I was told some years ago by a senior record label that unless you could sum up what your recording was in one short sentence, it wouldn’t sell. The question, “Who ARE you?!” had to be answered in the briefest of ways.
The search for new sub-genre, quick-handle terms has been a constant throughout my career. Often the incoming artist gets pinned to a more famous name – “The new Bill Evans, the new Michael Brecker, the new Miles” – so the audience has a quick handle on their style.
As audiences, we all need references. I’ve been toying with the following idea:
The whole development of our artistic culture has rested on promoting something new until it is something familiar. The whole culture of developing artists is to turn something familiar into something new.
It seems to stand up. I don’t know of an artist who didn’t start with familiar base material, no matter what they have gone on to do. Conversely, the promotion of the same artist will often rely on referencing back to these same familiar origins, increasingly in the language of a quick hash tag.
The word “New” will be used in any event. This isn’t cynicism, this is just how we roll.
One artist I’ve wanted to talk about is drummer Paul Motian, whose trio team with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell rocked my world throughout the 1980’s. Here was a band which most definitely made strong references to familiar music of the past whilst being breathtakingly original. I’d write more but Liam Noble has done it so beautifully in his blog already – please check out ‘Brother Face’:
Motian was hard to “package” quickly. I was grateful for that.
With its ‘built in rebellion button,’ the creative jazz scene does not lend itself to the creation of a unified voice which speaks up for its importance as a genre today.
Sometimes I get the feeling that it is rather doughnut shaped, with a hole in the middle where that central, nurturing, reliable hub should be.
Within education, funding and jazz media we already have some great people nurturing the bigger picture. Our music so often speaks of us all being branches of the same tree; maybe we should dare tend to its trunk a little more.
I’ve been totally loving two musicians’ work this week, which is what started me on this whole train of thought. Both I have followed from the beginning of their careers.
Kit Downes and his release Obsidian: I LOVE it. Church organ improv, texturally fascinating, daring and beautiful. The sense of place it brings to bear is at times profound. The reworking of the Berio folk song arrangement was a joy to hear. Thank you Kit.
Many would also have heard Kit play in an urban / club setting too. This is just one side of the artist (Check out Enemy). We can do the stand up venues AND the sit down ones, despite these quick-handle boxes we are put in. Such labels float on the top of deep rivers.
In a similar way, Shabaka is now trail-blazing an amazingly high-energy dance club based music, totally plugged in to a broader philosophy and message – but I heard him (sitting down) in church too. Check out this link, with Shabaka on bass clarinet joined by Leaf Cutter John, and Cara Stacey. Brilliant.
Who wants to try and sum up their work as an artist in one short sentence?
We can, however, do our best to define each project we do, as best we can for a public swamped with content.
It is no secret that support for our music and its venues is precious and meagre, certainly here in the UK (just look at the funding opera gets by comparison, for example).
I’d encourage even the most idealist, separatist, anarchic young creatives not to distance themselves from our broader community. Beyond our need to press our rebellion buttons and go it alone, is a deeper unity that will actually determine our survival.