September 2008 By Evan Haga
New Visions of Jazz
Welcome to the New Visionaries issue, our thinly veiled version of the compulsory “Where Is Jazz Headed?” edition. We hope the answer provided here is hopeful; it was laborious choosing from a grand pool of hotshot young players, mainly because we strived to avoid them, bypassing the glissando-happy prodigies in favor of charm and conceptual ingenuity.
The magnificent seven, let’s call them, occupy some miraculous middle ground—the same space (dare I say) Miles and Coltrane made musical homes in: they’re not at all histrionic, yet they’re also not trying to actively avoid the century of jazz music that predates them (our cover says “New Jazz Visionaries,” not “Nu-Jazz Visionaries”). Instead, jazz runs in their veins alongside contemporary tributaries like hip-hop, indie-rock and pop. Some have a business-minded infrastructure to work the PR angles (cover subject Esperanza Spalding), and some have to navigate music careers with self-made machinery (Marcus Strickland), but they’re all ingenious.
In this issue’s The Gig, Nate Chinen reinforces that such progressives are birthed in tight-knit communities of other spry talents. He likens the bebop incubator Minton’s Playhouse to the Smalls that gave us Kurt Rosenwinkel, but the analogy that sprang to my mind while perusing the piece had more to do with the coterie of youthful journalists who write about the music today. The 31-year-old Chinen is at the zenith of that set, and he proved it in June by winning the Jazz Journalists Association’s writing award for the last three years. (JazzTimes was fortunate enough to be voted Best Periodical for the 10th year in a row, and we’d be foolish not to acknowledge Nate’s role in our victories.) Reading Chinen’s raw copy is one of the joys of my job. His prose is so well calculated he’s a challenge to line-edit; what you see in the book is pretty much what he sends me, and I imagine it’s the same scenario for the editors at one of his other outlets, the New York Times.
In his Final Chorus, Nat Hentoff appreciates out loud The Jazz Ear (Times), the forthcoming book by Chinen’s Times colleague Ben Ratliff. (A critic at the Gray Lady since 1996, Ratliff has a decade on Chinen but is still a teen by jazz-critic standards.) I’ve pored over Ratliff’s reviews and previous books: his Times Essential Library: Jazz proves its title is no hyperbole, and his Coltrane: The Story of a Sound defies jazz-bio convention in favor of heady analyses. It’s a rare trick to be writerly and accessible at once, but Ratliff pulls it off: He assumes intelligence of his reader but not knowledge, defining concepts and cross-pollinations and allowing his insight to snowball. He carries the stateliness of historic Times critics like Robert Palmer, but lets his own predilections—he knows a lot about avant-garde heavy metal for a jazz aficionado—and his generation seep through, casting him off into uncharted critical waters.
Here’s to the future—on record and in print.
Originally published in September 2008