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Jazz lives

Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

I recently had the pleasure of catching a performance of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which is now touring, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis.  They played at the Pepperdine University Performing Arts Center in Malibu, and really raised the roof.   In New York City, my high school was immediately adjacent to the Lincoln Center site, and I watched those buildings being erected during my four high school years.  At that time, I never thought that jazz would become a part of the permanent curriculum at Lincoln Center, but some forward-looking people finally got the idea that jazz should be included in Lincoln Center's calendar of events.  It was a natural progression and has put jazz on the map in a very meaningful way. 

The performance I attended was dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington.  Wynton is a dedicated teacher and historian, in addition to being a virtuoso performer.  His introductions to the various tunes are explained with eloquent and humorous asides that explain the context and historical framework of the music.  In his hands, this great musical tradition will reach new generations of fans and maintain its status as “America’s classical music.”  Lincoln Center has also responded to the needs of the music by building three rooms on Columbus Circle that will ensure performers have a venue where they can play.  The rooms go from a club setting to a concert ballroom, and the acoustics are world-class.  Lincoln Center has made sure that jazz has a home.

photo of Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra by John Marshall Mantel, AP

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There's this little bar in the Valley on Victory Boulevard, just West of Topanga Canyon. About three nights a week, a bunch of old timer Jazz and studio musicians (and I'm talkin' OLD TIMERS), get together and jam on requests from the audience which is about half senior citizens and half young hipsters (who don't really listen to the music). Ocassionally, a senior will join the group from the crowd and sing old standard. Or a young, up-and-coming Jazz musician will sharpen his teeth with the group for a night.

Here's the thing. These musicians are INCREDIBLE. I've been a musican now for 24 years, ex-professional, but I'm not a Jazz musician. And these guys are remarkable musicians. And they're playing for a donations put into a hat on a table in front of the crowd (half of which isn't even listening, because they don't get it.)

But if you sit down and listen to the musical dialogue between players of a masterful Jazz group, it is just sublime. To understand the complexity, intellectually and emotionally, of that dialogue and understand it is a poetry beyond one's ability.... it's just breathtaking. Sometimes my eyes will just mist over with the spectacular beauty of it and the irony that for some people who just lack the patience to truly listen that divine wonder is being shared before them and they are completely unaware.

Kind of like a metaphor for Life.

Jazz is a TRUE American musical form. It should be taught in every school in America, not only because it's part of our culture, but because it is so sublime. Understanding beauty and aesthetics is fundamental to a person's ability to make intelligent choices in life.

Exposing young people to truly sublime works of music (not necessarily immediately accessible ones) is key to helping put our values in proper perspective. Instead of fawning of the vacuous karaoke of "American Idol" people should be discussing with hope who will be the next John Coltraine.

We'll see.

So, Cap,

When are you going to endorse Obama?

Kareem, what do you think of the charge that Wynton Marsalis has contributed to the "museumification" of jazz? That people today are too likely to see jazz as a period piece rather than an exciting, living art form?

Also, I just found out about this blog, and I'm thrilled about it. Growing up a Celtics fan in the 1980s, I was raised with a boundless respect and admiration for what you did on and off the court. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and allowing interaction with readers.

Jazz is the music of the gods. Everytime I see people going on about pop, rock or country music while jazz musicians starve, it's like seeing someone go on about a McDonald's burger while they're ignoring the filet mignon that is right under their nose. Jazz, like fine wine and all the truly good things in life, is an acquired taste but it is soo worth the effort. Nothing excites me more than when I see the occasional young person who hears jazz for the first time after al lifetime of top 40 junk and loves it....reminds me of my own awakening. Thanks Kareem for exposing this magnificent art form to a larger audience.

Jon K -

I didn't know you were a musician! I've played the drums for 35 yrs now. Different styles, but jazz fusion is my favorite to play.

Elvis -

Great question. I think that one of the contributing factors to the "museumification" of jazz is the overemphasis on the tribute payed to the greats of jazz. That kind of attention becomes somewhat patronizing and can create the expectation that for jazz to be acceptable, it must fit into a sound profile encompassed by the styles of the greats. So we come to a show, hear what we expect to hear, then leave saying,"Wasn't that great? Sounded just like Miles!" For me, that kind of dismissive experience ruins jazz. Where's the edge, the shock and awe, the pushing of creative boundaries? Does that make sense to anyone?

While deserving, I wonder if the greats would be more interested in what the youngsters were doing than they would in having everyone tell them how great they are.

Of course, I don't really know them like Cap does, so I don't know. As a musician, though, I know there is a creative edge to youth that age and experience cannot really emulate. I went to school with a nephew of Max Roach, and he told me that Max loved teaching because it kept him in touch with creative trends.

Cap,

Along those lines, are there any younger jazz musicians or bands that you find particularly interesting?

Thanks!

RMA

there are a lot of great venues around Los Angeles where one can go and see Jazz. There is a rich and vibrant history of Jazz in this city particularly in South Los Angeles and Watts, with artists such as Charles Mingus, Horace Tapscott, Eric Dolphy, and Buddy Collette and contemporaries such as Patrice Rushen.

And of course let's not forget the Latin Jazz Pioneers that are still blazing a trail all over the place.

Hi Kareem, you must know that The Big O is also actively pursuing the creative linkage between jazz and basketball. So sad to think that a man who made triple doubles for his career is not remembered by today's players and fans who don't even know who the Big O is. I never saw you in the old Parisian Room but know you must have been there...

Cap thanks for just being you. Jazz was passed down to me from my father. I spent countless days and hours riding throughout L.A. with my father and listening to his chosen jazz stations. Over time the music just grew on me. I had the pleasure of meeting and working for, the legend Joe Zawinul, R.I.P. of the group Weather Report. I actually played one of his records at a wedding reception, not knowing he was there (industry folk). Soon after he was standing in front of me. He quickly quizzed me on a few of the selection I had played. Basically shocked that a teenage black kid even knew of Weather Report or Joe Z., and more impressed that I had played several of his favorite jazz selections. Who knew that two weeks later I'd have the pleasure of spinning for his son Ivan's high school grad party at their home over looking the Rose Bowl in Pasadena! Honestly one of the highlights of my Dj days, a party no one will ever forget. It was a sad day for me to read in the Times that he had passed. Joe was a great, simple down home guy. He welcomed us into his home, made us very comfortable. Not to mentioned paid us very well! Jazz lives through those it touches, I am one.

Its amazing to me what an elder statesman of jazz Wynton has become over the past 20 years. I remember seeing he and his brother in NY 20 Years ago, and they were just upcoming artists. Now they(well at least Wynton) are at the forefront of the jazz movement.

Kareem--
Thanks for this awesome opportunity. I passed up a chance to speak to you many years ago when I was a street musician playing flute in Times Square, and you walked by. It was like, "I can't believe it's HIM. Should I stop and let him know how much his experiences have meant to me?" I didn't then but now I can. Back in the day @ UCLA, Sports Illustrated told about your dad playing Trombone with the band during games. That was so great to hear. Partly because I played trombone too at that time. Not knowing my dad was a NYC jazz musician then, I wanted that relationship that only fathers & sons can share. but it was still some years away. By the time I got to the Big Apple ['72], I found out dad was known and respected by many giants like Little Jazz, Little Bird, C. T., Rahsaan, Duke Jordan, Ray Nance, and Reggie Workman. Dad played with Cab when he was a 15 year old Philly sax player. My mom was no slouch either. From Iowa, she went to L.A. in '39, as a singer, dancer and multi-talented instrumentalist on sax, trumpet, bass, clarinet and piano. [Graduated LACC 1949]. She studied with Mingus, Dexter and Lloyd Reese. They were both friends of Eric Dolphy.

Jazz Education runs concurrently with so many aspects of American life and culture. It's a way of giving back, so to speak. My brother is an educator @ Marin Academy, and his son is pursuing his Masters as a Ralph Bunche Fellow @ Rutgers. [And the most amazing drummer,
really]

The eloquence that you bring to your discussions about jazz have resonated with me whenever I read or hear them. Those individuals that understand the need to uplift the music with continued participation and performance are truly fortunate. Please check out:
www.dartanyan.com

When I heard of your extensive loss of personal effects and music collection due to fire, I was horrifically sadened. I have hoped that my own collection
of archival recordings can be preserved, and to that end I am forming The Jazz Education Center, a non-profit here in my hometown, Des Moines. Along with my wife Linda, we hope to create something that will be useful to students of any age, interested in learning about the music, the culture, the history and the individuals who have given so much in the service of the creation and continuation of this art. When we hold our initial fundraiser, it would be an honor to have you present to celebrate with us. Is that a possibility?

Thanking you again for this opportunity,
Don C. Brown

Kareem,

I don't know if you'll receive this because I'm not sure I'm posting correctly. But I had a couple of questions.

If you're stranded on a deserted island with a CD player and room for only three of your favorite Jazz albums, which do you take and why?

Also, I've always admired you because not only were you a fantastic basketball player and humanitarian, but because you always seem so spiritually centered and balanced. I'm wondering if there are any resources (books, activities, etc.) that you would recommend for others seeking the same balance?

Thank you for being the person you are and to The Times for your wonderful, insightful blog.

-- Peter

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