Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Benny Clark Bar

I’ve saved to my Youtube favorites some 1967 footage of a Benny Goodman small group. Benny was playing with Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Ed O’Shaughnessy, Milt Hinton, and Hank Jones. And by chance I listened to a Clark Terry recording on which one cut was an interview with Clark. In the beginning of the Benny band, Benny interviews his band members about what they feel, what they think about when playing, when soloing. It was another instance of Benny Goodman having a stethoscope on our collective hearts, where Carl Jung could only get as close as the Earth is to Pluto.

I think I can guess why Benny did this in 1967, and I think I know why Clark did this in 1995. They were saying the same things, they were responding to the same trend, which Benny saw before anyone else—showing up at various university Jazz programs in 1965 and 1966, venerated no doubt, but with the trimmings of a relic of a much less sophisticated age. He was asked what he plays over a m7b5 chord, he was asked which mode he prefers to play over blues, was asked how best to learn to emphasize thirds and sevenths of chords when soloing. From this, he knew jazz was in deep deep trouble. Somehow, in our climb up the mountain of jazz aesthetics, someone hammered a pick into the heart of the music and it fell to the earth like a big chunk of rock that turned to gravel as it hit the ground. And no one knew it, except for old relics like himself and his band. Actually, I’m not sure if Zoot Sims knew, because the whole concept of putting concepts on music was so strange he could barely speak.

What do you feel when you solo? Benny asked. What are you thinking about? Zoot answered with a nice long Uhhhhh, before getting to it. I guess I just to try feel happy and think about being happy. All the way around the band—Ed O'Shaughnessy said it all gets down to feeling good, you have to know your instrument, but there has to be a short passage from your heart to your mind. Hank Jones just said he’s trying to create a rhythm, since he’s in the rhythm section, and he’s just trying to help out. Can you imagine the educational beating these guys would take today—if they were freshmen in a major college music program? If they hadn’t already done everything a musician could do, including changing the whole idea of how the world thinks and feels about music?

Now class, it seems that young Mr. Sims here is having trouble grasping the concept that he needs to understand what he’s playing—and Mr. Sims, if that attitude doesn’t change soon I’m afraid you won’t last very long in this program. It’s all well and good to feel happy, but this is a college, you are here for a degree in music, and if you insist that feeling good is so important I suggest that you hang out at the nearest bar and have a few drinks instead of going to class. Is that clear Mr. Sims? Mr. Goodman and Mr. Terry can join him if they think this is so funny.

Update on the Chet Baker Foundation:

Clues abound. First I contacted the Chet Baker Foundation in Toronto, went to the Contact Us page, filled out my email address and wrote the following:

My name is Bob Levin, and I write a jazzblog. I am presently covering the controversy involving Youtube, that several sites were shut down which contained footage of Chet Baker. The proprietors of these site claim that a complaint from the Chet Baker Foundation is the reason the sites were shut down. Presently there is no footage of Chet Baker on Youtube. I would like someone to contact, with whom I can correspond regarding this issue, to hopefully resolve it for the benefit of jazz itself.

Thank you for your time.

Then I clicked on Send Message, and this is what happened:

Not Found
The requested URL /chetbaker/mailer.php was not found on this server.
Apache/2.2.0 (Fedora) Server at Port 80


1 comment:

delta_mike said...

I've been playing and listening to this music for all my adult life. It might be my impression, but I'm inclined to believe that jazz today is as good as dead.

Why? you'd ask. Well, because it has become academia for one, a fact well established on my now defunct youtube pages. And, as we well know, any art form that becomes academia is a museum exhibit, there's just no room for development, it is finished, kaput.

I also have the impression that when these guys nailed down a tune they did a lot more than "being happy" and "creating a rhythm" (I'm not try to play smart here, it's the contrary rather, I'm bowing to the humility of these guys), it seems to me that they were involved in some kind of ritual (okay, the "being happy" ritual but a ritual still).

Let's see what noted psychologist Dr J. Denver has to say about this:

Ritual: A system of religious or magical ceremonies or procedures frequently with special forms of words or a special (and secret) vocabulary, and usually associated with important occasions or actions.

We're not obviously talking about some obscure religious sect here. What we're talking about is an intellectual - emotional process that takes place every time the music feels right. And the personality, ethos if you will of the performers projects like here -- it's all about emotion.

Well, it might be my idea but I think that during those days emotion abounded at the expense of polished, overproduced performances, granted, but I'll take the first any time.

delta_mike aka itsartolie