Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hot Jazz

Jazz violinist Nora Germain - photo courtesy of MKSadler

by Carl L. Hager

Hot jazz doesn't need a long description (see photo).  

It really is that simple. Unless you're talking to a jazz writer. One of the more entertaining aspects of working in jazz journalism is having the opportunity to debate the true meaning of the word "jazz" with all the other music critics of the world. No kidding. Ask anybody. 

The argument would have been settled a hundred years ago if only the music hadn't kept changing. Scott Joplin's ragtime jazz slid into stride jazz via Dixieland jazz which migrated to the cold northern climes of Chicago and New York, where it became hot jazz. See? Then Duke made it sway until it could swing every which way. When Prohibition ended and the Second Jazz Age put punch back into the punch bowl to make it sting going down, it got so hot that Dizzy and Bird were making the jazz zig when you thought it would zag, flowing like magma in all directions at once. That was called bebop jazz. What else could you call it? Monk and Coltrane started freezing and fracturing jazz like rapidly cooling obsidian. Gil Evans plunged it into the icy depths of space and aimed for absolute zero, until Miles Davis stuck electrodes into it and blew it up, re-introducing combustible hydrogen to real-world oxygen and making jazz rock. 

Now do you see? Good. We can move on.

Now That We Have Established What Jazz Is...

But even as jazz keeps changing and evolving, it adheres to its beginnings. Jazz is a tradition. If all this is seems confusing, you will be happy to know that despite the ritual and endless hipness and a lexicon that grows faster than Oxford can keep apace, jazz has always had one inviolable rule. It has to swing. No swing, no jazz.

What is swing? If rhythm is how you use time to measure the rate of change, swing is your heartbeat telling you where the musical beat is supposed to go. A metronome will only help you keep track of the music's progress in landing where it should. It can be ahead of you or behind you and sound just fine, as long as it catches up in time.  

If you can't hear it, you just need to keep listening until you do. That old adage that says "the more things change, the more they stay the same" applies. If you listen and listen and still can't hear the beat and make it swing, listen to the drummer. If you can't hear the drummer, listen to your heart.

Nora Germain understands all of this. By the time she became the first jazz violinist to ever get a B.A. from USC's Thornton School of Music last year, she had already established a career. When she hired me to write the liner notes to her early CD Let It Rip!, I thought I had an idea of the good that was in store for this ambitious musician.

What I didn't know at the time was how drastically the world of recording and recording artists would change. The update for all you folks who have been living in caves: the record industry never liked paying royalties to songwriter/composers and other musicians in the past, and now in 2015 it's worked how to use streaming services to pay them virtually nothing at all. You know how you enjoy downloading a track to your smartphone every so often, and going to Pandora or YouTube for the rest? Any idea what kind of living an artist gets from that?

The impact of the predicament hadn't really hit me entirely, not until a few weeks ago when I simultaneously saw Nora's PledgeMusic campaign for her upcoming CD project cropping up at the same time a pledge drive was being mounted by Art Zoyd, a group of monster veterans--
French composer/musicians who have labored in the vineyards of music with their unique brand of jazz/prog rock/classical/electronica since 1968 or so--in order to raise a fairly small sum of money so they could do a celebratory performance. 

Change Is the Constant

Nora Germain and Art Zoyd are separated by a couple generations, but what they have in common is that they are both taking on the world as it is, not as it was. The world has changed, and will keep on changing, probably a lot faster than we can predict. Jazz, as a part of the world, is changing right along with it. As important a part of the world as we consider the jazz tradition to be, it could disappear sometime soon. Just from neglect.

Some of us grew up in a world where you could walk into a Tower Records and buy recordings of jazz, blues, rock, folk, classical, electronica... it went on and on and on, out to the horizon. There was so much available that appealed to so many people on any given day, you had the opportunity to encounter one of your musical heroes roaming the aisles of these beloved record stores. (Herbie Hancock loved the Tower on Sunset Blvd.) 

Those stores have all disappeared now. It's like a sequel to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451... Fahrenheit 200 (Vinyl Apocalypse)

Whatever your music is, its importance to you, personally, is going to determine whether it survives. Shocking, isn't it?  

As it turns out, Art Zoyd recently met and exceeded the pledged amounts needed for the band's performance. We can only hope the band have the wherewithal to produce a DVD, which after all this, would probably sell handsomely.

Today, tomorrow and Wednesday are the last three days of Nora Germain's PledgeMusic drive (it ends Sept. 15 at 11:59 p.m. EDT). As of this writing, she has pledges covering 85% of what she needs in order to keep the proceeds. That's the way it works, folks (these all-or-nothing rules are brutal), so she has some high-stepping to do. If she comes up short, she gets nada.    

Go to her website at and listen to some of the tracks she has posted there. Eat 'em up like hot tamales and cold beer. Or take my word for it. Nora will always play jazz in the tradition of Ray Nance with the spirit and verve of Jean-Luc Ponty. She has many, many years and recordings ahead of her. Right now, the people in charge of the only record company left on this planet, the ones running what the world of recorded music has become, are thee and me. 

Now Is Your Chance

I know from the conversations I've had with Nora that playing music is what she lives for. She lives for it. She is offering lots of goodies in her online candy store for the pledges she needs in order to pull off her project and keep playing, so go take a peek.

Nora does indeed perform a great deal of Hot Jazz, a kind of music characterized by standard blues structure used as a form for dramatic crescendos and lots of soloing from the different band members. It can be emotional or danceable, but it still leaves lots of room for creative playing. Nora performs this style of music very, very well. You can get a taste of what she does on her website, and find a good number of videos of live performances on YouTube.

By the way... if you just happened to be in the neighborhood and saw Nora's nice female form in the photo, and you're wondering if you can use this as the basis for becoming a fan of hot jazz, the answer is yes. That link above is how to show you mean it.

No comments: