A Young Person's Guide to the Jazz Bastard Podcast

Patrick Burnette By

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Jazz is something with strong improvisational content. Other music has improvisation, but when I hear improvisation I think of jazz. Even Flanders and Swann (the British musician comedians)—if the pianist in that duo started improvising on a Mozart piece and the singer started making up nonsense lyrics to go with that improvisation, that would be like jazz.

Pat: We hope to write this up fairly soon—for me, what makes jazz interesting is its liminality—it's "between-ness." The tension between African rhythm and European harmony, between high art and popular art. You've got popular, cyclical forms—pop songs have forms that repeat themselves—and over that you put improvisation that's more like through-composed music you find in art music. You play a twelve-bar blues, but you don't repeat the melody over and over—you improvise a line that doesn't repeat itself and has a certain complexity. Just the tension between popular and art. You've got people taking popular songs— something a reasonably broad audience might recognize— and transforming them (jazzing them) into art.

"Jazz" used to be more a verb. You jazzed up popular music, the blues, even light classical pieces. I still think much of the most successful jazz plays on the tension between popular music and "art" music. I wish more musicians would encounter the popular music of today and "jazz" it rather than playing the old warhorses.

Mike: Yep—and tension makes the podcast work. You're wrong—I'm right—that creates tension.

Pat: Exactly. Except I'm right.

CS: How do you define "bastard"?

Mike: (laughing) Anything "Pat." Oh, is this a serious question?

Pat: Sure, why not? For me it's just being honest.

Mike: Yeah, it's being willing to take on a sacred cow and say what you really think. There might be an artist you like and admire but a given album by him or her —not so much. Like, Charles Lloyd has been around forever, and I admire him, but every new release by Charles is treated like a five-star masterpiece. But not every album by him meets that standard.

Just because you're a "name" doesn't mean everything you do is good. I mean, even some of our podcasts aren't gems. Most of them are... (laughs)

Pat: (laughs) I think because jazz is so abstract, some reviewers fall back on narratives—this is album by a "lion in winter," or a "child prodigy," or it's about America's National Parks, and they avoid asking whether the album works in musical terms. They get caught up in the story around the album rather than the content of the album itself. You need to use your ears—react to it on a visceral level.

CS: Who do you think of as the audience for this podcast?

Mike: For years, I've made the url for the podcast part of my email signature. I'm a university professor, so hundreds of students a semester see that in my sig, and I know many students have listened to the podcast at least once because they've clicked on the link, on purpose or accidentally.

Pat: Remember, kids, in general it's a bad idea to click on email links.

Mike: True—but mine are ok.

Students can be curious about their teachers, so some listen for that reason. Some graduates from years ago tell me that they still listen and get music recommendations from the podcast. In general, I think of our podcast as intended for people fairly new to the music, though I think jazz fans can find material for them, too.

If we can turn new listeners on to the music, that's a good thing. I mentioned before on a podcast, a listener who uses Rate Your Music looked me up and told me that our podcast on Ornette Coleman helped her understand and appreciate his music. That's God's work!

Pat: I guess I assumed at the beginning that it would appeal more to lovers of jazz, though I knew that somebody who was a superfan of, say, Sarah Vaughan or Ornette Coleman—someone who spent their life devoted to that artist, would claw their eyes out listening to us generalize, since we rarely know everything about a given artist.

But I think you've taught me that at some of our audience appreciates some background and some basic definitions. I tend to assume everyone knows all these weird references I'm making but I should know better. My co-workers tell me I say a lot of weird stuff and they just nod, like it makes sense. I live in my own little world. So, you help me focus better on the listener's needs.

CS: How often do you hear from listeners? Are their comments productive?

Pat: I'd have to say "not as often as we'd like," and "yes."

Mike: You got me that podcast email way back, but I admit I don't check it.

Pat: I can get you the credentials for that, you know.

In general, the suggestions have been great, and we've based a couple podcasts around them. I did get an angry comment from a musician whose album we reviewed once, but he was mature about it.

Mike: He was mad at me.

Pat: We worked it out. We try not to be nasty or counterproductive on the show, but we are honest. Nobody, that I'm aware of, has the money or the time to listen to every new record that comes out. So, we want to tell listeners what they might like—or not— because it's overwhelming.

CS: Name three favorite podcast episodes.

Pat: Besides the Weather Report show?

Mike: Yeah, (sarcastically) that was so great. So, our interview with Charles McPherson was a really good one (episode 132). For a musician of that stature to share his time with us, and tell such great stories, was fantastic. All of our interview shows went well, but that one stood out.

Any episode where we unreservedly like an album—really get enthusiastic about it—is a good one. So the one where we discussed Branford Marsalis's collaboration with Kurt Elling, Upward Spiral (episode 118), was good. You are rare in your unalloyed praise of something, and you really liked that album.

Pat: Yes, it was a pleasant surprise. We recorded that podcast in person, I remember.

Mike: Right. You said that Elling turned the Sting song "Practical Arrangement" on that album into a standard, and I think you may be right. It's exciting when there might be a new standard to add to the list.

And another podcast was on a collaboration between Tom Harrell and Mark Turner—I forget the name.

Pat: (after a quick research break) The album was Trip—it was on episode 72.

Mike: We both were surprised that that team-up worked so well, though on the face of it, the chemistry shouldn't have been so good.

It's always nice when we both like something, but especially when it's a surprise that an album turned out so well.

Pat: I'm going to plump for a really early episode since I like flute so much: "Baby-Making Music"—episode 6. We got to talk about one of my favorites on that one: James Newton. And we talked about how sexy Lew Tabackin is.

Mike: What is wrong with you? You just like that episode because we made so many stupid jokes.

Pat: I also like episode 18 from the early days, where we compared versions of Complete Communion, Love Supreme, and Interstellar Space. And I guess episode 114, "Sonnymoon for Four," where we discussed for jazz musicians named "Sonny" who weren't Sonny Rollins.

CS: Last question. Name three favorite jazz artists.

Mike: Ok, this is going to be really obvious. Brad Mehldau, of course.

Pat: Of course.

Mike: Lately, for me, more and more, Kurt Elling has become a thing. And because he got me started in the music, Ornette Coleman.

Pat: I'm going to be super predictable. Duke Ellington, Miles Davis...

Mike: Now, hold on. You've got to be honest. There needs to be a least one white alto saxophonist and one flutist in there.

Pat: Okay, I guess Art Pepper and James Newton.

Mike: Sure you don't want Sam Most on flute?

Pat: I'm super sure. So, who's my third favorite? Can I keep Miles Davis?

Mike: OK. You can keep Miles.

Pat: Alrighty then.
The Jazz Bastard podcast appears every other Wednesday on many of your favorite podcast providers, and can be streamed directly from All About Jazz. View the archive.


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