A GOOD DEAL of the pleasure of almost anything comes from knowing something about the subject. Whether it be golf, opera, or ecology, there isn't much fun in groping around in the dark and jazz is certainly no exception. For a long while writing on the subject of jazz was pretty much in the polemic class on the one hand or the tract class on the other. The books were mostly written by people who devoted 300 pages to proving that one or the other periods in jazz was the real thing and all others merely a plastic image of the good stuff. It was usually possible within the first ten pages of reading to tell what particular jazz ax the author was about to grind for the next ten chapters or so and the worth of the book was judged only by the critical biases of the individual reader. If you thought the same way as the writer the book was a good one and if he spoke highly of modern sounds while you dug only archaic jazz the volume was a phonus balonus to you. The rest of the literature was math up of spotty incomplete "discographies" which followed much the same philosophy of ax grinding as that in compiling lists of "great" recordings. And so it went. At least so it went until a few months back when Grove Press published in America "Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence" by the French critic and musician Andre Hodeir I am firmly convinced that this volume will prove to be the turning point in jazz critical literature and henceforth anything done in the field will eventually and inevitably be compared with it. Hodeir is obviously a person of rare perception with the ability as well to communicate what he knows and feels. In addition he is exceptionally well qualified to write in the field of jazz since he is a prize winner at the Paris Conservatory in the areas of composition, harmony and history of music, as well as being a top jazz performer. In short, he knows what he is talking about and knows how to say it.
Hodeir is the current leader among French jazz critics whose work has been more or less the standard of the world for some time now. America produces the jam musicians but it is unquestionably Europe that has come up with the people who have set the critical standards of writing about jazz. To those of you who have never had the pleasure of reading the works of this school of criticism you can do no better than to begin with this fine volume by Hodeir. If your bookstore doesn't know of its existence, which wouldn't surprise me much, they can order it for you from Grove Press, 795 Broadway, New York 3, at $3.50 per copy which is less than many second rate LP's these days. This is a particularly good buy if you feel constantly called upon to explain your weakness for jazz to those who are wrapped up in "serious" music and can't understand why a man of your obvious intellectual, attainments should have such a regrettable blind spot. It will give you plenty of ammo for the next quiet discussion over the gin and tonic. And last but no less important, it is a most interesting book to just read and enjoy.
For the last few months a new and peculiar trend has developed in the jazz LP market that should be noted both with some wonder and perhaps a bit of alarm. It all goes back to the current methods of studio recording. When a jazz group records it usually runs over the tunes several times before a version is taped that satisfies everyone concerned. However, all the rejected versions and incidental doodling remains on tape and is rarely erased while the session is in progress. A log is kept with the cut number of both the rejected stuff and the ones okayed entered for the records of the recording studio for later reference when masters are dubbed. Most of the rejected stuff is then erased and nothing further happens. At least that is what is supposed to occur and it does in the majority of cases. However, lately some of this same waste material has been appearing on the market under the guise of new stuff by some pretty well known jazz people and they are understandably heated up over the situation. First of all, the material under question was usually rejected for good reasons when it was originally cut. These reasons generally boil down to the fact that it just didn't measure up to the standard of the artist at the time. No artist wants his "fluffed" work to be presented seriously to the public as examples of what he is doing or has done in the past.
If the contents of many a top novelist's office wastebasket were to be published without explanatory notes there would be an almost universal critical reappraisal of said novelists. The same holds true for any type of artist whether painter, musician, or playwright. Not only that but jazz is a constantly advancing art and what a roan did in a studio five or six years ago might not even approach his concepts of the present time. I know one pianist who was recently included in an album presenting the work of four top jazz performers who didn't even remember cutting the tape but only knew from the sound of the material that it was at least five years old and could have been older. Her work of today doesn't 'even resemble the stuff on the LP and probably never did since it is obvious upon hearing as to why it wasn't previously pressed.
This same artist is right now mulling over the possibility of a law suit but can't convince herself that she would be able to realize much out of it except a lot of trouble. True, many a person believes that all the work of a truly creative mind should be preserved but most artists don't agree with such ideas, knowing the amount of stuff they themselves have tossed out as worthless tries. Then there is the poor old knocked-about customer to consider. He finds himself once again in the familiar position of shelling out first-rate prices for second-rate stuff. This is material actually taken out of the studio waste basket but never labeled as such. It is as though a movie were to be made entirely from the clippings found on the cutting room floor. It might be amusing for the first ten minutes, but it couldn't be taken as a true representation of the film arts. A recent Charlie Parker release was so full of fluffs and muffed cues as to be almost ludicrous but the album notes treated the material as though it were priceless; which it might have been if treated as a joke. I'm sure that if Parker were still on the scene he would have been the first to protest. The nature of jazz is such that a musician must produce a lot of plain old fashioned dross for every small amount of gold created so it is wise to treat the dross as such even though it comes from the horn of a great performer. All is far from gold except at the cash register where it all looks alike. It also is described alike on album covers, but that is an entirely different meter. I don't know what to suggest to remedy this situation unless it be a crackdown by the union or a new clause in recording contracts calling for the immediate destruction of all rejected material.
Since this seems to be a time to clean up back odds and ends I feel that a few notes on the just past summer jazz "festival" season won't be too far afield. Try as I might, I just can't take these affairs seriously, neither for the jazz they produce nor for the conditions under which it is heard. Perhaps the connection between the two is closer than most people suspect. That is to say, much of the quality and impact of the music is closely dependent upon the place and time of hearing or playing. It is more than a little disconcerting to hear a blues singer wailing the lyrics to St. James infirmary Blues while the bright sunlight pours down upon the ice-cream-eating crowd mostly dressed in Bermuda shorts and play-suits. Most jazz today is intimate stuff and it is night music at that. Beer just seems to miss at breakfast in much the same way jazz misses at three in the afternoon. The less said about the panel discussions that always accompany these affairs the better. Jazz among all the arts seems to be the field that triggers more talky-talk among college-professor-experts than all the rest combined. It seems all that is required today to make a "panel" is a couple of degrees in anything other than music and a memory for musicians, especially early New Orleans. Oh yes, a crew haircut helps but is not mandatory. There is a constant air of apology about these clambakes as well as a more subtle strain of loud self declamation that rather reminds me of a Salvation Army Lass appearing on the $64,000 Question with "pocket billards" as her question category. She bends over backwards to make herself appear broad and tolerant while at the same time she isn't really sure her topic is all right with The Powers. All the while, the boys in the pool room are vaguely and obscenely amused at her performance in much the same manner as working musicians leer among themselves over the guff handed out by the college-prof-experts. Either you feel it or you don't.
To be perfectly honest, most musicians don't take these things seriously but merely look upon them as prestige items that will mean a few extra jobs when the pickings get lean around Christmas time. They are a lot of fun when viewed simply as a pleasant outing or as a sociological phenomenon since many interesting specimens of good old homo show up at these affairs. It is also interesting to note how tightly the promoter jazz-type musician has clamped onto these blowouts. There are a couple of these guys around who don't rate among actual working musicians but who seem to be the subject of endless glowing slick magazine pieces directed at the unknowing, and who always seems to be where the cash is heaviest and the knowledge the least. In fact, I'm going to do a paragraph or two in the near future about these characters since they are a study in themselves. They could be called professional jazz men as opposed to jazz performers. The product they sell is phony atmosphere rather than music and they come complete with prop bottle, open shirt collar, and "musician talk" and have carefully schooled themselves to be "amusing" at parties thrown by elderly wealthy patrons of le jazz hot who don't know Bruheck from Bolden but think it's modern and democratic to dig jazz. These guys bear about the same relationship to genuine jazz players as Nick Altrock, the baseball clown, bore to real ball players. They both had a small talent long ago but have made a career of clowning in the uniform and burlesquing their betters. The promoter and the locust will always be with us.