This memorial day weekend witnessed a new line up at the Jazz Estate, gathered together to perform tunes written by Thelonious Monk. The lineup included Jamie Breiwick on trumpet, Clay Schaub on bass, Devin Drobka on drums, and Chris Weller standing in for Eric Schoor. Although there was a lively crowd present, the music seemed uninspired and even a bit weary at times.
One of the things that makes a night at the Estate sometimes a hit and miss prospect is that the bands that perform there are sometimes pick up bands composed of members who have never performed together before. Friday night appeared to be one of those times. Not that there was a lack of technical savviness: the band did quite well at the 3-4 beat stop and start tricks and Breiwick did well at his usual double and triple tongue bebop lines. In my opinion Schaub really outshone the others though, for his sheer feel for the flow of the music and for his ability to layer contrasting notes on top of the flow.
But despite the technical soundness on display, there seemed to be something missing. At times there seemed to be a lack of interest by the players in the music and there was a general lack of creative spark. The general impression made was that this gig was more about entertainment than about musicians really bringing their art to the people. Quite a few of the solos began to sound like the players were simply going through the notes as the night went on, and the bebopping began to have the feel of up and down movements on a rather dull rollercoaster, perhaps fun at times, but really without much point.
One feels that the thing missing is simply artistic vision. It may be due to the fact that the Estate promotes a rather old-fashioned style of jazz playing: the hard bop sound of the 60’s. This is considered by many to be the classic sound of jazz in its golden years. But there comes a point at which a style can become anachronistic, when the style is no longer fresh, when it no longer “speaks” to people but merely reminds them of something else they like. Impressionism in painting may serve as an example: one can always paint in the style of Monet if one is equipped to do so; but there is also something anachronistic about the attempt that makes it more of a recreation than a creation. In listening to the performers at the Estate, it is not difficult to have doubts of this kind surface.
The problem may be due to the fact that the populace is simply more in tune with 60’s era jazz than any other and that this is simply what people look for when they go out to hear “jazz”. They might know some Monk or else would like to. Going to a club like the Jazz Estate allows for people who don’t normally listen to much jazz to connect with that image of jazz with which they are familiar. As a way to bring people in to hear jazz it is not a bad tactic. But one has to wonder how such a veneer can be sustained in the long run. At what point does one begin to feel that they are simply at a section of an amusement park such as “western world”, or “future world” as the case may be? The answer is probably that it is the moment when jazz becomes “jazz”.