Music Box

When I was a kid my Dad had the LP set The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, with music chosen by Martin Williams. The records had a huge impact on me — to be 10 years old hearing Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, not to mention Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, and on and on. In many respects that’s why I do what I do.

Looking back I realize that the most remarkable thing about me hearing that music in 1973, ’74, ’75, is that so much of it was, like me, only ten years old. There it was, collected in a pretty mainstream box set representing jazz for the lay person wanting an overview. There was no apology or rationalization for including Enter Evening or Free Jazz. It belonged.

So what I wonder is: Why can’t there be a box like that now? Yes, it’s much harder to define what belongs. But still. It’s not that hard. The music is there.

Now I see the Smithsionian is planning an update for sometime this year. I have my fingers crossed that it will include the Paul Motian Trio, Steve Coleman, Mark Turner, Tim Berne, Fred Frith, Jeff Parker, Evan Parker, Don Byron, Derek Bailey, World Sax (to name a few), NOT TO MENTION all the great musicians one will expect without hesitation to find there.

Here’s an interesting related comment and question from one-time Banff Workshop participant David Ryshpan:


I’m elated to see you bringing this era of jazz history up to a fairly significant amount of attention (at least in the jazz blogosphere, anyway). I have to admit that the first time I’d heard anyone talk about Braxton or Threadgill in any sort of meaningful way was at Banff last year, in the faculty lectures. The AACM tends to get a little more universal respect. But I’m somewhat disheartened at the fact that I got through a Bachelor’s of Jazz Performance without anyone really addressing Braxton, Threadgill, Julius Hemphill, or Muhal Richard Abrams. In journalistic/critical circles, the only even-handed approach to that music I’ve come across is Gary Giddins’ Rhythm-A-Ning, which is a compilation of his essays in the Village Voice from 1978-84. It was a revelatory read to me, as it covers a period of jazz history that’s either ignored or maligned, as you’ve mentioned, and one of which I had next to no knowledge. Indeed, I was surprised to see Giddins espousing the work of Air, Muhal, Braxton and Cecil Taylor, given his recent alignment with the Ken Burns series.

Where should one start with Threadgill and Hemphill? It seems that the inner workings of their music are somewhat couched in mystery – in fact, I don’t know of many interviews with either of them. Neither Google nor Wikipedia turn up much in the way of information.