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|Posted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:05 pm Post subject: News and views Late Winter '12/'13 Installment
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|News and Views from the Hall LindyJazzMobiless Trail
Late Winter ’13 Installment
March 5, 2013
DANCE, DON’T DRIVE, REPEAT
Table of Contents:
(Editor’s Note: Warning: This News and Views is too long, four full pages on paper. So, it’s best printed out to be savored in small mildly toxic doses.)
1. Review of “Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000” by Whitney Balliett
2. Afterthoughts with Continued Reading of Balliett’s Book
4. 2012 Annual Dance Report
5. Coming Attractions
BOOK REVIEW OF “COLLECTED WORKS: A JOURNAL OF JAZZ 1954-2000”
A journal? My ass, this is a 3.5 lb, 858 page, hardback in small print. The author, Whitney Balliett has a gargantuan wordbag stuffed full of unusual but bang-on modifiers and he uses them lavishly. I know, I know, describing music and the sound of instruments and voices is difficult, but Balliett is diligent. He disgorges adjectives and adverbs aplenty, many of which I have neither used nor seen. But, to his credit, he occasionally hits an exceedingly small but important nail precisely on the head, and thus driving it into my mind’s ear. The sunch can evermore write. A brief confession is in order. I am insatiable when it comes to writings on jazz, read it all, read everything, always have. This means I read a lot of literary tripe, but Balliett is, arguably, the most erudite of all jazz writers. His parallel genius, Gene Lees, no less bright and astute, was all fists with brass knuckles. Balliett is delicate with his feints and left jabs, and he appreciates the melancholia in Miles Davis. I do not. I can appreciate beauty, but prefer happy jazz. I can understand Balliett’s point of view because he writes so damned well it is neigh impossible to completely disagree with him. I turn a shade of ghastly green while reading Balliett. When I started reading in this book, I wanted to read and read and read and never stop. But don’t take my word for it. This from John Fordham’s eulogy of Balliett.
“Balliett crafted a reportage to do justice to jazz's subtleties, excitement, and the willingness of its practitioners to trust to luck. But he saw himself not as an opinion-former but as a witness to an art, and avoided cheap shots at an artist's expense like the plague.” Dan Morgenstern, of Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies, called Balliett "the greatest prose stylist to ever apply his writing skills to jazz". For Philip Larkin, Balliett was "a writer who brings jazz journalism to the verge of poetry". Baillett is feted for his literary style of writing, and for me, the musicians and vocalist he describes spring into vivid and focused life through his writing.
I wish I had started at the end of the book and worked backwards, but, now that I think of it, it’s not too late as the book is sawed up into small chunks of his written jazz criticism with respect to time, but no time-associated theme. I am now up to page 48, so I will jump to page 858 and continue backwards. One notable found in reading backwards is that the noun “Black” abruptly turned into “Negro” late in the 1950’s. Which calls into question any need to ever identify race in jazz writing. I will accept the belief which argues it important to both describe and identify the people who have contributed the most to the development of jazz.
Forty-six years is a mammoth expanse of written jazz journalism and criticism. Forty-six years is also a stretch for me. In 1954 I was at OHare Air Force Base—they were then building the commercial airline terminal. I was an pizza-eating, beer-drinking Air Force teletype operator in a temporary state of jazz ennui. Sad was the waste of it all, with a mandatory vision of a Rock-music drenched future. However, In 2000, I was spending my winter in Los Angeles catching live jazz ad libitum, and otherwise listening to what I believe was the best Jazz music radio station in the world, KJAZ out of Long Beach. Oh! the glory of it, but, for the several months we were there, Rudy and I Lindy Hopped away 85% of our nights. It’s no wonder my knees are now shot to hell, and my partially unrequited ears remain avid for live jazz.
I will make comments about some of the essays from the back of the book forward…does that make any sense? Anyway…
Page 854. Django Reinhardt. About whom, Duke Ellington remarked “…one who I regard as among the few inimitables of our music.” Not being a student of guitarists, I will take Duke’s opinion as fact.
Page 851. About Bill Charlap, Balliett gushes with encomium. I blush in regret, as I had Charlap captive on a week long jazz cruise and ill-appreciated him. Balliett writes (I paraphrase accept in quotes) “In Charlap’s CD…’All through the Night’ he plays the gorgeous ‘It’s so Peaceful in the Country’ and upon “leaving a beautifully chorded and measured melody chorus, he steps off into a handful of unevenly spaced single notes, a firm 4/4 rhythm underneath, and the earth moves.” How ‘bout that for emotional appreciation, jazz fans?
Page 848. About Wynton Marsalis, Balliett gives him his due as an ambitious, good looking, man-about-town, and technically proficient trumpet player. Otherwise, he is viscerally dissected by Balliett. Stanley Crouch (Jazz’s NYC eminence gris) dubbed Wynton as the “Prince of Jazz”, a crown Wynton wears while he is wearing me out with Ellingtonian pretentiousness. Jazz pianist, Kieth Jarrett roasted Wynton, and I think fairly so, with this, “I have never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all. Wynton has no voice and no presence.” “Behind his humble speech, there is an incredible arrogance.” Further, the late Gene Lees remarked that Wynton had suspect “time”, just about the worst curse you can lay on any jazz musician. To be fair, I think Wynton’s “time” is now much improved.
Page 845, Stan Getz. Balliett pulls down Getz’ pants, and Getz deserves to have his ass shown, given his erratic unruly behavior on and off the bandstand, but, Balliett acknowledges Getz’ matchless technique, his flawless musical memory, his musical sensitivity, and finishes the essay with this, “He may have worn his troubled Jewish heart on his sleeve, but, at his best, he could play rings around God.”
I will add some but not all found bon comments—are you getting a feel for Balliett’s critical ability? This reading backwards in the book is working well. 1954 Jazz rests uneasy in my memory, but 2000 jazz is fresh. The last sentences in Balliett’s reviews and critiques are often miniatures of truth wrapped deftly within terse language. A few verbatim and paraphrased statements follow:
a. “Jazz has had three undeniable virtuosos, Sarah Vaughn, Art Tatum, and Buddy Rich.”
b. “The music that teenagers like penetrates their bones.” I have often said and written the same thing, but never so elegantly.
c. “When two or three jazz fans find each other anywhere they consider themselves a crowd.” Being a jazz fan is akin to belonging to a mysterious amorphous widespread cult.
d. From an article entitled, simply, “Dance” this…
“Countless live (jazz) recordings have appeared in recent years, and most are from radio broadcasts or from concerts or night clubs. Few have been done at dances, which jazz musicians love, because they can see their music reflected in the bodies of the dancers: the better the music the better the dancing, and the better the dancing the better the music.”
THOUGHTS AFTER CONINUED READING OF BALLIETT’S BOOK
(If you find it weird that I would finish a book review before I finished reading the book, get over it.)
1. So fecund, delicious, and mind-stopping is Balliett’s writing, hardly a page goes by but what I don’t have to stop and look up a word, e.g. today three halted me cold. “86ed”, meaning “to eject or prohibit from entering” usually directed toward people in a tavern who are obstreperous, disruptive, drunk, and/or violent. “furbelowed“ to apply showy ornamentation”, “tohubohu” a word taken from Hebrew meaning “chaos, disorder or confusion”.
2. Reading backwards worked well, as the musicians in the ‘00s, ‘90s and 80’s were very familiar, but when he got to the ‘70s, up jumped incarnated musicians long dead, e.g. tenor saxophonist, Jimmy Forrest, who started my callow self watching jazz being cooked in the moment at The Barrel Lounge on Delmar Blvd in St. Louis. I was under age, but I gained entry by sneaking in the back door and hiding in the darkness.
3. But, there is a problem. This library book was checked out for the standard 3 weeks, but this is a three month book. Eureka! I learned that the Library would allow 5 three-week extensions, so long as no one else wished to check out the book—fat chance that will happen, as there are few jazz fans extant in the USA, fewer still in Dayton Ohio, and hardly any are apt to take on this hefty chore of reading.
4. This book provides a post-graduate education in jazz, but if you get a copy, be prepared to set aside a considerable duration of your reading time. My copy has been parked next to the toilet, where I must ration my reading, lest my hemorrhage-laden anus soon hang down like a pea coat sleeve.
5. I did the full 5 three week library loan extensions.
6. For Lindy Hoppers, this. On page 368, it was reported that during 1972 at the 18th Annual Newport Jazz Festival, which was held for the first time in NYC, a midnight dance was thrown in the main ballroom of the Commodore Hotel. Playing were the Count Basie Orchestra and the Jimmy Lunceford Group and Balliett who was there wrote “it was instructive to watch the faces of the scattering of kids on hand when the Lindy Hop broke out; they looked as if they were seeing a ritual dance from the court of King Tut.” Yes, dear LHers, there were active LHers dancing in NYC in 1972. The dark age of LH had not enveloped NYC, nor, I believe, L.A., but I can’t be sure of any other city. If you know differently, please set me straight. To my knowledge the Lindy Hop Revival didn’t poke its head into Minnesota’s Twin Cities until the mid ‘90s.
7. I am always annoyed when a musician fails to announce the title of what he is about to play. Balliett gave me reason and motive for annoyance when he wrote, “When a musician doesn’t announce what he is playing, it is doubly rude. The composer is erased, and the audience is made to feel unworthy of such information.”
8. More exotic words used by Balliett: “persiflage”, “accide”, “elegiac”, “tiple”, “bathos”, “rococo”, dicty, Babelean, badinage, guidon, melismatics, atelier, and gelid. These words don’t scare me too much, as I have seen some of them before, but I doubt I will ever use any because I don’t know what in the hell most of them mean. But, Yeah! I love words. I believe that words have become testaments to our unique animal humaness. Agreed, some of words used by Balliett are obviously French. To my mind, English is the most complete (pragmatic) oral or written language currently on earth, but French, in comparison, is an expressive language. The French have married meaning with sound to produce the idiomatic, often lilting, phrasing of spoken language, which is often literal nonsense,
9. Balliett was a New York guy. He could only write about what was playing live in New York City. Yes, for jazz, NYC is where it is AT, but I occasionally read “New Yorker” magazine in the library, and always check to see what live jazz is in town. I am usually unimpressed with the brand of modern jazz found there today. That said, I do not doubt my taste, as it has been gathered and refined by a lifetime of listening to jazz, and so, I think rather much of it, even if no one else does.
10. Balliett not only has a good ear and the rich language to describe what he hears, he also has a good eye, and the similar rich language to describe what he sees. His paragraph describing Aspin Colorado when he first went there is a gem of descriptive prose using words to fill up my absentee eyes.
11. An especially personal piece is Balliett describing the music and the city when first he goes to New Orleans. His descriptions are not novel to me since he is describing what has become personally commonplace, but I do find his descriptions bang on.
12. Reading the book back to front has revealed, in my opinion, that Balliett, was a slightly better writer late in his career.
1. Lou “Bart” Bartelo died, age 88, R.I.P. but, now I can return to California and dance the Balboa. See, I do it with mostly wrong footwork, (holding when I should be stepping, stepping when I should be holding, and worse, interjecting bastard footwork.) but Bart was the only one who noticed that, and mentioned it by curtly telling me at the worse possible place (Bobby McGees in L.A. on a Sunday afternoon) in a loud penetrating raspy voice, “You’re doing it wrong.” Believing that what the dance leader does with his feet is largely immaterial*, I protested, “I know, Bart I’ve always done it wrong.” Bart ignored me with no comment, and dismissed me by walking away. Ever since then, I have been self-conscious about doing Balboa in California, for fear I will “outed” once again. See, In California, the origin State of the Balboa, they have sharp eyes for Balboa shammers and poseurs, but only Bart had the “eagle eye” for “wrong” footwork. Or maybe other eagle eyes were kind and didn’t make ego-shattering comments about my lousy imperfect Balboa. Regardless, fortified by Bart’s death, I can now dance, with aplomb my rudimentary imperfect Balboa in California.
But, hear this. Bart was a hellova dancer. I have often seen him in video clips and live. Hilarious Bart Bartelo stories abound in California, but, I remember that he was a principal in the formation of and President of the California Swing Dance Society. Lindy Hop should cherish its characters, and Bart was, sure as hell, a signature character.
*What the leader does with his feet can be largely immaterial, with these provisos 1. Provided he doesn’t care about being seen as not dancing, OR 2. Provided he gets out of the way of the follower. In the latter instance, he might be referred to as a leader with all the agility of a regional bank safe.
Many jazz artists don’t like the word “jazz” as a name for what they play. Duke Ellington was one of them. I don’t like the word “swing” as a name for the dance I do, or for that matter the single word identifier for the dance anyone does. The word may describe swing dances in some way, e.g., a leader swings his partner from closed position to open and back to closed: the signature Lindy Hop move is the “swing-out”; many forms of swing dance are done to music which “swings”. However, the use of the word “swing” to describe a dance is now, not only passé, it has become improper. The swing dance tent is now so chock full of dances, each dance needs to be further identified because, just for starters, East Coast Swing is not West Coast Swing, nor are either one Imperial Swing or Supreme Swing. Further, Carolina Shag is not St. Louis Shag, and Bop is none of them, and so it goes, on and on.
So, while all of those dances above and many many more are all forms of swing dance, the simple term “swing” identifies none of them.
Until recently, West Coast Swing has been scrupulous to its full name, but now, for some reason, the proper identifier “West Coast Swing” is being whittled down to just “Swing”. I don’t know why this is so, but it is confusing at many levels.
Since East Coast Swing, in all if its styles is often thought of as Lindy Hop on training wheels, but I disagree, it is a dance in itself and always has been, and I believe it should be considered East Coast Swing. Teaching venues often advertise lessons in “swing”. Excuse me, do you mean you teach, Push, Rock, Charleston, Boogie Woogie, Rock and Roll, Steppin’, Ceroc, Jive, Whip, Hand Dance, Jamaica, and/or LeRoc? Advertising “swing” or “swing dance”, is like advertising for language instruction by saying “We teach Language”. Cripes! Does that mean you also teach Sanskrit?
End of futile protest.
2012 ANNUAL DANCE REPORT
Our monthly dancing report totals for 2012 are as follows, Jan-5, Feb-7, Mar-8, Apr-6, May-10, Jun-12, Jul-5, Aug-0, Sept-0, Oct-3, Nov-10, Dec-7. We were both shut down for during 3 months, starting in mid-July. The annual total of 73 days dancing, or 1 day dancing out of every 5 days, are both career lows for Rudy and I. Yes, the knee (me) and shoulder (her) surgeries cut into our totals, but if you take out July to October totals, we danced once every 3.7 days, which is still pretty anemic for us. But, Hey! it is what it is.
1. Review of the 6th Annual “Dayton Smackdown” a Dayton Ohio weekend LH event, featuring a team contest.
2. Dancing to The Boilermakers at Miami University (No, not The University of Miami)
3. Something else……maybe. We shall see, shall we not?
Allen Hall, Antediluvian Lindy Hopper
March 5, 2013, In cold snowy Dayton Ohio