Monday, December 21, 2009

Jazz fracas

Tweet! Honk! Squeal! Blaaaaaat!

I saw saxophonist Larry Ochs when he came to town in October as part of the Northrop Music Season and played the Whole Music Club. He's not for everybody, but that's true for most improvised music. He's a fascinating, prolific, highly creative artist who's internationally known and respected. I enjoyed seeing him play, and I enjoyed speaking with him ahead of time. I like his latest CD, Stone Shift, very much. Read an interview with Ochs and outtakes if you're interested.

As reported in the Guardian (and other places since), Ochs was performing with his Sax & Drumming Core at Spain's Siguenza Jazz Festival on Monday night (Dec. 7) when a man in the audience called the police, complaining that Ochs' music was not jazz but "contemporary music." He said his doctor had warned him that it was "psychologically inadvisable" for him to listen to contemporary music.

The police showed up. The man demanded his money back. He didn't get it. The case will eventually go before a judge.

Earlier today (Monday Dec. 21) things got even sillier. Wynton Marsalis asked the Guardian to find the man (now dubbed "the jazz purist," like that's a good thing) so he could thank him and send him a package of his music. The man, Rafael Gisbert, has since stepped forward. Wynton's people are claiming this was never supposed to go public.

Is it possible to appreciate both the music of Wynton Marsalis and the music of Larry Ochs? Duh, yes. Must one choose sides? Why? Should definitions of what jazz is/isn't further divide an already small audience for the music, which is attractive in large part because of its variety and rebel nature?

Blogger Philip Booth writes: "Kenny G wields his chirpy soprano sax for bland instrumental pop, markets it as jazz, makes a mint, and nobody bats an eye.... Where are the Jazz Police when you really need them? They'd really come in handy when a certain local festival turns over all its headlining positions to boring 'smooth jazz' acts. I'd welcome the Jazz Police to help keep incessant talkers and noisemakers from rudely ruining my enjoyment of concerts. And maybe pianist Keith Jarrett would cease his godawful audible humming--which sometimes spoils otherwise brilliant solo and trio performances--if there were a chance that the Jazz Police would intervene."

I read this and laughed out loud. Which might be the answer to the whole brouhaha.

The photos at the top of this blog are there for fun. According to reports, Ochs has behaved like a gentleman, saying "I thought I had seen it all. I was obviously mistaken" and "Stay tuned."

Jane Donahue, friend of jazz

I last saw Jane Donahue at the Dakota sometime in November. I can't remember the occasion; was it Evan Christopher's performance with Henry Butler? It could have been almost anyone or anything. Jane's tastes in jazz were broad and varied, and she was as likely to show up at the Dakota as the AQ or a JazzMN Big Band concert. We knew each other as jazz fans only, and would always stop and speak about the person or band we were seeing that night, or someone else we had seen recently and enjoyed. She was a kind and gentle soul, one of those people who come out to support live music over the years but don't call much attention to themselves and one day you realize--wow, that lady has known a lot of jazz in her time, and spent a lot of hours in booths and on chairs and bar stools, and paid a lot of covers.

When I saw her at the Dakota, she was wearing a sterling silver Kokopelli pin. Acting on impulse, given that we knew each other only casually, I said, "I have some Kokopelli pins in my jewelry box. I rarely wear pins. May I send them to you?" She was surprised but said yes. I sent them off a few days later and immediately received a warm and gracious thank-you note saying I had put a smile on her face. The point of this story is not my own wonderfulness; it's the randomness of life, the dearness of each moment, perhaps the importance of acting on impulses (the good ones). More and more, I'm discovering the power of the gift that has no strings.

Jane died on Friday, December 18, following a car accident on December 2. I heard she had a tough time--a broken neck and/or back, a heart attack while in the hospital, a respirator, dialysis. Family members who visited her reported that she seemed to be recovering and her sense of humor was intact. Her obituary in the StarTribune reads, in part:

The Twin Cities jazz scene is mourning the loss of one its most passionate participants. Not a singer, musician or composer.

A retired nurse, Jane Donahue.

A significant behind-the-scenes contributor to the genre for nearly three decades, Donahue died Friday from injuries suffered in a single-car traffic accident 16 days earlier in Lake Elmo. She was 77.

Donahue, of Roseville, helped promote jazz in the metro area in any way she could, whether it was recruiting members to the Twin Cities Jazz Society, editing the society's Jazz Notes monthly newsletter or compiling the jazz scene's most comprehensive metro area performance calendar.

"Jane was there at the start [of the Jazz Society] 30 years ago," said Lee Engele, a jazz singer and the current society president. "She was part of that group that really got it going. ... She was so exuberant about it, [but] calm and quiet and humble in her way."

Engele said that when she arranged to honor Donahue in February at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis for her tireless contributions, Donahue "just kept her head down, she didn't want to come up on the stage ... she didn't want to talk. It was so cute."

Arne Fogel, a society board member, jazz singer and regular host on KBEM (FM 88.5), the metro area's radio home for jazz, said of Donahue: "You might be excused if you saw her as a quiet suburban lady who didn't get enthused about much of anything, until you talked to her."

Photo from the Hudson Star-Observer (Jane was born and raised in Hudson).