Sunday 29 April 2007

R.I.P. Andrew Hill

Sadly, April sees the passing of another great jazz musician; the pianist, composer, and bandleader Andrew Hill. He died from lung cancer on Friday 20th, just two months short of his 76th birthday. An important artist who held fast to his idiosyncratic vision, even when that meant long stretches in the commercial wilderness, his music experienced a resurgence in recent years through reissues and remarkable new projects. Where he once may have seemed a fascinating but marginal figure, his influence is now indelibly stamped on many of today’s most creative players.

Jason Moran, one of the most exciting young pianists of today, and a Hill protege, described his mentor as “The Man Who Knew More Than He Was Asked” - in other words, he knew more about different styles of music than people suspected. Hill famously carved out his own unique style of halting phrasings, odd chords and meters, and compositional left turns. His former student emphasized how Hill was also capable of pulling from a vast and surprising storehouse of styles at a moment’s notice. Moran noted how Hill was deeply informed by classical, funk, boogie woogie, cartoon music, and numerous other genres not normally associated with the maestro.

His 2002 big band album, 'A Beautiful Day' was part of a late-career resurgence, begun in 1999 with the critically-acclaimed 'Dusk', and continued until 2006's 'Timelines', reminiscent of his 1960s Blue Note Classics. The 2002 release represents Hill's strengths perfectly - a superb ear for texture and a clear sense of form welded to a freer, more open impulse that expresses itself in wild soloing; the perfect balance between tradition and innovation, composition and improvisation, intellectual weight and emotional power. Such traits can be found in the work Hill produced throughout his career, in particular the series of five albums he made for the Blue Note label in just 8 months in 1963 and 64, at the age of 32.


Hill was born in Chicago of Haitian parents in 1931, and raised in the heart of the city's black South Side. The great Earl “Fatha” Hines discovered Hill playing accordion and tap dancing around the neighborhood's nightclubs and theaters and became one of Hill’s considerable mentors. Another was Stan Kenton's arranger-trombonist Bill Russo, who introduced Hill to one of his greatest influences, the German composer and music theorist-in-exile, Paul Hindemith with whom Hill studies from 1950-52, and who would make a lasting impact on Hill’s intriguing compositional style.

Hill began gigging in 1952 and went on to play with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dinah Washington and Coleman Hawkins. His first recording came in 1954, as a sideman for bassist David Shipp, and his first session as a leader came one year later, with the album So in Love for the Warwick Records label (accompanied by great Chicago bassist Malachi Favors). This was fairly conventional, and forgettable, hard bop, and Hill quickly forsook that sound, forming a pop-friendly big band known as the De'bonairs and playing as a reliable Chicago sideman before moving to New York in 1961 to play in the bands of Dinah Washington and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Always an avid disciple of bebop piano titan Bud Powell, Hill, like most jazz musicians of his generation, was shaken and reinvented by the radical music of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His style beame a synthesis of Powell and Thelonious Monk's bop, Horace Silver's hard bop, and Taylor's dense avant-garde explorations, meshing those disparate sounds into something quite new and original, even iconoclastic: Hill, perhaps more than any other musician of his day, understood that one need not completely embrace the radicalism of the "New Thing" in order to develop the bop-rooted jazz traditions in those same directions. His was an advanced version of hard bop, one that was unafraid to incorporate the thick, dissonant chords and oblong modal work of Taylor and his contemporaries.

In 1963, he was contracted as a leader by Alfred Lyons, the founder of Blue Note Records who proclaimed him his "last great protege," and began one of the most consistently high-quality and forward-thinking recording streaks in jazz history with the November sessions that produced his album Black Fire. The streak continued the next month with Smoke Stack, then into the new year with Judgment!, Point of Departure, and Andrew!!!. On these records, Hill not only began broadening the harmonic canvas of jazz, but found his niche with the most advanced players of the era - peaking with Point of Departure, on which he led an ensemble featuring Joe Henderson, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Richard Davis, and Tony Williams. If Horace Silver had represented Blue Note's hard-bop sound in the 1950s, Andrew Hill embodied the progressive Blue Note of the '60s, lending a vision of harmonically and melodically complex musical palettes to the label that now epitomizes jazz recording.

Unfortunately, Hill's tremendous contributions to jazz's artistic development in the 1960s were largely overlooked in the jazz universe (even by the many who bought Point of Departure). Undaunted, he built a cult following of jazzheads and critics, continued an exhaustive and exhausting run of performing and recording, and proceeded to write a new harmonic language and a new conception of time. His influence wasn't the explosive one of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis; rather, it was a slow seepage, as like-minded pianists (and other musicians) heard his unique stylistic approach, incorporated it into their own, then let other musicians do the same to them in a long chain of unknowing followers. Among his musical followers and sympathizers were Mal Waldron, Herbie Hancock, Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Pullen, Danilo Perez, and Jason Moran.

Though he continued playing and touring through the 70s and 80s, recordings as leader again for Blue Note in 1989 and '90, it took a new century for the bulk of the jazz world to finally catch onto, and marvel at, Hill's innovations; in 2001, when he released Dusk (Palmetto), he was raised up as though he were the newest and hippest sensation, not a 50-year journeyman and musical beacon. It won Album of the year in both major jazz publications, Down Beat and JazzTimes. Two years later, Hill won the Jazzpar, the Danish award that is perhaps the most selective and prestigious in the international jazz community.

By 2006, after touring America and the world and returning to Blue Note Records for the release of the Time Lines album, he had four times been named by the Jazz Journalists Association as Jazz Composer of the Year; been one of the earliest recipients of a Doris Duke Foundation Award for Jazz Composers; won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America; and had Time Lines, his last recording, once again named Jazz Album of the Year by Down Beat, the New York Times, and numerous other publications and critics.

Hill learned in 2004 that he had lung cancer; fighting it every step of the way, he continued to create vital forward-charging music, causing NPR to note that "Hill still creates music as if his best work is ahead of him." He played his last live date in New York City on March 29, 2007, and less than two weeks later, the prestigious Berklee College of Music announced that it would award Hill an honorary doctorate in music at its May 12 commencement ceremony. Sadly, Hill would survive for only nine days after that announcement.


Here's some commentary on a few career highlights, and, to accompany them, here are the tracks themselves -

(4) COMPULSION - (1965, Blue Note) TRACKS -- Compulsion/Premonition

'Compulsion', from 1965, has just been re-released by Blue Note, and it's about time: one of his freest, more 'out there' sessions, it contains plenty of intriguing compositional and improvisational ideas and textures, and has a stellar line-up of Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane-influence and Sun Ra-accolyte John Gilmoe, bassists Cecil McBee and Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers, as well as Nadi Qamar on percussion and Renaud Simmons on congas.

First up is the 14-minute title track, which contrains a 4-minute section that the free-jazz blog 'Destination...Out' describes as "simply the most thrilling four minutes of Andrew Hill’s entire illustrious career." (You can find their blog, and Hill tribute post, at - I hope they won't mind me quoting from their excellent commentary on these two tracks).

...the section begins at the 3 minute mark, when Hill’s piano reenters the tune and the dark rhumba groove begins. That stuttering Latin feel subtly underpins this entire section, allowing Hill and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard to become increasingly unhinged. Hubbard soars against the beat with an impassioned solo that’s full of rhythmic stabs and melodic shrapnel, displaying his often-underappreciated avant-garde credentials. Hill slowly turns up the heat on everyone, almost subliminally at first until he begins to unleash a tidal swell of notes. This oceanic rumble is so physical and menacing at first it’s hard to believe it’s coming from him. It’s as if a whirlpool has suddenly emerged at the middle of the tune, threatening to capsize the other players and suck them into its vortex. Hill plays as if he’s limning the void, gleefully. Amazingly, the song doesn’t get blown apart, but manages to stay afloat and even on course –– but just barely. It’s a remarkable passage –– the musical equivalent of watching an ocean linear tossed aloft by 100-foot waves.
And there's still 10 more minutes after that, including a a frenzied full-band coda. Hopefully you'll agree that there's a lot to listen to here - as rewarding an experience as any Hill created. With Freddie Hubbard in trumpet, John Gilmore on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Cecil McBee on bass, Joe Chambers drums, Nadi Qamar percussion and Renaud Simmons congas, this is 'Compulsion'.

The second selection, 'Premonition, dials down the drama with a moody and atmospheric feel that perfectly suits the title, and perfectly highlights the open-endedness of Hill’s approach. Possibly, this is one of the reasons he remained something of an elusive figure throughout his career - there's something unsettlingly unresolved in his compositions; they have the feel of a question more than an answer. The track also has a wider significance beyond the immediate context of Hill's style, as the D:O writers again so accuarely put it,
capturing a lot of what was great about the so-called 'New Thing' of the 1960s: the softening of a strict theme-solos-theme format; a willingness to play with texture, unconventional instrumentation, or odd pairings (with some players dropping out for a stretch); side-by-side soloing (trumpet vs. bass vs. bass, for example); and a more elastic sense of time.
All this comes with some retention of structure and solidity, and a sense of sheer beauty that eclipses all the other factors in importance and makes this a superb track.

(5) INVOLUTION (rec. 1966/7, rel. 1975, Blue Note) -- TRACK - 'Violence'
Although recorded in 1966 and 1967, it took almost ten years for this collaboration between Hill and Sam Rivers (pictured) to see the light of day as part of a two-record set. It's Hill, Rivers (sax), Walter Booker (bass), and J.C.Moses.on this alternate take, notable for a freer, looser feel that sees Rivers' playing tethered to emotion, while never losing coherence or technique, with Hill providing a slightly more detached, though extremely dramatic, and by no means unemotional approach.

(6) BUT NOT FAREWELL (Blue Note, 1990) -- TRACK - Westbury
Skipping forward a few years now (my reccomendation for Hill's 70s work would probably be 'Lift Every Voice', which comes compelte with gospel choir - while a bit corny, some moments, like 'Hey Hey', are undeniably effective. Carlos Garnett provides some nice tenor stylings). In 1989, Hill had re-signed with Blue Note, and recorded 'Eternal Spirit', which he followed in 1990 wiht 'But Not Farewell'. Featuring Greg Osby on lilting soprano sax, I've picked a gorgeously nostalgic and wistful track called 'Westbury', showcasing a more straightfowardly emotional side to Hill than might have been apparent from the earlier tracks.

(7) DUSK (Blue Note, 2000) -- TRACK - Ball Square
Hill went fairly quiet for the best part of a decade after those two albums, described by critics as his '2nd Blue Note period', but in 2000 he made a triumphant return with a sextet recording called 'Dusk', released on the Palmetto label, which was voted best album of the year by both DownBeat and Jazz Times, and led to a new spurt of creative activity and recording. The track selected is a playful number called 'Ball Square', with the sextet of Ron Horton on trumpet, Greg Tardy and Marty Ehrlich on saxophones, Scott Colley on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums.

(8) A BEAUTIFUL DAY (2002) -- TRACK - New Pinnocchio
After the success of 'Dusk', Hill sprung something of a surprise in 2002, with a live big-band recording. In a way, though, it shouldn't be seen as two much of a departure - Hill's studies with Hindemith and compositions throughout his career revealed a musician who possessed a writing ability far above that of most jazz musicians. The album, 'A Beautiful Day', featured the band performing eight original compositions at New York's legendary Birdland club. Alternately, and sometimes simulatenously energetic, moody, stark, elegant and poignant, it contains what I think is some of the best music he ever produced, a success that was continued when an expanded version of this line-up, featuring a number of British stars, performed a triumphant set at the Bath Jazz Festival in 2003. The musicians on this track are saxophonists Marty Ehrlich (a veteran "downtowner" and musical associate of Muhal Richard Abrams, Julius Hemphill, Wayne Horvitz and John Zorn) and Greg Tardy (Hill’s label mate who is much-in-demand as a tenor soloist); trumpeter Ron Horton (a stalwart of the Jazz Composer's Alliance); bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nasheet Waits. Joining this group are John Savage, Aaron Stewart and JD Parran on saxophones,Dave Ballou, Laurie Frink and Bruce Staelens on trumpets, Charley Gordon, Joe Fiedler and Mike Fahn on trombones, and Jose Davilla on tuba.

(9) TIMELINES (2006) -- TRACK - Timelines
In 2006, Hill made what would turn out to be his final recording for Blue Note, and one that some see as up there with his 60s output. It features trumpeter Charles Tolliver, himself an underrated master, who had earlier played on Hill's Dance With Death and co-led a storming big band with Stanley Cowell called 'Music Inc', who I've played on this show before. 1970. Joining Tolliver and Hill on Time Lines are three younger musicians well established on the New York scene: Gregory Tardy on reeds, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. In an interview, Hill praised their ability to play “three or four different ways. Whenever you hit a musical mood, hey can enter it.” He also cast doubt on the alleged creativity deficit among younger players: “I hear about everything that they’re not. Very few people talk about everything they are. There are so many flowers on the scene, it’s utterly amazing.”

Listening to Time Lines, there’s no mistaking hat Nat Hentoff, in the liner notes to Shades (1986), meant by “the time-within-time-within-time of Andrew Hill.” Richard Cook and Brian Morton, discussing Hill’s earlier work in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, refer to tempos that are “too subliminal to be strictly counted,” harmonic language “that isn’t so much minor-key as surpassingly ambiguous….” These elements are present on Time Lines, although the tone colors of the title track are disarmingly bright. Tardy festoons the album with ravishing clarinet and bass clarinet. The piano sound is vast. “I’ve made it a project to figure out how to record the piano,” Hill commented. “The key is not to approach it as an accompanying instrument. Instead of instruments accompanying each other, have equal volume on all, so they all can stand on their own. Otherwise it throws off the quality of the performance.”

As critic David R. Adler Notes, a “stammering” motif occassionaly surfaces in Hill's work, and you can hear that in the main melody of this track. Whether a conscious or unconscious impulse, it's one that underscores the genuine and searingly individual quality of Hill’s output. His art may be a perpetual work in progress, premised on instability and a willingness to experiment in public, but Hill is always after something specific: “These magic moments,” he says, “when the rhythms and harmonies extend themselves and jell together and the people become another instrument. These are things that are priceless and can’t be learned; they can only be felt.”

Video at

Hill's most famous work is 'Point of Departure'. And I think that title perfectly sums up the impulse that he represented, and that lies behind so much great jazz, and music from all genres - the ability and willingness to push boundaries, to head out for the unknown, to buy a "ticket to nowhere" as Wayne Shorter puts it, creating work that's based on the knowledge and forms of the past but has the vitality and freshness of the future.

All this was present in his last performance, at Trinity Church in New York, from March 29th this year. A recording session had been scheduled by Blue Note for April 18th, but sadly Hill was unable to make it, and so this presumably constitues his final performance, or at least his final recorded performance. As can be seen from the video of the concert, Hill is clearly frail, his hands shaking as he moves them over the piano, his grey suit hanging off his bony arms, and the music is perhaps not as assured as in his heyday, but enough of his personality comes through to warrant me playing this. In a sleevenote from the late 60s, Hill seemed to regret the fact that he was regarded solely as an intellectual, abstract musician, when he valued the more rootsy R&B and Soul/Gospel influenced jazz that was also a part of the blue note label (He wrote "Rumproller" and was proud of the fact). I think that balance between serious, intellectual, somewhat avant-garde musicianship and a more grounded, earthy feel comes across here - the music has a sort of solemn, understated eloquence that perfectly suits the church surroundings in which it was recorded, yet with tangy traces of jazz modernism that, far from clashing with the more traditional aspects, make them even more rewarding. Take a look at the video - the Andrew Hill trio, with Hill on piano, John Herbert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, recorded at Trinity Church in New York on March 29 2007, with a liturgically-based composition called "Before I..." Rest in peace.


And, as a bonus, here are some rare early tracks featuring Hill as a sideman: first, on a few 45 RPM singles recorded under the leadership of bassist David Shipp; then, at a concert given at St Louis, Missouri in 1961 (as this is ripped from a bootleg LP, we can't be exactly sure about the details, but it was probably originally a radio broadcast); and finally, the title track from a little-known 1963 album by the strikingly original alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods called 'Conflict'. Full discographical details for all these early tracks (and, indeed, all of Hill's recordings) should be easily available at the superb Jazz Discography page at

And make sure to visit, where you can download MP3s of a solo performance Hill gave at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Thursday 12 April 2007

"The people are not hearing the music..."

This might be a suitable addendum to the thoughts on 'the state of jazz today' from my last post. It's an excerpt from an interview bassist Reggie Workman give with Jez Nelson on Radio 3's 'Jazz on 3' programme, where he's talking about a trio concert he gave at St Peter's church in New York in December 2006 (a church where many jazz memorial services are held, the most famous recent one being that for Dewey Redman). In a world where the airwaves are dominated by bland, vacuous pop and most people's idea of 'jazz' is the smooth/easy listening pap of Kenny G or the light lounge style of Jamie Cullum and all the various other 'jazz' singers, it's important to remember that there is still innovative and exploratory creation going on, but it's also sobering to think of the economic challlenges and the lack of acceptance for this vital and inspiring music. Sadly, it looks like the commercial forces that run our world are never going to want to champion anything as difficult and challenging as this kind of art - too far out of the comfort zone. Hell, it might make people start to question accepted notions, to start considering different options to the usual alternatives of homogenised thought and expression or the world-weary cynicism of the defeated. Instead, it's left to the artists, and a small band of enthusiasts, to keep this music out in the world, not just relegated to some dingy private corner, to keep it alive and vibrant. Reggie Workman's trio concert is one example, and, thanks to its broadcast on Radio 3, it's had the opportunity of a worlwide audience as well (though how many people will have heard it, on a specialist music show tucked away late on a Friday evening on an 'elitist' station, is debatable).

Another example is the 'Freedom of the City' festival, curated by British masters Evan Parker, Eddie Prevost and Martin Davidson. Billed as"a festival of radical and improvised music", it takes place at the Red Rose pub in Finsbury Park, North London (located at 129 Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park station), on the afternoons and evenings of Sunday 6th and Monday 7th May. An annual event, it includes a wide range of well-known and lesser known ensembles, all characterised by their devotion to adventurous and boundary-pushing free improvisation, and it's a great opportunity to hear some too little heard musicians, for just £10 a concert or £15 a day. On the bill this year are Eddie Prevost, in a trio with bassist Joe Williamson and firebreathing sax player Alan Wikinson, a Vietnamese improv group called Unit, the Glasgow and London Improvisers' orchestras, clarinest Alex Ward (a Derek Bailey protege), a group called Ququa, Paul Rutherford and Veryan Weston, and, to end, Evan Parker. Should be well worth the trip: more details are at

Anyway, back to the original topic, here's what Reggie Workman had to say on Radio 3(thanks to Mr Improv, on the Radio 3 jazz messageboard, for the transcription - the related thread is here:

The people are not hearing our music, so we had to create our own outlet. In the fifties you had people doing things that grew out of a certain socio-political climate. Now you have people who are falling in line with the status quo, with the exception of a few. It's much easier for people to fall in line and do whatever they're told to do, whatever society has written down for "this is what I want you to do to work and be a cog in in the wheel", but if you step out of that line and think for yourself, you have a difficult time and the difficult time is producing a concert like the one we're doing now. Our concept was, we know what the history is, we been through it and we know what's needed and it's no different today to what it was yesterday - we're not working and the people are not hearing our music, so we must create our own venue.

Friday 6 April 2007

The Shape of Jazz Today

Radio 3 recently ran a series of 3 programmes on 'The Shape of Jazz Today' (presented by Stuart Nicholson, Gary Giddins (* - see bottom of post) and Nate Chinen), which made me realize that I'd written something on the very same topic back in December last year, but hadn't bothered to type it up...until now!

Listening to Ornette Coleman’s classic 1959 album ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ again recently made me think: what was the ‘jazz to come’ that Coleman anticipated? Did it live up to his expectations, fulfilling the promise of the early development of the music and what many see as its heyday in the 50s and 60s? (For instance, see Gary Giddins’ list of 40 great musicians under 40 who were active in 1960, in his introduction to 'Visions of Jazz'). Or has jazz died, as so many predicted, with the popularity of simpler forms of entertainment, now nowhere near the language of young blacks, and young whites, replaced by hip-hop, rock and pop? Has it been killed by commercial pressures that have forced artists into musical compromises in order to gain popularity that have lead to the spread of styles of jazz that come nowhere near fulfilling the promise of the medium? And are the true voices of jazz, those with the most exciting and innovative things to say, being forced underground, appreciated only by a minority? My opinionated slant is probably already becoming clear in this list of rhetorical questions, but if you want to know more, then read on…

Jazz at heart, and at its best, is a rebellious art from, which is suitable considering that it’s the great musical heritage of America, a nation founded in a spirit of revolutionary fervour and idealism. And despite the fact that the nation seems to have largely lost its connection to that past, jazz still burns with a flame of passion and invention and spontaneous joy. A genre that celebrates both the individual, in solos which can turn, in the case of someone like John Coltrane, into minute-stretching marathons, yet at the same time embodies communal, shared values, in the interaction of rhythm section and soloist, or the chaotic looseness of free jazz improvisation.

Its watering-down in recent years has led to a widespread misconception of what the genre actually stands for. Revisionists like Wynton Marsalis, the neo-cons of jazz, seem to think that they can create a vibrant and living new music simply by re-treading the post-bop language of the past, a language that was new and exciting in its time (and remains so in the original recordings of the practitioners from its heyday), but loses its power and ideological force when it is endlessly rehashed in an age it no longer seems to suit.

What people like the Marsalis brothers seem to forget, and what is so vital, is that jazz is an ever-changing art, unconstrained by shallow categorisations, by being divided into boxes, or being proclaimed ‘dead’ every two seconds. Like the title of Herbie Hancock’s famous composition, it’s a Chameleon amongst the vapid commercialism of pop, the posturing of rock, and the morally iffy vision of much modern rap. These other forms may all, in their own way, claim to represent the voices of rebellion, youth, anti-establishment action: witness the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts, Woodstock in the 60s, the political stance of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young – and, indeed, nowadays, virtually every musical act seems to be jumping on the anti-Bush, anti-war bandwagon, whether or not they have anything particularly profound to say about it.

But jazz is the only genre to actually implement this; refusing to be bound by stereotypes, a decline in publicity, or commercial pressures, it lives on creating emotions and subverting expectations and stirring the soul. Archie Shepp’s Ben Webster-spawned avant-garde tenor growls moved from gruff lyricism to yells of rage; at his best, he evoked a furious, trembling fervour, a sense of outrage and fierce pride that speaks volumes more than the stadium-pleasing would-be heroic sound of modern-day U2, fronted by Saint Bono, or the awful spectacle of Emo (rebellion, ’cos it’s cool…) Even Hendrix, the voice of 60s hippie idealism and counter-cultural rebellion, learnt his lessons from John Coltrane.

The previously insatiable progress of jazz has slowed somewhat recently, with the initially promising behemoth of fusion probably to blame, having moved from a merging of rock energy and jazz invention to a sickly, smooth brand of pop with a few stylistic smatterings from jazz to add a touch of ‘class.’ However, there is hope for the future, if the new generation of jazz musicians learn the lessons of masters like Wayne Shorter, still at the top of his game, as he proved on a visit to London with his quartet back in November, or the spiky, uncompromising blend of tradition and tangy modernism of octogenarian Stan Tracey, who played on the same bill as Shorter, or free-jazz innovator Ornette Coleman, still inventing afresh, now working with a three-bass group that plays some old compositions, yet re-interprets them in a completely fresh, startling and beautiful way.

I suspect that, if jazz is to have a future, it won’t come from the legions of highly skilled young musicians able to play in the boppish style rooted somewhere between Charlie Parker and 60s Blue Note, that seems to be regarded as ‘the jazz language’ nowadays. Good as they are, endless versions of ‘Body and Soul’ or ‘So What’ are never going to rise above the merely competent unless a really original take can be found on them. It’s easy to forget that jazz standards were often drawn from the popular music of the day – film tunes, show tunes, whatever. Good, suitable material is maybe thinner on the ground nowadays, though there are exceptions - Brad Mehldau’s take on Radiohead or trumpeter Dave Douglas’ performance of Bjork material, for instance, and, in a concept with less mileage, the Bad Plus’ anarchic takes on everything from Nirvana to the Chariots of Fire theme to Black Sabbath.

Nevertheless, whatever excuses you come up with, jazz is in danger of being seen as rather an old-fashioned, middle-class music; the domain of beer-swilling old men with beards and sandals at summer jazz festivals, or yuppies in trendy wine-bars who don’t give a shit about the music they’re listening to except as ‘sophisticated’ background noise. Or worse, the stereotype presented on the BBC’s ‘Fast Show’, where it’s presented as an exclusive social club, full of pretentious musician’s jargon and absurd slang (“nice…”). There are plenty of groups and artists with potential, like Acoustic Ladyland, the double-sax fronted band trying to appeal to a younger fan base through their simple, repetitive, rock-based songs, or the surprisingly popular Swedish piano trio EST (Esbjorn Svensson trio), who fuse Keith Jarrett-influenced piano with electronica-tinged grooves and a distorted, guitar-like bass sound that builds up an almost Hendrixian storm. However, they don’t’ seem to have really developed beyond the initial, promising concept – it’s as if they figure that audiences like it, so they’ll churn out more of the same. If Acoustic Ladyland incorporate some more complex improvisation and write more interesting material, they could have a future, but EST have been doing the same thing album after album now, and it’s getting formulaic.

[And don't get me started on the 'New Jazz generation' ("refining the past and defining the future"), as a CD compilation so lovingly described a group of artists like Jamie Cullum, Katie Melua (please!) and Amy Winehouse. If that's where jazz is going, show me the exit and I'll lock myself away with my Miles Davis collection - at least then I'll hear something that sounds modern, innovative and relevant!]

As Stan Tracey commented in a recent interview for Radio 3’s now-defunct ‘Jazz Legends’, there are plenty of people in the UK scene today with excellent technique, but they lack something the great masters have, that ability to hit you right between the eyes, in a few bars, with something that could be complex, or could be incredibly simple, but makes you catch your breath. I’d expand that by saying that a lot of the new music that’s coming out lacks a real emotional undercurrent – Polar Bear’s ‘Held on the Tips of Fingers’ is a good example. The same could be said to apply to the US scene as well.

Now, going back to my original point, the future of jazz is more likely to come from the vibrant underground scene in Europe and America, frequented by the not-so-young but still incendiary likes of Tim Berne and John Zonr, or eccentris like instrument inventor, bassist, pianist, vocalist and composer Cooper Moore. As shown on an edition of the Radio 3 programme 'Jazz on 3' from the start of the year, which analysed the state of New York broadcast on Radio 3, acts like Joe Lovano may headline at the Village Vanguard, but the real hot shit is going down in John Zorn's club, or in a church where Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille ('Trio 3') are giving listeners what the DVD of Miles' Davis 1970 Isle of Wight festival performance so delicately describes as "a spiritual orgasm."

But without funding and public notice, such intense creativity and experimentation is unlikely to remain more than a minority interest, slavishly followed by those in the know, through internet blogs (like and underground clubs, and ignored by everyone else, who'd rather hear Jamie Cullum spurt out 'Fly me to the Moon' than listen to an hour-long set by Ken Vandermark or Marc Ribot. Sad to say, in this commercialist and relentlessly shallow age, anything approaching real innovation or complexity is likely to be ignord in favour of he easy pleasure that doesn't make your work for your musical highs. If jazz is not be an art that has a splurge of creativity in the first half of the century, then collapsed into an endless rehash of yesterday's new thing, something has to happen, and soon. We desperately need another Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington, or Charles Mingus, or Miles Davis, or John Coltrane, or Charlie Parker - a jazz saviour to redeem us from the musical slough of despond we find ourselves in, a repeat of what Keith Shadwick (writing about the Beat Generation) calls "those intoxicating post-war years, when it seemed that mesisahs really could emerge from the dark recesses of night clubs and blow everyone away with their messages, and that Young America would be out there, listening to every diamond-hard note." Whoever you are, please hurry up!

(*) In his introduction to 'Visions of Jazz', Gary Giddins foresees a fate for jazz similar to that which has overtaken classical music - a form which was once "a vital, transfiguring, seductive and galling art, often improvised, that spoke to people's lives and kept them on their toes [and] was also popular", before "the institutions took over and restored it into a malleable craft and fixed repertory...for the amusement of the upper middle class shopper out on a cultural excursion, the fat-cat subscriber whose seasonal boxes entertain family and friends, and children who eat their spinach." His question - "Is this the future of jazz? - a repertory dominated by the trustees of diletantes, a morbid obsession with the saintly dead, a horror of innovation?" is incredibly pertinent.