Terror in G-Sharp
With the advent of Be-Bop, the saxophone came into its own as a true lead instrument. Brilliant players like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins exploded the boundaries of the instrument, reaching beyond what anyone else had even previously considered. Both Coltrane and Rollins seemed to have a spiritual connection with their instruments, an unseen force driving their relentless vision quests. There were moments when Coltrane seemed rapt in a state of ecstasy, speaking in tongues through his horn like a Pentecostal camp meeting preacher. Rollins seemed immersed in a personal journey towards perfection with the fervent intensity of a 12th-century monastic. And I pretty much emptied my "serious writer" guns on that paragraph.
Give me a moment to unfurrow my brow.
By the later part of the 1950's, there emerged a "Cool" school of jazz that placed less emphasis on the pyrotechnics of the masterful Bop players and concentrated more on clean, melodic lines as if Frankie Trambauer and Lester Young had been suddenly rediscovered. Stan Getz, Wayne Shorter and Paul Desmond embodied the breathy, uncomplicated style that didn't take a degree from Julliard just to whistle.
Beginning with Coltrane's increasingly atonal experiments and Ornette Coleman's no-rules exploration of so-called Free jazz, there emerged an almost underground movement of iconoclastic players who seemed to view the saxophone less as an instrument of jazz than a tool of anarchy. Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, besides sounding like a pair of hip, bad-assed detectives from a disco-era blaxploitation film, took the saxophone to places few have dared to venture since. In fact, most of those places have since been delisted from the Fodor's Travel Guide.
Cruising into the seventies in a tricked-out El Camino with Bitch's Brew cranking on the eight track, we find the state of jazz saxophone in serious disrepair. With no dominant central figure, like Parker and Coltrane in past decades, the saxophone is almost lost in the overproduced gloss of the disco era. It is perhaps only the return of Dexter Gordon from a self-imposed exile in Europe that saved the saxophone from being relegated to the status of a background instrument in top-forty songs that make sophomore girls feel all tingly.
It is perhaps from Gordon's triumphant return in the seventies that set the stage for the hard bop revival of the eighties. Gordon would once again cap it off with an Academy Award-nominated appearance in the movie 'Round Midnight , in which Gordon played an American expatriate living in Paris. Though Gordon actually was, at one time, an American expatriate living in Paris, the film was not autobiographical. In typical Hollywood fashion, it was loosely based on the lives of Lester Young and Bud Powell. It was also proposed to make a film based on the life of Dexter Gordon, starring Bud Powell and Lester Young (one on top of the other's shoulders). Undaunted by the fact that Powell and Young were dead, the project went ahead and with a few slight modifications, became the eighties box-office hit Terminator 2.
Which is neither here nor there.
So here we come to the nineties. This is, of course, the era of Kenny G (the G stands for "Good Lord, please make him stop"). A technically competent musician whose lack of soul is so profound that he actually seems to suck the soul out of everything around him like some sort of soft pop black hole (live on pay-per-view this month: The Soft Pop Black Hole versus the Giant Lollipop of the Apocalypse! Call your cable operator to order), Kenny G's main crimes against humanity consist not so much of making insipid, corporately homogenized elevator music and passing it off as jazz. Instead, he has created the terrible moment when an otherwise well-intentioned soul tries to establish some common ground with a true jazz aficionado. "Oh, you like jazz? I love Kenny G." At which point, they must be killed. Thus, Kenny G is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people and must be brought to justice. I am prepared to offer AAJ's customary reward (your choice of $4 cash, or a largely uneaten pimento cheese sandwich) to whoever can deliver this dangerous villain to the proper authorities. Double that reward for delivering him to the improper authorities, which would be a lot more fun.
But I digress.