Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time to move on?

I'm about to betray my generation, but I have to say I'm growing tired of the music of my youth. This is something that many of my fellow baby boomers apparently haven't felt ... yet.

While I still dearly love listening to -- and regularly do -- the music I grew up with, from the Beatles to George Benson, and Deep Purple to Return to Forever, I am forever hunting down new music to enjoy.

In recent years, I've found some recordings that I think will hold up over the years, just the way "Sgt. Pepper's" or "Kind of Blue" has, and I've mentioned them in other posts.

But I find the inability of many people to hear and fully enjoy such new music to be completely mystifying -- how can you find satisfaction in a steady diet of 50 or 60 year old music?

Dare I say it? Those recordings and musicians were great, but were not perfect. And you can be assured the last thing Miles Davis would have wanted is for his fans to stop hearing new music.

Thanks to sources like Napster, emusic and CD Baby, it's possible to consume a huge amount of new music, releases from musicians you've never heard of, from all around the globe.

Many are uninteresting or dully conceived; many are dazzling and brilliant. Are they as ground-breaking as "Giant Steps" was? No ... but how often can you listen to that and still feel it's originality?

I don't know if Ray Barretto's "Time is, time was" will be a classic, but I know I love to hear it as much as I love hearing Weather Report's "Black Market."

I don't know if critics and listeners will treasure Stefon Harris and Blackout's "Urbanus" as much as they treasure Charles Mingus' "Ah um," but I know it gives me the same pleasure as the first times I heard Mingus.

Some musicians attain greatness through ideas that flash like brilliant meteors; others are great through the brilliance of solid and steady performance. It's not always easy to tell which is which, when all we see is the brilliance, but you'll never know if you've closed your eyes.

Need proof? Check out the documentary "Jazz in the Present Tense," by directors Lars Larson, Peter J. Vogt and Michael Rivoira. It's not available widely yet, but here's a review by AllAboutJazz.com editor John Kelman that details the film's highlights.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mary Lou, we hardly know ya ...

The Princeton University Concert Jazz Ensemble will be paying tribute Saturday to Mary Lou Williams, possibly jazz's most overlooked genius, on the centennial of her birth.

Maybe it was her gender, maybe it was the company she kept (she worked for Dorsey, Goodman, Ellington ... you name it, anyone with a decent band in the 1930s wanted her arrangements), maybe she's just not had the kind of continuous presence many others have gotten; whatever the reasons, it's time to correct the oversight and give her her due.

Let's hope this concert goes a long way towards doing so. If it doesn't, it won't be because of the music: the jazz ensemble -- directed by Anthony Branker -- will play Williams' "New Musical Express," "Mary’s Idea," "Walkin’ and Swingin,’" "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee" and other standards she wrote or arranged.

Tickets are $15 and can be reserved here.

If you want to sample Williams' work, check out the fun novelty boogie-woogie "47th Street Jive," or "Harmony Blues." On for a longer listen, try the "Zodiac Suite" from 1945. Later on, Williams took to writing gospel music, capped by the beautiful "Black Christ of the Andes" in 1964. She returned to writing jazz, releasing such gems as 1974's soul jazz outing "Zoning."

Mary Lou Williams' unerring ear kept her composing through five decades of music, and she was always able to bring something new to her work. She deserves wider recognition and appreciation, which Saturday's concert may help launch.