Happy Birthday, Greg Osby : A Blog Supreme One of the great things about the Jazz Internet today is that musicians have so much access to speak up. And in reading his blog and interviews, one saxophonist, who will share his 50th birthday with NPR Music, certainly has a lot to say.
NPR logo Happy Birthday, Greg Osby

Happy Birthday, Greg Osby

Wait, Greg Osby is 50 already? courtesy of the artist hide caption

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courtesy of the artist

Wait, Greg Osby is 50 already?

courtesy of the artist

Tonight, NPR Music and WBGO are live webcasting the Greg Osby Quintet live at the Village Vanguard. We go live from the club nearly every month, of course, but every show is different. For one, Greg Osby only turns 50 once; we're terribly grateful he's chosen to share it with us. Happy birthday, Greg Osby! (If you miss the show, you can listen online later -- this one will even be available as an MP3 download.)


One of the great things about today's Jazz Internet is that musicians have so much access to speak up about things that need speaking to. I mention this, by the way, on the heels of the relaunch of Do The Math -- the invaluable blog/writing archive of pianist Ethan Iverson. Musicians can lead valuable discussions on their own sites, in comment threads, on forums, Twitter, what-have-you. And there's the fact that so many interviews are going up around the far corners of the Web. Conversing about jazz is headed away from severe mediation by journalists; that keeps us journalists honest, and affirms the point that the musicians are really the ones with the wisdom here.

I raise this issue because I sort of love that somebody at Indaba Music got Greg Osby a blog to periodically drop science on us. Every time one of his brief missives hits my RSS feed, it's like a little pearl of wisdom has landed on my desk. This is from his latest dispatch, about how male the jazz audience can be:

I felt it necessary to end the tune early and picked up the microphone and asked, to no one in [p]articular, "We sincerely appreciate your patronage and support, but does anyone in the house have any females in their lives who would enjoy an evening of live, improvised music? Are there any women in your lives that you could POSSIBLY have asked to accompany yourselves here in an effort to bring some balance to this gender-disppoportionate audience? Perhaps a landlady, Mother, sister, female cousin, bag lady, roomate, friend - with or without benefits, maybe even an EX, ANYONE! We're trying our best up here, but this boy's club mentality has to end now! It's a tall order for anyone to expect us to perform non-testosterone- infused music for a room full of scruffy guys all night".

A hearty LOL, and also, amen. No, he's not writing a front-page expose of the historical roots of masculine jousting culture in jazz, but he certainly gives us a prompt to think about. Of course, sometimes he also takes on more musical issues.

Basically, I think the main thing is for young players not to give away their age when they play. This is a common subject of discussion with older players. It seems that younger players tend to crowd each bar with an enormous amount of content when simpler statements would be more effective. You musicians also always tend to play far too many choruses during a solo. This is the giveaway that they are either in a rush to "say it all" or that they don't gig enough and it makes them sound "young" and unrefined. I know about this because I used to be one of those players. It takes a while to develop the ability to know when to lay back and when to dig a little deeper.

Sometimes he just gives us a very intriguing observation from the bandstand:

I'm noticing that a lot more younger people are attending our shows all of a sudden. A couple of weeks ago week I did the Vanguard in trio format with Paul Motian and Jason Moran. Each night the place was populated by an under 30-ish crowd by at least 50%. Not only was it refreshing to perform for a room of eager and attentive new patrons but it also served as a representative beacon of hope that the music is again reaching and affecting younger sets of ears. Perhaps the tide is turning once again and audiences are responding more favorably to music that requires a bit more than the average listener's attention span, which sometimes can be quite short.

Curious indeed.


I've met Osby once, earlier this year; he came to Washington, D.C., gave a Q&A session, and played a short duo set with pianist Jason Moran. (!) We had a brief chat, and somehow we got on the topic of how the scene is much different today because of the way young musicians come up.

Osby hires a lot of younger musicians -- Moran being one of the most famous -- in part because that was how his own career developed, going through an apprenticeship with Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, among other reputable bands. He said that the climate is different now: so many talented musicians are being produced by conservatories, and there aren't enough bandleaders to pick them all up, so many of them get thrown out on the scene by themselves, so to speak. Some day I'd like to talk to him more about this: what else has changed in the over 25 years he's been in New York?

In reading through a Jazz.com interview with Ted Panken, some answers emerge. For one, the jam session culture doesn't quite exist in the same way any more:

I really miss it. I miss seeing people get embarrassed. I miss seeing people just get smoked on the bandstand. They need to know that they're not ready, that they need to practice, that they don't have the particulars to make it on the competitive New York stage. Without that, you have whole legions of people who aren't ready but don't know that they're not ready. You'd go to the Jazz Cultural Theater, and Barry Harris would be there, or Jaki Byard. Anybody would walk in. Clifford Barbaro. Betty Carter would come and say, "Honey, you need to go back to Cleveland or Arkansas or wherever you're from; you need to work." You NEED this. We don't have it.

Osby would be the first to tell you that it happened to him growing up in St. Louis. Although I think you'll find in listening to tonight's show, you'll wonder how that were ever possible.