Monday, January 23, 2012

1.23.2012, FTW

Finished reading George E. Lewis' A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, probably the best music book I've read since Lloyd Bradley's Bass Culture. Lewis combines an insider's insight (he joined the AACM in 1971) with extensive interviews he conducted with fellow members and an academic's perspective (he's a Columbia University faculty member) to tell a story that's particularly compelling to one as obsessed with the idea of music-as-community-fulcrum as your humble chronicler o' events.

Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians germinated in the mid-'60s in response to the demise of the local club scene there. Creative musicians who'd developed their skills through a combination of private teaching, high school programs, and autodidacticism (working with recordings, seeking mentors from among more experienced players, practicing with peers) sought to find performance venues for their original music, which deviated from the dominant fixed performance model (standard repertoire and small group instrumentation which was cheaper to book because it didn't require extensive rehearsal), by becoming their own promoters, relying on grass-roots funding as well as the Cold War-spawned government arts bureaucracy.

Their cooperative aesthetic flew in the face of the "great man" theory of jazz, typified by the heroic solo, and the competitive model of music making typified by "best musician" polls. They sought to erase the dichotomies between composer and improviser, and "high" and "low" art.

In Chicago, they had an organic connection with their community as teachers (the AACM ran its own music school) and role models of Afrocentric pride and economic self-determination. Founding AACM members achieved international success when they traveled to Europe -- where their popularity could be seen as a reflection of local attitudes toward the political turbulence of the day -- and New York, where they were forced to compete economically not only with the mainstream but with the previous generation of the avant-garde. Expatriates not only from Chicago, but also St. Louis (home of the Black Artists Group) and California (where Horace Tapscott's L.A.-based Union of God's Musicians and Artist's Ascension performed a similar role to the AACM and BAG) were a vital part of the New York jazz underground during the late-'70s "loft jazz" era (a label they reject).

Their economic fortunes flagged with the coming of the '80s, when Wynton Marsalis and the neoconservative "young lions" that followed in his wake were anointed the arbiters of "real" jazz by the critical fraternity and Ken Burns. (Lewis quotes Dr. George Lipsitz: "Struggles over meaning are invariably struggles over resources.") The most prominent -- AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams, the musicians in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill -- retain their undeniable stature. Lesser-known latter-day members maintain the AACM tradition in Chicago.

On a much less exalted note, I've been borrowing Ray's Gibson SG-1 since the last Stoogeshow. It was burnt up in a fire, and he's chosen to leave the neck unfinished, while the body is painted a Sherman tank olive green, and he had James Atkinson install a humbucking pickup in place of the original single-coil in the bridge position. Its action reminds me of SGs I had when I was young, which has been motivating me to practice guitar at home again, something I almost never do.

With my Hughes & Kettner -- consigned to HIO gigs since I bought Cody Yates' Twin -- I can get a decent saturated tone at a volume that won't disturb the cats, and I've been woodshedding on rock stuff I can't play in the Stoogeband (although I'm trying, so far unsuccessfully, to persuade Richard Hurley that we need to break in Blue Oyster Cult's "Hot Rails to Hell"), like Steve Hunter's intro to "Sweet Jane" from Uncle Lou's Rock and Roll Animal. I doubt it'll change the way I play with the Stoogeband, but as my sweetie points out, it's just nice to be able to enjoy playing again in a setting other than onstage with a band.


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