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Welcome To The Jazz Workshop

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"Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen; we'd like to remind you that we don't applaud here at this old place where we're workin', so restrain your applause, and if you must applaud wait till the end of the set – and it won't even matter then. The reason is that we are interrupted by your noise. In fact, don't even take any drinks, or no cash registers ringin', et cetera.

I'd like to introduce you to the Jazz Workshop."*

I love jazz. I've always liked it, but loving it, that's a relatively recent development. For this I thank Jim Steele, the radio personality at WFDD (the NPR affiliate) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose program Jazz Place was my doorway into this universe; and Louis Matza, a dear friend, jazz guitarist, and former teacher who ordered me ten years ago to get Kind of Blue and whatever disc I could find that contained Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues." These, he explained, were the foundations.

A decade and a lot of records and shows later, and I've suddenly become a jazz critic. A real, live, professional jazz critic, with bylines and connections and clips. And opinions. Lots and lots of opinions, some of which are highly unconventional.

It seems a little strange to say something like that.  Unconventional opinions? Why should opinions have conventions? Everybody's got different ears, and if you know your way around the music, what your ears tell you shouldn't be measured against what everybody else's ears tell them. But it doesn't work that way. Too often, would-be critics' opinions stem as much from reading others' opinions as they do from trusting their own ears. (Reading other critics is great, and it's necessary; it lets you consider aspects of the music you hadn't previously noticed. But it's not uncommon for that to cross over into "It's not right", it's not fair to themselves, and it's egregiously unfair to the music.

With all of this in mind, I welcome you to the Jazz Workshop.

The Jazz Workshop is Blogcritics' new jazz column, hosted by yours truly. Because I have lots of opinions, on albums, on people, on the place of both of those elements in jazz history, and on a ton of other tangential matters, I'll be expressing them in this space. Although the column is named for the band led by my favorite composer, Charles Mingus, this Jazz Workshop is a different sort. It's a workshop of ideas about jazz. And there are never enough of those to go around, believe it or not.

We'll talk about how jazz deserves to be regarded with the same reverence as classical music, and the same irreverence as pop. We'll marvel at the talent and rail against the narrowness of the so-called "jazz neocons" (N.B.: nothing to do with politics). We'll debate my long-held contention that Ornette Coleman is a more important figure in jazz than Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and maybe even (God forgive me) Duke Ellington. Among other contentions that will make many jazz-heads blow a fuse.

On the other hand, this is also a workshop for ME. It's still fair to call me a fledgling jazz critic and writer, and I aspire to more. I want to get better and better, to refine my ideas and expression of them, to gain in knowledge and appreciation of jazz. In short, I want to hone my craft. This feature is a place for me to do that.

Overall, I hope that this will be a feature that works as well, and features as much diverse content, as any jazz column in any magazine or newspaper or what-have-you. I plan to work in reviews, musings, analyses, new ideas about the music as a whole, insights into what the musicians do, appreciations of individuals' achievements, and, probably, bizarre philosophical insights.

I invite you to join in the Jazz Workshop. I'm the bandleader here, but this is an open jam session. Bring your instrument with you, know your material, and let's swing.

*Charles Mingus, 1960.

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About Michael J. West

  • “When I get back from vacation next week, I’ll cook up a column dealing with all these silly fusion arguments.”

    I’m already among the converted, but eagerly anticipating the sermon all the same, Brother West :&)

  • When I get back from vacation next week, I’ll cook up a column dealing with all these silly fusion arguments.

  • I actually agree with about half of those. The rest I’m amibivalent about.

  • zingzing

    alright, hendrix doesn’t suck… his work on electric ladyland is fucking marvelous… but i don’t have much time for him these days.

    let me see what other blasphemy i can come up with… zepplin sucks. that’s for sure. i don’t like queen, but the more i hear of them, the more i’m convinced that i really would like them. they certainly were ambitious…

    um… i think the band’s “the band” is better than any dylan album. or any dylan studio album at least.

    “sandanista” is better than “london calling.”

    how’s that?

    oh, and i wrote a new review. i take you to task a bit. not much. it’s in the music section under “the other listening room” again. cool.

  • OK, so now Hendrix sucks? Are there any other sacrileges you’d like to share with us here? (Not that any of that bothers me at all, but please allow a little time to grab some popcorn first).

    And, no, man, I loved your review. Seriously. I envy your ability to defiantly pimp disco without displaying any guilt whatsoever. I lack that talent, and Lord knows I’ve tried. Can’t wait for your next write-up; I’ll even chime in with a “you rawk!” comment. I promise. Just keep ‘um coming.

  • zingzing

    pico, i just don’t like fusion. it’s responsible for so much horror. as for disco reviews, i wrote one, and fuck you if you don’t like it. and i didn’t say betty davis had anything to do with fusion, only that she introduced miles to hendrix (he sucks too).

    that said, i am about due. i haven’t written an article since march. i’ve been busy. you know. thanks for reading my disco reviews (that alvin lucier certainly knew his way around a beat, eh?)

    mark… what are you talking about? decaf? never.

  • geezuz zing, switch to decaf or somethin’!

  • So says zing,
    “fusion sucks blah blah blah….fuck fusion blah blah blah…fusion is the runt bastard crack baby offspring of Miles and Betty blah blah blah…”

    Aren’t you about due for another disco record review? There’s no better time to work on that than right now…your bc fandom awaits.

  • zingzing

    “Zing, your blanket dismissal of fusion is just plain silly. I just reviewed a bad-ass new fusion record that you will dig.”

    why take a musical genre that has its own rhythmic… thing going on and saddle it to a dull 4/4 rock rhythm in hopes of getting white audience? eh? fuck fusion. biggest sellout of all time.

    ok, i know that not all fusion is in 4/4 and it wasn’t just a ploy to get white people listening. because they already were. and you know i have no problem with genre-fucking. but i can’t help that i’m bored by most early/mid-70s jazz i hear. bleh.

  • Mark, after your last comment I read Ethan Iverson’s interview with Crouch, and I’d like to change my description of Crouch as a “jazz neo-con.”

    He’s a jazz nativist.

    He basically sees forms of music other than the blues, ragtime, other black folk forms, and traditional jazz, as “illegal aliens” who are not welcome in the jazz world because they will erode its foundations. (Although in his case, that includes European classical and American white music.)

    He’s jazz’s one-man Border Patrol. Or, if you like, jazz’s Selwyn Duke.

  • Zing, your blanket dismissal of fusion is just plain silly. I just reviewed a bad-ass new fusion record that you will dig.

  • zingzing

    oh, and did you guys know that betty davis’, (miles’ wife for a bit,) who introduced jimi hendrix and miles, who was then inspired to go out and make that fuckin’ fusion crap… betty davis’ first two albums were just reissued. she’s a nut! of course, she’s a funk nut, which is a far better thing than being a fusion nut.

    fuck fusion. give me raw, unadultarated noise.

  • zingzing

    yay mike! so. jazz, eh? mmhmm. fusion sucks. also, the metaphor gets a bit thick towards the end of the post… but you’re allowed now and again.

  • Mark Saleski

    i almost (almost!) bought his new book ‘considering genius’ because i flipped it open and read some pretty cool stuff about Ornette…but a little later on there was a bunch of crap about Miles licking the boots of rock, or something like that.

  • Stanley is sort of the William F. Buckley of jazz neoconservatism. He’s the movement’s print mouthpiece and loudest, most outspoken voice. Wynton is probably the most prominent spokesman, though.

    However, I’ll give you this, Mark. Crouch is by far the neocons’ resident asshole.

  • woa man, this is a fan-freakin’-tastic idea. looking forward to it.

    jazz neo-cons? pico is right, that i’m not.

    to be fair to the Marsalis name, i’d say that the true jazz neocon is Stanley Crouch.

  • *whew!*

    That sure as hell ain’t me! Bleeding heart all the way, baby.

    (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Saleski ain’t no stinkin’ jazz neocon, either.)

    Let’s get this workshop rolling…

  • Long version:

    The jazz neocons are the guys who don’t much like the avant-garde and outright HATE fusion. They feel that jazz went astray after about 1964-65 and that the years between then and about 1980 should be ignored, so that musicians can go back to, say, Miles Smiles and progress from there as if Cecil Taylor, In A Silent Way, and Coltrane’s Ascension had never happened.

    Short version:

    The Marsalis camp.

  • OK, I have to ask: what defines a “jazz neocon?” I need to make sure that I’m not one, because whatever it is, it doesn’t sound good ;&)

  • Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. Let’s get started!

  • Welcome to the Music Features gang, Michael! Have always enjoyed your posts and comments, and this feature sounds like it will be a good one. You can bet I’ll be a regular reader.