Thursday, September 29, 2011

What is modern?

I just took part in a venerable New York tradition in the jazz community. I'm speaking of the weekly Wednesday evening "Musician's Show" on WKCR-FM radio at Columbia University. It's a three hour program in which a different musician is invited to essentially be the DJ, playing music of their own choosing and speaking a bit about the selections. There is also real DJ there, in this case jazz department head Kevin Crowley, who conducts the interview portions of the program. And usually the guest musician will play some of their own music as well.

This opportunity came at a good time for me given the musical trajectory that I've been undergoing in my ongoing pursuit (obsession) with sound. I realize that I’m mostly associated with the “free” aesthetic of improvisation and in fact that’s much of what I’ve been doing the past 25 years. But as I've mentioned in some of the previous posts I feel as if I'm finally able to hear beyond style and discern some of the more timeless elements of the music throughout the tradition. A question that continually pops up in my thinking is "what is modern"? Styles change and new techniques are put into play but I certainly do not see music as an ongoing progression in which the new trumps the old. Yet unfortunately there's quite a lot of music in jazz that I feel represents a lost art, or soon will be.

That’s a natural process in a way but I do feel that we can benefit greatly from retaining as much as we can and do our best to pass it along from teacher to student (recordings can’t do it all) so as to be able to use these musical elements creatively in ways that resonate for us in our time. For example, I don't think the rhythmic aspects of music from the '20s and '30s can ever really be replicated directly. And I think I'd need another lifetime to better figure out how saxophone players really played back then. But the bottom line is, if you want to learn how to play the saxophone then Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young really do need to be dealt with on some level. I understand the potential disconnect for players today. It was the same for me. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, that music was considered old fashioned. So I fully endorse diving in at whatever point in the history you have an emotional connection with. But over time we have to fill in the gaps. Fortunately, enough time has passed that I can actually hear all this music as modern. So I prefaced my interview by raising this question. What is modern? Not that I know the answer. Just that I have a much different perspective on it now. And that's quite liberating.

What follows is the playlist of tracks that I chose and spoke about. In between each set there is an audio link of the interview portion of the show which you can listen to. The tracks themselves are not difficult to find. Most of them are available on iTunes.

And one last thing. WKCR will be running a pledge drive shortly. Please consider supporting the station so that we can continue speaking about their great history in the present tense.

ELLERY ESKELIN - The Musician’s Show, WKCR-FM, New York City, September 28th, 2011

Hearing Beyond Style / What’s Modern?!?

SPOKEN INTRODUCTION - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 2:41

R&B tenor, 50’s style
Bill Doggett - “Honky Tonk part 2” with Clifford Scott, tenor saxophone 1956
Lee Allen - “Walkin' With Mr Lee” 1958
Tiny Bradshaw - “Soft” with Red Prysock, tenor saxophone and composer 1952
Count Basie with Jimmy Forrest - "Night Train"
from the film "Last of the Blue Devils" - The Kansas City Jazz Story 1979
arr. Roy Phillippe, Los Angeles

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 10:47

Rhythm (as in, can that even be done anymore?)
Fletcher Henderson (selections dating from 1931 - 1933)
“Casa Loma Stomp”, “Chinatown My Chinatown”, “Down South Camp Meetin”
Jimmie Lunceford (selections from 1935 - 1937)
“Avalon”, “Harlem Shout”, “Charmaine”

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 3:49

Early Tenors
Coleman Hawkins and Leo de la Fuente "I Wish that I Were Twins" 1935
Count Basie “Honeysuckle Rose” with Lester Young 1937
Lester Young and Nat King Cole “Indiana” 1942
Don Byas and Slam Stuart - “Indiana ” Town Hall Concert, 1945

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 15:49

The Romantic Ballad Tenor Tradition
Count Basie with Herschel Evans tenor saxophone, Lester Young, clarinet "Blue And Sentimental" 1937
Ben Webster - “Memories of You” 1944
Ben Webster - “Tenderly” (early 50’s)
Don Byas - “They Say it's Wonderful” 1946
Ike Quebec - “If I Had You” 1944
Ike Quebec - "The Man I Love" 1961

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 14:05

Hometown (Baltimore) Sounds
Mickey Fields - “Lover Man” from The Astonishing Mickey Fields, late '60s

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 6:21

A glimpse into the future?
Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra - “Playing My Saxophone” 1930
Bud Freeman & Ray McKinley - “The Atomic Era” 1945 (the first recorded tenor/drums duo?)

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 13:14

Blowing My Own Horn
Ellery Eskelin - “Memories of You”
from “Trio New York”
with Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Gary Versace (organ) & Gerald Cleaver (drums), recorded 2011

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin and sign-off 10:13

Ellery Eskelin - “How Deep is the Ocean”
from “Trio New York”
with Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Gary Versace (organ) & Gerald Cleaver (drums), recorded 2011