Or, There’s Always Been A Jazz Influence To My Writing. Not in the true ‘Beat’ sense, you understand. Not like Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs who lived in it, lived through it, wrote from the eye of the howling storm and emerged many hundreds of pages later, daddio, with hardened personality traits and track marks and publishable manuscripts to show for it. Nah, that’s not me. In the months and years since lockdown, I’ve taken to soundtracking any and all working from home sessions with jazz; piano-led and in the background or with ear-splitting horns in the foreground, vocal-free and meditative or with a heavy bossa nova boogaloo breakdown, it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know the thrill of being waited upon in the smoky and claustrophobic environs of a late ’50s/early ’60s Village Vanguard or Birdland but I just might get to imagine it through the music that sustains. I’ve plenty of jazz records and CDs to pick from, and pick from I do.
I’ve a soft spot for the accepted classics – A Love Supreme (uh-huh) and Getz/Gilberto (obvs) and Mingus Ah Um (of course) and Kind Of Blue (Come away in! – What took you so long?!) – but I’ve a growing appreciation of other artists and albums, many of which would very probably feature on a ‘Seriously?! 20 Obvious Jazz Albums‘ kinda list; Wayne Shorter’s meandering and highly sampleable Speak No Evil is a great ‘get your act’ together record. By the end of the first side, you should find yourself engrossed and focused on the task at hand. Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else is the ideal ‘take me to lunch’ but finish this bit off before we get there record. Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ works best as a post-lunch kick-starter, all high brass and big band grooves – a proper afternoon slump destroyer. And if you find yourself against a tight deadline with tea time fast approaching and no-one to rustle it up but yourself, stick on Money Jungle, Duke Ellington’s bruising one take riffathon where tracks are played/improvised and recorded in the one go.
The story goes that the trio – Ellington, double bassist Charles Mingus and multi-limbed drummer Max Roach – were given freedom to play in whichever way they saw fit, so side one begins slowly as the trio eke out a style and pattern of play, then fall into a groove somewhere before the end of that side, continue in the same wildly original fashion on side two before eventually ending in an inevitable all out sonic assault – atonal notes, dissonant chords, drum fills that sound like the Eastenders’ theme being pushed off a cliff, basslines that sound like the annoying guy at the back of maths who’s twanging his ruler off the end of his desk while the teacher tries to explain a particularly challenging strain of calculus – because by this point in the session the three players had worked out that they didn’t particularly like one another and were communicating exactly that through their instruments. See yr Troggs tapes? Zilch in comparison.
If, like me you’re a sleevenotes ‘n credits reader, you’ll notice the same musicians cropping up on one another’s recordings all the time. John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley add their blues-flecked signatures to Miles’ Kind Of Blue. Across his ouvre, Miles himself gives piano roles to Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock. Cannonball’s Somethin’ Else allows Miles and drummer Art Blakey to step out of the shadows and stamp their not insignificant presence across the grooves.
You play on my album and I’ll play on yours would appear to be the mandate of jazz. When it works, like on Kind Of Blue, great. When it don’t, (Money Jungle, maybe) eurgh. In rock music terms, it’s a bit like having Alex Turner guest on a Bobby Gillespie album where St Vincent and Johnny Marr swap guitar riffs while Zak Starkey and Viv Albertine pin down the groove, their respective management thrashing out the publishing rights with the various labels involved. Art v’s publishing? It’s exactly why, unless you’re the Style Council, this sort of stuff doesn’t really happen in ‘rock’ very often. Weller, man, he really was influenced by the jazzers in more ways than you realise.
Someone who wishes he was influenced in the same way is the aforementioned Bobby Gillespie. A walkin’, talkin’, stick-thin cliché, you’re never far away from an achingly hip point of reference when his mouth starts spouting the same StonesWhoPistolsClashDubFunkPunkSkunk jive that he’s whiffled on about since 1990. Just what is it that you want to do, Bob? Smash the system? Or sell-out to the M&S advert makers? It’s your call, clearly. The kids’ school fees must be due. Loaded, indeed.
At the Ayr Pavilion in 1994, Gillespie was mid duet with Denise (it may have been during Give Out But Don’t Give Up) and, as the band took it down – “Take it down, Throb, take it down!” – see?, the cliché kills – he starts to scat: ‘A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme…‘ over and over, leading the band higher and faster and louder to the song’s conclusion. The guy next to me turns to his pal and says earnestly, “Davie! He’s daein a Will Dowling cover!” (Google it if you need to). Very funny. An appalled Bobby would’ve split his skanky leather breeks if he’d heard them.
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 (Acknowledgment)
John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme record is, cliché klaxon alert, meditative (honk!) and spiritual (Honk!) and contemplative (HONK!) and religious (HONKETY-HONK!), and it’s wonderful for it. Built around a core of four notes – dum, dum, dah-dum, and four syllables – A-Love-Su-Preme – Coltrane and the rest of his quartet fly far and wide, to Marrakesh, to Tangiers at times, Elvin Jones thrashing the hell out of his kit, McCoy Tyner hammering the ivories one moment, feather dusting them the next, Jimmy Garrison’s double bass walking the long road home at every opportunity. Coltrane and his tenor sax plays it all; hard boppin’, slow burnin’, furious riffin’, ee-long-gay-ted mood swings.
The quartet always comes back to the core though. Whether it’s Tyner on the keys or Garrison’s bass, or even Jones’ cymbal splashes, they always come back to the four note core. It’s premier league jazz, A Love Supreme, Haaland and Rashford and Trent and Billy Gilmour in a special meeting of minds when their four distinct personalities create something even greater than the sum of their parts, a record as essential as any other record you might care to offer up.