Sunday, January 14, 2007

Soup, Please

I got the chance to meet Delfeayo Marsalis the other night, where he and my buddy Mario got into a heated but friendly discussion about pro football (Marsalis is from New Orleans, and they'll be crowing mightily Monday if the Saints beat the Bears). I always thought that if I had the chance to meet a member of the Marsalis family, the eventual argument would center on jazz. The family is known for their largely conservative views regarding the genre. In particular, Wynton, the trumpeter and Marsalis family's most recognizable member, is known for his successful attempts to institutionalize and elevate jazz to the level of classical music, as the driving force behind Jazz at Lincoln Center. In doing so, Wynton's crossed swords with notables in the free and avant garde jazz communities for ignoring sub genres like fusion, electric, and smooth jazz as insignificant to the music's canon, and the stylistic mashing of jazz with hip-hop and R&B. He's even found himself debating his own brother Branford's work with Sting, leading the early version of Jay Leno's Tonight Show band, and the under-appreciated Buckshot LeFonque, as not being true to the spirit of jazz.

Years ago, when I subscribed to the Atlantic Monthly, writer David Hadju wrote a profile of Wynton Marsalis as he approached his fortieth birthday. As someone with a background covering jazz music, I found it to be an interesting piece. Wynton's success at Lincoln Center served to solidify his views, yet he also found himself at a musical crossroads of his own. Marsalis became a casualty of the consolidation of major record labels, the seemingly open checkbook he had at Columbia/Sony Music wa
s taken away, and he was dropped from Columbia. Shortly after the Atlantic piece ran, Wynton found himself at Blue Note, more known these days for their stable of singers (Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones, and Amos Lee stand out). Even though Blue Note is a subsidiary of Capitol/EMI, it still doesn't reach the deep pockets that Wynton had at Columbia in his peak. He's certainly not hurting; a salary from Lincoln Center in excess of $800,000 can smooth some fairly rumpled feathers. But the way his views were regarded as almost law has lessened. I wonder what he would have thought of Delfeayo's concert last week, with it elements of hard funk and hip-hop rhythms providing a tight groove for his muted trombone runs.

I'm guessing that the wisdom of age would have stilled his tongue publicly, but Wynton would have given Delfeayo an earful in private that would have made the discussion of Bears-Saints seem like tea time chit-chat. It's hard; twenty years ago I saw Wynton's septet play the Chicago Jazz Festival from six rows back in the bandshell. I was enchanted by his cosmopolitan sensibility and passion and respect for the history of the music. HIstory, however, only takes you so far. Eventually, you have to chart your own course. Looking at Wynton Marsalis' discography, I can't help but feel that he's just a highly funded musicologist, more than a musician.

Nothing screams "fish in a barrel" like picking out mullets on a blues club tour, so one can guess how I spent most of Saturday night. There were some righteous ones that made me regret not having my camera on me, from short, professional hockey player fros, to the "early Jerry Seinfeld" period, some classic "Tatanka's" in the mix, and one classic salt-and-pepper job that ran down to a guitar player's lumbar region. One of the singers, Super Percy, kept referring to himself in the third person. He said "Super Percy" so much, it reminded me of the punchline to the "superpussy" joke about a stripper propositioning customers at a gentlemen's club. Hence, the title of today's post.

Other unintentional comedy: go see "Dreamgirls" at Ford City. Sue did, and picked a seat behind three teenage girls drinking rum-and-cokes who knew the words to every song, but still couldn't stop
screaming, "Oh, HELL, NO!" at the screen when Curtis dumps Effie for Deena. The movie is also Eddie Murphy's best moment on film since "Raw". That's nice to know, I still think he has one hell of a comedy concert in him, waiting to come out at the right moment.

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