In “Flee as a Bird,” Gary Giddins’ 2003 Village Voice farewell column that’s more a commencment address than any sort of official goodbye, the author caps his first paragraph with what’s not necessarily a jazz adage, but damn well should be. “In jazz, time is all,” he writes. As majestic as that phrase is, I’d like to amend it. Actually, I’d like to negate it. Jazz music lives in time; jazz musicians live beyond it.
If there’s one thing that proves the mystical powers of the music our writers try earnestly to capture issue after issue, it’s the sheer agelessness of jazz players. In this space last month, I complained about how the music is overwrought with nostalgia and how the veterans seem unwilling to let the next generation stake its claim. While I stand by my sentiments regarding underappreciated young jazz men and women, I also understand why we have these problems: The septua- and octogenarians are still kicking-and swinging, and burning, and killing it. Our critics’ favorite record of 2006 was 77-year-old Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar (the Pulitzer people thought it was pretty great, too). If you’ve heard it, you understand why. That record is as old-fashioned as sex or a street fight.