It's all music, man. And maybe it's all JAZZ.
New York — Dizzy Gillespie stopped the clowning and said that he could never match the "sheer joy" of his long gone days playing music with Charlie Parker. Gerry Mulligan tethered his loping baritone saxophone and crooned he didn't want to be a millionaire, just to sing and dance like Fred Astaire.
Lester Bowie rested his sighing, squealing, declamatory trumpet and sat down in benign enjoyment of the weird noises made by his four expert colleagues in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, all but one of them with primitively painted faces.
Such contrasting moments from three opening events illustrate the broadening roof of jazz under which the Newport Jazz Festival is swinging its current 10 -day extravaganza from Manhattan to Long Island to New Jersey to Saratoga Springs.
Another sign of jazz's broadening roof is the also current first Wolf Trap International Jazz Festival -- five days at the Wolf Trap national park outside Washington for which program director John Lewis scheduled the National Symphony and Yehudi Menuhin from the classical realm as well as jazz musicians from Europe, Japan, and nearer home.
What does it all mean? That the definition of jazz is being stretched? Or rather that jazz is a certain spirit -- of spontaneity, feeling, wit, craftsmanship -- that can turn up almost anywhere, in any guise? Listeners will always have to decide for themselves. But the tendency among musicians is to get away from filing everything in categories. It's all music, man. Maybe -- it's all jazz.
Anyway, there was trumpeter Gillespie remembering saxophonist Parker -- a reigning monarch of jazz looking back in affection to a departed king. He joined some 40 other musicians who blew or drummed or sang their praises of "Bird" in an extraordinary four-hour concert occurring almost simultaneously at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. The programs were not precisely the same, but most of the players appeared first at Carnegie and then, an hour later, at Avery Fisher, where we caught them. (Conspicuous absence: trumpeter Miles Davis , who went on from playing with Parker to become a major jazz figure himself but has not played in public lately.)
Here was a concentrated festival in itself, with a festival's not unexpected ups and downs, errors of commission and omission. But "The Year of the Bird -- A Tribute to Charlie Parker" did revive an era of remarkable talent and innovation loosely labeled bop. Harvard University's radio station recently put together enough recordings of Parker and related musicians to fill six days and nights with "Bop! The Bird Years."
The tributes here and elsewhere are coming in 1980 because it is just a quarter century since Parker's passing and he would have had his 60th birthday this summer. It is one of those sad patterns of great gifts and artistic discipline combined with great personal excesses and self-destructiveness. What has survived is the art, in this case not only the cascading instrumental virtuousity but the virtual rebuilding of the harmonic and rhythmic structure of the music -- and the search for the heart of the blues in even the most unlikely material.
So the Newport tribute roused all sorts of echoes when it put together a crew of other veterans with pianist Jay McShann, the Kansas City bandleader who gave Parker his start forty years ago. when they played "Lady Be Good" the sounds went back to 1936 when tenor saxophonist Lester Young brought the tune freshly alive in his recording debut -- and forward to 1946 when Parker, who had supposedly memorized all Young's solos, played his own historic choruses on the same tune. After these, jazz would never be the same.
The echoes continued as saxophonist Dexter Gordon slipped a phrase of "Whispering" into "Groovin' High," which was based on the chords of "Whispering." It was a bop practice to recycle the old into the new in this fashion as well as simply to let an old tune stand -- as in "Star Eyes" or "Out of Nowhere" -- and transform its nature through the new improvisation.
To go from the driven world of Charlie Parker to the debonair world of Fred Astaire is to see that the essence of jazz travels well. Among those present at Carnegie Hall for "Puttin' on the Ritz -- A Jazz Tribute to Fred Astaire" were performers who have previously offered musical tributes to Astaire on their own: singers Mel Torme and Sylvia Syms and trumpeter Ruby Braff. It's understandable for jazz musicians to enjoy Astaire, with his style, his rhythm, his phrasing as a dancer and a singer.
Here the Astaire connection was mainly through songs associated with him. Most are marvelous tunes, some of them proven jazz material, like "My One and Only," limpidly played by Braff; some of them unexpectedly susceptibel to jazz, like "Easter Parade" as played slowly, rhapsodically, and inventively by saxophonist Stan Getz before bringing it up to speed.
Switch now to Town Hall and the midnight concert of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Only five musicians but a stage full of drums, gleaming saxophones in all sizes, and other paraphernalia. Since the 1960s they have been in that avant-garde which both extends the range of sounds from conventional instruments , such as Lester Bowie's trumpet, and adds unconventional instruments like whistles and finger cymbals to the freely improvising arsenal.
Other musicians such as trumpeter Don Cherry have also been mapping this territory for years. More recently saxophonist Anthony Braxton has come on the scene. The Newport festival this year is making a special and laudable effort to have the new music represented, at least after midnight.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago, praised for its new "Full Force" album, was an auspicious opener. The skills of the players provide interest even when the results might be described as caterwauling, let alone when they add up to remarkable textures and interplays. and there is an edge of satire and bubbling of humor that notably emerged last Friday when out of the maelstrom of sound would come a cartoon of martial music or a cornily delightful watlz.
Oddly enough, in these three concerts of a big festival, some particularly shining moments were on a small scale with plenty of white space around the notes.
In the Parker concert "Billie's Bounce" brought together pianist John Lewis and his compatriot from the bygone Modern Jazz Quartet, bassist Percy Heath. They were an object lesson in how the kind of jagged tune characteristic of bop can be kept swinging while the piano moves from crystalline rumination to romping climax and the bass displays the lyric quality so little exploited before the bop years.
In the Astaire concert there was alto saxophonist Lee Konitz asking if he could be heard without the microphone and filling Carnegie with a light, blessedly nonelectric sound. His contemplative explorations of tunes he said he didn't know had a kind of minimalist's variation on the melody that spoke louder than torrents of elaboration. And there was pianist George Shearing, with brilliant bassist Brian Torff, delicately weaving a trace of "Big Noise from Winnetka" into "Puttin' on the Ritz" and showing just how much a duo can do.
As for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, again a string bass was involved, this time emerging from a wall of sound with a clear, high, irresistible beat behind a lone saxophone. Only here the face of the bassist, Malachi Favors Maghostus, was masked with paint and moving with each beat as if sewn to it. And the face was breaking into a Harpo Marx smile.