Q and A

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August 08, 2020

[Q] My questions: I've recently been discovering 60's/70's UK jazz which -- with a few exceptions like Joe Harriott -- had largely been off my radar. Players like Michael Garrick, Don Rendell, Ian Carr (who I was aware of more for his Miles writing), Mike Osborne, Tony Coe, Harry Beckett, Tubby Hayes, etc, plus players associated with the South African expats Blue Notes group: Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani, Louis Moholo. Also missing women who emerged a bit later in UK like Annie Whitehead and Lindsay Cooper. A few of these folks appear in your database but others missing or very limited coverage. Have you thought about checking out on this scene at all given the recent apparent London jazz resurgence? The quality of these recordings is wildly uneven and the rhythm sections mostly hit or miss. But some of the best strikes me as an interesting blend of Mingus-like or western Euro (or Caribbean?) compositional structures filtered through a Blue Note hard bop sensibility.

There's also been some recent reissues of Polish Jazz, which aside from the great Tomasz Stanko I know nothing about. Seems like a few others had been working with Komeda, who is represented by only his one A rated album. Thoughts?

And BTW -- does/did Francis Davis have a website? Thought I noticed a mention of you working with him but I've not found anything. -- Rich, Nashville [2020-07-31]

[A] Most of what I know about British jazz comes from Penguin Guide. Being based there, Cook and Morton are pretty encyclopedic, including a soft spot for trad jazz as well as avant-garde. Same for the continent (including Poland), although their coverage is spottier. The European (including British) share of Penguin Guide may be as much as a third, whereas the European percentage of US guides is at most a single digit, probably a small one. I don't have an easy way of figuring how how many jazz musicians I've reviewed from which countries. I did once compile a list of Norwegians I had reviewed. If memory serves, it came to about 50 names. It would only take 600 names to get to 10% of my database (1200 to get to 20%), so I'd expect the answer to be within that range.

From 1995-2005, I compiled a long list of Penguin Guide picks, ordered a few, but mostly scrounged around for them in used CD shops. So what I found reflected distribution (or lack thereof) in the US. In particular, I almost never found British labels like Emanem, Incus, Slam, or FMR (Leo fared a bit better). I never got many promos from Britain -- although I did a bit better from elsewhere in Europe. Later, I tried to stream whatever popped into my head and could find, including most of the much hyped recent London scene. I've recently looked for old records by Harriott, Hayes, Beckett, and Pukwana (from your list -- I've been a big fan of In the Townships since shortly after it came out, and I've tried to follow the other South African expats). I noticed a recent box set of Carr, but 6-CD is a lot to tie yourself down to the computer for (if, indeed, it's available). I'm surprised I don't have more by Osborne, who's always impressed me. Also that I didn't even recognize Whitehead. British jazz covers the gamut, although there is hard bop and post-bop are less dominant than in the US, and there is still a chance that someone with a little edge can score a crossover hit (someone like Courtney Pine, or more recently Shabaka Hutchings). Obviously, there's a lot more I should listen to.

Poland's become a pretty important center, especially for free jazz. Not Two, like many European labels, started by hosting foreigners, but has grown into one of Europe's most important labels. Unfortunately, they've been hard to deal with, and their streaming release schedule is erratic. ForTune and Fundacja Sluchaj each sent me a big (one-tim) package a while back, but I'm mostly able to follow them on Bandcamp, so I do. I recently found some older Polish jazz on Napster -- Polskie Nagrania Muza's "Polish Jazz" series, which now seems to be owned by Warner Music -- so I've started to work my way through it, including some pretty decent trad jazz. I haven't found Komeda's "complete works," but they're probably worth a deep dive. Same for major players like Stanko, Zbigniew Namyslowski, and Jan Wroblewski, and no doubt others I haven't gotten to yet.

After Gary Giddins left the Village Voice, Francis Davis took over writing feature jazz pieces, and I filled in the cracks with my Jazz Consumer Guide. When Francis started his Jazz Critics Poll, I was delegated the job of posting the ballots, so we work together on that each year. Seems like at some point I pitched the idea of building him a website. As I recall, he was intrigued, but neither of us followed up. I'm not aware of him having one.

PS: Over the following weeks, I reviewed a number of Polish jazz albums (mostly 1960s-1980s), as well as a bunch of British jazz albums by Ian Carr, Michael Garrick, and/or Don Rendell. See Streamnotes (August 2020).