The Jazz.com Blog
December 13, 2007 · 0 comments
I am in New York for the ASCAP – Deems Taylor Award ceremonies, which concluded a short while ago at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and where my two most recent books Work Songs and Healing Songs were honored with a special recognition award. This annual event is a rare opportunity to celebrate that under-appreciated breed, the music writer. The best music writers often deliberately keep out of the limelight, since the purpose of their craft is to draw attention not to themselves but to the music they love.
But maybe this is changing. In fact, one of the books honored this year is John Genari’s Blowin Hot and Cool – a study of jazz critics(!). No, not saxophonists or fiddlers, washboard players or tympanists, but the scribblers who write the liner notes. Who knows where this will lead? But if the autographs of jazz writers ever become worth a plugged nickel on eBay, the ASCAP event is the place to get them. Two of the finest in the field were among my fellow honorees: Dan Morgenstern and Francis Davis.
But, once again, the scribblers were upstaged by the players. After an award was given to the makers of a documentary on guitarist Les Paul, the ninety-two year old Mister Paul showed up in person to share stories and bask in the glow. His funny and endearing tale of his first attempt to break into the New York music scene by pretending he was a friend of Paul Whiteman’s eclipsed everything else on the program. So score one for the musicians. But there is always next year.
The live music at the event comprised only a small portion of the program, but whoever selected the performers did a grand job. And what diversity -- an amazing exhibition of Tuvan throat singing; a funny and swinging duet by Eric Reed and Wycliffe Gordon on "Your Feet's Too Big"; a recreation of a Nick Drake performance complete with strings; and a brief interlude of Ben Johnston's microtonal music. Drake and Johnston have both been on my CD player lately (although not at the same time!), and it was a delight to hear this music live in such a celebratory setting. Ben Johnston was also one of the award recipients, honored for a collection of his occasional writings, and the eighty-one composer shared some candid and moving remarks about his joy in finding a loyal and growing audience for music that once seemed destined only for posthumous recognition, if that.
Microtonal music, for those unaware of the term, explores the aural potential of the "notes between the notes," and discovers new musical worlds by challenging our most basic conceptions about scales and tuning. But the ultimate proof of this music's validity is not in its ideology, but its sound. And here Johnston, with his rich compositional palette, succeeds marvelously. Check out, for example, this recording.
Other jazz luminaries honored at the ASCAP event included Ted Panken, Jason Koransky and Lorraine Gordon. Pianist Matthew Shipp was one of the judges.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia