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.
Memphis Shubert Theatre Million Dollar Quartet Nederlander Theatre Anyone in denial about the demise of the record business will find on Broadway these nights proof of death more conclusive than the disappearance of music stores from the malls or the elimination of DJs from radio stations. Two musicals staged this year—Memphis, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Million Dollar Quartet, which is set in the same city in the same period and deals with many of the same themes—verify the extinction of the old-school music industry by showing it to exist now solely as sentimental myth.
The New York Philharmonic opened its new season this week with the American premiere of Wynton Marsalis's "Swing Symphony," a grand, sweeping work elementally disconnected from the world we live in, and its essential indifference to the era of its creation is one the composition's uncommon attributes. It has nothing to do with contemporary life in the same manner that the fiction of William Trevor or the music of the young blues singer Shemekia Copeland confront the human experience in ways we associate another times.