Greetings to all who have ventured here into the Lair of the Bulldog. In here you will find all sorts of sundry topics discussed. Please feel free to lounge about in this "Den of Inquiry". And since this is an interactive medium, please speak freely about whatever strikes your fancy, if you're of such mind.
Did you know that Bulldog Drummond was a fictitious hero created in a series of novels in England that were very popular after World War I? Written by a chap who called himself "Sapper, " these novels were cited by the author Ian Flemming as being the well-spring of inspiration for his superhero of our time, James Bond. And, many of these novels, as did many of their antecedents, were made into smashingly successful movies in the 1930's and 1940's. Bulldog Drummond was portrayed in these films by a number of actors including Ronald Coleman, Ray Milland, Jack Buchanan, and Ralph Richardson. Many of these movies were a staple of American late night television in the 1950's, as well as a popular radio show from the 1940's.
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
And in these famous and immortal words from Abraham Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address in 1865 I find great inspiration. Yes, the times are different; an American civil war is not ending, though there are two separate wars now being fought by Americans outside our national boundaries. No, the Emancipation Proclamation is now almost 150 years old and not the freshly minted document that it was when Lincoln spoke these words at the beginning of his second term as President. But there is now, as there was then, a sense of new beginnings and positive possibilities after an age of negative destruction. This is a time for fresh starts given our current playing field (and that covers a whole lot of territory). Accordingly, I wish our new President well as he begins in this new era of Obama to solve so many way overdue problems.
As many of you may know I've been very busy these last six years in addition to my performance schedule teaching full time as the Assistant Professor Jazz, Theory, and Practice at California State University, Monterey Bay in California. Well, over the summer (of 2008) I retired from the university, am home a whole lot more, and have no further need to continue my transcontinental commute. Yes, I really did fly right coast to left coast on average every ten days to have a long weekend at home; sometimes even coming home every weekend during the school term. After six years truly it can be said as in the old vaudeville joke,"Boy, are my arms tired or what?" At any rate, it is great to be back home in NYC. No place like it in the world.
And now I can put some time into my poor neglected Lair. First item, not too long ago there was a restaurant/club in the Village on 13th St. named ZINNO. When it opened its specialty, Italian cuisine, was to die for particularly because it tasted exactly as the food tasted in Italy. With fresh ingredients and great taste served in a classy jazz environment this place was fantastic for its first few years until the chef left to start his own place on Carmine St. and then later moved to Arizona. Well, folks, Franco is back in business and back on Carmine St. at his new place, Trattoria Toscana, 64 Carmine St., tel - 212-675-8736.
I am happy to report that the food is just as good as ever and, yes, he's still serving my fave, linguini frutti de mar. Welcome back, Franco; we've missed you! May everyone who reads this Lair entry go on down there immediately and enjoy yourself.
Secondly, back in the Mesozoic Era, 1984, when phonograph records were king, there was a recording released by Nilva Records titled "Susanita". I'm very proud to say that this record was my first as a leader. And now in this age of the CD I'm very happy to say that "Susanita" will be released in CD form for the first time on March 3rd by a smaller division of Justin Time Records called Just A Memory. The release contains several alternate tracks that are heretofore unreleased. Talk about some seriously great memories when I listen to my "first baby." Check out Manny Boyd (God bless him, we miss you Manny), John Hicks (God bless you and we miss you,too), , and a young Branford Marsalis. I was fortunate to have met and played with Branford in his brother Wynton's band and when we made this record I had just left the band. I have always dug Branford's playing right from jump street. The other unreleased track was the first tune ("Invitation") that we recorded from my second outing from 1985, also on Nilva titled "Maya's Dance". On that one you can hear Manny again, my old buddy, Tom Harrell, Alvin, and Niels Lan Doky who I had recently met and had started playing with. Yeah, that was fun, too. All this reminds me that I need to record another disc. Talk about challenges. Outta here.
It's been a while since I've added anything to the Bulldog's Lair, Lord knows I've got plenty to talk about. Now that we've passed the first anniversary of yet another crime against humanity I thought that what all this really about is summed up succinctly by a clear and potent voice from the past. Flags can be waved all one wants but these words are truly the real deal. These words are just as applicable to the present as they were to the scene 139 years ago. They prove that there is a substantial distance yet to go in our struggle to be alive and live a full and productive life. Our work is never done. Ray Drummond 13 Sept 2002
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, given November 19, 1863 on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USAFour score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.
Episode 4I've been trying to write this episode for the better part of a year and something happened several days ago that finally got me to crystallize my thoughts. In the mail came the Programme of the 34th Montreux Jazz Festival which this year ran from July 7th to the 22nd. Of the sixteen nights of programming in the two main venues, Auditorium Stravinski and Miles Davis Hall (a total of 32 possible staged events) there are only 7 acts that are jazz performances. No matter what kind of music he's doing at the moment I still consider Al Jarreau to be a jazz artist. Ditto that for Manhattan Transfer, Jarrett/ Peacock/ De Johnette, mais oui, monsieur, as well as George Benson and Diana Krall. OK, Brecker/ Metheny Quartet and Fleurine w/ Mehldau. Now there's a "Universal Groove Night" that looks a little suspicious to me even if Courtney Pine is slated to appear, but I counted it as a jazz performance, none the less. There is a night advertised as "Electro and Jazz Vibe" that looks so suspect that I couldn't bring myself to include it. The more I look at it maybe I should include the "Art World Jazz Night" but I'm not familiar with the work of Soriba Kouyate, Nguyen Le, or Jens Thomas, but, what the hay, I'll count them anyway. That gives a total of 8 jazz performances out of 32 possibilities. Folks, we have a real jazz festival here don't we . . . . . . NOT!!!!
Truth In Advertising
Unfortunately, this festival is only one of many festivals throughout the world that are guilty of this same charge of misappropriation. Nothing personal against this particular festival as most of the world's so-called jazz festivals are increasingly presenting artists like Eric Clapton, Sting, Elton John, or James Taylor. These artists are all good musicians but they are not exactly stellar examples of jazz artistry. I mean, c'mon folks, this jazz music is serious business. It has easily recognized components that identify it as the unique art form that it is, non? How about the time honored tradition of telling a story, musically with improvisation being the medium for individual expression of that musical story. So let's call this the Montreux Music Festival, or certainly because of its fame it could simply called the Montreux Festival, especially since only 25% of its programming is actually jazz. The rest of the music is either pop, r&b, gospel, world music, and any other musics searching for a new category at the moment. Jazz it ain't.
And since we're on the topic, what's jazz about "smooth jazz"? Why not call it "smooth music" or "smooth pop" or "cool smooth pop" or "cool smooth music"? Because, I suspect that those who invented that term don't have the creativity or the imagination to dream up a new category for themselves and so lacking such, latched onto an art form that they felt would give this "new" category instant legitimation. And we who live in the big tent called jazz wouldn't mind not one bit, would we? A curse on the "smooth jazz" house; call it what it really is: pop music on the level of elevator music (definitely background), for me at any rate. Ain't no jazz in "smooth jazz". As for festivals, any that offer their audiences less than 50% of jazz in their programming have forfeited the right to call themselves a jazz festival. Let them call themselves world music festivals, or music festivals, or just festivals, but please refrain from misappropriating the term jazz festival unless they can prove it to the Bulldog. The prosecution rests.
The jazz artist as storyteller. Telling a story is central to the jazz tradition. All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. One essential element of jazz roots is its direct evolution from the West African tradition of the griots or storytellers of the various "tribes" (families, villages, regions). These scribes are the repositories of the tribes' many cultural and religious rituals and secrets. In an oral tradition the preservation of these tribal "stories" is an important link to the knowledge and wisdom of their ancestors. Griots provide the major link by transmitting these stories of cultural, legal, and familial matters from generation to generation. Furthermore, because of the absence of written records, their role as the conservators of the "ways of the ancient ones" is paramount to the continuity and maintenance of these societies. Storytelling by the griots is advanced to a high art form by necessity. Individual nuances of style are developed and preserved over the generations as each griot tells his or her stories. The griot tradition was brought to the Americas by West African slaves and served as one of the principal roots of jazz music. This rich tradition is still evident in contemporary West African life and continues to be a rich and rewarding link to the past.There are definite standards in telling a story. There are good storytellers and there are lousy storytellers.
Through the ages artists of every medium recognize (many times unconsciously), grow, and develop a creative personal vision. These individual styles reflect an artist's life experiences, an artist's insight into his/her chosen medium and a mastery of that medium to tell that story. In so doing creative artists hope that their stories will be added to the legacy of their artistic medium. After all, aren't artists' visions really about contributions to the human spirit that will inspire, encourage, nourish and enapossessedrest of us to "keep on keeping on" even when faced with extreme adversity? From whence cometh the creative spirit? I suspect that an answer to that question is as elusive as those of Plato's examinations of truth and beauty. Certainly I would say that it has something to do with an artist being somehow "driven," even "possesed" by a force compelling that artist to create a work with that vision uppermost in mind. And what is this vision business as it relates to jazz, anyway?
Personal sound, identifiable, coherent musical ideas, striving for consistency, attempts at reaching and maintaining the "highest" standards of performance, unwavering commitment to the highest levels of art; these all seem to be elements of a creative jazz artist's vision. And what drives the creative engines of many of today's jazz artists? What motivates us in our efforts to ply our art in the contemporary marketplace? Is it self-satisfaction; or is it pride in accomplishment; or is it hipness, or perhaps more sinister forces like greed, or might even something as simple as don't know anything else to do or its evil twin "I have no choice as I am compelled to do this" ?Clearly, money-market funds, starving artists in garrets, entertainment stars, the "suits", and academia all seem to have increasing importance in the careers of many contemporary jazz artists. The real question is, are these to be the effects or the primary motivation of creative jazz artists/griots? Duke Ellington once again has succinctly summarized this entire situation by asking the question, "What Am I Here For?" As for me, I know what line I'm in!
Ray Drummond (The Bulldog)
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