Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Trying to Stay Miles Ahead

"Jamart #1" artist: tgw
Miles Ago
I'm sittin' here thinkin'. Or I could be doing the alternate verse, "I'm sittin' here drinkin'...." But I'm not drinkin'--but I am thinkin'--and while I'm thinkin' I'm listenin--and I'm listenin' to Miles Davis's absolutely intriguing melodious thunk album recorded back in 1986 entitled after the title track: Tutu. And who doesn't like Bishop Tutu?

Miles Davis and his contemporaries had to develop into geniuses since their mentors were definitely geniuses, i.e., Bird, Diz, Monk, Klook, Bags, Duke, Count, Hamp, Bud, Prez, Hawk, Fat Girl, Little Jazz, Tadd Dameron, etc.

Jazz isn't an easy music to get just right. Most of it isn't written down. Not that musicians who followed the jazz muse, Madame Zzaj, her voice coming to them from the jungle of natural imaginational instincts couldn't read or write music; in fact, most of them were very good readers. A lot of them learned to read music in high school bands. Several of them went on to college and studied music. But a lot of them, too, were self-taught. But Jazz is based squarely on improvisation. And what you improvise on can be melodies that have been written down, you know, like in sheet music form. But the improvisational music was written down in these musical geniuses's heads. All they needed was a key and a set of chord changes--a count of the time, a brief statement of the melody or head-arranged theme, and then it was: BOOM, and an improvisational evolution began, unique, never to be heard that way again.

Jazz derives directly from the master drummers of Mother Africa, those drummers who conducted the evolution of the music (the music of ceremony and ritual) by setting the underlying beat and who then orchestrated the other beats to come into the mix, with eventually up to maybe 20 drummers under the master drummer's control, each playing a different part of the multiphasical and polyrhymic beat--and on a certain series of beats then came in the voices--female or male--each with a different line to chant, monotonous in terms of melody, but enchanting in terms of their intensifying the meaning of the beat. All out of the master drummer's head, everything controlled through remembrance of past masters drummings, the memory capable of continuous improvising, playing for days and nights, the music (la musica), the first language in any culture. The drums talking the heartbeated reverence of natural man.

I got attracted to this American music that got tagged (by White promoters) "Jazz," when I was 5 years old. This at a time down the line of the transition where the electricity-less 19th Century had rolled over into the middle of the Age of Electricity, the 20th Century.

Some of the earliest musicians to adopt electrified instruments into their music were the blues and jazz musicians of the 1930s, when one year Count Basie's trombonist and arranger, Eddie Durham, rigged up an acoustic guitar with an electric pick-up device--amplified sound played eventually through an amplified-sound speaker (electrified-amplified speakers were being used already in terms of microphones) or what just became known as an amp. And thus happened the electric guitar and thus American music whose fountainhead was those ancient drumbeats and accompanying dances was translated into the electronic age--and from the electric guitar came the electric bass, the electric piano, the electric organ, followed by the electric everything--like today, I have keyboards with enough Artificial-Intelligence digitalized sounds on them that I could write a whole symphonic piece using just one keyboard and a multitrack recording set up--electricity gave us recorded music!

And in Master Miles's Tutu I hear a totally electrified jazz. Miles the genius at looking ahead--Miles Ahead was one of his themes, one of his album titles--looking Miles ahead and seeing the potential of staging an all amped orchestra--with even his golden trumpet electrified--and, too, by 1986, when Tutu was issued, even the drums were electrified--and street-effect drums were in the AI sounds, too, and you can hear Miles's use of the earliest of hip-hop electronic uses, with those street-drum effects, the scratches, and slidings, and clack-clackings, and chock-chockings, and oscillatin' whirlaways--and in Tutu all these acoustic, digitalized, electrified, artificial-intelligence sounds come together in what Miles was attempting in the earlier 1970 album In a Silent Way.

And Miles became a member of the Jazz pantheon due to his Miles ahead attitude and stance. And Miles was a band leader (a master drummer) and under his genius tutelage came forth the genius of Miles ahead musicians like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams and John McLaughlin and Bill Evans.

But today, where has that genius gone?
I am the epitome of obsolescence, an Achilles heel of mine I've admitted to all my life. I am so obsolete, that I finally after decades have a digital recording studio under my bed on which I'm burning some of my best-ever-sounding CDs, an obsolescent way of recording now--and yet, I'm getting such a pure sound, which digital sound is, and my music is blossoming forth out of my Altec-Lansing speakers--makes me sound like a true genius myself...BUT my genius is on CDs. My musician friends chide me about it, too. "Wolfie, nobody these days buys CDs...I mean, Wolf Man, get hip, you can find any album ever recorded on the Internet and for chicken feed you can buy them, put them on your MP3 player, plug it into your stereo system, and voila, Wolfie, your sounds are in the ethereal."

I just composed an electronic thing I call "Ancient Jazz Dance" (Eddie Harris wrote "Freedom Jazz Dance," which Master Miles did on one of his albums). Totally improvised. I did get a melodic line stuck in my head and I did improvise from that 6-note melodic riff--I used it as the focal point throughout the work--divided into two parts--one part based on a celeste-like sound underscored by a street drum kit AI preset on my Korg N5, a very obsolete keyboard--you can buy one now over at Rogue Music for $200. You can probably find one on eBay for $75. Still I love it; I've broken it in to my liking--the way I play--I play a keyboard as though it were first a percussion instrument, which it is, a member of the drum family. A melding of drum strokes onto a sound box to form first a kalimba that then advances into the future to come out an electric keyboard.

I know being obsolete puts me Miles behind in terms of there are characters out there with million-dollar sound studios in their basements; there are brilliant people out there creating musics that leave my obsolete musics spinning in the middle of a lonesome highway--like an empty beer can flung from the driver's side window of a car going 100 mph spins like a well-gyro-ed top for a while in the middle of the highway, only to then finally wind down and flip itself off into the roadside ditch where it lies in honor as a dead soldier.

Ancient Jazz Dance...and I know several dancers who I'd like to see what they could do with it dance-wise. I'd imagine a slow side-to-side rhumba-like action. I'm wildly imaginative tonight.

Ironically, while Obama was campaigning in the Teabagger Heartland and promising a 300-billion-dollar job-creation program (it will fail, guarantee you), the U.S. Postal Service has suddenly popped up hollering bankruptcy! They need 5 billion bucks by September 15th or the Postmaster General says the Post Office will go out of business. This like meeting the payment on our debt is usually a mere ceremonial approval every year and the Post Office goes on again losing money because of slow service, high postal rates, very crazy ways of charging you for parcels and boxes, etc. The Postmaster G is also threatening to fire 200,000 workers! Think of that! Two hundred thousand postal workers to be laid off. Remember, pissed off postal workers go to gun shows and buy AKAs and then come back to their post offices and blow away staff and patrons, it doesn't matter when you lose your job that you thought was kind'a guaranteed since the Postal Workers Union have a no lay-off agreement in their contract. Look for the Teabaggers to start saying we don't need a postal service anymore. Give it away to Federal Express (did Sam Phillips come up with this?) and United Parcel Service. And watch these two private enterprises botch up our mail and package shipping then--higher and higher rates will be inevitable, as will the yearly bailouts when both these private enterprises start saying they're going under.

I'm so obsolete, I still ship packages through the post office and in the past 10 years they've given me excellent service--I've never had a delivery not delivered and I've never had a package stolen or dead on arrival. Yes, some of the postal workers are prissy assholes, though I can't imagine doing their jobs staying successfully charming given some of the customers they have to deal with. Everybody, however, on a long line at any post office begins inevitably vilifying the postal workers.

Oh well, looking Miles Ahead I don't see much to be looking forward to. In fact, the future through analytical eyes looks grey and deceptively opaque and smokey and fiery--like what's happening all across my old home state of Texas as I sit typing this late on this Tuesday September eve with a very cool and refreshing breeze blowing across me coming from the south, from out in New York Harbor. Didn't idiot Governor Rick Perry recently lead a 30,000-idiot-attended prayer meeting, praying for God to bless Texas and send a series of devastating hurricanes across the sinful East Coast--and whoopee, thanks a lot, God--Big Daddy in the Sky surely answered these idiots's idiotic prayers (blown off into nowhere) by blessing Holy Texas with Holy Smoking fires--fires around Austin yesterday destroying 500 homes in one fell swoop.

But hey-nonny-nonny, there's no such thing as our weather patterns changing or global warming--while up in Greenland, observers were surprised to see a huge chunk of that world's largest island crack, split, and then break off into the sea. Oh well, God won't let the world be destroyed; at least that's the assurance I get from my spiritual guide, the Reverend Dr. Jack Van Impe and his weird-lovely wife, Rexella. Jack swears to me that God will not allow the earth to be destroyed because it is on this earth that God's only son is gonna come down on that big white stallion through the parting clouds and establish his Holy Kingdom...HEY, I just surmised, maybe that big hole widening more and more in our ozone is actually the Heavenly Gang opening up the heavens so Jesus's big white horse can come galloping through it...surely such nonsense can't be believed...but then one of the largest growing populations in this country is a crowd of numbskulls joining fundamentalist megachurches.

for The Daily Growler

A Little Taste of American Art:
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Large Snow Scene on a Winter Evening, 1924, Fremont Ellis (1897 - 1985)

I had the privilege for several years living next door (in Los Cinco Pintores painter Will Shuster's studio) to Fremont Ellis (also a member of Los Cinco Pintores) on the Camino del Monte Sol in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though I never met the man, I saw him many a day--and one day, my wife and I stopped seeing him and soon found out Fremont had moved and his house was up for rent or sale and we went over and went through the house and what a wonderful castle of a house, a big adobe mansion--the living room was so grand--an atrium like room, with an open ceiling of pine beams and a timbered boards with a skylight at the very top, which was two high stories up. And there was a balcony coming off the second floor, and a stained glass window on the wall facing the Camino and a Mexican hand-hammered tin and set-in mirrored chandelier on a long chain hanging down gloriously from the skylight to add light at night in that big opened-to-the-high-sky room--with the Navajo fireplaces--a glorious room. The house was later purchased by a Santa Fe Opera administrater, a very nice man and his wife who my wife and I met and liked very much.


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