This week I’ve been travelling quite a lot, so my reading patterns have been a bit different. I’ve read lots of articles, and had less time for reading books. I’ve also decided to reread a couple of books (this is rare) – they were two books that started two different explorations for me; The History of Jazz
, and Love Saves the Day
. I’ve mentioned both at length a few times, so I won’t drone on, but I like the idea of revisiting them both now I feel a tiny bit more immersed in the areas that they cover. I’ve liked jazz for years, and I’ve loved disco and soul for longer, but writing this letter and digging deeper than I ever have has given me a sense that I might’ve missed something in them that a second read might reveal. Much like you can listen to a song twice, but in different contexts, and hear a different song each time…
I’ve also been thinking a lot this week about the tension between commitment and evolution. It all started (as a lot of these thoughts do), with a conversation with my dad. We were talking about jazz, and the rise and rise of the current UK jazz scene, and we were talking about hearing jazz in lots of forms of music. In my mind, jazz is kind of a sensibility, as well as a genre. It’s a way of playing, thinking, and expressing yourself, but takes incredible commitment. Every improvisation that sounds improvised can be replayed, there are accidents and mini-evolutions, but the commitment to craft and focus on expression is unwavering. It feels like jazz has continued to evolve because of the commitment that players have to their craft, and repeatedly exposing audiences to new ideas frequently (the exposure effect is a thing). So there’s the tension that exists between commitment to craft and ‘landing’ an idea, while also pushing on the art form at the same time. It feels like a mixture of repeated improvisations, that act as musical breadcrumbs, and help balance the old with the new, the innovative with the classic.
This was echoed a little by Gilles Peterson this week, who spoke to the Guardian as part of the We Out Here launch. Peterson has been the driving force behind jazz in the UK for decades now, and spoke about the collapse of any barriers between jazz and the dancefloor. Again, it feels like there’s a tension between the commitment to bringing jazz to audiences, while still helping to nudge its evolution forwards.
On a seemingly (but not actually) radical tangent, there’s a brilliant long pieceon Resident Advisor this week on the rise and fall of Dutch hardcore and gabber collective Thunderdome. If you’ve got an interest in hardcore, you’ll of course find it fascinating, but what I found fascinating was the account of the rise of the Dutch culture of gabber. Born as an extreme evolution of hardcore, gabber’s became a national phenomena, changing the way the whole country thought about hardcore, fashion, youth, and politics. The rise (and fall) shows the same tension at play again; commitment to being part of a sometimes demonised subculture, but the collective improvisations to push it’s evolution. If gabber had started with 1,000 bpm tracks, I’d guess it would of had less success; the final destination was quite different from the beginning, but commitment to the culture was rock solid.
PItchfork published a good piece a few years ago on John Cage, and different artists interpretation of his influence and his work. Cage definitely displayed both commitment, and dedicated to evolution. I suppose you could argue that his work blurs the lines between art and music more than many artists, but his impact on many major artists has been profound, and while his work remains (relatively) niche, the impact his commitment had can be felt across the worlds of both art and music. In my simple mind, I’ve always thought of culture as a massive patchwork quilt, and some artists move the centre of the quilt and find mass popularity, but some stay on the edges, push the boundaries, and influence from a distance, never quite reaching the mass themselves, but their ideas having an impact all the same. Cage feels like one of those influential contributors.
This has definitely shaped some of the music that I’ve chosen this week, and while there’s a lot of jazz, soul, and funk, the specific tracks I’ve chosen are songs that I think demonstrate both a commitment to craft, but really pushed things on when they were released. Q-Tip’s work with Janet Jackson, Roy Ayers, Prince, FaltyDL, Luke Vibert, Thom Yorke – these are all artists that pushed the boundaries, while staying true to their core. As such, this week’s mixtape has a sometimes ‘futuristic’ feel, and while there are more songs with vocals than I think I’ve ever included, I think the whole tape together sounds a little bit like a film score, or maybe atmospheric music. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
I’m also halfway through this great piece from The New Yorker on Questlove, and it feels like it’s telling the same story; incredible commitment and belief, and the ability to naturally chart the evolution while bringing in new audiences.
What’s really interesting is when you see artists get it wrong – when they show little (if any) commitment to something, yet try to incorporate it into their evolution and co-opt it in order to appeal to new audiences. This piece on The Guardian on artists that suddenly found a social conscience this year was good. Authenticity and commitment are definitely close partners.
Anyway, I’m not sure I’m articulating this thought particularly well, but I think there’s something in it. How do you establish a strong culture, while continuously evolving it. Maybe it’s about keeping the same values, and beliefs, but letting everything else grow naturally. I suppose after all that’s what connects Peterson, Gabber, Cage, and Questlove.
As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️ .
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day