Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Notes from the Net: Kind of Bloop and other Miles Davis tributes; Oliver Lake on NPR; plus news, reviews, interviews, and more

Here's the latest compilation of assorted news briefs and links related to jazz, improvisation, and creative music in St. Louis, including news of musicians originally from the Gateway City, recent visitors, and coming attractions, plus assorted other items of interest:

* This past Monday, August 17, marked the 50th anniversary of the actual release date of Miles Davis' landmark album Kind of Blue, and so there's been more anniversary coverage in the press of the sort that we've been seeing off and on all year. Over at the online magazine Slate, they've got a video piece by Kim Gittleson about the best and worst uses of Kind of Blue in the movies, and Fred Kaplan has written an article with audio samples called "Kind of Blue: Why the best-selling jazz album of all time is so great."

I enjoy Kaplan's writing, and he's usually pretty savvy, as demonstrated in yjr linked piece by his noting the influence of the late George Russell's theories of modes and harmony on pianist Bill Evans and Davis himself. But Kaplan otherwise stumbles on the technical stuff, and gets at least one thing badly, howlingly wrong when he writes of the song "All Blues":
"It has the same feel as the other blues tunes,­­ but listen closely: The horns, blowing harmony in the background, are playing the same notes in each bar; they're not shifting them to follow the chord changes; there are no chord changes. It sounds (hence the album's title) kind of blue."
Now, all you musicians know that "All Blues" does indeed have chord changes; in fact, it's a slight variant of the basic 12-bar blues progression, played as a jazz waltz in the key of G. Also, the horn harmony Kaplan mentions does in fact change (albeit only slightly) with the tune's chord progression. The commenters over at Slate's forum are beating up on Kaplan for this and various other music theory-related gaffes in the piece. Even so, it's an interesting read, and the audio samples are a welcome addition.

Elsewhere on the Miles Davis front, you may recall that back in May, we told you about a forthcoming tribute album called Kind of Bloop, which would feature songs from Kind of Blue done in the low-fi electronic music style known as "8-bit" or "chiptune." Well, Kind of Bloop (pictured) was released this week; you can now hear audio samples over on the project's official site here, and read an interview, done by blogger Kevin Nguyen, with some of the people responsible for the kind-of- bloopage here.

Also, Marc Myers of JazzWax reviews new the new reissue of the 1950s sessions featuring Davis and Sonny Rollins here; and the Jazz Institute of Chicago just featured former a Davis sideman in a concert called “Sketches of Brazil: Robert Irving III's Orchestral Homage to Miles and Gil," presented last week at the pavilion in Millennium Park. In conjunction with the concert, the Chicago Cultural Center hosted a panel called “50 Years from Sketches of Spain to Sketches of Brazil: A Symposium on the legacy of Miles Davis & Gil Evans" moderated by guitarist Fareed Haque and featuring Irving, Wallace Roney, Vince Wilburn Jr. (nephew of Miles Davis), Miles Evans (son of Gil Evans) and others.

Lastly on the Miles Davis beat, the sports site Fanhouse had a moderately amusing short this past week called "Miles Davis vs. Darius Miles, " described thusly: "During the NBA's slow days of summer, Mirror Mirror examines the connections between hoops stars and similarly-named figures of historical note." Hard to understand how they missed that both men grew up in East St. Louis, though.

* Turning to news of other former St. Louisans, saxophonist Oliver Lake's Organ Quintet was featured recently on NPR's JazzSet program. The broadcast of a 2007 show recorded at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC features a version of the band with Lake, his sons Gene on drums and DJ Jahi Sundance on turntables, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and organist Jared Gold. A slightly different lineup, featuring Oliver Lake and trumpeter and East St. louis native Russell Gunn, will play at Jazz at the Bistro this December 16-19.

* Another famous alto sax player from St. Louis, David Sanborn, is headlining the Amelia Island Jazz Festival near Jacksonville, FL this weekend.

* Pianist Tom McDermott, another St. Louis expat now making his home in New Orleans, was the subject of a very nice feature story this past week in the New Mexico alt-weekly Alibi.

* Opening the "frequent visitors" file, guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, who will be back at the Bistro next April, is the subject of the latest "Jazz Perspectives" podcast interview over at the Web site Jazz Corner. You can grab the .mp3 file directly here.

* Pianist Cyrus Chestnut, another Bistro favorite who's also returning to St. Louis next April for a gig at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is featured in the new episode of the online multimedia music series "Jazz It Up."

* And one of StLJN's sentimental faves, singer Tony Bennett, who performed at the Fox Theatre here in May, just played the historic Newport Jazz Festival; here's a review of the show written by Rick Massimo of the Providence (RI) Journal.

* Finally, the recent "death of jazz" piece from the Wall Street Journal (linked and commented upon, with skepticism, here) continues to generate responses from jazz musicians, critics and journalists. Pianist/composer and broadcaster Ramsey Lewis chipped in his .02 with a letter to the WSJ's editors, noting that jazz is "too important to be allowed to slip into obscurity" and suggesting possible remedies ranging from a different approach to concert billings to changes in musicians' dress and demeanor.

Meanwhile, Rifftides' Doug Ramsey observes that "the de-emphasis and, in many cases, elimination, of arts education in public schools has done enormous damage to audience-building for music, literature, theatre and the visual arts. There are many more contributing factors, including the spread of instant communication with the result that young people are conditioned to instant gratification rather than slow, deep appreciation. That is a worldwide cultural and societal problem."

Most recently, the New York Times' Nate Chinen has an article that makes some good points about the difficulty of labeling genre-blurring styles, examines young audiences for jazz in NYC, and offers some information about previous versions of the NEA study cited in the WSJ article.

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