Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*"I think one could say it's the Wynton Marsalis/Ken Burns style of jazz history that gave us the 18th & Vine 'Jazz District,' which is one of the most depressing places on earth," avers Peter Lawless. The full interview with the musician is at the Black House Improvisors' Collective site. The ensemble performs Friday at the Paragraph Art Gallery and Sunday at the Record Bar.

*Joe Klopus' invaluable weekly column returns.

*The Pat Metheny media blitz is in full swing. The BBC offers a podcast. Metheny's segment begins at the 6:05 mark and ends at 12:45. An Australian publication marvels at Metheny's new project. Further evidence that the Orchestrion mania is real is the fact that this YouTube preview was viewed over 30,000 times in six days.

*Mike Metheny pays tribute to the Folly Theater's Doug Tatum.

*The latest missive from KCJazzLark is, as usual, quite compelling.

*Matt Otto's new book, Modern Jazz Vocabulary, Vol. 1, is now available.

*Hearts of Darkness and The People's Liberation Big Band made Lucas Wetzel's thoughtful top shows of 2009 list.

*Mark Edelman suggests a "jazz crawl" on Thursday.

*Ink previewed the Mark Lowrey vs Hip Hop show. So did Tim Finn.

*Present reviews Mouth.

*The Star offers an enthusiastic review of Allen Toussaint's concert at the Folly Theater. So do The Pitch and the Daily Record.

*A reviewer detected jazz influences in a composition by Menachem Wiesenberg at a performance by the Kansas City Symphony.

*A blogger shares his photographs and thoughts about last year's big gathering on the steps of the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*Here's another road trip alert: Dean Minderman of St. Louis Jazz Notes reports that King Sunny Ade will perform in his town on April 20. I call shotgun.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

Does anybody know why Betty Crow was removed from the work she has been doing at the MMF? Seems to me, she has done more good than any I've seen in the last twenty years. Who is better qualified? Who will work that hard for no pay?

Anonymous said...

Peter Lawless says,

"Frankly, I never became really proficient at it." (playing tunes with harmony)

So, anyway, to sum up, I don't practice. (improvisation).

Interesting! How do you push the boundaries of music without mastering the past first?

Coltrane practiced non-stop. Ornette Coleman, not so much.

Peter said...

Let me defend myself a little. The not practicing part was a joke - I do practice, but not as much as some other people. I never claim to "push boundaries" - I love Anthony Braxton's quote "Nothing furthers anything." I just try to make a unique musical statement. For me, improvisation is a means not an end; by that, I mean that I feel that composing is my main means of expression. Improvisation is just one tool in my tool box. Ornette Coleman composed a lot more music than John Coltrane. Coltrane was primarily an improvisor - I don't know of any long form compositions that he wrote. I am not saying that this makes one better than the other. Each man used his specific interests and talents to produce their own unique musical statement. That's what I'm trying to do.

Anonymous said...

Peter. A Love Supreme. And I'm not sure what you mean about Coltrane as a my experience his original works are MUCH more a part of the standard jazz repertoire than Ornette Coleman's.

Also, please, please God, learn to play changes before you make ANY commentary on jazz. Like--ANY commentary on jazz. Any.

ericcartman said...

Wow, what a fantastic example of jazz purist thinking. Obviously someone thinks he or she can play changes and is perhaps a little too proud of that. How does one even know for sure that they're playing changes? I guess if the right "cats" dig you, that's when you know.

Thousands upon thousands of musicians can play changes. They graduate from great jazz programs every year. It's really not that special of a skill.

It's not our inability to play changes that makes the music so marginal and culturally irrelevant. In fact, it's been my experience that the vast majority of the jazz audience can't tell if you are or not. Diminished patterns and wicked chords substitutions don't seem to mean much to a non-musician audience.

The jazz musicians today that are creating a new audience for themselves aren't playing the changes better than everyone else. It's about something else. Something much more important than "jazz musician codes of validity" and homages to the Tradition.

Anonymous said...


William Shakespeare and John Grisham...two great authors who will survive the test of time.

Ludwig van Beethoven and John Tesh...two brilliant composers.

I think I see your analogy, most people cannot tell the difference.

Anonymous said...

Part of being a good musician is playing with proficiency on your instrument. You can hear by the way someone plays whether they are proficient.

How is their sense of time? Can they play in and out of time? Can they play in and out of tune depending on the the music? Can they execute technical passages on their instrument with believeability or do they sound like they are falling down stairs.
Can they play inside and outside the changes?

It doesn't matter what kind of music you play. Playing non-traditional music is not an excuse for bad time, tone and execution.

You mentioned Anthony Braxton. I have several of his Cd's and enjoy some of his music...check out his recording of Donna Lee on Contra Bass Clarinet. Its a gas. Having said that, there are many issues about his playing that are not fundamentally sound both in tone and technique. I know he has taught at major universities and been the recipient of "genius grants" but as we know, teaching at a University and or winning a "genius grant" really don't mean much.

It used to mean something when a person put out a recording, it gave you credibility. These days, there are flat-out bad players releasing music.

If you want to talk about "new music" (its old now) played by proficient musicians listen to Dave Holland and Muhal Richard Abrams, Kenny Wheeler and Paul Bley from the 70's and 80's. Listen to early ECM recordings. These are virtuosos first.

A good instrumentalist or composer channels the history of music through their instrument in additon to offering their own perspective.

Unfortunately most Avant Garde or non-traditional musicians create new music because they lack the discipline to learn the fundamentals of musical language. They make up their own musical language because its an easy way out.

Hermon Mehari said...


Unless you're being sarcastic, I think you're completely wrong. 200 years from now, people will not be talking about John Grisham (and probably not John Tesh-- in fact I have no idea who he is, which further proves my point). William Shakespeare and Beethoven will continued to be studied, and their works will continue to be performed. They are timeless.


I think jazz musicians owe it to the music to at least understand and respect the lineage before doing what they want to do with the music. Most successful ones do this (and the ones I personally enjoy listening to have)and many take it as far as to learn how to play in the tradition (more than just playing changes). Musicians such as Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran, Logan Richardson, and Lionel Loueke aren't always playing this abstract idea of what is considered playing the changes that we can't seem to define. However, they have all studied, listened and analyzed the tradition. They are in touch with the few people alive that are part of the tradition and learn firsthand what it is about. They can play "the changes" in the traditional sense. They have discerned what they like and don't like and created their own voices. To me, their music has that much more depth.

I agree, most audiences probably can't tell the difference between a musician who can play changes and can't. That's not a good reason to abandon at least respecting the music by trying to gain an understanding of where it came from. If playing changes isn't that special of a skill, why not take the time to learn it out of reverence to this study? Laziness (just asking in general)?

Just to clarify:

-I'm not saying that music by someone who can't play changes isn't good music. I think if you like it, it's good, if you don't its bad.

-I'm not saying that jazz musicians HAVE to play changes or even know how. What I am saying is that studying the tradition is a sign of respect to the music they are performing. This can include learning how to play changes, but can also include listening to the artists from each era in a somewhat analytical fashion. It can also include being aware of the songs that were performed in the past, and even knowing those songs. If someone does this, and says they dislike Duke Ellington or Eric Dolphy or playing bebop language, it would seem to be more of a legitimate opinion to me (someone would probably go as far as to say their music has more integrity).

My two cents. Please, anyone, feel free to disagree as much as possible, as these responses and this conversation are a learning experience (musical and non-musical) for me.


ericcartman said...

What's amusing to me about jazz conservatives is that they argue just like political conservatives. Just insert "John Coltrane" instead of the word "freedom" and "A Love Supreme" for "the constitution."

What you don't like freedom? You don't love and support the constitution?

How can you argue with that?

Peter said...

I think some people have missed my point anyway, so I'll spell it out: I AM NOT A JAZZ MUSICIAN. I love jazz, I have listened to tons and tons of jazz, I studied jazz with Bobby Watson for 2 years, I have many friends who are jazz musicians, but I don't consider the music I make to be "jazz". I am speaking as a highly-informed audience member. Comments like, "Also, please, please God, learn to play changes before you make ANY commentary on jazz. Like--ANY commentary on jazz. Any." show clearly the kind of superiority complex/distain for the listening public that is common among many jazz musicians.

I take extreme offense to the insinuation that I am lazy - I work extremely hard to make my music. I have dedicated every fiber of my being to music. I apologize that I have not dedicated it to your favorite genre.

(Cartman - thanks for the defense, although, as someone who deeply loves "freedom" and "the Constitution," I'm not sure I agree with your last comment. There are many highly rational reasons to respect those things (if I didn't have freedom, we wouldn't be having this lovely debate), but this is neither the time nor the place for that.)

Hermon Mehari said...


More clarification:

My comments were not directed to you, they were only a response to ericcartman and the ideas stated are directed towards jazz musicians.


ericcartman said...

Hi Hermon

I pretty much agree with most of what you said and I share your preference for players who are well studied. But your statement:

"I think jazz musicians owe it to the music to at least understand and respect the lineage before doing what they want to do with the music."

is exactly how musicians dress up their assertion of jazz purity/ validity. It sounds reasonable but it's a false idol

Musicians owe their music the hard work to see that it is of the highest quality they can produce. And they should study as they see fit.

That's all there is. There are no gods to appease and mythical traditions to pay homage to. Take what you can use and get to work.

A great musician is someone with something interesting to say. There are entire genres of great music produced by people who can't really play their instruments.

It seems like jazz musicians are the only musicians that first have to prove to everyone else that they can play before they can start to say something. But if you don't identify yourself as a jazz musician you are free to start saying something immeadiately.

And Pete, you know who else didn't practice playing changes enough?


Anonymous said...


Yes...that was sarcasm about Grisham and Tesh.

Peter and Eric,
Great discussion guys!

Thanks for the forum!

Russell Thorpe said...

Well then all those participating in this discussion I think should come out and listen to the music we make on Friday night, then make an informed criticism if you like. So anonymous, Herman, please come and listen. then tell me what you think. if you like perhaps theres a place for you with us at some point in the future of the Black House. Thanks much. The Bass Clarinet player.

Hermon Mehari said...


Good, haha!


I think it's alright that we disagree on that matter. I firmly believe that if someone is going to use the label (and I do realize that labels do as much as harm as good-- another discussion) of a jazz musician, they should at least know where "jazz" came from. I don't think they have to like it or even use it. In fact, I don't even understand why someone would even want to consider using that label if they don't understand what it means. The meaning of it might be somewhat different to everyone, but I believe that knowledge truly is power, and their definition of jazz will be based off of some relation to what it came from, rather than whatever they want it to be.


JeremyA said...

Thanks for the link man.

I'm getting more excited about Metheny's new album the closer it gets. That preview (and the longer, more in depth one on his website) are amazing.

Did you go to the Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop show? I'm really curious about what it was like but I don't know anyone who was able to catch it.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you want to call it, the music that was made at the Black House Improvisors' Collective concert this past Friday was closer to being where the music actually is today than most of what you hear presented in KC and many other places as jazz. I'm sincerely trying to be objective with that statement without coming across like I am hyping friends or people I like.

Based upon their own respective artistic paths, it is logical to conclude that Bird, Coltrane, and many of the other universally acknowledged legendary proven names in this music, would likely be puzzled at the folks today who string together a bunch of patterns or worn riffs and call that improvisation. I know I am, especially when the perpetrators often come across with such stuffy attitudes of what is "right" and what is "wrong" in jazz music.

If you are just learning and trying to find your own voice, that's cool to do that. But, too often that seems to be the stopping point for a lot of "artists" in jazz. I know a lot of musicians who are "stuck" playing like someone else. Just like cats who play nothing but Dixieland and follow all of the "rules" to play on those "changes" - it all sounds mostly the same because there are only so many options. I strive for coherent musical objectives that are theoretically sound, but at this point in my career, I don't like limiting the options...

And, the media/press (at least in KC) seems to be rewarding that middle phase of a musician's growth as if it is something to aspire to - it is not, it is only one of the beginning places in the journey.

Perhaps they do this to try to include the youngest generations in the process of the music.

Bobby Watson was mentioned in this thread. If he is a mutually valid standard to all of you, then it must be stated that Bobby can play and respects all of the styles of this music - ask him. Most of the true masters have that type of attitude too.

Mark Turner, Chris Speed, David Binney, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, and numerous others have been out front playing now music... this music is too big to marginalized with such conservative parameters being universally mandated on something like chords and scales, which are theoretical constructs to begin with.

There are only a few cats in KC who seem to be on this type of path. And, playing in this level of the music isn't inherent to the Tin Pan Alley repertoire required for most of the club work in town - that's mostly a business motivated mandate though. So, you don't get to go out and hear it much...

When you are first beginning to play you start with that stuff so that you can use materials that will help you keep up with where the music has moved to in a particular moment in time. To copy the lines of Kenny Garrett or Bird or Bobby and pass them off in public as if they are your own is NOT the "right" answer...

Just my $0.02...

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

P.S. @ Anon#1 - Betty Crow was not removed from her position with the MMF. The MMF held elections and she was not re-elected as Secretary. That is the way it works with these types of organizations - you have elections and there are term limits. Mrs. Crow is a great person who has done so much for KC and the MMF. She is genuinely one of the nicest people I've met since coming back home to be based out of KC. The Foundation Jams on... and will after all of us are gone...

Anonymous said...

Burnett music,

Okay, I hope who ever got elected can keep the momentum going. Mr. Mehari mentioned in an earlier Plastic Sax blog to expect big changes down at 1823 Highland.

Hopefully big changes translates to meaningful productive changes....chord changes would be nice too. lol

Anonymous said...


Lots of positive things can happen when people cooperate toward a single agenda. I think you have those type of folks on the new board of directors at the MMF. Most are well above any pettiness that you allude to in your "momentum" comment. And there are some very capable folks on the board as well. Then, when you consider that they are actually working professional musicians too? Who can say, but it all points to positive progression - this type of dynamic usually produces good changes - whether they be chord or personnel dynamic related changes...

Again, just my $0.02...

Peace, Cb