Reflections at the Newport 50th
In this gradually evolving tradition of simultaneous improvisation, Carter and Miller's delicate and sensitive counterpoints and exchanges drove the audience wild! It provided a vivid example of how controlled logic can generate ecstatic emotion. We live in an age of noise, clatter, and with one voice striving to be louder than the other. That is not the true voice of jazz. The true voice of jazz is ultimately the "still small voice" that echoes somewhere in the hearts of men and women everywhere. While the Ron Carter trio could certainly "boogie," as the saying goes, it was really their ingenuity, their following every idea to a logical conclusion, and their quiet insistence on artful form that "grabbed" everyone present.Jamie Cullum
Still reeling from the thrilling performance by the Ron Carter Trio, I wandered back to the main stage and caught the latter half of a performance by an apparently upcoming star named Jamie Cullum, a youngish guy with a British accent, belting out tunes frankly more like a crooner than a bona fide jazz singer. I'm sure Mr. Cullum has a coterie of fans, and to them I offer apologies for my critical attitude, but I found him to be too much of a showman to allow me to focus on his music. I did listen sufficiently to his singing and piano playing to sense that he has the potential to be a formidable talent. While his somewhat raspy voice left something to be desired, his keyboard execution was excellent, and he knows how to phrase a song and bring out its meaning. But when he destroyed Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" by running around the stage and twice leaping on the piano keys on the word "kick," I really had about enough.
Jazz, like all the performing arts, has always been linked to the wider world of entertainment. There is intimate entertainment, as when one goes to a small club to hear a Coltrane, a Parker, a Billie Holiday, a Blossom Dearie. Jazz, however, needs its wider, popular audience, and it needs to reach that audience through the senses and the pleasure principle. Lightness and humor are part of even the most dedicated jazz performances. On the other hand, the "money and fame principle" (Sigmund Freud, where are you now?) states that the more stimulating and more rabble rousing the audience impact, the more money and notoriety there is to be acquired. A successful film, a million-selling recording, a packed house at a concert, and the musician is on his way to riches, perhaps leaving behind his fellows who continue to struggle to earn a living at local bistros.
Now, I have absolutely no objection to a jazz musician getting rich in a capitalist society. Indeed, some, like Frank Sinatra (whom I do consider- when at his best- to have been a great jazz vocalist), Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, and others continued to produce good music even at the height of their popularity. But others jumped ship. Jamie Cullum, unfortunately, gave ample evidence that he is jumping off the jazz boat to become a popular entertainer who is putting fame and fortune entirely above the music. Guys like him belong at the Tweeter Center, not at Newport. Unless, Jamie, you garner a bit of humility and stop hamming it up so much (hint, hint).Conclusions: Wither Jazz?
For me, the day at Newport 2004, the celebration of 50 years of jazz there, became a kind of meditation on the past, present, progress, and future of this unique form of music which is yet part of the panoply and tradition of music, around the world and over the eons. There are some who say that jazz has reached its apex, that it can't go any further, even that current jazz represents pale imitations and elaborations of the past masters. Newport this year gave reason both to support and dispute that view.
While I didn't hear anything really new or original, nothing like the excitement of hearing Miles or Trane or Monk for the first time, I did hear a world of beautiful, sometimes swinging playing, some distinct emerging styles, a plethora of ideas and concepts, extraordinarily gifted musicians, and powerful creative impulses of both older and young players. Regrettably, I was unable to hear such true innovators as Ornette Coleman and Uri Caine, who appeared on the Sunday program, but in general, on account of its purpose of celebrating a tradition, many of the most creatively innovative musicians did not appear on this program. I think of guys like Jim Ridl and Dave Liebman, for example, who are profoundly stretching the limits of expression. I'm sure that you, the reader, will think of others in the vanguard of jazz music.
In a certain respect, jazz is going through a period of darkness, as it has before in its young lifetime. But I am naïve enough to believe that it is in the darkness that the light shines the brightest. Somewhere in the near or distant future, a few guys and gals will be woodshedding and jamming, and something genuinely new will pop into their consciousness that will create a new direction. Jazz is constantly expanding its scope, incorporating new forms and dimensions, finding new ideas. What it needs is redintegration into a coherent whole. This will come. In the meantime, the music makers, in the tradition of the gospel singers, can follow the urgings of Psalm 98 of the Old Testament:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord
with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With the trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King,
Attend the 50th Newport Jazz Festival? Post your comments here .
Visit the Newport Jazz Festival website .