Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 10:10:56 -1000
From: Mark Minasian <>
Subject: FW: Bob Brookmeyer

Hi everyone. Mark Van Cleave just sent this article to me. It does contain some very foul language, so if that sort of thing offends you, delete now. This is an interesting take of Jazz, the art and the film by Jazz artist Bob Brookmeyer.

Mark Minasian

From Bob Brookmeyer:

Date: 01/17/2001 12:35:41 PM Eastern Standard Time

Woke up this mornin' and both my cars were gone -- Hollywood Blues, courtesy Jack Sheldon. While on the Blues, I recommend Sleepy John Estes. A paragon, to me. I have a sports-loving wife (tennis whiz, All State HS Basketball) and it's still unnerving for a MALE to hear "3 seconds" muttered while watching the Celtics limp around. The Knicks-Blazers game over the weekend -- me; "they're holding" -- she: "let them play." When asked if I should really do a NY Times piece (I bagged a review of "Jazz" because of WM & Co.) she said "say something upbeat." I married well. Something upbeat -- HMMM -- well, I have been very lazy about musical advice and -- since one of my jobs is teaching -- here goes.

First, improvisation. To wean students away from cant (accepted wisdom) I find that reminding them that all music is "song-based," (from Buddy Bolden to Cecil Taylor), is helpful. We wallow in decades of beautiful songs, giving us so much linear and harmonic instruction that to ignore it is criminal.. I once asked a student, years ago, to play a "standard" -- he replied "how about 'Bolivia'?" Now Cedar Walton is OK, but "STANDARD???" It shook me up. Standard songs are so-called because they have weathered time and assault from hostile forces AND they can be used as a barometer on how well the improviser can improvise. Somebody running "Giant Steps" doesn't tell me shit -- a pass on "Stella" and I have a very good idea what's up after 16 bars. The fascination with the "Steps" was in place when I returned in 1978 -- it still looks like a bunch of II-V-I's, but then at 71 I may be missing something. However, since 40,000 tenor players can do Coltrane clone imitations, I have begun to feel a little more secure in working at being, as much as possible, an IMPROVISER. I make up stuff without an agenda. Regardless of context, I try to "sing" through the horn and I try to react to my circumstances -- to play WITH people, not AT them. There seems to be, in the chat world, a complete fascination with the new AG folks. The idea of a slow, steady progression forward perhaps requires too much experience listening and a greater grasp of history than most have time for. When I recommend Don Byas to the student, I do so in the belief that Don played unusual rhythmic structures and made up his own language. So did Warne Marsh. I tried Vandermark and could not see the reason WHY -- I was not moved, touched or interested. I have had my say on David Murray earlier. The way forward is, perhaps, not half-assed electro shock. Talk therapy?

Anyway, there MUST be a belief that EVERY note matters. You (the player) must love every single note, for if you mumble, the sense is gone. Compare to acting -- no diction, no job. The production of one complete sound then offers the position that two sounds are possible. Exponentially, 10,000 sounds are available, all valid, meant, felt and YOURS! I tell my people the "oh shit!" syndrome -- if you are tootling away and make a mistake, the revolving neon sign floats above the brow says "OH SHIT!!!" -- that properly signifies to one and all that you have fucked up. However, if -- upon producing a note that is momentarily alien to the passing context -- you say "Aha, interesting and perhaps valuable," you have first of all put your own mind at ease and then allowed the rest of us to breath easier, for we worry when you fuck up. We come to hear you play well and having a Bush in hand is a fuck up enough for anyone. So, the lesson is -- the only wrong note you play is one that you declare to be wrong. The advantage in MY chromatic world is that I have 12 choices wherever I go and they are all MINE and they are all available to help me give you my thoughts, feelings and experiments. Yes, it IS possible to play in 4/4 or 3/4 and to actually experiment! Reinventing the light bulb is a nice hobby, but with the dearth of actual creative young players given to us by Corporate dudes, the production of "noise" or the acts of random violence have already been done. Anybody remember the 60's?? In school and abroad, I find rays of light and there are indeed young players rising slowly into view. The young are my musical sustenance and I do everything I can to help them become themselves. I need them, you need them. They don't have to be incomprehensible to be creative. As Thad said, "Mean What You Say!" And learn to say it well.

Now, composition and song writing. The problems found with younger writers is, as said before, the unwillingness to expose yourself -- to take the risk of US knowing more about YOU! That's where it's at, where it starts and where it ends up. As an improv. person, you can always "have a bad night" -- as a writer, it is quite difficult to convince anyone that you had a bad week, a bad month or especially (for opera composers) a bad year. It begins with the reduction of elements to comprehensible units that can be used to build music. The poet works long and hard to get a single phrase to speak -- they play with words. We play with pitches and rhythms and colors. The dividing of self from the natural love of your own song/child is rough. BUT, the more attached you get to your "baby," the more hamstrung you become in letting the kid grow up. A "song" (or "tune") is compositional potential, not fixed in stone. It needs to be deconstructed and, most often, given extra space between statements to breathe, and these statements themselves need to be thought out, developed, allowed to grow. We always (ALWAYS) truncate our musical thought by fearing public boredom. If the public ain't bored by what they have been hearing lately, we are home safe. So, be of stout heart and risk durational disapproval. The baby MUST be allowed to grow and 32 bars will not do it -- it's a cage and you will kill the kid or render it crippled in the long haul.

Now, for pop-art, I watched a little of "Jazz" over the past evenings. For someone who started out pretty much ignorant of the subject, he found some interesting pictures. I have gotten to point where my reaction to Marsalis equates to that of my screaming "ASSHOLE" at the TV when George Bush appeared, before I escaped to Holland. Therefore, I am no fair judge of some of the narration. The issue of race is still #1 here, and in the world. We were, until 1964, a slave nation. Before that, we did in the Indians. I would love to see a program on the Constitution and The Bill of Rights -- ALL of the early "Holy Writ" we keep getting referred back to. It was written by a bunch of monied, slave-holding and nervous white men who feared the populace deeply. Sometimes, I also fear the populace, but that's based on their ignorance, not their rights. SO, keeping race in front is right on. However, it is also true that white people can swing and being black is no guarantee that my toes will tap. It all began as a mixture and just because Society disallows people of color, jazz music does not and never has. Any more than it excludes women. Or short people. We all need each other and we are no different in anything we do or are -- outside or inside. As an alcoholic, you learn that first or you don't learn anything. In the 40's and 50's, brotherhood was rife, because the World shunned us all, white and black. It ain't the same anymore and one of the reasons, I feel, is that we are afraid to talk about it. For instance, someone asked me why it was that Wynton was the only Marsalis bro who talked with a Southern accent? Show Biz? I fail to understand why Clark Terry was not the start of the whole show! He KNOWS about Jazz and all the rough roads on the way. Not this overprivileged, underqualified kid.
Ken Burns -- you fucked up.