The full line-up for the London Jazz Festival between the 11th-20th November has now been published. This morning I went through and picked the people I will definitely be going to see, whatever happens:
- Shabaka Hutchings and Kit Downes, 2pm Sat 12th November at The Forge
- Steve Swallow (Talk, and concert with own group and the Impossible Gentlemen), from 6pm, Sun 13th at Queen Elizabeth Hall
- Golden Age of Steam, 1pm Mon 14th at St James’ Church
- Gwilym Simcock Trio, 8.30pm Tues 15th at the 606
- Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, 7.30pm Weds 16th at St James’ Church
- Robert Glasper, 8pm Thurs 17th at King’s Place
Would also definitely recommend catching Arun Ghosh and Emilia Martensson as they move about from venue to venue.
I have recently been reading Milan Kundera‘s excellent ‘Encounter Essays’ on the arts. In ‘A Dialogue on Rabelais and the Misomusists’, he says, responding to a question about what Rabelais means to him, on ‘Gargantua-Pantagruel’:
As soon as the novel begins to assert itself as a special genre or (better) an autonomous art, its original freedom shrinks; aesthetic censors arrive thinking they can decree what does or does not correspond to the description of that art (what is or isn’t a novel), and an audience forms and takes on its own habits and demands. Because of that initial freedom [his italics, not mine] of the novel, Rabelais’ work contains enormous aesthetic possibilities, some of which have been realized in the novel’s later evolution and others never have been. Well, a novelist inherits not only everything that has been done but also everything that was possible.
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think how relevant this relates to Jazz today. It’s the key point the Marsalis guys (the ‘Neo-Cons of Jazz’, JLCO e.t.c) miss when they make their assertions on what is, and isn’t, Jazz. The artists who inherited the music of Miles and Coltrane pre-1965 inherited not only everything they had done, but everything they had now made possible. Whether some artists balanced the levels of recognition (allows listener to sub-consciously understand the music) and innovation (keeps the listener interested) is a different matter (Note: This balance is not exclusive to Jazz, but is however essential to all Jazz music in my opinion). However, I believe that the Wynton Marsalis view takes the recognition side further into the realm of consciousness, where things like the aesthetics and the context of the music must remain entirely recognisable for it to still be called ‘Jazz’. He is the ‘aesthetic censor’ in Jazz today. And he is also one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful man in Jazz today. If he succeeds in his aim to turn Jazz into a ‘Classical’ music, we will live in a world where the big jazz gigs won’t be innovative artists. It will be some future saxophonist, playing the music of Charlie Parker, with a band who play perfectly within the style, with mics of the 1940’s, so as to be ‘authentic’. I don’t want to be part of a genre where to see new music becomes a rarity, where Jazz clubs and Concert Halls are clogged up with people playing the music of the Greats. But this is the world that Wynton Marsalis is, knowingly or unknowingly, building.
Jazz is not, and must not become, like ‘Classical’ music. What the world needs is an Anti-Marsalis, with the funding to continue to promote new and exciting Jazz, Jazz that explores ‘not only everything that has been done but also everything that was possible’.
Recently I read an article by Brad Mehldau, entitled ‘Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Beethoven and God’, written for Scoop magazine. You can read the original article here.
It is a fantastic piece of writing, that deals with the feeling of the ‘sublime’ that each and every one of us experiences in the immediacy of listening to or experiencing something that is so powerful, that we are so naturally in awe of, that it gives the feeling of something greater than us. It is great to see an article that tackles the subject, when so few are willing to tackle the personal aspects of the Arts. I am personally hugely influenced by Brad’s music, and the reason I love his music so much is because I believe you can hear him constantly trying to create this feeling in his playing. I do, however, disagree with him that this should lead us to believe that there is a higher being, and I feel there are flaws to his argument.
My first issue arises from his assumption that the feeling of the sublime, in whatever it is we do that gives this sensation, proves the existence of God, or an intelligent benevolent being. I agree that when this confrontation with the ‘sublime’ occurs, we are confronting something greater than ourselves. But by that, I define myself as the self that I am aware of; the conscious being that I know of. I believe that when I am playing and this feeling happens, when something magical that feels as though has come from outside yourself but is still fully based on your surroundings, that it is the unconscious self that has taken control; it has achieved its very limits, and inspired the conscious self to play something that would have been outside it’s thought processes. When listening to music it is similar; we listen to something that our conscious brain can’t understand, that pushes our unconscious thought processes to it’s highest level, and saturates our senses. It is a sensation that is completely and utterly addictive, and is the feeling I search for in all forms of Art, and is ignored by too many in the modern arts.
The other issue I had was with this extract from the article:
“The question [on the existence of God] really comes down to whether or not we believe there is an ultimately benevolent force guiding things in the universe. If one simply doesn’t, then the problem is solved; the universe is cold and lonely and we take what we can from it, hoping for a minimum amount of pain along the way. But many of us want to believe that despite all the catastrophe and suffering in the world (so much of it created by mankind), there is still a benevolent force behind everything that will eventually ease that suffering.”
This argument really doesn’t work. The assumption that the ‘ultimately benevolent force’ is benevolent and that the universe is ‘cold and lonely’ can be reversed. For example:
“The question [on the existence of God] really comes down to whether or not we believe there is an ultimately malevolent force guiding things in the universe. If one simply doesn’t, then the problem is solved; the universe is perfect and lovely and we take all that we can from it, hoping for a maximum amount of pleasure along the way. But many of us want to believe that behind all the catastrophe and suffering in the world (so much of it created by mankind), there is still a malevolent force behind everything that will eventually create more suffering.”
Why is it not argued that the universe is in fact naturally benevolent, with an ultimate malevolent force that operates to create our personal suffering? Of course, this argument is just as absurd as its opposite, but also equally as valid. Rational thinking, and our own morality, tell us already that there is no such thing as perfect Good or perfect Evil, so why should that thinking be ignored when considering an Ultimate Being?