Monday, October 10, 2005

side of things, without argument

All day (courtesy of).


Great jazz takes place by chance. The musician is always listening for this chance. She knows what it means to listen, because she has learned. But she forgets herself. Her listening forgets itself, and greatness takes place by chance, always just to the side of things. Saying this is nothing. It's a swindle.

Great jazz is listening always just to the side of itself. If flowers can be broken, then melodies are also great to the degree that they are broken. This is a fact. Not wilted or decaying, but like ice cubes broken. Not merely melting. Great jazz is broken, and somewhere maybe inside itself it is also frozen. But great jazz is also a great pursuit.

(Dylan; the moment you try to do more than always begin, you fail.) Who is the musician? She is marked by her nonrelation to herself. To the other in herself, she is bound. A nonrelation that can only ever come from intense relation, from thorough self-knowledge even and from dedicated study, but knowledge and self-study that has nothing to do with this intensity, when it comes. It is a lightness. She cannot control when it comes, and it never comes the same way twice. But when it comes, "she" or "it" is in that moment marked. Marked by something like the peculiar "abeyance" mentioned by Artaud.

Great jazz cannot be too perfect. It cannot be too technical, or too classical. It must ceaselessly allow for the possibility of its own failure, and not put on delicate airs. But neither can it presume to be wholly present to itself, and this is yes, a paradox. It cannot fail to acknowledge some speaking room for restless silence, though silence is never pure. Albeit that silence never quite succeeds in speaking or manifesting itself in the assurance of one voice. The pretense to purity is the death of silence.

Maybe there is a glimpse, sometimes, when listening to great jazz, of something like that peculiar 'resistance/desistance' (Lacoue-labarthe) and fort/da (Derrida) marking the shadow of an 'outside' or an 'open' (Blanchot, Agamben). Maybe this is nonesense, and just wishful riffing. Certainly anyone who brings up Blanchot in relation to jazz deserves the ridicule they will get.

But why this word, "peculiar," with all its enigmatic rhetorical weight? Does this word indict itself? Peculiar is not a word to use lightly. Is it because what makes jazz great seems to belong only to a realm of complete irrelevance? Maybe great jazz may be described as a kind of sober irrelevance, not unlike a sober boredom. I'm afraid you will have to decide for yourself.

A drummer makes for a unique leader. He is only so useful as his ability to recognize the call, call out in turn and further drive the song. It remains up to the others, to large degree, to have something to say. This is where the pianist especially comes in. After watching the blind Art Tatum (was it?) leave the stage, Kerouac pointed to the empty stool and said to Neal: "God's chair."

The greatness of the speaking that takes place is finally indifferent to itself. It is marked, perhaps, by a sort of ruthless, but also subject-less, melancholy (one entirely other, if this is possible, than its merely sentimental or self-indulgent cousin, but nevertheless born of a futile quest, a quest already ended). Such melancholy (for lack of a better word) or patience, such uncomfortable dwelling in (non)relation is what distinguishes the truly great performances of Roy Haynes, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum, Miles Davis, Danilo Perez, Coltrane and yes, even the elder Ellis Marsalis) and of course Chet Baker, from the likes of such smug, self-appointed genre historians as Wynton Marsalis (whose judgement Ken Burns, big presumptuous nerd, so unfortunately worships and canonizes). The former belongs to the category of greatness, or poetry, madness, literariness, art (or whatever one wishes to call it); the latter to mere proficiency.

When the storm knocked the power out on Roy Haynes the other night, he kept playing anyway (after asking for some cognac). There followed a brief comical interlude, the audience suddendly more visible than the stage, during which the quartet passed around a flask with the aid of flashlights, and people shouted the occasional request.

"Well, we were going to do a ballad anyway...(shit, here I am still speaking into the mike...)"

"Well I've been performing for 60 years, and I've never done a gig this way. And I'm not even high."

We were wedged in the balcony of an old theatre, itself packed to the brim with a crowd of several hundred. The stage itself was dark, but the sound travelled just fine. The saxophonist became more of a person, suddenly forced to address the whole space instead of just the microphone. They played blind. Still, at one point, it was either going to be an extraordinary concert or it wasn't, and unfortunately it wasn't (even though they took my request for "Green Chimneys" – not that I was the only one). And not that Roy Haynes, at age 80 and going strong, is ever less than a humble wonder to behold, in any case. The man is a living museum of competing rhythms and broken melodies. I'm glad he's still doing his thing, (and couldn't possibly be more jealous of those playing with him). It would be remiss if I didn't recommend:

The latter especially is..indispensable.

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