What is really jazz?

Some traditionalists have appointed themselves guardians of jazz purity. Like plantation owners fearful of an assault on the virgin chastity of their daughters, they draw a narrow perimeter around the term jazz and lock the door. Few are allowed to pass the threshold. But such an exclusionary attitude is the antithesis of the African heritage out of which jazz was born, a heritage in which music-making was a communal experience, without a great degree of distinction between performer and audience.

So if it’s misguided to restrict what qualifies as jazz to music with a triplet swing rhythm (as some would have it), what, then, is really jazz? Continue reading →

Hancock’s Letters to Joni

River - The Joni LettersBefore recording the Joni Mitchell songs that comprise 10 of the 12 tracks* on “River – The Joni Letters,” Herbie Hancock first gathered his fellow musicians — Wayne Shorter on sax, Dave Holland on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Lionel Loueke on guitar — and discussed the meaning of the lyrics, the environment of the lyrics in relation to the music. The music they crafted together is a hauntingly beautiful tribute to Joni’s artistry. Herbie’s harmonic sensibilities are bold and imaginative. Jazz artists have never shied away from dissonance, but the way in which Herbie moves fluidly from moments of lucid tonality to restless, dissonant harmony shows his artistic greatness. Continue reading →

Musicians are getting screwed

Just about everyone knows how the major labels have screwed musicians over the decades. A gold record, selling 500,000 copies and grossing $7.5 million, nets the artist only $40,000 — which would be $10,000 each for a four-member band. Jazzy Jef, who co-wrote hits with Will Smith, recounts how, after winning a Grammy for a hit record, he went out to his car and cried because he only had $500 to his name.

But even with the opportunities afforded by the Internet and inexpensive home production, musicians are still getting screwed. Continue reading →