11/11/11 By Evan Haga
JT's Editor Introduces the November 2011 Issue
Drummers Terri Lyne Carrington & Roy Haynes are featured artists
One of the most comforting things about jazz is how it treats age. A music this simultaneously earthy and sophisticated is a lifelong pursuit in the most literal sense. If you need proof, flip to Nate Chinen’s profile of 86-year-old Roy Haynes, who is as relevant to the scene now as he was in 1950. But Haynes also underscores a fact that is much less empowering to a so-so improviser like me whose college days have long since passed. As in sports, famous jazz musicians tend to be contenders as adolescents, winning awards, being noticed by older musicians and generally building expectations while finding a voice. Sure, there might be the odd middle-aged journeyman out there somewhere, gearing up for a grand entrance. For the most part, however, jazz isn’t acting or literature, where decades of rejection don’t necessarily discount the possibility of an Oscar or a Great American Novel.
Cover subject Terri Lyne Carrington, jazz drumming’s resident Jodie Foster during the late ’70s and ’80s, is one of the music’s most severe examples of early promise, but our other feature subjects, Haynes and drummer-composer John Hollenbeck, were notably precocious, too, even if they weren’t marketed by promoters as child prodigies. More important, their abilities transcended mere performance; they arrived with personality. “Roy’s concept seemed completed early on,” Chick Corea explains to Chinen. And colleagues from Hollenbeck’s hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., recall a music student whose childlike, bookish appearance belied impressive chops and deep interests in classical music.
Today, jazz has no better talent-scouting venue than the Thelonious Monk Institute’s yearly competition. In September, the institute celebrated its 25th anniversary with a piano competition and star-laden concert in Washington, D.C. Listening to the 12 semi-finalists perform for what had to be a profoundly intimidating panel of judges, all the virtues and vices of young musicianship were on display: athleticism and infectious energy, but also overzealousness and a lack of identity. If the three twentysomething finalists had anything in common, it was that they sounded most like mid-career adults with something to say. Third-place finisher Emmet Cohen, for instance, negated the importance of pyrotechnics upfront and kicked off the finals with a romantic ballad. Joshua White, who earned second place, recast Monk on his own speedier and more virtuosic terms, but his imposing technique evoked Thelonious and Cecil Taylor rather than Oscar Peterson. The victor, Kris Bowers, was a study in assuredness and aesthetic balance—between harmonic and rhythmic tension and being bluesy and in-the-pocket; between the annals of his jazz-piano heritage and how young pianists in game-changing New York bands sound today.
Not surprisingly, artistic equilibrium and individuality are themes in our three feature profiles, too. Carrington’s The Mosaic Project (Concord Jazz) scores with its symmetry of modern-jazz intelligence and R&B soulfulness. John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet and Large Ensemble are two of the most intellectual jazz outfits going and, at the same time, are among the bands I recommend to indie-rock fans looking for an entryway into the music. Haynes has dictated the sound of modern jazz drumming for more than 60 years by playing from within; his effortless swing demands attention even as it serves its context perfectly. In jazz, growing up is a good thing to do.
Originally published in November 2011