Golden Omelets - Jonathan Freilich
Jonathan is a fellow composition student here at CalArts and has written a lengthy but fascinating account of the intersection of the musical, economic and political in post-Katrina New Orleans. His account of the destructive effects, real and potential, of "boosterism" and political favoritism on the musical culture is revealing; in fact, I would say that if you have any interest at all in playing or studying any variety of New Orleans music old or new, it's essential reading. As one such person who nonetheless has found himself at a distance (geographical and otherwise) from "the real shit," it explains a lot; for example, how someone as spectacularly derivative as Evan Christopher can go around saying things like this to the jazz media without any fear of being marginalized:
Espeland: You were working with French musicians?
Christopher: On the Live at the Meridien recording, the drummer’s French. The other two musicians live in France but they’re actually Australian.
The bass player, Sebastien Girardot, has played traditional jazz with real New Orleans-style revival bands since he was 19. [Guitarist] David Blenkhorn came up with Australian musicians in the Australian traditional jazz scene. He plays the shit out of blues. He approaches jazz in almost a more American way than a lot of American musicians do.
Espeland[appropriately!]:What does that mean?
Christopher: He likes to swing and play blues.
Espeland: Do you find there’s a difference between working with American musicians and those who aren’t American?
Christopher: I can’t make a generalization like that. But I will say that I enjoy the spirit of these guys. It seems more American to me than a lot of the cats I work with here.
I'm no flaming patriot, but them's fightin' words anyway. There is, of course, something profoundly contrary to musical Americanism in what Christopher says here, which all jibes quite nicely with the notion of boosterism exported to out-of-the-way places, like Minnesota, where most people won't know the difference.
The Latin Jazz Grammy Travesty - Brian Lynch
I'm late to the party as usual, but if you missed it too, here's an in-depth account of some internecine strife at NARAS (the Grammy people) surrounding the recent consolidation of categories, which included the elimination of Latin Jazz as a standalone. It appears that Lynch himself as well as many of the other Latin Jazz luminaries involved are in fact members of this organization themselves. I can't claim any real understanding of what that means and don't particularly care to research it, but I'm having a devil of a time summoning the least bit of sympathy. Is this not an organization, an industry, a culture built from the very beginning on screwing people over? What has really been accomplished when recognition from such a morally and artistically compromised institution has become so paramount to a musical culture?
One obvious answer, I think, is that it hasn't really, but rather that there is some quite understandable, if predictable, self-interested writhing going on here among the exceedingly few exponents of said musical culture for whom the Grammys matter in the least, either practically or symbolically. I am especially troubled nonetheless by the assertion that ethnic pride is at stake here. Ethnic pride needs to be bigger than the Grammys; it needs to be self-determined and self-evident; it needs to be morally purer than the wretched criminals who run the entertainment industry and the soulless automatons they deploy to town hall meetings to run interference for them. Not that I know anything about ethnic pride, of course, but I'm at least willing to entertain the notion, because what is it that us straight white men hear so often from members of oppressed groups who intend to impress upon us how far we actually are from being post-race but that just because The Man gives out white and black and red and yellow trophies doesn't mean that those people have equal footing in His society; in fact, this may well be a diversionary tactic designed to make this appear to be the case while the injustices continue elsewhere in plain sight.
It is, of course, also highly unfashionable in 2012 to advocate so vociferously both for oneself and for such a narrowly-defined musical genre, more or less regardless of the social context, and so if you feel I'm being unduly-harsh-verging-on-obstrperous above, then allow me to at least point out this more obvious fact and have a good-natured chuckle about it at the expense of some musicians whom I otherwise have a great deal of respect for. I mean, reeeeeally guys? You wouldn't bat an eye if I was out there with a sandwich board agitating for an "Anglo-Jewish Mutt Acoustic Jazz Chamber Music" category and acting as if the future of my music and my people depended on it? If it does, I guess I've got another thing coming.
Irony Plague - Todd Clouser
I'm impressed by Todd's recent writing and thoughts, and as a result, also regretting not crossing paths with him when I was still in Minneapolis. Definitely read the linked NYT article, though, for the full effect. It puts into words so many thoughts I've had over the years in a way that I nonetheless don't yet have the full historical or critical theory-al understanding to articulate intelligently, though you might have noticed that I've tried anyway in fits and starts in this very space. There is what can only be called a psychoanalysis of the ironist conducted both explicitly and implicitly in this article, which I realize now is the way to get to the heart of the issue: postmodern pastiche itself actually fits fairly neatly into a linear art-historical analysis, but ironism specifically cannot really be fully understood this way, I don't think. It's a state of mind, not just a technique, and one doubts if it is unique to the present day so much as the democratization of creativity (which for high-musicological purposes actually started at the end of the eighteenth century, not with the advent of the microchip) actually creates it as a byproduct, leading to an accumulation over the years which has reached a fever pitch in recent decades. If you're an aesthete, ironism is a neurosis, not an art-historical inevitability; good to read a couple of intelligent takedowns, then, as such things tend to keep us aesthetes from also becoming nihilists, if only temporarily.