I believe is the first time, there was an award for Blog of the Year, taken home by Howard Mandel's Jazz Beyond Jazz. A small token of validation for this career path I somehow appeared on.
Of course, I could rather cynically point out that Mandel (who contributes to NPR) is the president of the Jazz Journalists Association. But that also means he has his ear to a lot of different things, and scoops us all on many on them (the imminent collapse of JJA Periodical of the Year JazzTimes being only the latest example). Which brings us to our next links ...
—R.I.P. Charlie Mariano, Tina Marsh: Howard Mandel linked to this obituary for vocalist Tina Marsh, who was the driving force behind the avant-jazz scene in Austin, Texas. (More here.) I know next to nothing about this scene, but the very fact that one exists in Austin makes me happy. Let us also take a minute to remember Charlie Mariano, probably best known for his early '50s Boston recordings, his work with Charles Mingus and for being an open-minded musical personality. This tribute page has more.
—Ira Gitler On 'Sheets Of Sound': If there's a worthwhile fringe benefit to convening together the jazz writers' fraternity, it's the conversations that emerge from it. Marc Myers of JazzWax ran into Ira Gitler at the awards ceremony, and asked him about his most famous coinage: "sheets of sound," used to describe John Coltrane's pre-1960 approach to soloing. Gitler has a few choice recollections on the term's legacy.
—Thelonious Monk And The Word 'Accessibility': Via Jason Crane's Twitter feed, I spotted this interesting discussion of the term "accessible" as it applies to art criticism. The whole thing is inspired by a less-than-stellar Thelonious Monk recording, one ostensibly driven by the desire to make Monk's music accessible to a general audience. Poet John Gallaher takes offense: "One person's 'accessible' is another's "crass commercialism,'" he writes. I'd venture to say that I agree: I don't want for undemanding access to be valorized in jazz music; I want for listeners to have to think about the music they're listening to, even if it is "easy." Of course, I've used the term "accessible" before in writing for NPR Music, but it was sloppy shorthand: I really meant "possessing familiar elements as an anchor by which to begin understanding something potentially difficult, so don't be scared." I just can't think of a better synonym for this: Gallaher suggests "clear," but it's not exactly what I had in mind. I suppose I'll just have to be more careful from now on — I might suggest the same for other writers.
—R.I.P. Kenneth Gorelick: I saw that obituary headline in the Metro section of the Washington Post this morning and froze for a minute. Fortunately — or not so fortunately, depending on your level of caffeination/misanthropy today — saxophonist Kenny G is still out there, making Pat Metheny angry.
P.S. Peter Hum also dropped this piece on us this week. Extended thoughts on that are in the works.