Jazz in Search of Itself
“ Jazz in Search of Itself touches on nearly all the major issues and figures to appear in jazz over the past fifty years and then some, spotlighting a few unexpected names along the way... ”
Jazz in Search of Itself
Yale University Press
"In every case," writes Larry Kart in his preface to Jazz in Search of Itself , "the pieces collected here came to be written because other people asked for them." Those mysterious "other people" include editors and higher-ups at the Chicago Tribune and Down Beat , but this shouldn't suggest that the impetus behind Kart's writing on jazz is solely one of money or obligation. The essays, interviews and reviews assembled in this book demonstrate his enduring love of the music and a fine critical ear for it.
Jazz in Search of Itself justifies its publication on the basis of the introduction alone. Here Kart describes in a nutshell the unique history of jazz and posits reasons for its personal and general appeal as well as its longevity. He is fascinated by what he calls in the two-page preface "this music's perpetual intimate narrative" in addition to its roots in self-expression, in support of which he cites Carl Dahlhaus' analysis that 'expressionist' composers - and by extension, jazz musicians - present to the public their "'intelligible I,' the analogue of the poet's 'lyric ego.'" This resolute belief in self-expression as one of the defining characteristics of jazz appears again and again in Kart's work, shaping his assessments of Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis and pianist Bill Evans. It also partly explains the existential title.
Kart's tastes are broad, ranging from the downhome exuberance of Tin Pan Alley to the abstract philosophizing of Cecil Taylor. This eclecticism extends beyond music, too, enabling him to draw apposite comparisons between jazz music and, for example, the poetry of Tennyson, William Carlos Williams, Rimbaud and Pinsky, not to mention the philosophy of Ortega y Gassett and the fiction of Jack Kerouac (who has a piece devoted entirely to his own relation to jazz). These touchstones not only put the jazz under review into some kind of context for the non-musician or the newcomer; they also remind the reader that jazz is and always has been more than just music. It is a social and artistic phenomenon too.
One characteristic piece is the short sketch of tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb from 1980. In the course of just 400 words or so, Kart nails one of those subtle delights that appear every so often in jazz music, this particular one being a two-note " Yah -duh" that kicked off Cobb's solo on a rendition of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." He writes: "Now I suppose you had to be there to hear what that ' Yah -duh did, but let me assure you that within its apparent simplicity there was more musical meaning than words could exhaust... And listening to it one could feel a literal loosening in the knees, an invitation to enter a realm of sensuous physicality." This is the sort of event - and a written account to match - that makes one fall in love with jazz all over again. Similar onomatopoeic renderings of Ellington's "The Sergeant Was Shy" (the "Dee-doodle- doo ... dee-doodle- doo " of the clarinets and the trumpets' " boo -bop, boo-bop-boo-bop") mix lightheartedness with a novelist's quest for descriptive accuracy.
Another noteworthy piece, written rather early in Kart's career in 1969, is the first one on Lee Konitz in the section on Tristano-ites, which despite its brevity is an especially rewarding section in Jazz in Search of Itself. "[O]ne senses that, more than any jazz musician of comparable skill, [Konitz] is often on the brink of surrendering to the impulse not to play - as though the blankness of the blank slate were so real to him that he 'writes' upon it with some reluctance." Exquisitely put. One does not even need to have heard Konitz's music to appreciate this assessment; but for those who have its precision is remarkable. The same gift for metaphor can be found in the review of Ornette Coleman and his live performance with the band Prime Time, "the music of a man who has summoned up the gods for purposes of conversation, not worship."