Saturday, November 13, 2010

Talking about the no-talking blues

Still, consensually, critics showed their frustration. They didn't understand what the group was trying to do. The rhythm section was more or less given a pass, but it was the saxophone soloing that challenged credulity, its length and perhaps its unwillingness to tell a traditional story.

For what it's worth, in all the existing recordings of Coltrane's group in Europe from those years (1962 and '63), Coltrane gave a spoken introduction exactly three times. If there's one thing the facile critic needs to do his job, it is some verbal personality from the bandstand, some words to transcribe into the review--anything to make a thoroughly musical endeavor more literary or conversational. Coltrane would not provide it.

[. . .]

At this time Coltrane was as much of a culture hero within jazz as Charles Mingus, but, unlike Mingus, he didn't worry out loud about the place of jazz in American society. He was curiously uncompelled to publicly condemn uncomprehending listeners, whether for reasons of aesthetics, philosophy, culture, or race; he seemed to believe in his music implicitly.

(Ben Ratliff, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, pp. 77-82)

"Curiously," indeed. Unless you understand that Coltrane was simply behaving, vis a vis his own music, in the way that he had to behave, because it felt most natural given the sound he was making in his groups.

I'm no Coltrane, but I often ask myself (sometimes even from the bandstand, moments before I'm supposed to announce a tune) whether there is anything left to say once you put everything you have, every last bit of whatever creative well you are drawing from, into a given piece of music.

If a critic, or audience, or passerby, needs more than the music somehow, well, that's fine. They certainly have that right. But, by the same token, life isn't always fair, and you can't always get what you want.

[Photo credit: "talk talk (FSOD)" by PinkMoose]


Vikram Devasthali said...

As always, Brad Mehldau says it best. The relevant passage begins at 4:05.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks. I love the irony of him trying to make us understand music which was created by people who didn't "worry how it was being understood"...

And this is off-topic, but I must admit I was surprised (and then perhaps maybe not so surprised) to discover that Mehldau is a smoker...