Some idle moments surfing YouTube proved to be not so idle when I came across this wonderful performance from Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry…
The unbridled joy of this playing provoked a deep response… All this talk about the death of jazz, oh dear.
It’s time for a reality check and an appointment with our hearts rather than the opinion formers. Can we seriously witness these artists creating such joy and then yield to a musical nihilism? I must chose my words carefully, but can’t suppress the thought that the so-called death of jazz is just a version of “it will never be the same”. Sure, on one level it won’t, Oscar, Bird, Louis, Miles, ‘Trane et al have passed, but might we be confusing the natural passing of time and evolution of an art-form with another perspective – that the essential characteristics of the music are archetypal and therefore timeless? As archetypal qualities (or indeed Platonic Absolutes), joy, swing, groove, pathos and so on can be accessed by every generation of artists, so long as we don’t overly distract ourselves with pity, or dare I say it – vanity.
This is a tad candid, but is there not something wrong when we can’t be inspired by a fully realised expression of joy, whatever the genre, location or date? For the record, in 1959 Panassie and Gautier’s Dictionary of Jazz, 1959 stated that bebop had been “wrongly described as jazz” (page 36). Lets quit our embarrassment and renew our love with this music.
These clips are good too…
Don Byas and Slam Stewart – “I Got Rhythm” in 1945, one of my all time favourites.
The great British saxophonist Stan Robinson played a cassette recording of Don Byas and Slam Stewart playing ‘I Got Rhythm” and “Indiana” (in Ab and G) on the way to a gig at the Bull’s Head 20 years ago and I couldn’t believe it. Besides being so spirited and joyful (the guys are clearly having fun), it is incredibly hip, sophisticated, bloody clever, funny and way ahead of its time.
The next day I rushed to Dobell’s where, despite some quizzical comments about me being a moderninst and Don Byas probably not being my thing, one of the staff scuttled excitedly round the shop to find this treasured recording. I remember lending a recording to a very young Tim Garland who transcribed it in a day (clever bugger) and then played it with a modern set up. It sounded very “contemporary”.
Either Stan Robinson (go and hear Stan – he’s a jazz encyclopaedia) or Peter King told me a story that Bird once disappeared suddenly, while playing in Paris. The band were worried, thinking that he may have fallen foul of dodgy gear and even began to look for him in back alleys. Three days later he appeared, beaming and full of the joys of life. Still concerned they asked him where he’d been. Bird happily explained that he had taken a walk and by chance arrived at a railway station where he saw that there were trains from Paris to Copenhagen. On the spur of the moment he took the train! “Why?” they asked. “To have a saxophone lesson with Don Byas” was Bird’s reply! Beautiful.
Stan’s gig at the Bull will have been great but this recording has stayed with me ever since. I have used it in classes as an exemplar not only of a joyful expression of absolute linear authority but also the innovation and daring that was occurring during the cusp between swing and bop. The response from students and colleagues and friends is always one of astonishment (as with Lennie’s “Line Up”). I continue to think that it is beautiful and I have 2 copies of the LP!
(Ethan Iverson has kindly posted his transcription at http://dothemath.typepad.com/)