Monday, July 06, 2009

Why I hate blog posts about hating things

Well, actually, I don't, not really. I kind of dig them, actually, because they provoke discussions, and discussions are good. (I do, however, hate the idea that blog posts should be considered "definitive documents" of a writer's state of mind. For the record, much of what I write here (and in comments at other people's blogs) is a reflection of a thought process, not always a conclusive position. (I am large, I contain multitudes.))

Anyway, here's one post, and here's another, that prompted some unplanned fireworks over the weekend. I added my own commentary at that last link, but as usual, I can't let the shit go, so I wanted to throw in one or two more thoughts here on my home turf.

First is a bit that I discovered in the course of following up, for my own edification, on the subject of female jazz critics. Serendipitously, it serves to unite that subject with the "precision" meme stirred up by Matt Rubin's "Why I Hate Big Bands" post. It is contained in this excerpt from a book I haven't yet read, John Gennari's Blowin' Hot and Cool:

From the violent gangster milieu of jazz's early sporting life environs; to the urbane, stylized machismo of the jazz-inflected New Frontier; to Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch's tendentious feminization of the 1960s counterculture; jazz culture has been dominated by masculinist voices and sensibilities. I've noted in this book several important instances in which male critics have buttressed their masculinist authority by distancing themselves from sentimental attachments to the popular music of their youth. This feeds a larger pattern in which jazz's reputed high art autonomy and profundity are complemented by a concept of criticism that stresses taut discipline, rationality, and judiciousness -- qualities assumed to be part of a masculine intellectual seriousness set off from the infantilized and feminized emotional realm of mass popular culture.


I'm not sure I agree with these assessments totally, but I think Gennari is at least productively interested in the "why" question (i.e., why are there so few female jazz critics?) in a way I haven't seen elsewhere. So now I have to read his book, I guess.

(Gennari also reminded me of Helen Oakley Dance, an early glass-ceiling-breaker. I actually read a bit of her work in grad school, and am duly chagrined about my subsequent oversight.)

Also: I was very flattered that James Hirschfeld brought up the infernal Industrial Jazz Group as an instance of an "imprecise" big band (James' comment can also be found at Darcy's post, linked above).

Here is how I hinted at our ensemble concept in one of my posts about our European tour (May 2007):

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of our portion of the evening (confirmed later when I started working my way through the recording) was the emergence of a unified looseness in the group sound. In the past I have generally aimed for precision when it came to the execution of my written charts. I have tended to shy away from recording the band's live performances, because I was always concerned with things staying as "close to the ink" as possible... and the ink is, well, difficult to execute. But I have never subscribed to the "benevolent dictator" model of the composer-conductor, and I think everyone in the band has known that, and with this show there was a strange transmogrification of the set, in that the majority of the players knew the music well enough to be able to play it as if it were all improvised. In other words, the group as a whole started to develop some of the suppleness -- in terms of well-placed and judicious interpretive liberties that never sacrificed the cohesion of a given piece -- that is usually only possible in a smaller configuration (a quartet or quintet, say). They owned the music -- an exceedingly difficult thing to do in a big band setting. Once again, my hat is off to the cats involved: I am humbled and in awe.


"Unified looseness," "well-placed and judicious interpretive liberties that never sacrifice the cohesion of a given piece," and playing the music "as if it were all improvised": still a pretty accurate description of what we do.

Possibly related: with the IJG, I have long been after what Ben Watson, in describing Zappa's early Mothers recordings, called "pachuco charm." Sort of punk, and sort of big band, all at once.

4 comments:

Matt Rubin said...

Hi Andrew. Thanks for reading. I really like your idea that blog posts should be a reflection of a thought process rather than a definitive document of a writer's belief. While I intentionally took some strong positions in my blog post, I recognize that my opinions could change by next week. Nevertheless, it was a topic I have been thinking about for some time, so I figured it was safe to put down on paper (or pixels) how I felt. I hope you'll also read my follow-up post at Twenty Dollars.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Matt -- thanks for the comment, for the posts, and for the discussion.

And most of all, welcome to the wild and crazy world of jazz blogging.

Looking forward to more...

Matt said...

Sounds like the musicians know how to put the eyebrows on your music.

Still hoping to see IJG live one of these days :)

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Matt --

Yes, that's it exactly!

We'll be out east in October, but alas, not in Ohio. Maybe 2010?

Nice to hear from you!