I had an email conversation a day ago with a musician — expert on his instrument and with a deep immersion in a wide range of music — about a performance I had recorded of his . . . a powerful exposition of a piece of late Sixties “popular music,” which he played splendidly. He wrote me with some concern, wondering if his performance was, in fact “jazz.”
I wrote back to assure him that it was both beautiful and memorable, and that was what mattered.
Definitions and categories can be useful: if you have a celiac disorder, it is necessary to learn the ingredients on the package so you know no wheat is hiding to attack your body . . . but in art?
I know many listeners who set up boundaries. This “style” is “too modern,” so they avoid it; this is “old-fashioned,” so others close a door on it. Others see the racial profile of the musicians or the audience and make up their minds that way. Too many old folks in the crowd? Can’t do that. And so on. Not enough players of the approved color? Oh, no.
Perhaps the questions should be, “Does this musical performance make me feel glad to be alive? Does it stir something in me? Does it have its own logic and beauty? Am I happier as a result of it?” ”Will I remember it in ten minutes?”
Here are two examples of beautiful music. According to some classifiers and dividers, one is jazz, the other isn’t. Do such rules really matter?
Now, this comparison isn’t to say one musician is “as good as” the other; it isn’t to exalt Bing at the expense of Hawkins. It is simply to say that there are a million varieties of beauty in the world . . . too bad for people who deprive themselves of any of them.
And the Judge. He was born Milton John Hinton, and later in his life he acquired the nickname of “The Judge,” part a comic homage to Pigmeat Markham’s routine, part a tribute to his being there early at record dates and gigs . . . but he had note paper that I saw for myself, with the heading . . .
THE JUDGE (and a a drawing of a string bass)
You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music!
I’m prepared to serve my sentence, Your Honor. And thank you for the reminder!
May your happiness increase!