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Journey into Jazz

Back in the Saddle


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One can only applaud the tenacity of the youngsters who are taking up Jazz despite its lack of overwhelming popularity.
Hi there readers,

This is Max Babi, back in the saddle to continue our saga My Journey Into Jazz once again after a short hibernation.

I had a close brush with death, as a result of a minor surgery after which over-medication resulted in my being on oxygen for a day: a miraculous return actually. Had it not been for an alert physician at the hospital where I spent almost a week and then six weeks in bed at home, no one would have noticed that I could have passed away on cat feet with the medicines killing me softly.

It’s nice to be back, and our esteemed publisher has promised me my slot right back, so lets dig in!

I have a pile of jazz CD’s to be reviewed and some came from allaboutjazz.com too, though quite some time back.

Shelly Manne & His Men with Yesterdays tops my list of the CD’s which I have been listening to without getting to write a review. That I must do sooner or later, however a long absence from work has resulted in an avalanche of unfinished business. In a week I will be off to Taiwan, where I believe there are jazz events, for three weeks or so, hence lets discuss jazz on hand first....

Mi Yesterdays features only five well-known tunes with that Thelonious Monk number, "Straight No Chaser," being the most familiar to me, though "Cabu" and "Yesterdays," the title number, are equally catchy numbers. Manne has always been a competent arranger, band leader and of course a jazz drummer. I have noticed over the decades that he tends to take rather brief solos and to use a done-to-death cliché, he leads from the back which is a good thing for the drummer-cum-bandleader.

Joe Gordon on trumpet and Richie Kamuca on tenor sax provide competent accounts of themselves as worthy accompanists to a living legend like Shelly Manne. Russ Freeman on the piano outshines the others when he takes up the lead during any of the wonderful numbers that make up this short album. Monty Budwig on bass provides adequate backing, and does not get the spotlight centred on himself for too long.

Some Sunday mornings a few diehard fans of this kind of jazz, the straight-ahead or the mainstream variety gather around and listen to old masters and their masterpieces with minimum murmur of conversation. My good friends Sujit and Arvind met me today with David a young clarinetist –and we did enjoy a lot of John Coltrane and a surprising album featuring the legendary alto saxophonist Paul Desmond playing with Modern Jazz Quartet. Dave in his early twenties, personifies today’s inquisitive young jazz lover who tries to make sense out of this whole cosmic abundance of genres and sub-genres in Jazz. Sometimes I wonder if it makes sense to him to hear Coltrane play numbers in a single album like Kind Of Blue that made Miles a legend, which alarmingly sound different. One number seems Bop, the other mainstream or traditional Jazz and yet one more seems Free Jazz. The query he pops before the grey beards here is why isn’t the whole album composed of one single style, when we claim it was such a big hit in the 1960s. Why, indeed. Actually as a diehard jazz lover frequently I want to silence my own inner voice that asks such questions, and get along with the business of listening to, assimilating and getting a kick out of, pure Jazz. Style and genres be damned, lets enjoy the music man!

On the other hand there indeed is this piping thin voice within me that promises a full dose of explanation to every young listener whose attention span for jazz may vary from a couple of numbers to a lifetime of unflinching passion. One just cannot shy away from that sort of responsibility, when one has discovered so many fascinating facets of Jazz, all by oneself. One can only applaud the tenacity of the youngsters who are taking up Jazz despite its lack of overwhelming popularity.

Less than 2% of record sales in USA can account for Jazz CD’s including the Blues. Did anyone know that? And if you did, try to reconcile this piece of pure trivia with the huge visible overbearing presence of Jazz in the daily life of a typical American. There seems to be some sort of disparity isn’t it? The percentage of radio music may be lopsided with higher figures turning up, for a lot of Jazz gets broadcast today, even on the internet to my great surprise.

Taran Singh, an Indian youngster in Paris who runs his own two hours of daily Free Jazz show, wrote to me recently and it really warmed the cockles of my heart to use a quaint rarely heard expression here for want of anything more substantial. His focused manner, and total dedication to jazz [he dreams of having his own Jazz Radio station, a record label, his own Jazz festival] seem miraculously astonishing to me. I get the same feeling when I see young persons barely out of their teens, in India, where Jazz has always been confined to fractions of a percent, struggling with improvements in technique, practice practice, and more practice –and no one seems to need an escape into any other form of music.

Teena, who used to redirect allaboutjazz.com’s CDs to me from Chicago recently relocated to India. She has picked up this habit of listening to Jazz on the internet radio and she perceptively observes that it makes a great sort of background music when she is concentrating on her multimedia design stuff. Good habit, I must say.

A lot of good friends, notably Scott Dolan, who is turning into a jazz writer himself, and many others who wrote to me, asking me why the column had disappeared [one whimsical young member of the audience for a jazz workshop I did last year, wanted to know if I was alive...well the doubt is legit I must say] let me give my cordial thanks. Most of all to those who sent me CD’s and are patiently awaiting my reviews. Mathias from Dresden sent me two C. Niemen CD’s which was mighty sweet of him. Finally, thanks to Michael Ricci who welcomed me back with a great warmth. I intend to stay on, folks and share my journey into jazz with you all.


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