BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
Ramona, you're listening to America's classical music. It's America's contribution to humanity, and one of the greatest art forms ever created by man. It's the ultimate in spontaneous creativity; as precise and intricate as mathematics, yet, provides a master musician with the freedom to explore the very depths of his or her emotional being - the depths of your emotional being. For that reason, since its creation and development, it's technical conventions have influenced the creation of music all over the world. Thus, even people who claim not to like jazz, owes jazz a debt of gratitude, because the chances are greater than not that the very musical conventions that touch their hearts most about the music of their choice, was developed and perfected by the geniuses of jazz within the smoke-filled caverns of long gone and obscure nightclubs.
Ramona, You write with such eloquence, imagination, and insight, I'm surprised that you didn't know that, since Jazz is much like writing. In fact, I became a writer through the influence of jazz. The only difference between a great writer and a great jazz musician is jazz musicians write their essays in emotion rather than words. Look at how much better I can paint a portrait of my mother's ravishingly beautiful friend, Teresa, in music than I could ever have done in words:
And She'll Continue to Dance
As Long As I'm Alive.
Dance On . . .
On the other hand, many of today’s young pop oriented musicians are in a hurry to learn their chromatic scale so they can run out and achieve wealth and fame - they figure they can learn to play in Gb Maj while they're on the road. Then they get out and play distorted chord progressions, add a thunderous beat and loud electronic distortion to camouflage their limitations, and label it as "The New Thang." Thereafter, they slap one another on the back as brilliant, and dismiss those of us who recognize it as the noise it is, as being "out of touch."
So the bottom line is, many of the so-called musical "revolutionaries" of pop never took the time to learn what either music, and particularly jazz, is really about. Jazz is more than just another form of music, and it's not just fun-n-games. Jazz is a way of life. There’s a political component to it - a way of thinking that reflects a unique way of viewing reality. So jazz purists are not simply upset over a modified beat and the introduction of electronics, they're also upset over the caving in to mediocrity and the abandonment of the political principles and qualities that jazz represents.
After all, one of the greatest contributions that jazz has made to the Black community is informing the world that we're not the frivolous and thoughtless people in which we'd previously been portrayed. The harmonic complexity of bebop served to bring the dazzling intellectual capacity of black people to the world stage. So naturally, jazz purist are both reluctant and hostile to going back to the people-pleasin' days of what is essentially a musical form of Steppin'-Fetchism.
Jazz has traditionally been the cultural anthem of social revolutionaries - both Black and White - who are willing to fight the good fight. Thus, jazz purists resent the mongrelization and surrender of those principles in lieu of "Can we all just get along?" To them, that represents the selling of our principles. That's why the word "commercialism" is looked upon with such disdain by those of us who have come to be known as jazz purists. We're not merely fighting to defend our right to be snobs. We're fighting to defend excellence from sliding down the slippery slope of corporate profit and mediocrity; we're fighting for a way of life, and we're fighting a political battle against the dumbing down of America as a whole. Our fight is an essential part of our jazz tradition. It's expected of us, because that's what jazz is all about - pushing the envelop, and never caving in to convention.
So you can’t just put a funky beat behind noise and call it jazz, because once you go frivolous, the spirit of jazz has been abandoned. While jazz does kick up it's heels on occasion, it's a very serious form of music that’s designed to appeal to the mind, not just the ass. For that reason, a logical and organized structure is essential to its character. Without that, and it’s arrogantly distinctive swagger, it's not jazz - Period.
True jazz is a dead-serious form of music, performed by a dead-serious group of musicians. Any one of them, on any instrument, is capable of giving a master's seminar at any university or music conservatory in the world. So it's not at all surprising that many of us who are products of the jazz culture, and who understand the true meaning of jazz, become outraged at the spectacle of frivolous, rump-shaking imposters impersonating these great artists and our tradition.
Was told as a child
Blacks had no worth,
Not a nickel’s worth of dimes.
I believed that myth
‘Til Dex rode in
With his ax
In double time.
Horn was soarin’,
The changes flyin’,
His rhythm right on time;
Beat with the pleasure
Of new found pride,
Flowed through mine.
Took the chords
The keyboard played,
And danced around each note;
Then shuffled ‘em
Like a deck of cards,
And didn’t miss a stroke.
B minor 7 with flatted 5th,
A half diminished chord,
He substituted a lick in D,
Then really began to soar.
He tipped his hat
To Charlie Parker,
Trane with Miles,
Then paid his homage to
In Charlie Rouse's style.
A Scrapple From The Apple,
Then went to Billie’s Bounce,
The rhythm section, now on fire,
But he didn’t budge an ounce.
Dug right in
To shuffle again,
A Royal Flush,
Then lingered a bit
Behind the beat,
But in no rush.
Doubled the time
Just like this rhyme,
In fluid 16th notes,
Charlie and Lester,
"your baby boy, Dexter’s,
On top of the
Bebop you wrote.@
Like a banshee,
This prince of saxophone,
His ballads dripped of honey,
His Arpeggios were strong.
Callin’ on his idles,
Ghost of Pres’
Within in the isles,
Smiling at his protege,
At the peak of this new style.
Drenched of Blackness,
And all the things we are--
Of pain, and pleasure,
And creative greatness
Until his final bar.
When Jackie McLean first appeared on the scene he swung it like nobody else; He stood all alone, with that bittersweet tone, owing nobody, only himself.
With his furious attack he could take you back to the beauty of Yardbird’s song, but that solemn moan made it all his own, as burning passion flowed lush from his horn. Hearing “Love and Hate” made Jazz my fate, joyous anguish dripped blue from his song. He both smiled and cried and dug deep-down inside, until the innocence of my childhood was gone.
He took me to a place that had no face, I was so young when I heard his sweet call, but he parted the fog and in no time at all, a child of bebop sprung fully enthralled. As I heard this new sound, and embraced the profound, childish eyes now saw as a man; I stood totally perplexed, but I couldn’t step back, from the hunger of my mind to expand.
I saw Charlie and Lester, and a smiling young Dexter, as I peered into Jackie’s sweet horn; it was a place that I knew, though I’d never been to, but a place that I now call my home.
We knew him as Miles, the Black Prince of style,
his nature fit jazz to a tee. Laid back and cool,
a low threshold for fools, he set the tone
of what a jazzman should be.
Short on words, and unperturbed, about
frozen in time, drenched in the sublime,
of the passion his sweet horn had wrought.
Solemn to the bone, distant and torn,
even Trane could scarcely get in;
I can still hear the tone of that genius who mourned,
that precious note that he couldn't
Young and curious, crusin= the street, my partner and I, with life at our feet. Beautiful days of summer=s ilk, and beautiful ladies with legs of silk. Miles on the box with Thelonious in tow, playin’ "Round Midnite", with nothin= but soul. Miles was moanin=, Thelonious was Monk, our senses were spinnin=- our top in the trunk.
Down Century Boulevard, past Sportsman Park, North on Crenshaw, Can=t wait til it=s dark. Crenshaw was jammin=, not like today, with cognitive people, who went their own way. Cadillacs gleamin=, prosperity galore, Ladies a struttin=, that gait I adore. The hood left behind, no denial or shame, among my kind of people, who=d mastered the game.
Dreamin= and crusin=, yet, chained to the hood, but into an element we both understood. Jazz was the thing that had lured our route, and no chain of poverty was keepin= us out! Cause THE MAN was in town, with his mighty ax, and he was jammin= that night at Dynamite Jack=s.
So anxious to worship THE MAN in the flesh, the first thing that mornin= we started to dress. In our youthful exuberance we saw nothin= wrong, with the hours to kill before HE would go on. Hence, there we were with nothin= to do, THE MAN=S first note at 9, and it was now only 2.
So we went to a park on Rodeo Road and proceeded to get in our Mack-daddy mode. We needed two women with presence and class, who were progressive, and sexy, and dug modern jazz.
We lucked-out, no doubt, with Debra and Gwen, two sisters on cruse in their step-father=s Benz. These women were ladies we soon recognized, not only quite lovely but exceedingly wise. We spoke of Dizzy, Dexter, Thelonious and Bird, and all of the monsters of jazz that we=d heard. Then just as our session was starting to end, Gwen mentioned Dolphy, and we were at it again.
We partook of the bush, we had a few beers, by 8 it was like we=d been partyin= for years. But now it was time to hit Dynamite Jack=s, to hear THE MAN blow, sip Scotch and relax.
So we followed the ladies up into the hills, to a fabulous pad, must=ve cost a few bills. We dropped off my car, then got in the wind. We split to see HIM, and my journey began.
Dynamite Jack=s was the place to be, there seemed to be thousands of new things to see. Doctors, lawyers, pimps and Awhoes@, dope fiends with their nostrils froze; Perverts, politicians (one and the same), everyone seemed to have some kind of game.
At 16 years old I was really impressed, with this flash, this glitz, this flamboyant success. I knew before long, that my turn would come, I=d shoot for the stars, at least, out of the slum.
Then HE came on stage to a mighty roar, as bustling humanity hung all out the door. A quiet MAN, of knowledge and taste, yet HIS presence sent a chill through the place!
Then flash became silence, and glitz bled to awe. Pure greatness just glistened from THIS MAN we saw. No posturing, no swagger, no hipster-like Mack, Just unfettered greatness, the essence, in fact....
On that one precious moment, as I gaped at the stand, my young reckless mind would take hold as a man. That moment estranged from the kid that I=d been. Life’s door was flung wide, and a new man would step in.
Now, many years later, assessing my life, with the dues of raising two kids with a wife. THE MAN is long gone from this earthly plain, but HIS unflaunting manhood stays etched in my brain.
A kid on that night gave birth to a plan, that night when I looked up in awe at THE MAN. Revealed was a path that would color my life, that shunned the flamboyance and glitz of the night. To shoot for the stars! That was my plan - the stardom that=s found in just being A MAN!
I’ve taken two souls, and molded their lives, away from the flash, and the glitz, of the night. Two college age kids now view ME with awe. I now see in their eyes what that night HE saw.
Greatness is relative, I learned from THE MAN, through the glint in HIS eye, and HIS demeanor on stand. You don’t have to be famous to be someone grand, just pull up your trousers, and stand tall like a man.
It was KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM that night that I saw; the EXCELLENCE of DISCIPLINE that put awe in awe, of one humble spirit, so sweet and sublime, but a spirit that=ll speak to all man for all time!
So a droplet of beauty, from this "kid" to mankind; a pearl of wisdom, a wistful rhyme; some insight he gained as he bat away tears; might his essence endure through the unfolding years?
A journey began, on that faithful night, that moment a young set of eyes saw AFirst Light.@ When HE tapped out the rhythm to Africa Brass . . .
and my dream to see COLTRANE had come true at last.
A YOUNG LION: TRADITION VS. INNOVATION
CARRYING ON THE TRADITION