This post is motivated by email conversations with friends, some of them musicians, who confess in hushed tones that they really can’t listen to X, no matter how famous or renowned (s)he is.
So I hereby reveal my contributions to this secret dialogue. It interests me that some of the music I adored in my twenties I no longer can put up with.
I find Ella Fitzgerald chilly and detached except when she is warmed by Ellis Larkins or Louis. Once I thrilled to Tatum’s rococco wanderings for Norman Granz and Hines’s late-period bubblings-over. No more. No can do. No Oscar Peterson; no Buddy Rich. Rush the tempo, no matter how famous you are, and I want to walk away.
Some of this may be the result of my aging impatience. I’ve heard a lot, on record and in performance, and much pales by comparison. Of course, my reaction may sound snobbish. “What an over-critical view! Jazz needs all the friends it can get,” some might say.
But now I want a certain intense passionate simplicity (or it has to sound like simplicity — even though it isn’t simple at all!) rather than displays of technique. Tell your story and let someone else play, please. It’s not a matter of disliking, but a paring-away of what now seems to me inessential. Maybe my ears are saying, “You know, life isn’t long enough to listen to four choruses of that solo.” I know that some readers will find my choices wrong, inexplicable. And I applaud their doing so. We must listen to and love that which makes us vibrate in the best ways.
And I still have my treasures. Certain recordings (I restrict myself to dead players and singers) I will carry with me to the grave, and beyond. Lee Wiley’s Liberty Music Shop recordings. Louis’s THAT’S MY HOME, KNOCKIN’ A JUG, and two dozen others. The Chocolate Dandies’ I NEVER KNEW. Eddie Condon’s TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL. Sidney Catlett’s STEAK FACE. Teddy Wilson’s I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (School for Pianists). Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON. Billie’s I’LL BE SEEING YOU. Mildred’s WILLOW TREE and BORN TO BE BLUE. Joe Thomas’s YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME. James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE and AFTER YOU’VE GONE. The Basie rhythm section. Almost anything by Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Buck Clayton, Emmett Berry, Lawrence Brown, the Boswell Sisters. Red Norvo on xylophone. Ben Webster with strings. Lester Young in good company. Jack Purvis’s work on the Seger Ellis SLEEPY TIME GAL. The Ellington-Hodges STOMPY JONES. The 1934 Fats Waller sessions with Bill Coleman. Dicky Wells in the Thirties. Hot Lips Page and Dave Tough on Artie Shaw’s 1941 THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE. Teddy Bunn. frank Newton. Early Crosby, and the Bing-Mercer MR. CROSBY AND MR. MERCER. Bix, Tram, and Lang. Mercer’s THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN. Early Jack Teagarden.
But many other famous players and recordings do not move me. However, one of the freedoms of no longer attempting to be a completist, not having to listen to everything the Jazz Heroes / Heroines did is that I can spend time discovering less-publicized delights, the living players I celebrate in this blog.
And then there’s the larger issue, or burden, of perception.
Some time ago, I began to write a blogpost called IS ANYONE LISTENING? It remains a valid question. Occasionally jazz seems based on a star system that rigidifies. You come to the music of Kid Flublip early, fall in love with it, and are loyally obligated to keep to your early allegiance. That’s wonderful, if the music continues to satisfy. But I wonder if listeners are actually listening to what they hear or are so wrapped up in their adoration that they no longer hear. Can an acolyte hear what the band is playing or is (s)he wholly in love with the name of the leader?
Everyone might try a self-imposed Blindfold Test, or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind”: take a treasured recording and listen to it as if you’d never heard it before. It requires a playing-tricks-on-the-self, but the result is exciting. Familiar recordings give up new bits of lovely evidence; others crumble. The Famous Bassist is out of tune; the Revered Soloist goes on for too long.
A listening public — as opposed to a sentiment-driven one — might find new disenchantment. The music we actually hear might not measure up to what we think we remember. But that would enable us, as well, to put aside our adorations and hear something or someone new, a different kind of reward.
And if the musicians or singers I’ve grown away from still sing to you, consider yourself fortunate; it must be idyllic to find everything in an art form equally rewarding. I can’t do it, and I am not sure that it would be a rewarding activity.