It's all music, man. And maybe it's all JAZZ.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.