Saturday, August 16, 2014

Back to facing the music

 I'm still working on the listening guides in Jazz Styles, a book that (except for the listening guides) I just finished reading recently. I've also added a bunch of interesting chunks of musical history to my collection, that I thought I would brag, er, write about.

I like the early pictures of Duke, because he doesn't show all the weariness of 50 years in the music business that his later pictures do. Just a happy, confident musician.
The top of that heap is the 3 CD set of Early Ellington: The Original Decca Recordings. This is an increasingly rare set that could be had on Amazon and E-bay forever, but almost always at ridiculous prices. So, when I happened to be surfing around and found one for less than $20, I was all over it. I really consider it a cornerstone of my collection, even though I've only had it for a few days. Of course, Mrs. S put it on for me the other night as our dinner background music, and she quickly thanked me when I walked right over to the iPad and put something else on. "I thought you wanted to listen to it," she said. I told her simply, that's music to study while listening to it, not to eat dinner. She said, "Well, thank God." Which is not to say there's anything wrong with the music, just, it's old, and it really takes a lot of focus and energy for a person living in the 21st century to listen to.

A subdued and simple piece of cover art, oddly compelling, that requires a second look, and then a third, just like Haig's music. 
Next is Al Haig's Will-O-The-Wisp, a collection of four ten-inch LP's from the '50's. This can actually be played during dinner to no great detriment, but it too is music I bought to study. I didn't know it, but Al Haig really is the grandfather of post-bop piano (Bud Powell fans: please give me a break on that one), and because of his work with the bop masters, he really laid the groundwork for a lot of the great pianists that were to come, like McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal and others. I find Haig's simple statements quite attractive because they are approachable to untalented players of little skill, like myself, making a decent sound not only attainable, but manageable.

How do you take a tax-deductible trip to France: Record your latest CD while you're there!
Then, speaking of Ahmad Jamal and getting some music we could listen to, we picked up the latest by "armadillo", as he's known in our house. ("Ahmad Jamal" in spoken Japanese sounds remarkably like "armadillo".) As I've indicated in my side bar: "It’s scary to think that Ahmad Jamal has been playing jazz piano for something like 20 years longer than I’ve even been alive. Maybe that’s why he sounds as good as he does. His original compositions also have a way of sneaking into your head for long periods of time, which means the best solution is to just put him on the iPad and leave him on." His music is just a joy.

Ah, it feels good to write about music again. I must do more of this in the very near future.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some jazz reading

Lately, I've been reading a lot about jazz. Today I finished what turned out to be one of the best books about jazz that I've ever read, Jazz Styles: History and Analysis. It looks at the history of jazz through the styles and performers down through the years, which when you get right down to it, really is what has defined jazz. As it gets closer to modern times, things start to get blurry and the lines dividing jazz from other types of music that are called “jazz” start to break down. I suppose that part of it has to do with we are still defining those styles so we don’t quite have a handle on whether it really is part of a category we tend to lump it into in the moment.
Actual scan of my actual copy. Notice the dog eared edges.
The other great thing about this book is it comes with a set of CD’s to illustrate the styles and musicians. They were hard to track down used and they are too expensive to buy new, as is this book, but I still managed to find a set for under $20. And, because the book is a textbook, if you pick up an older edition (like mine, the ninth, two editions older than current), you save a ton of money and sacrifice almost no content. (I mean, seriously, what historic jazz has happened in the last five years? That’s right. Nothing.)

My sole complaint about the book is I found it a little superficial in exploring the musicians’ lives and lifestyles. True that you can illustrate jazz history through jazz styles without getting into where the musicians were born, or what influenced their life outlook to make them as great as they were, or why they died so young, or all that, but personally, I wanted to know a little more. Still, I guess we should applaud the author for knowing what to include and what to leave out. I mean, he managed to write a book about jazz history without using the word “heroin”.

Not sure if I’m going to read Ralph Ellison or another history book next, but the education continues.