Dan Bilawsky examines jazz from four angles.
Is money the root of all evil? I, of course, can't answer that, but anybody with access to a newspaper, television and/or the internet knows that it's at the heart of many debates these days. As I sit here writing this column on a cloudy day in early April, I can't help but think that the weather is a current reflection of the financial climate in the United States. Tax day looms heavy on the horizon, as millions of Americans rush to complete their forms, eager to receive desperately needed refunds or angry to part with their hard earned dollars ...read more
Explorers, of the musical and non-musical variety, always seem to be fascinated by the bountiful bodies of water that cover the earth. Long before jazz ever existed, treasure hunters, adventurers, and those in search of the unknown would risk their lives and spend incredible amounts of time and energy traversing the globe, on a quest to discover what might (or might not) exist on the other side of those blue waters. Predators of the pirate variety found easy prey along these uncharted waters, but others, whether sticking close to home or venturing out a bit further, simply ...read more
While reading reviews about the 2010 Winter Jazzfest in New York City, I experienced a sensory overload, despite the fact that I hadn't even been in attendance. The list of musicians that performed at the event seemed too good to be true, as did many of the reviews, so I vowed to check it out for myself when the event rolled around again in January of 2011. When the festival dates were announced, I bought my tickets early, mapped out my club-hopping plan for each night, coordinated all of the logistics surrounding the weekend, and eagerly waited ...read more
The idea for this edition of Old, New, Borrowed and Blue isn't new. The seeds were actually sown with an experience I had a few years back. About four years ago, I was writing for a different jazz publication and I received a package of recordings in the mail. This parcel contained the usual mixture of new discs from well-known jazz labels, recordings that were self-produced by independent artists and reissues of popular (and lesser-known) albums. The album art on one particular reissue--Folk Songs For Far Out Folks (Reboot Stereophonic/Warner Brothers, 2007)--caught my eye first and I immediately gave it ...read more
What, exactly, is soul?" This word is used so often in discussions and writings about music, but I wonder if anybody can actually define its very essence and place in the musical universe? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists no less than eight different definitions for soul and, while some of them have a decent grasp on what we may hear, they all seem to be grasping at straws to some extent. One definition--"5 b: the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment"--has some potential, but it's so vague as to be rendered useless in the search for soul in song. When I ...read more
In jazz--as in all else in life--different words mean different things to different people. The way we associate words or sounds with meaning is unique to the individual, but certain words tend to draw similar thoughts from within the jazz community. Bird" is one such word. Whether you're an avant-garde aficionado, a moldy fig," a modernist or a dyed-in-the-wool bop connoisseur, the word bird" is likely to conjure up images or thoughts of the great Charlie Parker. Bird"--Parker's universally known nickname--is as appropriate a moniker as could be imagined for this soaring saxophone star, but birds in ...read more
Jazz and rock audiences, at their core, often expect two very different things when they attend a live performance. Jazz audiences thrive on the journey and in-the-moment magic that's created as a one-time-only occurrence, through a partially improvised art. Rock audiences, by and large, prefer to hear it like it sounds on the record. Jazz artists who play it safe at every performance don't usually earn respect from critics, fans and their peers, while rock artists who go out on a limb often end up alienating a segment of their fan base. Bob Dylan is one such artist.read more
Summer is a time of joy for many people. Children are treated to a well-deserved vacation, allowing them to recharge for the following school year, and barbecues are held in backyards, en masse, throughout every corner of America and beyond. Those fond of the surf and sand flock to the beach, and it's all-too-common to see people jogging, biking or just partaking in a simple stroll through a park. While summer brings all of these perks and many more, it also brings intense heat. Sunny" is a word that probably weighs heavily on people's minds during the ...read more
I begin this edition of Old, New, Borrowed and Blue with a confession. I have an unabashed love for the music of Duke Ellington. From his brilliantly scored compositions, to the singular instrumental personalities in his band(s)--with Ellington, Jimmy Hamilton and Johnny Hodges ranking at the top of my list--Ellington seems to transcend the big band" tag and his music really deserves the designation of fine art." Writers have been treating this music as such for over seventy five years, with R.D. Darrell's 1932 Black Beauty" piece considered to be the first serious critical look at Ellington's work, and no ...read more
With spring taking hold and summer on the way, it's hard to avoid encounters with the color green. The drab gray and white of winter is now no more and a vibrant green color scheme has taken over. A drive along the Long Island Expressway--which leads to Manhattan and some of the greatest jazz clubs in the world--might be a burdensome, traffic-filled journey to some, but it also provides colorful explosions across the whole spectrum of this color's family. While green is often explained as the exacting visual representation of blue-meets-yellow, it has also come to stand for so much ...read more
"What's in a name?" This question, written by Shakespeare and spoken from the mouth of his Juliet, really touches on an important line of thought. Juliet continued and said, That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." While she was dealing with the Montague/Capulet issue, she sought to downplay the importance of names and highlight the fact that they don't change the inherent beauty of a person.
While nobody can really argue the merits of this statement and, connecting this to music, it's easy to agree that what musicians play is ...read more
Paying tribute to the dearly departed is simply a part of life. We honor them with words and we pay our respects through our actions as we help to keep their memory alive. In music, we pay tribute to the dead through the medium that we know best...sound. Whether we use requiem," threnody," ode," elegy," or any other number of terms, we are always simply saying tribute through music." Music seems to be an excellent way to say thank you," or we miss you," or any one of a million thoughts that come to mind. Jazz, specifically, has a rich ...read more
Superstitions tend to hold sway over many, otherwise, rational people. Plenty of us avoid walking under ladders, knock on wood and partake in countless other rituals that, while lacking in sound reasoning, certainly make us feel better and bring us comfort in our daily lives. Brides-to-be even fall into this category and believe that it will bring them luck to wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue on their wedding day.While each of these items represents different things to the bride, they also have strong connection to jazz. The Old represents the past--traditions ...read more
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