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The View from the Bandstand

Nick Catalano By

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Much discussion has occupied the role of the jazz writer who is also a musician. Many have argued that writers who play have unique opportunities to contribute to the development of the music while others (usually those who don't play) steadfastly maintain that musicianship is definitely not a prerequisite for credentials as a jazz journalist. I am a writer/player and some recent activity on the bandstand provided manna for this essay.

Although I don't perform regularly, there have been some recent gigs which have served as preparation for a recording project that my guys and I are working on. The musicians I perform with include Les Kurtz—a brilliant New York-bred keyboardist who began working years ago with Dakota Staton and has, as they say, performed with "everybody. On our last gig we employed a scintillating bassist from Sweden—Per-Ola Gadd who had just finished performing at the JVC festival with Houston Person, Eric Alexander, Harry Allen et. al.

The bandstand patter included the usual "Did you hear the one about... jokes reflecting the latest political and media gossip going around town. Guys traded stories about recent gigs they'd had and the various new "monster players who were arriving on the scene. I mentioned to Per-Ola that I was rewriting some standard tunes in order to achieve some voicings that I needed to create a certain sound on my tenor sax. I noted that Stan Getz insisted on recording his staggering hit "The Girl from Ipanema in Db because that key worked best for his style; Meanwhile the rest of the musicians on the planet have been performing the tune in F—the "standard key. From there the discussion led to the low range sub-tones of the immortal Ben Webster (one of my deepest influences) to the broad whole notes of Dexter Gordon and on to the lyricism of Harold Land. The conversation was interrupted—"We've got to hit said Les, and we were off into "On Green Dolphin Street. In between tunes we exchanged stories about the genius of Bronislaw Kaper (the composer of "Green Dolphin ) and I found that, because of his European heritage, Per-Ola had perspectives that had eluded American writers for generations.

Throughout the gig, tidbits of information, hilarious tales, and important chunks of original musical thinking were floating over the bandstand. Les recounted some gigs involving certain sidemen who had been lauded by critics but turned out to be quite ordinary. From there the discussion led to the musicians' chagrin at the increase, in recent years, of huge advertising campaigns by record companies, media outlets and hired publicists in the service of musicians whose talent had been vastly overrated. Mind you, these conversations were taking place in the middle of aforementioned gig which turned out to be, I might add, quite successful. Our improvisational designs, experimental phrasings, and spontaneous creations evidently went over well as the audience requested several encores.

The current generation of jazz musicians contains players who have impressive academic credentials, extensive knowledge of political, social, anthropological and multicultural topics and are great personalities to boot. Their views of jazz music, musicians and other elements of the scene are extremely prescient, always instructive and often hysterically funny. I find it a privilege to be in their midst.


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