To be or not to bop (with apologies to Babs Gonzales...)
Bird and Diz at Carnegie Hall, 1947... Bop in the joy spring of its years... This is 'Confirmation' – of their greatness (I know - but - couldn't resist). Opening on drums, then the familiar theme in unison at a sprightly tempo. Bird up first, sounding relaxed, sudden flurries of notes breaking the line. Tone drenched in the blues, such a human sound. The double-tempo he frequently launches into and stays in for long stretches is stunning. Yet the tune is never far away – this is not just virtuoso playing over the changes. Gillespie next – soaring upwards to descend in rapid runs, brash, brassy and beautiful. John Lewis takes a solo from somewhere upstate by the muffled sound of it – way off-mike. Bass up briefly then theme and out. Rapturous applause etc... and rightly so. Glory Days.
Bop – to the birth of hard bop. Returning to the blues as grounding (although Bird was never more than a flicker away from them). Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. Their first incarnation as a small group - Silver was to leave and Art Blakey take over the leadership. From 1955, playing his composition the ever-catchy 'Doodlin.' Silver takes the first solo, funky figures, a facet of his style that perhaps Bobby Timmons would inherit when he joined the band in 1958. Think Moanin' etc... Much dropping of 'g's, I'm thinkin'... Tenor next, Hank Mobley, sounding calm, a little detached almost, although spiking his passage with blues figures. Kenny Dorham then, as Silver plays an almost boogie woogie train figure underneath for the first chorus and a few bars into the second. Elegant and spacious trumpet. Blakey takes a piece, some hard hitting on and off the beat as his cymbals mark the movement through. Funky.
Onwards a few years – back to the cool, say, in 1962. Jim Hall and Bill Evans take a look at 'I'm getting sentimental over you.' Slow yet supple, weaving round each other in an intricate coupling, seamlessly moving between accompaniment and solo – blurring the partition, actually while not getting in each other's way - guitar and piano can create a muddy sound if the participants are not very careful. Here? Two hearts beating as one... well, I'm in a sentimental mood myself today... Intelligent and moving.
Cecil Taylor at the old johanna live and solo from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974, this is 'After All (Fifth Movement).' Repeating an opening chordal figure to suddenly spray a higher flash of notes across the deeper contrast. More complex harmonic terrain than above – yet still you find a bluesy snatch here and there that links to the tradition. Behind it all, however abstracted or disguised, the rhythms of jazz. European conservatory meets the Afro-American tradition (Cecil uses call and response as a major performative vehicle). Towards the end, thoughtful, rhapsodic and perhaps not so far removed from Bill Evans above...
A final thought on criticism - what it should be, as opposed to what it frequently has been and is, in all disciplines:
'Admit what you can’t conceal,' [Randall] Jarrell concludes in "The Age of Criticism," 'that criticism is no more than (and no less than) the helpful remarks and the thoughtful and disinterested judgment of a reader, a loving and experienced and able reader, but only a reader. . . . Remember that you can never be more than the staircase to the monument, the guide to the gallery, the telescope through which the children see the stars. At your best you make people see what they might never have seen without you; but they must always forget you in what they see.' (From here... ).
Not sure about the 'experienced and able' (or 'disinterested' - music is too intense an experience for me) but certainly 'loving' in my own case... and hopefully 'helpful' occasionally... I love the image of 'the staircase to the monument.' As a renegade from academe, how true those words are and how many critical 'monuments' exist, that should be knocked down for 'staircases.'
Oo-pop-a-da - to end where we started, with Babs Gonzales...
Charlie Parker (as) Dizzie Gillespie (t) John Lewis (p) Al McKibbon (b) Joe Harris (d)
Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers
Horace Silver (p) Kenny Dorham (t) Hank Mobley (ts) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d)
Jim Hall (g) Bill Evans (p)
I'm getting sentimental over you
Cecil Taylor (p)
After All (Fifth Movement)