On our editorial calendar, this issue was originally designated as “The Renegades Issue.” Here’s one of the ways Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “renegade”: “an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior.” Going by that definition, you could argue that every issue of JazzTimes is full of renegades. What was supposed to set this issue apart was that we specifically wanted to highlight either up-and-coming players with a distinct sense of adventurousness in their work or established artists who normally operate outside the mainstream.
We did achieve that goal, to an extent. I’m particularly gratified to see youngsters like Pedro Martins, Veronica Swift, and Brian Krock in the pages of the May 2019 issue as well as David Dominique, whose giddily genre-surfing album Mask has, in the early months of 2019, become one of my favorite albums of 2018. It’s also great to catch up for the first time in a while with older yet still undersung players like Marilyn Crispell and Amina Claudine Myers.
In the end, though, I have to admit that some of our renegades could just as easily be called elder statesmen (or stateswomen). That’s certainly true of cover co-subject Pharoah Sanders; forget for the moment that, in his case, that status has been a long, long time coming. You could even conceivably give such a title to the ever-quotable Matthew Shipp, who’s been an avant-garde fixture for more than 30 years. Neither of these musicians has done anything to damage his renegade credibility, to be sure. But simply by sticking around, continuing to work, and staying true to themselves, they’ve reached a point where the weight and importance of their contributions to jazz are impossible to deny. Maybe, with luck, the younger folks in this issue will have something similar to look forward to.
Of all our articles this month, the one that fits the “renegade” tag best has to be Jim Farber’s primer on punk jazz, a confrontational subgenre that oozed up from the New York underground four decades ago. In the middle of editing this story, I had the pleasure of watching a 1978 live clip of the Lounge Lizards that first aired on the Manhattan cable show Nightclubbing (you can see it on video artists Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong’s Vimeo channel GoNightclubbing). One of the tunes they play is a ramshackle run through Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” As keyboardist Evan Lurie and guitarist Arto Lindsay kick up clusters of dissonance, alto saxophonist John Lurie blows a solo that leans heavily on repeated, insistent two-note phrases. It’s intentionally annoying, one big “nah-nah-na-nah-nah” taunt. And yet the glee of it is captivating, and contagious. There’s real love in this music—in a renegade sort of way.