Friday, June 12, 2015

(Blue) Noted Passing

"I don't care much about music.  What I like is sounds." - Dizzy Gillespie
"Clouds float in the same pattern only once." - Wayne Shorter

"When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them." - Don Cherry

"Play what you want and let the public pick up on what you are doing, even if it takes them fifteen or twenty years." - Thelonious Monk

"Don't play the saxophone.  Let it play you." - Charlie Parker

"I'll play it and tell you what it is later." - Miles Davis

"You can have tone and technique and a lot of other things but without originality, you ain't really nowhere."
Lester Young pic
Lester Young
Without being hip to the fact at the time, each of the cats quoted above, in his own way, blew a eulogy for Ornette Coleman.

Ornette was "out".  He was different.  He 'couldn't play', yet "rewrote the language of jazz" (no small feat in a musical landscape of perpetual innovation (once), and the ethereal dissipation of improvised note bursts nightly, on a 'moment's notice').  Maynard Ferguson thought O.C. had "bad intonation, bad technique".  Miles Davis, judging by the sounds Ornette's axe made, concluded that "talking psychologically", he must be "all screwed up inside."  Another trumpeter (oddly), Roy Eldridge, thought Ornette Coleman was "jiving, baby."  And even kindred free musical spirit, Thelonious Monk, likewise known for "playing wrong right", was heard to exclaim, "Man, that cat is nuts!".

One of the few who seemed to 'get' Ornette was Charlie Mingus, who, another kindred musical spirit, was able to recognize the "organized disorganization" of Coleman's (non)playing ... yet at some point complained, "he can't play it straight."

Now as everyone acknowledges, and some admit (vehemently), there is a lot of jazz garbage out there.  There are the Spoogers, just gacking out notes for no reason ... the Noodlers, annoyingly poking, inserting ... the Vocalists (most of them), entirely disrespecting the "songbooks" they pillage (not to mention audiences' time, patience, money) ... There are literally people "performing" who shouldn't be.

"Hell is full of musical amateurs."  - George Bernard Shaw

I myself am no musician.  I don't capably play any instruments (yet?  One of my biggest regrets in life, so far), and I'm no authority.  But I do know well and appreciate jazz:  its humor, its sense of chaos, its combustible spontaneity ... and above all, its take it or leave it, 'is what it is' ethos, too often exploited because, Hey! It's Jazz!
"Jazz is the type of music that can absorb so many things & still be Jazz."- Sonny Rollins

... For better or worse.

Unlike many (rabid) fans of the genre, I am not hagiographic.

But I don't get the sense that Ornette Coleman was spooging (or noodling, or ever "jiving").  I think he was onto something bigger than jazz ... Not only taking the invisible music -- silences and "mistakes" -- received and famously transmitted by Monk, to inevitable next levels (albeit on every tune!) ... but also culturally prescient, in foreshadowing our present day aversion to "labels" - to being labelled, (mis)categorized, (mis)identified ... this rejection of easy, or 'normal', classifications, indeed a 'shape of jazz to come';

and in being cool with imperfections -- perhaps, limitations -- yet rightfully expecting to be accepted, at least heard.
"It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something."

"I think that every person, whether they play music or don't play music, has a sound - their own sound, that thing that you're talking about." - Ornette Coleman
1930 - 2015