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Wayne Shorter by Francis Davis


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My recollection is this October, maybe September. If so, it will be out at the same time that Dan Morgenstern's really big collection of his stuff emerges (from Norton). That could be good for me (joint reviews of both books when otherwise mine might not have been noticed), not so good (reviewer decides, as some reviewers will do, that one of two books on the same subject has to be much more valuable than the other and picks Dan's), or just make for more fun (Dan and I joked about doing joint appearances at bookstores, etc., and any best of Dan M. book is going to be excellent).

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My recollection is this October, maybe September. If so, it will be out at the same time that Dan Morgenstern's really big collection of his stuff emerges (from Norton). That could be good for me (joint reviews of both books when otherwise mine might not have been noticed), not so good (reviewer decides, as some reviewers will do, that one of two books on the same subject has to be much more valuable than the other and picks Dan's), or just make for more fun (Dan and I joked about doing joint appearances at bookstores, etc., and any best of Dan M. book is going to be excellent).

seriously, will you be doing signings? specifically, at Borders in Ann Arbor?

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Don't know about any signings yet; I (and the publisher's publicity department) haven't gotten that far. I'd definitely like to get to the Ann Arbor Borders though; my son worked there after he graduated from the U. of M. (he works at the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago now and plays in a genuinely musical rock band named [somewhat ironically] Crush Kill Destroy that took shape in Ann Arbor--the three other members are all from Michigan). I always liked the town -- good used book stores, good used record store (hope that one still exists), breakfast at Cafe Zola, etc.

P.S. I'm pretty sure that Crush Kill Destroy has an active website, with songs and info. They're loud but not THAT loud (the name comes from an episode of "Lost In Space" where a murderous android went around repeating that phrase), and they think highly of bands like Tortoise, Polvo, Don Caballero, and Isotope 217, if that has any meaning.

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Don't know about any signings yet; I (and the publisher's publicity department) haven't gotten that far. I'd definitely like to get to the Ann Arbor Borders though; my son worked there after he graduated from the U. of M. (he works at the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago now and plays in a genuinely musical rock band named [somewhat ironically] Crush Kill Destroy that took shape in Ann Arbor--the three other members are all from Michigan). I always liked the town -- good used book stores, good used record store (hope that one still exists), breakfast at Cafe Zola, etc.

P.S. I'm pretty sure that Crush Kill Destroy has an active website, with songs and info. They're loud but not THAT loud (the name comes from an episode of "Lost In Space" where a murderous android went around repeating that phrase), and they think highly of bands like Tortoise, Polvo, Don Caballero, and Isotope 217, if that has any meaning.

Well, if you make it here I'll be in line! I don't know if you've ever tried it but the Broken Egg, on Main St next to Kerrytown is good breakfast too. As for record shops, from my experience lately Encore (on Liberty) is just completely overrun with CDs, and customers. It's next to impossible to browse in there. Wazoo and Schoolkids (both on State) are the best shops in town currently

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Thanks, Chaney. In the photo, which is about three years old and was taken in an Ann Arbor alley, are (left to right): Toby Summerfield, bass; Brian Hacker, guitar and vocals; Jacob Kart, guitar; and Chris Salmon, drums. In real life, Toby is about the size of your typical NFL defensive tackle.

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FWIW, I was so glad to see this Davis piece, and so glad to see Larry Kart quoted at length. As I've written elsewhere regarding the "egoless" comment...

Somewhat remarkable comments for their time, but even more pertinent today than they ever were. Except that now, these observations could be applied not just to single recording, but to an entire "genre" of music. No bashing intended, really. But this passage does cause me to wonder about the perhaps still not fully comprehended pervasiveness of Shorter's influence on the world of improvisation, and, by extension, to pause again over the idea that there is more "jazz" in "eai" [electro-acoustic improvisation] / whatever than maybe meets the ear.

To wit… taking their cue from John Cage, many contemporary musicians cite Zen concepts in (partial) explanation of their own working methods, or, like Bernhard Günter, claim to be adherents of the wabi-sabi aesthetic. (Interestingly, reverence of the quintessentially Western concept of the clinamen – thank you Lucretius – appears to be much more rare.) I have little doubt that Kart was making at least oblique reference to Shorter's Buddhist faith here, however, not in order to exploit it for the purposes of his argument, but rather in order to delineate just how the very culture of the music was changing. Here we are standing at the other end of that change, I would argue, and now its time to return to the question that I feel is implicit in Kart's analysis, expressed as it is, and only could best be expressed, in a tone of slight resignation. "[T]o renounce the notion of the improvising musician as the purveyor of a competitive, flamboyant ego"... is improvisation as a practice even suited to this pursuit?

Edited by Joe
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...now its time to return to the question that I feel is implicit in Kart's analysis, expressed as it is, and only could best be expressed, in a tone of slight resignation. "[T]o renounce the notion of the improvising musician as the purveyor of a competitive, flamboyant ego"... is improvisation as a practice even suited to this pursuit?

Hell if I know, but as a means to confront, examine, and, if so desired, temper it, you'd be hard pressed to find a better medium, I think.

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Bernhard Günter

One of those names I'd never expect to see pop up here! :huh:

There's room for him here, surely. His work has been influential on a number of contemporary improvising musicians -- or so it seems to me.

Not to say I've liked everything I've heard by him, BTW.

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Bernhard Günter

One of those names I'd never expect to see pop up here! :huh:

There's room for him here, surely. His work has been influential on a number of contemporary improvising musicians -- or so it seems to me.

Not to say I've liked everything I've heard by him, BTW.

I have to put on headphones just to hear him! :lol:

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Joe -- Some more about Shorter and the "soloistic ego" from the introductory chapter to Ye Olde Forthcoming Book:

"Is the expression of individual instrumental personality still the norm in jazz ? The facelessness of so many technically adept younger jazz musicians is often remarked upon ("The soloists have become so generic ," in the words of veteran composer-valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer); and this is commonly attributed to the homogeneity of the jazz education system, the long-lasting, pervasive influences of John Coltrane and Bill Evans, the sheer weight of the music’s past, etc. But perhaps it also is a kind of revolt or protest from within, a way of saying that the role openly expressed, on-going individuality has played in jazz no longer matches up well with the habits of the rest of the world or that it now comes at a price that is too high to be paid.

"And yet Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter already were stepping back from the direct expression of self some forty years ago--guided, especially in Rollins’s case, by Coleman Hawkins’s example. The rich complexity of Rollins’s musical thought, and his ability to at once dramatize and ironically comment upon virtually any emotional impulse that came to mind, led him to express multiple points of view--one could even say summon up multiple selves or characters--within a single solo. This was, however, not an approach that Rollins could sustain during the 1960s, in the face of rapid stylistic change in the surrounding jazz landscape. Responding to those changes in his own work, as he did quite strikingly up to a point, also meant that the broadly shared musical-emotional language of romantic sign and sentiment that had so deeply stirred Rollins’s own sentiments and wit was now becoming historical. It was a language that could still be referred to and played off of, but for him apparently not with sufficient immediacy.

"Shorter’s temperament--also deeply, even subversively ironic--led him at first to toy brilliantly with the idea that any soloistic gesture could or should be taken at face value. In the typical Shorter solo of the early- to mid-1960s, seemingly forthright, "heated" musical-emotional gestures are disrupted, even mocked, by oblique, wide-eyed shifts to other levels of speech (cool, chess-master complexity, blatantly comic tonal and rhythmic distortions, and so forth). Rollins had said, in effect: "There are many selves at work here, and I am present in all of them." Shorter took the next step: "Why assume that any of these selves is a self, that any of them is me?" Significantly, this aspect of Shorter’s music emerged at the same time that Coltrane was plunging headfirst into the expressionistic sublime, although Shorter’s seemingly innate distancing diffidence also seems to have played a role. In any case, after he left the Miles Davis Quintet, Shorter increasingly withdrew from the solo arena (from 1970 to 1985 he was a member of the jazz-rock group Weather Report), and on the rare occasions when he has returned there, it is his diffidence that he essentially expresses. (That Shorter returned to the concert stage and the recording studio beginning in 2002 is a hopeful sign, though the rather studied elegance of the results so far suggests something less than full engagement.)

"In the music of Rollins and Shorter, humorous or ironic speech turns into doubt about the act of speaking, about the on-going integrity of the language itself. Here, it would seem, the scrim of post-modernism begins to descend upon jazz, perhaps before the concept was even formulated.... Etc.

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Wayne once was quoted as saying something like: 'Composition is just improvisation slowed down' (I'm paraphrasing - I don't have the article handy).

From my years of thinking of Wayne's music, I have never come across a better synopsis of his musical conception.

Bertrand.

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Larry -- thanks so much for that preview. I would agree regarding the subversive, broad humor of Shorter's early solos; an aspect of his work not commonly discussed.

I hear Shorter's quest a little bit differently, as more of a struggle with the changing same -- with a series of reversals or even personal apostasies (SUPER NOVA, an album I love) along the way -- than a protracted fade into stasis. (Not that you suggest as much, of course.) I suppose one could read the Shorter's increasing interest in orchestration a number of ways: as a deliberate repudiation of the jazz soloist as historical construct; as an extension of his interest in composing; as an exploration of new methods of camouflage; i.e., the ensemble surrounds Shorter but is not dependent upon him; conversely, as a means of expanding his musical Self, by creating "permanent" structures for other improvisers that are nevertheless already completely overgrown with elements of his own style.

All of which makes me think not just about what Shorter plays, has played, will play... but also the impact of his music in terms of influence. Isn't Shorter's situation, like that of Rollins, slightly absurd? Maybe more like absurdity on top of absurdity, both having flirted with absurd content in their own work. Multiply this by those myriad refractions of their Selves audible in the work of subsequent saxophonists. "The problem of influence", it seems to me, cannot be isloated within the influenced. And, certainly, if you're trying to dodge yourself, it becomes very difficult as aspects of that Self proliferate in the surrounding culture. Maybe it is Shorter's reaction to this, the compositional and improvisational choices he has made as well as avoided over the course of his career, which anticipates post-modernism. Anyway, however it does touch upon post-modern thought, and I think it does, SHorter's music does so in an extremely subtle manner.

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Hey, Joe -- You should have written the book! You say some really interesting things -- "'The problem of influence,' it seems to me, cannot be isolated within the influenced" is something I would have loved to steal. On the other hand, having a conversation that pushes your (i.e. my) thoughts ahead of where they'd rested is what it's all about.

BTW, I wish I hadn't said "post-modernism" or anything like it -- the term gives me the creeps and seems to me to be flung around a lot more than it should -- but it was lying right there on the road to the next several sentences (about Misha Mengelberg and the whole Dutch crowd, trimmed off below), and I couldn't resist.

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And how the first part of what Larry wrote connects to the second -- while Sonny and Wayne are influential, I doubt the aspects of their playing Larry is going into are part of the classroom -- that seems to rest with study of the notes, transcription, which necessitates the solo/hero continuum. All about the trees, as it were...??? In any case, the price of individuality as marginalization from corporate approval, the soloist conforming to larger pressures in the world, is a helluvan observation.

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Larry -- once tried to write fiction centered around Sonny Rollins, his sabbatical in the early 60's, and the "problem of influence". That may be the last book I ever write, and I lifted it myself...

Having lived through a thoroughly post-modern education, I share your reservations about the word. But sometimes it is just the hammer you need.

It is interesting that Wayne's compositions have entered the canon, but you don't typically see transcritpions of his solos as you do those of Trane, Henderson, and others. I wonder how different Wayne's career would have been, too, if both ET CETERA and THE SOOTHSAYER, probably his "harshest" 60's sessions, had not sat in the vaults for so long. Did Wayne himself have a hand in keeping them out of ciruclation?

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