In the hot music I and many people gravitate to, there is a certain disdain for music written — tabulated as little signs — on lined pieces of paper. Real (wo)men don’t read charts. “Can you read?” goes the joke, “Yeah, but not enough to mess up my playing.” In the memories of some fans, Pure Jazz is a group of people somewhere jamming on a familiar tune — anything more complicated than that seems an impudent intrusion.
Today’s homework — I am a college professor by profession, and the semester has begun, so put those smartphones away immediately, please — is to watch this glorious video twice, each time concentrating on a different aspect of its splendor. Once, as I think is usual, bask in the solos. Then, note how beautifully those solos are framed, encouraged, and sent off into improvisatory paradise by the arrangement. The arrangement, by the way, is by JAZZ LIVES’ hero, Jim Dapogny, who also doth bestride the mighty piano like a colossus.
The tune is CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME (a relic of those days when the Westward migration made people think not only of gold but of oranges) and the band is Jim, piano [spectacularly], arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, John Von Ohlen. I recorded this on September 17, 2014, at the first Allegheny Jazz Party in Cleveland, Ohio (more about that below):
I know that these gifted people could have created something delightful on this tune without straining a muscle. But when you listen closely, the balance (or the necessary alternation) of written passage and arranged passage is what makes this performance even better, more memorable. So those who groan silently when they see a band spread out manuscript paper on their stands might want to re-evaluate this ancient prejudice. We all need road maps, and framing the picture sensitively only enhances it. (And we need to mix metaphors in a sentence: it’s good for the muscles.)
On to a related subject. I have just returned from the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, both tired and elated. All I will say is that my face now has new lines in it, but they are from smiling. With all respects to every other jazz-party organizer, I think it is the best-run and the kindest party of them all. And the music soars. I will have more to say and to show about this in future. Right now I am simply grateful that the AJP exists, and exists so beautifully.
May your happiness increase!