Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Tuning Slide: Keep Tapping Your Feet

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.
-Leonard Bernstein

A few weeks before writing this post I was listening to one of the jazz programs on Sirius XM channel 67, Real Jazz. Award-winning bassist Christian McBride was hosting his talk and music program The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian. Talking to the audience at the beginning of the show he encouraged them to be involved in the show. The gist of what he said was that too often we think jazz is something that only scholars and music specialists listen to with some kind of academic distance or in some indescribable mystical trance. (My words and interpretation!) This is “party music” he said. It is not dull and dead. It is alive- and has been alive for over 100 years now.
  • You don’t have to be able to discern all the ins-and-outs of the music.
    • You just let the groove grab you where you are.
  • You don’t have to know the chords and structure of the music.
    • You just let the melody move you with is rhythm
  • You don’t have to be a musician to know that this can be sung and played and enjoyed.
    • You just celebrate those who make the music.
  • You don’t have to be able to put into words what the music does to you.
    • You just have to let it do it.
I hope that is what I leave you with after these posts on jazz. Jazz is remarkable music. It is simple and complex. It is the blues and jumping dance music. It is chordless or as strictly structured as any other music can be. It can turn a Broadway-standard song or old country song into a new musical invention. It is freedom expressed without words; resistance without slogans; revolution without arms.

I recently had the pleasure and honor of being part of the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire jazz festival. I had the opportunity to listen to a number of amazing high school big bands compete for recognition. High school students stood up and played improvised solos for the judges. Some schools had as many as three or more bands competing at different levels. These students get up and show up at school at 7:00 in the morning or stay after school to rehearse. They do it for the love of the music! It shows. It also shows that the music is still growing and still making people dance, even in the intimacy of their own soul.

That’s what Christian McBride was talking about. In general, we make music so that on some level we can dance. Jazz is as close to perfecting that as any other music. It can be a dirge-like dance of the blues or the second-line dance as the Dixieland band leaves the cemetery. It can be a ballad dance of love or the soul-dance of having been touched by a musician who has shared their spirituality through their horn. It can be the driving rhythm of Latin culture, the cool movement of the west coast, the funk of the urban culture, or … take you pick. It goes on and on and hasn’t stopped for a moment. The best of jazz encompasses all of these and much more. I see and hear jazz in the best of bluegrass (which is, of course, the jazz of country music), the roots of rock and soul, even in the music now called “Americana” and folk.

We are a nation of jazz musicians seeking to make melody and harmony with a groove and rhythm. In the earlier post on the “bandstand” being a sacred place I talked about the importance of the big band (i.e. jazz) music in the 1930s and ’40s. Many gave it its own place in keeping us strong in the midst of World War II. After the war it went into “hiding.” It is our music- who we are and who we can be. That is why Len Weinstock on the website Red Hot Jazz ( said:
Millions await its return. Believe me, we need it badly!
After fifty years of listening and ten of playing jazz, I am only now beginning to understand what it means for me.
These ten posts come nowhere near even scratching the surface. There will be more in the next year.
There is more to learn, more to experience, more to hear-
and more dances to be danced.

Keep on listening- and tapping your feet.
- Count Basie

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