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Jazzing: New York City's Unseen Scene

David A. Orthmann By

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Jazzing: New York City's Unseen Scene
Thomas H. Greenland
245 pages
ISBN: #978025081606
University of Illinois Press

This week I plan on attending three live jazz performances. I'm fortunate to reside in an area that affords the opportunity to check out a variety of jazz musicians who I otherwise might only hear on recordings, or not at all. Aesthetically-related reasons for my selections vary. On Wednesday night I'm patronizing an ongoing jazz series at a restaurant that feels as comfortable as an old shoe. The band consists of a quartet of players I've frequently caught in various configurations over the past few years. I have a good idea of what I'm going to hear, but nonetheless look forward to what this particular group will offer in terms of chemistry, individual performances and—perhaps—some surprises. The hook for Thursday night is a tenor saxophonist, enthusiastically recommended by a friend whose opinions I respect. He'll lead a quartet outdoors in the backyard of an art center. I've been eagerly anticipating Friday night for quite some time. Earlier this year I experienced a deeply satisfying, almost spiritual connection to a recording by a particularly adventuresome artist; now's my chance to find out what he'll sound like in real time and outside the confines of the studio. This is the only one of the three gigs in which the venue refers to itself as a jazz club.

I must admit that my selections contain some extramusical considerations. All three events are within an hour's drive and outside of major urban centers where I'm likely to be subject to cumbersome, anxiety provoking traffic delays. In each case, parking is free and a short walk to the venue. All of the performances are reasonably priced—one, largely supported by donations from local businesses, asks only for a meager donation. With these factors in mind I'm happy to say that nights of unpredictable commutes, squandering substantial sums to park in a garage that's relatively close to the venue (as opposed to riding around the area for thirty minutes or so, in search of a parking space), and, in the end, spending the better part of $100 for a set of music and a couple of soft drinks (an amount which discourages going out with any frequency), are pretty much over for good. Finding suitable musical stimulation while considering issues of stress management, expense and relative comfort are all essential parts of my current state as a consumer of live jazz.

The planning of the week's live jazz activity fortuitously coincided with preparation to review Thomas H. Greenland's Jazzing: New York City's Unseen Scene. Jazzing examines jazz from the bottom up; that is, instead of focusing on the music per se, Greenland offers the perspectives of and interactions between fans, jazz venue owners and presenters, as well as various kinds of jazz professionals, all of who connect with the musicians in a variety of club and concert scenes. Despite their ostensibly disparate roles and agendas, these diverse individuals form loosely knit societies of sorts that are essential in making live jazz and improvised music happen in NYC. Coming in at fewer than one hundred and seventy-five pages of text, Jazzing is a veritable whirlwind of congruent, conflicting and overlapping points of view. From Greenland's wide-angle vantage point (he's a NYC-based musician, critic, scholar, photographer, educator and fan), the listening to, presenting, writing about, photographing, creating visual art during performances, and promoting of live jazz is loaded with an array of complex social, economic and personal factors. Most importantly, these off stage activities are not separated or removed from the music. Greenland posits "collaborative interactions of musical performers with the other 'nonperforming' participants, arguing that jazz-making (Emphasis added) is best understood as a communitywide endeavor" (p. 5).


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