A shortlist of vacation (and after) reading and inspiration.....
Every so often Substack helpfully provides a novel widget or “feature” designed to help writers to engage with readers and the community at large. Not going to pretend that I understand any/all of these — even after perusing some of the tutorials, I’m ready to have someone explain the uses of “ReStack” and “Notes” and all the rest. Am I optimizing the Substack experience? Hardly. Should I be? TBD. Press one to join the queue for a guru. Estimated wait time: 17 hours.
Still, I keep encountering great ideas and great writing here, and below is an attempt to shout out some teensy bit of it. There’s lots more, coming through various media pipelines every day….and let’s be honest: that may be the whole media ecology problem right now. It’s a fulltime job to keep current with so so many deep thinkers!
Check out Nate Chinen’s terrific two-part interview with pianist and thoughtful commentator (dare we tag him as a “critic”?) Ethan Iverson; I’ve linked to Part 1 but Part 2 catches Iverson in candid reflection about maintaining perspective, the dynamic of playing improvised music and writing about it.
Speaking of Iverson, there was a bit of a jazz critic kerfuffle over this piece he wrote for the New York Times about George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue — in which he laments that it has “clogged the arteries of American music.”
Among the voices pushing back at Iverson’s missive was Michelle Mercer, whose Call & Response Substack offers measured, carefully considered insights on jazz. The closing section of this piece succinctly captures the challenges around creating — and, equally important — discussing large-scale jazz “symphonic” work.
Do you need another essay about the death of music criticism? Of course you do! This one, from The Honest Broker (does that mean we can trust him?), has smart insights in bullet point form.
So so much out there…..Tony Scherman is another veteran journalist (he was an editor at Musician for much of its run) who is sharing consistently interesting interviews conducted over the years with rock stars and eccentrics. This piece focuses on talks Scherman did with Ry Cooder and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons about Robert Johnson, and though the audio is behind the paying-customer velvet rope, the Gibbons graf on Johnson’s hands is enough to make any music lover reach for the credit card….
Here’s a piece I wish I wrote: Robert C. Gilbert’s exploration of the five (!) records guitarist Grant Green and pianist Sonny Clark made between October 1961 and March 1962. There’s great description and context here, made richer by the fact that much of the music these two documented was not released at the time — it sat in the Blue Note vaults for decades.
Still More from the complaint department: Lest you think it’s jazz people doing all the grousing, here’s a bit of snarl from veteran producer and engineer Max Norman, who co-produced Ozzy Osbourne’s debut Blizzard of Ozz and has credits on albums by Megadeth, Lizzy Borden, Loudness and others.
In an interview on the Talk Louder podcast, Norman advanced the argument, which I’ve heard shared by others, that it’s pointless to invest time and money in what he calls “world-class records” because “there's 10,000 records a day coming out or whatever.” Norman continues: "So nobody's making world-class records because nobody gives a shit."
OK! More to say on this later!
So, palette cleanser: Been reading poetry with more regularity than I have in years. Mostly Rumi (Mayram Mafi’s lively translations in Rumi’s Little Book of Wisdom are tremendous) but also various poets from random encounters on places like YouTube. I noticed it a few times on vacation. Plopped down in between the content YT thinks I should see — channels devoted to obscure records (thank you again, Terminal Passage!) and basketball highlights, etc. — was a video with some ambient music unscrolling line after line of a Walt Whitman poem. I checked it out, which meant that the algorithm hamsters concluded I must want more poetry, which led to my first encounter with an inspiring 1875 poem called “Invictus,” by the British poet William Ernest Henley. Didn’t hurt that it was read by Morgan Freeman….
And finally, since Fat Tuesday and Carnival are coming up next week, here’s a listening suggestion: The crisply recorded Live On the Queen Mary by the legendary New Orleans pianist and singer Professor Longhair. It documents a March 1975 performance organized by Paul and Linda McCartney to celebrate the release of the Wings LP Venus and Mars — that’s Linda’s cover image, below. Though it doesn’t contain all the sparkling diamonds in the Fess repertoire, it’s got some truth-telling blues, a spry “Tipitina” and a hair-raising version of “Stagger Lee.”
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