Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Rabshakeh

Soul jazz and jazz historiography

62 posts in this topic

16 minutes ago, Guy Berger said:

I wonder how much of Baraka's reaction reflects Cannonball's genesis.  He was from a relatively middle-class, Episcopalian background, right?

It could be, although I think he was possibly also just opposed to the genre (at least whenever he wrote the relevant essays). 

There is another later essay in Black Music where Baraka runs through the New York nightlife options at the time. He rather snootily dismisses "Harlem" jazz clubs for pandering to their listeners. I don't have my copy to hand, but I recall him being very dismissive of the music that was actually being played in the more African American parts of Manhattan. I remember finding it striking when I read it, because, unlike his criticisms of the more establishment venues, he doesn't even bother to explain himself: he obviously just viewed the music as beneath his notice. 

Edited by Rabshakeh

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Here's something that's related to our discussion that I've been thinking about, and I'd like to hear what everyone thinks about it. 

For a long time, if a jazz critic said that something is "commercial," it was an implicit -- if not explicit -- criticism of the music as "less than."  Less real.  Less legit

On the other hand, no one would think to criticize a Soul or R&B album for being commercial.  In fact, the opposite is probably true.  I remember reading an interview with James Brown.  When the interviewer asked him what he was looking for when he recorded music, he said, "I'm looking for a hit!"  No bones about it! 

So why is it that this implicit criticism of "commercial" only seems to be applied to jazz? ... But not to these very closely related genres?

One thought: Does it have something to do with the early stages of jazz's development when jazz and pop were basically inseparable, one and the same thing.  But there were musicians (and aficionados) who were looking for music that gave instrumentalists an opportunity to "stretch out."  Think about the timing limitations of a 78.  If someone described that music as "commercial," it might mean that there's negligible soloing -- or even none. 

But that sort of thinking got carried forward, even up to the present day, when those technological limitations are long gone and jazz has evolved into something separate unto itself.  It's a sort of "vestigial" criticism, no?  

Thoughts?

 

 

Well, I think the conventional jazz history take--and there's a dangerously reductive term/concept to use in and of itself--has been that jazz, starting with bebop, moved towards becoming more of an art music, and that hard bop and soul jazz were in part responses to that, an attempt to shift jazz into a more groove/gospel-derived and influenced direction.  That is a really simplistic explanation of it, and not accurate, or at least not that basic, in a lot of ways.  But that's the line that's often been touted, in my experience.  Plenty of counters to be found to it as well, though, in jazz writings of the past several decades.  

14 minutes ago, Rabshakeh said:

It could be, although I think he was possibly also just opposed to the genre (at least whenever he wrote the relevant essays). 

There is another later essay in Black Music where Baraka runs through the New York nightlife options at the time. He rather snootily dismisses "Harlem" jazz clubs for pandering to their listeners. I don't have my copy to hand, but I recall him being very dismissive of the music that was actually being played in the more African American parts of Manhattan. I remember finding it striking when I read it, because, unlike his criticisms of the more establishment venues, he doesn't even bother to explain himself: he obviously just viewed the music as beneath his notice. 

Informed by the highly-charged spirit of the (mid/late 1960s) times in which the pieces in Black Music were written, perhaps?  2020 quite a different vantage point for viewing all of this, but I like to think things are less prone to factionalization now... I could be quite deluded on that account, however.  But there should be room enough even in the narrowest of musical mindsets for Jimmy Smith *and* Cecil Taylor *and* James Brown.  I mean, the listener's loss if he/she wants to write off entire artists/genres of music because they're too "commercial" (a slippery definition anyway), though of course nobody should be obligated to like what they don't like.  Jumping ahead a few years, did Baraka ever offer up any opinions on Herbie's Head Hunters?  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Monk's band grooved like crazy. So did Cedar Walton's (referencing those 70s studio & live records) and Elvin Jones' (post Trane). At times the groove is more covert than overt like a McDuff recording, but it also takes its share of front & center. The critics as gatekeepers phenomenon from the 20th century seemed to cause equal amounts damage and benefit, and thankfully that system is mostly a relic at this point. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Dub Modal said:

Monk's band grooved like crazy. So did Cedar Walton's (referencing those 70s studio & live records) and Elvin Jones' (post Trane). At times the groove is more covert than overt like a McDuff recording, but it also takes its share of front & center. The critics as gatekeepers phenomenon from the 20th century seemed to cause equal amounts damage and benefit, and thankfully that system is mostly a relic at this point. 

You're preaching to the choir, at least in my case.  Plenty of room for Brother Jack McDuff's "Rock Candy" and Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures and everything in-between, sideways, up and down ways, etc.  Not advocating an embrace of mediocrity, rather the greater interest of an expansive musical universe and the hidden and not-so-hidden relationships within.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, ghost of miles said:

You're preaching to the choir, at least in my case.  Plenty of room for Brother Jack McDuff's "Rock Candy" and Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures and everything in-between, sideways, up and down ways, etc.  Not advocating an embrace of mediocrity, rather the greater interest of an expansive musical universe and the hidden and not-so-hidden relationships within.  

Amen. We got a helluva choir. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, ghost of miles said:

Not advocating an embrace of mediocrity, rather the greater interest of an expansive musical universe and the hidden and not-so-hidden relationships within.  

This puts it beautifully.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes !!!   You nailed it, ghost!

Expansion is better than contraction!  Both/And is better than Either/Or!  ;) 

 

Edited by HutchFan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's as many reasons as the are people having them, but i think it can largely sum up as - not everybody thinks that "popularity" is a good thing. And that's nowhere near as simple as it sounds, because - popular with who, and why, and what are you doing to either get or avoid it, it goes on.

I can tell you though, in my life (and I started playing in pure/real/indigenous/whatever R&B bands when I was, like, 19), it was common (more like standard practice) for "white" people to dig the "black" music that crossed over onto their charts, FAR less common for them to hear what didn't...And if it got TOO unfamiliar, uh, they backed off. It got to be "too"....whatever. I thought I "knew" R&B, well, HELL no, I didn't have have a clue, not even a tenth of a clue, really. And hell, I KNEW where the stations were, but for me they were just stations on the radio, not THE station.

That's just a function of how America worked/works, radio was not the cause, radio was a symptom, people who listen to popular music don't really want challenges, they want confirmation (and not everybody feels like confirming, ok? not like that) . I don't care who you are, that's what hits are - confirmations. As it pertains to "soul jazz" and other black musics relative to the white" critical and listening audience, that's a very real thing. Not necessarily malevolent in its existence, probably not fully malevolent in its applications, but just real.

You can see it on this board, all the white folks who came to jazz from the rock music ot theier youth/young adulthood. Nothing wrong with that. but "soul jazz" and its offshoots is going to land on a totally different spot if you're hearing it straight out of Boston (the band) than if you were hearing, like, Brick or Sun or Quazar, or going back earlier, if you were coming form Jimmy Page as opposed to O.V. Wright.

Look at it another way - EVERYBODY knows two Johnny Taylor songs, right? But Johnny Taylor had a helluva lot more hits than just two.

 

 

 

1 hour ago, Rabshakeh said:

It could be, although I think he was possibly also just opposed to the genre (at least whenever he wrote the relevant essays). 

There is another later essay in Black Music where Baraka runs through the New York nightlife options at the time. He rather snootily dismisses "Harlem" jazz clubs for pandering to their listeners. I don't have my copy to hand, but I recall him being very dismissive of the music that was actually being played in the more African American parts of Manhattan. I remember finding it striking when I read it, because, unlike his criticisms of the more establishment venues, he doesn't even bother to explain himself: he obviously just viewed the music as beneath his notice. 

Well, let me be true to my contrarian essences and point out that there really WAS a revolution going on, and when one is a revolutionary with the smell of victory somewhere in the air, one does not have time for anything other than pushing forward no matter whatever.

So again, context matters, about everything. Everything.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Plenty of room for everything.  I'm a big believer in as broad a definition as possible as illustrated by my playlist for today (all recorded on October 13):

  • Fletcher Henderson.  Shanghai Shuffle.  1924.
  • Red & Miff's Stompers.  Stampede.  1926.
  • Sol Hoopii.  Radio Blues.  1927.
  • The Chocolate Dandies.  Paducah.  1928.
  • Count Basie.  Out the Window.  1937.
  • Benny Goodman.  Ciribiribin.  1938.
  • Fats Waller.  Yacht Club Swing.  1938.
  • Pete Johnson.  Boogie Woogie.  1939.
  • Mildred Bailey.  I Didn't Know About You.  1944.
  • Roy Eldridge.  Twilight Time.  1944.
  • Earl Bostic.  Don't You Do It. 1950.
  • Red Norvo Trio.  Move.  1950.
  • Ronnie Scott with the Ronnie Ball Trio.  Close Your Eyes.  1951.
  • Art Tatum.  Sweet Lorraine.  1952.
  • Sonny Clark Trio.  Tadd's Delight.  1957.
  • Tony Scott and the All Stars.  Body and Soul.  1958,
  • Frank Strozier.  Day In - Day Out. 1960.
  • Cecil Taylor.  Port of Call.  1960.
  • Dave Brubeck.  Countdown.  1961.
  • Dave Brubeck.  Softly, William, Softly.  1965.
  • Steve Kuhn Trio.  Eiderdown.  1969.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great discussion, folks. Chiming in far too late just to articulate this point, since I've had to work with a lot of Jones/Baraka in recent days-

It's been noted both here and elsewhere, but "jazz criticism" is i process unnatural to, if deeply intertwined with, the production of The Music. In a very broad (i.e., reductionist) sense, art criticism is itself a Western-coded construct, and I think it's fair to argue that for a very significant interval of jazz's lifespan, criticism existed as entity separate from the centers of Black cultural production in which the music was made. A significant change I see with the onset of the postwar period, and especially into the 1960s - in my admittedly limited perspective on the situation - is a weakening of the boundaries between criticism and music as a criticism-adjacent social process.

"Black Dada Nihilismus" alone fundamentally alters Baraka's place in the early 1960s. He's not only commenting on or interacting with the musicians he's writing about - he's issuing one of the signature pieces of early free jazz, in a way defining the role of spoken word in the idiom for decades to come. For me, it's impossible to read Blues People or Black Music as anything other than the words of someone who had an intimate knowledge of not just the value but also the processes intrinsic to the music he was commenting on. This goes for his later preoccupation with R&B and soul music, too - on the New York Art Quartet's 35th Reunion Album - on which Baraka is a main voice - you can hear him singing the chorus to "Dancing In the Streets" - it's music that Baraka heard and read, yes, but it's also music that was felt and refracted back into the communities he was writing about. You can go on and on about this - not just with regard to Baraka, but also people like Stanley Crouch and Greg Tate, whose opinions are irreversibly tied to their personal experiences inside of the music.

If you really want to complicate things, consider Downbeat running Kenny Dorham's excoriating reviews of Albert Ayler, or the fact that - as has come up on this board on numerous occasions - Downbeat has run a number of articles, interviews, and testimonials that are, I would argue, important parts of understanding certain artists (e.g., Larry Kart's epochal Wayne Shorter interview).

There are specific academic and philosophical reasons why it is convenient to trace the arc of jazz in a straight line from plantation music, blues, ragtime, etc. to free jazz, but also keep in mind that in that free jazz resonated quite explicitly with both African American freedom struggles and leftist political movements in the 1960s. If free jazz got extra airtime, irrespective of the place that soul jazz had in actual African American communities and social spaces, it is in part because (a) again, jazz criticism is an unreliable narrator with its own biases and convictions, and (b) free jazz had embedded in its process something that was easy, if not simple, to write about.

The other thing I'd stress is that it's not as if free jazz won some kind of long game here. Its visible dominance in academic narratives of the music - and its continued relevance to institutions like the NEA and the MacArthur Foundation - is something that we, as initiates of the music, are attuned to - but you'll still very rarely encounter earnest discussion of Bill Dixon or Archie Shepp in institutions of higher learning, and you're more than likely to run into Gene Ammons or Cannonball in jazz school vs. Marion Brown or, in certain circles, Ornette. Out in the "real world", this stuff is just words and, sometimes, cash. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Comment in the Prestige Records Story box-set booklet from Ron Eyre, sales director for Prestige in the late 1950s/early 1960s, that seems pertinent to this thread:

There were two elements to the Prestige catalog. You had the soul-funk area with the organ groups and the honking tenors. And then the young Turks (Bob Weinstock) was doing on New Jazz. I was always anxious to push the New Jazz artists because some of those guys were getting good reviews. Bob taught me a lesson. He said, “Gene Ammons has never gotten more than two or three stars in Down Beat, nor has Eddie Lockjaw Davis. I don’t need Down Beat to sell Gene Ammons or Shirley Scott.” It was a point well taken.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.