Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hard Bop

I had a most unexpected experience recently. It was a couple weeks back, April 3rd to be exact. That was the night I saw the Terence Blanchard quintet play live here in town at Skidmore College. I have certainly appreciated jazz in the past. I have a few cd's. I enjoyed the Ken Burn's "Jazz" documentary a few years back. But in truth I really never reached for my jazz cd's when I wanted to really, well... get "jazzed". I am more of a rock and roll kind of guy. But for some reason, about half way into the Blanchard show I had an epiphany. I suddenly "got it". I realized the awesome power of jazz.

Maybe it was because I was sitting in the very first row and had a trumpet going off about 4 or 5 feet in front my face.

But I think it's more than that. There is something about seeing a top flight jazz combo live that is unlike anything else. Something primal. It's hard to find the words. It's like something hit me in my spine. Like fireworks. I know it sounds weird.

I am sure this would not have happened if I was sitting at home listening to a cd. I think it must be a"live" thing. But then again I have seen live jazz before and it never hit me like this did. It has even had some kind of lasting effect. I seem to hearing in different way. To test this I pulled out some of those aforementioned cd's and they sound different to me. They sound fresh. Vital even.

I have also done some exploring into genres and I have discovered that the recordings that really grab me are in a style that's called "Hard Bop". This is a category in which Blanchard is often placed. Coincidentally (or not) the seminal early combo in this movement, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, also occupy a place on my shelf with their 1956 offering "Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street". It's also probably not another coincidence that the one other jazz show I really remembering digging was the 1992 Bright Moments Jazz festival at UMass Amherst featuring....Max Roach. The late great Max Roach.

Another happy effect of this growth spurt of mine is that I now will also be of help to our flagging economy as I have to beef up my paltry Jazz collection!

Next album in my sights: "Mingus Ah Um" by Charles Mingus

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Teach your children well

Yesterday brought the awful and disgusting news of yet another deadly shooting rampage. This time 13 or 14 people lost their lives in an "immigrant services" center in Binghampton NY. I could go on about how easy access to firearms in this country makes such tradegies more common here than in other parts of the world. Or I could talk about how many media outlets turn events like these in to "entertainment" for the purposes of making money. But my thoughts turn to something else today. Why is it exactly that some people "snap" and go off like this? A lot of experts have a lot of theories about it. I am sure you have heard many of them.

Well I'm no expert, but here is my take.

To reduce it to it's simplest terms we, as a nation, need to do a much much better job in basic freakin education! In our school's we teach math, english, science etc.. and these are mandatory for all students. Why don't we also start teaching kids, from the earliest grades, about how to live life? We should have required classes with names like... "Coping Skills 101", "Alternatives to violence", "How to handle dissapointment", and "valuing differences" etc...

Some people might argue "that's the parents job!" or something like that. Well...why can it be societies job too? What is wrong with teaching people how to understand the causes of their rage, their anger, their hopelessness and then giving them tools to deal with these problems effectively?

I quess, sadly, the answer is probably that this would take too much work. In the final analysis it's much easier to just label people "monsters" and wash our hands of the whole business.

Or maybe not. Maybe we could just start with ourselves, look at the hatred and disfigurement in our own lives, get a grip on things, and then maybe share with someone who is struggling about how we began to let that negative baggage go....

Maybe then the idea could spread. And (dreaming big) before you know it one day little Johnny comes home from school with his report card and he's got an "A" in "Practicing Kindness".

Yeah, that's sounds better.