Saturday, May 17, 2008

Commentary on Musical Inclusiveness

Saxophonist Ken Vandermark and drummer Tim Daisy are currently on a short duo tour of Europe. Someone posted an audience recording of the concert from Graz, Austria on the Internet and it was interesting to hear Vandermark talk between songs about the grass roots organizing that had led to his tour. He talks about how difficult is to find places to play “creative music” in this challenging economic environment, and thanks the people that made the tour possible. Vandermark is one of my favorite musicians, and his music is certainly creative, but I have always been uncomfortable in labeling improvised music in this manner. Many musicians, in particular Miles Davis, have been unhappy with the word “jazz”, feeling that it did not fully describe the depth and complexity of their music. But in applying the moniker “creative music” to free jazz or improvised music outside of the jazz mainstream seems to sell other types of music short. Does this mean that when Bill Frisell deconstructs an American folk song, or James Carter improvises on a song by the rock band Pavement, that their music isn’t creative? It seems that this throws down an unnecessary gauntlet of snobbishness that isn’t required. Of course Vandermark and other musicians on the cutting edge are creative, but I think that musicians who play bebop, ballads and blues can be so as well. Arguably, they have to be even more so, since they tread on ground that has already been well trodden by others and in order to get attention for their performances they need to be especially creative in order to stand out from the crowd. It’s interesting to think about this as the Vision Festival begins next month in New York City. As the festival season begins in earnest with the JVC Festival, there will be a lot of music competing for a limited dollar. It doesn’t seem like a wise idea to split an already fractured scene even further, for example on New York City, with the mainstream centered around The Jazz Standard and Village Vanguard, the “creative” musicians around The Stone and venues in Brooklyn and Jersey City, and everybody else scrounging for gigs and recording opportunities wherever they can get them. A philosophy of musical inclusiveness would be beneficial to everybody, with a rising tide hopefully raising all boats. It’s fascinating to look at concert posters from the 1960’s to see venues hosing two or three bands a night of wildly diverse musical focus. It would be a great way to broaden horizons and break down barriers if this could be done today. If musicians and fans work together to support the music as a whole, and recognize that all musicians are creative people instead of allowing further faults to develop between groups that have more in common than they realize, there could be substantial benefits for all.

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