Tomorrow night, I will be driving down to Oceanside to see perhaps the greatest living trombonist, my childhood trombone hero Fred Wesley, sit in as a guest artist for the Oceanside Jazz Festival. I’m looking forward to checking out the vibe, and hearing what Fred has to offer the next generation of potential funkateers.
Wow, that was a crazy month! And another begins, as I return to campus for spring quarter here at UCLA. This quarter system is a real trip . . . between the 10-week courses and the lack of seasons here in Los Angeles, there is a very different academic ebb and flow than the one became accustomed to on the East Coast.
But enough complaining — I am eager to take on some new courses and extremely grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to present at last week’s EMP Pop Conference. Despite the fact that our panel was programmed at the same time as a gathering of powerhouse music writers (Greil Marcus and Ann Powers, anyone?) we had a solid turnout, including a number of my friends and former classmates at Rutgers. David Adler, Nate Chinen, and Phil Freeman all gave fantastic, engaging papers, and we had time for a lively Q & A session afterwards. Thanks also to the Music of our Heart for a nice blog recap.
I’d add a small quibble, though, to the characterization of the conference as a “Deep Hang.” I would call it wide, perhaps — the sheer size and buzz of the conference was invigorating, but the depth was uneven at best. There was plenty of deep thinking going on in some places, though: a fantastic roundtable conversation moderated by Greg Tate featuring Vijay Iyer, Jose James, Mazz Swift, and Butch Morris was one highlight. Morris held court for much of the session, defending the word jazz from its recent slough of detractors, and all four shared heavy insights into the role that cities have played in shaping their unique musical visions: “nodes in the network,” as Iyer eloquently called them. Guthrie Ramsay’s panel “Cities, Hegemonic Sound, and Blackness” was another deep and real take on issues of representation in African American music culture, and the closing keynote speech by ?uestlove was highly entertaining for its charming geekiness.
Best of all, though, was the simple act of reacquainting myself (just a little bit) with the city that I left behind last year. Attending the opening reception at Le Poisson Rouge, I caught a whiff of nostalgia for my first concert in the City, hearing Claudia Acuna, Jason Moran, William Parker, and others at the 2009 Winter JazzFest. And I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my three closest friends from Rutgers — Sean Lorre, Paul Brady, and Jared Negley — while catching the Gerald Clayton Trio’s impeccable set at the Jazz Standard. This confirmed the theory that I presented in my paper on Saturday: that “the hang” plays an important role in shaping music communities, and that jazz musicians are especially astute when it comes to making hangs happen.
As I return to my nose-in-the-books life here in Los Angeles, then, I’m exceedingly grateful to have stocked back up on the New York vibe, and hope that the spirit of the hang continues to help me along for another ten-week dive into the depths of academia.
So far, one of my favorite parts of the academic lifestyle is the occasional ritual known as the Academic Conference. After having a great time presenting at graduate student conferences nearly two years ago (one of which I recounted at this very blog), I resolved to get back in the game this spring. After getting settled at UCLA, I sent out four applications, hoping that one or maybe two might take interest in my work.
Much to my surprise, all four conferences invited me to present a paper! So it’s a busy springtime full of travel, which started two weekends ago at the International Society for Improvised Music conference at William Paterson University, near my old haunts in New Jersey. Next weekend, I’m heading north to Eugene, Oregon to present at the West Coast Conference of Music Theory and Analysis. Later in March, I’ll be back in the New York City area to present at the EMP Pop Conference. I cap it all off with a trip to Vancouver, BC for the Analytical Approaches to World Music conference in May.
I had the pleasure of returning to the Blue Whale this weekend, this time to check out the second night of the release party for saxophonist Ben Wendel’s new CD, “Frame.” It’s a great disc, featuring some of Wendell’s stellar contemporaries such as pianist Tigran Hamasyan, drummer Nate Wood, keyboardist Gerald Clayton and bassist Ben Street. Hamasyan and Wood were on hand for this gig, along with Adam Benjamin on keyboards, Larry Koonse on guitar, and Dave Robaire on bass. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the inevitable rites of passage for graduate school in the humanities comes in that fateful seminar grappling with the intellectual legacy of what is vaguely termed Social Theory. That is exactly what I’m up to this quarter at UCLA, in a seminar aptly titled “Integrating Theory With Ethnography,” taught by the esteemed music scholar Timothy D. Taylor. In this class, we read a whole bunch of this Social Theory stuff and then figure out on our own how to integrate it into our own ethnographic work with music.
After having spent the last year or so “in the trenches” of the jazz business, this Social Theory is having all sorts of interesting and strange resonances with my experiences there. This week, it struck me especially hard as I read Max Weber’s famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. As I see it, Weber’s insights have particular relevance for the current challenges facing the jazz community. Read the rest of this entry »
After a few months in Los Angeles, I am finally figuring out where the jazz is happening — it’s not like New York, where you can just see who’s playing at the Jazz Gallery or Village Vanguard on a given evening. But after digging the scene at the Blue Whale a few times — including a fantastic show by the Alan Ferber Expanded Ensemble earlier this month, which I wrote about for WBGO — I have started to get the hang of it out here.
One advantage of checking out a big band concert is that it brings a whole bunch of great players together for one evening — just following a few of them has led me to some cool gigs. One of those musicians is trombonist Joey Sellers, who also happens to have just released a fantastic solo trombone record, entitled “What The . . . ?” (Yes, a solo trombone record: that’s how much of a badass this guy is.) Read the rest of this entry »
In case you’re wondering how I’m ringing in the New Year for 2012, I have the pleasure of joining up with some of my old friends at WBGO for the annual Toast of the Nation extravaganza. The last leg of our multi-city tour features the Billy Childs Quartet from the Blue Whale in downtown Los Angeles, where I’ll be helping out with the broadcast and digging the music.
I’m not sure if the photo above captures it, but this is a seriously cool music venue. Just over two years old, it is a refreshingly up-to-date take on the jazz club concept, far from your typical dimly-lit jazz bar. I’m looking forward to checking this place out a lot in 2012 — starting with one of my favorite trombonists and UCLA alumni, Alan Ferber, next weekend.
But I’m getting ahead of myself — tune in for the broadcast tomorrow, which starts at 8 p.m. EST (5 out here on the Left Coast) with Julian Lage in Boston. Our segment from Los Angeles will run from 2 a.m. EST (11 p.m. LA time) and will count down the New Year in Pacific Time. It’s a great chance to put my radio hat back on for a couple of days — we’ll have a live chat running at the WBGO blog, so tune in and come hang: wbgo.org/toast is the address.
Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks for reading in 2011!