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Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow/Billy Drummond: The Lost Chords

Carla Bley

Pianists with a sense of humor have always had problems in the jazz world. The most obvious examples are Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk, whose genius went unrecognized for so long partially due to their comic bent (in addition to being so forward-looking). It wasn’t just Waller’s lyrics or Monk’s offbeat stage presentation either; their humor was embedded in the music itself. Both had a habit of setting us up for a resolving chord, a romantic tone or a rhythmic accent and then giving us something else entirely-an off-kilter harmony, a bawdy bleat or an unexpected pause-enjoying a joke at our expense.

Not everyone laughed along, and even those who did often felt the music was less important because it was so playful. This reflects the common prejudice that brooding is worthier than laughing, that tragedy is more valuable than comedy, and that John Ford is a more significant filmmaker than Charlie Chaplin. Nothing could be further from the truth; giddiness is as central to human experience as melancholy, and levity can unlock the world for us as effectively as gravity.

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