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WHY AMERICA (AND JAZZ) IS SO GREAT
In light of celebrating the birth of our nation with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, I feel it’s important to realize how different (and better) America is from other countries, and because of that, why jazz is different and superior as well.
Almost every other country was created because of some warrior conquering another group of people and subjecting it to his own self made rules. The difference between the revolutions in America and France are cases in point. We didn’t need guillotines, or like in most South American and African countries, we don’t replace governments through coups d’etat. How radical a concept it was when President Washington willingly stepped down from his office and the newly elected John Adams replaced him by the will of the people without a single gun being fired.
There is what is called the “American Trinity.” It is the three basic concepts that identify what American stands for. You don’t even have to go to college, read a book or go online to find it. It’s right there on any US currency you have in your wallet. What you find are “E Pluribus Unum”, “Liberty” and “In God We Trust”.
“E Pluribus Unum” means “out of the many, one. (Can you believe ex-VP Al Gore got it backwards and famously said, “Out of one comes many?” Lord, help us). What that means is that no matter what our heritage, religion, race our social status, we are one people under the law to be treated equally. Yes, certain presidential candidates try to get around this, but the intent is still there.
“Liberty.” What a concept. This idea came from our Founding Fathers quoting from the Bible “For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Most countries have the leaders subjugating their citizens, but in America we have the freedoms like 1) speech 2) arms 3) assembly 4) petition 5) prevention from arbitrary searches and seizures, and 6) voting. If you take these for granted, take a trip to Cuba, Zimbabwe or China, and you’ll come back here and kiss the ground when you land at the airport.
“In God We Trust.” Some of you may not like to hear this, but our country was founded on a faith in the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible. The reason this fact is important because it is from the Bible that we have a reason to give dignity to man. While we did start with slavery, it was due to realizing that every person was born with a God given spirit that hundreds of thousands of people gave their lives to free their fellow humans. It’s also why we are still the most charitable nation on earth and are always the first to help any country in need .
Our second president, John Adams, stated “Democracy only with moral people, and the most moral religion is that of Christianity.” Alex de Tocqueville, upon visiting America from France, noted “Liberty cannot be established without morality, and morality without religion.” Don’t think the founding faith of a country makes a difference? Check out the freedoms in atheistic Vietnam, Hindu India or the scores of Islamic countries. Sure, they all have their good points, but none have the freedoms that we have, and it starts with faith.
When I first started getting interested in jazz, I actually got out the World Book Encyclopedia. This was before Wikipedia; you actually had to read a book to learn something. In the section under “jazz” it included three essentials to what actually constituted America’s Classical Music. They were: 1) Syncopation, or “swing” 2) Improvisation 3) a foundation of the blues. The chapter also included what Jelly Roll Morton called “The Latin Tinge” which could be the extra bonus point.
Other types of music have syncopation. Take Tchaikovsky’s Rite of Spring. But it isn’t jazz, simply because it doesn’t swing, have improvisation or any blues. It’s just modern classical music. Lots of folk music, like Greek, African and Middle Eastern, have improvisation, but again there is no blues involved. It’s just ethnic music with people wailing around. The blues are the blues; they need to be “jazzed up” in order to be called jazz. I LOVE BB King and Buddy Guy, but they aren’t jazzers; they are our grandfather, the blues.
This is why “fusion” is in the jazz realm. Weather Report and The Headhunters all plugged in, but they still included the 4 essentials of jazz. European artists that dominate ECM records like Tord Gustavsen or Tomasz Stanko may have a different feel from American artists, but the essential ingredients still permeate the spacious quietude of their music.
Today, we have “new” artists like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Marquis Hill and Julian Lage that mix mysticism, hip hop and rock into the jazz gumbo, but because the basic ingredients are still tasted, the meal still connects to the traditional appetite.
Let’s take time to celebrate not only the foundation of our country, but of our country’s music as well. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read the Constitution. Read the Federalist Papers. Listen to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. God bless America!
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Great article. Thanks. Il share with the boys!
Philippe Saisse (Al Di Meola Band)
This is Neal Weiss of Whaling City Sound.
Just to clarify the issue you raised: the current CD by Phil Woods, “Live at the Deer Head Inn,” on the Deer Head label, was recorded in Nov. 2014, a little after ours. I have also been told that the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild intends to issue Phil’s final performance at MCG, in early Sept. 2015, when he did a 60th anniversary tribute to Charlie Parker’s LP with strings, that included members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. At that performance, Phil surprised everyone, including family, by saying he was retiring. He passed away before the month was over.
I appreciate your understanding of why I placed Phil’s spoken tracks at the end. Others have questioned why the intros weren’t placed where they belong in the set.
The words were too good to leave out, but as you say, the continuing of the music came first. Also, anyone playing the CD repeatedly might not want to hear the stories that many times.
Neal Weiss, President
Whaling City Sound
I love your interview with Mathis ! I worked with him a long tome ago and my concept has always been to sing through the horn. Really great job you did ! Wow, George heartwarming your words paint pictures like a great solo thank you so , so much !!!
Thank you so very much for your review of Maiden’s Voyage-in parallel with this record I’ve been living and breathing the art world, and composing music inspired by paintings (specifically Wyeth paintings), so it was so apropos and welcome for you to compare my music to paintings. It touched me deeply.
Catherine Marie Charlton
I wanted to say thank you so much for the review of my CD – Come Out Swingin’.
Thank you for “getting” the music and thank you for having the openness of heart to not judge a book by it’s CD cover smile emoticon.
All the best,