When they asked Duke Ellington to predict the future of jazz as he foresaw it in the 1984 era of Big Brother he, speaking from the premature and unlamented passing away of smaller-but-still nasty McCarthy era, declared "Nobody's going to worry about whether it's jazz, symphony, boogie-woogie or folk music. The categories will be abolished."
If only the peasants still doffed their caps to the Duke's grave and abolished those categories...I mean, you must surely have endured exhaustive, exhausting discussions about X (who "one could never demean by comparing to Chick Corea, Coltrane, McLaughlin, Gillespie," whoever--pick your villain) and his "progressive" jazz that's trail blazing so fast they use dynamite to clear out the way to new enlightenment.
But, really, it is uncanny how the terminology used to distinguish the different jazz styles today resembles the practiced patter of a used-clothes saleswomen. "Contemporary" replies the hey-man at the other end of the telephone when you ask what the well-noised jazz-listener will be hearing tomorrow. Contemporary? What's contemporary? The voice will reply--sounding laid-back of course--"Like, uh, sort of late 50's and early 60's--it was too advanced for them then so they didn't appreciate it."
I see. The American Graffiti Syndrome. Just as we resurrect the era of the most unflattering clothes and hairstyles, we discover new direction in the old music. But like the song in "Oh What a Lovely War"--"Old soldiers never die, the young ones wish they would"--you may sometimes begin to wish that America had not developed such a belated guilt complex about not taking jazz music seriously enough.
Meekly, we agree with H. L. Mencken's definition of our national character: we "constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goos-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages, and...grow more timorous, more sniveling, more poltroonish, more ignominious every day." How easy.
However, if you have not degenerated to the ultimate limits of poltroonishness, you may heed the Duke's advice and forget about those categories and enjoy jazz this weekend in Cambridge. After all they even argue about whether the term "jazz" was derived from the Creole Chasse-beau or a sexual association, derived from jasm--so you won't be trailblazing, merely patience-breaking, if you try to discover pure jazz. Like Disraeli's put-down of Bismarck's revelling in the label "honest broker," ("There is no honest broker") the phrase is a contradiction in terms.
Les McCann for example, is a jazz pianist whose moves towards pop have earned him enthusiastic applause. His "commercialized heavy soul" and his blend of blues chords have, gained him a large following. He will be playing at Paul's Mall this weekend. Not an establishment noted for scraping the musical barrel. Go hear him.
If progressive jazz is more your thing the Yoshi Malta Quintet will be progressing at Pooh's Pub. Yoshi used to play with a group called "The Year of the Ear" Profound, eh? Progressive? For sure. This line-up at Pooh's however sounds as if it will be freer-ranging and producing more flavorful, nutritious musical eggs as a result. They'll be playing a lot of traditional jazz. Tuning tunes like Miles Davis' So What. Also playing some Sonny Rollins. That enough? They'll continue with original composition and some "straight-ahead" jazz. Whatever the latter may be, you can be fairly sure it won't be narrow or lead directly to Nirvana--but check them out anyway.
Big-Band Jazz, whatever happened to it? This Friday it will be at the Kresge Auditorium at MIT. The Harvard Jazz Ensemble and two MIT groups will be amongst the groups playing this 2 hour concert. There'll be swing jazz and contemporary jazz and lots of rock-jazz orientation. Enjoy.
Animation. These cats have been together a little over a year now and will be progressiving at the 1369 Jazz Club. But they'll also mosey down a few old alleys--like Freddy Hubbard songs and lots of old-time '40s jazz. And their trumpeter's name should interest you: Longineau Possums. Revisionists, spell it right if you can. In any case, the group made their debut at the club so they should feel at home and get on down. In 45-minute sets.
The Rise Club hosts the Universally Powered Roy Hannes Hip Ensemble this week. And this is the real stuff. Mainstream, contemporary...not to sound picky but you'd think there must be other labels. But Roy from Roxbury is a great drummer and has played with Charlie Parker. He's also performed at Sandy's and the Jazz Workshop but this is the first time in quite a while that he's played at the Rise. He's gathered some new musicians around him and is apparently all psyched-up to play.
As for the Workshop? I hear they've been boarded by Good Rats who rock the boat. None of that jazz.