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Duke Ellington

I certainly have a lot of great music to be thankful for this year.  Sunday night, the last night of his SF Jazz residency, Jason Moran played a solo set, and then introduced the duo of Randy Weston and Billy Harper.  A 2010 MacArthur fellow, the 37 year old Moran is at the forefront of modern music, and is perhaps the most gifted pianist of his generation.  Paying homage to Monk and Ellington and Weston, he has forged his own style at once modern (he plays along with pre-recorded samples on some songs - delta blues to Pigmeat Markham!) while demonstrating a remarkable depth of knowledge of the many branches of jazz piano, from bebop to stride. 

Randy Weston, an NEA 2001 Jazz Master, has combined a love of Monk and modern music with a profound love and curiosity of African culture.  Billy Harper has been my (and Baron Shul's) favorite tenor player since we first heard his Black Saint recording in 1975.  Weston and Harper together are powerful, spiritual, lyrical, and breathtaking. Like Ellington, they can go from penthouse blues to rent party inside of one phrase.


As my dear late friend Butch Morris remarked, "As long as I'm a black man playing a cornet, I'll be a jazz musician in other people's eyes.  That's good enough for me.  There's nothing wrong with being called a jazz musician".  Amen.  In the history of Afro-American improvised music, most of the greats have stressed that they don't play jazz, they play Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington, or Miles Davis music.  "Call it whatever you want". as Miles said pithily after his performance at The Isle of Wight.  Cecil Taylor was denied a birthday celebration at Jazz at Lincoln Center years ago for having the temerity to say he didn't play jazz, he played Cecil Taylor music.  Readers of my blogs know how impressed I am by Christian Scott.  Young, angry, brilliant, the New Orleans trumpeter is the real deal, and the true successor to Miles.  Incorporating everything he hears, and not afraid to go outside and beyond the "tradition", including rock, hip hop, and classical music.  In his latest recording, the self-titled Christian Atunde Adjuah, there is a lengthy and brilliant essay "Letter to a Future Artist".  His main point being that "you can descibe me as a jazz musician, just don't define me as one.  Definitions being limited, and truly creative music of the time will transcend definition.  I think Butch would second that sentiment, and I imagine he would like Christian's directions in music.  The recording is a must have, and a must read.

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