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Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense - Episode One: The Quiet Revolution

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Episode One | Episode Two | Episode Three | Episode Four


Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense

Episode One: The Quiet Revolution

The Documentary Channel

April 20, 2009, 09:00-10:00PM

Paradigm Studio

2009

Many still look back at Ken Burns' Jazz (2001) as the documentary that could have been—or, even more importantly, the documentary that should have been. Its view of jazz as a static musical genre with clear and unmovable boundaries, despite being expertly made, almost entirely ignored the music as it evolved post-1960s. While featuring plenty of terrific footage, it was essentially antithetical to the spirit of the music.



The good news is that directors Michael Rivoira, Lars Larson and Peter J. Vogt, in conjunction with producers John W. Comerford, Theo Ianuly and B Dahlia have created a four-part television series, airing on The Documentary Channel starting weekly on April 20, 2009, that more closely articulates what the spirit of jazz truly is. Icons Among Us explores the many myths and misconceptions of a music that may be a marginalized genre based on CD sales, but is a life's work for a disproportionate number of artists, and draws surprisingly large crowds to what seems like an infinite number of festivals going on around the world, especially during the spring and summer seasons.

Icons Among Us / Bill Frisell



Episode One: The Quiet Revolution dispels the belief, held by some, that the lack of massively visible contemporary icons is somehow a reflection on the music and those who make it. The reality is that jazz in the 21st century has never been more alive, more vibrant. That few artists are achieving the legendary status of Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
or Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
has nothing to do with being any less innovative; it has more to do with a number of other factors. More music is being released than ever before to compete for the attention of music fans. Released on a seemingly infinite number of independent labels with small budgets, rather than by large labels with the money to promote the music the way it deserves to be, it's not that albums as innovative as Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) aren't being released; it's just that there's so much music out there without extensive publicity that it's almost impossible for any album to rise to the top of the heap and stand out.



Equally, in many cases the music may not be moving forward in great leaps; instead, a multiplicity of artists are pushing the music forward, inch by inch, but the cumulative effect of what these musicians are doing ultimately becomes massive. Few albums or artists today have the ability to influence the music on a grand scale the way Davis, John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Monk or Parker did, but together they create new paradigms that are just as significant.



The Quiet Revolution explores, through live footage and interviews from artists ranging from Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
b.1973
trumpet
and Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
to The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

band/orchestra
, Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
and Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
. What comes through in this densely packed but clearly articulated and narratively focused 50-minute program is that jazz has never been a style with defined boundaries; instead, Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
, who has always been one to avoid categorization, says "I'm very careful not to use the term jazz too loosely, because then you open up the can of worms that is the argument of what jazz is and all of that, and I think that's a great argument to have. But in terms of the global vision of what music is and what's happening in the scene, it ultimately slows down the looking at all the different kinds of music that are proliferating."



Various artists try to tackle the fact that jazz has never had a strict definition, despite all attempts to do just that. Frisell says, "I just don't like it when the name of something has the effect of excluding something. If you say it's one thing then it can't be something else and that doesn't work for me. The words are always smaller than what it is you're trying to describe. And for me jazz is infinite. It's always been about some kind of mystery, part of the nature is that it changes." Avishai Cohen

Avishai Cohen
Avishai Cohen
b.1970
bass
says, "So if it's jazz and it means that this artist and that one is connected to it then I'm honored to be a part of it. But if you wanna call it Johnny I don't mind, too; it doesn't matter, because...the feeling of the music, the magic, exists in a place that's before jazz or the blues, with all respect to the terms."

Icons Among Us / Russell Gunn



But in terms of articulating the idea that jazz is inclusive rather than exclusive, and is a living, breathing thing, it's Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
who says it most succinctly: "The term jazz, in a sense perhaps, is its own worst enemy, but if we redefine what jazz is in a responsible and powerful way, then it won't be its own worst enemy, because how people will perceive it will change."


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