"Art is the creative custodian of the truth"...Heidegger
"There is no true Art without secrecy"...Camus
Jack Reilly is a pianist, composer, and author whose work has achieved a remarkable synthesis of traditional classical music with jazz. His compositions and performances reflect his solid musicianship, intelligence and sophistication. The enthusiastic response his European tour with George Russell's New York Band and his subsequent performance with the band at the Village Vanguard in New York City; his concert at Jordan Hall in Boston with the Jack Reilly Trio, where he was given a standing ovation; his recordings and books --- three volumes on jazz improvisation entitled Species Blues, nine folios of his compositions and the acclaimed book The Harmony of Bill Evans confirms the scope of Reilly's talents and versatility.
Reilly has also presented lecture/recitals at numerous schools in North America and in Europe including presentations at the prestigious International Piano Festival and Competition at the University of Maryland. Formerly chairman of the Department of Jazz Studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, he has served on the faculties of the Mannes College of Music, New York University, The New School, The Berklee School of Music, and as chairman of the Jazz Program at La Musica A Villa Scarsella in Diano Marina, Italy.
His recordings include include albums of original material: Blue Sean Green, Tributes, The Brinksman, Masks, Here's What I Like, Tzu-Jan Volume 1 and 2, and two new releases, Pure Passion and Live in Poland, all on the Unichrom label.
His compositions include Jazz Requiem (1968), an Oratorio comissioned by the NEA (1974), Chuang-Tzu - Theme and Eight Variations for Orchestra (1993), Concertina for Jazz Piano and Strings(dedicated to Bill Evans), Lullabys for Orchestra, Fantasy for Piano and Wind Quintet(dedicated to George Russell), Piano Sonata in D Minor, and Concerto for Harmonica and Strings.
In 2001 his first Piano Concerto for jazz trio and orchestra, titled, Orbitals was premiered in Houghton Michigan,with the composer as soloist, with the Keweenaw Symphony, Jeff Bell-Hanson, conducting.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Thoughts on the Future of Jazz-by Jan Stevens, Jazz pianist, composer and webmaster/founder of the Bill Evans Pages.
Here's another reposting; give it some thought and let's hear your comments.
by JAN STEVENS, guest columnist
What we might need first is an agreed-upon definition, and that of course is virtually unattainable, so let’s try and level the playing field and just call jazz improvisational in character, or agree to disagree, if that is necessary, and just get on with it. Or, we can play the name game, and ask does X =Y (i.e., is Joe Lovano or Bill Charlap as valid as Modeski, Martin, and Wood or David Sanborn; does Brad Mehldau’s usage of rock and R&B themes make for good jazz, etc.). But then we run the risk of alienating some of the best and brightest. What jazz is expected to be and how it is supposed to grow is an age-old argument, and I wouldn’t venture a conclusive axiom that would satisfy anyone, including myself. Some of the best critics and writers have been at it for decades, and the modern era’s post-bop jumping-off point often cited is Miles’ “Bitches Brew” album, but let’s not even go there. One can find early diatribes and polemics of the same kind in some old magazines (like Etude, and ancient issues of Downbeat, or the long-defunct Metronome) that asserted -- in the 1920s, for one example -- that this “new” jazz, with its jitterbugging teenager adherents, would destroy the dearly held musical belief systems of the time – or how anything post-Scott Joplin was morally corrupt and musically invalid. Some of these same emotionally-packed issues were rehashed in the late forties after Bird and Monk and Diz blew it all wide open for us again. Flash forward to the early sixties and Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp at al, and we hear it all over again. Then in the nineties, in what I have referred to in another essay as the “triumvirate” *– Wynton Marsalis, jazz critic Stanley Crouch and the writer Albert Murray (and their megamedia mouthpiece, Ken Burns) indicated that “real” jazz (whatever that is) apparently ended in, roughly, the mid-sixties, until, of course, Mr. Marsalis brought it back in the 90s. As a major tenet of the faith, they contend -- or at the very least, strongly imply -- that jazz was derived (and must continue to develop) from a direct and traceable African -American musical lineage, steeped in the blues, and ostensibly, with only a handful of worthy Caucasian sympaticos. This is culturally, spiritually, and historically insane, and it’s just plain faulty thinking, and it’s all been argued well elsewhere by Gene Lees and others*.
So with all that out of the way, let’s put forth a few questions and perhaps approach a few issues that may be deserving of more thought and future discourse. Firstly, jazz is music of improvisational innovation and progression. Are there, or can there ever be any more real innovators in jazz? Depending on which critic or commentary you read, this can go either way. Some argue that since the music has long thrived on innovators, that they are indispensable, and that there are just simply not any alive right now. Others say that it’s “all been played before”, and because the jazz world is exponentially much bigger than it was even twenty years ago, and seminal figures hard to come by --true innovation is probably a thing of the past. In other words, can there even be a “next Coltrane”? It’s hard to be objective on this and discern where the truth lies, but here is much to be said for this latter view in our times. Whereas back in the seventies there was just a handful of schools seriously teaching this art form, like Berklee and North Texas State, jazz courses and curriculums at the college level are quite common, turning out thousands of aspiring players every year, most of who will never make it, or not make even a passable living from it. Many are well-disciplined in the bebop language, and have had a solid grounding in theory and harmony. But how many are taught about the passion and commitment this music requires, the courage and mindset to break barriers, or are told about paying your dues? A vast majority of those students who are now out on the scene, and trying to be working jazz musicians, are recording on their own, and are forced by the economics of the music industry to put their CDs out themselves – and spend their own money to promote them on Web sites and other venues. (Unless you’re the next Norah Jones, try getting a record contract with a label that will even market jazz records at all or even a healthy independent that has decent distribution). That being said, if there are any real innovators out there, it may take a long time to even become aware of them, let alone see them acknowledged as such. Spend a few hours on allaboutjazz.com, and you can hear MP3 samples of hundreds and hundreds of fine players – many of whom are hustling for any jazz gig they’re lucky enough to find. Most of these will barely ever make back their CD’s costs. Yes, many are good improvisers, many are competent, but very few are truly special. Who can honestly say who the last truly great “innovator” was? The late Jaco Pastorius is often mentioned-- a unique composer-arranger with a very advanced harmonic sense, but known primarily as the man who revolutionized the electric bass for all time. He died back in 1987. Some have gone back further and said the last great innovator in jazz was Bill Evans -- surely no one since has escaped his pianistic shadow, and no one has built anything as stylistically influential, or has surpassed his comprehensive approach to the piano since -- and he’s been gone for twenty-six years. Maybe we ought to ask ourselves, does jazz really even need new innovators, in order to remain fresh and viable? Or is it OK as is- - the more the merrier, and the music often just another copy of its former self? Or are we better off towing the line with the young lions and super-traditionalists making sure at any cost that the music always has the discernable imprint of Armstrong or Ellington or Bird? (As a caveat, let me say that I am firm believer in the traditions: no doubt, there will always be ways to play the great standards and coax new life from them in unique ways.)
What about all the jazz hybrids? Have they all been exhausted yet? Jazz has a history of being the most creatively pliable music, since there is so much room for stylistic expression and nuance and accessibility to other related genres. Early on, there were Art Tatum’s classical arabesques within his dazzling jazz piano wizardry that made even Rachmaninoff sit up and stare in wonderment; there was Bix Beiderbecke’s glorious “In a Mist”, there were the “third stream” works of George Russell, Gunther Schuller and John Lewis. The forties brought the major influx of Latin rhythms into the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Duke and many others, breaking new barriers that continue to revitalize jazz permanently. There were the late 50s and early 60s funky experiments of Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Quincy Jones and the influential R&B-jazz recordings of Ray Charles, --all which led to some of the future work of Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and many others, and of course their mentor, Miles Davis. As a result, there’s also been acid-jazz and free-jazz, and avante garde, and classical-jazz and world music-jazz fusion and jazz-funk and jazz-rock and on and on. Obviously, straight ahead jazz and hard-bop has survived beautifully above all. Do we really need these labels? Some would argue it may be conceptually inexpedient , but apparently we do, since it’s hard to have any serious discussions with any serious jazz folks and not find oneself using them -- if nothing else, for lack of a better terminology or reference points.
Not all of these sub strata entries have produced valid music, and surely some of it has been trash, but there have been some impressive and lasting innovations, if not always great innovators within. Then we must acknowledge players and arrangers like Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, John McLaughlin, Joshua Redman, Maria Schneider and Bill Holman – who are still able to somehow smoothly ignore any preonceived barriers and incorporate so many of these playing styles naturally; they boldly blur the lines while developing their work into a fresh and contoured whole. It is almost a cliché now to quote Duke Ellington’s long held statements about not labeling it “jazz” – it’s just music that’s either good or bad, he said. But in a post-modern world, it’s still true that one man’s jazz is another man’s schlock or tedium.
Regarding the future of jazz, hasn’t it always been a matter of what tastes will allow, what the current consensus may be (if indeed, there’s any consensus left among jazz musicians and writers anymore ), and what the market will bear?
Jazz has always been inclusive (unless Wynton garners even more power and influence than he already has) and yes, it originated from African-American traditions, but coupled with a sophisticated Western harmonic system derived from European traditions. It has since the beginning encompassed the rhythms and aesthetics of various ethnicities, and that is healthy. For the listener, it usually begets new names and some creative players, some quite notable, some not, and some that ought to be heard widely but aren’t. That’s long been the case. And the latter won’t be the musicians’ faults, by and large. Jazz lore is full of long-lost journeyman musicians of note, but names spoken of rarely and in ever-dwindling circles of academics and historians. Guys like Dodo Marmarosa, Serge Chaloff, and Sonny Clark, just to name a few.
But the music has always required willing listeners who have an open mind and hopefully an educated ear, but it has never approached general popular acceptance --except in the Big Band era, when it was primarily a dance music. We’ve all accepted that, all these years since. Yet some still strain with definitions and the validity of certain idioms in jazz, and often disallow for its expansion, in light of the some of the very clever innovations and experiments of the last forty years or so.
In a media marketplace of instant gratification, cheap thrills, the ever-dwindling capacity of music as a communal experience in the age of iPods, and the shallow and offensively mediocre amateurism of the current popular music milieu -- the future of jazz may be filled with ever-challenging pitfalls. It remains a vital cultural force due to its loyal audience, though fragmented and often marketed poorly. It seems now that most of the legendary “giants” are gone (except Sonny Rollins and precious few others) so it’s often a music almost without a face. Yet the pendulum may yet swing back, if those involved in its presentation and performance respect and pay heed to its rich history, and yet are inspired to be unburdened and unbridled in adding to it.