Saturday, March 28, 2015

Now what?

This past week, the Mrs. S and I participated in an estate auction. There was a nice authentic German doll that she wanted, and there was an Ibanez mandolin in the mix as well. The lot next to the mandolin was an unloved-looking Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar. When I went and looked at everything, the doll looked okay, the guitar looked kind of junk, and the mandolin looked great. We decided to see where the values went before we bid.

That doesn't look that bad for $46, does it?
Without telling you the story of the decidedly unexciting auction, we won the mandolin, the doll, and the guitar, all for what seemed good prices. The doll is porcelain and mohair but has a crack on its face. Still, it is cute and the cotton dress is in good shape. It is secure on a metal stand. Not bad for $6. Likewise the mandolin was bought for nearly $400 new, came in a case, and was virtually new, as the previous owner didn't know how to play it. (Neither do I, but so what?) The Silvertone guitar was beat, so I decided to take it apart to clean it up.

The color is gone, and, yuck!
Well, the more I looked at it, the more I realized, this guitar is just not worth saving. Even after washing with warm water and Dawn and scrubbing everything with a toothbrush (I know), the color is all faded, the wood is cracked and the paint job is a mess. It could be cleaned up and made spiffy again, but after the square grand piano turned into a bar project, I’m thinking I’m going to jump right to the artistic project and make the guitar playable, but make it something special, not an old Silvertone.

Parts are all there, so I can make it playable again.
I've already started looking for ideas. Suffice to say, it involves a lot of spray paint, glitter, and jazz imagery. I even have some mother of pearl from the piano that I can put into the fret board.

Even after a scrub down with dish liquid and warm water (it's my guitar, so too bad if you don't like my cleaning methods), it doesn't look all that ... jazzy.

Yeah. I've got myself into something. Stay tuned. (Heh-heh. Stay “tuned”. I think I've got my new catch phrase.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The History of Jazz: History lesson, listening guide, and music manual

It took me a damn long time to read this book, the first of Ted Gioia’s many books about jazz and music that I have bothered to push through myself. The author is a very demanding writer, too, with an extensive vocabulary, exceptionally sharp insights, and an eye for linkages and foreshadowing that few other authors and observers of jazz would be able to duplicate (although I will keep trying). I sort of hated this book because it is so dense. It has narrow margins top and bottom, left and right, and few breaks and headings between long, compactly organized chapters, so that even when you think to yourself, oh, just three more pages, you find yourself reading for another fifteen minutes. Jazz doesn't strike most people as a subject that deserves this scholarly thoroughness given by Mr. Gioia, but after working through this book, I was amazed that I hadn't ran across such a book before this.
This is a damn good book
The book really has a three pronged approach. Of course, it is a history book. As such it follows the chronology of its subject matter faithfully, but what the author excels at is giving a taste of where the present or past will lead, as well as why and how it will get there. Then, when you reach the new material, the new artists, the new performers and the new types of jazz, you have a very real understanding of what happened, what had to happen, and who made it happen. I've often thought that a timeline showing the various artists’ relationships to one another – who played with who, when, and for how long – would be one of the most constructive tools to understanding jazz (I even went so far as to begin constructing my own), and Mr. Gioia’s book comes quite close to being a literal (if not visual) timeline very much along those lines. But it doesn't stop there.

This book also is – almost even more than a history book – a listening guide. Of course, and you can’t understand any history of music without knowing the players, the songs, the albums, the performances, the venues, not to mention the life and culture of the times, to gain a full understanding of the music, but the author also throws in minutiae like the producers and the hall owners, hangers on, and other jazz satellites. Mr. Gioia excels in this regards and gives the reader plenty of guidance on the recordings that will make the music, and its history, come to life. Thanks to the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, I have assembled a modicum of historic jazz recordings, so I appreciated the author’s guidance on what to listen to, given the historical context that he provides. He even provides a unique “Discography” as an appendix, which more concisely outlines the most historic recordings, and the book’s index provides enough insight and references to make it also workable as a “highlight guide”.

Even after covering the music in depth, Mr. Gioia doesn't forget the musicians. I can’t think of a single musician that he may have excluded or a major story that may have been edited out. And unlike other authors, he doesn't gloss over the seedier aspects of jazz and its culture. The good the bad and the ugly are covered with enough philosophical awareness to make the history real without overplaying the sordid aspects. After all, the history of jazz is full of racism, drug use, and burn-brightly-and-burn-out-quickly musicians, but those aren't
the things that define jazz to its practitioners and fans. This book is about understanding the music and the musicians, not just its history. Even as I was reaching the end of the book, no sooner would I think of an artist or contributor whose name I hadn't read in the book yet, than Mr. Gioia would eventually touch on them. Even on the second last page, I was thinking “well, still no mention of African jazz” than Mr. Gioia covered Abdullah Ibrahim and his work. Truly, this is as thorough a history of jazz, right up to modern times, that any reader could want.

As with so many other things I've covered in Late to Jazz, my only regret about this book is, my realization of it was a little late. It’s no fun to play “catch up”, but it’s less fun than missing out altogether. So I congratulate myself on reading this book, finally, almost as much as I congratulate Mr. GIoia on writing it. This is a great educational book, and an interesting, fun, insightful read.