Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Breaking the musician's code

How I wish I had time time to write up a decent post on this, which came to my attention via an e-missive sent out by Rob Scheps, who participates in the band in question ("Jazzcode").

Given that participation (Scheps was kind enough to sit in with the IJG last March, but on the whole he has a habit of playing in much more, uh, high class and high profile situations), I know that the level of musicianship on display in this group is most assuredly of an extremely high order.

But as to drummer Carl Stormer's broader project, which distills jazz aesthetics and philosophy (as if such a thing exists in a single "code") into a powerpoint presentation that can be used to teach corporate teams (or armies) to be more productive? Normally I'm the biggest fan of incongruity, but this seems kind of like, well, you know, an insult.

It reminds me a bit of that old Virginia Slims ad (see above) and its double-edged slogan ("You've come a long way, baby"). Translation: "We've finally gotten around to letting you be an equal part of our society... but just so you can buy and consume our cancerous products, bee-yotches!" Sure, it's technically an advancement -- but at the same time somehow it misses the point.

Many times I have absent-mindedly mused that if only more people understood the thought processes behind jazz, or what it means to improvise (you know, so you don't have to stick to your plan after it becomes apparent that your plan is really fucking stupid), then the world would surely become a better place. (This is in fact one of the justifications (excuses?) that crops up every time I doubt the "deeper purpose" of my own commitment to music.)

But to reach the broader culture on these terms? In a suit? Neatly groomed? At a corporate retreat? No thanks.

Of course, any jazz musician who is able to get the music in front of an audience that would not otherwise be inclined to check it out is okay by me. Though I do wonder what percentage of the seminar participants go on to become "jazz fans" (versus the percentage that go on to become more productive workers).

A code is not an incantation. And I suspect that what's missing here (in the presentation, not the music) is the spirit, or magic, of the subject. And if not an outright revolutionary or rebellious or comic mood (you know where my allegiances lie, right?), then at least a willingness to offer a counterpoint to the status quo.

Instead, this (again, the presentation, not the music) seems to be a logical extension of the GQ-ification of jazz that made it into all the magazines in the 80s. Or jazz as Tony Robbins might imagine it.

(Ah, what the fuck do I know? You gotta make your money where you can in this business. But damn if it isn't the principle of the thing, always the principle of the thing that I get hung up on...)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New acronyms

Proposed, this 25th day of November, in the year of our bored, two thousand and seven:

GOYFAK: "Get off your fat ass, kid." Inspired by this. (Thanks to my dear wife for the link.) I know, I know, there is pedaling involved, but come on!

GOYFAM: "Get off your fat ass, musician." Inspired by this and this. (It's an idea that would certainly solve some of the logistical problems of running a big band... but would the performance be any good?)

IRTFMIIMEALS: "I'd read the fucking manual if it made even a little sense." Inspired by this. (Thanks, Ann Bartow.) I could just as easily have cited any manual that comes with an IKEA product.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mario Music

My lovely wife just sent me this, which she discovered while surfing YouTube with our daughter this morning:

I blogged about XOC's (i.e., Jason Cox's) take on the Mario Bros. music a while back. Just re-visited his site, and there's a lot of new stuff to explore. Can't wait to listen to some of it over pumpkin pie tomorrow...

Water Music

A yoga instructor once told me I had a "beautiful spirit." But I ain't got nothin' on this guy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dinah via Daniel

Speaking of City of Angles, I just discovered this video by IJG alum (and Royal Crown Revue drummer) Daniel Glass, who was our regular drummer back in 2001-2, and who recorded that album with us:

There are many things that this fellow can do well (check out his website for some of them). There are also many ways to swing. But it's not often that you come across someone under 60 who has absorbed the old-school pre-war jazz drumming styles to this extent.

In my opinion, anyway.

I kinda hope Glass starts blogging one of these days -- he's sort of a walking encyclopedia of twentieth-century western drumming.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hat trick

For some reason utterly beyond my comprehension, last week an IJG tune was once again used as bumper music on NPR's Talk of the Nation. By my count, that's the third time this has happened.

All of the tunes used in this way (Nov 7's "Anger Management Classes," and previously "Mwahaha" and "Void When Detached") originally appeared on our second album, City of Angles, released by Innova in 2002.

Wait, was it really 2002? Yeah, I guess it was. To me the album feels older than that, because (in my opinion, anyway) the vibe of the group has changed a great deal in the years since it was made. Some of the basic elements of our "mature sound" (if indeed that's where we're at now) were in place, but on the whole, I think Angles wears its influences a bit too shamelessly.

"Anger" is a perfect example of that, as a matter of fact -- to my ears the "9/8 within 9/4" vibe of the opening groove comes across as more-than-a-little-reminiscent of the "7/8 within 7/4" of Zappa's "Pound for a Brown." That was totally unintentional, I assure you -- but given where my head was at at the time, it's not surprising to me now that Angles is full of these little, uh, "raw" homages.

Once upon a time, "Anger" was also (I now recall) the "big closer" in our live show (a position that it seemed to occupy pretty effectively). But somehow that live excitement didn't translate to the recording studio; I have always felt that the album version was kind of pale in comparison. (As I continue to work on the new record I'm getting a better sense of just how cool a good live recording can be; like Carla Bley, I'm thinking that might be the way to go from now on.)

Anyway, you can still get City of Angles here. Um... I probably haven't done too good a job of selling it just now, but it's a pretty good album, I guess.

* * * * *

I think I need one more Zappa reference for this week's blogging. So here it is:

Neophyte blogger Maria (of Maria's Music) recently posted a critique of the Howard Stern show. The subject was an episode in which Stern (et al) ridiculed the music of some non-mainstream group called called Zs. Apparently Stern receives music for airplay all the time, and the marketing genius behind Zs (that seems to be how they refer to themselves, though the pun hidden in "the Zs" (i.e., "disease") makes the addition of the article very tempting) realized that there was potential for some exposure. (Wish I had thought of that scheme.)

Despite my east coast origins, I've never been a Stern fan -- not because I've ever been offended by anything he has said (perish the thought!) but because most of the time I just don't think he's funny. (I do share his interest in all things prurient, philosophically if not specifically (there's no accounting for taste, ya know) -- but on the whole his act has never appealed to me.)

Anyway, during the first segment Maria links to, after listening to a bit of a Zs tune called "Woodworking" (a quirky, fun, abstract sort of piece without an easily-discernible pulse) one of Stern's on-air entourage (not sure who, since I don't really follow the show) chimes in with the following sage observation:

"That's like shitty Frank Zappa. Zappa would do that like in the middle of songs but he'd do it for like thirty seconds and then get back to music."

Translation: "I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about." Here's why:

I could of course have cited hundreds of other Zappa tunes that tread in (and indeed helped to establish) the same aesthetic terrain as Zs' "Woodworking." Whole Zappa albums even. Most of which are longer than 30 seconds.

In fact, Zappa's appearance on the Steve Allen show, circa 1962, playing the bicycle [I'd've inserted the YouTube clip here if they hadn't deleted it... probably at the estate's request, sadly] seems to presage this Zs moment on Stern. Those who haven't seen the Zappa/Allen clip should know that, like Stern, Allen had a habit of ridiculing artists he didn't understand:

None of this is surprising, I suppose. Re-listening to the Stern clips, I actually found myself laughing from time to time at the depths of the ignorance (Zappa would have called it "dumb all over" (and a little ugly on the side)). But it's funny in a way that should be of concern to anyone who gives a shit about music. For me the question is: are we talking here about ignorance in terms of a lack of specialized knowledge? (That would be frustrating but sort of understandable.) Or is it more of a personality trait / social phenomenon -- a kind of "willful philistinism"?

In other words, is this a problem of the pleasures of the music existing somewhere beyond the "lay ear's" ability to hear them? Does one need to be "in on" the methodology or the theoretical underpinnings in order to appreciate a Zs piece, or a Zappa piece, or a Cage piece, or an Ornette Coleman piece, or anything non-mainstream?

I just don't think so. To my ear, the pleasures of this large category of music ("non-mainstream" is an over-generalization, to be sure) seem, notwithstanding variances in personal taste, to be as plain as day. And I don't think I've come to that conclusion because I have a music degree -- because I don't. When I first got into so-called "avant-garde music," or "jazz," or anything beyond whatever was playing on Top Forty radio, all those years ago, it was because of a sound -- or, to cite Zappa yet again, a certain configuration of "wiggling air molecules." It was only after first liking it that I decided to seek out a better understanding of how it was made. But that knowledge, which came later, was not and is not essential to my enjoyment.

* * * * *


Here is a bit of a transcription of Zappa's appearance on the Stern show, circa 1987 (the year I graduated high school, coincidentally). It's kind of ironic (in light of the above), and funny (in light of Zappa's apparent boredom with the interview). The maestro handles Stern's provincial buffoonery with a measured cool:

STERN: Was [Zappa's son Ahmet] named after [Ahmet Ertegun]?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

STERN: Are you serious?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

QUIVERS: Where else do you get a name like that?

ZAPPA: (laughs) It's a Turkish name.

STERN: Yeah? Well um... I never liked the Turks quite frankly.

ZAPPA: Yeah? Well that's the way it goes.

STERN: The hell with them. I mean, they never did anything for this country did they?

ZAPPA: I don't know, I'll look into it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Large Hiney Vehicle

The latest IJG video is now up:

This is the third pre-release video from our upcoming album. The (Bimhuis) audio is a rough mix (and includes a little audio "tag" not on the album version), and the video is a rough assemblage of clips from the Netherlands, Ohio, and Bakersfield (all recorded in 07). All footage was shot by either myself or Matt Lichtenwalner -- except for the animation, which was taken from a traffic safety film now in the public domain.

As was the case with our earlier videos, my attempts to sync up the performance video and the music (or even to match players with their respective solos) were hopelessly confounded by a comparative dearth of source material. So at some point I gave up trying and decided to just enjoy the resulting discrepancies. But for the record: the bone solo near the end is Wolter Wierbos, and the tenor solo right after that is Katharina Thomsen. (My apologies to them.) Oh yeah, and the spoken word tag is by Mike Richardson, with yours truly on piano.

Maybe someday I'll have the resources to do somethin ' a little more sophistimacated (like a full-on concert film... drool...).

In the meantime, I must leave you with this warning: this video is not safe for work. Unless your work is fucking cool.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rule Lithuania

Came across this article while researching the Vilnius Jazz Festival.

Some of the good bits:

Never mind free and fair elections, independent judiciaries or respect for ethnic minorities, a country can only really be declared democratic if its leaders are big enough to allow the erection of a monument to the late, lamented Frank Zappa.

Teachers at the [Vilnius Art] academy, however, were less keen on the idea, fearing that a memorial to a man still revered for his anti-establishment songs could corrupt the innocent minds of their students.

Zappa himself would no doubt have enjoyed the irony of the [monument dedication] ceremony, which included a stirring performance by the city’s military band, a firework display, and plenty of toasts to 70-year-old local sculptor Konstantinas Bogdanas, a man who was previously better known for his depictions of the likes of Lenin and other communist heroes.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Album update no. 45,362

(Photo by Ting06.)

As you may have surmised by now, the new IJG recording will not "drop" this year. (Boy, do I hate that phraseology, by the way.) This despite my best efforts. Of course, release delays are typical for even a major label effort -- but when your project is indie, snags in the production process may be that much more acute, cuz chances are you're doing almost everything yourself.

Ah well. In our case the issue is twofold. First, "final mixdown" continues to be pushed back because of scheduling conflicts (leaving me more time to tweak and fiddle -- which is fine, but only to a point). And second, as I have gotten deeper into the mixes (thanks to the more or less permanent temptations presented by my paltry excuse for a basement studio), I have revised the, uh, "conceptual core" of the project.

You may recall that I had been referring to this thing as "The Art of the Mix Tape." No more. I did not jettison the title because I no longer like it (who knows, it may still come in handy someday) but because it doesn't really fit the essentially live album that is emerging. The new working title is LEEF (a misappropriation of a Dutch word), for reasons that I'll explain if I actually get to use it (it turns out the Bimhuis folks may want to have some say in what we call the album -- more on that if necessary).

Wait, did I say "several versions"? Yeah, I guess I did. Since I managed to cut the middle man out of the preliminary mixing process, and I don't have to pay someone an hourly fee to "fiddle and tweak," I have the luxury of experimenting with different conglomerations of the material to see what works best. As a result, I still haven't decided if I want this to be a long-ish album (like, over 60 minutes), or a more concise one. And I still haven't decided which tunes to use exactly. And I still haven't decide how live I want it to be. Originally I was planning on using about half of the Bimhuis show, and filling out the rest with studio tracks and "non-live" experiments, plus one or two other segments recorded live elsewhere. But it seems like more bits from Amsterdam keep sneaking in every week. (It's amazing how a decent mix can reveal some magic in performances that I thought were hopelessly flawed.) There are so many possibilities; maybe I'll just have to release 'em all somehow.

Maybe I'm staying so noncommital so late in the process because flexibility seems to be the name of the game these days. I feel the same about the format wars: I'm pretty open to everybody's arguments, and so I'm drawn to releasing a download version of the record for the kids and the iPodders (and a FLAC version for the really hip folks), a CD for the mainstreamers, an LP for the audiophiles, a "director's cut version," some web-only extras, maybe a deluxe DVD-CD pairing that includes higher-quality versions of some of the video currently on YouTube, and so on. Sure, part of me wants to go "exclusively electronic" with the release (bypassing the expensive replication process), but I don't think we're really in a position to do that yet. After all, we're not a huge band, and we need all the audiences we can get. So for now, I think I'm just going to avoid assuming that there will be one definitive version of the record (though I'm sure I'll have my own favorite).

What else? Despite the delays, I'm really excited about this monstrosity. It will be our first release to feature a singer -- and probably the first "official" CD I will ever have made with Ms. Knapp -- Gruel doesn't really count because it was truly DIY, and distributed via CD-R, for crissakes. (I have been making music with this chick for more than 20 years, so it seems crazy that it took so long for us to actually release something spiffy, eh?) This will also be our first recording to feature the IJG pseudo-big-band lineup (15 people), our typical configuration for the last two years.

Oh yeah, and it will also be our first release to hypothetically require a “parental advisory” label for strong language -- assuming I actually cared about such things.

Which I don't. Though I suppose I should elaborate for anyone who hasn't seen our current show. The linguistic offensiveness I'm alluding to has to do with the eminently guttural glory of the word “fuck,” which we employ 1. lyrically, 2. in one of our titles, and 3. in some of the spoken-word segues that will probably fill out the record. None of this will be particularly surprising to those of you who read this blog regularly (lord knows I don’t shy away from obscene language), or, for that matter, for anyone who has even the slightest connection to a culture of musicians. (Certain obscenities are simply part of the day-to-day language of most folks who move in these circles.)

Why the naughty bits, you ask? I guess the word "fuck" reminds me that one of the things that drew me to making music in the first place was the thought of participating in some kind of constructive rebellion. You know, expressing dissatisfaction with a status quo, and trying to point toward something better. (Yeah, music used to have that kind of effect on people. It's easy to forget that when Ornette Coleman first hit the scene, his music alone could provoke fisticuffs.)

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong, but in our jaded culture, the word "fuck" still seems to carry that kind of transgressive (but also funny, and potentially joyful and celebratory) power -- at least, I assume, for most of the audiences that listen to jazz here in the States (e.g., it's hard to imagine someone getting away with deliberately uttering it onstage at Lincoln Center). And that sort of complex transgression is part of what I'm after in my music too.

Why, the word "fuck" is almost as offensive as Janet Jackson's tit -- and much more aesthetically pleasing.

* * * * *

Oh yeah, and here's a picture of a "monster pile" that Thandie drew before breakfast this morning. Happy belated Halloween to all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

To hell with conventional wisdom

Cuz what initially seems counterintuitive can often be right.

Take this for example.

An excerpt of the excerpt: "Our review of existing econometric studies suggests that P2P file-sharing tends to decrease music purchasing. However, we find the opposite, namely that P2P filesharing tends to increase rather than decrease music purchasing."

My experience exactly.

Excuses, not results

By the way, I must apologize for being so willy-nilly with the labels on this here blog. Sometimes I use 'em, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I make up new ones where old ones would clearly suffice.

I wish I could say all this was because the writing found here is "beyond category" (to borrow a phrase from Duke Ellington). The sad truth is that I'm just unorganized.

Worthless factoid

Last night I learned that I am one-eighth French.