Monday, October 27, 2008

All That Jazz

It seems like I'm spending one blog entry each week talking about the latest installment of Scott Miller's "Music - What Happened?".

This week he tackles 1959, which was kind of a transition year for rock 'n pop music, but one of the best years ever for jazz music. Probably the best. What can you say about a year that included these five albums (all selected by Scott this week)?

  1. Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue
  2. John Coltrane - Giant Steps
  3. Ornette Coleman - The Shape of Jazz To Come
  4. Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
  5. Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out

Kind Of Blue is among the handful of records that should be owned by everyone with the slightest interest in music. The band (Davis, Coltrane, Evans, Adderly) has some of the best players ever at their respective instruments, who were all on top of their game during the sessions. A few months later, John Coltrane made his first album as a bandleader with Giant Steps, almost as impressive an achievement as Kind Of Blue. I still don't "get" Ornette Coleman, but he's one of the true innovators of our time, and he's still alive! Mingus is another musician I'm still learning to appreciate, but Ah Um has some of the best bass playing ever.

Dave Brubeck's Time Out was one of the dozen or so records that my parents owned when I was a kid, so I grew up listening to it, and reading the liner notes long before I knew what the 9/8 in "Blue Rondo ala Turk" and the 5/4 in "Take Five" actually meant. I think Time Out was the one record that all the kool kids owned back then, even the ones who didn't like jazz. It was the Tapestry or Rumours of 1959! And fifty years later, the first side of Time Out("Blue Rondo", "Take Five", and "Strange Meadow Lark") still radiates the essence of cool, especially if you spin it at 45rpm.

Even after a lifetime of listening, I still don't know a whole lot about jazz, so whenever I listen to it, I always feel like Elvis's character in the cocktail party scene from Jailhouse Rock.

First Guest: I think Stubby’s gone overboard with those altered chords.
Second Guest: I agree. Brubeck and Desmond have gone just as far with dissonance as I care to go.
Third Guest: Someday they’ll make the cycle and get back to pure old Dixieland. I say modality is just a passing phase in jazz music. What do you think,Mr Everett?
Vince (Elvis): Lady, I don't know what the hell you talkin’ about!

1 comment:

mister muleboy said...

My feelings about [or reponses to) the five albums you discuss are almost identical to yours:
Kind of Blue is essential; Giant Steps was aptly named (nothing in his career to that time gave any int of what he would bring to music as a bandleader or innovator);
Ornette Coleman is (for me) not impenetrable, but unintelligible [I can get in there, but I can't understand where "there" is];
Mingus is always a challenge, but Ah Um is a great place to start working on it, and features breathtaking bass;
and Time Out is one of those records that is hip, and doesn't now seem a histirocal oddity showing what was hip, but a vibrant record helping demonstrate why really special recordings will always be hip.

I was sad that in listing the players on Kind of Blue, you omitted Jimmy Cobb. He continues to work and play, leading Jimmy Cobb's Mob on drums; my band of DC punks and I made our way to Baltimore to catch a set last year. He no longer works with a horn player, now using Peter Rosenberg on guitar, but the band cooked.

It was fun to realize that Cobb (80 next year)and his piano player (well in his 80s), were true punks in their time [In the best sense of the word], and hadn't lost their edge.