Monday, August 2, 2010

Looking for the lyrical

The story goes that Lester Young found himself on a tour bus with a young gun saxophonist itching to show off his prodigious technique to the older master. Planting himself in front of the laconic Prez, the garrulous bebopper proceeds to blow every speed demon lick he knows in motor mouth fashion. On finishing his dash, the saxophonist looks to Young for approval, yet couches his neediness in bravado. What, he asks, did the jazz patriarch think of that display of goods? Not bad, Young answers, but can you tell me a story?
And there you have it. Like Lester, I too am hungry to hear a story told through an instrument. Not a checklist of technical achievements or a resume of ready-for-use phrases, but a well-told narrative that makes its point through melody, balance and economy, and then jumps on the fastest stagecoach out of Dodge. 
With this blog I salute improvisers, old and new, who know how to get in, get the job done and then  leave before being begged to. Style has nothing to do with it. The same sense of the beautiful as well as the importance of organization and frugality can be found in the very best players from turn-of-the-century New Orleans  to today's budding jazz visionaries. 
Nonetheless, it's a rarer quality than might be expected and getting rarer all the time. I want to applaud this sensitivity to the poetic wherever I hear it, be it in an older recording or on a bandstand last night.
Can you tell me a story?

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