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Big Think Interview With Gary Giddins
Gary Giddins is an award-winning American jazz and film critic. His column "Weather Bird" appeared in The Village Voice from 1973 through 2003 and won six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for Excellence in Music Criticism. He has also won a Peabody Award for writing (for the PBS documentary "John Hammond: From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen") and a Grammy Award (for his liner notes to "Sinatra: The Voice"). He currently writes a music column for Jazz Times. His latest book, "Jazz," was published by W. W. Norton in 2009.
Question: Did you originally aspire to a career in writing or jazz?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, I think all of us begin as writers. I wanted to be a writer from the time I as eight, long before I heard of jazz. The question is, once you have that obsession, what is your subject going to be and you often don't know for some time. It might become fiction, it might be non-fiction, and if it's non-fiction it can go in any number of directions.\r\n
I didn't realize what my subject was for quite some time. I thought I was—I knew I wanted to write criticism because I love reading criticism and I just had a response to that and I knew I had an ability for it, but I studied English literature and expected to be a literary critic. Jazz was something that I loved, it was an obsession of mine, but I wasn't a musician or a musicologist, I didn't really think I had the right to write about jazz. But then after I got out of school, my first job actually was as a film critic for the "Hollywood Reporter" and I felt that jazz criticism was terribly lacking. A lot of the things I wanted to say and the musician I admired weren't being written about and I felt I had something to say that nobody else was saying and people would say to me, editors, "you know a lot about jazz, would you do a jazz piece for me?" And finally, I just bit the bullet and left off film writing for more than 15 years and then really committed myself entirely to jazz critic.\r\n
Question: Who were the first critics you admired?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, the first critic who sort of made the veil drop from my eyes was Dwight McDonald. McDonald was a film critic for "Esquire" in the early '60's, and he was very funny and polished and I really liked his voice.\r\n
And then shortly after that, I discovered Edmund Wilson. I remember buying "Axle’s Castle" and having a hard time with it because I hadn't read most of the writers in it, but then I got "The Shores of Light," which was his collection of essays from the '20's and Classics in Commercials and Wilson sort of really set me on my path.\r\n
There were a number of other critics at the same time that I was reading, James Agee's film reviews. In jazz, the two critics I loved the most were Martin Williams and Dan Morgenstern. I became completely obsessed with the turn of the century critic, who isn't read any more, I don't know why, named James Gibbon Huneker, who published some two dozen volumes in a notorious novel about an orgy at the opera called Painted Veils which was once a Best Seller, but I don't even think that's in print anymore.\r\n
Max Beerbohm's theater criticism I love, Shaw's music criticism. Well, you know, I became completely obsessed with reading criticism. Well, Johnson, that was a big thing in my life when I first started to read Lives of the Poets. And Matthew Arnold, Eliot's criticism, I ended up doing my senior thesis on Edmund Wilson, T.S. Eliot, and Hemingway as critics.\r\n
So, I think that path was pretty much clear for me at that point.\r\n
Question: Do you write for jazz newcomers or jazz aficionados?\r\n
Gary Giddins: That's an interesting question. I think I should begin by just briefly exploring the issue of who one writes for and I've always thought, and for me, there's no question about it, you're writing for some version of yourself. You're writing the kinds of things that you like to read or wanted to read at a certain point. So, primarily for most of my career, I've written the kind of criticism that fascinates me. The things I discovered the things that get me going, that I'm excited about.\r\n
At the same time, you want to share that enthusiasm, but this new book, Jazz, was a very deliberate attempt to put the literary issues aside and even some of the more constant enthusiasms and really try to share what I've learned in 45 years about the way jazz works, how to listen to it. It's always sort of bugged me that people are always intimidated by it. They're intimidated by improvisation, they say I like it, but I don't understand it as though it were something mystical and complicated. I found from teaching years ago and Scott Devoe, my co-author on this book who is a dedicated professor at the University of Virginia for a quarter of a century, you find out that—or at least I found out, that when I explained what a Blues form is, 12 bar Blues, or 32 bar pop song, it just clicks in people's heads and then suddenly they hear popular music in a whole different way.\r\n
There's wonderful story that Martin Williams used to tell. He was lecturing, I think he was lecturing at NYU as a guest lecturer, and he started explaining the 12 bar blues and the 32 bar pop song and the fact that 90% of all the pop songs ever written in America, 32 bars AABA. And there was a guy in the audience who was basically a cocktail pianist. He earned his living playing at Holiday Inns and he knew thousands of songs. And as Martin is talking about the AABA form, he suddenly slaps his forehead and says, "That's right!" So, I mean, this guy who knows the world hadn't really thought of it that way. But when you hear it and you understand the way chords work and the way harmonies build and then resolve in 8 bar increments, or 12 bars, suddenly improvisation doesn't seem so complicated anymore.\r\n
And for me, the trick is to learn how to listen the way the musicians are listening, which is not that difficult. I'm not a musicologist, so this book was really written for people who have no more musicological ability than I do. The challenge in analyzing the 78 tracks we chose wasn't doing it in a language that was non-musicological.\r\n
Question: Do you ever try to imitate jazz improvisation in your writing?\r\n
Gary Giddins: No. Writing style is something is a consequence of who you are. I think that I had a certain propensity for a style that I recognize in my early work, but that doesn't mean I didn't have to learn certain basics and the longer you write the better you get. The rhythms come from you. If the rhythm seem to echo the music, then that's delightful if people see that, but it's certainly not something that's intentional on my part. I'm trying to be as clear and precise as I can be and at the same time, I'm trying to be eloquent and witty and entertaining. I mean, writing should be a pleasure.\r\n
One of the things I always underscore when I teach criticism is that young critics, or would be critics, frequently have this illusion that if they write about music they're somehow part of music, or if they write about movies they're part of movies, or of they write about theater they're part of theater, or write about literature. Writing is a part of literature, we belong the species of literature. If you add all the music reviews together that have ever been written, they don't create two notes of music.\r\n
So, the question of jazz, or film, or whatever the subject is, it's just a matter of finding the subject that allows you to express yourself as a writer. I mean, just as novelists write about the world through the fabrications of the fictional imagination, we write about the world as we experience it though the arts. And for me, jazz is a way to deal with—the development of the 20th century on so many different levels, especially race, the high art forces, the low art controversy that never ends. Then the whole way—an art that's fairly recent develops how it starts in a community as a kind of folk music just functionally supporting the dance traditions of one little place and then it spreads and everywhere it spreads, it's changed by whatever community it enters.\r\n
When it goes to New York, it completely changed; when it goes to Chicago it's completely changed. And then at some point it become worldwide and even to popular music. And then suddenly it becomes more self-conscious about itself as an art and leaves the popular stage, and then it becomes this sort that academics study. So, this whole thing, you know, you can write about it in terms of the stage or literature, but then you're writing really about something that happened long before you were born.\r\n
But with jazz or cinema, these are arts that are about a hundred years old, so we're writing about something that is pretty much as it's happening. And that's pretty exciting.\r\n
Question: Does jazz merit more academic study than other 20th-century genres?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, everything that is of any value merits academic study and I suppose even some things that aren't of any value, there's all kinds of popular culture courses that go into areas that I don't really see the point of. But the sad truth is that, in the 1930's or 1940's, people—me, when I was growing up in the 1960's, I listened to jazz because loved it. I didn't need anybody—I could teach about it by reading books and reviews, but mostly through listening. I hate the idea of turning jazz into homework assignments. I would never have a quiz saying, "Who's the clarinetist on the Hot Five?" I don't care. If you like the clarinetist, you'll know who it is.\r\n
But appreciation is another thing, music appreciation and how to enjoy it. I mean, I am astounded at my age with a 20-year-old daughter to discover that kids of her generation don't want to watch black and white movies. I understand that they gave up on silent films, but black and white? So, now movies have to be taught in academia because people don't know how to watch them, they don't know how to appreciate them.\r\n
It's inevitable that that's where it's going to happen, but if the class turns into something dry and academic and a question of memorization, then I say, to hell with it. If it doesn't give you pleasure, go someplace else. Jazz is for joy. It's for euphoria, it's for emotion, and anguish, and excitement, and all of the joys that great art can produce, and if it loses that, then it's lost everything.\r\n
Question: What’s the best advice you can offer students in your profession?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, really, my answer to that hasn't changed in most of the years I've been doing this. I think first of all, if you're a critic—I'm a critic. That means you are a writer. So, yes, you have to make yourself an authority on whatever subject it's going to be. Music, movies, literature, whatever it's going to be, but what you really want to do is learn your trade by reading other writers. I think you have to read veraciously, especially people who have done what you have done to see how it's been done in the past; what works, what doesn't work.\r\n
When I teach criticism, I'm not a great admirer of Pauline Kael. Forgive me, I know a lot of people are, but I used to use Pauline Kael as an example in my class of everything you ought not to do, from the imperial “we,” to the arrogance, to the predictability of liking anything by a certain artist, or hating anything by another certain artist; but on the other had, yes, you should read her for yourself, obviously. By reading different critics, you find out who speaks to you and what kind of voice you want to have. So, I think that's the first thing.\r\n
And then in terms of succeeding, because of who you are and what your voice is, and you have to have passion, if you don't have passion for it, why would you bother? This is not a way to make a living in any conventional sense. So you really, you need to have the passion and the belief, arrogant though it may be, to believe that you're saying something that nobody else is saying.\r\n
Question: How has your criticism changed over the years?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Yeah, sure. The early years of my work, I have to say, I often felt guilty because I was having such a good time and I couldn't believe I was allowed to make a living, first of all, listening to this music that I loved and writing about it. And there is something bizarre about spending your day exploring the obsessions of your adolescence. But as you get older, you want to do different things. At first, you're sort of delivering yourself of everything you know, and a part of your early writing; and I notice this in young critics all the time and I'm certainly guilty of this, is that there is a bit of showing off. Because you just entered the stage and you want to prove that you have something. So, sometimes you are making statements that are louder than they need to be; ‘this is too many masterpieces,’ and ‘this is beneath contempt,’ and you're not really dealing with art in the right proportion.\r\n
For me, one way it changed was that I was primarily concerned with live performance for many years. I loved writing about recordings, but I was out there on average four nights a week for the first 15 years, I would say, when I was at the “Voice.” And most of the pieces that I did were about what I had heard live. And I had invented this job for myself at the “Voice.” It didn't really exist in any other publication.\r\n
I never really wanted to be a daily critic who goes out every night and writes 300 word reviews, I wanted to write essays. And that gave me the luxury to be able to go out and if it was lousy, I could just say, well the hell with that, I’ll go to hear something else, or, I'll go tomorrow night; I as writing for a weekly. And I only wanted to write about things that interested me as a writer as well as, as a listener.\r\n
But then, my daughter was born in the late '80's, and suddenly I started resenting being out. I wanted being home; I wanted to be able to put her to sleep. You know, you don't get those chances again. And so without even realizing it at first, I started going out less and I started doing more and more columns about recordings. In the course of that I began—my aesthetic changed a lot I think because, first of all, I was exploring a lot of recordings that I thought I knew cold, but as you get older they change as you change and you begin to hear different things. So, that was one. And I still wrote live about important concerts and certainly festivals.\r\n
But at the same time, something else changed with me and that's this; the “Village Voice,” once I had got my column, after I'd been there for a year, I had a column for 30 years and I wrote it every other week. Eighteen hundred words for the most part and occasionally down to 1,600 or something like that. It was my page and nobody ever told me how to fill it. After a while, you begin to realize that spending 1,800 words, telling people not to buy a recording that they've never heard of in the first place, is stupid. It's a waste of your time, it doesn't tell the reader anything. So, I became much more of an enthusiast. I became much more of a critic who wants to tell you, "You gotta hear this!" That's what I kept looking for.\r\n
Now, I listen to things blind. I have an assistant and she puts – I have one of those CD players that you can put five discs in. She puts the discs in and keeps the boxes in the other room and I go through them with the remote and if I see something I like and usually I recognize it, but frequently I don’t, and in that way, frequently you're surprised. People that you think, I don't want to bother with, will sometimes grab you, and other times, well, it can go either way.\r\n
Question: Do you worry more about positive or negative reviews?\r\n
Gary Giddins: I worry far more about negative reviews than positive ones. If I'm reviewing a record, man, I play that record to death, which is ironic in a way because if I review a concert I feel very confident in myself, certainly at his point, and have for most of my career. You're only hearing it once and then you go to your typewriter and you write the review.\r\n
But with a record, I never do that. I have to play the record over and over again. And if I don't like it, I have to really kind of come to grips with what is it I don't like and articulate it. When I teach criticism, the first thing I say, and this sometimes pisses off younger—I mean, students, is that, opinions are the least part of criticism. We've all had the experience of going with a friend to a movie or a concert and you leave the theater and one of you loved it and one of you hated it, and that doesn't mean that one of you is an idiot. That's the way things work.\r\n
Now, the question is, not who is right, because there is no right. The question is how you articulate it. That's what criticism comes into play. There are reviews that are clearly wrong. Dr. Johnson's famous Life of Savage, he's clearly wrong about the value of Savage. But it's one of the great works in English literature. You can learn more about the artistic expression and what the poet does and how to write about art from that than any number of guys who are terrible writers, who have no original ideas, but who say yes, "Hamlet" is a wonderful play. It's a meaningless statement.\r\n
So, it's all about first of all being candid and honest, letting nothing else interfere with the perception of the work, and then finding a means of articulation that somehow makes the work come alive and if you dislike it, it gives your argument some validity.\r\n
That’s why criticism ultimately at some degree is about the writer and not the subject. It's very easy if everybody else says, "He's a genius," to echo that, but then you're not functioning as a critic or as a writer in any meaningful way. You've got to take the risk of being wrong.\r\n
But my feeling, of course, is that if you're genuinely candid and expressive then you're never wrong, even when you are wrong.\r\n
Question: Is there a broader sociological purpose to your work?\r\n
Gary Giddins: The only sociological purpose I can remember that I had to deal with and sort of get past was race. I grew up with this idea that—I mean it was a fact, it wasn't just an idea, that white musicians were given all kinds of help that were denied black musicians. This is an African-American music. Most of the great figures have been black, and yet in the '30's, it was the white bands that got all the great hotel gigs and all the great radio hookups. Even in the '50's and '60's, when I was coming up, the white bands frequently got the most attention. I remember everybody saying that Stan Goetz was punished for years because of something that a critic wrote about him in “Life Magazine,” Albert Goldman said he was the greatest saxophone player in the world. This was a time when Colin Hawkins was alive and Sonny Rollins. And it was so offensive, really it would have been offensive to say that about anybody because it was ridiculous, but it seemed it was always the white guy.\r\n
And so a lot of people started to put down Stan Goetz. And I remember having lunch one day and I was writing a line for a wonderful saxophone player, a black musician and we were having lunch, and he made some kind of disparaging remark about Stan Goetz. And I had done this myself. And I said, "But, you know, isn't Stan a great player?" And he looked at me and he said, "Of course, he's a great player." So, you have to get by that. Goetz is one of the supreme figures in my judgment, but there was so much of that and I really had to deal with that.\r\n
In the '70's I used to talk about this with other critics, white and black, that we'd say, like if you're standing on 20th Street, and a new white band was coming to town on 15th, and a new black band was coming in to town on 25th, it's five blocks that way or this way, we'd all go to see the black band. It's just the assumption from history is that something more is going to be happening there.\r\n
So, I think at some point, you just finally have to really try to become color blind and say this guy is saying something and this guy isn't, and it isn't a question of race and it isn't a question of gender. That was a big issue that we started to deal with because, while most of my favorite singers have always been women, there haven't been a lot of really notable women instrumentalists. Marylou Williams, the great genius, she's always the token female in every discussion of instrumentalists and orchestraters and composers. But there have been so many really gifted women players in the last several years. So, that's been something that you have to deal with.\r\n
But on the other hand you don't want to say, well she's really good just because she's a woman, or because she's cute, there was a lot of that too. I remember there was a notorious piece in an essay in which this guy was going on and on about this woman musician and he just described her legs once too many times to make it a credible piece.\r\n
Question: Can critical judgment decide a work’s fate?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, first of all, the work is never tied to the judgment. "Moby-Dick," widely criticized. If you go back and read the reviews that Melville got in the early 1850's, these are not stupid people for the most part. They are actually put off by what they consider to be this young man's pretentiousness and daring to write a Shakespearian novel. We don't have that same problem. But it did take, what? Seventy years for "Moby-Dick" to find, as a professor from Columbia named Raymond Weaver, who started writing about it in the early '20s, right around the time they discovered the manuscript at ****. It's only since then that "Moby-Dick" has become this mammoth work in our literature.\r\n
And everybody knows that Vincent Van Gogh couldn't sell a painting and that Thelonious Monk for many years was considered a charlatan, and Cecil Taylor was considered a charlatan and all that kind of nonsense.\r\n
Question: Can criticism be as enduring as art?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Very little criticism has proven to be enduring. So, it really has to be essential. I mean, Aristotle, yes. Some of his criticism is enduring. Johnson is read by English majors like me. I mean try to find an inexpensive copy of “Lives of the Poets.” It's not easy. It's not—for a long time, you couldn’t find a decent edition of Boswell's “Life of Johnson.“\r\n
Matthew Arnold's criticism isn't read anymore, Eliot's is not widely read anymore. There are very few—Wilson, I think because so many of us grew up with him and find him to be an extremely important American writer, but look how many years it took for the Library of America to put out two volumes of Edmund Wilson, who founded the Library of America. It was his idea. And this was a great source of embarrassment to the editors of the Library of America, but criticism didn't sell. They put out two volumes of Henry James' criticism. Brilliant stuff. They put out Edgar Allen Poe's criticisms. Criticism is a hard sale. Most people aren't interested in reading it.\r\n
So, I think it's mostly critics that read classic criticism. But to my sorrow, and I've had this conversation a zillion times, even my colleagues don't read classic criticism. And my feeling is that if you don't do that then you're not really practicing your craft. That's how you learn how to do it. You don't learn how to write about jazz just from listening to jazz. You learn how to write by reading the great writers and how they worked, the great music critics.\r\n
Now, one of the essential books that I always recommend to anybody who wants to write about, or even think about music, is Slominsky’s Dictionary of Musical Invective. It's a collection of quotes by critics over the last 250 years that are just so totally off base that they are hilarious. “No one will ever listen to Beethoven’s Third Symphony because it's 40 minutes long, and who will ever listen to a 40-minute symphony?" Beethoven’s response was to write a 90-minute symphony. But when you read those reviews in the context of their period, these are not stupid people; they're simply reflecting the tastes and the limitations of that period.\r\n
But Slominsky’s is a book you should have on your bookshelf just to keep you humble. Humility is a very important trait in a critic.\r\n
Question: Which five jazz albums should everyone own?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Oh God, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that question. And I never have an answer. I mean, I would say that Louis Armstrong is the be-all and the end-all. And you should certainly listen to something by Armstrong, the 1928 recordings, or one of the great recordings from the 1950's.\r\n
Of modern jazz, Ellington certainly. There should be an album by Ellington, probably a collection from the early 40's, or maybe a late work like—it's funny the other night, I was listening, just by coincidence I was listening to Stravinsky's “Pertrushka” and it reminded me of a piece, “The Bird of Delhi,” one movement of it, from Ellington's “Far East Suite.” And I played Ellington's ‘Far East Suite,” a piece I've always loved. And it's greater than I – and I always thought it was great, but it's greater, it's even greater than I thought and I really feel like now I want to write about it now in a completely different way.\r\n
So, if you start there, you'll know who Ellington is. It doesn't have to be with “Mood Indigo,” or some agreed-upon, received-wisdom masterpiece.\r\n
Everybody loves Miles Davis' “Kind of Blue.” So, be different, choose something else, like “Milestones,” or “My Funny Valentine,” or “Porky & Bess.” These are all such magnificent recordings. Monk, I think “Solo Monk,” no one can resist “Solo Monk.” When I was in school, the one thing that my rock n' roll friends who really didn't have any interest in jazz, they all ended up buying Monk. You just can't resist “Solo Monk.” Nobody can. It's just too happy and swingy and surprising and whimsical and witty and brilliant and it just makes you think about everything in a different way.\r\n
That's more than five already, I suppose. But you know, one of the things we say in this book is, my job is to be a jazz historian and a critic. So, I've got to listen to everything, but you don't. You may love the Swing Era; you may really get turned on by Ellington and Basie, and Jimmy Luncerin and Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, Andy Kirk and all these fantastic swing bands. It doesn't mean you're necessarily going to love the avant-garde. I think one of the great periods is 1945 to 1949 when Bebop was really pure. I'm not aware of a bad record that was made in those four years by anybody.\r\n
But you may be completely obsessed with that and you may find traditional jazz or swing dull, and then at some point in your life you may go back to it and say, "Hey, now I get that." The point is to go with what really turns you on. People should not feel intimidated by received wisdom. You have to discover it yourself. If I tell you that Armstrong is great, it's meaningless; you have to hear it.\r\n
Every once in a while I meet somebody who's just had the Armstrong experience and it's always the same and I love it. Because at one point you think, well he's entertaining, or he's this or he's that. But then suddenly they get it the way they get Bach's “B-Minor Mass,” which to me was a benchmark as a kid. And suddenly they know. They know that this guy really was God. That there's nothing—Bing Crosby said that Armstrong is “the beginning and the end of music in America,” and he wasn't far wrong.\r\n
Ken Burns, when he was making his “Jazz” documentary, I was very cynical about it. He was going around saying he didn't know anything about jazz, but that in a few years he would, and all of this. And I'm thinking, it's not that easy. And then I was talking to him and he had just been converted by Armstrong. And you can't disguise that. He had a glow on about it. And the words he was using. And I thought, "Brother. He's in the tent." Fine.\r\n
Question: Where is jazz going next?\r\n
Gary Giddins: Well, nobody knows where jazz is going, because nobody has ever known where jazz was going. I mean, you couldn't possibly predict the Swing Era from the '20's or bebop from the Swing Era or Avant-garde from Bebop, or Effusion, or on and on and on. So, we don't really know where it's going.\r\n
But I would say this. I don't think we're going to be seeing those kinds of distinct and discrete movements like Swing, Bop, and Effusion. I think now, it's a question of individual's—one thing that is important to remember is that in the early years of jazz, a lot of major musicians like Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman had college educations and degrees and all of that.\r\n
But a lot of the great figures like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, did not. I mean, Armstrong didn't even go through high school. Hundreds, if not thousands, of major figures learned on the bandstand, that was their apprenticeship.\r\n
Today, the apprenticeship of musicians is in the college orchestra. I mean, you're just not going to meet a musician who hasn't got a least a BA and probably an MA and hasn’t been to a music school and hasn't had “Giant Steps” and a homework assignment. So, it's very different.\r\n
So, because they have this historical perspective, they aren't necessarily just coming out of whatever their generation is into, and also because they are growing up and they don't have the same prejudices against pop music that certain generations had, they can use that.\r\n
So, today's musicians, who maybe grew up with hip-hop, may use hip-hop beats in a way that if you're not looking for them, then you won't even hear it. But it's there, it's informing the way they think of rhythm.\r\n
And they may use things that they picked up from Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie that isn't particularly obvious, it's not a homage, it's not a matter of playing “Conna Homa” or “Sophisticated Lady,” it's just voicings or it's some idea that they picked up.\r\n
So all of this becomes part of the brew, and what we're really looking for in the future of jazz is the individual who is saying something that expresses him or herself. That's what I look for. I look for some spark of originality or individuality that sets this musician apart from the pack. The general level of musicianship in jazz is probably higher now than it's ever been.\r\n
I can't get very excited about a musician who can do Art Tatum because I've got the Art Tatum records. I want to hear him take that and do something that hasn't been done. And there's enough of that going around that keeps the music very exciting. There's so many great young players coming out. I think we're in some kind of renaissance, especially in the rhythm section. I mean the musicians on drums and bass and guitar are really trying to figure out different ways to bring a rhythm section together.\r\n
So, the crossover is a constant thing. One of the things we do in the book [“Jazz”], which I think is fairly novel, I don't think anyone's done it before, but we have two chapters on fusion instead of one. Everybody when they talk about fusion, they are usually talking about the jazz/rock thing that happens in the late '60's and '70's when Miles Davis recorded “Bitches Brew” and you know, Chick Corea and John McLaughlin and all these guys came along and had fusion bands using elements of rock.\r\n
But we make an argument that fusion has always been part of jazz and that you can actually create a sort of fusion history of jazz if you go back even into the '30's, where did Louie Jordan, the Father of Rhythm and Blues, come out of? The Chick Web Orchestra. Where did the Salsa Movement come out of? Macheto and Mari Obasu[ph] who played with Dizzy Gillespie, who played with all the Big Bands.\r\n
There's always been—you know, Jelly Roll Morton said, "You can't make jazz without using certain elements of Latin music." So, there's always been this, let me say it this way, I'll quote Dexter Gordon's famous line, he said, "Jazz is an octopus. It will take whatever it can use and it will work with it."\r\n
So, I think that distinctions aren't as clear as we'd like to think. Jason Rand, who is the subject of the last chapter in our book because we decided to use—instead of trying to cover the whole scene, we'd decided to use a representative Jazz musician at the age of 30, which he was at the time we wrote it. And the two tracks we analyzed by him, one is his version of a 1930 James P. Johnson stride piece called, “You've Got to be Modernistic,” which he takes completely into the realm of thoroughly modern semi-avant-garde jazz, and the other is Afrika Bambaataa's “Planet Rock,” which he does the same.\r\n
Now, anybody who knows the James P. number will recognize it and anybody who knows the Bambaataa number will recognize it, but they will also see that he has done something completely different. And it's not a question of doing something clever, or cute. This is what he grew up with; it's his right to use it. We're going to see a lot more of that.\r\n
Recorded on November 13, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
A conversation with the award-winning jazz critic and author of "Jazz."
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- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
Be fruitful and multiply<p>Scientists in the United Kingdom collected data on more than 13,000 mothers and their children. Most of them were religious, but 12 percent were not. The data included information on their church habits, social networks, number of children, and the scores those children achieved on a standardized test.</p><p>In line with previous findings that religious women have more children than secular women in industrialized countries, a connection between at least monthly church attendance and fertility was confirmed. However, religious parents showed they could avoid the pitfalls that having more children can bring. </p><p>Typically, more children in a family leads to reduced cognitive ability and height in each <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/37/6/1408/729795" target="_blank">child</a>. Some studies find that children do less well in school for each <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-016-0471-0" target="_blank">additional sibling they have</a>. This makes a kind of intuitive sense, as parents with more children would have to divide their time, energy, and resources among more people as families expand. One would expect that the larger families would also lead to things like lower test scores. </p><p>Despite the expectation, the children of religious parents didn't have lower scores on standardized tests. There were small positive relationships between the size of the mother's social network, the number of co-religionists helping out, and the children's test scores. However, this association was small, didn't show up in all of the testings, and was unrelated to other variables. </p> These effects might be explained by the size and helpfulness of the social networks around the more religious. Women who went to church at least once a month had more extensive social networks than those who never go or who attend yearly. These social networks of co-religious people mean that there are more people to turn to for help with child-rearing, a point also demonstrated in the data. The amount of aid women got from their fellow churchgoers was also associated with a higher fertility rate. <br> <br> Conversely, an extensive social network was associated with fewer children for secular women. This finding is in line with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_5" target="_blank">previous studies</a> and suggests that the social networks comprised of co-religious individuals differ from those found elsewhere.
So, how quickly should I join a local religious group?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="6RrmYM8M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb4740a7d1e10108a75fd2ed627a90f"> <div id="botr_6RrmYM8M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/6RrmYM8M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study is not without its faults, and more investigations into the relationship between fertility, childcare, ritual, and social networks are needed.</p><p>These findings all show correlation, not causation. Though it might be said the results point towards causation, various alternative interpretations of the data are apparent. The authors note that most religions are explicitly pro-natal. It is possible that religious women have internalized these values and simply choose to have more children than secular women do.</p><p>This idea is similar to a potential interpretation of why large social networks have the opposite effect for secular women. The authors suggest that, in some cases, these more extensive social networks are associated with work and exert an anti-natal influence. Again, the people who build such networks may be people unlikely to have large families under any circumstances.</p><p>However, the researchers' hypothesis endured. The help religious women get from their church-based social networks allows them to have larger families than those who lack these support systems. In some instances, these support systems also prevent the adverse effects of larger families. </p>
The community religion offers<p>As we've mentioned <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/what-is-secular-humanism" target="_blank">before</a>, religion offers a community, and a community provides social capital. As religion continues to decline in the West, the social bonds of faith communities that used to tie social communities together begin to decay. However, as has been noted by a variety of observers for the last few decades, fewer and fewer new organizations appear ready to replace religion as a source of community in our lives.</p><p>While many different organizations might offer social support that religion once provided the whole of western society, this study shows that different social circles can differently affect the people in them. This finding must be considered by those trying to find new communities to join or the authors of future research. </p><p>The community offered by religious groups provides real benefits to those who join them. As this study shows, having the support network religious community offers allows some parents to avoid pitfalls that bedevil those lacking similar support. It suggests that previous studies demonstrating that group ritual offers benefits like increased amounts of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612472910" target="_blank">group trust</a> and <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1069397103037002003" target="_blank">cooperation</a> are onto something and that those benefits have a variety of applications. </p><p>While this study is not without its blind spots, it offers a strong starting point for further investigations into the nature of ritual in our modern lives and how local support networks remain vital in our increasingly globalized world. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
A neuroscientist argues that da Vinci shared a disorder with Picasso and Rembrandt.
- A neuroscientist at the City University of London proposes that Leonardo da Vinci may have had exotropia, allowing him to see the world with impaired depth perception.
- If true, it means that Da Vinci would have been able to see the images he wanted to paint as they would have appeared on a flat surface.
- The finding reminds us that sometimes looking at the world in a different way can have fantastic results.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODc3Mjc2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTA4MDg2NH0.T-98YvLjS9mUCQkgqHyV43Q7h_JIiubrev-Fp_0j4Pg/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C38%2C0%2C579&height=700" id="58346" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="674799ba34e115a2e9a3e94c366bfc26" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Virtuvian Man. Christopher Tyler suggests that Da Vinci used his own image as a template for the face in the drawing.
Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci created c. 1480–1490<p><a href="https://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/christopher-tyler" target="_blank">Professor Christopher Tyler</a> of the City University of London's optometry division analyzed six pieces of Renaissance art by or held to be images of Da Vinci, including the famous <em>Vitruvian Man. </em>By looking at the paintings, drawings, and statues and applying the same techniques optometrists use on patients, Tyler was able to conclude that the eyes of the men depicted were misaligned.</p><p> He concluded that, if the images he analyzed were truly reflective of how Da Vinci looked, that the great artist had a mild case of exotropia. </p>
How would this have helped him paint?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b221010aa7688734d4d6a41f0df5933f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/j6F-sHhmfrY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><a href="https://shileyeye.ucsd.edu/faculty/shira-robbins" target="_blank">Shira Robbins</a>, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California at San Diego, who was not involved with the project, explained to <em><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/10/19/leonardo-da-vincis-genius-may-be-rooted-in-a-common-eye-disorder-new-study-says/?utm_term=.d3f44ed91c16" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a> </em>how individuals with exotropia often turn to additional information to help understand the world around them:</p><blockquote>"What happens in some people is when they're only using one eye . . . they develop other cues besides traditional depth perception to understand where things are in space, looking at color and shadow in a way that most of us who use both eyes at a time don't really appreciate." </blockquote><p>Dr. Robbins agrees that, if the artworks analyzed accurately depict Da Vinci, then he probably had exotropia.</p><p>If Da Vinci did have a mild form of the condition, which would allow him to focus with both eyes when concentrating and with one when relaxed, Tyler asserts that the famed artist could have viewed the world in two or three dimensions at will, showing him the world exactly as he would need to recreate it on a flat surface. Quite the superpower for an artist.</p>
Does this mean Da Vinci would have been a hack if he had normal eyesight?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODc3MjY5NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjYwOTgxOH0.eSu3YBpCuaDj59-4lzSeZ1WgwtV2ETGiWHqczzW3how/img.png?width=980" id="9c323" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="edd4e9e9d9c1156a53242df6288d7cc0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A graph showing the difference in where each eye is focused for each painting, drawing, and statue used in the study. The larger the difference, the more pronounced the exotropia is in the image.<p>Not at all. What Dr. Tyler is suggesting is that the tendency of people who have exotropia to rely on using one eye to see the world and thereby lose some depth perception allowed Da Vinci to understand better how the three-dimensional objects in the world could be translated into a two-dimensional image on a canvas. This could account for some of Da Vinci's skill in depicting shadow and subtle changes in color, since he would have relied on these details to understand the world. <br><br>His polymathic brilliance extended far beyond art, and nobody is claiming that his ideas for flying machines, tanks, or <a href="http://www.da-vinci-inventions.com/davinci-inventions.aspx" target="_blank">other inventions </a>were at all influenced by a vision problem.</p>
How can we know this? He has been dead for five hundred years.<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c26fc51b0aebbcd6905593015fec79e5"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LRAptNtN9-A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>There are reasons to be cautious anytime we make claims about people who are long dead. In this case, we have the bonus problem that we aren't 100 percent sure that the images used are supposed to look like Da Vinci. </p><p> That is the major caveat of the idea; all of the images used as evidence of his condition are assumed to look like him. While some of the images, like the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_(Verrocchio)" target="_blank"><em>David</em> by Andrea del Verrocchio</a>, are generally agreed to be based on Leonardo the other pictures are claimed to be reflective of him based only on his statement that "[The soul] guides the painter's arm and makes him reproduce himself, since it appears to the soul that this is the best way to represent a human being." </p><p>Tyler also argues that the portraits he claims are based on Da Vinci share similarities with the images generally accepted to be portraits of him; including similar hair and facial features. This lends weight to the idea that the artist incorporated his own traits into his artwork, including his vision problem. </p><p>Leonardo da Vinci was undoubtedly one of the greatest geniuses of all time. If he had exotropia, then it was merely a minor addition to his artistic skills. It does, however, give us a literal example of how people who look at the world differently can use that vantage point to their advantage to create things we all can appreciate. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.