Monday, 18 September 2017

Evaporating Arguments

More than a few times recently, I've started a piece set off by something, fired up by someone's claims and a need to explain why they are wrong, misguided or could look at it another way. I get about three hundrd words in, and the momentum dissipates. The latest was set off by the idea of "bullshit jobs" put about by a pasty-faced, soft-shellled shitlib Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, who turns out to know very little about the real world and even less about the interplay of his own ideals, government and jobs created by the need to prove conformity to government legislation which however imperfectly captures social policies the likes of soft-shell Professor Graebner would like to see implemented.

It's surprisingly hard work to discover and then explain the the false assumptions and ignorance under someone else's lousy ideas. And I'm not being paid to do this. So what happens is that I get to the point where I realise that the ideas I'm arguing against are based on assumptions that are so wrong I would actually need to explain them, and at that point, I give up.

Rollo over at The Rational Male does valuable work. But his feminine-primary society, while a useful heuristic for men starting off on their Red Pill journey, is not useful to those of us who started at the finishing point, and who are capitalists in practice and Marxists in theory. (Best combination by far.) I can't argue with his ideas anymore: he's using them to do something different to the things I want to do. There's no point in criticising a chisel because it's not a Phillips-head screwdriver.

By contrast, my long screed on Modes was as much an excuse to set out ideas that have been rattling around my head for a while. I'm not going to repeat it. And neither for that matter would I ever bother explaining to someone why contemporary music played by graduates of jazz schools has a small audience: if their ears can't tell them why, my words surely won't.

I don't discuss the finer points of the Big Book or the Ten Steps. It's not that there's no point, but that each recovering alcoholic must find an understanding that works for them. I can talk about how I did a particular Step, or how I deal with something in daily life, but the other person has to find something that works for them. What I say may or may not be useful.

The point of discussing an idea is not to convince the other person, nor to convince any bystanders. It's to test out one's own ideas on the subject by comparison and contrast. When the other ideas are just plain dumb, as Graebner's are, or are intended to instil a mindset, as many of Rollo's are, then there's nothing to test against.

As for the EU-bought-and-paid-for mainstream media, and politics divided into those on the right side of history and those without a clue, move along, there's as little to see as an Apple product announcement.

I need to find a new playground.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Monday, 11 September 2017

Why Do People Hate Jazz?

I was prompted to discuss this by a rambling but interesting post by Rick Beato. Prima facie he’s wrong. Lots of people like jazz, and everyone likes Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Google “North Sea Jazz Festival” and see how big the crowds are. That’s not what he’s talking about: he’s wondering why the contemporary audience for music made by graduates of jazz schools is so small.

To get this discussion started, I'm going to suggest that we take

Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Charles Mingus
Charlie Parker
Duke Ellington
Count Basie
Cannonball Adderly
Cecil Taylor
Thelonius Monk
Keith Jarrett

and remove them from the discussion. History has established that these are musicians to match the great virtuoso-composers of musical history. Expecting a graduate of jazz college to do what John Coltrane did, or to show the musical judgement of Miles Davis, is like expecting a graduate of a music academy to play with the originality and taste of Liszt or Bach. It’s just silly to expect that.

So, here’s Sonny Stitt.

Here’s some more that’s so hip, the world’s going to turn black and white, and you’re going to be transported to Manhattan..

Sonny Clarke. And if you want something a little more funky, try this…

Moanin’ by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and the two Sonny’s, are from the Golden Age of Chamber Jazz, when it was the chosen music of white men who wanted to show they were hip, unconventional, tolerant, out-there and generally not square. Chamber Jazz was, for just under twenty years, the music of private white cultural dissent. Teenagers irritated their parents with it the way they've been using rap to do for the last forty years. Golden Age chamber jazz had been music for cities, cellar nightclubs, and two a.m. walks back to the third-floor cold-water walk-up. It was the soundtrack, often, to the life its listeners wanted to live.

Then stuff like this started to happen…


…and it got a little harder to follow all the new young players. And just in time, along came the Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. Jazz suddenly sounded bland, or it sounded horribly dissonant and self-consciously weird. The hot white girls definitely went for rock and pop. Aside from anything else, they could dance to it. The world changed as well: the lives that many white people wanted to live changed, being more West Coast than East Coast, and the lives that other people actually lived got worse. They needed something simpler, less polished and more direct, and after a few years of Funkaparlidelicment, rap and hip-hop came along to provide the soundtrack to those lives, and parent-baiting music for white boys.

The West Coast sensibility began to attract the men who had previously played Golden Age jazz. The West Cost sensibility is slick, smooth, emphasising technical accomplishment rather than feeling, less bluesy (who could really have the blues in California?) and there was a steady demand for soundtrack music for movies and TV series. Out of this came "smooth jazz", "jazz-funk" and other "hyphen-jazz" genres. Some of the old guard carried on, especially once they started to receive grants and teaching positions, but their audiences were getting older. And smaller.

Hyphen-jazz is dangerously close to elevator music. It took a Joe Zawinul, or Becker and Fagin, to keep the music sharp. Jazz had ceased to be a mood, a style and an attitude, and had become a C maj sus 7 dim 4 chord, musical “sophistication” for the sake of being clever. Becker and Fagin were in fact ultimately nostalgic for the Golden Age, a nostalgia Fagin's Nightfly project expressed so well.

Very little hyphen-jazz has anything to do with the Blues. It's my contention that all great music shares in the Blues, from Bach chorales and Byrd Masses to the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. The only great composer who is blues-free is Mozart. The Blues is there in Mahler, Wagner and even some Stockhausen. I don't mean you will hear runs that could have come from B B King, or repeated opening lines complaining about how the singer's magic ring has been stolen. I mean listen to the sensibility. There's a sadness built right into the best music, however joyful and triumphant it might be in the finale.

There's no Blues in Dave Grusin's Mountain Dance

, which is a

a very pretty tune I like a lot. But it's not jazz.

So where did the jazz audience go? Did the music abandon the audience? Did the audience give up trying to follow the musicians?

People want to dance. When a form of music becomes un-danceable - and you can dance to Snarky Puppy as much as you can to Ascension, that is, not at all - it’s going to lose its main audience and leave behind a bunch of aficionados, for whom it will be a soundtrack for their lives, if not everyday, then for a few intense moments of private emotion. And when the music won’t do that, or when the nature and setting of the emotions no longer fits the music, then even the True Faithful will leave it behind.

And sure as heck the replacement, the dry, Blues-free, swing-free, chord-scale dominated Euro-jazz and big band whatever-it-is music, is the soundtrack to nobody’s life. To what life is this Wayne Shorter track a soundtrack?

It’s from his Rachel Z collaboration High Life. What emotions are there in this pleasant but bland piece by Rachel Z...

...which is riddled with Bruce Hornsby stylings, at least to my ear.

Though this Snarky Puppy piece

would, if I was seventeen, be great get-my-day-started music to play on the way to college.

I’m not claiming that nobody identifies with any of the music produced by people who went to jazz school. The Snarky's have a large and enthusiastic following. Personally I wish their guitarist had never heard John Scofield, but they all play like that now.

I’m explaining why those jazz school graduates don’t have many people at their concerts, and their CD’s don’t sell.

It’s way past time we should abandon the idea that “jazz” still exists. Calling what is played now under the name of “jazz” is as lazy as calling Wagner “classical” music. Wagner was a Romantic. Mozart was a classical, and Bach was a Baroque, composer. I don’t know what to call what gets played now, but I do know it has nothing to do with Cal Tjader.

And it sure as heck has nothing to do with this…


Monday, 4 September 2017

June - August 2017 Review

Remember those pull-ups I was crowing about? June started with a visit to my osteopath. I had problems with my right shoulder and arm from doing pull-ups while being heavy. I had one visit to my sports masseur and another to the osteo before June was out. Those pull-ups did more damage than I thought.

Actually, while that visit was Friday, June really started when I fainted at the gym the next morning. Doing pulley-rows. half-way through the second set, I got that light-headed feeling that says “head between knees now”, which I started to do, and the next thing I remember I was sound asleep wondering how I got home. Then I woke up, and saw that I was in the gym, thought that was part of the dream, and then realised that it wasn’t, and that I must have passed out. I had not hurt anything - it’s a short trip from the pulley-row seat to the industrial carpet floor - but the gym had called an ambulance. The paramedics took ECGs, pulses, blood sugar and asked all the right questions. Fainting is taken very seriously, because while it probably means “not enough to eat”, it might mean all sorts of serious conditions. They took me off to University College Hospital, where I was whisked straight into a room, someone took some blood for testing, and then I was ignored for a couple of hours. Only by telling a nurse I was going to leave, did I get a young lady doctor, who asked even more sensible questions, made sure everything moved, prodded my abs and declared them “nice and soft” (!!!! my abs are like rock, but I think she meant, “not tight like a drum”), and sent me on my way. Following that I had lunch at Carluccio’s in Bloomsbury Square and went to the movies.

I took the next day off, because after you faint, you will have a few days where you’re not sure you might not do it again. It takes a little while to regain confidence in yourself.

I found a decorator for the flaking paint in my kitchen, he diagnosed a leaking cistern, and the plumber he suggested confirmed it. So towards the end of June, Pat the Plumber came in, hammered away and did things with pipes, to remove my old free-standing toilet and hidden cistern, and temporarily install the floor-stander I bought to replace it. July started with me taking all the old crud from my bathroom to the re-built tip at Spacewaye. Ah, what life is made of! The pipe into the cistern had been leaking slightly every time I flushed. Leaking stopped, the walls and floor could dry out, and everyone re-convened at the end of July to tile in the bathroom, and scrape away bad plaster, make good and paint the kitchen. Then Pat the Plumber came back and put the cistern on. Did I mention I was flushing with water from a bowl for a month? Always something new in my life.

Remember that week in July when the weather was crap? Yep. That was the week I took off.

July ended with the death of my nephew’s father. It turned out I was the sole remaining executor of his Will. So there were back-and-forths with the solicitor who held the will, while I assembled and had certified various documents to send so they could send me the Will. I handed that over to my nephew’s solicitor, who has acted for our family for a long time, and renounced my Executorship. This leaves my nephew in charge, which is how everyone wants it.

At some point in mid-July, I got a summer cold and had a day off to recover. I spent the next three weeks with a lingering cough, that culminated in a Thursday when I had really bad coughing and felt feverish and weak, and rarely for me, bailed at work. I saw my GP that Monday, who prescribed a week’ worth of amoxycillin. I took those, the cough went and I felt a little more perky than I had for a while. Some things do just work.

I saw War Machine, at the Curzon Bloomsbury, Baby Driver at the Curzon Soho, and Dunkirk at the local Cineworld. On DVD, I went through S1 of The Returned, Fog and Crimes and Billions S1.

Paco Pena passed through Sadlers Wells, and I saw him on the Saturday matinee, after lunch at Caravan in Exmouth Market.

I started my free month subscription to Tidal Premium. Not complaining yet. The difference in quality between the BBC Radio 3 digital broadcast of Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Tidal stream of the Academy of St Martin's version was night and day. The classical music seems thin on the ground, but I don’t see Naxos licensing its catalogue to Jay-Z when they have a site of their own.

I had to replace the fridge, since mine was making high-pitched hums every time it switched on. Replacing under-counter fridges 50cm wide is dead simple, because there’s practically no choice. Go into Curries, buy The Fridge, and pray it gets delivered without drama.

As for reading, in June, I got seriously bogged down in Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, which is currently on hold. Releasing myself from that, I read Milo Yiannoplous’ Dangerous; Peter Plagen’s book about Bruce Nauman,The True Artist; Fumio Saski’s Goodbye Things; Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever; Fernanda Torres’ The End; Brian Christian and Tom Griffith’s Algorithms to Live By; John Kenneday Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces; Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The History of A Town; Warren Ellis’ Trees 1 and 2; the second book of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman; Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex 1; and also re-read Taleb’s Anti-Fragile.

(Don’t bother with A Confederacy of Dunces, do bother with The History of A Town. Trees is imaginative but sadly marred by SJW ideology - you would not think this is the man who wrote Transmetropolitan. Torres’ novel is a good read, but the exact opposite of what the blurb says: it’s a bunch of female-centered fantasies about men with options who nevertheless commit to flawed women. The Algorithms book actually proves that you can’t live by algorithms, but saying so would spoil the fun. The point of developing simplified algorithms is to highlight the complexities of the real world. Anti-Fragile was better the second time around, but yes, it is rambling and self-indulgent. Despentes’ novel could only be published in France and only written by a French woman. No Anglo would have the nerve.)

Sis and I had supper at the Providores on Marylebone High Street in June, and at The Shed in Notting HIll in July, and our annual trip up the Kingsland Road to Tay Do. I had a post-gym Saturday breakfast at the Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden, and at the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn another weekend, and lunch at The Test Kitchen in Soho during one rainy week off.

At the end of June I started going to the gym on Saturday morning and Sunday late afternoon. I’m liking doing that, and it makes a pleasant start and end to the weekend.

I have not described the endless silliness with Talk-Talk I had throughout July. Suffice to say that I have new copper into my house, have dumped their modem and use mine, even though I made them send me a replacement just because they should do. I’ll leave that for another rant.

Now I put it all together, it doesn’t seem so bad. But I kept feeling I wasn’t doing anything.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Musical Modes for Practical Guitarists

Recently I watched a number of You Tubes explaining the various modes of a scale. This one set me off.

 I’m going to be the first to say that Mr Beato is a better composer, guitarist, music theorist and probably all-round human being than I am. Just so we get that clear. I'm just not sure that it’s helpful to call anything, well, I can’t write it, so I’ll show you the screen

It’s the one at the bottom, that minor seven diminished flat-3 Locrian double-flat 3rd, double-flat 7th. No. This is madness. Let's start over.

A musical key is a bunch of notes, in no special order. Once you insist on an order, in which each note is higher than then one before it, until you get to the note an octave higher than you started, you have a scale. So the notes {C, F, E, D, G, B, A} are the notes of the key of C, and when played in the order make up the scale of C major.

The order that generates the familiar do-ray-me (tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone) sequence of intervals is called the “Major” scale and the (Western tradition) default order to play the notes of that key.

What happens if we take the same notes and play them in a different ascending order? Say ? Try it, and play the sequence at mid-tempo. What you’ll notice is that the last interval - C to D - seems to want to reach out for something more. It doesn’t resolve and land you ‘home’. It sits there waiting for you to do something more. That’s how I feel, anyway.

Now play A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. That should sound dramatic and dark, but also the A sounds like ‘home’, though a darker home than sunny C. This is because this sequence is a Natural Minor sequence.

It makes a difference which notes we start and end on. Even though the notes are the same. That’s the basis of the idea of modes. However, instead of being sensible, and doing this:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C : C Major / C in the Ionian mode
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D : C in the Dorian mode
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E : C in the Phrygian mode
F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F : C in the Lydian mode
G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G: C in the Mixolydian mode
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A: C Natural Minor / C in the Aolian mode

We have this mess:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C : C Major / C Ionian
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D : D Dorian
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E : E Phrygian
F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F : F Lydian
G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G: G Mixolydian
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A: A Natural Minor / A Aolian

In the first list we focus on the key, and the mode tells us in what order to play the notes. In the second list, we focus on the starting note, assume that we would play the major key on that note, and issue instructions about how to modify that major key. In the first reading, "play in the Lydian mode" means "treat the fourth of the key as the home note". In the second reading, it means "play in the major key corresponding to the fourth of the original key, and oh yes, sharpen the fourth of that new key".

I know which one I'll go with. And the composers and choristers of early Church music, where modes originated, agree with me. That's how they thought of, and used, modes. There were no "keys" in the 12th Century. Modes live in a simpler musical world.

The academic approach is the source of the lunacy in which a guitarist, faced with a sequence of Fmaj, Gmaj and Cmaj chords, is told solemnly that they need to play in F Lydian, G Mixolydian and C Ionian. Which means they need to play in F but remember to sharpen the fourth, G but flatten the seventh, and then plain old C.

Or they could just play in the key of C over all the chords, which is what they are actually doing.

One of the first, and still the best use of modes in jazz, is Flamenco Sketches

from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue C Ionian (natural major scale) (notes of C, starting on C) A♭ Mixolydian (Major with a minor 7th) (notes of D♭ starting on A♭) B♭ Ionian (notes of B♭) G Harmonic Minor over D Phrygian Dominant (alternates over bass notes D and E♭) (notes of B♭) G Dorian (notes of F)

The single most dramatic moment in everyone’s solos is the change from B♭ Ionian to D Phrygian. SAME NOTES! We only hear the difference because the soloists play the mode at the start of each change so that our ear gets attuned to what’s going on. As for the second change, it’s Miles’ standby C - D♭ trick (aka “shift up a semitone”, which is easy on the guitar, but I suspect rather more tricky on the saxophone) disguised by starting on A♭ instead of just sliding up the fretboard one step while carrying on.

To repeat, I'm not claiming that the academic approach is wrong. I'm claiming that it's horribly confusing, carries way too much overhead, and that in practice, I bet even the best players translate "E Dorian" to "D-major+E home note" rather than "E major flat 3 flat 7."

I know music theorists are rolling their eyes, huffing and preparing to tell me I will never work as a real musician, and that any pupil of theirs who can't figure out what notes to play instantly on being given the instruction "C Aolian, sharp 1, sharp 4, sharp 5" should have their guitar taken from them. 

It would still be easier to tell them to play in the key of C and make the chords sound good.

Monday, 28 August 2017

How I Intend To Spend My Weekday Evenings

One of the reasons I felt bad about June and July was that I felt I was wasting a lot of time, or rather, I was doing X when I thought I should have been doing Y. Looked at one way, an employed single person feeling that they aren’t being productive enough is silly, especially when I do all my own shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning.

From 05:30 to around 18:30 my life belongs to work, commuting, cooking and other prep-work. Make that 20:00 if it’s a gym day. Since I go to bed around 21:30, where I read until I fall asleep, that gives me about three hours, or ninety minutes, in which to squander time. Let’s not forget that I’m reading for around an hour a day on trains.

What should I do in that time? Gardening, in the summer; more reading; learn to read music (again) on the guitar; watch a couple of episodes of a box set; (insert whatever project you’ve been thinking of here). What do I do? Watch You Tube videos, read blogs, doodle some ideas on what is widely suspected to be an unsolvable mathematical problem, play guitar for a while, and, you know, all the other ways a man passes time. Except drinking. I don’t do that.

What I did do before my social circle moved elsewhere, was go out for a drink with a couple of the lads, or maybe to the movies, or I’d watch television, or maybe a video from Blockbusters. Look carefully, and some of those things can’t be done with a 21:30 bedtime. Except the video.

But sometimes I get to the end of the day, and I’m frazzled. I don’t have the energy to undertake any more organised activity requiring engaged, structured attention, or the ability to remember what the character dynamics are between the central characters. (This is why I can watch Elementary or even Californication like eating candy, because there are two central characters, and two supporting characters, and I know they all like and respect each other. But I still have to be in the mood.)

So those hours somehow vanish. And while I don’t feel bad, I can think “I should have gone to that 18:15 movie at the local cinema” or “why didn’t I curl up with the headphones and listen to (insert name of any 19-th century symphonic composer except Brahms here) (insert number, usually between 1 and 9) Symphony properly.

I have many theories about this, of which the one I probably believe is plain old moral weakness, and all the others are rationalisations. Let’s go with lacking a plan, and moral weakness.

So here we go: Every day on arriving home, I will shower and change immediately - unless I’m going to hit the garden or I did all that at the gym.
Once a week I will watch a movie - either at the local Cineworld, or a streaming art movie, or even in the West End
Once a week, probably gym night, I will watch a box set episode or two.
Once a week, I will listen, on headphones, to one of the many symphonies or concertos I have on CD Once a week, I will have a couple of hours listening to new music on Tidal
(Reading can accompany listening to music, or vice-versa.)
Friday night is for shopping, washing and reading to musical accompaniment
Blog posts fit in with all this.
And at some point I have an evening meal to make
A sudden attack of binge watching a really good series counts as any of the above
Polishing shoes, ironing or other such counts as well.

If I do this, I will not allow myself to feel that my time has gone wasted.

I will not watch random You Tube videos, nor will I follow links on my regular websites.

If in doubt I will have an early night.

Or fold scarves.

Weekends are kinda the same, but with added gardening and maybe visits to Kingston on other shopping destinations if absolutely unavoidable.