Talking Jazz and Rock with Poet Reuben Jackson
Author and music educator Lauren Ritchie sat down with ASP’s Reuben Jackson this week to talk jazz with the man himself. Reuben’s music credentials are long and impressive, from curating the Duke Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian to hosting a weekly Jazz radio show for NPR Vermont, to his poetry which takes inspiration from and frequently comments on the American Jazz idiom. Listen to or read the interview on Ms. Ritchie’s site HERE
Here is a slice of from the audio transcript:
Q: Do you think that if somehow we skipped back 40 years and we’d had the big screens that they have in arenas, that jazz could have taken on a aesthetic like rock concerts have?
Oooh, yeah, that is, um – That is a big loaf of bread right there.
-It is, but we get the up-close and personal with the video capabilities.
Sure, m-hm, and I would say, it you go to the – I’m thinking 1976-77 and bands such as Weather Report were – that band was really unique. By the time Heavy Weather came out and they had Birdland – a lot of those groups, fusion groups were being not only ‘market’ to – either you might call it a mixed audience – but um, my point is the first time I saw Weather Report here in DC after Heavy Weather came out in March of 1977, they had smoke machines and that kind of stuff which of course you didn’t see –
Like Count Basie doing this and I wonder , and I think this is probably calculated to orient to or re-orient who saw bands with, you know, similar volume but these things which went along with the show were part of retaining attention or making it – so there might not have been as broad a leap for people – so if you went from seeing, I’ll just say the Jefferson Airplane again and then you come see – as great as Elvin Jones is in a small club, maybe what you and I would go to see an artist like that for might not pull everybody in and they might get bored. And I do think one of the challenges with, thinking about that same concert in 77, when the music was loud- and this is when Jaco Pastorius joined the band. So you’d get the showmanship with Jaco dancing across the stage. When they would play these wonderful ballads – you could tell the audience was just not – people were like, ‘what is this?’ you know? And again this is like audience expectation, and – this is another great question because I’m also thinking about today, you know? With people bringing phones and – well I was thinking about what you said concerning the frustration maybe audiences might have or even musicians, if say you love an artist and you buy, well say back then, their lp and you want to hear a song or songs you love done a certain way – and I know I keep bringing him up, but he’s a great example and I think one of the things that bugs someone like Jimmi Hendrix is, ‘cause I went down and I would listen to like a zillion Hendrix bootlegs and you’d hear these re-imaginings of pieces people knew and loved, and you know he was someone who was struggling with trying to get the music in his head out and translating it so the band members could do it , and he didn’t have all the technical language at the time, but he’d say oh boy, people would come to see just some version of Hey Joe with just this beautiful 16 bar introduction, and I thought this is just like great but I know how frustrating it must have been to people who just want to hear just like the record. The solos are not the same and even someone, again like Hendrix, who is working with the certain scales and modes on a pretty regular basis, but the creativity and the subtlety and that it’s a more overt connection to what one expects or is familiar with in ‘jazz’. But that’s – you know, I sit and I know I call myself musically consumed, and I’m just sitting there going whoa, this is so much… he built upon this thing that people were familiar with , but if you paid, what, 5 or 6 bucks back then and you’re thinking – that’s not the record.
[laughing] You know? And the same for Miles Davis, when before he disbanded the quintet and so they would still play, like, Walkin’ and some standards, but the tempo was really brisk or they would change the keys – and people kind of going??
The Grateful Dead, I mean that’s one of the first concerts I ever saw with just these incredible long solos, beautiful solos. They played here at RFK Stadium and they came out and did an announcement and they started doing the fun Tennessee Jed and so they sang like a verse and a chorus and like they left the stratosphere and then they came back, I don’t know, 15, 20 minutes later, and it wasn’t just noodling, it was really incredible stuff, and I thought ‘whoa!’ But, maybe Dead Heads would come to expect that, but still it’s that – it’s an interesting kind of maybe conundrum for some people and I think it’s what you talked about led to, and maybe still does, leads to frustration on the artist and on the listener’s end. Because if you want to stretch out and you’re always – well if your audience knows that’s part of what you do then I guess that’s fine – well if you think of like the Allman Brothers and people like that. But again if you just hear the album and it’s like a 5 minute piece and they go for 25 minutes, you’re either enthralled or you’re squirming in your seat like I did in church when I was a kid.
Reuben Jackson’s new poetry collection Scattered Clouds is due out autumn 2019 from Alan Squire Publishing.