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News and Views '11/'12 #4
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Allen Hall
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Joined: 26 May 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:58 pm    Post subject: News and Views '11/'12 #4 Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

News and Views from the Stationary Hall JazzLindyMobile
‘11/’12 Installment # 4

DANCE, MAYBE REPEAT

Table of Contents:
1. Back with the Boppers
2. Book Review of “ Why Jazz?”
3. CD Review of “The Great Fontana”
4. Jazz Potpourri
5. Coming Attractions

(Publisher’s item: Note the N&V title change from LindyJazzMobile to JazzLindyMobile. This made in interest of full disclosure. Lindy Hop is now on the back burner for reasons too many to list, but Jazz is never on my back burner, and my ears are now getting longer and keener. So you may expect, at least for the present, more about jazz than Lindy Hop. Don’t like it? Tough, this is my writing dealy, and you are merely readers. Speaking about jazz, I have come to the firm realization that there is only one thing which stands between me and me as a fine jazz tenor saxophonist, and that one thing is 10,000 hours of practice. Sometimes, “reality” sucks.)

BACK WITH THE BOPPERS

Bop is a 6-count form of swing dance native to and largely restricted to the southeast USA. It is danced to (original) Rhythm and Blues music (whatever in the hell that is). Boppers are well organized into an American Bop Association consisting of 33 member clubs, most of which are true bop clubs. Boppers are, by and large, restricted to a demographic of between 40 and 80 years of age. The ABA holds a national convention each year in Cincinnati, one hosted by the Cincinnati Bop Club and called “Move Across the River”. Rudy and I used to be CBC members and attendees at the event, this the 19th for this five day weekend in early November each year.
We went to the Thursday night dance for old time sake, and because it featured the only live music, “The Band of Oz”, but wished afterwards that we had chosen an evening DJed dance. “The Band of OZ, an octet playing music consisting of original R&B tunes with modern pop rock rhythms and everything at almost exactly 120 bpm. The venue dance hall was huge with a huge home-made floor with a danceable surface. (Note: this same floor consisting of 4/8 sections of interior high-grade plywood, has been used for each of the 19 “Move Across the River” events). We heard that 680 dancers were pre-registered. The cut-off is now 800, and used to be 1,000 before 9/11, when you had to reserved tickets months in advance. About 35% of those attending were on the floor at any one time—about average for boppers, based on our memory. We met some dear old and some not so old dear friends, and that was our primary goal in attending a dance for $30 each Tix to a suspect band. We got in a few good dances albeit at 120 bpm. Lotsa Cha-chas played???Nuf said.

BOOK REVIEW OF “WHY JAZZ?” By Kevin Whitehead
(text in quotes are from the book)

But first, my question, “What is Jazz?” A good answer came from Garry Giddins, in drawing the line between jazz and non-jazz. “If you like it, (and you’re a jazz fan) it’s jazz”, but as Robert Bloch pointed out, “99% of anything is crap.”
The author answers his title question, “Why Jazz?” with “It’s fun to listen to.” If you don’t have fun listening to jazz, just skip this book review. It might satisfy some intellectual curiosity with facts, but facts are not what jazz is all about. Jazz originated in the United States from influences from Europe and Africa. Jazz is now all around the globe, and in many counties held in high esteem as a music of high art, but much less so in the United States.
When I was in Japan in the early 1950s many Japanese trumpet players had a Louis Armstrong signature affectation by carrying a white handkerchief in their left hands, and many piano players tried to mimic George Shearing. Many tried; none succeeded.
If you’re a jazz fan, you belong to an almost secret international association of fun-seekers. When music swings, I smile, and when it swings hard, I cannot remain motionless. When a jazz improvisationalist rolls out a series of logical, musically pertinent, seemingly inevitable, and novel swinging phrases, it’s a beloved form of speech that I emotionally understand. Would that everyone could.
Anyway, aside from arcane discussions on the nuts and bolts of music in general, and too long forays into post-1960 jazz, this is a really nifty primer for those new to jazz and interested, or for those jazz dilettantes who want “more”, whatever “more” is, as the author poses and answers a series of FAQ about jazz—a nifty format. e.g.,
1. “Jazz is more than a hundred years old. Isn’t it old-fashioned?”
2. “Are jazz solos really improvised?”
3. “What is ‘swinging’”?
4. “Why do jazz musicians play so many notes?”
5. “What is ragtime?”
6. “What is boogie-woogie.”
7. “What is stride piano?”
8. “Why do jazz people so go on about Louis Armstrong?”
9 ”And, why is Jelly Roll Morton so important?”
10. “Why is Duke Ellington so revered?”
11. “How long did the swing era last.”
et cetera with questions posed and answered for 136 pages. Agreed, 136 pages of a book published in 2011, doesn’t begin to allow for a complete history of jazz, but I was chagrined by the absence of any mention of the doggedly persistent forms of jazz which began in the 30s and 40s and are now still popular and are played all over the world. The author, it seems, falls into the common NYC jazz critic/opinionator trap by believing that jazz is evolutionary, with all new jazz forms killing, dressing, cooking and cannibalizing all preceding forms, and worse, he spends too much time discussing those forms which are obviously his favorites. I found too many pages devoted to that which is jazz extraneous, and blind-alley jazz discussed, all of which is found beyond page 82. From page 82 on, I found much to take issue with, but I am trying to stay on the happy side of the spectrum, and entering a one-sided argument with a jazz ideologue is mood-souring.
Sorry, you can’t have this book; it’s a loaner from the library.

CD REVIEW OF “THE GREAT FONTANA”

The great Fontana is Carl Fontana, and he was as great a straight-ahead* jazz trombonist as ever there was one on this planet. He had an open smooth tone—no lip-splat attack from him. He had a lovely way with ballads and lightning-quick triple-tongue speed on up-tempo burners. And, he had a plethora of exciting improvisational musical ideas. Sadly, this is the only CD with Fontana as leader, but it is sooooo goooood, one cannot remain sad. Carl is formulaic in the over-use of swing triplets, but who is complaining. I got to see him once in Las Vegas, where he hosted a weekly afternoon jazz jam. Several high school tramists showed to modestly bask in the glow of the master. Carl was a big man and this CD cover shows a photo of him, with and his big belly, his dour face and his Adolph Hitler moustache. He is my all-time #2 on jazz trombone, right behind Bill Harris.
Carl died of Alzheimer’s Disease, but he continued to make his once a week jazz jam long after he could no longer drive nor could he remember where he lived. A musician would pick him up and take him home. Toward the end, he seldom spoke, but his musical chops were not diminished an iota, tho’ it was reported that he played with less emotional fire. Is this not utterly emarkable, that the part of his brain which controlled his muscles needed for making music, and his musical memory and facility to improvise was unaffected by a such a devastating brain disorder?
This CD also features jazz tenor saxophonist, Al Cohn, a triple-threat jazz musical monster—he composed; he arranged; and he played as one of the best jazzmen of his age, playing with the very best of his era, and was uniformly held as a man with more beguiling musical ideas as was ever heard in post-bebop jazz. Al Cohn was a marvel, he could purr, he could growl and bark, and I doubt his deft use of dynamics has ever been equaled. If jazz is the music of surprise, Al Cohn is the surprisingest cat ever. Al’s astringent tone, his vibrato, and mannerisms can be heard echoed in the play of jazz tenor saxophonist, Pete Christlieb. I once told Pete “Al Cohn will never die as long as you are playing.” Pete seemed surprised by this, but when I asked him, “Would you be offended if I told you how much you remind me of Al Cohn?” Pete replied, “How could I be?”
The three piece rhythm section is sterling and on the opening number, “Shoutin’ on a Riff”, a run-away steam-roller at 288 bpm, the RS was swinging so hard, I wished the two horns to shut up so I could listen to the trio. Indeed, cut 2 “It Might as Well be Spring” is taken as a samba at 288 bpm which is TRES FAST for a samba, but the drummer is not only on top of the Latin rhythm, and he is also busy playing a trailer-load of damned nice fills.
Fontana has a solo break on this tune which is dazzling, and on several tunes he and Cohn play magical counterpoint while the RS sits out—two fine jazz minds creating one-of-a-kind, music, by reading each other’s minds while they are completely shorn of rhythmic, melodic or harmonic support. For them, ain’t nuthin’ to it—believe it!
Ten cuts, including 6 gorgeous American song standards, and they end the CD with “America the Beautiful” taken at 240 bpm in a Latin rhythm? Can you believe it? Believe it!

*”Straight-ahead” jazz has as many definitions as there are people courageous enough to create and defend them, but put as tersely as possible, it is the music played by jazz players who swing, and use the expanded jazz language of the immediate post-bebop era. “Straight-ahead” is the widely accepted lingua franca of jazz jam sessions, i.e., a walking bass, a swing 4/4 time on drums, syncopated “comping” chords on piano along with some single note melody, and all together, a musical “head” (full chorus) played “straight” followed by a solo for some or every single-voice melody instrument, including piano, followed sometimes by bass and drums solo, and a reprise of the “head”. “Straight-ahead” does include some Latin rhythms, and, rarely, a waltz.

JAZZ POTPOURRI

1. AACM is a storied Chicago association of jazz musicians dedicated to the prospect of destroying all forms of jazz except their own, which, predictably, has never, since 1967, found an audience. They have or have had in the AACM a long list of jazz musicians who I would pay dearly to keep from listening to, AND, they will play no music except originals, and, that alone, is reason enough for people to stay away in droves.
2. Wanna know why I adore the Hammond B-3 organ in the hands and feets of a good jazz musician? The reasons are protean and far too many to count. It is more than a concert band in two boxes, it’s more like several concert bands. I love the pop in the attack when a note is struck, and I love even more the guttural growl of the B-3 comping behind a lead instrument or voice. Trust me, or not, ito me, it’s still thrilling. Hear this, the B-3 is the grandest sounding and most monstrous of all jazz axes, replete with both oomph and an abundance of varying sonorities.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

1. Probably some Dance doings.
2. Book Report on “Jazz Singing”
3. More Jazz Potpourri
4. Maybe some other items to tickle your Amygdala

Allen Hall, Lindy Hopper
December 8, 2011 in cold rainy Dayton Ohio
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