John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” (shown here with a 22 year old McCoy Tyner on piano) was one of the first pieces of Jazz that really turned me onto the genre. I think that listening to a standard or a popular song interpreted by a Jazz musician gives the listener a good idea of what the musicans are trying to express through their art form. For example, here one can see how Coltrane is trying to recreate the tune “My Favorite Things” through his own vision of music and the world in an entirely new way.
Although I originally went to the concert for Martirio, the show was entirely Kenny Drew Jr. This man has so much music in him. You often got the feeling that he could play on for an eternity and that at any moment his huge frame would overpower the piano. In Ken Burns’ Jazz, Wynton Marsalis often stresses when discussing a particular musician the relationship of that musican to all of the previous musicians who came before him. For example, he will say something like “when X played the saxophone, you could hear traces of all of the Jazz musicians how came before him.” Originally, I had thought this was a load of crap. But, while listening to the virtuoso performance of Kenny Drew Jr., I could hear the legacy of Beethoven and many of the great Jazz pianists that proceeded him. For example, Drew has the speed of Phineas Newborn Jr., the delicacy and precision of Bill Evans, and breadth of Herbie Hancock. There were times when he showcased his versatality in classical piano, and other times when he made references to stride piano and the blues. When he made such reference, you could feel the crowd wanting him to unleash it all.
I recalled that Miles Davis was affected by Sly and the Family Stone’s performace at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. Davis was shocked at how much a crowd could be moved and drawn by musicians who really didn’t know a thing about their instruments. William and I were discussing this and commenting on how an album like Kind of Blue had been recorded in 1959 and was still as vibrant today and how after the mid 60s there really weren’t that many true innovations in the artristry of the musicians. What we see in the above John Coltrane is a group of musicians dedicated to the perfection of their instruments and the development of music. So, what has happened to music?
Did Bebop simply scare the listening public away? It appears that at first, Elvis and then the Beatles seduced listeners away from Jazz. Musicians slowly began to lose their protagonism in general and became “mere” studio recorders. Records are no longer made as teams of musicians working together, but rather in the editing room after each musician has recorded in isolation. The result is that the Jazz experience of people coming together to create something unique and special out of their instruments has become a historical anecdote. The virtuoso is a commercial failure, as antiquated as the ryhming couplet, relegated to specialty shows as museum pieces. It is at least refreshing to see someone like Drew play an instrument that he has mastered.