Why Jazz Is On Life Support (and has been since the late 60’s)

I just finished rewatching the Ken Burns “Jazz” series and I am left with a couple of observations.

First it misses a lot of great talented people (largely white artists who, believe it or not, have been major contributors to the art and the popularity jazz gained during the 30’s and 40’s), but then it would have been twice as long (I guess they could have had a little fewer “color shots” and comments from non-musicians–Stanley Crouch and the other critics).  And to be fair, black artists did tend to be the innovators and provided a great deal of the creative drive in jazz.

I don’t begrudge the series it’s shortcomings except, as other critics have said, it has now set a singular narrative into stone and it will be decades before anyone will be able to produce another piece of the sort that could correct some of the errors.

Still, it’s a great introduction to jazz in all its forms–less so for post 60 jazz.  Lot’s of great music, lots of toe-tapping for this old geezer, and lots of information.  The program is great as a spark to interest people in jazz and if like me, you like to surf as you watch stuff like that (okay, I admit it was tough to tear myself away from the show when someone was playing a great riff), you can find a lot of supplementary information on each of the figures in the film.

Much of the criticism the series received from musicians was directed at the film’s sparse attention to modern, techno-, funk, free, and other forms of jazz that have sprung up since the 60’s.

Critics cite that failure as a source of major irritation, but the truth is, for the public jazz died about then.  Now I know I will get some flack for saying that, but for music to be popular (a desire with most, but not all of the musicians mentioned–after all, man does not live by music alone) it must be accessible to the buying public.

It is clear that jazz musicians wish that they could reclaim the popularity and commercial successes of yesteryear, but they want to do so without compromising their “artistic integrity.”  Which makes them very similar to 5-year old children.  “I want what I want, when I want it . . . NOW!

Young cats always want to do something different from what those who went before them did, they want to set their own mark on the world. That is an understandable and nearly universal trait of youth . . . and no bad thing, BUT the problem arises when the artists elevates his “art” outside of the audiences ability to appreciate what he has done.

For commercial success, the music must be accessible to the public. Using esoteric musical concepts and techniques that only a musician can understand is not going to lead to success. What made swing jazz and the other popular forms of jazz popular and commercially successful was its compelling–foot-moving rhythms and strong beat. That combined with melodies that people can actually hum leads to success.

If jazz is going to return to popularity, they must find someway to reconcile the desires of youth to push the limit, yet keep the music accessible. Ornette Coleman, for all his alleged genius, was never-ever going to be popular or commercially viable–complete chaos rarely is.

The problem is that when musicians start talking in “flat fifths,” “changes,” “thirds and fifths,” they understand and appreciate what each is saying and what each is playing . . . but the public doesn’t and what they don’t “get,” they won’t buy.

I say all this as a huge jazz fan, raised by an accomplished swing jazz trombonist.  I like ragtime, stride, swing, big band, blues, cool, bop, and some hard bop, but when the sound screaming out of a sax sounds more like a race to see who can play the most notes in the shortest time, or to see who can play the most atonal, arhythmic, unstructured chaotic series of notes in one set, then count me out and long gone.

Save some of those notes, y’all, you might need some of them later.

Will jazz ever get out of the ICU?  It all depends on whether these young musicians can restrain their egos a bit and find a path to improvisation that opens their music up to popular audiences.  If they don’t do so, then all their belly-aching and whining won’t solve the problem.

Accessibility is the answer, guys (and gals).  Remember the old American Bandstand line, guys, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”   You want success, there’s the path.

Now I’m gonna sit back and listen to some Sonny Rollins.



Sennheiser HD 558 Review

Well, I’m sitting here in absolute bliss, listening to my newest acquisition, a pair of Sennheiser HD558 headphones.

First the technical info.  These are “around the ear” headphones, which means that they rest on your scalp rather than your ears.  Coming from having suffered endless torture from having my ears smashed by wearing a pair of “on the ear” headphones, I can tell you this is “the berries.”  At last pain-free listening.

The second important characteristic is that these are open back headphones that allow much of the ambient noise surrounding you to come through (depending on the volume of the music you are listening to, you may hear very little from outside).  If you goal is absolute isolation or you listen in a high noise area, then these are not the headphones for you, but if, like me, you like to be able to hear what is going on around you–within reason–then you would have to look far and wide to find a better pair of headphones.

From the Sennheiser webpage:

Technical Data:

  • Transducer principle–Dynamic, open
  • Ear coupling — Circumaural
  • Frequency response — 15 – 28000 Hz
  • THD — <0.2% (1 khz/100 dB SPL)
  • Sound pressure level — 112 db
  • Impedence — 50 ohms
  • Cable length — 3 m
  • Jack plug — 6.3 mm (3.5 mm adapter)
  • Weight — 260 g

There is plenty of bass here and tremendous clarity all up and down the range, however if you are looking for headphones appropriate for hip-hop, or headbanger music, then perhaps again, these aren’t the headphones for you.

I tend to be very eclectic in my choice of music from Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Dave Brubeck, to Ravel and Beethoven; from Jimi to Crosby, Stills & Nash to Ozzy or Steely Dan, about the only music that gets short shrift from me is Country and Western.  I have never felt much attraction for the whanging and whining that usually constitutes country music–with some notable exception like Hoyt Axton or Don Williams–or Willy and Waylon.

So right now, I’m listening to Sting’s “Brand New Day” SACD and the detail is amazing, the musicality as very much there.  Depth without booming in the bottom, detail with no harshness in the high range. The impacts of the drumsticks on cymbals and drum heads is distinct–everything is as it should be.

Switch to Bob Marley & The Wailers MFSL Catch a Fire, plenty of bass to capture this classic of Reggae.  Very musical bass, again great overall definition and musicality.  Cowboy Junkies–Black Eyed Man, Cream–Wheels of Fire (just F’n awesome).  Coltrane’s LIke Someone in Love from the 1957 classic Lush Life–simply amazing.

All across the board, these headphones fulfill their promise.

Now mind, I’m no audiophile or headphone expert, but I do know what I like and I love these headphones.  For a C-note and a half (~$150), you simply can’t go wrong with these phones (another caveat, these are not really suitable for portable players, strictly intended for relaxed listening at home.

And now that I have written this review, that is precisely what I intend to do.


Time to Tuck In

Well, the blog subtitle does mention “good food,” so I thought I would post a couple of recipes Now and then. 
I am no gourmet.  I believe in good food and plenty of it. This doesn’t mean food has to be boring though, so here is one of my favorites:

Chicken Curry (works with most meats)


  • 1 large onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 large apple (I have been know to throw in a chopped, peeled peach or nectarine, or even some mango–don’t go overboard, but feel free to vary the fruit content.  I believe I have even put a pear in it once)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 to 1 lb. of chicken, cubed (as an alternative, I often use canned white meat of chicken)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped  (as an alternative, I have lately gone to those little jars of minced garlic, a teaspoon or two should do just fine)
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil (the choice of type is yours)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 heaping tsp, hot curry powder (be liberal with it, just watch the heat–some of it can be pretty intense)
  • 1/4 cup ketchup (this is approximate but the minimum–taste it after the ketchup is well mixed in and all the other ingredients have been added, if it tastes salty rather than mildly sweet, add more ketchup–it should be slightly sweet)
  • Major Grey’s Chutney
  • roasted peanuts (shelled of course)–optional
  • grated cocoanut–also optional

If you are using fresh chicken—or other meat–pour a little oil into the skillet and brown the meat, then set that aside for later.  If you are lazy like me, just open the can.

Chop the onion, bell pepper, and apple into small pieces.

Pour the oil into the pan (remember, hot pan-cold oil) and saute the onion, garlic, and bell pepper until they are translucent (yes I know it is a lot of oil in the pan, just shut up and do it).

Once the veges are nice and sauteed, pour in the flour and curry powder–you are making a roux–let it brown for a little.  Stir it well and scrape what sticks off the bottom of the pan

Once you are satisfied with the color (or you are tired of scraping–5 minutes is more than enough) pour in the chicken broth and stir baby stir.  The mix will quickly thicken to a nice golden brown gravy.

Once the curry gravy is smooth and well mixed, add the ketchup and mix well.

Now you are almost there.  Add the chopped apple, the raisins and the chicken (you did save that, didn’t you?)

Allow to simmer for at least an hour–the longer the better–best is to prepare it early and let it sit and meld, but we all know that chow hounds like us aren’t clever, organized, or patient enough to do that.  Anyway, give it plenty of time to fully meld the flavors.


Serve this mess over a bed of rice.

Garnish with a dollop or two of the Major Grey’s Chutney, or some other mango based chutney recipe.

Top with a sprinkle of peanuts and cocoanut.

Now folks, tuck in to a gustatory marvel,  Indian ambrosia.

If you don’t like this, you are dead . . . seriously folks I have never served this to anyone who didn’t instantly fall in love with it.

Trust me, you want to try this recipe.  Your taste buds will sing your praises for days.

I’ll be back with another recipe or some inane commentary soon, meanwhile fix this dish and enjoy it while you listen to some great tunes.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Good friends, good food, good music and a solid spiritual life makes for a full, happy life.


The “new” analog music–ain’t life grand?

Back in the late 80’s, I jumped on the CD bandwagon big time.  The siren appeal of a medium for my beloved music that was seemingly immune (or nearly so) to the ravages of scratches and skips which had always plagued those beautiful 12 inch disks of vinyl and their work of art covers was just too strong to ignore.

Another seductive feature of CD’s was the seeming greater clarity of the music and the dead quiet of the silences.  It was easy to mistake that sharpness of treble sound due to the equalized and compressed music for quality.  As my experience has grown, I have discovered that what appeared to be so wonderful had turned my much beloved music into a harsh, wearing, fatiguing trial.  My periods of listening to music began to shrink as music fatigue grew.

Added to that, being what could be called an electronics/gadget/technology junkie, I also fell into the home theater world and spent the bulk of my money on obtaining the ultimate home theater system–at least as close as a mere mortal could manage without taking out a second mortgage.

THX–baby, I was there from the early days, I still own my Pioneer VSX-36TX THX Ultra receiver, and my 7 Definitive Technology speakers (2 X BP-30, 4 X BP-2, CLR-2000) plus 2 Pinnacle Digital 600 subwoofers).  No longer in my collection is my super-amp, the Earthquake CineNova 5 channel-300 watt/channel, 120 lb monster.

Being basically unsatisfied with what I was hearing–especially in the music to which I listened. I have gradually migrated back to 2-channels.  The beauty and simplicity of quality stereo music reproduction reproduced with top of the line vintage (60’s, 70’s, and 80’s) amplifiers and receivers and the warmth of an analog source like tape or the much maligned vinyl of my youth has finally led me back to enjoying my music.

I now live in a world of digital/analog bliss.  New technology has led to analog source being ripped to high resolution digital reproduction maintaining a near perfect reproduction of the warmth and beauty of the analog source with the convenience and portability of digital.  24-bit, 192 khz and 24-bit, 96 khz rips stored in Flac format have provided endless hours of musical bliss and have now led me on this never ending search for the “perfect” analog/digital system.

Enjoy the music!