Tag Archives: Kirk Nurock

SYMPHONY SPACE REGRETS

miss-otis-regretsThose of you who follow this blog closely (earning my gratitude) will recall my January 20 posting about Symphony Space.  The Space is hosting a monthlong program on the art and culture of a pivotal year in American culture, 1939.  I found it inexplicable that there seemed to be no live jazz on the program, and called my post NO JAM TODAY (AT SYMPHONY SPACE).

Some time passed and I found it slightly odd that no one from the Space had responded to this post, but explained this silence by reminding myself that there are still some people beyond the reach of this blog.  Astonishing but true.  Last Friday, Stephen Holden wrote an admiring news piece about “1939” in the Arts section of the New York Times, naming the co-ordinator of the project, Laura Kaminsky.

After reading Holden’s piece, I sent Ms. Kaminsky a brief, well-behaved email, inviting her to read the post, and offering to post her response here if she wished.  Here’s her reply:

“Thank you for writing.  We would have liked to have included a big band segment, but, alas, were unable to secure the funding necessary.  We are having an evening of community swing/jitterbug dance hosted by Mercedes Ellington, and while it won’t be live, it will be the best of the big band music on recordings.

There is, however, a live jazz component – 12 nights of jazz vocalists in unWINEd wine bar and lounge – all the wed-thur-fri evenings at 9 pm throughout the month, as well as an evening with Miles Griffith and Kirk Nurock in the Thalia.  I hope to see you there.

All best, Laura Kaminsky”

I appreciate Ms. Kaminsky’s candor and promptness.  Of course it is rather too late to revise the program and to depose some guests in favor of what I might think of as more appropriate choices.  However, I still don’t think that having a “platter party” makes up for the absence of real live 1939-related jazz.  An evening devoted to the Kansas City Seven and Benny Goodman’s Sextet would have required seven musicians, but perhaps that idea was too arcane for acceptance.  The artists she mentioned (named and unnamed) are no doubt commendable, and I mean them no slight, but I would be surprised if any of them delved deeply into the music that so epitomized 1939.

In future, I hope that Ms. Kaminsky or anyone else planning such a program might take some suggestions from someone knowledgeable about the intersections between jazz and other art forms: I would have been more than happy to provide them for free.

NO JAM TODAY (AT SYMPHONY SPACE)

symphony-spaceI opened the January 26, 2009, issue of The New Yorker to the advertisement that sits contentedly between pages 32 and 33.  It describes, in brief, events taking place throughout February at Symphony Space in their month-long “1939 Project: American Arts At A Turning Point.”  The full schedule is available at www.symphonyspace.org/1939. On this page, one can see programs devoted to 1939 cinema, popular and classical music, fiction, “American culture in context,” “the pulse of 1939,” and more.  Kirk Nurock, Marion Cowings, Eisa Davis, Sara Laimon, Robin Aleman, Dawn Clement, Jody Sandhaus and others will play and sing.  Famous names — E.L. Doctorow, Robert Dallek, Dick Cavett, and Leon Botstein — will speak, moderate, and direct.  And there’s more.

But I have to say that before I saw this advertisement, I had heard intriguing rumblings about these programs: the names of Ellington and Basie had been invoked as artists central to the culture of 1939.

But no Ellington or Basie did I see on this program.  I looked closer, and found something . . . .

“JITTERBUG DANCE JAM

FEB 7 AT 7 PM    FREE

Kick up your heels to the sounds of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and other big band favorites at this community dance-along on the stage of the Peter Sharp Theatre.”

Forgive me if I seem ungrateful.  I know that pop music of the Swing Era was transmitted for free — recordings and live broadcasts — on radio coast-to-coast in 1939, so I suppose this evening is someone’s idea of “Juke Box Saturday Night.”  But to me it seems cheap and inadequate.  The absence of live 1939-tinged jazz on such a program is annoying, to put it politely. I mean no disrespect to the singers and musicians Symphony Space has already hired and advertised; I am sure that they will sing and play with abandon and ambition.  But . . . .

Were the project directors at Symphony Space unaware that 1939 was a watershed year in live jazz?  Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman band; Jimmy Blanton joined Ellington; Lester Young was electrifying listeners in the Basie reed section.  Eddie Condon was creating jam sessions at the Friday Club; Alistair Cooke was announcing other sessions for the BBC; a young Charlie Parker was finding his wings; Dizzy Gillespie was already surprising musicians; Art Tatum already had intimidated everyone; Coleman Hawkins returned from Europe and recorded “Body and Soul”; Louis Armstrong was at one of his many artistic peaks.  An underfed singer from Jersey named Sinatra made his first recordings.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I know, of course, that such projects are broad in scope and often narrow in budget.  But I have seen jazz concerts put on by the Sidney Bechet Society at this very Symphony Space, so I would guess that such an event was within the realm of possibility. And, to loosely paraphrase Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL, “I saw the best musicians of my generation playing for the tip jar, playing fifty-dollar gigs all over town.” I’m no impresario, but if you gave me a five-hundred dollar budget, I could put on the finest impromptu 1939 jam session you’d ever seen or heard.  (No music stands, by the way.)  I could think of twenty-five imensely talented and under-utilized instrumentalists and singers, each of whom could embody the creative pulse of 1939 in sixteen bars.  But they’re not on the program.

Did the famous names on the program eat up all the funds?  Did the producers decide that it was important to have live classical music and live singers, but assume that jazz could be taken care of by someone with a well-filled iPod?  I don’t know.

Once again, live jazz has the door shut in its face.  And, ironically, jazz of this era is often dismissed as “no longer representative of American culture,” the outdated music of white-haired folks deep in nostalgia.  Surely some place could have been found for it during a month-long project.

How very disappointing.