Charlie Parker at 100

Today would have been the 100th birthday of jazz great Charlie Parker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Charlie Parker, he was one of the founders of bebop, a musical style that followed (and supplanted) the big bands and swing that had been popular before World War II. Bird, as he was nicknamed, played the alto sax. He his playing was fast[fn1] and it was rhythmically and harmonically complicated; it, more than almost any other musical style (except, perhaps, mid-century classical music) encapsulated the same modernism that developed in art and literature during the first half of the 20th century.

And why commemorate Bird on a Mormon blog? There is absolutely no reason to think that he had any connection to Mormonism, nor Mormonism any particular connection to Bird. In fact, according to Michael Hicks’s Mormonism and Music, church leaders in the early 20th century “defined jazz as ‘departure from the correct'” and condemned improvisation. As late as 1948, BYU faculty “scuttled” a proposed concert by Dizzy Gillespie, a contemporary of Bird and another of the founders of bebop, possibly fearing repercussions by church leaders. [Read more…]

Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life. [Read more…]

#MutualNight: Lomax, Smith, and Black History Month

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

Confession: I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time now. But as Black History Month ends tomorrow, I’m at kind of a deadline. Because there are two recent music releases that are ambitious, virtuosic, and critically important, while, at the same time, they’re intensely listenable. And I want to do them justice, but I just can’t. Still, I’m going to try.

400: An Afrikan Epic

In early January, my family and I spent a few days in New Orleans. As we were headed home, we stopped by the Whitney Plantation. Touring the Whitney Plantation is an incredible experience, because it’s focused almost exclusively on the experiences of the enslaved persons who lived and worked there. It has several monuments, monuments listing the names and origins of the enslaved persons, monuments to the enslaved children on the plantation, sculptures and statues memorializing those who were enslaved. In fact, unlike any other plantation tour I’ve been on, the big house was an afterthought—we went in it for literally the last three or four minutes of an hour-and-a-half tour. [Read more…]

Women in Jazz #MutualNight

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

We’re nearing the end of Women’s History Month; in light of both the month and the current environment of #MeToo, I thought it might be worth looking at women in jazz.

Because honestly, women have historically been excluded from jazz. Sure, you can point me to Billie and Ella and Nancy Wilson and maybe even Carmen McRae. And you know what? They’re all singers. They’re amazing singers, but, while “[w]omen singers were tolerated and even spotlighted, especially with the advent of the big band era, … [women] instrumentalists had a much tougher time of it.“[fn1] [Read more…]

BYU and Classical Radio

BYU has just announced that it is planning on dropping Classical 89, the classical music radio station that it runs.

I’m going to be tremendously blunt: this is a terrible idea, and it betrays the school’s educational mission.[fn1]

I understand that classical music doesn’t have the listenership it did once upon a time: in 2013, less than 3% of album sales were of classical music. And there has been a trend for a while of classical stations shifting to alternate formats.[fn2] And I get that consultants and industry professionals recommended the change. But BYU’s in a unique position that allows it to ignore consultants.

A quick personal story: [Read more…]

#MutualNight: Diwali and Indian Jazz

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

Subharnab Majumdar, The Rangoli of Lights. CC BY 2.0

Diwali, India’s most important holiday, starts today. Most of my experience with Diwali has been at the Art Institute of Chicago, which has an annual Diwali Family Festival.[fn1] I’m far from an expert, but the outline of the holiday is this: Diwali, the festival of lights, marks the triumph of good over evil, and of light over dark.

With the upcoming holiday, I thought I’d take a quick listen to some Indian music. Now, if you’re anything like me, your exposure to Indian music has come through two routes: Bollywood and the Indian classical music that found its way into the Beatles’ music.

Unsurprisingly from a country of well over 1 billion people, that’s not the extent of Indian music. [Read more…]

#MutualNight: Ella!

If she were alive, Ella Fitzgerald would celebrate her 100th birthday today. [Read more…]

#MutualNight: The Reunion Project’s “Varanda”

I’m pretty sure the first straight-ahead jazz album I ever owned was Stan Getz’s “Anniversary!” It’s been a long time (I was probably in 8th or 9th grade at the time), so I don’t remember all of the details, but I know I had it on tape, I’m almost positive I bought it at Sam Goody, and I probably bought it because the store was playing it at the time.

Years later, I opened my mission call to Brazil. When I opened it, I basically knew three things about Brazil: that it was in South America, that they spoke Portuguese, not Spanish, there, and that Brazil was the home of bossa nova. See, Stan Getz was one of the earliest American jazz musicians to popularize Brazilian bossa nova in the U.S., and Tom Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema” led that charge.[fn1] And although “Anniversary!” wasn’t bossa nova, it introduced me to Getz, who eventually led me to Americanized Brazilian music. [Read more…]

Soundtrack to the Inauguration

Today, Donald Trump transitions from president-elect to president.

I’m struggling here to figure out what to write. I want to write that we elected a valueless misogynistic, race-baiting, xenophobic know-nothing as president, but I confess I’m not sure where to go from there.

I want to decry Mormons’ participation in the Inauguration, only I’m not sure what I can add to what Peter has already said. (Also, what Peter has already said.)

I do know, though, where I’m going to turn musically. Noah Preminger has just released Meditations on Freedom, a protest album, just in time for the new presidency.  [Read more…]

Welcome to #MutualNight: Delfeayo Marsalis

young-women-mutual-improvement-association-jewelry-1931_2I can’t, for the life of me, remember when I first heard it, but I do remember hearing (or reading) that, once upon a time, a significant part of Mutual was introducing Mormon youth to the best of literature, music, art, and other learning. After doing some quick Googling that suggested, but didn’t prove, that my memory was right, I did what any right-thinking person would do: I messaged Ardis. And she was kind enough to respond that yes, the M.I.A. had once been a repository of learning about art and culture.

Satisfied, I decided to follow through on my main reason for searching and asking: the introduction of a virtual M.I.A. Periodically (and undoubtedly irregularly), I plan on introducing and writing about some type of art, music, or literature that I’m enjoying, and what makes it worth sampling. While I doubt that most of my picks will have any significant Mormon connection, I consider this as Mormon a blogging topic as any that I’ve blogged. After all, we have not only roots in the M.I.A. program, but we have scriptural injunctions to seek after anything praiseworthy or of good report, and to learn out of the best books[Read more…]

Christmas Music Discoveries

Let’s take as a given that the essentials of any Christmas music collection are Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, maybe Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Vince Guaraldi. You add in some Mariah Carey and you’ve basically got an FM radio station’s all-Christmas-all-December playlist. And, in all honesty, all the Christmas music you need. I mean, if a musician releases a Christmas album that’s not at least as good as these albums, the album isn’t really all that necessary.[fn1]

TreeODeerFranKaufmanRS
And yet. Every now and then, I hear a Christmas album that does something new. Yesterday, for example, I heard Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O. And then I listened to it again. And a third time.[fn2]  [Read more…]

A New Song: John Coltrane

Sometimes we ourselves are the greatest obstacle to the realization of our gifts. Such was the case with John Coltrane in 1957. He was at the peak of the jazz world, playing in Miles Davis’s first great quintet in addition to some historic gigs with Thelonious Monk, but his alcohol and heroin addictions were hindering his ability to participate, and he had to leave Davis’s group for a time. Enter God’s power of redemption: Coltrane later wrote, in the liner notes to A Love Supreme (1964), that in 1957 “I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.” Like Alma the Younger, Coltrane went from being “racked with eternal torment” to singing the song of redeeming love. He spent the next ten years of his life trying to make good on God’s gift to him. [Read more…]

Coleman, Cafeterias, and Choirs

orig_Ornette_Coleman_01Ornette Coleman died today.

I don’t have any idea how resonant his death is in American culture. I don’t know what pictures the words “Ornette Coleman” conjures up in your mind, if any. But I hope to add a little to that picture.

In 1959, Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come.[fn1]  [Read more…]