lists and canons in jazz

An interesting discussion has cropped up on SwingDJs called “30 Good Hot Records” from LIFE. This is what I’m about to post in response.
I love lists of iconic or ‘good’ songs/books/films/texts. I love them because though they are presented as definitive, they are always[ more effective as a provocation than a definitive answer to questions about what counts and is important enough to be listed. Discograhies work, pretty much, as definitive ‘lists’ or ‘canons‘.
I’ve come across a few different uses of ‘hot’ in articles and books from the 1930s, particularly in reference to discographies. Kenney’s discussion of jazz in Chicago outlines the differences between ‘jazz’ or ‘hot’ bands and music and ‘dance’ bands. These differences are not only musical, but also inflected by race, class, the recording industry, live venue management and ownership, gender… and so on. I’ve also come across quite a few discussions in an academic (rather than populist or ‘music critic’) sources about the expression ‘hot jazz’. The most useful sources point out that any attempt to finally define ‘hot’ or ‘jazz’ is not only difficult, but also problematic.
Krin Gabbard discusses the cultural effects of constructing canons – in which discographies play a key role – and points out that lists of ‘hot’ or ‘important’ or ‘real’ jazz records aren’t neutral or objective lists of songs – they are highly subjective and negotiated by the author’s own ideas about music and place in society generally.
Kenney (who’s written some absolutely fascinating stuff about jazz music in Chicago in the 20s) discusses Brian Rust’s discographies, making the point that Rust distinguishes between ‘hot’ and other types of jazz recordings. Friedwald talks a bit about Rust (and other discographers) in his jazz.com articles. Kenney’s research into the recording and live music industry in Chicago suggests that who got to record or play what types of music was actually dictated in large part by record companies’ ideas about race and class and markets rather than musicians’ personal inclination. That last point suggests that you could make some interesting observations about the correlation between race, class, recorded songs, ‘popularity’ and ‘jazz’ in Chicago jazz during this period. I don’t know enough about it, though, so all I’ll say is that you could, but you’d better have some badass sources to support your arguments. And you’d also better be prepared to accept the idea that though America had a national music industry, different state legislations and music cultures resulted in quite different local practices: it’d be tricky to generalise Chicago’s story across other cities and states. Not to mention countries.
Life and other magazines’ comments on and participation in music promotion in the 30s is also pretty interesting – these guys had ideological barrows to push, just as did Rust and other discographers. One of the effects of publishing this type of list (which was no doubt as hotly contested then as it is now – except by a wider audience :D) is that it does stimulate discussion and debate. And, hopefully, record and ticket sales. One thing I’d be interested in knowing is who owned LifeGreat Day In Jazz photo, I think about the fact that it was a photo for Esquire magazine, and that Esquire also produced a series of live concerts, recordings… and of course, photo spreads in magazines. While GDIJ works a fabulous representation of jazz it also serves as a canon, and as such is also subjective, ideologically framed and interpreted (eg asking why are there so few women in this photo leads us to questions about gender and jazz?) Canons are fascinating things, and can be the jumping off place for all sorts of great discussions and debates. I think this is why I was so excited by Reynaud’s session on Yehoodi Radio where he used the GDIJ photo as an organising structure for the music he chose. In that case, the photo became a listening guide for a radio program. I’d just rather not use them as definitive, fixed lists; I like them more as provocations, or a place from which to begin discussing (and arguing about) a topic.
If I saw a list like the one in Life today, I’d be extra-suspicious. Songs on So You Think You Can Dance, for example, are owned by the company which produces that tv show. There’s been quite a lot written about the Ken Burns’ Jazz series and its role in cross-promoting sales of records from catalogues owned by the same media corporation. The Ken Burns example is an especially interesting one: that series does not present an ‘objective’ list of important artists and songs. It is a jumping off place for a very successful marketing project surrounding back catalogues and contemporary musicians like Marsalis. George Lipsitz has written quite a bit about histories of jazz (including Burns’), and he makes this point:

…the film is a spectator’s story aimed at generating a canon to be consumed. Viewers are not encouraged to make jazz music, to support contemporary jazz artists, or even to advocate jazz education. But they are urged to buy the nine-part home video version of Jazz produced and distributed by Time Warner AOL, the nearly twenty albums of recorded music on Columbia/Sony promoting the show’s artists and ‘greatest hits,’ and the book published by Knopf as a companion to the broadcast of the television program underwritten by General Motors. Thus a film purporting to honor modernist innovation actually promotes nostalgic satisfaction. The film celebrates the centrality of African Americans to the national experience but voices no demands for either rights or recognition on behalf of contemporary African American people. The film venerates the struggles of alienated artists to rise above the formulaic patterns of commercial culture, but comes into existence and enjoys wide exposure only because it works so well to augment the commercial reach and scope of a fully integrated marketing campaign linking ‘educational’ public television to media conglomerates. (17)

Lipsitz is interesting because he says thinks like Why not think about jazz as a history of dance? Why not look into the lives of musicians who gave up fame and fortune in massively famous bands to work in their local communities?
Friedwald, Will. “On Discography” www.jazz.com, May 27, 2009 http://www.jazz.com/jazz-blog/2009/5/27/on-discography
Gabbard, Krin. “The Jazz Canon and its consequences” Jazz Among the Discourses. Duke U Press, Durham and London 1995. 1-28.
Kenney, William Howland. “Historical Context and the Definition of Jazz: Putting More of the History in ‘Jazz History'”. Jazz Among the Discourses. Duke U Press, Durham and London 1995. 100-116
Lipsitz, George. “Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz,” Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004: 9-26.
References for my posts on Esquire.

the 4 clefs

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The 4 clefs version of the song I Like Pie, I Like Cake is very popular here in Sydney at the moment, played by at least two DJs. I did a little google and found this site discussing them. It’s worth a peak, as they have pics like the one above and a few songs you can listen to.
Personally, I prefer the peppier version of I like Pie, I Like Cake (But I like you Best of All) by the Goofus Five, which Trev pointed me to in late 2008, but which I still haven’t played…

modernism + jass = orsm punnage

A new 8track:

Or check the linky.
Songs include:
Putting On The Ritz The Cangelosi Cards Clinton Street Recordings, I 3:38
All I Know The Countdown Quartet 2002 Sadlack’s Stomp 2:57
Digadoo Firecracker Jazz Band 2005 The Firecracker Jazz Band 5:20
My Daddy Rocks Me Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 2006 King Joe 6:17
Who Walks in When I Walk Out Midnight Serenaders 2009 Sweet Nothin’s 3:21
Zonky New Orleans Jazz Vipers 2006 Hope You’re Comin’ Back 5:06
Eh la bas Preservation Hall Jazz Band 2004 Shake That Thing 3:52
Sud Buster’s Dream Rhythm Rascals Washboard Band 1995 Futuristic Jungleism 4:18
I’ll do another one of just Australian bands when I get a chance. Putting this together I found I had far too many modern bands to include in just 8 tracks, which suggests I should have put this together by theme. I guess the theme is ‘new’ and ‘things I like at the moment.’

french – from france

The other day I was reminding myself that the Les Red Hot Reedwarmers are French – from France – when I suddenly realised:

Holy Shit! This band is FRENCH. So they’re not the The Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, a Jimmie Noone tribute band led by Les(lie) Red! They’re Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, as in The Red Hot Reedwarmers.

It was a freeking revelation. And yet… also a little disappointing.
Btw, if you don’t have this band’s albums and you like Jimmie Noone or early 30s NO-inspired Chicago action, then you’re ON CRACK. Their CDs are really, really good.

rhythm rascals

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I’ve just discovered the Rhythm Rascals (c/o the very excellently helpful Peter Loggins) and they’re GREAT.
The site is not.
But I thoroughly recommend picking up a copy of Futuristic Jungelism if you like seriously hot 1930s washboard jazz. It’ll blow your pants off.

8 songs about food


8 songs with lyrics about ‘eating’. And when I say ‘eating’, I mean ‘sex’. Well, mostly. Some are actually songs about food. Probably. But not the Fats Waller ones.
There are approximately 60 squillion billion jazz and blues songs about ‘food’ and ‘eating’. These are only 8, but 8 that I really like, or that we sign around our house, or that are just plain good.
Bessie Smith’s ‘Gimme a Pigfoot’ is the best, because it’s a song about simple culinary and social pleasures – a pigfoot and a bottle of beer. And she’s not going to be payin’ 25c to go in NOwhere.

8 1930s Ellington tracks that’d pwn Bechet in a ninja fight


As if Bechet and Ellington’d ever get into a ninja fight!
As if this is the final list of Ellington orsm!
8 of my favourite songs from Ellington’s (small and large) 1930s bands.
1. Jungle Nights In Harlem Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 1930
2. Shout ‘Em Aunt Tillie Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 1930
3. Rockin’ In Rhythm The Harlem Footwarmers with Duke Ellington 1930
4. It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) Duke Ellington and his Orchestra with Ivie Anderson 1932
5. Stompy Jones Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 1934
6. Digga Digga Do (M 187-2) Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters 1937
7. The Back Room Romp Rex Stewart and his 52nd Street Stompers 1937
8. Top And Bottom Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters 1939