Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 7 May 2009

You say potato…

My younger brother - Ganja the Dwarf – was round to dinner the other night. His musical tastes are a bit different to mine but we do share some common ground, although he’s more inclined towards the rock, folk and country end of the spectrum than me. During the course of the evening he mentioned seeing a rerun of a Modern Jazz Quartet concert on the box recently (part of the original Jazz 625 series broadcast on BBC 2 in the late ‘60s) and asked if I had any CDs of them in my collection. I muttered something about bears and woods and put on “No Sun in Venice”, which I have owned in one format or another since God was a boy. Before too long the iconic sounds of ‘The Golden Striker’ were emanating from my Quad speakers and G the D observed how timeless and accessible this music was. I had to agree with him (well, I would, wouldn’t I) and it set me thinking about how some people listen to music.

(This version was recorded in the 1980s. The original recording was issued in 1957.)

Not long after I had first started writing this blog I did a piece (Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold) in which I talked about my earliest jazz tastes and mentioned the MJQ, Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck etc. A passing web-surfer left the comment: “Christ! It’s the Godfrey Winn of Jazz” which - despite its being quite a droll remark - showed that he hadn’t actually read the piece in question. More to the point though, it’s indicative of a certain mind-set that is all too common, particularly amongst the jazz fraternity.

I developed a taste for that stuff when I was thirteen or fourteen, at a time when these players were doing new and fresh things which represented a significant step forward in the development of the music. Sure, it wasn’t as radical an advance as bebop had been or Coltrane and his followers were to give us but it was an advance nonetheless. The fact that it was more accessible to the average non-jazz minded person did not and does not make it bad jazz.

Now it might sound as if I’m mounting a spirited defence of this stuff but that’s not the case – it doesn’t need defending because for the most part it is recognised for the great music that it is. But so many people don’t actually have any affinity with music as such. They are drawn by the baggage that goes with the music – the clothes, the cliques, the politics and the poses. The English bebop fans looked down on the lovers of Traditional Jazz in the late forties and early fifties. They referred to them as ‘mouldy figs’, whilst the revivalists referred to the modernists in equally disparaging terms. On one occasion when saxophonist Bruce Turner joined Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, a group of ‘mouldy figs’ went to the lengths of manufacturing a huge banner and smuggling it into the hall where Humph was performing. As his musicians took to the stage the banner was unfurled. It stretched from one side of the hall to the other and read ‘GO HOME DIRTY BOPPER’.

Even Humph was not immune to this kind of short-sightedness and once, in the early days of his ‘Best of Jazz’ radio programme, followed the playing of a ‘modern jazz’ record with a vintage New Orleans recording and the words “…and now back to sanity and 1927”. Humph was far too good a musician to maintain this stance and his work ultimately reflected many influences beyond the initial ones from the 1920s, and in fact his record programme was responsible for introducing me to such diverse musicians as Michel Petrucciani, Carla Bley and Tommy Smith. And he was as likely to play John Coltrane, Pat Metheny or Joe Zawinul as he was to play Sydney Bechet, Zoot Sims or Buck Clayton.

And that’s the point. There’s a whole lot of great music out there and it is constantly evolving. But when you hear some new development that grabs your attention it shouldn’t mean that the stuff you were listening to before that suddenly becomes obsolete! Or that because you don’t actually like some new development it can’t therefore have any merit of its own. We ought to be able to distinguish between good and bad and like and dislike. This of course applies not just to jazz but to all music right across the board.

There are some things that I really like even though they are not really very good music, and there are some things that I dislike intensely, even though I recognise the quality of what I am listening to, For example, by and large I detest the music of Mozart, but I readily acknowledge that he was a supremely gifted composer. On the other hand I have a sneaking fondness for the compositions of Eric Coates (and I’m sure my anonymous adversary would level the Godfrey Winn taunt at me again for this), but I would never claim that Coates was therefore the better composer. Sadly, many folk can’t seem to make that kind of distinction. There are a lot of people out there that don’t actually listen to music, they only hear it.