Meet Carl L. Hager
Which five recent releases would you recommend to readers who share your musical taste?
For those who share my taste in jazz/rock: Bitches Brew Live (Columbia Legacy, 2011), recorded at Newport a month before they went into the studio, a totally phenomenal set; Return to Forever: The Mothership Returns (Eagle Rock, 2012), a great recording, easily the best capture ever of those three guys, partly because of the sweet production values and partly due to the addition of Ponty and Gambalethe stylistic variables they brought to the table stretched the three principals way beyond the old meters and grooves, and helped to get those tunes to swing; and Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love (MoonJune, 2012). Leonardo Pavkovic is doing so much with his label to make a place for Jazz/Rock 2.0, to get people past the snobbery of "Is it jazz, or is it Jazz, or is it Jazz" arguments. Fourteen from Lorraine Feather and Stephanie Trick, a.k.a. Nouveau Stride, which will blow away the fans of Lorraine's "lyricizing" of trad jazz tunes and make them think they've died and gone to heaven... Stephanie Trick's stride piano technique and touch have advanced so far that in a blindfold test, you'd guess she was male and black, with hands the size of McCoy Tyner's. Big Bands Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra (JazzHaus, 2012), the live recording I mentioned earlier, a beautiful remastering of Duke's band like you've never heard it before. Really, because unless you were there in Germanyor even if you wereyou never could have heard it with this fidelity. Toots Thielemans: Yesterday and Today (Out of Blue/NAXOS, 2012), a 2-CD compilation of rare and unreleased material. He's the world's reigning champion chromatic harmonica player, and a master guitarist; in his 91 years on Earth, Toots has played with Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Quincy Jones... Billy Joel once flew to Paris just to talk him into playing on a single track on one of his albums. People sometimes loosely say a musician has "played with everybody," but Toots may have actually played...with...everybody.
What inspired you to write about jazz?
Reading jazz criticism, good and bad both. The good ones like Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, Len Lyons, Will Friedwald, made me want to hear the music they reviewed, and also convinced me I could write about jazz, too. All the bad ones, the ones who inspired Thelonious Monk to say "Writing about jazz is like dancing about architecture," would always piss me off and inspire me to write something useful. It was fated.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?
Sleep, when I can arrange it... There's not a lot of free time lately, but I'm usually doing what I enjoy anyway, writing and editing, so that's okay. When I can, I like to do get out of town and do some traveling and hiking, and I carry a camera and tripod along. I do some drawing and painting. California's dramatic terrain makes short jaunts possible to the Mojave Desert, Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The hard part is just getting into a car and leaving the city.
What role does jazz music play in your life?
I'm usually listening to jazz wherever I am, certainly more jazz than any other musical genre. Classical European music is what I heard in school, and I still listen to it. I grew up with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Rolling Stones, so I'll always listen to rock and roll... the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, of course, who defy genre. My mother's big band record collection that included George Gershwin and Artie Shaw really flipped my switch, so when I eventually heard Return to Forever's 1974 recording Where Have I Known You Before (Polydor, 1974), that was it. It pretty much became "all jazz, all the time" after I backtracked to Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). That revolutionary recording may well be the most important in the last fifty years, not just because it emancipated jazz, but because in the process of embracing the current culture, jazz was likely brought back from the brink of extinction by becoming relevant and inviting againpeople were finally getting up on their feet and dancing to the music, or at least dancing in their heads.