Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Jazz 101: Homework: Go Hear Some Jazz

Our teacher at MacPhail, Kelly Rossum, spent most of December in New York City on a grant from the American Composers Forum. Our assignment in his absence was to attend a live jazz performance and think about what we were hearing.

As Brer Rabbit told Brer Fox: "Hang me! Roast me! Skin me! Eat me! Just don't throw me into that briar patch."

No surprise, we all had heard a lot of music in the interim: Bill Carrothers, the Bad Plus, Tierney Sutton (in Los Angeles), Chris Bates, Chris Thomson, Mike Lewis, Irv Williams, Red Planet, Rhonda Laurie, Mary Louise Knutson, Happy Apple, the Enormous Quartet. Etc. We had a lively discussion about what we liked and didn't, the threads and traditions we heard in the music.

We asked Kelly about his stay in New York. It was good, he enjoyed it, he played a lot, he heard a lot of music (including Craig Taborn solo at the Stone)—and he was glad to come home to one of the healthiest, most interesting and active jazz and arts communities in the US. "The Twin Cities music environment is unique," he said. "Large enough to have great musicians, small enough that everybody has to play with everybody, crossing from traditional to avant garde."

Now that Jazz 101 is almost over (one class left), we've been after Kelly to teach Jazz 201, whatever that may be; he's considering it for the fall. Meanwhile, he'll be teaching a Jazz Book Club starting in February. Here's the description from the MacPhail course catalog:

Winter and Spring in Minnesota are the perfect seasons to sit by a warm fire and read about jazz. This course will dive into four books covering different aspects of our American art form. While the book discussions will occur once a month, the other class sessions will explore the music and issues surrounding each primary story. This year’s course will cover: Stomping the Blues, by Albert Murray; Kind of Blue – The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, by Ashley Kahn; Beneath the Underdog, by Charles Mingus; and Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn, by David Hajdu.

Another 12 weeks with Kelly, plus we learned last night that Matty B's, a nearby bar, has half-off-everything happy hour all night every Monday, the night of our class.

Thanks to Lisa Meyer, MacPhail board member and member of our class, for her tour of the new MacPhail Center for Music. One word: Awesome.

About the new MacPhail.

Rendering of the new MacPhail by architects James Dayton Design.


  1. I have and have read some of the books: "Kind of Blue – The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece" by Ashley Kahn is great. as is "Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn". But I never finished Mingus' "Beneath the Underdog", I just couldn't get past the bragging about his sexual prowess.

  2. I guess that's why Kelly stressed the class would be for adults only? He said he didn't want kids reading Mingus. I've read the other "Kind of Blue" book, the one by Eric Nisenson. This is the only "book group" I've ever wanted to join.


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