A smart woman with good taste, a radio documentarian named Delaney Hall, had a sizable problem with the Maria Schneider concert that I gushed about in my last post. Delaney was one of several friends and students of mine who went to see Schneider at my urging, and Delaney found herself resisting the big-band instrumentation that Schneider employs, because it carries, for her, associations of Vegas lounges and schmaltz.
The first of two good reasons for raising glasses and ringing bells during the winter holiday season falls on Thanksgiving week, when Maria Schneider, the composer and conductor, brings her twenty-piece orchestra to the Jazz Standard for its annual residency. Schneider has been doing this for nine years now, and the occasion has become one of the most anticipated events of the New York jazz calendar, along with the Bad Plus's Christmas residency at the Village Vanguard just a few weeks later.
I've gotten a few complaints from fellow Keefheads—note the inclusionary construction there—about the piece I posted a few weeks ago on Keith Richards's memoir, Life. The criticism has centered not on my text, but on the videos I chose to accompany it, because neither of the two clips shows Richards making music.
In music as well as politics, there is something marvelous in the human capacity to embrace bad ideas that jibe with one’s personal experience or taste. I’ve been thinking about this since last weekend, when I attended a pair of concerts devoted to the music of my favorite composer, Billy Strayhorn, at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC).
James Moody, the veteran jazz saxophinist, flutist, and sometime singer, is ill with cancer, and his wife Linda, who has acted as his manager for years, made public this week Moody's decision to have no further treatment.
Keith Richards' essence as an artist, like dark matter elsewhere in the universe, is something we comprehend only by inference and comparison. Although we think of Richards as absolutely unique among rock stars, we tend to conceive of him and his music in relative terms. Compared to Mick Jagger, Richards's needy, flamboyant, beknighted partner in the Rolling Stones, Richards seems to be a model of masculine insolence as cool. Compared to the Beatles, those lovable moptops, Richards and the Stones embody rock stardom as a state of permanent bad-boyhood.
I like Sufjan Stevens more than I want to. The self-conscious contrarian in me tells me to resist him just for his status as an idol of Brooklyn hipsterdom. He's a pretentious white guy who plays the banjo, as well as half a dozen other instruments (including the oboe and the English horn). As such, he is beloved by the Williamsburg smarties, and he's the sort of artist who tends to gratify rock critics eager to validate their own pretentious white guyness. All that stuff is extra-musical, of course.
It's been a long time since the Battle of Hernani, I know, and it was a trumped up conflict over resolved issues even when it happened, in 1830. The romantics hardly come off as radical today. Still, they speak as ever to the lost teenager in us all, and I've found myself letting Blake make me feel all mushy and wonderstruck again, as I've listened to my favorite CD of the past couple of months: Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society. Until a few weeks ago, when I watched her perform the songs from this album in concert, I had been impressed by Spalding but not moved.
We know how old John Lennon would have been this Saturday—70—but who he would have been, we can only imagine. There were so many Johns: Teddy boy, moptop, Walrus, avant-gardist, Mr. Ono, politicker, house husband, and, finally, in the months before his death 30 years ago this December, model of middle-age content. "Grow old with me," Lennon once crooned into a cassette recorder he used for making quickie demos in his apartment in the Dakota.
Just a few days after hearing Wynton Marsalis's "Swing Symphony" at the opening-night concert of the New York Philharmonic season, I was still puzzling over the problems inherent in crossbreeding jazz and symphonic music when I went to check out the jazz orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music. I left the concert hall of the conservatory unpuzzled.