Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense - Episode Three: In the Spirit of Family
In a 2005 AAJ interview, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel bemoaned the loss of a sense of community in the jazz world. "There was a real community spirit kind of thing and from going to that I really grew to love and appreciate the community spirit of jazz... that kind of thing is really rare and it's getting rarer and rarer all the time. I really value and cherish the fact that I had the opportunity to be a part of that oral jazz tradition; it was great."
Mentoring may be largely a thing of the past (although artists including Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard are still keeping the spirit alive), as is a club scene that encouraged young, aspiring musicians to get onstage and jam with more established players. Still, there remains a sense of community engendered through groups who are committed to being more than just a collection of musicians coming together to play; they're families who, through months and years of touring, share far more than just the musicalthough the music is often more than enough. Episode Three of the groundbreaking series Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, In the Spirit of Family, explores the oftentimes complex relationships between artists truly committed to transcending the already potent nature of what they do.
Pianist Aaron Parks says, near the end of the 54-minute episode, "You can tell a lot about people, from the way they play music," he says. "You can tell a lot about whether they're a good person at heart even; you can hear their goodness through their music; you can hear their sense of humor; you can hear their insecurities. You can't hide it; that's one of the beautiful things about it." The revelatory nature of music has always been a given, but in the collectivity that comes from longstanding groups like The Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Medeski, Martin & Wood and e.s.t.the Swedish trio co-led by pianist Esbjorn Svensson, who died in 2008 in a tragic diving accidentis something that transcends personal matters to become something much larger.
Watching the members of drummer Brian Blade's Fellowship Band come together after months, possibly even years apart for rehearsals to prepare for the tour in support of Season of Changes (Verve, 2008) is revealing in itself. These are not just musicians coming together to continue a musical journey; these are people who share a close familial bond. "You have to recognize the mission in your life," says pianist Danilo Perez, "and when you do you're going to see that the most important thing that we are losing in our society is community. The one thing I've learned with Wayne Shorter is: the community must not be forgotten. We have to go back to thinking in a group mentality. When you are really playing jazz with the deepest of your heart, you are investing emotionally, and you have to create that sensation of being in a band. There's nothing better than feeling the totality of two, three, four musicians."
"The Fellowship is a band, it's also an idea of hopes, that you hope to see around younot just on the bandstandbut a manifestation of that hope," says Blade, before the group launches into a performance of "Stoner Hill," from Season of Changes at the Newport Jazz Festival. "We all care so much for each other," says Fellowship saxophonist Myron Walden, "and I think, as an extension of what Brian said, it's your highest aspirations and hopes; you wish for people to get along and have a sense of camaraderie and care and compassion and support. With us, we love each other; we love what the other persons are into. Kurt [Rosenwinkel] has ideals that he brings that to the band, and Melvin [Butler] has his experiences, and they're all so open and giving, and very embracing. So I think that's a positive attribute of the band that brings us and keeps us together."