The second edition of my book Studying Popular Music Culture is out now.
Here’s what the very generous Nathan Wiseman-Trowse had to say about the new edition:
Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning. Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music. The new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways. Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times. Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular music production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.
Here’s the reviews of the first edition at Amazon:
I bought this book at request of my (soon to be) course leader at University where I will be studying Popular Music. I found the book very detailed and unlike a lot of these types of books not at all boring. Well written and divided into different sections focusing on many aspects of the Music Industry, with every subject spoken about in depth. Would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to study anything music related.
If you like the book once you read it, I’d appreciate an Amazon review if you can spare the time.
Here’s what’s in the book:
|Introduction: Definitions and Approaches|
|PART ONE: HISTORIES|
|1. Constructing Histories of Popular Music|
|2. Musical and Cultural Repertoires|
|3. Social, Economic and Technical Factors|
|4. Writing Popular Music History|
|PART TWO: INDUSTRIES AND INSTITUTIONS|
|5. An Overview of Popular Music Production|
|6. Taking Issue with the Record Industry|
|7. Popular Music and the Media|
|PART THREE: FORM, MEANING AND REPRESENTATION|
|PART FOUR: AUDIENCES AND CONSUMPTION|
|11. The Sociology of the Music Consumer|
|12. Listening, and Looking|
|14. Acquiring, Organising and Sharing music|
Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of popular music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning. Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music. This new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry and the challenges it faces as it enters the twenty first century. Readers are provided with ways to understand the changing nature of the music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways. Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times. Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular musical production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.
Creativity, music production and A&R January 22, 2012Posted by wallofsound in Music Industry, Uncategorized.
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A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire which, of course, means the singers and musicians and their songs and music. The term is a long-standing one within the music industry indexing the old Tin Pan Alley practice of finding separate individuals to perform songs from those who wrote them. It refers to the department within a company who finds and signs artists to the company, or licenses recordings from independent producers, foreign divisions or other smaller companies, and then decides which records should be released on the label.
A&R staff tend to express their role in relationship to the artists they work with, succinctly summed up by one A&R staffer’s self-description as “a groupie with a cheque book” (Frith 1983: 102). But they often also share the notion with popular music scholars that they are gatekeepers who decide who to sign, what to record or licence and what to release with a keen sense that only one in eight of the records they release will make a profit (Negus 1999: 32). Following the analogy of a gatekeeper, who decides who will go through, some theorists have examined the way that the discourse of A&R workers constructs their activities as a transformational process in which music is turned into other organisational products – ‘property’, ‘demo’, ‘tape’, ‘cut’, ‘master’, ‘release’, ‘product’, and finally (they hope) ‘hit’ – through each stage of production (Ryan and Peterson 1982).
Negus argues that the analogy of the production line is too superficial, and instead casts A&R staff following Bourdieu (1984) as ‘cultural intermediaries’. This emphasis shifts the attention from the function of A&R as part of a popular music system and to the relationships of A&R within a wider popular music culture. Negus suggests that “the boundary between the recording industry and potential artists is not so much a gate where aspiring stars must wait to be selected and admitted, but a web of relationships stretched across a shifting soundtrack of musical, verbal and visual information” (Negus 1992: 46). This allows him to present such record company workers as far more creative and autonomous than in other analyses (Negus 1996: 36-65). He is particularly interested in the way that the roles of A&R staff, musicians, other intermediaries such as DJs, managers and journalists, and and the roles of fans are blurred, often within the person of a single individual, and how networks of contacts, and knowledge about pop’s past and potential future are utilised to exchange information (Negus 1992: 47).
Musicians themselves are often presented as working with an idea of creativity and commerce as polar opposites. In an interesting ethnographic study of bands playing in Liverpool in the 1980s, Sara Cohen observed that the musicians made strong distinctions between the creativity in music that they wanted to pursue, and the commercial restrictions they felt limited them (Cohen 1991). Of course Cohen’s study focused on local bands who did not necessarily have a record contract at all, and it may be one of the characteristics of commercially successful performers that they do not make such a distinction, or that they are far more concerned with the pursuit of celebrity and fame, than they are with their own creativity. Jason Toynbee (2000) has attempted to rethink the idea of creativity through the notion of ‘agency’, and what he sees as ‘institutional autonomy’. In his analysis agency is the possibility to ‘select and combine’ musical material, and to speak with a distinctive musical ‘voice’ within a restrictions set by the popular music system and popular music culture.
However we understand A&R – either as gatekeepers in a production process, or as parts of an autonomous and amorphous network of cultural intermediaries – an issue remains about the implications of their ideas and practices for the kind of music the corporation records and releases. Negus suggests that staff classify artists into one of two groups which more or less map on the classic distinction between Rock and Pop music (Negus 1992: 54). The first category, which he defines as an ‘organic’ ideology of creativity, positions A&R as discovering and nurturing of new talent, while in the second A&R is as bringing together different talents (writing, choreography, image-making, singing, playing, producing) to synthesise a new star image. For Negus these two ideologies fit with a wider notion of the rock tradition that was still prominent in the 1980s when he conducted his research. Under these conditions even a mediocre rock band would find it easier to get a record contract than music-makers outside this polarity.
Negus’ analysis is now well over twenty years old, and his work is based upon interviews with staff who probably joined the industry in the late 1970s or early 1980s, bringing with them a rock versus pop binary that was dominant in their adolescence. The landscape of popular music culture has changed quite radically since then. There are at least two noteworthy issues that arise from these changes. First, form many young audiences rock no longer has the same resonance, replaced by a postmodern sensibility in which the ‘inauthenticity’ of ‘manufactured’ pop groups is not a negative quality, and no-group, no-star, no-song dance music is now possibly the most common form of music-making. If anything, the notion of networks of information and the blurring of boundaries suggested by Negus are even more prominent in this contemporary context than they were in the mid-1990s. Ideas about creativity have themselves been transformed. And yet the major corporations still seem much happier with the idea of a group with a lead singer that writes its own songs, than it is with the new sensibilities of dance music.
Having said that, there is a second strand of contemporary popular music discourse which seems to run in the other direction. The ability for music-makers to communicate directly with fans through the internet, and for music fans to actively search out new musical experiences, has enabled the idea of the ‘unsigned band’ to become more widespread. Signing, of course, means making a contract with an A&R department to record with a record company. The fan discourse around ‘unsigned bands’ imagines a group of music-makers who have been untainted by the creative compromises forced upon them by A&R, or whose raw talent and direct communication with fans articulates the ideology of popular music far more effectively than corporate record labels can. Carey Sargent (2009) has linked this explicitly by to the cultivation of local audiences through the exchange of ‘social capital’ both on- and off-line, and details the difficulties involved in using this method to attract wider audiences. It is no surprise, then, that this discourse is used by music companies to promote less well-known music-makers. There are now a large number of web services which offer exposure, and even management and promotional services, to ‘unsigned bands’. While most of the bands whose music can be experienced at these sites will not have a major record company recording contract the very fact that they have established a relationship with a music industries company stretches the idea that they are ‘unsigned’ beyond its original use.
So while the idea of the unsigned band may have its origins in the discourse of DIY music, it has become an important art of traditional corporate A&R departments as well as an extension of what it is to be a music industries company. In one dimension, then, the idea of unsigned band has just become one of the ways in which corporations spread risk, and just as the major record companies increasingly relied on independent producers and small labels for indie rock and dance music in the 1990s, the industrial networks around ‘unsigned’ music have become an important part of industry practice. It is interesting to ponder if ‘unsigned band’ functions for younger western consumers in a similar way to ‘world music’ does for their older counter parts.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
Cohen, S. (1991). Rock culture in Liverpool : popular music in the making. Oxford ; New York, Clarendon Press : Oxford University Press.
Frith, S. (1983). Sound effects: youth, leisure and the politics of rock. London, Constable.
Negus, K. (1992). Producing pop: culture and conflict in the popular music industry. London, Edward Arnold.
Negus, K. (1996). Popular music in theory: an introduction. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Negus, K. (1999). Music genres and corporate cultures. London, Routledge.
Ryan, J. and R. A. Peterson (1982). “The product image: the fate of creativity in Country music.” Sage annual review of communication research(10): 11-32.
Sargent , C. (2009). “Local musicians building global audiences: social capital and the distribution of user-created content on- and off-line
.” Information, Communication & Society 12(4): 469-487.
Toynbee, J. (2000). Making popular music : musicians, creativity and institutions. London, Arnold.
The new age of music consumption January 21, 2012Posted by wallofsound in Music Industry, Music Radio.
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Here I want to present a critical approach, which balances an analysis of the political economy of record production with a cultural economy of music consumption allows us to deal with changes in the ways in which we access and experience music. Here we are obviously talking about the way we listen to music that we have downloaded as digital music files using our computer or mobile phone. In an overview of popular music production this involves us looking at the way that music retailing is organised, and even questioning if the future of the music business lies in retailing music at all.
This is actually quite a difficult area to think through with some clarity because, unlike the ‘hidden’ detail of the organisation of record companies and music corporations, the detail of record retailing seems to be a very public issue. It is certainly a common media story, either reporting on the closure of a high street chain of record retailers, or presenting a report from an industry body that shows that record sales are falling, or the political discussions about the downloading of music files from the internet. The problem here, though, is not that the information we want is hard to find, but that it is obscured by an almost overwhelming quantity of opinion and, at times, hyperbole.
The fact that the use of the internet to access music is a pervasive theme of this book shows how important it is. Louis Barfe (2004), attempting a historical and contemporary overview of the music industries, has even suggested that we can understand internet to access music as causing the fall of the record industry, by which its rise can then be examined. Writing just over a decade ago, like many commentators, he evidences this ‘fall’ by pointing to a decline in record sales and he implicitly accepts the standard industry argument that this is the result of online music sharing. However, as we saw in chapter three Technological change has been a major characteristic of the record industry throughout its century-long life. From acoustic, through electronic to digital recording techniques, through shellac, vinyl, tape and then CD music formats, and the various media forms on which the music can be accessed, it is hard sometimes to see it all as the same industry. We should also recognise Barfe’s history, using a metaphor of ‘rise and fall’ derived from stories about the lives of prominent individuals or even whole civilizations, as the sort of as totalising story we analysed in chapter one. As we try to understand the modern music industry it is quite easy to accept arguments like this, particularly as they are so pervasive. However, such stories obscure more than they reveal.
In discussing access to music attention has most often been placed on the consumers of music as undermining the music industry through ‘illegal’ downloading, or on the industry as failing to respond to the realities of a new world. It is, though, much more productive to think about this as a change within the music industries, one characterized not by the ‘fall’ of a once powerful industry, but of another shift in the political economy of the industry and the cultural practices of music consumers. More specifically, then, we need to identify what is changing in the record industry and in the wider music industries.
Rather surprisingly, part of the answer is that not a lot has changed. Taking Britain as a fairly typical example, at the time of writing over 80% of recorded music sales were in the CD format, and while this represented a decline of a third over a decade it still accounted for around 100 million CDs in a single year. The downloading of digital music files from retail sites was growing steadily towards 20% (BPI ref). In the area of music radio, 90% of the British population still listened to radio with 85% of that listening via over-the-air, overwhelmingly AM and FM, broadcasts (RAJAR ref). Part of the answer, though, is that much is changing. By the time you read this, it is likely that the process of declining CD sales will have continued and that people will be using an array of new online music services instead of more traditional forms of listening to physical records or on over-the-air radio. In chapter 12 we will return to the implications of this change for our experience as music consumers, but there are also some important changes in the institutions which provide these music services, and in music retail as a whole.
At the level of political economy control of music consumption is moving away from the traditional music corporations and media outlets to a new generation of corporations with their roots in the computer industry. These new music industries institutions have grown from small companies very quickly because they have offered new products and services which seem to understand the cultural practices of their consumers far better than the traditional record and radio institutions have. While record companies and radio stations have interpreted the new technologies in terms of their existing practices, these new companies have completely rethought how they can make money out of music. It is not that the new companies have completely reinvented how to consume music, almost all their services are built upon existing cultural practices, but they have used the new technologies to extend them and to find new ways to make money out of them.
At the time of writing there are some quite prominent examples of these new institutions, and they are presented here with the usual qualification that you will need to reassess their place in the music industries as it is at the time that you are conducting your own analysis. Given how quickly the new organisations and institutions have emerged, it is just as likely that they have been replaced by new ones.
New forms of record retail
For a century records were purchased primarily through shops on the high street. These stores changed from the furniture or department stores which sold the first phonographs, through first specialist record shops, and then specialist music record shops, to the mega stores of the late twentieth century. There have always been mail order record retailers, either for record buyers who lived in relatively isolated areas or who had specialist music tastes, and the largest record vendors had always been general merchants, but the rise of online retailing is still worthy of note. Not only are its most successful organisations completely new to the market, they also represent the twin strategies of record retailing.
The first re-imagined the retail experience through the possibilities of greater interactivity and data management. The most successful company here was Amazon, which extended its book retailing business to records and subsequently a wide range of products and services, including music file downloads. At one level the Amazon site offers a simple search and purchase facility, but this is underpinned by a series of technologies aimed at encouraging music discovery. Data collected on your activity on the site is used to make further suggestions of things you may want to buy, the online store’s customers are recruited to review products and the services of its various associates, and through a combination of automated and responsive systems the website is tailored for individual customers. In doing this, the online retailer adapted many of the ways in which offline shoppers had decided what to buy. Customers would be influenced by the opinions offered by friends, the recommendations of staff in a specialist store, or paths of music discovery built in the music experience. While most of these techniques are in widespread use now the company’s innovation allowed it to attract customers and build the necessary scale for such an enterprise to succeed.
The second, was a service built into the technology of music organisation and listening, where the whole process of accessing and consuming music was re-organised. The most successful company here is the Apple computer company with its iTunes Store. Again, the ideas were not usually original – there had been many music file download companies before – but Apple built its retailer around its iMac computers and mobile digital file players, the iPod and later iPhone. As an integrated component of the iMacs’ iTunes music ripping organisation and playout software it was actually easier to buy a track than rip it from CD, and the use of Amazon-derived music discovery and recommendation systems extended the offline iTunes experience into a wider virtual world of music retail. Fundamentally, though, the success of Apple in becoming the world’s largest record retailer derives from the widespread popularity of it iPod and iPhones, and the usability and integration of the software services.
New forms of music service
If the first set of organisations that emerged in the new age of music consumption re-institutionalised previous activities of buying, collecting and listening to records, the second set re-institutionalise radio listening within a new political economy. There’s a more detailed examination of these music services in chapter seven, but here we need to outline the companies involved and how they became an important institution within the record industry and larger music industries. Because most of the focus of public debate has been on downloading, the fact that new forms of music consumption built around data streaming have been formed into new music industry institutions seems to have been lost. The fact that these services are often perceived to be extensions of radio services, and often present themselves as such, may also account from their critical neglect in debates about the record industry.
When the US broadcasting and internet services corporation, CBS, bought the relatively new online radio-like service and music fan website, Last.fm, in 2007 it paid $ 280m. Even though the deal was given some coverage in the business media, the significance of the deal in highlighting a new institutional form in the music industry was lost in all the public debate around downloading. As other seemingly similar services – like Pandora and Spotify – attracted more consumers, and the user base of this new way of listening to music expanded the brands became better known. Nevertheless these services have not been given the critical attention they deserve, even though they represent profoundly new ways to organise and make money out of records. It would not be too much on an exaggeration to claim that, along with iTunes and its store, these music services represent the most significant change in the institututional structure of the music industries since the original development of records and radio broadcasting.
Last.fm, founded in 2002, rhetorically claimed to be the ultimate radio station: both the end point of music radio’s evolution, and the only radio station listeners would need from now on. The .fm suffix cleverly suggested the service had its origins in over-the-air music radio and its future on the internet. Because its uses streamed audio content structured in a playlist-like running order it does feel like listening to radio but, as regular users know, a radio station made just for the individual listener. Utilising a range of data scraping, music discovery and responsive technologies, along with a social media world in which music fans can interact, the music services makes money out of music consumption by offering the full service for a subscription. Like Pandora and Spotify, there are free and advertising-supported levels of the service, but these companies business model if firmly rooted in the idea that consumers will pay for a flow of music that balances what we know with what we might like and an access to this music where ever we are and without the restrictions of a record collection we have to manage ourselves.
Such services are a radical departure from the usual form of record retail based upon acquiring and organising a physical record collection, and even the mass broadcast form of over-the-air radio, and adds the cultural practices of sharing music which have been a central part of music fandom for decades (see Wall, 2012).
These music services are relatively new, and the lessons of history tell us that they are more likely to take their place in a consumer ecology that includes traditional forms of record ownership and music radio, rather than replace them. Nevertheless they offer a radically different political economy of music consumption and an innovation in the form of music consumption culture. In themselves they do not mean that record companies will become redundant, but they do indicate that record companies need to respond beyond imagining that online services must be controlled to simply reproduce the retail function of the record shop and the promotional function of the radio station. Along with companies like Amazon and Apple, they do show that the biggest changes in the music industries are taking place at the point at which record companies connect to music fans, and that it is companies from outside the music industries who seem to understand what needs to be done far better than those within the traditional structures that create and supply music.
Barfe, L. (2004). Where have all the good times gone?: the rise and fall of the record industry. London, Atlantic.
Wall, T. (2012). Specialist music and the internet. New Perspectives on Radio. N. Gallego Pérez and T. García.
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David Murray (Quartet)
LIVE AT THE LOWER MANHATTAN OCEAN CLUB Vol.1& 2
India Navigation IN 1032 and IN 1044
CD reissue IN 1032 CD
Recorded December 31 1977 live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, NY
David Murray (ts, ss on 2), Lester Bowie (tp), Fred Hopkins (b), Phillip Wilson (d)
1. Nevada’s Theme (David Murray) 11:23
2. Bechet’s Bounce (David Murray) 7:32
3. Obe (Lawrence”Butch” Morris) 18:12
4. Let The Music Take You (David Murray) 3:36
1. For Walter Norris (Lawarence”Butch” Morris) 23:24
2. Santa Barbara And Crenshaw Follies (David Murray) 12:20
This is an early David Murray recording that you can find on vinyl in two parts, or amended for the CD re-issue. The music performed by a Murray-led quartet at a Manhattan club on New Year’s eve in 1977. What a party that must have been: you can almost smell the seafood in the club’s name!
It re-unites the rhythm section of Hopkins and Wilson from Murray’s earlier India Navigation recording from eighteen months before, and adds Lester Bowie. In doing so the recording links the three most powerful groupings of musicians who came together in New York in the late 1970s to transform the established free jazz movement into the new music scene. Bowie had been active in both St Lois and Chicago in the collectives that became BAG and AACM respectively, and here in New York he is one of the earliest to play with musicians, who like Murray, had come from LA. Inspired by the Black Arts movement and the idea of musical collectives they had nurtured these ideas in major black communities in the US, but ultimately moved to new York, often after sojourns in Europe.
Bob Cummins was one of those jazz lovers and small-scale entrepreneurs who captured much of the vibrant energy of the scene on his India Navigation label in the 1970s. He seemed to earn his living as a lawyer, and spent it on recording live performances in the lofts and small venues, and then releasing the recordings. He died in September 2000 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9807E1DB1139F933A2575AC0A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=), but small bursts of CD reissues seem to appear from time to time. Not sure why and how, but I’m always glad of the opportunity to listen to more. This one seems to be out of print as far as I can tell. It was certainly hard to find a copy when it was first re-released.
I haven’t got the original vinyl LPs, but the CD liner notes say there’s nearly seven minutes taken off ‘Santa Barbara And Crenshaw Follies’, and by my calculations there’s possibly over two minutes less on ‘For Walter Norris’ if the timings on LP and CD can be believed (they can’t usually). The CD notes also talk about an unreleased track. Many of these tracks were staples of Murray’s repertoire, and you get the usual personal dedications, rich textures and sometimes inspired themes. I’m very fond of this recording; it is certainly one you should add to your collection.
Collecting David Murray records: 151 down; one to go! January 12, 2008Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz, Music Industry.
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The completist’s dream is now within reach. Over Christmas I managed to not only track down Solomon’s Sons, but also Sur-Real Saxophone. I must thank Quibbler for his generosity in doing a swap for a vinyl copy of one of the two missing records in my David Murray collection. One of the really great things about collecting jazz records is the number of marvelous people who really care about the music, and who willingly share their collection so others can discover more terrific records. So while I try and find a good copy of Live at Peace Church at a reasonable price here’s the low-down on my latest acquisition. With some careful button pushing you will be able to hear this for yourself.
David Murray solo: Sur-Real Saxophone
HORO Records, Via Asiago 2, 000195 Rome
David Murray tenor saxophone
Invocation To Past Souls (David Murray) 1:58 [actually 1:36]
The Cats (David Murray) 8:09 [actually 8:27]
Plastic/Drastic (David Murray) 6:04 [actually 8:48]
Noteworthy Lady (Stanley Crouch) 6:42 [actually 6:48]
Low Class Conspiracy (David Murray) 11:01 [actually 11:20]
After All This (David Murray) 7:21 [actually 7:36].
Recorded live at the Theatre Mouffetard, Paris on 6th February 1978
Recorded by Jef Gilson
Produced by Aldo Sinesio
This is one of three LPs which were created out of Murray solo performances in Paris in early 1978. This is the point in Murray’s career that his reputation in the New York jazz lofts was extended to the European concert and festival circuit, and then to recordings available in Europe. The concert was recorded by Jef Gilson and part of it was released by him on his Palm record label as Organic Saxophone. This segment was most likely sold to the Italian HORO label. Certainly the remaining third was sold to British record company owner John Jack, and released as Conceptual Saxophone on Jack’s Cadillac label. Interestingly, for students of record company economics for this release the Italian publishing rights of all the compositions bar ‘Low Class Conspiracy’ were also ascribed to FLY records.
I’ve included the timings listed on the LP sleeve, although in some cases they have no relationship to the actual length of the tracks, and I’ve added my reckoning of the timings.
‘The Cats’ is a suitably titled dedication to Ellington saxophonists Carney, Hodges and Gonsalves. The title reveals Murray’s interest in the history of jazz saxophone playing (he originally came to New York from California in 1975 to research a college assignment on the subject) and the playing an interesting exploration of the saxophone as a musical machine and the styles of playing it. Low Class Conspiracy was a popular term in the early Murray titling vocabulary he used it to name an LP and a track in 1976, and he again played the latter on the 1977 Peace Church live recording and here. In 1977 he also took it for the name of his then current band featuring future notables Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Don Pullen and Fred Hopkins, as well as Stanley Crouch on drums. I love ‘Plastic / Drastic’ which reveals something of Murray’s love of music’s theatrics. It’s nearly three minutes longer than the cover detail suggests, and features Murray alternating between vocal poetic declarations, frantic explorations of the extremes of the tenor, and swinging echoes of the saxophones ability to tell a story. The audience lap it up. Murray was no stuffed shirt avant-ist.
His debt to Crouch is signalled at another level by the inclusion of one of the drummer-cum-journalist’s themes ‘Noteworthy Lady’. ‘After All This’ was possibly a staple of Murray’s work at this time as it is reprised from the 1976 recordings of Flowers For Albert (India Navigation 1026). The short ‘Invocation’ that starts the record feels like a mainly improvised piece, and this is supported by the fact that (unlike most of his pieces from this time) it does not appeared on another Murray recording.
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Here’s a rewrite on the notion of progress in jazz:
My starting point in exploring David Murray’s thirty-year career is to adapt some of the key questions and ideas used by Scott DeVeaux to analyse Coleman Hawkins’ relationship to the bebop musicians of the 1940s. Deriving this idea of a ‘disciplinary matrix’ from Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) analysis of paradigm shifts in science, DeVeaux’s exemplary historiography sees bebop as a paradigm shift in jazz, which he analyses through an examination of ‘the sum total of practices, values and commitments that define jazz as a profession’ (44). Thus change in jazz becomes more than the introduction of new forms of music, and instead a transformation of the cultural practices and political economy that produce this new music. He calls upon the widely noted view that the jazz world in which bebop was created was in crisis, but challenges us to see past the notion that the new music was simply the product of original and brilliant musicians taking advantage of that crisis.
The extension of this approach to the 1970s New York new music scene is a relatively straightforward proposition. Similarly, the neo-traditional movement of the 1980s and 90s represents a further important paradigm shift. Each is characterized by significantly different cultural practices, which attempted to solve a crisis in the wider jazz world. Most importantly, though, the adoption of a methodology akin to that of DeVeaux – namely, studying a single musician through the concrete practicalities of a jazz career – allows a fundamental research question to be addressed:
What did it mean for a young African-American man to pursue the career of professional jazz musician in the last decades of the twentieth century? In particular, what did it mean for him to be progressive? (paraphrasing DeVeaux, 45).
There are, immediately, some intriguing parallels between Hawkins and Murray. Hawkins set the standard for the tenor saxophone, and showed how it could be used for virtuoso performance, while Murray explored its outer limits, regularly playing beyond the instrument’s conventional range. They both escaped what they saw as a restricted jazz scene in New York to live in Paris and other northern European cities, playing with a diverse range of musicians and absorbing musical ideas from outside jazz. They both played a pivotal role in constituting a new sense of jazz improvisation and group interaction.
These similarities in the two musicians’ careers, though, should not suggest to us that each operated within the same sense of progressivism, or that there is only one notion of progress available for understanding the professional life of a jazz musician. On the contrary, the sense that these two musicians worked in quite different disciplinary matrices of jazz musicianship is underpinned by the way each related to ideas of progress.
This is apparent in the most intriguing connection between Hawkins and Murray: their respective recordings of ‘Body and Soul’. Unlike Murray, Hawkins achieved both critical and popular success, and his 1939 recording of this standard was simultaneously a commercially lucrative release, highly played on jukeboxes in black neighbourhoods, and a mainstay white jazz aficionados’ record collections (DeVeaux 1997: 98 – 110). It has become one of the most analysed of jazz recordings, and for DeVeaux the performance is an example of innovation and increasing musical sophistication in jazz improvisation as well as ‘a way of playing that privileges the virtuoso over the composer’ (104). Murray certainly seemed to assign Hawkins and his ‘Body and Soul’ recording an important place in jazz history; it was the first standard he recorded when he produced a solo rendition in 1978, and it became his most recorded composition (six times in my sample) when he returned to it in 1983, and produced four versions of it in the early 1990s .
However, each musician, and each performance, is positioned to jazz and popular music in significantly different ways. While Hawkins’ recording relates to the composition’s status as a well-known popular song and a standard of the jam session repertoire of improvising musicians, Murray’s recordings relate directly to Hawkins’ rendition, and latterly to his own earlier versions. As such, the activities of each musician suggest very different notions of progress. If Hawkins’ performance privileges virtuosity as a progressive ideal within the disciplinary matrix of bebop, Murray’s has to be understood both in the context of the Hawkins’ ‘statement’ and the different notions of progress which developed within jazz from the late 1960s.
Three repertoires of progress
It is, in fact, possible to draw out three distinct notions of ‘progress’ that are relevant to this discussion of David Murray’s career. For clarity I will call these the European avant-garde model; the African-American progress model; and the African-American classical model.
The first, built out of a particular European modernism, transforms the belief that the future will be better than the past, and that innovation is a virtue, to embrace the notion of radical change (Berman 1982). Jon Parish (1997) has suggested a second African American take on the notion of progress through a comparison with Euro-American uses of jazz in American post-war popular culture. He traces an ahistorical individualism in the adoration of jazz musicians by white progressives which contrasts starkly with the historically-inflected communal experience articulated by black writers. In particular, he notes the white writers’ preoccupation with the soloist in jazz, and an interpretation of improvisation as a universal experimental technique, deploying spontaneity and freedom (79-117).
I should also note that the European avant-garde model had a contradictory relationship with black culture, celebrating its vibrancy and yet constructing black bodies and practices as ‘primitive’. Indeed, Sieglinde Lemke (1998) has gone as far as arguing that modernism and primitivism constituted each other. The degree of confusion about the place of jazz in European models of art and entertainment can be seen in the way that black performers – including Armstrong and Ellington – were presented through a dominant discourse of ‘primitivism’. They were most often featured in Britain as novelty music hall acts (Parsonage 2005), at the same time that fans like Spike Hughes used ideas of the cultural genius to celebrate Ellington’s ‘hot’ jazz performances, and denigrate his role in the Cotton Club’s entertainment, and the band’s ‘turn’ at the London Palladium (1933a/R1993; 1933b/R1993).
Houston Baker, in his exploration of African-American artistic production in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, has likewise contrasted a European modernism, which rejects ‘outmoded forms’, with a black American modernism, which has the: ‘necessary task of employing … extant forms in ways that move clearly up, masterfully and resoundingly away from slavery’ (1987: 101). Alain Locke certainly saw jazz as ‘the characteristic musical speech of the modern age’ (1936: 90) and Ellington certainly personified Locke’s ‘New Negro’ (Locke 1925; Floyd 1990) with his progressive cultural agenda, interest in black history and urban culture, and dislike for labels like ‘jazz’ that restricted his work (Tucker 1990). However, whilst there was a strand which celebrated jazz and blues, most Harlem Renaissance intellectuals utilized a third model based in European models of progress and classicism (Vincent 1995: 145 to 172). More importantly for my analysis here, such classical models of cultural development are also apparent in the positions of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, two of the key intellectuals of jazz as an African-American art form, and both centrally influential on the formation of the neo-traditional movement in jazz in the 1980s.
Ellison asserts that jazz musicians draw upon particular African-American sensibilities to remake individual and community traditions into multiple new possibilities, and his ideas have been adapted by Craig Werner to argue that there is a ‘jazz impulse’ running through the whole history of popular music (Ellison 1972; Werner 1999). If Ellison shares any of DeVeaux’s sense of bebop as a paradigm shift, he does not see it necessarily as an example of progress (see Ellison 1959 / 2001). As is apparent in Ellison’s exchange of letters with Albert Murray (2000), his idea of remaking the past is rooted in European concepts of classical culture. Albert Murray’s own work similarly tries to construct a lineage within jazz history as the continuity of black American experience (Murray 1976).
Of course, Albert Murray’s work has been identified as a direct influence on Stanley Crouch, and through Crouch on Wynton Marsalis. Their ideas have been central to the repertory movement in jazz, which seeks to recreate ‘classic’ jazz forms in live events (Martin 2002: 360-5). Murray’s emphasis on the blues as the blood flow of jazz, and the more widespread notion that jazz is America’s classical music, has most often been taken as an imperative to preserve jazz as a musical product in the cultural spaces of the elite arts. This extrapolation is surprising, given that Murray’s nuanced analysis deals extensively with the practices and political economy of the unfolding of African-American culture and entertainment over a century.
DeVeaux locates Hawkins’ sense of progress in the rhetoric of African-American leaders like Booker T Washington about individual self-improvement and communal collaboration (45), and Steven Elworth has suggested that bop was an opportunity for ‘black musicians to seize their discourse from the white-dominated culture industry and to create something less likely to be appropriated’ (Elworth 1995: 59). Yet the dominant story of bop resides in the cult of jazz genius and was produced by white ‘hipster’ fans, however sophisticated the confluence of ideas about race, ethnicity, commerce, art and culture which they drew upon were (Ross 1989).
In the end Ellington, Hawkins and Murray all faced the same challenge: how to explore practices of change in economic circumstances not of your own making. For Ellington, the Cotton Club and the Palladium, and for Hawkins, the white-owned small Manhattan jazz club and independent record company, were the only spaces available to make a living. These were largely opportunities made available by individuals from European and Euro-American cultures, and they involved being judged by critics from similar backgrounds, who deployed the cultural resources available to them. It is noticeable that, up until the 1950s, most white critics used ideas of continuity and change from classical European culture to understand jazz history (see, for instance, Blesh 1946; Finkelstein 1948; Ulanov 1952; Stearns 1956). Together with Ellison’s and Murray’s work, such investigations have all involved an attempt to create a ‘totalising’ history which ‘inserts events into a grand explanatory system and linear process, celebrates great moments and individuals and seeks to document a point of origin’ (Sarup 1993: 59).
I would argue that these same totalising histories are apparent in the interpretation of free jazz in the 1960s. Frank Koftsky (1970), for instance, offers an analysis of late 1960s players that mirrors many of the characteristics of the white progressive bebop fans studied by Parish. Jacques Attali’s analysis is far more theorized, and combines a critique of what he sees as the tyranny of the political economy of repetition with the proposal that the ‘organized and often consensual theft of black American music’ provoked ‘the emergence of free jazz, a profound attempt to win creative autonomy, to effect a cultural-economic reappropriation of music by the people for whom it had meaning’ (Attali 1985: 138). However, using selective examples he goes on to conflate the musical experiments of the 1960s avant-garde with the musicians who came to form the New York new music scene in the 1970s, and defines free jazz as ‘a meeting of black popular music and a more abstract theoretical explorations of European music, [which] eliminated the distinction between popular music and learned music, broke down the repetitive hierarchy’ (140).
Gary Giddins, a white American critic more attuned to the generation of musicians with whom Murray first worked, has suggested that ‘the 1960s avant-garde, in clearing the slate of preconceived notions, paradoxically opened jazz to a more generous involvement with its past’ (2007). And, as Lorenzo Thomas (1995) shows, the Black Arts Movement practitioners who followed expressed their desires for economic and aesthetic independence through an exploration of black vernacular cultural forms of all sorts, and an antagonism to the way that white liberal criticism dominated interpretations of jazz in particular.
When Murray performed in the US and Europe from the 1970s onwards, then, he was participating in a paradigm shift in what constituted jazz, and yet these changes were set in the context of discursive practices which constituted earlier paradigm shifts. In the narrative of the neo-traditionalists, the musicians of this period neglect the values that make up what Martin Williams (1970) termed the ‘jazz tradition’. As I will show, this period was in fact characterized by a deep engagement with the idea of an African-American tradition, both as a basis on which to build progressivism in jazz, and also as a means to resolve tensions between European and African-American ideas of progress.
We can consider jazz history, then, to have two dimensions: a synchronic one that focuses on the interaction between a set of African American-derived and a set of European-derived senses of progress at a particular moment; and a diachronic one that focuses on the meaningful interaction between the socio-musical practices in operation at different times. This allows us to embrace both the immediate practices of Murray’s milieu, but also the way that these practices relate to a past of, and future for, jazz and the critical commentary which frames the interpretation of Murray’s music and career. As I will show, this critical commentary has tended to fetishize certain aspects of Murray’s performance, seeing them narrowly as articulations of creative and political freedom, and ignoring alternative notions of progress used by the musicians themselves.
David Murray: the making of a progressive jazz musician (Bibliography). September 19, 2007Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz, Music Industry.
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And just in case you wanted to follow up any of the references to my article, here’s the bibliography.
Attali, Jacques. 1985. Noise: the political economy of music. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Baker, Houston A. 1987. Modernism and the Harlem renaissance. Chicago; London, University of Chicago Press.
Baraka, Imamu Amiri and Amina Baraka. 1987. The music: reflections on jazz and blues. New York, Morrow.
Boynton, Robert S. 1995. ‘The Professor of connection: a profile of Stanley Crouch’. The New Yorker. New York.
Collier, James Lincoln. 1993. Jazz: the American theme song. New York; Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Crouch, Stanley. 1977. ‘Jazz Lofts: a walk through the wild sounds’. The New York Times Magazine: 40-42, 46.
Crouch, Stanley. 1990. Notes of a hanging judge: essays and reviews, 1979-1989. New York, Oxford University Press.
Crouch, Stanley. 1980. Sleeve notes to Ming. Milan, Black Saint.
Davis, Francis. 1986. In the moment: jazz in the 1980s. New York, Oxford University Press.
DeVeaux, Scott Knowles. 1997. The birth of bebop: a social and musical history. Berkeley, University of California Press.
Ellison, Ralph. 1972. Shadow and act. New York, Vintage Books.
Elworth, Steven B. 1995. ‘Jazz in Crisis, 1948-1958: ideology and representation’. Jazz among the discourses. Krin Gabbard. London, Duke.
Floyd, Samuel A. 1990. Black music in the Harlem Renaissance: a collection of essays. New York; London, Greenwood Press.
Gennari, John. 2006. Blowin’ hot and cool: jazz and its critics. Chicago, Ill.; London, University of Chicago Press.
Giddins, Gary. 2007. ‘New York’s ‘loft scene’ of the 1970s’. Jazz file: The Shape of Jazz Today. Robert Abel. London, BBC Radio 3.
Godbolt, Jim. 1986. A history of jazz in Britain 1919-50. London, Paladin.
Godbolt, Jim. 1989. A history of jazz in Britain 1950-70. London, Quartet Books.
Gridley, Mark C. 1997. Jazz styles: history & analysis. Upper Saddle River, N.J., Prentice Hall.
Hughes, Spike. 1933a/R1993. ‘Ellington at the palladium’. The Duke Ellington Reader. Mark Tucker. New York., Oxford University Press.
Hughes, Spike. 1933b/R1993. ‘Impressions of Ellington in New York’. The Duke Ellington Reader. Mark Tucker. New York, Oxford University Press., Oxford University Press.
Jack, John. 2007. Interview with author. London, https://wallofsound.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/interview-with-john-jack-owner-of-cadillac-records-in-london/.
Jones, LeRoi [Amiri Baraka]. 1966. Blues people: Negro music in white America. London, Jazz Book Club.
Kelsey, Chris. 2007. ‘David Murray Biography’. All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:azfyxqu5ldje~T1.
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Ledbetter, Les. 1975. Festival fans stream to lofts and studios. New York Times: 36.
Lemke, Sieglinde. 1998. Primitivist modernism: black culture and the origins of transatlantic modernism. Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press.
Lewis, George E. 2002. ‘Experimental music in black and white: The AACM in New York 1970 to 1985.’ Current musicology (71-73): 100-157.
Litweiler, John. 1992. Ornette Coleman: the harmolodic life. London, Quartet.
Locke, Alain Le Roy. 1925. The new negro: an interpretation. New York, A. and C. Boni.
Locke, Alain LeRoy. 1936. The Negro and his music. Washington, D.C., The Associates in Negro folk education.
Looker, Benjamin. 2004. Point from which creation begins: the Black Artists’ Group of St. Louis. St. Louis, Missouri Historical Society Press: Distributed by University of Missouri Press.
Mandel, Howard. 1999. Future jazz. Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press.
McKay, George. 2005. Circular breathing: the cultural politics of jazz in Britain. Durham, Duke University Press.
Murray, Albert. 1970. The omni-Americans: new perspectives on black experience and American culture.
Murray, Albert. 1976. Stomping the blues. New York, McGraw-Hill.
Murray, David. 2005. David Murray interview on Jazz on 3, BBC Radio 3.
Murray, David. 1997. Telephone interview. Alain Le Roux, Le Jazz 4.
Mwanga, Kunle. 2005-7. Earth Art Productions [a web site of concert flyers], http://www.earthartproductions.com/.
Mwanga, Kunle. 2007. email interview with author.
Nicholson, Stuart. 2000. David Murray interview. Jazzwise. November 2000.
Palmer, Robert. 1976a. ‘Loft jazz goes on a three-day toot’. New York Times. June 4th 1976: 49.
Palmer, Robert. 1977. ‘The pop life.’ New York Times(June 22nd 1977).
Palmer, Robert. 1977b. ‘A jazz festival in the lofts.’ New York Times(June 3rd 1977).
Panish, Jon. 1997. The color of jazz: race and representation in postwar American culture. Jackson, Miss., University Press of Mississippi.
Parsonage, Catherine. 2005. The evolution of jazz in Britain, 1880-1935. Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing.
Rockwell, John. 1974. Face of jazz is changing visibly. New York Times: 33.
Rooks, Noliwe M. 2006. White money/black power: the surprising history of African American studies and the crisis of race in higher education. Boston, Beacon Press.
Ross, Andrew. 1989. No respect: intellectuals & popular culture. New York; London, Routledge.
Scaruffi, Piero. 2006. ‘David Murray’. http://www.scaruffi.com/jazz/murray.html
Shaw, Arnold. 1987. The jazz age: popular music in the 1920’s. New York; Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Shipton, Alyn. 2001. A new history of jazz. London; New York, Continuum.
Thomas, Lorenzo. 1995. ‘Ascension: music and the black arts movement’. Jazz among the discourses. Krin Gabbard. London, Duke University Press.
Tucker, Mark. 1990. ‘The renaissance education of Duke Ellington’. Black music in the Harlem Renaissance: a collection of essays. Samuel A. Floyd. New York; London, Greenwood Press.
Vincent, Ted. 1995. Keep cool: the black activists who built the jazz age. LondonEast Haven, Conn., Pluto Press.
Werner, Craig Hansen. 1999. A change is gonna come: music, race & the soul of America. New York, Plume.
West, Hollie I. 1977. ‘The development of a bright star’. Washington Post. Washington.
Williams, Martin T. 1970. The jazz tradition. New York, Oxford University Press.
Zukin, Sharon. 1982. Loft living: culture and capital in urban change. Baltimore; London, Johns Hopkins University Press.
David Murray: the making of a progressive jazz musician (Part Three). September 16, 2007Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz, Music Industry.
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The further development of Murray’s career
If Murray’s work in the first five years of his career was defined by New York and European venues and record companies, to a large extent the next three stages of his work can be seen to be defined by his involvement with four other record companies, and associated live work. From 1980 to 1987 his output mainly came from the Italian Black Saint record label, and an even greater emphasis on composition and larger ensembles is apparent. In the seven years from 1988 his output was substantially different again; as leader he recorded for the Japanese DIW label, and Bob Thiele’s Red Baron label distributed by the major Columbia records. Murray’s live work in Europe was allied with an infrastructure of public funded performances and tours as jazz became to be seen as art music. Quartet formats returned to prominence, and church and African music interests came to the fore. By 1996, major changes had taken place in Murray’s professional and personal life. He signed to the Canadian Justin Time label, moved to Paris and started a substantial musical journey in forms outside the jazz tradition.
During 1975 to 1979 Murray had recorded mainly solo or in small groups; between 1980 and 1987, by contrast, as leader he recorded in large ensembles, although his collaborative work tended to be in duo formats. Murray premiered his Big Band in July 1978 at New York’s Public Theatre, and an Octet in 1979 at the October festival (Davis 1986: 43; Mwanga 2005-7). Kunle Mwanga was key to this development, and he organized major musical projects in concert halls and festivals for Murray through to 1989 (Mwanga 2007). These changes are most often understood by critics as a move away from the progressive avant garde and towards a neo-traditionalism. There are certainly changes in Murray’s playing style, with an increasing emphasis on explorations of the work of key tenor players that followed Hawkins, but more significant by far was his progressive exploration of the possibilities of the large ensemble for composition and improvisation building on Ellington (Mandel 1999: 56-66). Crouch continued to provide an intellectual interpretive paradigm for Murray’s music-making, and in sleeve notes he located Murray’s big band experiments as steeped in the legacy of the jazz tradition. In particular he notes the use of Parker’s counterpoint, Ellington’s harmonies as melodies, and Mingus’ hybridity, while avoiding being derivative or pretentious (Crouch 1980).
Butch Morris moved from instrumentalist in these ensembles to develop his interest in ensemble improvising through a conductor – which he called conduction – giving the recordings a distinctive and innovative sound, and Murray an important context in which he could compose and perform. Almost all the recordings Murray made as leader during this period were self-compositions, the majority dramatic re-arrangements of pieces recorded before, and each an exploration of a particular musical theme rooted in the music’s past. Notable are his investigations of the use of waltzes, Latin claves, 3/4 time and of a-temporal suspensions. The WSQ material moved from compositions dominated by Hemphill and Bluiett, to themed albums programmed around Duke Ellington, and R&B.
The dramatic change in WSQ music coincided with the band’s signing to major label Electra. A similar pattern emerges in Murray’s signing to DIW records in the late 1980s. The first four CDs were recorded at a quartet recording session in January 1988 and released in themed packages around saxophone ballads and gospel music. The themed albums set two clear templates that – along with investigations of R&B – were to dominate Murray’s output for the next 18 years. The recordings also reveal Murray’s interest in African themes and Coltrane’s canon that would become important themes from the turn of the century.
Although the quartet now became his main group format, collaborations with players with international reputations like Jack DeJohnette, James Blood Ulmer, and Kahil El’Zabar became common, and he continued his association with musicians he first played with on the West Coast including Bobby Battle and James Newton. Surprisingly given that he only recorded two dates with a pianist before 1985, he also established strong working relationships with John Hicks, Randy Weston, Dave Burrell, McCoy Tyner, Aki Takase, Donald Fox, DD Jackson and Jon Jang predominantly in a series of sax-piano duos. The WSQ went on to make a further 19 records, and the single instrument format was reproduced for Murray’s bass clarinet playing in the Clarinet Summit.
In many ways the variety was a continuation of the strategy of offering different ensemble sizes to different venues established by Mawanga in the 1970s, and Murray’s restless exploration of musical settings, playing styles, and music cultures. But it was also the product of record marketing strategies developed by Electra, DIW staffers and Bob Thiele at Red Baron to organize the ensemble’s formats and music, and their production, programming and packaging. DIW executive producer Kazunori Sugiyama gave Murray freedom to record what he wanted (Murray 1997), but at the same time CD releases were guided by distinctive concepts around particular genres within the African American popular music tradition, and featured strong design and graphical work and cover photographs from Murray’s then wife Ming Smith. This work never seemed mannered, however, and was constantly innovative, deeply rooted in Murray’s own interests and background.
Given that Bob Thiele is best known for his support of John Coltrane during his most experimental period at Impulse, the Red Baron releases seem surprisingly to be led by their concept, rather than the music, and more determined by Thiele than Murray. Murray seems to have taken the biggest exception to Jazzasaurus Rex issued in the same year as the Jurassic Park film (Murray 1997). Nevertheless the records sold well enough for Columbia to add distribution of Murray’s DIW CDs to its support for Red baron product, and their Portrait label signed him for one release – Ming’s Samba – which continued his innovations with time signatures and jazz’s past.
These changes marked a new direction for Murray at just the time his relationship with Stanley Crouch deteriorated. Crouch’s influence on Murray had been all enveloping (Davis 1986: 45), but by the early 1990s, Murray was often critical of Crouch, and particularly of his involvement with Wynton Marsalis. Crouch’s cultural criticism had moved on a path from involvement in black nationalism under the influence of Amiri Baraka, through advocacy for the New York new music scene of the 1970s, to equally passionate support for Marsalis, under the influence of Albert Murray, and involvement in the jazz programme at the Lincoln Centre. This intellectual journey is not as great as it may seem, however. Both Baraka and Albert Murray place the blues at the centre of the jazz aesthetic as an expressions of raw African American experience (Jones 1966; Murray 1976). The difference lies in the way that each has deployed their ideas. John Gennari suggests Baraka uses ‘music to grind the axe of political critique … [while Murray’s] point is to underlie how the blues functions as a cultural universal’ (Gennari 2006: 350).
So while Baraka celebrated David Murray’s work as ‘redefining the spiritual aesthetic of a whole people’ (Baraka and Baraka 1987: 260), he did so to make an unfavourable contrast with those black new music practitioners who explored European composition. While in Baraka’s analysis the jazz imperative is a progressive force of liberation, in Albert Murray’s it leads to a canonization of jazz musicians and the proposition that African Americans and their culture are the true representative Americans (Murray 1970). For Crouch this jazz tradition was the equivalent to the Italian Renaissance culture (Crouch 1990: 244-65).
By 1989 Crouch was writing the sleeve notes for Marsalis’s albums, and presenting him as ‘the virtual personification of a post-1980s jazz renaissance’ based on a rejection of all post 1970 music (Gennari 2006: 342). Marsalis gained wide publicity as leader of a group of ‘young jazz lions’ due to his technical brilliance, his sartorial style that captured a rising interest in the iconography of 1950s jazz in a design-conscious culture, and his involvement in educational programmes which built on the idea of jazz as America’s classical music. To advocates of a progressive jazz this all smacked of backward-looking conservatism.
Murray has cited these disputes as one of the reasons that in 1996 he relocated to Paris, but the move was also the result of his relationship with his third wife Valerie Malot, the French ethnomusicologist and promoter. The move coincided with a new contract with French Canadian jazz independent Justin Time label for both his own groups and the WSQ. The initial releases showcased Murray’s increasing interest in other musics of the African diaspora which built on the Afro-centricism of the black arts musicians like Bluiett, and was apparent earlier in Murray’s work from the contributions of Kahil El’Zabar’s African percussion. The artwork and track names on his 1980s CDs reflected the personal impact of his African tours. He also seems to have been profoundly influenced by South African Blue Note bassist Johnny Dyani, with whom he recorded many times. WSQ’s 1990 and 1995 recordings with African drums seem to reflect the impact of his trip to the slave coast of Senegal, as well as the notion that innovation is to be found in collaboration and an exploration of new possibilities.
Murray and Malot jointly formed 3D family which looks after all Murray’s tours and recording activities, as well as those of a range of Paris-based African and Caribbean musicians. The dream of greater creative and economic independence is manifest in his current live and recording work, and his interests in different aspects of Afro-diasporic music is pursued through 19 CDs. As earlier in his career, his contract is not exclusive. In the last ten years he has also recorded over 15 CDs with other labels, covering a wide range of ensemble configurations and musical styles. These include work with players from the European avant garde. In 2007 he revisited the approach of the 1980s Black Saint recordings with a revitalized quartet.
Reading through interviews with Murray one is always struck by how interested he is to talk about the business of jazz. Often more so than the music of jazz. He seems as acutely aware of the economics of the jazz tradition as he is the music. Hawkins was always somewhat at the mercy of recording companies and promoters, and seemed happier in the creative space of the jam session than in the commercial context that produced his living. By contrast Murray seems determined to try and create a commercial context in which he can explore his musical muse.
His work seems to move in and out of a set of musical practices that we broadly call jazz. Interestingly, though, he seems to have almost entirely by-passed the mainstream of major record labels, showing strong attachments to independent labels that offer him a high degree of musical freedom. At the same time he works with professional promoters and with public arts agencies, offering different personal interests up to different audiences.
Murray’s work offers a reinterpretation of the progressive musician which tries to escape the singular definitions of both African American neo-traditionalism and the European avant garde, but one that is rooted in the values of the black arts movement where he first established himself.
David Murray: the making of a progressive jazz musician (Part Two). September 11, 2007Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz, Music Industry.
If you want, you can start with part one here.
If you’ve read that, read on:
Murray’s founding career 1975 to 1979: black arts movement, loft jazz, European festivals, and small independents
The standard Murray early biography goes something like this: Murray first plays music in church with his musical family, turning to R&B and rock and then jazz and the alto sax while a student in the Berkeley school system; hearing Sonny Rollins play solo inspires him to switch from alto to tenor, and then at Pomona College he studies with a former Ornette Colman sideman Bobby Bradford, and literature teacher Stanley Crouch; at the age of twenty Murray moves to New York during the city’s loft jazz era (adapted from Kelsey 2007).
In this story Murray is most often presented as initially an inheritor of an abstract/expressionist improvising style originated in the ’60s by such saxophonists as Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, David Murray eventually evolved into something of a mainstream tenorist, playing standards with conventional rhythm sections (Kelsey 2007).
Conforming to the dominant approach to jazz biography, Murray’s career is built upon a series of personal influences, and his musical eclecticism is implicitly rooted in his late sixties upbringing, his virtuosity in personal influence, and his interest in the avant garde and later use of gospel and R&B located in his developing environment. Most of these details of Murray’s early life, and collated from interviews, seem to be accurate. However, the tendency of commentators to make a connection to Ayler is perhaps overstated, and exacerbated by the prominence of one of Murray’s early compositions: ‘Flowers for Albert’. In interviews Murray has often distanced himself from this connection: ‘Everyone heard the tune and all of a sudden decided I sounded just like Albert Ayler. But I never turned Albert’s solo back to 16 RPM so I could transcribe them and play them note-for-note the way I did with … Gonsalves, or … Hawkins’ (Davis 1986: 47; see also Murray 2005).
There are some commonalities between Murray’s and Ayler’s approach and sound. Their recordings feature the intensity of African American music from gospel, through honking R&B, and ‘flattened’ blues, and both utilize free improvisation as the key strategy, and dissonance is a major product of this approach. Both latterly explored music outside the jazz tradition. However, Murray’s career reveals a far greater emphasis on ways of making music than on sound. In particular, his collaborative strategies and his interest in the relationship between different players in the ensemble. While European commentators tend to talk about this period in Murray’s career as one of ‘confrontational free-jazz’ improvisation (Scaruffi 2006), composition and arrangement – and especially an emphasis on contrast and counter point – are important parts of his approach.
More importantly, what Murray is clearly trying to do in the interviews is to distance himself from a European critical discourse which locates his early work as ‘abstract/expressionist’ and his influences as restricted to players nominated as ‘the avant garde’. The key to understanding the practices which created Murray’s approach and sound are to be found not in such a critical celebration of the avant garde, but in the assiduous way the young Murray mastered the techniques and virtuosity of tenor players from the jazz tradition. We can trace this commitment to mastering, and then reusing, the jazz tradition directly back to the influence of Murray’s teachers at Pomona, and the direct and indirect influence of members of the Black Arts Movement. Studying with Stanley Crouch and Bobby Bradford gave Murray access to ideas of the jazz progressivism and African American cultural tradition at the same time. He first came to New York to research a college paper on the development of tenor styles since 1959 (West 1977).
This interest in the jazz tradition was a characteristic that distinguished all the musicians associated with new music in New York in the 1970s, from the earlier generation of free players. The values and practices of these musicians are rooted in the Black Arts Movement and mediated through theories taught in black studies curricula An understanding of this movement provides a far more convincing explanation for the development of Murray’s style than the usual connection to Ayler. The community activism and black cultural renaissance that came out of the civil rights and black nationalist movements were incubated in urban arts and musicians collectives and liberal arts colleges, and reached maturity in the new political economy of the New York loft scene of the mid- to late- 1970s.
This first part of Murray’s career, then, must be explored through a discussion of the Black Arts Movement and Murray’s direct and indirect experience of its values and practices, enabled by an infrastructure of venues and record labels, and championed by commentators in the alternative press. By comparison with Hawkins – who started as a journeyman dance musician in the 1920s, came to fame as a featured soloist in swing bands of the 1930s, and achieved influence through his involvement with the New York be bop movement in the 1940s – Murray enjoyed a musical education of relative freedom and privilege at Pomona college in Claremont, California. Like other Liberal Arts institutions of the time Pomona hosted a black studies programmes, linked to community-based projects of the black arts movements (see Rooks 2006: 35-60).
The Black Arts Movement had its origins in a series of New York writers collectives and workshops whose members theorized ‘the proper relationship of the arts to black communities and liberation struggles, as the burgeoning black nationalism of the 1960s reverberated through the arts world’ (Looker 2004: 38). In contrast to the Harlem Renaissance theorists of the 1920s and 1930s the new black arts activists worked with distinctively African and African American forms of expression and tried to unite ethics and aesthetics, performance and activism, and the breadth of the expressive arts.
Murray’s work in the 1970s is explicitly linked with three of the main black arts groups. Perhaps the best known is the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago, but just as important was the Black Arts Group (BAG) in St Louis, and the Pan-African People’s Arkestra / Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) in Los Angeles (Shipton 2001: 826-7; Lewis 2002; Looker 2004). Shipton explicitly identifies Murray as a alumni of Horace Tapscott’s UGMA, and of the 17 musicians he recorded with during this period 13 were former members of AACM, UGMA or BAG. In particular the other three founders of the World Saxophone Quartet – Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, and Julius Hemphill – were key BAG members before coming to New York.
There were common threads to the practices and values of these black arts musicians that run through Murray’s work: a strong emphasis on the development of an individual sound and on ‘creative difference within collectivity’ (Lewis 2002); Afro-centricism in dress, imagery, inter-textuality of names; collaboration with visual and performing artists; a commitment to independent venues and record distribution; and often a stress on social and educational, as well as musical goals. Often funded by art grants, and playing to progressive multi-cultural audiences, these groups developed a creative milieu in which experimentation was highly valued (Looker 2004). As Looker and Lewis both outline, although the initial emphasis was on community and local activism, many of the musicians in these major cities became disillusioned by the instability and limited viability of the performance venues and recording infrastructure, and moved first to Europe, and then to New York where an alternative scene was developing in disused industrial buildings in Manhattan.
Murray became a notable participant in both the ‘loft scene’ and the European jazz festival circuit, and his first recordings are evidence of his place in this milieu. His 18 releases as leader were from 11 small independent labels, and all but three were recordings of live concerts split evenly between New York and European venues. He also recorded five times as a sideman on as many different labels and as a part of the collective World Saxophone Quartet. Taking four recordings as exemplars – the various artists collection NYC Wildflowers: The New York Loft Sessions (1976); the World Saxophone Quartet’s Point Of No Return (1977); the solo performance Conceptual Saxophone and quintet The London Concert (both 1978) – and setting them in the broader context of his other recordings and concerts, it is possible to explore the distinctive nature of Murray’s musical practice during this time.
The Wildflowers series of five records were recorded by Alan Douglas over seven evenings at Sam Rivers’ RivBea loft space in Manhattan in 1976 and released on his small label. This loft – along with the Ladies’ Fort where Murray also recorded – was seen as the key venue of the scene (Palmer 1976a; Palmer 1977; Palmer 1977b), and played host to an alternative to the Newport in New York jazz festival (Ledbetter 1975). The lofts echoed the 1940s after-hours jam sessions frequented by Hawkins, but these were musician-controlled spaces where they worked, lived and slept, and performances were dominated by cooperative ensemble playing and multimedia experiences rather than cutting-contests. Taking their model from the post-industrial spaces occupied by visual and performing artists (Zukin 1982), Ornette Coleman’s Artists House (Litweiler 1992: 120) and Rashid Ali’s Ali’s Alley (Crouch 1977), the loft scene extended to other reused spaces in Greenwich Village and SoHo areas of Manhattan and drew the key musicians of the black arts collectives to New York where they mixed with the earlier generation of free players who had followed the innovations of Coltrane, Coleman and Ayler (Looker 2004: 213-244). They provided alternative performance spaces to the post-bebop jazz clubs, offering music that blurred the boundaries between jazz and ‘avant-guarde serious’ new music (Rockwell 1974).
Murray lived in the very heart of this scene renting accommodation with his mentor, Stanley Crouch, just above The Tin Palace at Second and Bowery. It was here, and in his own loft space – the Sunrise Studio – where Crouch became a major events promoter and concert programmer, while simultaneously valorising their work in the alternative press (Boynton 1995). Crouch also played drums in Murray’s Low Class Conspiracy band, appearing on four of Murray’s early live recordings, and contributing compositions to Murray’s repertoire .
The Wildflowers recordings reveal black arts musicians experimenting together in different ensemble configurations. Murray appears on three of the LPs – once with his own quartet, and twice as part of Sunny Murray’s Untouchable Factor quintet – and in each his contribution is significantly removed from the energy music he is usually characterized as playing at this time. His own quartet recording has no solos, and the saxophone and trumpet front line is integrated into Fred Hopkins’ bowed bass meditative tone supported by Crouch’s high hat slashes. David Murray dominates the two Sunny Murray-led quintet tracks, but plays with the same muted emotional colour.
The values of experimentation and collective endeavour are encapsulated even more strongly in the work of the World Saxophone Quartet. Although the loft scene offered few significant material rewards, the WSQ was perhaps the most innovative ensemble of the scene, and its most commercially successful. A group of strong individuals, they work as a collective using a novel combination of instruments for a jazz group. Clearly owing something to the unusual ensemble structures and down playing of the rhythm section in BAG, it also had its origins in Hemphill’s involvement in Anthony Braxton’s saxophone-only ensembles.
Originally named the Real New York Saxophone Quartet (West 1977) the group swiftly established itself as a mainstay of European jazz festivals, and their first recording was a live date at the Moers New Jazz Festival in Germany. Point Of No Return was released on the small independent Moers label which released recordings of the festival concerts. By the mid-1970s the thriving European circuit of jazz festivals offered space for new music. Programmes typically mixed innovative European improvisors rooted in arts modernism, with American instrumentalists whose traditions were noticeably different. Paradoxically, then, even though the WSQ was rooted in the black arts movement, and the African American jazz tradition, their unusual ensemble form was more readily accepted in Europe. Some only hear a completely ‘free’ music, mainly because it is hard to locate the point at which composition ends and improvisation begins. However, while there may not be traditional themes and solos, the music is arranged around contrast and counter-point of each player. There is certainly a fiercer energy about the playing, and while Murray has less control over the compositions (Hemphill dominated here) he takes a dominant role in the performances and offers one solo recital. For Gary Giddins, Murray and the WSQ are exemplars of loft jazz which ‘seemed to spring from the avant garde of the 1960s, while embracing everything that came before it … interpreting the battle cry of free jazz as the freedom to play anyway they liked; their music was at once innovative and historicist’ (Giddins 2007).
The economic importance of European festivals and record labels, the balancing of musical innovation and history, and the tensions between European and African American notions of modernism, are even more apparent in the final two recordings I have selected. Conceptual Saxophone’s five tracks are one third of two concerts Murray played in Paris on the 6th and 7th February 1978 and were released on the British independent Cadillac label. The remaining two parts were released on similar French and Italian labels. Cadillac also released The London Concert double album of Murray’s quintet recorded seven months later. This was an intense period of recording for Murray in Europe. Seven days before the Paris concert he had recorded live in Rouen , and later in the same month he was in a Milan studio , followed by the live concert recordings in London in August and at the Jazzfestival in Willisau, Switzerland in September. In December Murray was in the studio with the World Saxophone Quartet, again in Milan. Unsurprisingly, then, the musicians on these recordings do not represent a single coherent unit, but draw on a number of Murray’s New York associates and musicians playing on the European scene.
Unusually, given Murray’s commitment to playing with others, in Paris he plays alone for over 120 minutes; linking back to the inspiring Sonny Rollins solo performance at the Berkeley Jazz festival. The record featured an exploration of Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday’, two Murray once recorded compositions, along with two Murray classics in ‘Home’ and ‘Flowers for Albert’. The sleeve notes locate Murray’s work for a European jazz fan, discussing his early career in New York. His playing is notably more energized in these recordings compared with Wildflowers. Of course this could entirely be due to the demands of a solo performance. However, there are other factors to consider.
Jon Panish argues that African American commentaries ‘almost always seek and establish connections, like jazz itself, by setting individual desires and achievements, hardships, and genius in the context of the group … the majority of white texts focus instead on discontinuities between the individual and any sort of group’ (Panish 1997: 20). Likewise the European mediation of jazz tends to emphasize the soloist over the ensemble. It is notable that all of Murray’s recorded live solo performances were in Europe , and Murray has suggested that European audiences expected an obviously ‘free’ style characterized by ‘energy techniques’ (Davis 1986: 46). But during this period his recordings support his claim that ‘you’ll notice me gradually laying off of the overblown notes. … I try to use the top of my register to embellish what I’ve already done on the bottom. I try to put all my energy into achieving pure, crystal clear notes’ (46).
By contrast The London Concert features a quintet with a reeds-brass front line (using Butch Morris) with a traditional trio rhythm section. The fuller CD release features a balance of Murray standards and three numbers not much recorded later, along with a composition by Brian Smith. Throughout, the musicians’ playing is characterized by a musical dissonance, created out of practices of collective experimentation, a rejection of form and substitution in the bebop tradition, but with a strong emphasis on exploration of the instrument as a machine that produced sound. At the same time his techniques on this recording owes significant debt to his engagement with the jazz tradition. The voicing of the individual players is rooted in sounds available through the recorded history of jazz, and Murray draws on the ecstatic performance styles of the black church far more than European-style abstraction. There are strong echoes of Hawkins’ ‘brilliant use of pacing, structure, and rhythmic relief’ (Williams 1970: 80) in Murray’s aim to ‘ spell out the triads on the first chorus. The second chorus gets more dense, and by the third or fourth chorus I’m playing what I really hear on it … because if you listen to Bird and Trane and all the greats, that’s how they did it’ (Mandel 1999: 52-53).
These albums represent not only Murray’s contact with listeners in Europe, but also the engagement of Murray and his manager, Kunle Mwanga, with the political economy of the infrastructure of European jazz. Mwanga was dealing with a series of regionally-based festival organizers, concert promoters, and record company owners. The British Cadillac label – typical of a series of new independent record companies – was owned by musician Mike Westbrook and promoter John Jack. Mwanga sold the Paris concert tapes outright to labels across Europe, and a deal was struck for a recording fee at the London concert on top of the appearance fee. Such labels typically pressed 500 or 1000 copies of a record, and distributed them directly to small, specialist shops. Jack built the label and concert promotions out of an experience of running new jazz events at the old Ronnie Scott’s club (Jack 2007; Mwanga 2007). Mwanga played a pivotal role in Murray’s career in this period both in his live appearances and recorded material, acting as manger, and credited as recording supervisor or co-producer of his records. He produced Murray’s Quartet appearance in Berkeley and his Big Band at the Public Theatre in 1978, and in 1985’s New York Kool Jazz festival (Mwanga 2005-7).