Tim Roberts

Jazzin'
By Tim Roberts

ITEM: At a Jazz in Central Park performance two summers ago, I was chatting with two of our city's prominent jazz performers while one of its most noted bands was performing on stage. I asked if they were enjoying the show and one of them, looking at the band on stage, sighed and said, "Well, we're trying to decide whether or not they're really playing jazz."

"They are doing some improvising," the other said, his tone lined with condescension. "I guess that qualifies."

ITEM: A dozen years ago, Bird, the semi-biographical film about Charlie Parker directed by avowed jazz fanatic Clint Eastwood and starring Forrest Whitaker in the title role, played to nearly non-existent audiences despite heaps of critical praise (so it always goes). I was discussing the film with someone who has a keenly encyclopedic knowledge of the genre who ticked off a lengthy list of factual errors and omissions in the film. When I asked whether or not he enjoyed Bird, he said, "Well. . ." and repeated the litany of things that were wrong with it.

ITEM: Four years ago, shortly after I began filling the space you read here each month, I finally got to meet, face-to-face, someone whose work with jazz in Louisville I admired. After I introduced myself and said that I wrote this column, this person said: "What are your qualifications?"

MY POINT: Just based on my own experience, and from the responses I've been tallying after the run of Ken Burns' epic PBS documentary Jazz (which I have described in my past two columns, and which I promise I will never bring up again), there are hardcore jazz fans who apparently do not appreciate folks they perceive as outsiders to step one toe into their territory. Especially if the outsiders seem to be novice listeners or non-performers or non-historians. Or, if those perceived outsiders are performers, don't play material that fits into the category of stuff that's been played and heard over and over again.

I think that hardcore jazz fans are the ones who give the genre the reputation of being inaccessible, too intellectual, and just way too hip for anybody's good. How dare some baby-boomer raised on rock and rhythm-and-blues develop and broadcast a multi-part series exploring the music and the people who made it. The nerve of that band to bring its style into a showcase where be-bop and standards rule. The audacity of that scriptwriter to put words into Bird's mouth that he never would have said. And the sheer unmitigated gall of that doofus who put down his horn after high school to dare to lecture us on our territorialism and overprotectiveness of a music we love.

How dare we? Very well, thank you.

Jazz is not for its fans, nor for its players, to own. You buy its records, see its concerts, and its performers are grateful. But it doesn't belong to you just because you love it and know almost everything about it. You can't grow or flourish or even connect with others in a ghetto you create.

Several years ago when I was reading a lot of science-fiction, I read an article in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine where author Harlan Ellison angrily denounced the sins (and just plain antisocial behaviors) of the that genre's eclectic social community of fandom. He related the story of writer and perennial film novelizer Alan Dean Foster who, at one science-fiction convention, was approached by a surly fan who didn't like a plot twist the author had done in one of his books. The fan then threw the contents of a mason jar he was holding into Foster's face.

It was urine.

It's an extreme example of the direction fandom can take, and I wouldn't expect a jazz fan to do the same. Yet when I hear stuff like I described in the items at the beginning of this column, and the general gripes at what Ken Burns did in Jazz, I wonder if anyone who truly loves this music isn't secretly stockpiling mason jars.

This month's Louisville Jazz Society First Monday concert series brings For-U to the Comedy Caravan for a show on Monday, April 2. For-U's sound combines doo-wop, straight-ahead, and contemporary jazz. Doors open at 6:30, show begins at 7:30. Tickets are available at the door. General admission is $12, LJS members get in for $10.

"Jazzin'" columnist Tim Roberts invites you to send your jazz-related dispatches to tim@troberts.win.net, or to his attention to the editorial offices of Louisville Music News. And do not approach him with a mason jar. Ever.