Wednesday, December 06, 2006
A new canon canonized
some sort of small victory occurred today, as Nate Chinen, jazz writer over at the Times, published an article on this crazy blog phenomenon that has had the online jazzerati all psyched up for a little while now. normally you have to wait months or years for something that's rumbling around in the underground to surface in such a major media outlet, but this thing that Chinen's on top of is fairly current.
it doesn't sound like a big deal... basically the capsule version of the story is that trumpeter Dave Douglas issued a sort of call-to-arms on his website entreating a knowledgeable writer to survey developments in jazz since Vietnam (or rather, 1973-1990), a period which the Marsalises and Burnses, et al would have you believe has been largely fallow. so Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus struck first, spewing out a huge list of classic jazz from the '70s and '80s, and then the discussion spread to a bunch of other sites, like Steve Smith's Night After Night and Destination Out and Darcy James Argue's blog and so forth. basically everyone and their mother came out of the woodwork in defense of this unfairly maligned period. (Chinen's piece links to most of these, but here's the Douglas post, the Iverson response, and the Smith entry.)
not sure exactly how to say what i want to say about all this, but in short, the whole thing makes me happy. i like the idea that someone can issue an informational challenge on the internet and get all sorts of impassioned responses that lead to this sort of communal database, for no other purpose than there are a lot of people out there who care deeply about jazz and don't want to see it miscanonized. since the Burns doc, a favorite pastime among lazy jazz writers has been to bitch about how it ignored post-Coltrane jazz, but it seems as though until now, no one really took the time to rebut the Burns/Marsalis/Crouch cadre intelligently, i.e., with the cold, hard facts of how many awesome records came out during that period. for Steve, it's John Carter; for Iverson, it's Jarrett; on Destination Out, it's Threadgill; everybody's weighing in and it's just really cool to have this communal thing happening.
i feel like we need canonizations like Burns's, because they give the real fans something to strike against. and we need calls-to-arms like Douglas's to rally the troops. and we need summations like Chinen's to document the process. it's just cool that a series of lists on a few dorky (sorry guys, not like i exempt myself) music blogs have somehow amounted to a rethinking of the jazz canon at large, a reclamation of sorts.
anyway, for me, the '70s bring to mind the vibist Walt Dickerson, a superstrange player that i love dearly. Walt did some pretty straight-ahead stuff in the '60s and then disappeared for a decade or so. he resurfaced in the '70s with this really heavy series of nearly 100%-improv records for Steeplechase, a lot of them duos w/ dudes like Richard Davis, Pierre Dorge and Sun Ra. this shit is totally killer and totally weird--maybe the most shimmery, abstract, expansive and just straight-up odd vibes playing ever. i recommend the solo disc, "Shades of Love," if you can find it, which you probably can't.
here's a piece i wrote on Walt for Jazz Times a few years back. he says at the end that he wants to record again (he hasn't since '82), and i tried to make that happen, but he's been out of touch since '04. if anyone knows how to get in touch w/ him, drop me a line.
so Walt is my small addition to the '73-'90 canon. congrats to all bloggists mentioned above--it's a real cool thing you've done--and kudos to Nate Chinen for tying it together Gray Lady-style.